Audiobook Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Title: Where the Crawdads Sing
Author: Delia Owens
Narrator: Cassandra Campbell
Publisher: Viking
Publication date: August 14, 2018
Print length: 384 pages
Audio length: 12 hours, 12 minutes
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Where the Crawdads Sing has been on bestseller lists for at least a year now, as far as I can tell. And the fact that this was a Reese’s book club pick doesn’t hurt at all when it comes to creating buzz. So is it worth all the hype?

Now that I’ve read it, I can give an answer: Definitely yes.

Where the Crawdads Sing is lovely, rich, sad, and powerful. It tells the story of Kya Clark, a girl who is abandoned at a very young age and yet manages to raise herself in the North Carolina marsh she calls home.

Kya’s family lives in a shack in the marsh, scrabbling for daily sustenance and terrorized by their abusive, unreliable father. Kya’s older siblings have already left, and as the story opens, Kya is six years old, watching her mother walk away, never to return. Kya is left behind with her father and older brother, but even her brother doesn’t stay long. Soon, it’s just Kya and her father, and he disappears for days on end, or shows up drunk or angry, and simply can’t or won’t care for his child.

And so, from the age of six, Kya raises herself. She loves her home and the marsh and the birds and wildlife that are her truest friends. She scrapes by on the pennies her father provides. Eventually, even he leaves, and she is completely alone, surviving by digging mussels and selling them to the local sundry store owner, a warm and caring man named Jumpin’ who comes to love Kya as a daughter.

Despite the love and support of Jumpin’ and his wife Mabel, Kya is alone. When a truant officer comes to take her to school, Kya only lasts one day, feeling embarassed and tormented by the town kids who call her “Marsh Girl” and make fun of her. From then on, it’s just Kya in the marsh.

She does have one friend, a boy named Tate who once upon a time was friends with her brother. Tate is fascinated by Kya and takes it upon himself to teach her to read, opening up the world of science and biology and learning to her. Kya embarks on her lifelong passion to know and understand the marsh, collecting specimens and documenting them through writing and painting, turning her old shack into a personal natural history museum of sorts.

The story alternates between chapters following Kya’s life from early childhood onward and chapters set later, in 1969, when a local young man is found dead under suspicious circumstances. Chase Andrews had a history with the Marsh Girl, and although there doesn’t seem to be any evidence, she becomes a person of interest in the case, fueled by years of the townspeople’s harsh opinions and suspicions and gossip about her.

While I was less interested in the murder plot for most of the book, by the last third, the two story elements come together as the plot centers around the court case and resolution.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a moving and lyrical reading experience. I loved the descriptions of the marsh and the way the natural world is so much a part of who Kya is and how she looks at life. Kya’s life is horribly sad, yet also beautiful in its own lonely way. It’s incredible to think that a child could survive like that on her own all those years, yet she does. Between her natural intelligence and her lifelong study of her natural surroundings, Kya adapts and manages to thrive, despite her loneliness and sorrow throughout the years.

The audiobook narrator does a very good job of breathing life into the characters, especially Kya, using her voice to show her maturing over the years yet maintaining the core of who she is.

My one issue with the audiobook is that I feel I missed out a bit on certain written passages. Kya is passionate about poetry, and the poems she recites throughout the book are worth spending time on and contemplating a bit, but because I listened to the audiobook, they passed by a little too quickly for actual reflection. I think I’ll need to borrow a print edition so I can page through and spend more time on certain passages.

I won’t get into spoilers, so I can’t say more about the ending than that I was mostly satisfied and that the ending worked out pretty much as I expected despite a few red herrings — although there was at least one loose thread that I would have liked an answer to.

Overall though, the murder/mystery elements are not the most essential part of this book, in my mind. Yes, it was interesting, and yes, I felt that the ending made sense. But the biggest impact for me was the emotional resonance of Kya’s life, her loves, her relationships, and her incredible personal and professional achievements.

Kya is a woman to admire, one who overcomes extreme adversity to carve out a life for herself that’s meaningful and joyful.

Where the Crawdads Sing is a powerful and beautiful book. Highly recommended.

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2019/2020

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about our winter reading plans.

Last week, my TTT was all about the ARCs I have coming up at the start of the new year. This week, I’m focusing on other books I’m looking forward to reading — some upcoming new releases, some books I’ve bought recently, and one that I’ve had for way too long and really need to get to.

