Sunday, July 07, 2013

Three Newish Novels and a Giveaway

Sometimes it feels like I only read classics, but I've just finished three recently published novels, so clearly perception and reality are not exactly aligning.




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.




Giveaway Time!!!!!

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.

15 comments:

  1. I've only read Prodigal Summer and liked it. Flight Behaviour is on my list.

    I'd like to be counted in for the giveaway. Thanks for making it open to all. Much appreciated.

    mystica123athotmaildotcom

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  2. You've made me revise my thinking about reading Flight Behaviour, Jane. Maybe I should try the audio version! I'd really like to read Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout is a new author for me, but it looks as though I'd like her books.

    I like your reaction to the ending of The Widow Waltz - that you 'had to stretch your willing disbelief', so please count me in for the giveaway too. bookspleaseatbtinternetdotcom

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  3. Of the three, I've only read Elizabeth Strout. I disliked Olive, yet I couldn't help sympathizing with her sometimes, and that mix of feelings kept me reading to the end.

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  4. I have heard really good things about Flight Behavior. Your reference to the way that the book explores that scientists think make me want to read it even more, That is a fascinating subject for me.

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  5. I felt the same way about Flight Behavior. Fascinating story-telling but very in your face about how we're killing our planet. It made me think and that's why I love Kingsolver's books; they all make me do that.

    I have Olive sitting on my shelf but I hear it's a bit dark so I haven't ever taken the plunge.

    I'm glad you got some good light reading in along with those other heavy-handed books!

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    1. Olive Kitteridge is definitely a darkish book--I actually felt a tightness in my gut when I was reading it, but it's so good that the emotional investment is worth it.

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  6. I've been wanting to read Olive for quite some time. Your review has upped the ante for me :-)

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  7. Hurray for Olive Kitteridge! It's one of my all-time favorites - Strout is so talented. I hope to read Flight Behavior eventually. Prodigal Summer is my favorite Kingsolver novel so far.

    Thanks for the chance to win The Widow Waltz. The Three Weissmanns of Westport was one of the highlights of my summer last year.
    jqsteve(at)aol(dot)com

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    1. Well, I read Olive entirely thanks to your frequent mentions of the book on your blog. Thanks for a wonderful recommendation!

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    2. Looks like I'll be reading Flight Behavior even soon than I thought... my book club selected it for our August meeting!

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  8. I just read Strout's The Burgess Boys and really enjoyed it although the structure of Olive Kitteredge really was one of the things I loved the most and Strout did not repeat that.

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  9. What you say about the structure of Olive Kitteridge makes me think of How to Make an American Quilt, where each woman's chapter was a fairly self-contained story. I like your format of short comparative reviewing this time--very helpful! I gave someone Flight Behavior without reading it--hope she isn't freaked out by the ending!

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    1. I've heard of How to Make an American Quilt, but sort of forgot about it. Given my love of short stories and quilting, it's a natural for me. Thanks for the recommendation.

      The ending isn't awful, just surprising. My husband just finished it, and wasn't shocked by the ending, just wished it had a gone a different way. So, I think you're safe!

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  10. I've really tried to enjoy Barbara Kingsolver, but I can't. I wish I could explain why, but I can't do that either. I am glad you enjoyed the book way more than I did.

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    1. I know what you mean--there are some authors that I expect to like and just don't, and the reason eludes me. Thankfully, there's no lack of writers that do resonate when one fails us :)

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