Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe”

The newest offering by Matched author Ally Condie, The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe is not unlike crowd favorite Firefly in its futuristic-meets-Old West atmosphere. But where Firefly is about traversing the skies, The Last Voyage is all about navigating waterways.

Set on what appears to be a near-future Earth where the human population has fragmented and thinned, The Last Voyage follows Poe Blythe, the 17-year-old captain of the Gilded Lily. A gold-mining dredge, the Lily is designed to scoop up riverine gold for the Admiral, who leads the remote Outpost where Poe’s society resides. But for Poe, who designed the ship’s deadly armor, the dredge is the means to a very different end–revenge against the raiders who destroyed all she loved. But this time, there’s a traitor aboard….

I found a lot to like in Poe’s story. Condie clearly did her research on river-based gold mining and the corresponding destruction. I recently spent a few years living in Suriname, a South American country with a large gold mining sector. My day job at the time included reporting on the impact of mining on Suriname’s rivers and rainforests. The effects are bleak indeed. Condie’s evoking of the heat and noise, grime and devastation of mining is spot-on.

The Last Voyage is also well paced. The novel has a fair number of twist and turns and Condie manages them nimbly–the pace is tight without being rushed. The various story complications unfold gradually, keeping the reader guessing. And flashbacks are skillfully woven throughout, in support of later plot revelations. There’s also disinformation sown by various characters, both intentionally and accidentally. By leaving the reader unsure what to believe, this sprinkling of deception replicates what Poe would experience as she hears rumors and reports, accusations and counter-accusations: deep uncertainty about who to trust.

Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe””
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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Hazel Wood”

A few posts ago, I wrote about my foray to Washington, D.C.’s East City Bookshop, and my happy surprise when I found that the book I’d purchased was a signed copy.

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises associated with Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood.

I didn’t know much about Albert’s novel prior to picking it up. But it came highly recommended by my friend/book guru Courtney. And I knew the story centered around a mysterious book (à  la The Shadow of the Wind, one of my all-time favorite novels for its book-within-a-book theme). Those twin enticements were good enough to compel me to grab The Hazel Wood.

And I’m 99% glad I took that step of faith. (I’ll circle back to that missing 1% shortly.)

The Hazel Wood follows Alice, granddaughter to Althea Proserpine, the reclusive author of a deeply dark collection of fairytales called Tales from the Hinterland. Alice and her mother Ella have spent years running from the bad luck ceaselessly snapping at their heels. But when Ella is snatched by figures claiming to be from the Hinterland, Alice’s luck goes from bad to bleak. Her search for her mother unleashes things that do far worse than go bump in the night.

Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Hazel Wood””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Silence of the Girls”

I love words. This confession may well elicit a “Duh” response. After all, I’m a writer and editor. Of course words are my thing.

But as I’ve striven to refine my writing style, I’ve woken to this fact: I love words too much. I use 10 when 5 will do. I can be overly indulgent when it comes to visual imagery or emotional exposition. And in my love for lyrical language, I tend to slap on a heaping spoonful where a restrained flourish would serve.

But Booker Prize-winner Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls is a brilliant example of how to use words well. Told from the perspective of Briseis, the queen who becomes Achilles’ concubine in the final months of the Trojan War, The Silence centers on the women who populated the fringes of this legendary conflict. These “silent” figures–Trojans captured throughout the war–are impressed by the Grecian army into a myriad of services, acting as laundresses, nurses, and, of course, concubines.

I was intrigued by the book’s description–I’m a sucker for retellings of literary classics like the lliad–but a little trepidatious, too. This kind of story–particularly told from the perspective of a sex slave–seemed like it could tempt “shock factor” writing: horrifying scenes of rape and violence penned with maximum brutality. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Silence of the Girls””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Girl in the Tower”

If you’re a regular peruser of my blog, you may have noticed that I’m a fan of novels that incorporate mythology, fairytales, etc. I’m fascinated by the power of such stories–their ability to resonate across time, surviving all kinds of cultural upheaval to touch even modern readers, as they’ve touched readers throughout the preceding centuries. 

I’ll confess: Though I know there’s a wide world of folktales beyond this, I’m most familiar with the Western European canon. This is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy–it affords a glimpse into the (to me) less familiar world of Russian stories.

Last November, I read book no. 1 in the series–The Bear and the Nightingale (review here)–and quite enjoyed it. Which made me both curious and leery of the sequel. I wanted to know what happened next… but a bad second book can ruin its predecessor. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Girl in the Tower””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Bitter Greens”

When I say I have a lit nerdy soul, I’m not exaggerating. My husband has to give me visual cues to “STOP TALKING” when he sees my impromptu lit lectures are losing our friends. I’ve begun timing myself to ensure I keep my comments about books under two minutes. I’ll often ask loved ones if they’re sure they want me to answer that lit-related question.

The last time I asked this, my brother thought for a minute, then said, “Let me go to the bathroom first.”

Not a good sign.

But that’s why I’m such a fan of Kate Forsyth. Her historical novels are inspired by fairy and folk tales, which is already enough to intrigue me. But even more than this, both Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl (which I adored [review here]) explore possible answers to mysteries in literary history. I think that’s just the coolest spark to start a novel.

Again, lit nerd here.

In the case of Bitter Greens, Forsyth looks to the tale of Rapunzel. She considers how Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force, the 17th century French authoress who penned the version of Rapunzel we know and love, might’ve learned of the story. Because the tale, originally written in an Italian dialect, was not translated into a language accessible to de la Force until after her death. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Bitter Greens””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “All The Light We Cannot See”

I don’t know if this is true for all writers, but sometimes when I curl up with a novel, I find myself playing the game of Who’s The Better Writer: Me or the Author?

I don’t recommend this game; it can suck the joy right out of reading. I’ve also wound up with several bouts of inferiority complex. But once my brain kicks into that gear, it can be tricky to turn off.

In an odd way, Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is comforting in this regard. With his gorgeous prose and masterful plot, Doerr is so obviously out of my league that I can happily settle into the hands of this superior artist (who is, after all, a Pulitzer Prize winner).

Set during World War II, All the Light weaves together the stories of Marie-Laure–a courageous French girl afflicted by blindness–and Werner, an intellectually-gifted young German whose talents in radio science are used to identify (and eliminate) resistance fighters. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “All The Light We Cannot See””

Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Legendary”

In many ways, writing the second book in a series is trickier than writing the first. The author faces the challenge of having to maintain the elements that made the first book a success, while also having to amp up the stakes (and yet avoid veering into territory that isn’t cohesive with book 1).

I read Caraval, the first book in Stephanie Garber’s series of the same name, with an overall sense of satisfaction. (Find my review here.) The pacing was good, the world intriguing, and I was curious to see what happened next. Lucky for me, I already had an Advanced Readers Copy of sequel Legendary on hand for review.

Legendary continues the story of the Dragna sisters, Scarlett and Tella. Now traveling with the players who put on Caraval–an immersive, magical game that is half-carnival, half-scavenger hunt–the sisters are enjoying the freedom won from their oppressive father in book 1. But when they are sucked into a second round of Caraval, lead character Tella learns that this time, it’s no mere game. And gaining her mother’s freedom may mean unleashing an ancient evil on the world. Continue reading “Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Legendary””