The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

16248119Well, I loved it. So let’s just get that out of the way right up front. He’s a hell of a writer.

The Illusion of Separateness tells the story of how a chance meeting between an American soldier and a German soldier during WWII crisscrosses throughout time and distance to connect people in the present day. The connections are made through short vignettes of six or so characters in many different decades. The language is concise, straightforward, lyrical, and stunning. Van Booy’s words are essentially narrative poetry. The man can destroy you in six words and rebuild whole worlds in just six more. Talent oozes from every single sentence.

What most impressed me was how fleshed out and fully developed the story and its characters are despite the book’s 200-ish pages. You can tell he’s a master short story writer, and I fully intend to read everything the man has ever written. Please feel free to join me. This is the kind of book I’ll be gifting come holiday season. Because it’s perfect for even non-readers.

I don’t want to say anymore. This quiet little story is best read knowing as close to nothing as possible. I truly do hope y’all decide to give The Illusion of Separateness a chance. It’ll more than likely end up on my best of 2013 list and will be something I read for years to come. The absolute best way to spend a couple of hours.

**************************************************

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out more tour stops here.

About the Author

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York TimesThe Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Big BrotherI don’t know how to review this book. Not only are my feelings extremely complicated, but the damn thing involves a plot twist that would spoil the book. But that plot twist is essential to talking about the book. Oh dear. I promise not to spoil things, but if you end up reading please email me and tell me all of your feelings.

It’s rare that anything leaves me speechless in this life I call mine, but Shriver has managed to do so.

In Big Brother, Shriver is tackling obesity. Pandora is our main character who has settled into a very normal Midwestern life at the age of 40. She’s married, has two stepchildren, and runs a very successful doll making company which she founded. For the first time in her life, she’s finally come into her own and stepped out from beneath the shadows of her father and brother.

Her dad was a television star when Pandora was younger and clings to that success decades later. Edison, her older brother, is a renowned jazz pianist in NYC. She has idolized Edison since she was a kid. The novel gets things going with a phone call in which Pandora learns Edison has fallen on bad times financially and needs a place to stay. She flies him out to Iowa despite her husband’s protests. The ‘visit’ has no end date in sight, but Pandora feels loyal to her brother. She hasn’t seen him in four years and doesn’t even recognize him at the airport baggage claim. Why? Because he’s gone from 163 lbs to approximately 400 lbs.

Pandora is baffled at how her once handsome brother has grown so grotesquely large. He eats everything in sight almost without shame. He even breaks her husband’s priceless handmade furniture by merely sitting on it. Pandora’s whole family is mystified and annoyed by Edison – not just because of his girth. He’s actually kind of an entitled jackass and a fairly one dimensional character overall. But Pandora feels some sort of sibling affection for Edison and eventually faces a big decision. She can either leave her husband and children to help sort out Edison’s life and keep him from eating himself to death or she can stay loyal to her family and kick Edison out the door to deal with his own problems.

Her decision is horrendous, jaw-dropping, and made me want to throw the book out of the window. And we haven’t even gotten to the major spoiler that I promised I wouldn’t share.

From a technical standpoint, Shriver is an excellent writer. Her vocabulary amazes me but never bogs down her narrative. The story remains conversational and easy to read in the literal sense. My problems begin with her choice of first person narration. We are stuck inside Pandora throughout the duration of the novel. If you like Pandora, good for you! If you don’t, you’ll be so pissed off while reading this thing that you’ll seriously considering giving up. I challenge you to keep going because the worst is saved for the final 20 pages. *insert evil laughter*

Big Brother is a difficult novel to read emotionally and intellectually. I really couldn’t understand Pandora’s motivations half the time or how such a seemingly smart woman would make such ridiculous decisions. And just when things start really looking up, Shriver crushes all your hopes and dreams. *insert more book chucking* There is nothing fun about this reading experience – not the slightest bit of entertainment or pleasure. But somehow I don’t regret reading and even find myself thankful for not giving up. Why? Because this story will challenge you in a way that most books won’t. How things unfold felt very unique although maybe a bit gimmicky. And I even had a couple of moments of self-realization where I had fallen head first into hypocrisy.

