Bite-Sized Book Reviews

Sometimes I post about what I am reading. Today is one of those days.

A couple of disclaimers about these reviews:

A) They don’t necessarily summarize the book.

B) I’m no longer an English major being made to read things. I read what I want. Sometimes it’s YA. Sometimes it’s literary. Sometimes it’s chick lit. The end.

C) Because I love books, I’d love to hear your book recommendations and feedback, too. Chime in!

Let’s commence.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

This book is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, set it modern day Cincinnati (and New York and the Bay Area). I resisted reading it when it was published a few years hence, because I didn’t want the modernity of it to ruin what is basically a perfect original book. I stand corrected. It ruined nothing. I loved it. It was masterfully reworked into today’s world—the characters, the plot, and even the dialogue. I’m a little in awe of Curtis Sittenfeld for doing a retake on one of the world’s best books and doing such a bang-up job of it. True Jane-ites who relish the Regency time and setting may not go for the modern updates, but they totally worked for me.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

While visiting my sister over the summer in San Francisco, we saw the newest film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel late one night in the Embarcadero. It inspired me to delve back into the moody drama of du Maurier’s books. Frenchman’s Creek is less psychologically dark and more culturally and romantically driven. It tells a familiar tale from literature of a disaffected upper-class woman looking for fulfillment. It’s du Maurier, so it’s still dark, but also skillfully rendered and fresh, considering it was published something like seventy years ago. I liked it okay and I still think Daphne du Maurier is cool.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg

This is one of those books everyone should revisit because it gets better with age. It’s a Newberry winner and it’s definitely dated. Most of the events in the book would never happen now because technology is so different. Yet it’s a glorious time capsule for a not-too-distant era during which young people felt similar things to young people today, and of all time periods, frankly. It’s kind of a magical take on the “running away from home” and also “taking a journey” tropes of YA lit.

A Gathering of Days: A New England Girl’s Journal, 1830-1832 by Joan W. Blos

You know what I love about YA fiction? You can read an entire book in a day. And if you choose wisely, much of it is just so terrific. I’m stuck on Newberry winners currently, which is a good place to be. Joan Blos’s book was published in 1979 and sucked me right in. It’s beautifully rendered and historically deft. I felt slothful after reading about the work ethic and never-ending daily necessities of these New Hampshire townsfolk. The characters are based on real people who lived in the area, but are vividly imagined and rounded out in this story which has stayed with me for days after finishing it.

Chalice by Robin McKinley

This is Robin McKinley at her weirdest. And yet, I still love her. I feel like you might have to already be a devoted McKinley fan to jump into this fantasy book, though. It’s very her. It’s like she took her characters and plot lines and fantasy elements from The Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, and Beauty—all better-known books, put them on steroids and said, “Screw it. This is what I like and this is what I do. Read it or don’t read it.” Do you like how I project personalities onto writers? This book is crazy. It’s about honey and how honey saves a kingdom, basically. I liked it.

The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

I met Becky at a writing and teaching conference a couple of years ago. She is a tiny little live wire with big creative ideas and a huge heart. Her YA series The Keeper’s Chronicles starts with The Storyspinner. Book two is The Skylighter. I was enamored with the characters and the story arc in the books, both of which I raced through. Her pacing, shifting narrators, action, and beautifully envisioned world reaffirmed to me why YA fiction is so glorious. I love meeting writers in person AND on the page. Books and book people are the best. I’m a Becky Wallace fan.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King

Emily King lives in Utah, like me (yay, Utah writers!), and writes cool stories. This book’s setting and story were completely engaging to me. I’m also a fan of books with fully-realized female characters, which this one does in spades. It’s got the magical realism elements that so many YA stories do, and it injects them into the story of a girl being forced into a marriage as the hundredth wife of a rajah. It’s a coming-of-age, but also coming-of-awareness, ability, and competency tale as Kalinda takes her future into her own hands. This was a fun read.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks

I am currently reading this book. Brooks is a gifted writer. One of my favorite books ever is her Caleb’s Crossing. I also loved Year of Wonders. This one is an imagining of David from the Old Testament. While the Bible is totally my jam, I haven’t always loved every movie or book which tries to flesh out biblical stories. The Secret Chord is so classically Brooks, though, meaning it is written exquisitely. She understands people and cultures and the undercurrents which drive them. I am relishing this book.

You Are Boring, But You Are Uniquely Boring by Louise Plummer and Ann Cannon

This is a memoir-writing book for the average person (yay for being average!), pieced out in lovely snippets by my two writing mentors and friends, Ann and Louise. They are so good at teaching the art of writing by making it accessible and entertaining. Read it and be inspired to write about your own life. I predict you may also fall in love with the authors.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

This book and the sequel, Crooked Kingdom are a darkly imagined look at the “deplorables” I supposed you could say, of a fantasy city, Ketterdam. But are the thieves and slum-dwelling riff-raff the actual villains? These books showcase the rot that infiltrates humanity when it is driven by greed, abuse, and unchecked lust. They are exciting reads with an ensemble of relatable characters, despite their mystical gifts and probably because of their hang ups.


What are you reading? Please tell.

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