I'm a big fan of Barbara Kingsolver's writing, fiction and non-fiction, and recently listened to Flight Behavior. It took a little while to get into the story--at times I felt like I could never relate to someone like Dellarobia, the main character, and the setting, rural Tennessee, seemed more foreign to me than Victorian London, but I stuck with it and ended up loving the book.
By far my favorite character was Ovid Byron, the scientist who comes to Dellarobia's hometown to study the millions of monarch butterflies who migrate there by mistake. Kingsolver was the reader of the audio version that I listened to and I particularly loved her rendering of his voice, Jamaican accent and all. I learned so much from Byron, about how scientists view the natural world, why they study it, and how they feel about the objects of their study.
I was honestly surprised by the apocalyptic ending, which reminded me of an image of Noah and his beached ark on Mount Ararat. I thought the book would end on a hopeful note but be forewarned, this is not a feel-good novel. It should make you feel a bit panicky if you take the lessons from Dr. Byron to heart.
I also listened to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. This is my first novel by Strout but I liked it so much that I am going to check out her other books. I really liked the structure of the novel, in which each chapter is a short story. Some of the stories are directly about Olive, and others she figures in to varying degrees.
As virtually every other reviewer has noted, Olive is a tough protagonist to like. She's brusque, but awfully touchy as only the truly brusque can be. She is easily offended and offends just about everyone she encounters. Her heart is large and breaks often; she is perceptive and massively myopic. A study in contradictions, she is probably one of the most real characters I've ever met in a novel.
I enjoyed the setting, a small town in Maine, and the various inhabitants of the town. An excellent book--creative, interesting, and very real.
The final book in my trio of newbies is The Widow Waltz, by Sally Koslow. It was the weakest of the three, but still an enjoyable novel. Unlike Flight Behavior and Olive Kitteridge, The Widow Waltz takes place mostly in Manhattan and the Hamptons. It is the story of a middle-aged woman who thinks she is well-off until her husband dies and she discovers he's left her virtually penniless with a mountain of debt.
The plot line actually reminded me quite a bit of The Three Weissman's of Westport, which is a modern riff on Austen's Sense and Sensibility. The location reinforced the similarity as well.
I had to stretch my willing suspension of disbelief to swallow the ending--what happened to the money and how Georgia, the main character, responded to the revelation.
Flight Behavior and Olive Kitteridge are much more complex books than The Widow Waltz, which was far more formulaic and slick than creative and real, but it was a fun book to read.
Since The Widow Waltz was sent to me by a publicist as part of the rollout of the book, I would like to offer it up as a giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of The Widow Waltz, just leave a comment and include your email address. This giveaway is open worldwide and I'll be accepting entries for one week...until 8 pm MT on Sunday, July 14.