So if any of my bumbled and fumbling review above sounds interesting to you – definitely seek out Big Brother. I’m not sure how it stands up to her other novels, but she’s an author that now has me thoroughly intrigued. After finishing this one, I did some research and discovered that Shriver’s brother died due to complications from obesity so that helps me see how this novel came to be and how difficult a situation Pandora might have been in.  So…recommended with reservations, but perhaps a wonderful book for a book group to discuss. Litwits – I’m looking at you!!

***********************************************

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of Big Brother in return for my honest review. Check out the other tour dates here!

About the Author:

Lionel ShriverLionel Shriver is a novelist whose previous books include Orange Prize–winner We Need to Talk About KevinThe Post-Birthday WorldA Perfectly Good Family, Game Control, Double Fault, The Female of the SpeciesChecker and the Derailleurs, and Ordinary Decent Criminals. She is widely published as a journalist, writing features, columns, op-eds, and book reviews for the Guardian, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the EconomistMarie Claire, and many other publications. She is frequently interviewed on television, radio, and in print media. She lives in London and Brooklyn, NY.

tlc logo

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

Pain-Parties-WorkThat’s a long title. But the book itself is rather short and fantastic. It’s a non-fiction new release that focuses on Sylvia Plath’s summer internship with Mademoiselle magazine and the culture of the early fifties. The novel is comprised of pictures, fashion tidbits, and anecdotes from Sylvia’s diaries as well as the other ladies who interned alongside her. You also get a brief synopsis of Plath’s short life before and after her internship to give you a fuller picture of her trials and tribulations.

Winder’s purpose in writing this novel seems to be showcasing a Sylvia Plath in opposition to the typical mythology. Instead of a bleak, suicidal existence, we are privy to a 20 year old girl out living life to its fullest. Bright red lipstick, a vibrant dating life, and a vivaciousness that’s hard to imagine in someone who will attempt suicide for the first time in a few short months. Winder proves that Plath is so much more dynamic and so much more interesting than her death scene. I loved that and was thankful to see her so thoroughly fleshed out.

Having read The Bell Jar several times, I was surprisingly shocked to see just how autobiographical a character Esther was. In so many ways, Winder’s novel and Plath’s novel are like twin sisters. I think reading these books back-to-back might be a very fascinating authorial case study into the life of such a prolific human being. I can also see Pain, Parties, Work being a successful educational text – not just because of its academic qualities, but also because the book is just so dang readable. I think high schoolers and college kids alike would eat this up.

I’d recommend this look into Sylvia’s young adulthood to anyone who has ever been even remotely interested in Plath’s life, her writing, or even just the culture of the 1950s – particularly the feminine culture. I think this book could easily be read as a history of a certain time period and interest those readers who aren’t even invested in Plath herself. A great addition to any non-fiction collection. A short work that’s so accessible to any reader or even a non-reader. I’ll definitely be seeking out a finished copy for my permanent shelves!

Bonus:

Sylvia loved New York City and that love shines through here! I loved reading about the city in 1953. You really feel like you’re walking the streets alongside Sylvia and all her friends.

*********************************************************

Thank you so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the book in return for my honest review! Please visit the TLC website for other tour stops!

About the Author:

Elizabeth-WinderElizabeth Winder is also the author of a poetry collection. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Review, the Antioch Review, American Letters, and other publications. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University.

 

 

 

tlc logo

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

11447921Long time no write! I’ve had a miserable go of it these past few days with the stomach virus from hell. But it gave me a ton of time to read which is the only positive side I could manage. And today I’m going to be reviewing a lovely little novel by Jess Walter that is coming out in paperback to a store near you soon – or maybe it’s already there!

Many of y’all discovered and loved Beautiful Ruins last year so I’m a bit behind the curve. When Trish at TLC Book Tours invited me to be on the tour marking the paperback release, I jumped quickly. So glad I did. I literally just finished about 5 minutes before beginning this post and so expect mostly an incoherent gush fest to follow.

Walter’s novel is hard to summarize. Next to impossible, really. It beings with a young Italian man returning home to run his family’s hotel in the nowhere village of Porto Vergogna after his father’s death in 1962. One day, Pasquale is attempting to build a beach on the rocky coastline to attract American and French tourists when a tall, beautiful, blonde film star arrives at his hotel. Dee Moray has been working alongside Liz Taylor on the film, Cleopatra, and has been sent away diagnosed with stomach cancer. When she meets Pasquale for the first time, a story spanning decades and many, many lives is set in play. That synopsis only scratches the barest of surfaces. But Beautiful Ruins is a book best read cold and discovered along the way.