The first four on my list are all new volumes in ongoing series, and just thinking about them makes me happy.

1) Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children, #5) by Seanan McGuire: This book comes out in early January, and I can’t wait! I love this series so much, and I’m especially excited for this one because it picks up where one of my favorites (Down Among the Sticks and Bones) left off.

2) No Fixed Line (Kate Shugak, #22) by Dana Stabenow: I love this series, the Alaska setting, and Kate herself, who is just an awesome lead character. I’ve been itching for more Kate — so excited for this upcoming January release!

3) Imaginary Numbers (InCryptid, #9) by Seanan McGuire: Yup, even more Seanan McGuire! And yes, I do love everything she writes. The InCryptid series is really fun, and I’m super excited for this book, especially since I won a copy in a Goodreads giveaway. (Thanks, Goodreads!)

4) Smoke Bitten (Mercy Thompson, #12) by Patricia Briggs: Mercy is one of my favorite lead characters, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for her and her pack.

Other (non-series) books I’m looking forward to reading:

5) Well Met by Jen DeLuca: I’ve been on a roll with cute romances lately, and this story, set at a RenFaire, sounds adorable.

6) Alice by Christina Henry: I’m officially in love with Christina Henry’s writing, so it’s time to go back and read the books I’ve missed.

7) The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri: This is my book club’s pick for January, and I’m really determined to make more of an effort to keep up with our monthly reads this year.

8) Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey: From the Goodreads blurb: “The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.” Um, yes please! I love Sarah Gailey’s writing, and this sounds pretty amazing.

9) Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: I finally picked up a copy, so this is high on my priority list! Maybe even this week…

10) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: I bought this when it came out in 2018 — it’s about time that I finally read it!

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten books on my TBR list for winter 2018/2019

snowy10

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is about reading plans for this winter.

My main reading plan for this winter is to read the books I’ve recently acquired — basically, books that I had to have IMMEDIATELY and spent actual money on! My terrible tendency is to rush to buy books, and then once I get them, suddenly have other books that I need to read first… and so they sit there, unloved and unread, for months and months.

So, top priority for the next few months will be these books — my newest acquisitions:

1) Becoming by Michelle Obama

2) A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

3) Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

4) The Book of M by Peng Shepherd

5) Death of an Eye by Dana Stabenow

6) In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

7) Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

8) The White Darkness by David Grann

9) We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory

10) One of the Austen-inspired books I’ve picked up at recent library sales — either Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski or Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos… or both!

What books will be keeping you warm this winter? Share your links, and I’ll come check out your top 10!

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

Girl on the TrainSynopsis:

(via Goodreads)

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My thoughts:

Hmm. The hype machine strikes again. Last year, it seemed like everyone was talking about The Girl On the Train as the next “it” book, with all sorts of comparisons, especially to Gone Girl. So does it measure up?

Not really — but then again, I feel like calling a book the next Gone Girl is just setting readers up for disappointment. Gone Girl was Gone Girl, and this is something different. It does seem like that’s the inevitable point of comparison for every new book that comes along that features an unreliable narrator, but there’s only so many times that concept can remain fresh and exciting.

In any case…

The Girl on the Train is told mainly through the eyes of Rachel, a depressed, out-of-work alcoholic who rides the train every day so that her kind roommate won’t know that she got fired. Rachel’s eyes are drawn every day to a beautiful woman who sits out on her terrace facing the tracks. The woman seems to have a perfect life, with a perfect husband. But Rachel isn’t drawn to the couple only because of the image of happiness that they project; they also happen to live just a few doors down from the home she used to share with her ex-husband Tom, who now lives in that house with his new wife and baby.

Rachel’s life is a mess, and it’s the glimpse into other people’s lives that give her a shred of hope, until one day she spots the woman with another man in a seemingly intimate embrace. Rachel is shocked, and seems to need to inject herself into the story. And when the woman on the terrace becomes a missing person, Rachel can’t stay away, inserting herself into the police investigation and into the life of the husband, who is naturally the leading suspect in what’s looking like a case of foul play.

