Book Review: The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

Somehow I ended up owning two copies of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, while knowing little about it beyond it was a fantasy book that receives glowing reviews online. While brainstorming birthday presents for my dad last year (and knowing well his habit of reading good, bad, and terrible fantasy and sci-fi novels), I reasoned that I could give him The Name of the Wind based purely on what I had heard others saying about it. A risky gamble, but it paid off: not only did my dad love the book, but he ended up passing it to two colleagues who also loved it. This was finally enough to motivate me to read the book that I had already recommended!

The Name of the Wind could have been an interesting fantasy if only because of its unique narrative structure: it is the story of Kvothe, a famous arcanist and warrior, told by Kvothe himself, over the course of a single day. I loved this conceit. It allowed us to compare the Kvothe of years ago–brash, curious, and fierce–with the man he is today, without quite knowing yet why the change occurred.

And luckily for readers, the framing device is not the only wonderful thing about this novel. The worldbuilding, for example, is fantastic. While only a few locations are fleshed out in this first book, they are given such depth that you truly see and experience them along with Kvothe. The University reminded me of my own college days (though sadly I didn’t get to learn about sigils and alchemy) and the ways in which the presence of an institute of higher learning can change a city, for better and for worse. Meanwhile, Tarbean represented the worst that I’ve seen and experienced in cities: apathetic people, squalid living conditions, and a sense of hopelessness that hangs like smog. It is really a credit to Rothfuss that he is able to make the geography and locations of Kvothe’s life simultaneously feel so real and so fantastic.

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Book Review: Blackfin Sky, by Kat Ellis

I know that young adult literature is undergoing a revival, both in publisher interest and popular culture. I know that everyone, young and old, has been enjoying “new” YA, from Twilight to The Book Thief to The Fault in Our Stars. I know that there is some fine YA out there, and that I’ve been lucky enough to have read some of it when I was actually a young adult.

I also know that I personally struggle to appreciate the current trends of YA sometimes, and that I am basically a grumpy old curmudgeon, yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

All of this to say that I am not the target audience for Kat Ellis’s debut YA novel, Blackfin Sky, but  it’s not because it is YA; it’s because it is not a well-crafted novel overall. In fact, I think it is pandering and insulting to its intended audience of young adults, many of whom are critical and discerning readers themselves.

Blackfin Sky starts off promisingly enough: Sky Rousseau is dead. Or rather, she was dead–for three months. Now, to the shock of the town of Blackfin, she’s alive and well, with no memory of the time that she spent “dead.” This part of the book was enjoyable, as Sky’s family and friends tried to deal with her apparent resurrection, and Sky struggled to unravel the mystery of what really happened the night she supposedly drowned. Then things start getting a little bonkers, as Sky discovers she has certain special abilities, that the burned-down circus on the edge of town holds importance to many of the secrets of her past, and that someone out there is hunting her down. This summary makes the disparate elements sound more cohesive than they actually are. Thrown into that main plotline are narrative cul de sacs like a missing little boy at the circus, a murder mystery, a “haunted” house, and some truly distracting attempts at a French accent.

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Book Review: Incubus, by Ann Arensberg

It’s not often that an American Book Award winner decides to write a supernatural thriller centered around the haunting of a small town in Maine, but that’s exactly what Ann Arensberg has done with Incubus. While the premise may not seem original (and indeed, seems like something Stephen King has pretty well covered!) Arensberg’s take is unique, owing to her choice of narrator.

We follow the increasingly frightening events through the eyes of Cora, wife of the town rector, Henry. The novel starts with a letter from Cora, stating that – due to the nearly unexplainable events that afflicted their town – she and Henry have established a center that studies supernatural phenomenon, and helps those who are currently suffering the way they suffered. It’s a nice touch, and made the novel seem as though it were actually a tale of true accounts.

Throughout the novel, Cora is preoccupied by the day-to-day, the mundane: caring for her garden, running the church’s bake sale, cooking three square meals a day for her husband. (Warning: Do not read while hungry. The descriptions of her food will set your stomach to rumbling!) Cora notes potentially-supernatural events – unseasonable heat, lack of rain, the paralytic nightmares suffered by her friends and family – dryly, straight-forwardly. Everything has a logical explanation for Cora, leaving the reader to doubt both her interpretations and our own…until there simply are not more logical explanations, and even Cora needs to recognize that something otherworldly has been influencing these events.

