Cover Image: Mobility


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I mostly liked this book. Bunny has lived her life on the edges of the oil industry until she gets a job working for an oil company. She's just working at the job she has even as she knows this industry is bad for the planet. I liked the story better than I am making it sound though there are a few sections of the book that beat you over the head with this info.

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I made a single videoreview about the book on my booktube channel Rainierbooks on Youtube. Really enjoyed reading this portrait of a millenial woman, being an expat and then getting home to the US, sliding into the oil industry.

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I loved Kiesling’s previous work and was delighted to get my hands on Mobility. The novel follows our often hapless heroine Elizabeth, nicknamed Bunny, as she slowly climbs in the oil industry. The book begins in the 1990s where her father, a diplomat, is station in Azerbaijan. Through Bunny’s life, Kiesling slowly weaves a tale about oil, greed, politics, and apathy. Never preachy, always human, the book asks us to grapple with our own complicity in the climate crisis. Highly recommend!

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for an early copy of this book.

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I expected more out of this one, even though I did like the focus on Bunny (Elizabeth)'s career. It's a new-ish pet peeve of mine, though, when a book's concluding section fast forwards us into a slightly post-apocalyptic future.

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This was a highly anticipated read for me but I found myself not connecting with the story too much. I did like the politics and climate change being present but I almost hoped they would play more into the story.

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Lydia Kiesling has done it again! She does such an amazing job of writing about both large set pieces in geopolitics while also writing something that is very quiet and personal and thoughtful and character driven. This book made me uncomfortable and had to sit with my complicit role in *gestures broadly* but it was still a treat to read. That feels like the mark of a great book.

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An interesting, often compelling novel, even if Bunny Glenn, the protagonist, whose life we are in from age 15 through late thirties, is not always up to the task assigned her, our guide into the "hyperobject" of the oil industry, meaning a phenomenon so large it is impossible to fully understand and get our arms around what it is, does, how it makes, in this case, the world run in all different kinds of nefarious ways. Bunny is our stand-in as well, wanting to make something of ourselves, wanting to be good or seem good, to do good, or at least try, and yet without sufficient knowledge, or maybe even with sufficient knowledge, it seems mostly impossible. A woman driving a Prius and working in the oil industry, even if Bunny is helping an old family-run oil business move to renewables. A satire to a degree, also a coming of age story of hapless Bunny who is not smart enough, who comes to drive and ambition later in her life, who does not really know herself, and we see her in her misery of teenage-hood, the daughter of a diplomat moving among countries rich in oil under the sea, inside the earth. It is a political book in the way it holds up a mirror, we are all complicit in what has happened and continues to happen to the world. It is also fun to read.

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Kiesling’s novel has an unusual focus: a young woman at loose ends. Her temporary work placement at a Texas engineering firm fortuitously provides a route to employment in the oil/energy industry. The book is something of a coming-of-age story, but not quite as much as is advertised, mainly because the central character is incapable of genuine transformation. The raw material just isn’t there.

The reader first meets Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn in Baku, Azerbaijan in the summer of 1998 where her father has recently been stationed as a member of the US Foreign Service. The girl’s mother has returned to Texas to look after her ailing mother, taking the youngest child, “Small Ted”, with her. Fifteen-year-old Bunny remains in Baku with John, her older brother, and their dad.

At no point did I find Bunny likeable or sympathetic. However, the greater problem for me was that she isn’t interesting either. We’re led to believe that either puberty or too much time away from family—among her peer group at an elite New England private school—transformed the once bright, curious, and motivated child into a self-absorbed, boy-crazy adolescent. While her motivated brother joins a running club in Baku, Bunny wanders the streets, pores over fashion magazines, experiments with cosmetics, and surreptitiously smokes. Her mother had been understandably reluctant to leave her unsupervised.

