Saturday, March 23, 2013

Flight Behavior

Flight BehaviorFlight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Dellarobia was seventeen, she married Cub Turnbow because they had a baby on the way. She miscarried shortly afterward, but the damage was done, and her dreams of college and escaping the confines of impoverished Feathertown, Tennessee, died also. More than a decade later, Dellarobia's quiet despair leads her to hike up a hill for an adulterous rendezvous. Before she arrives, however, she sees the forest aflame with a soundless fire and returns home with the conviction that the miracle was meant to save her. She is no longer the same person; sparks of her original personality have reignited. When her father-in-law decides to cut down the forest to pay a large debt, she lobbies her husband to intervene, telling him they should at least look at what they are selling off before it's too late. Grudgingly, her in-laws and her husband agree to make the trip, so this time Dellarobia wears her glasses and discovers that the flames are actually butterflies. Millions--maybe billions--of monarch butterflies.

News of the butterflies spreads to news outlets, both local and national, and soon Dellarobia is in the uncomfortable media spotlight as the woman whose "vision" led to the discovery. When a stranger appears at her door, she impulsively invites him to dinner and changes the course of her life forever, for he is a lepidopterist--a butterfly scientist. The unearthly beauty of the butterflies is actually a natural disaster: they should have returned to the milder climate of the mountains of Mexico, and an Appalachian winter might mean their extinction.

Kingsolver is a master of character development. I didn't find much to admire in Dellarobia to begin with, given her her chain-smoking and her decision to throw her marriage away on a foolish obsession. But she grows and changes into a woman I could empathize with and respect. And Kingsolver doesn't skimp on the other characters, either. For example, Cub is a good, kind man who is simply a bad match for Dellarobia. Their children come to life, particularly five-year-old Preston, the budding scientist. Even Cub's mother, Hester, is depicted with depth. No one is simply a stereotype--not the preacher, nor the congregants, not the scientists, and not the townsfolk. Kingsolver grew up in Appalachia and treats it with respect, acknowledging both the poverty and limited choices but also the inherent thrift. Everyone--environmentalists and locals alike--acts with the best of intentions. I really appreciated that.

For readers' advisors: character and setting doorways, primarily, but also language and story (as is customary with Kingsolver's novels). No sex, aside from a pair of butterflies, nor violence, and only a little mild swearing. The pace of the book is generally relaxed, so I wouldn't suggest it to anyone who only reads "page-turners."

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Loving Miss Darcy

Loving Miss Darcy (Brides of Pemberley, #2)Loving Miss Darcy by Nancy Kelley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Three and a half stars, actually.)

Two years after Elizabeth married Mr. Darcy, it's time for Darcy's younger sister to make her debut in society. But Georgiana still hasn't emotionally recovered from her colossal mistake in nearly eloping with Mr. Wickham and doesn't trust her own judgment when it comes to men. In an effort to boost her confidence and protect her from unsavory types, her guardians--Darcy and Col. Richard Fitzwilliam--ask the colonel's friends to dance with her at her first balls. Despite their best efforts and intentions, somehow rumors still leak out, and Richard is forced to more fully examine his own feelings toward Georgie as he races to uncover the plot to damage her reputation.

This is a light, fun read for Jane Austen fans. Nancy Kelley again remains consistent with Austen's original characters and tone. The one exception is that she develops Kitty Bennet into a much more mature and intelligent girl than in the original Pride and Prejudice, but I can live with that, since Kitty's been away from Lydia for two years, and all of us would like to think we improve with age. Plus I'm hoping Nancy's next book will focus on Kitty and Sebastian.

A couple of things brought my rating down a bit. First, there is a scene at Pemberley fairly early on in the book at the start of the Christmas gathering when Simon starts talking, and I hadn't even realized he was invited, much less had arrived. I flipped back several pages to see if I'd missed something, but there was no mention of him until he spoke. When Elizabeth's parents started speaking soon afterward, it was only slightly less jarring, and for the same reason.

Second, I thought the ending was a bit too...easy? I can't think of the precise word I mean. It just felt slightly rushed, maybe, or the villain was caught and too-gently dispensed with...I don't know. And when they were confronting him, one of his physical reactions was exactly the opposite of what would have made sense to me: he sat back instead of lunging up in protest/denial. I won't say any more than that because I want to avoid spoilers.

And third, there were a couple of painful (to me) grammar errors that jumped out at me, particularly toward the end of the book. There were occasional missing words or letters throughout, but they didn't bother me as much as the later incorrect sentence structures. (Nancy, please let me know if you'd ever like me to proofread your manuscripts for you. I'd be delighted to do so!)

Overall, though, I very much enjoyed reading book two in the series.

For readers' advisors: setting, story, and character doorways. No sex or swearing.

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