Book Reviews

Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

Okay, I’m going to be upfront here that this was a book club pick (my book club pick, actually), and we broke a cardinal rule: never read the first in a series. It’s incredibly difficult to judge character arcs and abandoned plot lines, because you know that the story is only just beginning. That also makes it difficult to write a fair review, but I will try.

Do you love whimsical stories rooted in complicated family dynamics? Apparently I do, because I adored reading this book. The Bear and the Nightingale is the first installment in The Winternight Trilogy, by Katherine Arden. It is a lovely fairytale mostly set in the medieval white winters of northern Russia, rife with monsters, helpful creatures, and even a wicked stepmother. Arden creates a charming world of frost and magic that could easily enchant an unsuspecting reader, like myself, into believing it is a reinvention of the classic genre. It is not.

**Vague Spoilers Ahead** And here is where the challenge of reviewing the first entry of a series presents itself. There are several seemingly throwaway plot threads that remain unresolved. There are several plot threads that seem entirely relevant to this particular story that also remain unresolved. The book is around 336 pages, and I was LIVING for the first 300. But the ending was so unsatisfying, that it left me wondering if Arden had to do a quick rewrite for the publishers in order to make this into a trilogy. And, without giving away too much, the actual resolution was underwhelming. How the major conflict is resolved, and who incites the resolution, was incredibly disappointing. However, without having read the next two books in the series, I really think it’s unfair of me to judge the book on these factors alone. **End Spoilers**

This was a pleasant, enjoyable read, for the most part. It was fast paced, fantastical, a little creepy, and I ended the book ready for the next chapter. If I was judging this as a stand alone novel, I would say it didn’t live up to its potential. However, this is only the beginning for Vasya, and I’m invested enough to see where she goes next. 3 Stars

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Historian

OH MY GOSH. Somehow I accidentally deleted my review. UUUGGGGHH. Hopefully I can repeat it.

The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova, is a sweeping historical fiction about, well, historians. This epistolary novel takes you on an adventure spanning centuries, hunting for the truth behind the myth of Dracula. If that isn’t enough for you, there’s romance, mystery, and suspense on every page.

The Historian begins when the unnamed narrator finds an unusual book with a carved dragon on the cover in her father’s study. When she asks her father about it, he unravels a tale of intrigue, danger, and suspense that eventually plunges our heroine into her own exciting quest. I know there isn’t a lot of detail to go on here, but I’ve found that too much information can make a book unenticing.

Part historical fiction, part horror, part travelogue, this book is flush with detail and imagination. Kostova is incredibly thorough in her historical research, which is admirable. But the exhaustive history lesson impacts the pacing. One minute, our protagonists are being chased by a potentially undead lackey, and the next we are treated to a 10 page treatise on the historical significance of Hungarian-Romanian relations in the fifteenth century. This particular device reminded me of War and Peace, another novel that is often criticized for its extraordinary attention to minute historical detail at the expense of plot.

Overall, however, the novel works. While Kostova doesn’t veer too far from Bram Stoker’s mythical interpretation of Vlad the Impaler, her prose, characters, and overarching mystery are fresh and engaging. Considering the content and eerie tone, this would be a great October read. 4 Stars

For more book reviews, and to help Pajiba stick it to cancer, check out Cannonball Read 11.


TBR: January 2019

Currently Reading:

  • The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova – Part mystery, part romance, part historical fiction. This book is EVERYTHING. I’m about 60% through it, and I know I’ll have a major book hangover because I am loving this adventure. This also meets my first Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge category – A Book You’ve Been Meaning to Read.
  • The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker – I’m only a few pages into this one, listening to it on audiobook. I have so many other books I’m reading for a purpose this month that I probably shouldn’t have started The Golem and the Jinni, but I travel for work and wanted something to listen to in the car. I don’t regret it.


  • Queen of the Night, Alexander Chee – Reading this for the Shelf by Shelf Back List Book Club.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden – Reading this for my IRL Book Club (Take a Look, It’s in a Book [Club]). If you’re in Atlanta, and want to join us, let me know!
  • Harry’s Trees, Jon Cohen – Reading this for the Modern Mrs. Darcy January Book Club.
  • Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen – Reading this as a “flight pick” or companion book to Harry’s Trees. This is actually a reread for me, and it’s one of my very most favorite books. It’s just such a lovely story about magical realism and strong women.
  • Murder on the Red River, Marcie R. Rendon – Reading this for the first Reading Women Challenge – A Mystery or Thriller by a WOC.
  • Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson – Reading this for the second Reading Women Challenge category – Woman with a Mental Illness.

