The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan – Book Review

The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published by Knopf, an imprint of Random House

In 1947, Frances Gerety needs just one more thing for the advertising campaign she’s working on. Just a signature line for the De Beers account. Hastily, in the middle of the night and desperate for sleep, Frances jots down a short phrase: A Diamond is Forever. Gerety’s story, that of a woman who is single by choice and helps create the “tradition” of the diamond engagement ring is set against the story of three different families with three very different relationships.

The Engagements is a beautifully written exploration of love, marriage, and the association diamonds now have with both of those things. All four sets of lives – Gerety and the three families – feel incredibly realistic, showcasing many of the difficulties of marriage, as well as the unique nature of any individual marriage.

I loved The Engagements. Loved it! I started reading it at a time when I only had a few minutes to read it each day and that made it a little difficult to get into, what with the four rotating story lines. Once I cleared some time and sat down with The Engagements, I flew through it and didn’t want to put it down for anything. When you take time with it, the characters come alive, their stories and their joys and pains engulf you.

The Engagements is absolutely wonderful. Very highly recommended.

For more information, please see the publisher’s page.
Source: Publisher.

 

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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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When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald – Book Review

When It Happens to You by Molly Ringwald
Published by It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins

Yes, THAT Molly Ringwald. Don’t make the mistake I nearly did, though, and discount the book on the basis of her celebrity. I will fully admit that I initially dismissed When It Happens to You. IT was serious book snobbery, I assumed that someone primarily famous for her acting didn’t have much in the way of writing chops. Luckily Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters, spent some time raving about When It Happens to You on Facebook and Twitter. As I trust her reading recommendations, I decided to go ahead and pick it up and give it a shot. I knew within pages that this was the real deal.

When It Happens to You is a novel in stories revolving around a couple in the midst of a marital crisis. Greta and Phillip Parris have been growing increasingly more distant in their furious attempts to have a second child. Not only is their marriage faltering, but their daughter Charlotte is acting strangely, particularly around her pretty young violin teacher, Theresa. Before long, the reality of infidelity tears their family apart.

Instead of walking through the guilt and recriminations with the Parris family, Ringwald takes the reader through Greta and Phillip’s story by telling the stories of those around them. Occasionally one of them is the main character in a give story, but more often it is an acquaintance, a lover (although never the lover who sparked this crisis), or a neighbor. The most affecting story is that of Charlotte’s best friend and his mother Marina, titled My Olivia. Ringwald manages to completely subsume the reader in Marina’s life and psyche in just 30-odd pages. In fact, all of Ringwald’s characterization is stellar, which helps the reader connect in some way with each and every character in the book.

When It Happens to You is a wonderful book, almost achingly good at points. Ringwald’s prose, plot, and characterization all work together create one of the best collection of linked stories I have read.

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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Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer – Book Review

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer
Published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan

This is the story of an astronaut who was lost in space, and the wife he left behind. Or this is the story of a brave man who survived the wreck of the first rocket sent into space with the intent to colonize the moon. This is the story of the human race, who pushed one crazy little splinter of metal and a few pulsing cells up into the vast dark reaches of the universe, and the hope that the splinter would hit somehting and stick, and that the little pulsing cells could somehow survive. This is the story of a bulge, a bud, the way the human race tried to subdivide, the bud it formed out into the universe, and what happened to that bud, and what happened to the Earth, too, the mother Earth, after the bud was burst. -p. 2

The Mann family is going through a difficult time: Sunny is hugely pregnant with their second child; their autistic first child Bubber is increasingly having trouble at preschool; Sunny’s mother is in the hospital slowly dying; and Maxon is heading to the moon to set up robots for a future moon colony. Everything is already chaos when Sunny and Bubber are in a car accident that knocks Sunny’s wig off of her head and into the street. Bald since birth, Sunny has been wearing a wig ever since she and Maxon moved to Norfolk, Virginia while she was pregnant with Bubber as part of her attempt to be the perfect wife and mother. Now that her cover has been blown in front of her neighbors, Sunny must once again discover and decide exactly who she is.

There was only one thing that I didn’t love about Shine Shine Shine, and that is the fact that with every sentence I realized that I would never be able to write like Netzer does. Nearly every sentence surprised me with plot, turn of phrase, or characterization. Shine Shine Shine is definitely quirky – after all, the main character is a bald Caucasian  woman born in Burma during an eclipse – but it manages to be so while still maintaining a real and realistic quality. Most of us may never have any of Sunny’s particular problems, but the way she questions her identity is universal.

Shine Shine Shine is wonderful and difficult to put down. It is a wonderful book and one I highly recommend.

For more about Shine Shine Shine, please see my review and my interview with Lydia Netzer for SheKnows.com.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* 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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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Book Review

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown, an imprint of Random House

Once upon a time, Nick and Amy were happy. or at least they seemed to be. By the time they both lost their jobs and left Manhattan to move to Nick’s hometown of North Carthage, Missouri and take care of his ailing mother, that happiness was gone. There were a couple good years, but half of their five year marriage has been more or less miserable. Then, early afternoon on their fifth anniversary Nick gets a call from a neighbor that his front door is sitting wide open. When Nick returns home, he finds his wife missing and signs of a struggle. Amy is just…gone.

There is not much that can be said about Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl without spoiling it, but it is an incredibly engaging roller coaster of a book. Flynn has written a book full of twists, turns, and suspicious behavior. Nick and Amy both have secrets, and the reader can never quite completely figure out what is happening, and even if you do happen to guess correctly, motivations will still shock.

Gone Girl is deliciously twisted, and I can’t wait to explore Gillian Flynn’s backlist. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher, via Netgalley.
* 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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