The Top-Rated Book of 2017: a 1×3 discussion of The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

Usually the most-read or “top-rated” books of the year during the year tend to be the thrillers and romance adventure; rarely are they the really good books that we’re always searching for. But Natalie decided to try out an intriguing title, and since she claimed it was her “favorite book of this decade, maybe century,” the rest of us joined the club. What follows is a slightly condensed 1×3 version (1 book, 3 reviewers) of our online discussion regarding Katherine Arden’s debut novel The Bear and the Nightingale.

Bear_Nightingale_CoverRECAP: Set in medieval times, the story centers around Vasilisa (or “Vasya”) Petrovna and her family in their village in the frozen tundra of Russia. What most of us didn’t know is that this story is a retelling of an old Russian folktale about a girl and the Frost King. So much of the story involves these fairytale-like household spirits; and Vasya spends much of the story discovering and trying to understand the unique gifts and powers she somehow has – and how to best protect the ones she loves with them.

What was your star rating (out of 5) for this book?

Natalie: 5 stars. Arden sets the scene well. I even felt the temperature changes as I read – the brutality of winter and the warmth of the fires.

AB: Also 5 stars. I was engaged the entire time, and I cared about the characters.

Meg: I’m going with 4.5 stars – I loved the writing style, characters, character development (mostly), creativity of storyline, and vivid locale depictions – but didn’t care for the somewhat stereotypical “fundamental religious evil guy” and the “Vasya as strong-woman feminist hero” by the end. Just so Hunger Games/Divergent to me.

[Natalie and AB roll eyes]  Continue reading

Summer Reads 2017

Here’s just a list of fun and/or interesting-but-not-tedious reads for long vacation drives and warm summer days. We’ve categorized them (somewhat) for a quick perusal based on reader interest. We hope you’ll find some you enjoy! 

Editor’s Pick*

TMGTruly, Madly Guilty, by Liane Moriarty (Genre: Fiction)
Three couples gather for an afternoon barbecue and find their lives permanently altered. So what in the world happened at the barbecue? I (Natalie) couldn’t put down Truly, Madly Guilty until the author answered this question. Moriarty teases out the details in a somewhat maddening, but incredibly suspenseful way. That’s why this is my summer read choice. You won’t be bored reading it by the pool or on the beach. Continue reading

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

Review by Meg 

When I was a college freshman, I wrote a “10 year” letter to myself – to be read when I was 29. It was full of the usual stuff – who my friends were, what classes I was taking, the guy that I currently had a crush on, etc. I put it away in my keepsake box and proceeded to forget about it. Then, when I was 28, right after having my first child, I found it – and decided 9 years was good enough to wait, and re-met my 19-year-old self. By this point in my life, it was mostly funny to read, maybe mildly embarrassing (I liked THAT guy – Really? And thought I might MARRY him??). But that whole instance brings up an interesting question: Do you know what your life will be like 10 years from now?

What Alice Forgot begins with Alice waking up (with a very sore head), thinking she’s 29 years old, madly in love and about to have her first baby – only to be told that she’s actually 39, has 3 kids, and is about to get a divorce. Shealice has absolutely no memory of the last ten years of her life, and cannot imagine how on earth she got to where she is now.

The next 476 pages unfold with Alice trying to remember her life and repair the damage she’s done. But without her memory, she is, as she puts it “floating helplessly above the calendar like an escaped balloon.” I flew through this book – IN ONE DAY (that’s how much I just needed to help Alice resolve her issues). In one sense, the premise is similar to other memory-loss stories like Remember Me, but what’s unique about this story are the close-to-home issues that many “ordinary” people experience – about marriage and divorce (and custody battles), and about the grief and heartache of infertility. The story unfolds with 3 narrative voices – mostly through the 3rd-person omnicient author, but also through the journals of Alice’s sister, Elisabeth and the letters of Frannie, Alice’s surrogate grandmother, to her long-dead fiance. I know that may sound confusing, but I thought the change-up in narration helped weave some interesting texture into the plot (and gave us that special, inside look into Elisabeth’s infertility).

The story’s ending seemed to “work out nicely” – and I’m sure some readers will be disappointed that it wasn’t more shocking and post-modernly heartbreaking – but I really appreciated the fact that the resolution (for all 3 women) had true goodness and what I would call the kind gifts of God winning the day.

Purchase What Alice Forgot here.

NOTABLE QUOTES: 

“It’s Mother’s Day next Sunday. That’s the most painful day of the year for an Infertile. I always wake up feeling ashamed. Not sad so much. Just ashamed. Sort of stupid. It’s a version of that feeling I had in high school when I was the only one in my class who didn’t need to wear a bra. I’m not a proper woman. I’m not a grown-up.” 

“But maybe every life looked wonderful if all you saw was the photo albums.”

“Each memory, good and bad, was another invisible thread that bound them together, even when they were foolishly thinking they could lead separate lives. It was as simple and complicated as that.”

“Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best– well, that sort of love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”