The first Between the Bookends of 2023 is coming to you a month late due to personal circumstances, but I hope you find something to enjoy in this eclectic mix for the new year.
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The Narrow Cage by Vasily Eroshenko, Translated by Adam Kuplowsky
Do you ever read a book and begin to wonder as you’re reading it whether you’re either woefully lacking in the intelligence required for it, or if everyone else is feeling that too and they’re all just pretending to “get” it? That was me reading The Narrow Cage by Vasily Eroshenko, as translated by Adam Kuplowsky.
I picked this one up because of how interesting it sounded: a collection of modern, political fairy tales written by “a blind multilingual Esperantist from Ukraine [born in 1890] who joined left-wing circles in Japan and befriended the famous modernist writer Lu Xun in China”. Sadly I struggled to get into any of these tales which included stories of religious fish, scholarly mice, and a baffling one about a tiger. In fact, not a single one of them stayed with me for more than a few minutes after I’d finished reading and within a week, I’d almost completely forgotten everything about this collection.
This one clearly wasn’t for me, but if you’re looking for a book to gift to a literary friend who seems to have read every classic, this is likely a great option.
Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom/Kiki Kallira Conquers a Curse by Sangu Mandanna
I raced through this middle-grade duology a few days before Christmas when I wanted something fun and light-hearted to pick up, and it was exactly what I needed.
Kiki Kallira is a 13-year-old girl from London who uses her art to help with the crippling anxiety that has recently taken over her life. Drawing from the Indian folklore passed down from her relatives she has filled a sketchbook with a kingdom of her own making, populated with everything from mythological demons to bright red London buses and a cast of young orphan characters led by Ashwini and Pip who are based on a long-lost relative and her imaginary best friend. However, when Ashwini and a demon suddenly burst into the real world, Kiki learns that the demon king who took over her kingdom in her darkest moments is frighteningly real and has used a loophole in the magic that once bound him to bring Kiki’s kingdom to life.
Forced to enter her imaginary kingdom for real, Kiki must battle her own anxiety in order to save the people she drew into creation by stopping the demon king with help from her own characters and figures from Indian myth. In book two (which I can’t discuss too much here due to spoilers), Kiki must once again prepare to do battle in her sketchbook kingdom when the magical river runs dry putting everyone at risk including her newfound friends.
This duology is a fun one that weaves Indian mythology and folklore into an exciting story about the power of art, creativity, and refusing to let anxiety control your life – although it never falls into the trap of miraculously “fixing” Kiki’s mental health issues. As an adult reader, I did find myself wanting to scream at Kiki multiple times in the first book when an obvious solution was ignored for a large chunk of the book, but this probably won’t be an issue for those in the target audience – although vociferous readers might pick up on the same problem I did.
So far this is only a duology but I could easily see it being expanded into a longer series given its Percy Jackson/Aru Shah vibes.
The Secret History of Christmas by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is one of my very few instant-buy authors whose new work I will pick up immediately without even bothering to read a synopsis so when I learned that he had written and read a short (3hr 3min) audio exclusive book all about the history of Christmas, I knew I had to listen to it over the festive season which I did over the course of a few long drives.
Throughout this book, Bryson covers topics covering dozens of Christmas traditions and where they come from including the origins of Santa Claus, numerous carols, Christmas crackers, and Good King Wenceslas. All these are relayed with his typical dry wit and funny asides that had both myself and my husband cracking up as we drove across the country on Christmas Eve.
One thing I will note is that Bryson’s speaking voice threw both of us with its odd mix of American and British upper-class accents. I’ve listened to him read his books before and never noticed anything before, but this time the oddly clipped speech seemed weirdly noticeable. It was one of the few negatives I had to say about this wonderful little book, the other being that I wish it were longer.
Read The Secret History of Christmas: Amazon (Audible)
GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.