Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Title: Flight Behavior
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Goodreads

Why I picked it up: A friend loaned it to me! And I’d never read a Barbara Kingsolver book before, figured it was about time.

What it’s about: A hoard of monarch butterflies settles on a mountaintop in Appalachia instead of their native Mexico for the first time ever. A local family is caught up in the drama as scientists try to figure out what it means.

What I liked: Barbara Kingsolver writes people really well. Characterization is a huge part of what draws me to books, and I loved that her characters seemed so believable. I liked that this book explored the divide between the scientific community and those with more academia under their belts in general and poor Southern conservatives. Due to the increasing polarization in this country (or maybe helping cause it), people seem to be talking past each other a lot. Unwilling to listen to each other…a lot. I like that this book tackled that in a sensitive way.

What I didn’t like: At times it felt perhaps a little heavy-handed. I don’t necessarily mind, because it’s an important issue. I’m worried that it might turn off the exact audience she seems to be reaching for, but maybe the message is more for “liberals” anyway. Regardless, not a huge fault and not something that really impacted my enjoyment of the story.

Overall / recommended: I’m glad I read this book and I thought it was a worthwhile read. I didn’t love this book–it was somewhere between “I liked it” and “I really liked it,” though, which is a decent rating. I would recommend it to many people.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Title: Sweetbitter
Author: Stephanie Danler
Genre: Fiction 

Rating: 4.75 / 5

Goodreads

It’s books like this one that make me really glad that I decided to read what I’m called to. This book was calling to me from my university’s library shelves–probably all down to that color, too. I looked it up–a 3.29 rating on Goodreads, quite low. I actually did hesitate, and put it off. But I am so glad I went ahead with it in the end.

Many of the complaints of this novel come down to either “no plot,” “unlikeable/stupid protagonist,” or “pretentious.” It’s often instructive–and sometimes more helpful–to read the reviews of people who don’t like a book to see if their complaints sound like complaints you have made. As I think I’ve stated recently, a lack of plot doesn’t bother me a bit as long as it has characters or some loose story (both of which this novel definitely has). I also don’t need likable characters, not even a little bit. They’re nice, sometimes, but I’m generally more concerned with realistic, complicated, or interesting characters, all of which can actually interfere with the likability of characters. As for pretentious, sometimes it bothers me and it is charge I have leveled before. Is this book pretentious? Yeah, maybe. I guess they quote Keats to each other and stuff, which might seem pretentious (honestly it went over my head until it was explicitly stated because I have never read Keats). And there’s also the fact that something about it reminded me of The Princess Diaries, books which even as a tween I put in the “guilty pleasure” category, a categorization which nonetheless did not stop me from genuinely enjoying them at all. I think what reminded me of those earlier books when reading Sweetbitter was its coming of age-ness, but even more, all the drama and the confessional aspect. And for me, wanting to find out what happens next in the intimate details of a person’s life. I guess maybe to some people that’s the definition of pretentious–The Princess Diaries dressed up in Keats and clichés of beautiful broken bartenders. But in that case, it’s what I enjoy.

It’s a rare book that I actually feel like raising my initial rating of it after a week or two; almost always the tendency is in the opposite direction: after the immediate pull of the book has faded, my rating seems to decline as well. Not so with this one. I think the novel worked really well. The writing was good, often very evocative, and despite the charges of “no plot,” I often couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. It had a great melancholic mood. So even though I was shaking my head at the protagonist and rolling my eyes at some of the characters, I still found them compelling. I would maybe not go in for a book like this every time–I really crave diversity in the genres, moods, and voices I read (I love gothic novels, but I don’t want to read five in a row!)–but I do wish every book I picked up was as much to my tastes as this one.

This Is Where You Belong by Melody Warnick

Title: This Is Where You Belong
Author: Melody Warnick
Genre: Nonfiction 

Rating: 2 / 5

Goodreads

Why I picked it up: It was a discussion book for a group I’m in.

What it’s about: The author, a habitual mover, tries to get attached to the newest place she’s moved to. She outlines ideas for readers to follow to help them get more rooted and involved in their community.

What I liked: I think her suggestions are probably good. They seemed a little…obvious to me. I already do/have done almost all of them without having to be told (“talk to your neighbors,” “walk around your town,” “go to a city council meeting,” “shop locally”). I guess if these ideas have never occurred to you, this book is as good a place as any to hear the pitch.

What I didn’t like: The way she wrote kind of grated on me a bit. She seemed to be a little condescending toward people who want to live where they grew up, especially if those places are rural. Other readers in the group didn’t feel that was the case, and it’s true that there are other explanations for how she wrote and it’s really hard to read tone. She would come up with ideas and then not follow through with them (but still suggest them to others). The things she said when she was visiting a planation kind of bothered me. I guess there’s not really a nice way to say it but she just kinda bugged me. :\

Overall / recommended: Didn’t really like it. I gave it two stars because I think there is some value in her suggestions and her approach. Again, they felt obvious to me, but for someone looking to be more attached to their town or city, I think it’s fine. There was a section that made me want to be nicer to all my neighbors and make them cookies and stuff, which is nice. Would I recommend it? Maybe start just skimming the lists at the end of the chapters; they pretty much sum it up.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

Title: Anatomy of a Scandal
Author: Sarah Vaughan
Genre: Fiction / thriller 

Rating: 4 / 5

Goodreads

Why I picked it up: I heard it was suspenseful and about a scandal. Sounds good to me! 🙂 I entered a drawing for it because I got an email from Goodreads that it was happening, and lo, I received a copy in the mail. I wasn’t 100% sure I felt like a thriller at the moment but I decided not to put it off.

What it’s about: A charming politician is accused of rape in the fallout from a sex scandal. This is the story of the trial and its impact on (some) of the people impacted.

What I liked: Obviously I liked a lot about this book, at 4 stars. It was quick to get into and fairly engrossing. I finished it in two days. I kept wanting to pick it back up. I thought it handled its subject matter well, which is really important for a book that covers rape and sexual assault. (SPOILERS AHEAD) I liked that it pulled away from casting the rapist as some awful monster and instead focused on the privilege aspect, society’s role in creating the situations and people that lead to this phenomenon. It’s easy to say “rapists are monsters,” but if you accept that, then it’s going to be awful hard to come to terms with the idea of a friend or family member being a rapist; after all, in your experience they are decidedly not a monster. This book does a good job of implicating things besides just the rapist.

What I didn’t like: I hesitate to say this, because I think it might actually be an asset for the wider readership. However, the writing itself felt very “light”–not the subject matter, but the quality of the writing. It felt like the book could have been “deeper.” Although I think for the intended “bestseller” kind of audience, it’s appropriate. Some people might feel it was also too heavy-handed with its “agenda,” but I thought it was a good balance between “message” and plot/characters.

Overall / recommended: I would recommend this book, with the caveat that it is about rape and sexual assault. I think it handles the subject matter well and am thinking of bringing my copy by the gender & sexuality equality center on campus for them to have.