Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Bone Gap”

Lovely. If I was describing Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap in one word, “lovely” would be it.

As anyone will tell you who’s seen my one two three four bookshelves, my taste in books is somewhat eclectic. I read everything from stylistically-bizarre literary fiction (looking at you, A House in the Country) to lean-and-mean, plot-driven urban fantasy. And I love it all.

Often, I walk away with an overarching impression of why I loved a particular book. For The Historian, it was “research”–Elizabeth Kostovo does an amazing job of digging into her various histories and settings, then weaving them into a riveting story. For The Night Circus, it was “atmosphere”–Erin Morgenstern evokes her novel’s incredible magical landscape with language and imagination lush and dark.

At first glance, Bone Gap doesn’t sound super unique. It’s about a girl who goes missing, and the boy who’s the only witness to the kidnapping. Any one of a dozen thrillers could be summed up the same way.

But Bone Gap‘s treatment of this story sets it completely apart, weaving a layered, atmospheric magical realism novel with evocative language and hand-to-your-heart themes of love and persevering hope. Since finishing Bone Gap, I’ve found my thoughts wandering back to it again and again.

There’s a reason it was a Printz Award Winner and National Book finalist.

Beautiful Roza appears in Bone Gap, Illinois under mysterious circumstances. But her goodness has the small town quickly falling in love with her–no one more so than Sean, Finn’s stoic brother. The day Roza disappears, Sean’s world crumbles; he’s sure she left by choice. But Finn knows Roza was taken–he saw someone do it. No one can find evidence of Finn’s claims, though. And as everyone knows, Finn’s always been a bit… odd.

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Bittersweet

After a multi-year hiatus–peppered with rare, stolen moments of work–and half a year of concentrated effort, I’ve finished the rough draft of my speculative novel, NIGHT GARDEN.

Emphasis on the word “rough.”

A quick glance at my Track Changes application shows 119 comments sprinkled throughout the manuscript, indicating spots where I need to weave in world-building elements, affirm timelines, research further, fill in creative pits, and shore up plot points and character motivations. In addition, I have notes scrawled on napkins, sermon notes, and Post-Its–whatever I could grab before the thought fled.

Then there are the two notebooks (including one of those ultra-sexy yellow-pads) full of the most poorly organized notes imaginable.

I’ve got just a wee bit of work to do before this baby’s ready for prime time.

Still, it’s a major accomplishment, just completing the beast. I typed 112,632 words. I wrote 35 chapters. I hit the point where I could legitimately pen that final flourish: “The End.”

I should be skipping. Dancing. Celebrating with a glass of wine.

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Libraries & Leisure

Here’s my confession: I’m a workaholic.

In the nearly thirteen years we’ve known each other, my husband and I have lived in a variety of locales: Indiana, Ireland, and the Czech Republic for college, Texas, China, Suriname, and Washington, D.C. for work. And every time we hit a new spot, I’ve vowed to prioritize getting out and experiencing whatever makes that place special.

But every time, my to-do list tugs me back: to my laptop to write, my palette to paint.

It’s a flaw I’m trying to pray through. But in the meantime, I’m super thankful when people like my brother–who’s infinitely better at sallying out to try new things–come visiting.

It’s that push I need to go forth and explore.

So my brother gets all the credit for coaxing me to visit the Library of Congress–the largest library in the world, housing millions of books, penned in 470 languages. Sad as it is to admit, this is my third stint living in D.C…. and my first trip to the Library. Which is kind of unacceptable, considering my bibliophilic little heart.

But better late than never, right?

Just a handful of the many, many highlights included:

  • The gorgeous architecture of the Thomas Jefferson building
  • A complete version of the Gutenberg Bible (the 15th century innovation that rocked the worlds of religion and books)
  • A still-in-progress replication of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library, being gathered text by text from around the world
  • The Main Reading Room (one of several research enclaves accessible to anyone over 16 wishing to study… provided you can keep up with their code of conduct [Cue finger-wagging librarian])
  • The office of the Librarian of Congress (currently Carla Hayden)

Confession no. 2: I now have office envy. But it’s probably for the best that my own workspace isn’t quite so nice.

It’d be a poor fit with my efforts to combat workaholism.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “The Things She’s Seen”

Given my tendency to write long, winding novels that later have to be hacked back like overgrown rosebushes, I’ve come to really respect those writers who’ve mastered the art of trim fiction.

The Things She’s Seen, the work of brother/sister duo Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, is a prime example. At just 193 pages–half of which are in verse, making them even less text-intensive–this young adult novel nevertheless tackles heavy themes with succinct, heart-pricking grace.

Set in small-town Australia, Things is told in two voices. 15-year-old Beth Teller, recently dead, has lingered as a ghost only her detective father can see. When he’s dispatched to investigate a suspicious death, she accompanies him, desperate to help him survive his grief. Isobel Catching, found wandering near the murder site, is the sole witness of the crime… but will only tell her story in poetic riddles.

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Bite-Sized Book Reviews: “Spinning Silver”

Full disclosure: I bought this book way back in July. But I’ve delayed reading it for this simple reason: Naomi Novik’s last book (Uprooted) ruined my life. While I was reading it, I skipped workouts. Forewent human companionship. Stayed up to 3 am reading, when I had to be into work by 7:30 am. All because I.couldn’t.put.Uprooted.down.

Since the moments in adult life when one can just opt out and read are rare, I knew I had to be strategic about cracking Spinning Silver.

But my self-discipline finally cracked. Again, I stayed up stupid late to finish–1:49 am. (Or so my husband told me after I knocked over our shredder in the dark and woke him up.) But I can now report that if Spinning Silver isn’t quite as compulsion-inducing as its predecessor, it’s still darn good. In other words, if it missed the 99 mark, it scored a thoroughly-deserved 98.

Spinning Silver is an incredibly clever retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, with so much of Novik’s own intricate plotting and world-building woven throughout that finding those Rumpelstiltskin references is like spotting a bread crumb along an unfamiliar and alluring path. At the novel’s heart is Miryem, the daughter of a moneylender. Her talent for turning silver to gold draws the terrifying notice of the king of the Staryk, a race of ice fey slowly burying Miryem’s land under endless winter. Her efforts to save herself and her family entangle her fate with that of Wanda, a peasant girl, and Irina, the new bride of the young tsar… a man whose own secret threatens his kingdom and the Staryks’.

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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.

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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.

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