When I was in high school and college, I was a champion procrastinator. I typically didn’t start writing papers until the night before they were due. By college this was a talent in and of itself. I was a lit major, so the bulk of my assignments were lengthy. Twelve or more pages of coherent analysis written in one night was commonplace. I felt as though I wrote better under the pressure of a looming deadline.
There are no looming deadlines for this blog. I can post as frequently as I desire. The tricky thing is finding that balance between reading and writing about reading. Reading a book with the aim of publishing a review is a bit different than reading for pure pleasure. Sometimes I approach a book like an old friend stopping by for a long overdue visit. Sometimes a book is loaned to me, and I feel the responsibility of making its polite acquaintance before returning it quickly to its home. Sometimes I wander aimlessly through a book, like a traveler, letting the sites and characters wash over me without judgement. I don’t always post reviews. There are times when I want to read without analysis or critique.
Maybe all of that explains why this particular post was so hard to complete. Procrastination hit me full force. In the end, I just couldn’t be bothered with lengthy analysis; though these books deserve the attention to detail.
Instead, I decided to post 4 mini reviews. Once I loaded them all into one post, it was pretty freaking long. You don’t have time to hang out here all day, so I’ll break this sucker up into two separate posts.
Let’s start with The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, and then Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I’ve seen this book practically everywhere for a long time now, and okay, wow. I see what all the hype is about. Vasya grows up hearing folklore and fairy tales from her nanny. As she grows older, it becomes apparent that she can see the creatures from the old stories; spirits that guard the house, the horses in the stable, the forest, etc.. When a new priest comes to her village, preaching against the old stories and traditions, her community fearfully abandons their ways. They stop leaving offerings for the spirits guarding their communities, and the spirits become weak, little able to protect the village. As an ancient, evil force awakens in the forest bringing chaos and death to their community, Vasya attempts to make peace with the spirits, and protect her family and village.
This book is strongly planted in fairy tale and Russian folklore. Of course Vasya’s mother dies at the beginning of the story, and her father remarries a woman who despises Vasya. Of course Vasya is believed to be a witch, and is feared and ostracized by her community even as she attempts to protect and save them. Of course there are ancient forces of good and evil warring with each other, and Vasya is entwined in the fate of the battle. The beauty of this book is how well it is done. It doesn’t feel as though it relies too heavily on the usual archetypes. For example, the “evil stepmother” is really just a weak and frightened woman struggling with her own perceived madness. Vasya is both the damsel-in-distress and the hero galloping to the rescue.
For Ages | Adult
Genre | Fantasy
Should you read this book? | By golly, yes! It’s a fast read; part one of a trilogy. I couldn’t put it down, and am looking forward to the next book in the series.
Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Raymie Clarke’s father runs off with his mistress, leaving Raymie and her mother devastated and confused. Raymie is convinced she can bring him back home by winning a beauty pageant. In need of a talent for the pageant, she begins baton twirling lessons, and meets two new friends with their own unique motivations for participating in baton lessons. They forge a friendship that does more for Raymie than the pageant ever could.
I suspect I would have really enjoyed this book in 4th or 5th grade. As an adult, I had a little trouble getting into it, and found the story a little flat. However, I am a huge fan of Kate DiCamillo, and generally feel that you can’t go wrong with her books. I appreciate that she wrote a story highlighting the empowering element of good female friendships. For this reason alone, this is a great selection for middle readers, especially young girls. It’s important to have stories about girls boosting and supporting each other.
For Ages | 10-13 years
Genre | Middle Reader, Fiction
Should you read this book? | Possibly. Are you in middle school, or an advanced reader headed into middle school? If yes, you’ll probably enjoy this book. If no, maybe give this one a pass, and check out one of DiCamillo’s other works.
Check out An Enchantment of Nightingales: Mini Reviews, Part II with mini reviews of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, and The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange.