Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Announcing the 2013 Women's Prize Short List

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
NW by Zadie Smith

Which do you think will win?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

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Flight Behavior - Wendy's Review

A small shift between cloud and sun altered the daylight, and the whole landscape intensified, brightening before her eyes. The forest blazed with its own internal flame. “Jesus,” she said, not calling for help, she and Jesus weren’t that close, but putting her voice in the world because nothing else present made sense. - from Flight Behavior -
Dellarobia’s life changed at seventeen when an unplanned pregnancy forced her into marriage…the same year she was orphaned when her mother succumbed to cancer. Despite a miscarriage, she stayed in her marriage to Cub, a man whose life is defined by his parents – the rigid Bear and his opinionated and religious wife, Hester. Now, ten years later, Dellarobia is disillusioned with her life as mom to two young children, barely scraping by on a small sheep farm in Feathertown, Tennessee on the edge of the Appalachian mountains. She longs for a brighter future, a more romantic relationship than the one she has with Cub, and an escape from the poverty and sameness of each day. So one day she heads up the mountain to consummate a tryst with the telephone guy. But instead of discovering love,  Dellarobia finds the trees on the mountain aflame with Monarch butterflies. Believing this to be a message from God, she turns back down the mountain and vows to stay in her marriage and make it work. The butterflies soon become a sensation, bringing a team of scientists to Dellarobia and Cub’s farm and upending the tenuous balance in a family which is living on the edge.

Barbara Kingsolver’s newest novel explores the impact of global warming and the divide between science and religion. Kingsolver lightens these heavy themes with warm hearted, genuine characters and a finely wrought sense of humor balanced by poignancy. Dellarobia is an insightful, smart woman who has been denied an education. She loves her kids. She grapples with her faith. She longs for a life of beauty and meaning. She is one of those characters who a reader can get behind even though she is far from perfect.

Kingsolver lays down a dilemma for Dellarobia:  Should she stay in her life and make it work, or should she take flight? Her journey is  symbolized by that of the butterflies – insects who migrate thousands of miles even though they have never been shown the way. What choices do we have when faced with potential catastrophe and the unknown? How do we determine truth? What factors influence our decisions and beliefs?

I am a huge Kingsolver fan. I love her beautiful prose, her complex characters, her sense of humor, and the relevancy of her themes. I expected to love this book, and it did not disappoint me. Critics of the global warming argument may be put off by the underlying message regarding the dire nature of environmental change, but no one can fault Kingsolver’s imagination and ability to bring to life a set of characters facing one of the most controversial topics facing this generation. It is her skill at character development against the backdrop of nature where Kingsolver shines, and in Dellarobia, she has given her readers a character who is truly memorable.

Highly Recommended.

FTC Disclosure: I was sent this book by the publisher for review on my blog. Thank you to TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to share this novel with my readers. Please visit the tour page for links to more reviews.

The Light Between Oceans - Wendy's Review

He struggles to make sense of it – all this love so bent out of shape, refracted, like light through the lens. - from The Light Between Oceans, page 225 -
A lighthouse warns of danger – tells people to keep their distance. She had mistaken it for a place of safety. - from the Light Between Oceans, page 227 -
Tom Sherbourne carries the scars of war after spending four years on the Western Front during WWI. He returns to Australia and accepts the job as light keeper on Janus Rock – a distant and isolated outpost a half day’s journey from the mainland and the small town of Partageuse. It is in Partageuse he meets Isabel, a young woman whose indefatigable spirit captures his heart. The two marry and begin their life on Janus Rock where the waves and wind, and the gorgeous landscape fill their days. Isabel quickly becomes pregnant, only to lose the child to miscarriage. Two more pregnancies end in disaster…and it is in the sad days following her last pregnancy when Isabel hears a baby’s cry. A boat has washed up on Janus Rock carrying a dead man and a very much alive baby girl. For Isabel, it is the miracle she has been waiting for; but for Tom the arrival of the boat will challenge his sense of right and wrong and test his marriage to Isabel. Tom’s decision to allow Isabel to keep the infant girl (who they name Lucy) and allow the death of the baby’s father to go unreported will have consequences which will profoundly impact not only he and Isabel, but a third person – Lucy’s biological mother who has never given up hope that her baby will be found.

M. L. Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, is a compelling story about love, loss, loneliness, and the consequences of our moral choices. Stedman’s prose is haunting and filled with symbolism grounded in the natural world. Janus Rock isolates Tom and Isabel, which makes their choice to keep Lucy easier – it is just them, on a rock, in between the oceans. It is only when the return to the mainland for an infrequent vacation when they are reminded they are not alone in the world.

Tom’s journey is one of recovery from a less than ideal childhood and the horrors of war. He carries guilt and a desire to put things right again. His conflict lies between protecting Isabel and Lucy, and the idea of justice and resolution for Lucy’s biological mother. Whatever he decides will cause pain to someone. Tom clings to what is real and solid – the lighthouse and its duties, the predictable rise and fall of the ocean – to travel his path…so when faced with the intangible and unpredictable, he finds himself floundering.
He must turn to something solid, because if he didn’t, who knew where his mind or his soul could blow away to, like a balloon without ballast. That was the only thing that had got him through four years of blood and madness: know exactly where your gun is when you doze for ten minutes in your dugout; always check your gas mask; see that your men have understood their orders to the letter. You don’t think ahead in years or months: you think about this hour, and maybe the next. Anything else is just speculation. – from The Light Between Oceans, page 33 -
The Light Between Oceans is beautifully wrought, but not without its flaws. Some plot points felt a bit implausible or contrived, and the novel begins slowly. I read this book for an online book club, and some participants stopped reading because they found the story to slow to engage them. Although I agree that Stedman takes her time to develop the characters and their conflicts, I loved the alluring imagery and lyrical cadence of Stedman’s prose. Sticking with the book proved to have its rewards. Stedman ultimately creates memorable characters and a story which reminds readers that life is complicated and the decisions we make can have devastating consequences not only for ourselves, but for others.

Readers who enjoy literary fiction and like books with complex characters who are driven by internal conflict, will find themselves drawn to The Light Between Oceans. M.L. Stedman’s first novel is a meditation on love and loss, and is a moving introduction to a new voice in literature.


Gone Girl - Wendy's Review

What are you thinking, Amy? The question I’ve asked most often during our marriage, if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer. I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do? -from Gone Girl, page 3-
But I may be wrong, I may be very wrong. Because sometimes, the way he looks at me? That sweet boy from the beach, man of my dreams, father of my child? I catch him looking at me with those watchful eyes, the eyes of an insect, pure calculation, and I think: This man might kill me. -from Gone Girl, page 205-
Nick and Amy Dunne have been married exactly five years when Amy suddenly disappears from their home leaving behind a suspiciously staged scene, blood evidence and clues for a “treasure hunt.” Nick has no real alibi and his lies to police are beginning to make him look like a killer. Meanwhile, Amy’s diary reveals a woman who longs to be the best possible wife, but who fears her husband. As the evidence piles up against Nick and television shows spin the case, it looks like an arrest will soon happen. But is everything all that it seems? Could Nick be innocent? And if so, what has happened to Amy?

Gillian Flynn has written a smart psychological thriller about a marriage which has gone terribly awry. Gone Girl is a black comedy of sorts. Neither Nick nor Amy are reliable narrators and Flynn moves back and forth from each of their points of view to build a story with lots of sharp twists and turns. The drama unfolds, not only through Amy and Nick’s limited narration, but also on the television news shows which supply their own spin. The novel provides a satirical look at social media, the US justice system, and modern marriage.

I wasn’t quite sure if I would like this novel, but I was pleasantly surprised at its clever wit and well-developed characters. Readers will find little to like about Amy and Nick – two very dysfunctional people who cultivate their toxic relationship despite its psychopathy. Flynn writes skillfully, and manages to keep the reader turning the pages in spite of her characters’ poisonous personalities. I was reminded of Louise Erdrich’s brilliant novel Shadow Tag which keeps the reader off balance while its characters manipulate and damage each other. 

Gone Girl is not perfect – there are some plot points which require readers to suspend reality in order to believe the story line (especially during the novel’s final pages). I was easily able to do just that which I think speaks to the exceptional character development early on. 

Gone Girl is suspenseful, original and surprisingly funny. Readers who enjoy psychological thrillers and twisty plots will find much to love about this book.



This novel has been nominated for the 2013 Edgar Award – Best Novel and long listed for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.