Kiesling follows her protagonist from her teenaged years through to age 68 (the year 2051) when Bunny’s daughter Pamela is about to give birth. The novel provides the reader with a snapshot of the oil industry, its corrupt practices and dark partnership with the US government, the narratives (propaganda) it generates about itself, and the ways in which it has had to pivot and rebrand itself in response to the times. Feminism, climate change (particularly the apocalyptic flooding of recent years), geopolitics, and events of international significance (including Covid) are also explored.

Kiesling’s writing is generally strong and her reach is ambitious. I was interested enough to complete the book, but I did not love it. I’ve already mentioned the problem of Bunny—a dull, superficial, and essentially amoral character, who seems to be adrift for much of the novel. As I said, she didn’t engage me, and I think it was audacious of Kiesling to place this character and her banal existence at the centre of the book. But there are other problems, too. I understand the importance of setting the scene, bringing rather exotic Azerbaijan to life and impressing upon the reader just how much a place changes when major corporations discover its rich resources, but too much detail about Baku’s unusual architecture has been included here. I wish an editor had reined Kiesling in. While <i><b>Mobility</i></b> is a stimulating read, its 368-page page count would have benefited from being trimmed by at least a quarter.

Thank you to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with an advanced reader copy.

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edit 10/9/2023: I am updating my rating from 1 to 2 stars due to a buddy read discussion here on GR as well as an interview with author, which highlighted two things. First, this is as much about gender as it is about climate. Second, some of the choices the author made are deliberate and, though I disagree with them, they do explain why the novel takes the position it does.

I think this is my first 1 star rating ever... The premise of this novel about a young woman working for an oil company sounded very appealing to me. I did not want a moralistic tale, but was looking forward to a thoughtful discussion about where personal responsibility ends, against a geopolitical background of fossil fuel dependency.

Unfortunately I learned absolutely nothing new from it.

In the opening chapters we are in Baku, where the father of main character Bunny works for the American embassy to Azerbaijan. Bunny is a very impressionable young woman and doesn’t have an opinion about anything except clothes, calories and men. I had sympathy for 15-year old Bunny, but as the book progressed and Bunny gets older, it becomes clear she does not develop, stays characterless, does not take an interest in anything else but outward appearance and continues to simply agree with the last person she spoke to.

What is worse, the author has nothing interesting to say except for a few banalities about how men treat women in a male dominated industry. I don’t know if it was laziness, or a lack of research or simply having nothing interesting to say.

If you are looking for a climate novel with a bit of content, please skip this and read the recent About People by Juli Zeh - it is so much more fulfilling.

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Thank you NetGalley and Zando, Crooked Media Books for accepting my request to read and review Mobility.

Upon reading the synopsis and looking through the cover I wondered if the book would be heavy on political statistics and unrealistic power of wealth. I took a few minutes to consider leaving the book or picking it up, much like I do in a bookstore. I'm now left wondering what clue did I miss. Mobility is hours upon hours of reading reportedly just over 330 pages of whining. Sprinkled amongst the childish bantering of an alleged University graduate are names of countries, political happenings, and familial situations.

The story itself is the privileged version of everything being handed to an ingrate, and the lack of motivation or drive.

This was a waste of my time, and I'm frustrated with the rouse of foreign travel and customs in a political profession used dubiously.

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I loved the idea of this novel--a foreign service family based in Azerbaijan after the fall of the Soviet Union maneuvers as nations and energy companies prepare to elbow in and plunder the Russian energy industry. The novel folllows Bunny Glenn, the daughter of this family, from age fifteen on. Bunny is the reason I struggled with "Mobility," as a self-absorbed, shallow, girl, who grows into a woman with a striking lack of self-awareness. Others have trouble putting up with Bunny (called Elizabeth as an adult) and I completely understand their point of view. She has no epiphany about her role in climate crisis.

Is the point of this novel that we have been so shallow and careless that the world is now on fire? Perhaps so. All the entropy and silly privilege were dull to read about, but when you look at the story through that lens, "Mobility" has power.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for access to this thought-provoking title.

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Thank you to Netgalley and the Publisher for this Advanced Readers Copy of Mobility by Lydia Kielsing!

