Book Review for “Queen of the Owls” by Barbara Linn Probst
Elizabeth has always been the brainy one, the “owl” of the family, so to speak. Now she’s working on her doctorate in art history. Her topic is Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings from her stay in Hawaii. At the same time, Elizabeth is noticing how all the other women around her seem to have much more romantic marriages than she does. Then, after watching the hunky guy in her Tai Chi class, she finally meets him and it ends up he’s a photographer. After a couple of platonic meetings, he makes a suggestion that intrigues Elizabeth both as a woman and as a way to try to understand O’Keeffe better.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with this book. First, I’d met the author via several of the Facebook groups I frequent, and we became friends there. Then, she invited me to read and review her book. At the time, I thought I had a window in my reading list for around the publication date, so I agreed. Little did I know at the time that I’d later get not one, but two more ARCs with the same publication date! But a promise is a promise, and I wasn’t going to back out. The good news is, that although I know very little about art or art history, almost nothing about getting a PhD, and hardly anything about photography, I was very pleasantly surprised by this debut novel.
As usual, let me start out with the things that didn’t work out for me. My biggest problem with this book was that when Probst included any of the many quotes by O’Keeffe, I had a hard time distinguishing them from the rest of the text. While they were distinguishable, because the narrative was written in third person, these quotes were all in first person, they jarred me because I initially thought that suddenly Probst had switched POV on me. When I realized this misunderstanding, I also realized that what was missing with these quotes was either the inclusion of quotation marks or at the very least, putting them in italics. Either of these solutions would have cleared this up completely. Not the worst thing I’ve seen, but it did interrupt the flow of this story, which was a shame.
Despite this, there were two things that impressed me about this novel. The first of which was how realistic the whole process of writing a PhD felt to me. All the research, all the consultations, all the advice that Probst described here felt so true to life, I was getting anxious about how and when she would find the time and motivation to write it all up! While that bit wasn’t detailed (which I felt was the only thing missing about this aspect of the story), I understand that Probst was able to draw on her own PhD experience for this book, so the old “write what you know” came in here. mind you, Probst’s doctorate was in Social Work and not art history, but the process is, I’m sure, much the same.
The other thing that captivated me was how Probst was able to really get into Elizabeth’s brain and emotions, as if she herself was experiencing everything that Elizabeth was going through. Although sometimes these third-person introspective passages felt a touch too long, thereby halting the action or breaking up the dialog (and again, slowing the flow of the story a touch), the level of insight into Elizabeth’s inner world was riveting. Plus, watching how Elizabeth grappled with her own actions and reactions to things people did or said, or just things happening around, her was truly fascinating. I’m guessing that this was the social worker in Probst coming through in her fiction, and I have to say that it worked very well. In fact, although there was an element of more telling than showing going on with these passages, they were still very engaging, and they surely were what kept me reading.
Of course, the plot here was also well thought out, and just intricate enough to keep one guessing how it would all turn out in the end. That’s isn’t easy for an author to do with me – I can usually guess at the happy, unhappy, or mixture of either long before the book ended. Not so here. In addition, Probst did a marvelous job of pacing with this book (except for those bits mentioned above that interrupted the flow from time to time), building it up throughout the story at just the right pace, until the climax and ending. Finally, I was really happy with the ending of this book, and I wouldn’t have changed it in the slightest. That’s real talent for you (since endings are sometimes new author’s biggest downfalls), and I think Probst has succeeded in translating her capabilities in real life to becoming a truly talented author. I can therefore recommend this novel with a very healthy four and a half stars out of five, and I do look forward to her next effort!
She Writes Press released “Queen of the Owls” by Barbara Linn Probst on April 7, 2020. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones, Walmart (Kobo) US eBooks and audiobooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (both with free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from Bookshop.org or an IndieBound store near you. I received my ARC of this novel directly from the author.