What are YOU reading this month?

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Happy New Year!

Good evening, readers! It’s been a while (you’ve heard that before).

House Keeping: I’m taking this blog back to it’s roots. I’ve removed a lot of my random posts about food and DIY projects and capsule wardrobes. I may still meditate on the virtues of a pretty rug from time to time, listed under the Random Thoughts category, but for the most part you’ll just see Book Reviews and Notes on Reading.

Resolutions: As with most humanoid Americans, I’ve made several resolutions – drink 64 oz of water per day, workout out more, hike more, the usual. These are for my overall well being, because contrary to what 2018 Jenny thought, you can’t just sit in a cocoon and drink wine and pet puppies all day every day. I mean, you can, technically, but then you’ll gain 20 lbs and uncomfortably squeeze into your NYE outfit and question your choices for the year. Rinse. Repeat.

ANYWAY. These resolutions are important, to be sure. But the one I’m most excited for is literary.

I’ma read 52 books this year! I’ma do it, I swear. AND I’m going to write 52 reviews while I’m at it.

  • To keep myself accountable, and stick it to cancer at the same time, I’ve joined Cannonball Read 11.
  • To keep it affordable, I’m only going to read books I already own (with the exception of book club picks).
  • To keep it interesting, I’m doing the Modern Mrs. Darcy and Reading Women challenges.

So, that’s all for now. Check back tomorrow for my January TBR list.

Do YOU have any resolutions for 2019? What are they? How are you keeping yourself accountable?

Book Reviews

Speed Reads

I fell super duper far behind last year with my reviews, which is a shame. There are a few books I read that I absolutely adored, but I’m so far removed from when I read them that I don’t think I’d be able to write a detailed critique. Instead, I’m just going to provide a few thoughts here and tell you that I HIGHLY recommend the books listed below.

garden-spells Garden Spells: I LOVED this book. I read it in the middle of a south Georgia July, cooled by the shade of a porch and slow moving fans. Garden Spells is at once a love story to the south, a supernatural mystery, and a family drama. I admired the strength of the Waverly women, and adored the quaintness of Bascom, NC. I could almost smell the lavendar and rose petals from Claire’s kitchen, and I fell a little bit in love with the idea of gardening. If you grew up in the 90s loving Practical Magic like I did, you have to read this book. 5 Stars

the-veins-of-the-oceanThe Veins of the Ocean: Reina’s early life is tragic. My heart ached for her unconditional love of her brother, and the first several chapters are painfully sad. But once she seeks a fresh start, the novel comes alive. The narrative eventually unfolds into a very sweet love story between two people looking for a future while holding on to the past. With gorgeous prose set in the heat of the Florida keys and Cuba, this book reveals the distinct hardships and struggles that immigrants face coming to America, while also underscoring the universal desire for love and intimacy. 4.5 Stars

ready-player-oneReady Player One: Y’all know I love a good audiobook, and this did not disappoint. Narrated perfectly by Wil Wheaton, the book follows the adventures of Wade Watts, aka Parzival, as he competes in the virtual world of the OASIS to find a hidden Easter egg left by James Halliday. Part science fiction, part fantasy, part 80s nostalgia, part YA, when this novel isn’t dropping pop culture trivia it’s thrusting the action forward at breakneck speed. I found myself taking the long way home so I could listen to Wheaton’s narration as long as possible. Such a fun adventure with a truly satisfying ending. 5 Stars.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line

VMars Thousand DollarEver year, Eric’s dad and his entire extended family take a trip to the beach. It’s a wonderful, week-long affair that includes nightly home cooked meals, sunburns, and rocking chairs. The house sleeps close to 30 people, and we usually end up at capacity. It’s not a quiet trip, but it is full of love and fun.

I love walking along the beach at sunset, and spending hours lounging in the pool, but if I’m being perfectly honest, my absolute favorite thing to do during beach week is sit on the huge back porch and read or listen to an audio book. The porch faces the ocean, and it’s the perfect place to find a little bit of peace in the afternoon, when most folks are out tanning themselves or building sandcastles.

In preparation for beach week, I read the previous Summer Reading Guides from Modern Mrs. Darcy, as well as various other summer reading recommendation lists through out her site. I can’t recall where I saw the recommendation for The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, but she specifically suggests trying the audio version, as Kristen Bell narrates it.