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I appreciated this book, a look at climate change and the oil industry. I liked the child of immigrants storyline as well.

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While I wasn't as taken with MOBILITY as I was with Keisling's THE GOLDEN STATE, there is no doubt that this novel is a feat of genius and will most likely be considered a seminal book of this decade. No other novel I have read has taken on the climate criss in such a specific, unique way as a somewhat annoying millennial woman finds her self with an unintended career in the oil business and while considering herself left-leaning, dabbles in the world of the ultra conservative (and the party that is effectively destroying the world, which her day to day is helping with).

Besides being a somewhat vapid and unlikeable main character, I related to Bunny as a fellow third culture kid (someone who grows up in a different culture than ones one). Her parents moved her and her brothers around the world growing up in the 90s and early 2000s (her dad was even in the Peace Corps in the 1970s like my own parents!) so I loved the side of her that was well-traveled and deeply connected to her missing international travel of decades gone by. These experiences don't affect her choice of career though, and as she slowly realizes what she's dedicated her life to. It's a fascinating read.

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I received this eARC from NetGalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.

The structure of this novel is very similar to that of classic novels of the 20th Century. Grounded in realism, not magical realism; chronological, not back and forth time jumps; the perspective of one character, not multiple characters. Bunny, the main character, is rather passive. She ends up working in the oil industry, but it just happened, starting with a temp job. It was the easiest path to a career that allowed her to afford things. She recognizes climate change, but as she learns more about her industry (and the reader), she continues working in the industry as a marketing executive: Crafting storylines that promote her company in a positive light. She demonstrates no self-reflection, even as climate change causes her and her family to move away from Texas. As a white, solidly upper middle class woman, she has the privilege to adjust her life to climate change.

The novel’s structure and Bunny’s character all serve to highlight the problem by what’s absent, for those readers who are looking.

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I reached out to the publisher about inaccessibility issues on the Netgalley app - I couldn't make the text bigger so they sent me a physical copy. Big big thanks to the Zando for this. Can't wait to read my copy - will be reviewing on my Instagram blog instead at @babewithabookandabeer. I know it will be fantastic!

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*4-4.5 stars. Mobility is Lydia Kiesling's second novel and follows Elizabeth “Bunny” Glenn throughout her life. We first meet her in 1998 at the age of 15. She is currently living in Baku, Azerbaijan, with her father who is a career U.S. diplomat and her older brother, John. Her mother has returned to Texas with the baby brother, Teddy Bear, to help care for her aging mother.

Bunny reads all the latest fashion magazines, like Cosmo, Vanity Fair and Vogue, for beauty advice and clues, because at this point in her life, she seems to believe a woman's worth is how attractive she is to a man. Baku is the current hot spot with its developing offshore oil business and has become a magnet for brash young men who want a piece of the action. Thankfully they seem to know Bunny is a bit TOO young to be toyed with.

Later, in her 20s, she is still looking for her niche in life. Her parents have divorced and she moves in with her distraught mother who has inherited her family's home in Beaumont, Texas. Bunny's brothers are off busy doing their own things. She decides to sign on with a temp employment agency who send her to work a clerical job at a private oil services company. There she slowly works her way up. The changes in her job seem to coincide with the changes in the energy industry. Quite a bit of the novel is an informative discussion of the structure of the oil industry--who owns what, how the industry is changing. Of course, climate change becomes a bigger factor as the years pass. But also who are employed in these well-paying jobs. Women engineers are few and far between and Bunny finds herself helping organize women to network.

I thought a lot about what the title means. Does mobility always mean improvement? You can be upwardly mobil because of receiving an education, through the job or profession you enter, through rising income, by the neighborhood you can afford to live in, and, in some cases, you might even move up in social class through the good fortune of these things. Consumerism rears its ugly head though and you might have to dress the part. Bunny remains obsessed with designer clothes, shoes and face creams throughout her life.

As part of a diplomat's family, Bunny has lived in several countries around the world, went to schools in America, and came back to Texas to live as an adult, so the mobility of her living circumstances is part of what shaped her life. Her extended family ends up scattered across the globe and don't see each other that often. Is that a downside to mobility?