For a book that jumps around in time so much, Beautiful Ruins sure does have some major flow. I’m really baffled at how seamlessly Walter is able to weave together the past and present along with various different mediums of narration such as chapters from fictional novels and plays scattered throughout the story. I like to think of Walter as a storytelling magician.

I was also taken with Walter’s ability to write both a deeply complex character driven story that happens to work as a page-turning plot as well. Achieving both is such a rare occurrence in books I read. And he’s able to make each of his many characters matter and to easily stand out as their own person. I always knew who I was reading about, could easily remember their back story, and yearned to stay with them just a bit longer. I think part of this success comes from Beautiful Ruins being such an effortlessly imagined novel. By that, I mean that the narrative played out in my head so vividly, almost like a movie. Jess Walter would make a fantastic screenwriter.

Beautiful Ruins is the best contemporary novel I’ve read in quite some time. It’s at once wickedly comedic and lyrically sad. It has so much to say about life, death, dreams, and the paths our decisions lead us down everyday. Walter has written a book meant to be read more than once with something new to be discovered upon each reading, I’m sure. It’s the kind of novel that bodes well as a gift for a new graduate or someone nearing death. Poignant, purposeful, and a hell of a ride!

************************************

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here.

About the Author

Jess-WalterJess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington.

tlc logo

Swoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them by Betsy Prioleau

swoon-coverThe cover is gorgeous, no? And the title sucks you in, yes? Exactly my thoughts when I selected this novel to review for the lovely TLC Book Tours. I love that TLC is bringing my attention to some nonfiction, cultural anthropology works that I always crave reading, but never bite the bullet and pick up on my own.

Swoon does exactly what it says it’s going to and delves into the traits that seem to attract women to what are known as ladies’ men. You know those men, the ones who are constantly swarmed by harems of adoring females. And most of the time you can’t put your finger on what is so mesmerizing about these guys. Some are good looking, sure, but some are absolutely horrid looking. How many movies have we seen where ugly guys get the girls? How does this happen?

Prioleau has done her research! She’s read histories of great Lotharios such as Casanova and met face-to-face with men who are currently making their own histories all over the world! She also doesn’t shy away from modern romance literature and the Hollywood celebrities that women adore so much. The book is separated into small sections discussing one particular trait at a time  such as laughter, charisma, character, and sense-of-self. She breaks down previous stereotypes of the common bad boy womanizer and uncovers that most sought after men actually love and respect women, have wonderful relationships with their mothers and sisters, and that the brain might just be the sexiest organ alive!

The great thing for me while reading this novel was the conversation it garnered between me and my husband. We spent more than one dinner discussing the traits that Prioleau believes makes knees melt. He would alternately get defensive and agreeable. We would bicker and then laugh! He’s been pleading with me to read a book from the opposite perspective to balance out the views – and Prioleau wrote that exact book before this one, so I might need to pick it up soon.

I also enjoyed thinking about whether these traits in men worked for me, personally. And most did! I love a strong personality, a quick mind, and laughter! I’m also not shocked to learn that sex matters big time and that the most successful men always focus on female pleasure first. This makes us sound a little selfish, doesn’t it ladies? But I’m still not surprised.

So much to love here, but not everything was perfect. I did feel that certain sections were a bit repetitive and that the book could have used a tighter editing. But even the repetitive sections used fresh examples and gave new historical facts and interludes to enjoy. I also think this book needs to be tempered with the opposing perspective so that you don’t come away thinking only women are silly little creatures willing to give up husbands and children for the sake of enjoying time spent with some modern day Casanova. And so many women did just that!

So go read Swoon! If for no other reason than to learn juicy little tidbits about the sexiest of sexy men such as Lord Byron, Jack London, Sam Cooke, and many more!!

I’m thrilled to be able to give away one copy of Swoon to some very lucky reader! Just fill out the form here and I’ll announce a winner Sunday, March 17th! Residents of the US and Canada only, please.

*************************************************************

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and Norton for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review! You can check out the rest of the tour here!