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Book Review: The Tastemakers, by David Sax

Kale. Cupcakes. Bacon-wrapped everything.

What do all of these foods have in common? Besides being delicious, that is.


They’re all trendy. Who could possibly forget the internet’s obsession with bacon? Or the prevalence of fondue in homes in the 1970s? Or even the spread of the chia seed as the next superfood?

Spurred by the cupcake craze of the early 2000s, journalist David Sax takes on the mission of deciphering the popularity of different food items in The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed up With Fondue. He doesn’t stop there, though. Sax takes us on a journey through the kitchens of top-notch chefs who have a renewed interest in the artisanal, the fields of farmers experimenting with crop cross-breeding, and the board rooms of food corporations spending millions to create the next big thing.

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Book Review: The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill, ed. Judy Sternlight

Some readers may already know that I am a proud Brunonian. I went to Brown University for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, and enjoyed my time there very much. (“So nice I went there twice!”) I dabbled in subjects I had never tried before, read lots of challenging books, made some lifelong friends, met the boyfriend I am still dating, wrote for the Brown Daily Herald, and just generally had all sorts of experiences that contributed to making me the person I am today!

For an added note of nostalgia, just a few weekends ago was Brown’s commencement ceremony and reunion, as well as the Campus Dance, a really pleasant tradition where alumni return to campus to enjoy bands playing out under the stars on the Main Green.

That’s why when I saw The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill up on Netgalley, in celebration of Brown University’s 250th anniversary, I knew I had to have it. Edited by Judy Sternlight, a 1982 Brown grad and long-time editor, the collection includes essays by such big-name Brown grads as Jeffrey Eugenides, Edwidge Danticat, Marilynne Robinson, and many more. It seems that Sternlight reached out to other Brown alumni in publishing to commission this impressive anthology; lucky for her, Brown has produced many writing-inclined folks!

As with almost any anthology, the stories were uneven and differed widely in tone, making it challenging to review. Some, like Jeffrey Eugenides’ “Sun Under Cloud Cover,” were pointed and hilarious as they poked fun not just at Brown but at the other Ivy League schools. Others were serious reflections on what the writer gained and lost at Brown, including appreciations for new academic or artistic pursuits, like theater or medicine.

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Book Review: Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

Rarely have I read a novel that self-destructed as spectacularly in its conclusion as Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders. In my experience, at least, if a book is going to go sour, it happens quickly and early on. You probably know the feeling: you crack open a book you’re excited about, or that’s been recommended to you by someone you trust, and start to read, and it dawns on you almost immediately that you are going to hate this book, but you gamely struggle on, hoping against hope that it will get better. And when it doesn’t, you’re disappointed, but not necessarily surprised.

Year of Wonders is different, in large part because it starts out so strongly–making that fact that it ends so poorly feel almost like a betrayal.

Year of Wonders is, on the one hand, an impeccably-researched historical fiction novel about a small English town that, when faced with an outbreak of the bubonic plague, chooses to isolate itself to prevent the disease from spreading. Inspired by the true story of Esam, this novel follows the journey of one woman in particular: Anna, handmaid to the wife of the village’s rector, who has lost both her husband and her children. Rather than becoming broken due to the circumstances, Anna is built up. She steps into the vaccuum left by many of the town’s traditional leaders and becomes a powerful force in her own right. Anna learns to read and write, and–along with her employer and friend, Elinor–learns about herbal remedies that may be the key to stopping the devastating sweep of the plague.

Cool, right?

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Book Review: Suffer the Children, by Craig DiLouie

Movie popcorn is a peculiar thing. When the lights go down and the movie starts up, that $7 popcorn tastes goddamn incredible.

Nom nom nom.

But afterwards, when you’re left with all of the unpopped kernels at the bottom of the bag and fingers greasy with synthetic butter substitute, you sort of realize that you just paid way too much money for what amounts to some oversalted cardboard.

That mirrors my experience with Craigh DiLouie’s horror novel Suffer the Children: enjoyable while reading, certainly worth the money, but not likely to leave too much of an impression after.

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