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line picks up shortly after the events of the 2014 movie. While this is a great continuation of a beloved fictional universe, it is also definitely a stand-alone story, and there’s enough influence from the exposition fairy that you don’t necessarily have to be a fan to enjoy the read.

The novel takes place in Neptune during spring break, so imagery of beaches, bikinis and body shots abound. But the atmosphere of a film noir is unmistakable. Sketchy eye witnesses, hidden agendas, and powerful political forces make the search for two missing girls a difficult, seemingly insurmountable one. The investigation twists and turns at a solid, if expected pace, and the welcome introduction of high powered, morally ambiguous, former-model-turned-hotelier Petra Landros adds a new layer to the already complex and politically charged beach town.

The story is a great mystery, as I said, with suspects, misdirection, and dangers galore. To the “marshmellow” fans out there, this is a welcome addition to the canon. Absolutely true to the heart of the show, the wit, the love, the pessimism with a dash of hope – all of it is there, along with fan favorite characters and a few surprising returns.

Kristen Bell’s narration of the audiobook is a fun way to ease into the new delivery platform. She’s playful in her impersonations of Weevil, Keith, Mac and Wallace. But hearing the narrative from Veronica herself made the transition from silver screen more seamless. Thomas and Graham’s descriptions were so clear and perfect, I could close my eyes and see Dog Beach or Mars Investigation without missing a beat.

I truly loved coming back to Neptune. I know the next installment, Mr. Kiss and Tell, will feel just as familiar, while keeping me on my toes with Thomas’s signature dark mystery and sardonic humor. 5 Stars

Book Reviews

Random Thoughts

I. According to a 2013 study done by the Pew Research Center, the average American adult reads (or listens to) 12 books a year. I’ve read 11 so far, and that number seems so puny. I’m currently in the middle of The Veins of the Ocean, The Paper Magician, The Drawing of the Three, and I just started Crafting Novels & Short Stories: The Complete Guide to Writing Great Fiction. So, I know that number is on the rise, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so  much of this year NOT reading.

II. Speaking of Crafting Novels & Short Stories, I’ve started writing. Aside from keeping up this blog, I’ve also been jotting ideas down for fiction. I’ve never been a good writer, I don’t think. I’ve received minor praise in the past for some class assignments – a short story or a poem here and there, but if we’re being honest, my attempts are often remedial and mundane. But the summer I turned 30, we went to the beach, and one night I sat on the back porch and wrote an entire story about one of the most important relationships of my life. And I’m actually very proud of it. Since then, I’ve had other ideas here and there, and I feel like now is the time to start writing them down. I want to see where they can go with a little guidance, direction and editing. I’m excited. I hope I don’t suck.

III. I said before that I don’t want too much structure to this blog, but I do want to make a goal to write enough to have a post every weekday. I’m pretty far behind in my Book Reviews, and there a few projects I’m planning for around the house that I’d like to share. I’m praying that my summer slows down enough so that I can sit down with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, and really commit to this. Not for any outward plans, but just because writing a little bit every day help you become a better writer, a better communicator.

I have a terrible memory, and I make jokes all the time that I’m losing words, but as I get older, the jokes become less funny and take on a slightly serious, slightly scary tone. I don’t want to lose words anymore. I want to keep them, hold them, cherish them, use them.

So I want to use this little corner of the Internet to keep my words from leaving me. I hope that’s okay. I hope it works.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Gunslinger

thegunslingerFor years I spent my summers working for a local theater company, Georgia Shakespeare (may it rest in peace). Aside from the gorgeous repertory productions they put on every year, meeting new people from all over the east coast, lovers of theater trying to make it in the field, was the best thing about the company. One of these folks, a boy with piercing blue eyes who liked to drink too much beer and play Pearl Jam on his acoustic guitar, gave me his copy of The Gunslinger the last night of the season.

I didn’t like westerns much at the time, and after leafing through a few pages, I put it down. But year after year, when I would cull my book collection this one always stayed on the shelves, never quite making it to the donation box.

Then, a few months ago, a famous author and two famous actors sent the internet into a flutter of excitement with three tweets.

gunslinger twitter
Credit: VF

I figured now was as good a time as any to pick up and start again. It was one of the first tolerable days of spring. The nip in the air from our short winter was gone, but it was still fairly cool, even in the sun. I grabbed a long sleeve t-shirt, a decaf coffee, and The Gunslinger, and sat down in a camp chair on our front porch. Eric came out with his phone, ready to read whatever Cracked article would tell him the most about science, when he asked me what I was reading. I told him it was a Stephen King fantasy, and that they were making a movie starring Stringer Bell and “Alright alright alright”. His interest was piqued, but he continued with his Cracked articles.

