Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Book Review

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Today is the day that will change Dellarobia Turnbow’s life. She knows this to be the case, although if she tried to tell you why it would change her life, she would be 100% wrong. Dellarobia is hikin up the mountain owned by her husband’s family to meet the man she wants as her lover in a hunting cabin; her children are with her mother-in-law, and she has no intention of coming back. On the way up the mountain in her completely unsuitable shoes, though, Dellarobia sees something that makes the woods appear to be on fire. The experience is so shocking that it sends Dellarobia racing back down the mountain to her family. When the family ventures back up the mountain a short time after the discover that the mountain is awash with monarch butterflies, a phenomenon which brings people from all over the country to their corner of Appalachia.

The first 50 pages or so of Flight Behavior are a bit slow as you get to know Dellarobia (incidentally, her odd name IS explained, which I appreciated since we all know how that can distract me). Once the Turnbow family discovers the butterflies, the story picks up immensely. Not only do things begin happening, but these events simultaneous reveal the characters of the Turnbow family and others in their lives and begin to mold and change them. Perhaps most changed are Dellarobia herself and the mother-in-law with whom she has long been at odds. Although the two women are not quite on the path to friendship, their relationship rather quickly becomes less fraught.

In addition to being a well-plotted book with great characterization, Flight Behavior also has Something To Say, specifically about the environment. Monarch butterflies do not typically winter in Appalachia, so when this fictional flock does it must be because something is wrong. The thing that is wrong is, specifically, the climate. Changing weather patterns – along with deforestation in their native winter home in Mexico – have stranded the monarchs in the American southeast. Kingsolver is not shy about her message, but it is well-integrated into the book and in the context it makes sense to be blatant about climate change. I read Flight Behavior while the East Coast was being buffeted by superstorm Sandy which, with the theme of the disasters of climate change, made for quite the eerie – but meaningful – read. Here was proof of Kingsolver’s thesis being writ large across some of the most populous areas of the country.

Although Flight Behavior has an agenda, it is very well integrated into what is a wonderful story with wonderful characters. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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NW by Zadie Smith – Audiobook Review

NW by Zadie Smith, narrated by Karen Bryson and Don Gilet
Published in audio by Penguin Audio, published in print by The Penguin Press, both imprints of Penguin

Synopsis:

From the publisher:

This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Thoughts on the story:

In classic Zadie Smith fashion, NW is a challenging book, one which falls somewhere between a novel and a collection of linked stories. Leah and Natalie’s stories are very much intertwined and inform one another. The girls grew up together in the Caldwell housing estates and have achieved varying degrees of success. Felix’s story is only tangentially related to the women’s stories and, for me, was more of a distraction than anything else. It was quite a long digression in the middle of the book that nearly made me lose interest. Overall, though, I thought that the stories Smith told did a wonderful job showcasing the diversity of urban life in NW London.

Thoughts on the audio production:

Let’s just be honest, Don Gilet is probably the only thing that kept me interested in Felix’s story when it interrupted those of Leah and Natalie, he did a truly wonderful job. I am slightly more conflicted about Karen Bryson’s performance. On one hand, she is practically a chameleon with voices and accents. She is able to differentiate between characters and bring them fully to life. On the other hand, she has a tendency to make wet mouth noises, which have a tendency to give me the creeps. At least one time when she smacks her mouth it is a conscious choice in voicing a character, but it seems much of the rest of the time that this is just her natural inclination between words, which bothers me a bit.

Overall:

NW is challenging, but worthwhile. I am certain that the audio helped me make it through what might have been a more difficult read in print, but listeners overly disturbed by wet mouth noises in narration may want to give this a miss.

For more please see my review for Audiofile Magazine.

Buy this book from:
Powells: Audio/Print*
Indiebound: Audio/Print*

Sound Bytes is a meme that occurs every Friday! I encourage you to review your audiobooks on Fridays and include the link here. If you have reviewed an audiobook earlier in the week, please feel free to link that review as well. Thanks to Pam for creating the button.

Source: Audiofile Magazine.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Perfect Gentleman by Imran Ahmad – Book Review

The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West by Imran Ahmad
Published by Center Street, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

Both deliciously funny and deeply insightful, THE PERFECT GENTLEMAN is a beguiling multi-layered memoir that has touched the hearts of readers all over the world. At the age of one, Imran Ahmad moved from Pakistan to London, growing up torn between his Islamic identity and his desire to embrace the West. Join Imran in his lifelong struggle against corruption and injustice, and as he grapples with some of Life’s most profound questions. What does God do exactly? Do you automatically go to Hell for following the wrong religion? How do you persuade a beautiful woman to become your girlfriend (and would driving a Jaguar XJS help?) Can you maintain a James Bond persona without the vodka, cigarettes and women – even whilst your parents are trying to arrange your marriage?

