Book Review: Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary by Laura Stanfill

Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary by Laura Stanfill

Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary by Laura Stanfill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I can’t pinpoint the exact origin of the magic by which Laura Stanfill creates her enchantment of a novel Singing Lessons for the Stylish Canary. It might be the delectably detailed knowledge of a little-known instrument’s history woven into the plot. It might be the sumptuous descriptions of Old Word France village life in the 1800s. It might be the is-it-or-isn’t-it? treatment of superstition and fate. It might be the determination to create a book that is both relentlessly positive and relentlessly real about the human heart. It’s probably all of this and more. If you’re looking for something to whisk you away–something entirely free of cell phones and instead draped with bobbin lace–this is it.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

Melmoth by Sarah Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Sarah Perry’s sophomore novel may be a gothic tale about fear, but the writing itself is absolutely fearless. Uniting several different stories that cross time and place by cataloging them as proof in a surreal monster investigation, Perry dissects the idea of guilt in ways both sweeping and intimate. In a narrative style that pulls the reader (at times uncomfortably) close, the story allows us to discover and dread along with our protagonist. Unnerving, at times devastating, at times funny, and always honest, this is a modern, cursed gothic story told with a wildfire level of passion, even as it masquerades beneath British restraint.



View all my reviews

Book Review: The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read this book at my cousin’s recommendation during the 2020 U.S. election–a stressful week-plus of national tension that required pure escapist fantasy. L. M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame) was a master of such tales, and this one is as dramatic, witty, romantic, and treacly as they come. This novel does what every Hallmark movie is forever trying to equal, and it did it first. I came to be swept away and was! May we all have such happy endings and affirmations of our truest selves.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

Whiskey When We're Dry by John Larison

Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


John Larison breathes new life into the Western with Whiskey When We’re Dry, a book with a new edge on the genre that smells like gunsmoke and lets us fully into the body of an American person who represents so many of us, past, present, and future. Jesse’s voice explores so much–what we do or don’t owe our family, our gender, our employers, our friends, our lovers. A remarkable, whip-smart read that feels vintage and fresh at the same time.



View all my reviews

Book Review: The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

The Mercies

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s sea-soaked novel The Mercies is as unflinching as it is intimate. Told through the perspectives of two women brought together by circumstance and hardship, it is as much a love story as it is an impeccably researched account of what it might have felt like to live as a woman at the northern edge of the world during a time when the smallest deviance could become a witchery death sentence. Hargrave’s book is moving, menacing, and marvelous.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Hild by Nicola Griffith

Hild

Hild by Nicola Griffith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This novel is an absolute achievement in historical fiction. Griffith’s writing is immersive and physically visceral. Hild’s world is painted in full color. The depiction of the constant anxiety that accompanied the people of this time period, especially women (even those with significant power) breathes reality into the characters. The vying of belief systems as Christianity gains a political foothold in Britain creates a compelling overtone of tension that always lingers above the more personal power struggles at play. The love and fear both feel real. The novel would benefit from some more aggressive editing, as certain phrases and trains of thought were oft-repeated. As many other reviewers have noted, more complete educational tools are also needed to help readers track the many figures at play in the complex war games that span decades. It was enough for me to know that Hild saw the full “warp and weft,” though, and I cannot overstate how transportative the writing is when at its best.



View all my reviews

Book Review: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The Essex Serpent is a thought-provoking, lushly gothic read that imagines an Austen-esque heroine in her darkest timeline. Sarah Perry, much like her insatiably curious heroine Cora, unearths everything she can find within her narrative, revealing pieces of debates about religious belief, social obligation, and the nature of friendship. It’s a story filled with the pursuit of forbidden desires and is really fairly devoid of redemption–which is, I think, exactly the point. Mythical serpents are always better in our minds than seeing the truth flayed on the shore, and Perry plays with this idea in human nature. What if the things that we wanted to happen–with our friendships, with our fascinations, with our attractions, with our deaths–were all actually granted? Would it be what we wanted and hoped for? Or would we rather cling to the mystery of what our lives might be like? The novel brims with life, but also with defeat. An absorbing read.



View all my reviews

Book Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lincoln in the Bardo is simply a brilliant work of art. George Saunders takes the historical truth of President Lincoln’s grief over his dead son, and imagines it into a bizarre and stunning meditation on the unseen tension between the living and the dead. The story’s mouthpiece is not one, but rather a cacophony of restless ghosts–a structural risk that pays off admirably for Saunders, creating something as weird and gorgeous as it is indelible. The novel romps, slinks, and keens through the liminal space of haunting, exploring the uncertainties of identity that characterize our uneasy relationship with mortality. This book is remarkable.

View all my reviews

Book Review: Montana 1948 by Larry Watson

Montana 1948Montana 1948 by Larry Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Larry Watson shows us what extremely clean, precise literary writing looks like in Montana 1948. Watson’s narrator takes the defining secret from his Montanan family’s past and slowly unfolds it for us, remembered through the lens of his twelve-year-old self’s point of view. The result is a quietly explosive look at a family’s sudden breach of normalcy, and their response to a challenge of values. The brightest moments are in the little characterization touches that are stunning in their nuance, and the overall sense of place that permeates this Western parable. The story is simple, but gets to that place where fiction feels true. Watson effectively explores what the idea of freedom means to different kinds of people when they live in a place wild enough to allow the space to commit any deed one might be able to dream up… at least until somebody else finds out about it.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear (Earth's Children, #1)The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list when it came out in 1980. The book also made its way, along with the rest of the series, to my mother’s bookshelf. When I discovered it as a young middle schooler sometime in the 90’s, I wasn’t allowed to read it. So I thought it was about time! This novel is still captivating, and its power comes from the meticulous, extensive research about ancient people groups that comes through so clearly in Auel’s prose. The writing is not particularly artful in craft, and I wouldn’t say that the book is without pacing problems, but it’s still an addicting (almost guilty) thrill for the modern reader. This book set my imagination on fire. It prompted me to do a bunch of research of my own on neanderthal people, their technologies, and their relationship with early humans. Also: holy cow was I emotionally invested in these characters! This book has that wonderful transportative effect that takes you into the adventure and makes you want to fight, love, and feel alongside the characters. If you missed The Clan of the Cave Bear the first time that it was a big deal, and you have any degree of fascination with a world where people hunted mammoth and lived in caves, do yourself a favor and take this ride with Ayla, Creb, Iza, Brun, and the celebrated Jean M. Auel.

View all my reviews