The next day, I found him on the front porch with my book in hand.

“What are you doing?” I asked.


“But I’m reading that.”

“Okay. But I like it.”

“…Do you want to read it together?”

And so, together we read The Gunslinger, mostly on our front porch, mostly drinking a bourbon or a beer, me reading aloud playing with voices. We read about Roland Deschain, his dark history, the town of Tull, Alice. We read about the tragedies of Jake Chambers, the muties, the search for the Dark Tower. And we read about the Man in Black.

This story sucked me in from the start. I don’t know how I wasn’t compelled the first time around, but every time I put this book down I was sad to leave. The world of the Gunslinger is fascinating and familiar, and also completely foreign and inexplicable. Roland is a complicated and mysterious man, his mission simple and yet hard to pin down. His relationship with Jake Chambers – sweet, confused, wise, Jake –  is something that both softens him, and almost derails him from his path.

What is the Dark Tower? Why is Roland drawn to find it? The Gunslinger asks so many questions and gives very few answers. Obviously, we’ll be picking up the second book of the series. 5 Stars

Book Reviews

Review: & Sons

And SonsWhat a gorgeous novel. This was my first selection from the Book of the Month Club, selected by Josh Radnor. I was so incredibly pleased. The plot summary mentioned that the novel is book ended by deaths, and the reviews I read begged the reader not to let the morose subject deter them. I’m so glad I didn’t, because getting to know the Dyer family was a sad and wonderful journey.

The novel is told in first person by an unreliable and inconsequential narrator, and yet somehow the focus is able to shift between various players who don’t share a space with him. And while this could make for a frustrating, plot hole driven experience, Gilbert has masterfully created a character so pathetically drawn to this family that it only seems natural that he would know what each member is doing at any given moment.

This is not a novel with fast action and plot twists (though it has one or two). It is a beautiful study of a genius going mad, and how his talent and self-destructive nature impacts the people he loves the most – a somewhat familiar tale.

The prose are lovingly crafted by Gilbert, shifting subtly depending on the character in focus, and I wanted to devour every word. I lingered on paragraphs, awestruck by some of his turns of phrase.

This book is not without it’s faults though, and I can’t write about it in 2016 and not mention the stark lack of diversity – in race, gender, and privilege. With one brief exception, the “view point” characters are white, abundantly wealthy, and male. I loved reading about them, their motivations, and their struggles, but even while enjoying some of the most lovely parts of the novel, a nagging voice in the back of my head asked “Haven’t we read this before? Over and over and over?”

I still love this novel, unabashedly, and will recommend it time and again. Simultaneously, I will hold out a small bit of hope that talented writers like David Gilbert will use their pens to write pieces that are slightly more modern and inclusive. 4.5 Stars

Book Reviews · DNF

DNF: A History of God

I bought this book in 2007, half a year out of school, still trying to impress the boys reading Noam Chomsky and The Economist.

I’ve always found religion, history, and human nature fascinating and full of layers. At 22 years old, with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and fresh out of new episodes of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to read books that piqued my interest and enlightened me. Or at least I thought I did.

Non-fiction, even the most highly rated and captivating, has always bored me. I wish it didn’t. I know there is so much to learn from memoirs and academic essays. But the books I’ve found the hardest to push through (with a few exceptions) fall squarely into the non-fiction category.

Unfortunately, this book joins that list. I have picked it up and started from page 1 more times than I can count. In 2007, I thought perhaps I needed more patience, less distractions. I bookmarked page 17 and left it to sit. I picked it up, started over, let it sit. Picked it up, started over, let it sit.

Earlier this year, I picked it up again. Craving some exercise for my brain, begging to be enriched, I thought “Now is the time!”

And I finally, after 9 years, finished chapter 1. As a Jewish person, reading such a detached and historical depiction of the Hebrew tribes was difficult and eye-opening. But the style is still dry and any hint of story telling is still far too academic and impersonal for me.

In a work of non-fiction like this, the detachment is probably for the best. There is no judgement of religion, no qualitative assessments, no clear preference. But I’ve found that those sorts of author-biases are what drive me to continue. So this is obviously just a personal preference, but this book is not for me, and after almost a decade, I’m putting it down for good. 2 Stars