Ah, The Perfect Gentleman sounded, well, perfect for me. I pictured a heartfelt memoir of an identity struggle. The structure that Ahmad uses for his memoir stymied me a bit, though. Most of the chapters were formulated to cover a single school year, often with surprisingly specific memories. This creates a narrative that lacked much of the cohesiveness that I expected and hoped for. Often themes are brought up that seem as if they might be important later in Ahmad’s life, but many of them fail to reappear in any significant way, although the very end of The Perfect Gentleman did tie a few things back together.

Ahmad is a good writer, but as occasionally happens with memoir, he and I simply didn’t mesh. The Perfect Gentleman is not the story I hoped for, and Ahmad’s humor doesn’t do much for me – perhaps I don’t do British humor well in print – although others may find his self-deprecating style charming.

I know there is a reader out there perfect for The Perfect Gentleman, but she is not me.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier – Book Review

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier
Published by Crown Books, an imprint of Random House

In the fall of 2011, Elizabeth died in a freak plane crash. Most of the country forgot very quickly about this crash, though, a few weeks later when airplanes went from being something that might mysteriously crash once in awhile to things that could be used as human-filled missiles. Of course, Elizabeth’s family didn’t forget, and neither did her best friend, Kate. Between Elizabeth’s death and the 9/11 attacks, Kate is anxious in a way she had never been before, obsessed with all of the things that could unexpectedly go wrong, and trying to be prepared for them and for her family’s safety. Now, the summer after that horrific fall, Kate discovers that Elizabeth willed her her entire collection of journals, for Kate to do with as she sees fit. Elizabeth’s only request is that Kate start at the beginning. Elizabeth’s husband Dave, however, resents the bequest, particularly as a glimpse at Elizabeth’s last journal after her death led him to believe that she was not on her wait to a painting clinic, as she claimed, but to meet a lover. Now Kate must decide what her obligation is to Elizabeth and her memory and come to terms with the fact that she may not have known Elizabeth nearly as well as she thought she did.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is a beautiful and well-plotted debut novel. Bernier weaves Kate’s story together with Elizabeth’s journals flawlessly, allowing the reader to understand how this summer of Elizabeth’s journals helps Kate better understand not only Elizabeth, but herself as well.  Kate is a very genuine character, real and flawed and very sympathetic. Her fear and pain make you want to hold her and tell her that everything will be alright, and yet she never crosses the line into obnoxious or pathetic, instead she continues to be someone with whom you would wish to spend time – which is good, because you have some 300 pages to spend with her.

What really makes The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. worth reading, though, is the tension between the person that Kate believed she knew, and the person she is discovering in Elizabeth’s journals. How much of the disconnect is because of the face Elizabeth chose to present, and how much of it was Kate simply seeing what she wanted to see? This and similar questions make the novel bigger than simply Kate and Elizabeth’s stories, and spark questions relevant to the reader’s own life. As such it would make a wonderful book to discuss with a book club.

A great book for book clubs or to read on your own. The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. will draw you in quickly, and keep hold of you until the end. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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Henny on the Couch by Rebecca Land Soodak – Mini Review

Henny on the Couch by Rebecca Land Soodak
Published by 5 Spot, an imprint of Hachette

From the publisher:

Kara Caine Lawson has worked hard to become the woman she is-wife, mother and successful shop owner. Having survived a turbulent childhood, Kara understands that life could’ve just as easily gone another way . . . and even if she isn’t gliding through the trials of lost library books, entitled customers and routine date nights, at least she’s not sipping a Dewar’s all day like her mother did.

But then Kara unexpectedly encounters paintings by her now-famous college boyfriend just as she’s beginning to suspect that her daughter Henny’s difficulties may be the sign of something serious, and all of her past decisions are thrown into dramatic relief.

As a look at modern motherhood, and the myriad of directions women find themselves pulled in, Henny on the Couch worked beautifully. Kara is completely subsumed by her family’s needs and the business she fell into that she has lost sight of who she actually is. This desire to reclaim herself comes in the guise of fantasies about the love affair that defined her young, pre-marriage life. At the same time, Soodak tries to do a few too many things in Henny on the Couch, the thread of Kara’s mother’s alcoholism in particular adds little to the story, while serving to make the whole thing slightly disconnected. It is a good book as it is, but some simplification of plot lines and strengthening those that remained would make it a better one.

For a full review, please read my piece in the SheKnows Book Lounge.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, for SheKnows.com review.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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