Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Bear and the Nightingale”

It’s standard wisdom: Never judge a book by its cover.

Yet it’s hard not to when a book’s cover–and title–are so fantastic. Beautiful, atmospheric, and a bit eerie, these appealed to the fairy tale/folklore lover in me. Between these exterior flourishes and the novel’s story–main character Vasilisa dares condemnation as she uses her supernatural communion with creatures of Russian folklore and an alliance with winter demon Frost to safeguard her people from a nebulous dark–I knew Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale was a book I had to have.

I’m happy to say the cimmerian ambiance promised by the cover carried into the novel. The aesthetics throughout–whether descriptions of the rusalka (a water sprite), or the harsh beauty of a wintery Russian forest–were striking and resonant. Even now, months after finishing the novel, I can summon to mind a multitude of scenes, lovely and ominous alike.  Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Bear and the Nightingale””

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Uprooted”

As you’ve likely sussed out by now, I’m a fan of reading. But rare is the book that tempts me to sacrifice my own writing time. It’s been ten months since that last occurred. (That siren was Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girlwhich I review here). But Naomi Novik’s Uprooted called too sweetly to be resisted. I wound up rolling two hours of writing time into the weekend, because I blew them off on Thursday to finish the book.

That wasn’t the only irresponsible thing I did, either. I stayed up until 1 AM, when I had to be into work by 7:30. I thought I’d skim just a few pages before I did my post-work lap-swimming… I wound up reading in the pool locker room for an hour. Uprooted was that compulsively readable; I had to know what happened next. And I definitely wasn’t confident about how it would end: I could see the author taking the triumphant track, or the bittersweet one. (But no spoilers here–you’ll have to read it yourself to find out!) Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Uprooted””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Baby Doll”

Hollie Overton’s Baby Doll, like B.A. Paris’s Behind Closed Doors (reviewed here), strikes me as another book done a disservice by its marketing campaign’s comparing it to Gone Girl. I realize this is a classic sales technique; hitching one book to another, explosively popular franchise is a guaranteed way to attract fans looking to re-scratch that itch. But it also establishes reader expectations not always fulfilled.

However else one might feel about Gone Girl, it’s nevertheless fair to say it lived up to its label of taut thriller. Action, albeit often twisted, constantly drives the novel forward, ever tightening the narrative screws.

Baby Doll, by contrast, is really about the emotional fallout after the action has passed. The book’s opening shows Lily Riser, kidnapped at 16 and held captive for 8 years, finally escaping her basement prison with her daughter Sky (fathered by Lily’s kidnapper and habitual rapist, Rick). By page 60, Lily and Sky are reunited with Lily’s family, and Rick is behind bars. And there ends the most action-oriented part of the novel. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Baby Doll””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “News of the World”

Book News: News of the World is among ten titles on this year’s National Book Award Longlist: Fiction. The five finalists will be named on October 13th, with the winner announced on November 16th. So fingers crossed for News! (Of course, I’m biased–as a Texas girl, I can’t help rooting for a Texas-centric tale to win.)

Upon first reading the synopsis of Paulette Jiles’ News, I formed a prediction regarding what the novel might be like, as readers often do when meeting a book. The story of an ex-Army Captain transporting a young girl rescued from Indian captivity across 19th Century Texas, the novel would be a Western-style action/adventure–the literary equivalent of a John Wayne film. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “News of the World””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Behind Closed Doors”

Let me first issue a warning: if you Google this book’s title, click only on the version penned by B. A. Paris (unless you’re in an exploratory mood). In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a title like Behind Closed Doors would be shared by a few racier reads. But surprised I was by a few of the results generated by “Behind Closed Doors Book.”

As far as the actual review: this is a tricky one. Generally, I prefer reviewing books I really like. After all, I’m an aspiring novelist myself; I can easily imagine the pain of having years of artistic work criticized. And just because a book’s not for me, doesn’t mean it isn’t an excellent fit for someone else.

But I received an Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) of Behind Closed Doors and feel I owe a review, even if the book was a qualified success for me. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Behind Closed Doors””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Square Root of Summer”

I’m by no means a connoisseur of young adult literature. Don’t mistake me: I’ve enjoyed my share of reads within the genre. Annette Curtis Klaus’s Blood and Chocolate was a favorite during my teen years, and a novel I’ve reread once twice thrice in my adulthood. The Divergent, Chemical Garden, and Hunger Games trilogies all made my list of enjoyable reads. But styling myself a YA expert would be a step too far.

Nevertheless, Harriet Reuter Hapgood’s The Square Root of Summer seems to my limited experience a novel that distinguishes itself within the YA crowd.

Firstly, Square Root‘s protagonist–Gottie Oppenheimer–is a physics-and-math prodigy, making this book a winner for scientifically inclined ladies, and those passionate about female participation in STEM fields. As mentioned, my knowledge of YA’s offerings isn’t encyclopedic. But of what I have read, few books have offered me a “sciency” sort of girl. By featuring a heroine with Gottie’s intellectual savvy, Square Root acquires a fresh edge. Also supplementing the novel’s unique vibe are Gottie’s hand-drawn diagrams of scientific principles; scattered through the text, these illustrations lend Square Root a slightly-zany, grown-up-picture-book feel. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Square Root of Summer””

Coming Soon…. to a Blog Near You

Those of you who read this blog regularly or even semi-regularly may have realized that I have a problem.

A word count problem.

I tend to get very excited about those ideas I select as writing topics. Once I’ve settled on a subject, it is my pattern to get carried away beyond all editorial reason. I’m overcome by an impulse to explore every facet of such ideas to their fullest, driven to probe every nook, blow dust out of every corner. I crave the confidence of knowing I’ve thoroughly and clearly communicated with my reader, leaving no conceptual stone unturned. Continue reading “Coming Soon…. to a Blog Near You”