Mobility is a part of modern life, as humans have the ability to travel across the globe and even into outer space. Gas and oil fuel that and many other of the commodities that make up our lives--electricity, heating, clothing, buildings, even food substances. Can alternatives to fossil fuels be found quickly enough to slow the problems caused by climate change? In the end, it may come down to what we truly need to live and what we can live without. Lots of fuel for thought here, pun intended.

I received an arc from the author and publisher via NetGalley. Many thanks! My review is voluntary and the opinions expressed are my own.

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A lot of heavy books about climate change seem to be hitting the market. I only wish our law makers were as concerned as our literary contributors on the issue. This book was interesting in that it treated climate change as almost a secondary character, but the humans were at the forefront. It was an interesting read to hear about someone similar in age to me and her experience growing up under very different circumstances.

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I received this book as an ARC for my free, unbiased review. My thanks to NetGalley, Zando, and Crooked Media Books for the opportunity to read and assess this book in advance. I would give this novel 4.5 stars.

Lydia Kiesling’s Mobility is a Bildungsroman focused on Bunny (known in more mature years as Elizabeth), daughter of a State Department bureaucrat. She spends her childhood in Baku, Azerbaijan, Athens, Greece, and other locales, as her father moves the family (which usually only includes Bunny and her siblings, her mother having opted to remain in the states) every few years. This itinerant childhood makes Bunny resourceful and exposes her to politics, people, and situations that cause her to mature and become cosmopolitan.

Really this is a novel about complicity in climate change, the choices one person makes (one very privileged person who is keyed into oil and energy companies and discussions her entire life), and the outcomes of her choices. We watch as Bunny is educated in the discourse of the oil industry, as she is equally educated in consumerism (we are constantly told the brands of her dresses, shoes, handbags), and the acquisition and growth of the great wealth she and her husband eventually have. Here is a woman born in privilege, who winds up wealthy enough to move away from the worst effects of climate change, and yet, in the final moment, even she is unable to escape the repercussions of her involvement in creating the world her daughter came into and that her grandchildren should have come into.

Although Kiesling’s prose is lovely and I found this book to be a pleasure to read (she is the author of Golden State), I finished feeling ambivalent about the narrative and Bunny overall. Bunny is likable, but naive and complicit. Bunny is privileged, yet her mother loses the family home to Hurricane Harvey and her own grandchild is stillborn likely due to environmental causes. At times, I felt as though Kiesling acts the apologist for oil companies turned clean energy advocates, at others she clearly condemns the performativity of those who only change the logo of their website without actually changing anything about their practices.

Consequently, the title struck me at one point as inaccurate. I had less of a sense of mobility than I did of stagnation in the face of business as usual attitudes toward climate catastrophes. The mobility of the title refers to Bunny’s pursuit of career advancement, and perhaps less obviously to the mobility afforded by fossil fuels in vehicles. It doesn’t apply to any sort of mobility as far as changing policies and practices in the energy sector, and therein lies the irony of the title. I suspect Kiesling’s well aware of this and that we are meant to sense ambivalence; that we, like Bunny, know “something” needs to be done to repair climate damage, yet we can only do our small part and remain complicit. In the end, it’s simply not enough to stop the true mobility at work in this narrative: that of a runaway climate catastrophe caused by human actions.

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Thank you to the author, Crooked Media Books and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I'm a big fan of Crooked Media, so was thrilled to receive access to this ARC, and it did not disappoint. This is an intense look at geopolitics, in parallel in a rapidly changing political and economic landscape, and in the personal life of the main protagonist, Elizabeth aka Bunny. Yes, the paradox of this young girl, wandering into adulthood and often seeming as clueless and helpless as a small furry mammal was almost too much at times. Corporate greed and the lies we all tell ourselves about developing nations round out the picture - it's a savage indictment of our times, how we do business and how we disenfranchise those that have so little to begin with. Highly recommended!

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