East City Bookshop

I admire my more fiscally-savvy friends who get most of their reading material free from libraries. These far-smarter-than-me women only buy the books they really love.

But I can’t help it. If I need a new read, I’m dishing out the cash for my own copy. I love accumulating books (always the physical kind–I just can’t talk myself into digital books). I love the record they make of my reading journey. I love their color, with covers that are works of art in their own right. I love the enchantment and history and adventure each embodies.

And I especially like buying them from independent bookstores. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a hater of the big box bookstore. They have their own role in the book-buying-and-selling ecosystem. But nothing’s quite like an indie shop–they’re lovingly-curated little jewel boxes, full of surprise reads and knowledgable booksellers. And they’re intertwined in the local community in a way a national chain can never be.

Which is why I was so excited to discover East City Bookshop in Washington, D.C. (my new stomping grounds). Not unlike a good book, the store unveils ever better surprises as you progress. Reaching the store requires a jog down a flight of uninspiring concrete steps. You enter a small upstairs area with an artfully-shelved but small collection of books. A stationary section occupies much of the floor space. But then you notice a set of descending stairs and behold: a lower story that somehow manages to accommodate a beautiful children’s section, extensive shelves of adult and young adult fiction, a charming reading nook, book-themed art and knick-knacks, AND a seating area for author events… all without feeling cramped. Continue reading “East City Bookshop”

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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””

A recent conversation between the husband and me:

Me: I really need to get enough sleep tonight. When we go to bed, can you remind me not to stay up late reading?

Husband: *Makes skeptical, non-committal noise*

Me: What?

Husband: I learned long ago not to come between a girl and her book.

Me: Really? Do I get snarly?

Husband: You definitely don’t get more friendly.

They say good communication skills are the cornerstone of a healthy marriage. Guess I’m doing something right.

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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””