Find it at your library!

This is a story of failure.

It starts like this: I read Wintersong and liked it, but didn’t feel like I got the full experience because I wasn’t familiar with the source material (the movie Labyrinth). So I got a DVD copy from the library and planned to watch it on a Friday night after work. I thought watching the movie would magically make the plot of the book click in my brain.

If you’ve seen Labyrinth, then you know the idea that someone could watch it and the world would subsequently make more sense and not less is balderdash. David Bowie, rest his soul, dancing around in tights with a roomful of Muppet backup singers did not help me understand anything. Also, I fell asleep around 30 minutes in, because in my dotage I’m pretty much incapable of staying awake for an entire movie.

So I have to admit, what I enjoyed about Wintersong was the gorgeous writing and the equally gorgeous setting it evoked. I read it slowly over a couple weeks, and every time I dipped into it, I felt like I was falling into a fever dream that, while beautiful, never coalesced into anything I could really grasp. Are Liesl and the Goblin King in love? Or is he her jailor? Which of them is saving humanity by staying in the underground, again? How many ways can the Goblin King take away Liesl’s music? And what exactly does he want with it once he gets it?

Soooo many questions, so few answers. If there were a quiz to take at the end of this book, I would fail it. Plot-wise, I have pretty much no clue what happened. But if I were judging a book beauty contest based on looks alone, Wintersong has enough flash and sparkle to win first runner-up, no problem.

Find it at your library!

Oh my heart!

I am so, so, SO glad I read this while on Thanksgiving break from work. If I’d tried to read it during the usual midweek hustle-bustle of life, there’s no way I could have slowed down enough to hang with it. And it would have been my loss, because holy peppercorns can Erick Setiawan write.

And that’s pretty cool in itself, because if you read his (very funny) bio, he’s not a native English speaker and has harbored doubts about his writing ability, going so far as to get an advanced degree in computer science because it felt more accessible.

That he pursued his dream of fiction writing instead of churning out software code is our good fortune. Of Bees and Mist is basically a 400-page fairy tale for adults. If you’re looking to recreate the feeling of sitting on your grandmother’s lap as she told one more story before bedtime, this book will do it.

Meridia suffers a cold and isolated childhood with a distant, raging mother and critical, imperious father. Mists of varying colors surround their house by day and night, mysteriously ushering in and out strong emotions and heart-stopping betrayals. When Meridia meets an enchanting stranger at a fair in town, escape from her sadness finally seems possible. Unfortunately, married life brings unending trouble of its own, this time in the guise of her tempestuous mother-in-law, who exhales swarms of bees as she airs her grievances.

It’s one of the best feats of sustained magical realism I’ve ever read. And despite its surreal quality, I was hopelessly invested in the characters. I read the last pages with my heart in my mouth.

This isn’t the kind of book you can successfully read in ten-minute chunks. It needs time and space to breathe, to take root in your mind. For best results, wait for life to settle and slow, and serve with a hot beverage and a blanket.