About the Author:

Betsy-Prioleau-Photo-1-198x300Betsy Prioleau is the author of Circle of Eros (Duke University Press) Seductress: Women Who Ravished the World and Their Lost Art of Love(Penguin/Viking), and most recently, Swoon:  Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them (W. W. Norton, 2013).  She has a Ph.D. in literature from Duke University, was a tenured associate professor at Manhattan College, and taught cultural history at New York University.  She has written numerous essays on literature, relationships, and sexuality. She lives in New York City.

tlc logo

The House Girl by Tara Conklin + Giveaway!

The House GirlI’m not sure what sparked my initial interest in The House Girl. I suppose it could have been the slavery aspect since that topic still seems so entrenched in taboo. Or perhaps I was merely pulled in by the gorgeous green cover. I’m a total sucker for anything green after all. And now that I’ve finished the novel, I’m honestly having a hard time deciding how I feel about it.

Tara Conklin’s debut novel intertwines the stories of two young women – Carolina (Lina) Sparrow, a corporate lawyer in NYC assigned to an ambitious slavery reparations case and Josephine Bell, a slave and house girl to the Bell family, desperate to escape. Their worlds collide when Lina begins her search for a plaintiff in the reparations case and discovers a controversy surrounding some art supposedly created by Josephine’s Masters’s wife, Lu Ann Bell. All these years later, experts are beginning to believe that Lu Ann was not the artist, but rather it was Josephine’s expert hand that brought about these valuable masterpieces. As Lina begins to research further into Josephine’s past, Josephine herself plots a daring escape from her imprisonment.

I think what has me so bothered is that I wanted more of Josephine’s story and less of Lina’s.  I loved hearing Josephine’s story firsthand, through her own voice and hated when the novel nearly dropped her narrative from the story all together about half-way in. What’s strange about this and has me even more conflicted is that I honestly believe Lina’s voice was written better, cleaner, and much more well-edited, but the heart just wasn’t there for me. Her slog of a back story about her mother was pointless in my opinion and took attention from the far more tragic tale of humans believing they could own other humans. Plus, the constant updates on how many billable hours she had just spent researching got tedious and didn’t help the plot progression whatsoever. The love story felt hastily thrown together, an added extra with no meat. And then there’s the fact that Lina’s search for Josephine fell together far too quickly and easily.

But like I said, Lina’s voice rings genuine and the writing is sharp. I suppose this has a lot to do with Conklin’s own past as a lawyer. You could also really feel Conklin’s love of art and history shining through this historical fiction narrative which added a little something extra that I very much enjoyed. What I loved most, however, was Josephine’s struggle, the way her life had shaped her art and her thoughts. Her story was never too easy, but was always engrossing. She’s the character you root for in The House Girl – the one that truly matters. I just wish that Conklin had quit with the flowery descriptions which didn’t fit her writing style. I got annoyed at some repetitive adjectives or redundant statements such as ‘verdant green’. For some reason, this only happened during Josephine’s sections or at least were only noticeable during the 1852 timeline.

It took me longer than normal to read The House Girl. I think this was partially due to the uneasy flow and narrative shifts. The first half is told in switching narration as mentioned earlier, but the latter half is quickly taken over by an epistolary section that felt oddly misplaced, utterly halting my progression and removing me from the novel’s gripping plot.

So, for me anyway, The House Girl was a mixed bag. Highs and lows, but a decent debut novel. I can see that Conklin has some talent and I look forward to seeing how her writing improves. I’ve also read some lovely reviews from readers who adored this story so I earnestly beseech you to make up your own mind. If you are a die-hard historical fiction fan, I think you’ll find a story worth reading here and even if not, Josephine is a character well worth anyone’s time.

I’m also pleased to announce that I’m giving away one free copy of The House Girl to a lucky reader! Just enter by filling out this form by February 18th. I’ll announce the winner on February 19th. Contest is open to US/Canada residents only!

**********************************************************

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me the book in exchange for my honest review. I love discovering new authors especially, so debuts are always a treat. You can check out the remaining tour stops right here!

Tara Conklin photo credit Mary Grace LongAbout the Author:

Tara Conklin has worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a major corporate law firm but now devotes her time to writing fiction. She received a BA in history from Yale University, a JD from New York University School of Law, and a Master of Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School (Tufts University). Tara Conklin’s short fiction has appeared in the Bristol Prize Anthology andPangea: An Anthology of Stories from Around the Globe. Born in St. Croix, she grew up in Massachusetts and now lives with her family in Seattle, Washington.

