The Birds of Opulence

img_2760If you don’t know how much mad love I have for Crystal Wilkinson’s writing, you’re going to hear all about it in this review of The Birds of Opulence, newly released in March 2016.  The story explores life in small town Opulence, focalizing on the Goode-Brown family.  The four generations of women, led by the spirited and strong-minded Minnie Mae.

The novel explores themes of womanhood, coming of age, mental illness, duty, and life.  Wilkinson introduces the characters, while planting the seed of this town and the culture that resides there.  The atmosphere Wilkinson cultivates will seize you and bring you along for the ride right from page one.  This is what is so incredible about her storytelling aptitude.  I was mentioning this to Andi from Estella’s Revenge and she said that she loved when that happened because a lot of authors don’t seem to know how to do that.  I gave that a long hard thought and I have to agree with her.  It isn’t easy to create an atmosphere and to maintain it throughout the story.

The descriptions of Opulence’s beautiful countryside, from the different women and the tests of life they go through, to the food, and the memories they recount, the story gives off deep meaning on many levels in very few pages.  As you may have guessed the birds are the principal women in the book.  We read about the the older women in the story and then we go full circle to the stories of their daughters.  Another interesting aspect is that Wilkinson has brought in characters from her previous connected short story collection called Water Street, which I reviewed and also loved.  So we have the chance to see Mona and Yolanda in The Birds of Opulence growing up and becoming young women, whereas in Water Street we only see them as women and one episode which is a memory is reality in The Birds of Opulence.  We also understand their how they become friends and their connection to each other which is not explained in detail in Water Street.

“Boy give you less to worry about.” (The Birds of Opulence, p. 5) is the phrase that rings like an alarm through the entire book, uttered by Minnie Mae.  Women and men aren’t equal in life’s challenges as much as we would like that to be the contrary and we witness the many injustices that happen to the different female characters.  However tragic these stories, there is still a silver lining despite its bittersweetness and an entryway to more future stories about the people of Opulence.

I encourage you all to check out Crystal Wilkinson’s other short story collections Blackberries, Blackberries and Water Street.  Her sensitive realistic writing style will suck you in and you won’t be able to put the book down.  The Birds of Opulence is a perfect puzzle piece to her previous work and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. Who knows maybe we’ll get to learn even more about Mona….

My copy: The Birds of Opulence – hardcover, 199 pages

Rating:  ****

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The Passenger

What would you do if the identity you’ve embraced for some time has fallen through and the passengeryour only option is to leave town precipitously and try to get another one?  This is the beginning of the newly released thriller, The Passenger by Lisa Lutz.  This story follows the chaotic journey of “Tanya DuBois” to her final truthful destination.

The story is told from Tanya’s point of view. She has a steady unsure voice, slightly naive and gladly not the bitchy deranged voice as the main character in The Girl on the Train.  Compared to The Girl on the Train, The Passenger takes a more realistic view of what can happen when one is all alone and must try to make the right decisions.  Often Tanya surprised me with her decisions but things become a lot clearer during the last thirty percent of the book.

I’d say there is quite a lot of suspense, however a few predictable parts.  I think it’s hard to event the wheel these days with thrillers.  All in all a good read. The chapters weren’t too long and a few of them are cut with emails to add to the suspense.  It was a page turner and not dragged out any longer than it really needed to be.  The only disservice to this book is to compare it to two other successful thrillers with irascible crazy lead female characters, which was done on the inside flap.  It didn’t need that comparison.  The Passenger is capable of enticing readers on its own.  Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a fast pace thriller, with a clever title.

My Copy:  The Passenger – Lisa Lutz (hardcover) 304 pages

Rating:  ***

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Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Shortlist

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction  2016 Shortlist was announced earlier today.  I have to say I’m a little disappointed. I expected  a stronger less predictable shortlist.  I’ve read only two titles from this shortlist and neither of them rocked my world – The Green Road by Anne Enright and Ruby by Cynthia Bond.  The only others on this shortlist I planned on reading are A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (sick of hearing about it) and The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney.  So here is the shortlist in full.  Do you find any of these intriguing?  Are you planning on reading any of these?  If so which ones? What do you think of this shortlist?

the green road    the improbability of love   a little life

the glorious heresies    ruby   the portable veblen

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