Hello hello and welcome to February! In honor of this short month, I have a couple reviews for quick reads I picked up last week.
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo
A cleric and their guide travel up a mountain where they find themselves at the mercy of three tigers. To survive, the cleric must spin a fascinating and romantic tale about a scholar and a tiger. But, the tigers have their own version of the story to share.
This novella is just 125 pages, but the world building is outstanding. In just a few paragraphs I had a firm understanding of the world, could visualize the creatures, and had a strong connection to the main characters. The exchange of stories between the cleric and the tiger is so clever and perfectly illustrates how a story changes depending on who is telling it. It’s an atmospheric, lush epic fantasy in a small format, which is unlike anything I’ve read. I absolutely loved this one.
And! It is actually the sequel to The Empress of Salt and Fortune. I did not realize this when I checked the book out from the library, but it didn’t impact my understanding or enjoyment of the story at all. Now I am patiently waiting for the first book, and look forward to reading more when they’re published.
Animal Wife by Lara Ehrlich
This short story collection is unified by tales of girls and women seeking liberation from family responsibilities, societal expectations, or their own minds. In fifteen stories, we see women at every stage of life struggling under the burden of expectation.
Animal Wife blends literary fiction and magical realism to create really visceral stories. I felt that the first four stories and the final story were the most successful, while the stories in the middle were less compelling. In the titular tale, a girl born with feathers undertakes a search for the mother who abandoned her, while her father attempts to bring his wife home by digging the foundation of their home until the original pond is restored. It was gorgeously written, a little whimsical, and a thoughtful look at how the loss of a member of the family ripples out through the family, land, and community. This narrative is then returned to in the final story, where the mother’s perspective is shared and we uncover a startling truth about her life.
Another story that I enjoyed was Six Roses, in which a group of teen girls explore their sexuality as they grow up together. I felt this one perfectly captured the confusion, joy, heartache, and uncertainty that comes with growing up as a girl. The friends each were in different stages of maturity, and you could really feel this conflict between childhood and adulthood. It was beautiful, bittersweet, and stirring.
The strength of these stories carried me through the next several stories that I personally felt lacked focus. Two stories that were just a single paragraph long seemed out of place, and there were several stories with endings that I found disappointing. However, the final story recaptured the emotional feeling and provided a strong ending. Overall, the collection is smart, sensual, and beautifully written. And, at just 164 pages, it’s perfect to read in a rainy afternoon,