The relationships and connections are tangled and complicated, and Rachel’s version of events is doubtful from the start. She’s an out-of-control drinker who typically stops only when she passes out. She has blackouts, after which she has no memories. She blames herself for the misery of her own life, but can’t seem to pull herself together enough to change anything. No wonder the police consider her a nut job who just wants the excitement of feeling important… especially since her ex’s new wife has filed complaints against Rachel for her stalker-like behavior.

It took me quite a while to really get into The Girl on the Train. None of the characters are at all likeable, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but I didn’t particularly connect with any of them or feel sympathetic. Even as late as the halfway mark, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. The story is interesting enough, but I didn’t feel like it tipped over into un-put-down-ableness until close to the end.

The last quarter or so is fast-moving and absorbing, and despite having a pretty good idea of the who in the whodunnit, finding out the why and the how was pretty exciting as the big reveals started coming into view.

I did enjoy the book, but there was a samey-same feel to much of the story. I really didn’t get sucked in until close to the end, and stuck with it mainly because of all the hype which made me feel like there would be something amazing coming along any second now. I didn’t think the book ever reached AMAZING, but it was a fun read and kept me busy on a summer weekend.

The Girl on the Train would make a great beach read, or would be a good choice for a long plane ride. It’s a good diversion, not earth-shattering, but still quite a fun way to pass the time.

PS – I am looking forward to the movie version, to be released in the fall. I was going to include the trailer here… but it seems so spoilerific that I decided not to. Check it out at your own peril!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Publication date: January 13, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Purchased

1998: A very good year

happy-anniversary-balloon-bouquet.jpg

Today just happens to be my 15th wedding anniversary, so…

Happy Anniversary To Us!

Yes, we got married in 1998, but other things happened that year too, such as this:

and this:

and even this: (*cough* not that this had anything to do with my marriage *cough*)

Of course, being who I am, what’s of greatest interest to me is the world of books in 1998. A quick visit to the New York Times bestseller list for February 1998 shows some really terrific books, among them:

Fiction:

#1: Paradise by Toni Morrison

#2: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

#7: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

#9: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Non-Fiction:

#2: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

#5: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

That’s just a smattering of the books on the list, but these are the ones that I’ve read and enjoyed. I suppose if I were looking for signs and portents, I’d say that of the six books mentioned above, I’d feel just as comfortable recommending any of these today as I did fifteen years ago.

So… 1998: Books with staying power. Marriage with staying power. It’s all good.

Confessions of a book snob

I admit it. I am a certifiable book snob. Really, I can be a judgy little thing, especially when it comes to other people’s taste in books.

Not that I expect everyone to sit around reading serious works at all times. My life does not revolve around Shakespeare, Melville, and Dickens (although sometimes I think it should).

I’m the type who wants to know what everyone else is reading. I’ve had great airport conversations with strangers, sparked by the books in our hands (e.g., “Wow, you’re reading Lamb? I love Christopher Moore!”).

But I must ‘fess up and say straight out that I tend to turn up my nose when I see people reading those certain bestsellers that “everyone” loves — and I simply despise — such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo or The Da Vinci Code. As a booklover friend of mine and I smugly agreed, when people rave about those books, those books are probably the only books they’ve read in the past year or so.

I admit to feeling just a wee bit of condescension toward friends after our first visit to their home, when I saw that the majority of books on their bookshelves were written by John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, and Clive Cussler.

On the flip side, when I first visited someone I knew mainly as a professional connection and saw the wall-to-wall bookshelves in her family room, filled with everything from Harry Potter to Neil Gaiman to Mary Roach, I knew we’d manage to hit it off.

So does that make me a snob? Probably. I know, in this age of non-stop technological distractions, that I should applaud people for reading at all, even if it is mass market drivel.

I think my main problem is that I tend to reach out to people and try to find common ground with them over the subject of reading. I love meeting people with unusual book tastes, so long as they’re readers. When we click over a book, I know we’ll manage to find something to talk about. But when all they can find to read is Grisham and the like, I just have nothing to say.

So, I’ll keep plugging away, making it my own personal mission, in my miniscule sphere of influence, to tell people about the great books I’ve read. Maybe we’ll connect, maybe the other person will think whatever I’m reading is absolute dreck. But maybe, just maybe, one or both of us will come away from the encounter with a new title or author to explore, and that can only be a good thing.

Just don’t tell me to give Stieg Larsson another try. I don’t think our friendship can take it.