 

tlc logo

The Expats by Chris Pavone + A Giveaway!!!

Expats-Ppbk-FINAL-189x300A book I reviewed a while back (last year) is being released in paperback!  That book is The Expats by Chris Pavone and I’ve hopped on the TLC Book Tour to help endorse this little espionage gem.  It’s a fun spy thriller that takes place in Luxembourg and other fantastic European cities.  The armchair travel was a definite high point!

I don’t want to describe the plot too much in fear of spoiling the finer aspects.  Kate Moore is a wife and mom with a secret past that’s about to come to light when her husband arrives home one afternoon with job relocation news.  The small family is picking up their less-than-perfect D.C. existence to move to Luxembourg and join the elite expat society.  All the new money promises to make their dreams come true until Kate begins to suspect something fishy in her husband’s new job and that their new friends aren’t exactly what they seem.  And that’s all you should know!

I definitely enjoyed The Expats.  I loved that the main character in this espionage thriller was female and a mom.  Reminded me a good bit of Alias at times – kind of like, Sydney Bristow, the later years!  Definitely a page turner, but not in an over-the-top way.  The action is actually held to a minimum with Pavone choosing instead to turn his pages with slowly building paranoia and the promise of answers just a few pages further.  I liked the subtlety of the plot and the web of questions and lies deftly built and sustained from beginning to end.  Just when you think you’ve figured out everything, a new web is un-spun that surprises even our narrator!

I give major props to Pavone for keeping me entertained from page one.  I finished the book within 2 days which is fairly quick for me!  His writing style is extremely readable and he alternates between telling the story in past tense with little snip-bits of present day drama you know the past is leading up to.  The end is jammed packed with information – I had to read certain parts twice just to keep up which might not be such a great thing, but didn’t detour me too much.  Also, the ending might not be plausible in real life, but was a ton of fun in the world the book created!  Sometimes, you need a little escape and The Expats was perfect for that!

Note: Book received from publisher (thanks Crown Publishing/Random House!)

Guess what! Fill out the entry form here and be eligible to win a copy of The Expats! Contest open to US and Canada residents only – ends Jan. 31st.

*******************************************

This review is brought to you by the good ppl at TLC Book Tours and the views expressed above are my own honest opinion. To follow the rest of the tour hop over here! (Giveaway now closed!!)

Chris-Pavone-Author-Photo-credit-Nina-Subin-300x298About the Author:

Chris Pavone, a book editor for nearly two decades, recently returned to New York City after a sojourn to Luxembourg. The Expats is his first novel.

Visit the author’s website at www.chrispavone.com.

tlc logo

Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

15818362Into the Darkest Corner is a psychological thriller centered around a young woman, Catherine Bailey, and her abusive boyfriend, Lee Brightman. The story is told through alternating timelines – first, when Catherine meets and starts dating the charming Lee and second, four years later when Lee is in jail for what he did to Catherine and she’s moved to London to start a new life. Just when she thinks she’s free of her tormentor, Cathy receives the phone call that Lee is out of prison and back on the streets.

As an intensely psychological novel, I think Into the Darkest Corner succeeds tremendously. Cathy experiences severe PTSD and OCD disorders as the side effects of her traumatic experience with Lee. Haynes writes Cathy’s state of mind with authenticity and complete conviction. You experience the obsessive compulsions with Cathy as she constantly has to check and re-check the safety features of her apartment, at times taking 2-3 hours just to leave her house. I think some readers might get bogged down in the repetitious nature of the ODC descriptions, but I thought they were terribly beneficial in helping the reader understand the depth of Cathy’s illness and fear, while also showcasing her strength, determination, and survival instincts.

The alternating timelines (normally something I’m not a huge fan of) work well here, too. Seeing Cathy’s mental state as a result of the past timeline adds such a great foreboding to the events of four years earlier and help make those pages turn quickly so that we can see for ourselves just how horrible things had to go to reach such a devastating breakdown. Having two extremely suspenseful narratives weaving in and out of each other made for great plot, action, and pacing.

A word of warning – the novel is graphic. Haynes does not paint a pretty picture or cover our eyes to shield us from the worst of Lee’s abuse or Cathy’s party girl ways. You get both humans raw and bare and their relationship in full, gritty detail. You might find Catherine’s sex, drugs, and clubbing nature repulsive – sometimes feeling unable to relate or empathize with her. But I think her indecorous behavior challenges our moral values in the best of ways – did she deserve what she got, did she ask to be abused, or is she completely above recrimination. You see these types of moral conundrums every day. And while I wholeheartedly believe no one deserves such abuse, it was interesting to ponder what might or might not have been.

I think what ultimately pleased me most about Into the Darkest Corner was Catherine’s growth as a character and as a survivor of domestic violence. I appreciated how her journey to recovery was not easy or pretty, but she was determined to find herself again. I couldn’t help but root for her page after page and loved the moment she finally stopped fearing Lee, the moment he no longer had power over her. Kudos to Haynes for keeping the creepy vibe strong throughout the story, right down to the final word.

********************************************

Elizabeth HaynesELIZABETH HAYNES is a police intelligence analyst. She started writing fiction in 2006 with the annual challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the encouragement of the creative writing courses at West Dean College. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a copy of Into the Darkest Corner in exchange for my honest review! Check out the other tour dates here!

tlc logo

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

I have a confession:  I’ve never liked, or rather, appreciated Barbara Kingsolver.  Wow, my conscience feels better.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always known she was a beautiful writer, but her topics have always rubbed me as too preachy.  Another confession:  I’ve only ever attempted to read The Poisonwood Bible and that was in 2001.  So I took on the reading of Flight Behavior as a challenge to myself and my preconceived notions.

In her newest novel, Kingsolver delves further into the problems and controversies surrounding global warming.  Dellarobia Turnbow is in her late twenties with two kids, a husband, and life that is stifling her.  One day, home fry decides that climbing the mountain behind her house to have an affair will lead to her ultimate escape – until she comes across a fiery vision in the woods and has a sort of biblical epiphany of Moses proportions.  Turns out, those fiery visions are actually displaced migratory Monarch butterflies whose existence is on the brink of disaster – much like Dellarobia herself.  Can Dellarobia save the Monarchs and can they, in turn, save her?

There’s really a lot of global warming discussion that takes place in the sometimes contrived dialogue between Dellarobia and the scientists who come to study the Monarchs.  At times, I enjoyed the debates, feeling like I was actually learning All. The. Things.  But then I’d turn a page and roll my eyes.  And this is coming from someone who is concerned about the environment and does believe in global warming.  I just wish the dialog came off as more sincere or flowed more naturally instead of feeling purposefully placed to accomplish the job of converting the non-believers.

That being said, the prose is gorgeous.  Kingsolver can turn a phrase like nobody’s business.  There were times a metaphor or simile would stop me in my tracks and I’d spend 5 minutes just pondering the comparison and basking in the glow of amazingness.  Hands down, Flight Behavior is worth the time it takes to get through its 400+ pages based on this fact alone.  I’m even inclined to give her older novels a second chance if this is how accomplished the woman is with the English language.

I was also really fascinated by Dellarobia, not just as a character, but as a human being.  She frustrated me to no end sometimes, but other times would say something so astute that I forgave her former faults.  The novel takes place in the Appalachians of Tennessee in a small southern town where money is severely lacking.  Dellarobia gave up her dreams – slight though they were – of college after she got pregnant and married at 17.  A story all too often told in this neck of the woods, but her absolute belief that college was beyond her, that she had no way out, and that anyone who did go to college was a jackass bothered me more than I’d like to admit.  The town’s high school didn’t even teach actual curriculum – they had two maths called – Math One and Math Two.  Do places like this actually exist?  Seriously – I grew up in a small southern town with lots of poverty, a broke-ass high school, and a very small percentage of my fellow grads went on to college, but we had all of the normal classes.  Maybe I’m just not aware, but this part seemed a bit over-dramatized to me.  Someone care to educate me?

In her defense, Dellarobia wasn’t your typical backwoods hick.  She wasn’t educated beyond high school, but still had a thirst for knowledge, an appreciation for grammar, and a fierce loyalty to the kinds of people we often make fun of on reality shows.  Flipping through the challenges with her husband, they stop briefly on a program obviously making fun of and mocking an old southern man upset over something to do with his coon dogs.  She grows angry when she realizes this is how the world sees her family, her neighbors, and all the people she loves most in the world.  I almost felt ashamed of myself for making fun of Honey Boo Boo.  Almost.

If you’re a fan of Kingsolver, you know what to expect and have already made up your mind to read Flight Behavior.  If you don’t like her or have never given her a shot, I’d suggest Flight Behavior as a great place to start.  The story felt well-paced despite dwelling often on the minutiae of the Turnbow’s life and I was able to overcome the negative bits on the back of Kingsolver’s illustrious prose.  I fell in love with those butterflies, let me tell you.  It’s a book fit for literature classes and one I’m likely to read again.  It’s also a book that would garner some seriously awesome discussion – so read it with friends, a book club, or just come chat me up here!!

**********************************************

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for my review copy in exchange for an honest review!  Please visit TLC’s website to visit other tour stops!

 
Barbara Kingsolver is the author of eight works of fiction, including the novels The LacunaThe Poisonwood BibleAnimal Dreams, and The Bean Trees, as well as books of poetry, essays, and creative nonfiction. Her most recent work of nonfiction is the enormously influential bestsellerAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Kingsolver’s work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has earned literary awards and a devoted readership at home and abroad. In 2000, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. She lives with her family on a farm in southern Appalachia.

 

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

I’m fascinated by Louisiana and the New Orleans area – always have been.  There’s just something so uniquely Southern about this part of the country, an almost haunted feeling of past meshing with present that intrigues me so much.  So when I know a story is set there, I absolutely cannot resist.  The Cutting Season, Locke’s second novel, captures the tension of antebellum plantations and modern day perfectly, only enhancing my obsession with the spirit of Louisiana.

Caren Gray has come home again, back to Belle Vie, the plantation where her family spent generations as slaves cutting cane and where she grew up while her mother played cook to the current day owners, the Clancy family.  But now Caren is manager of the property and trying to come to terms with her family’s history and how to reconcile an ugly past with a promising future.  To complicate matters, a migrant field worker is found murdered on Belle Vie’s property and now a killer is on the loose.  Before long, Caren realizes that this present tragedy is all too similar to a past crime against her ancestors.  Can Caren find the killer before someone else gets hurt or an innocent party is thrown in jail?

Attica Locke can write, plain and simple.  I loved settling down in her prose for hour after hour of time more than well spent.  The Cutting Season really transcends any sort of typical murder mystery to become this haunting historical mystery novel full of atmosphere and a strong sense of place.  There’s so much more to care about within these nearly 400 pages besides the whodunnit.  Caren’s relationship with her mother and her own daughter is nuanced and complex.  The bridges and gaps between who we were, who we are, and who we will be are deeply studied and brilliantly realized.  I believe Locke has written a novel worthy of any college classroom that simultaneously satisfies picky plot-driven readers.  I can’t wait to pick up a copy of her first novel – how did I ever miss it to begin with?

I will say that the first third of the novel travels a bit slowly.  Locke spends a hundred or so pages painting a detailed picture of Belle Vie, her characters, and the murky past that will come into play so heavily during the much more quickly paced latter half.  But hang in there and you won’t be disappointed.  And the killer is far from easily spotted.  I suspected multiple shady and not-so-shady characters throughout the pages!  The resolution was so tightly plotted and realistic – these events could so easily happen in real life that it almost felt like really well done narrative nonfiction.  I literally googled the historical facts surrounding the murder case before remembering everything was fiction!

All-in-all, a great read and a perfect selection for October – just the right amount of spookiness and atmosphere for Halloween.  Attica Locke is an author you don’t want to miss out on, I promise!

*************************

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing the review copy in exchange for my honest review.  Check out the other tour dates here!

Black Water Rising, Attica Locke’s first novel, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize in the UK in 2010. It was nominated for an Edgar Award, an NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a Strand Magazine Critics Award.Black Water Rising was also a finalist for the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award.

Attica Locke has spent many years working as a screenwriter, penning movie and television scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, and Dreamworks. She was a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and is a graduate of Northwestern University.

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica now lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the board of directors for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. Most recently, she wrote the introduction for the UK publication of Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying. Her second book, The Cutting Season, will be published by HarperCollins / and Dennis Lehane in September 2012.