The Bride’s Farewell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Bride's Farewell by Meg RosoffStrong-willed and more knowledgeable than most everyone when it comes to horses, Pell Ridley cannot reconcile herself to the stifling life of a married woman–not after seeing the endless monotony of poverty, child birth, and death played out in her own parents’ household. Desperate for something more, Pell does the only thing she can. She leaves.

Meg Rosoff‘s The Bride’s Farewell (2009) starts on August twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, the day Pell is to be married. She gets out of bed, kisses her sisters goodbye and goes outside to tell her horse, Jack, that they are leaving in the hopes of finding work at Salisbury Fair with one of the numerous horse merchants.

The sudden decision of a young boy named Bean to accompany her does not change Pell’s resolve though it will dramatically change her journey and force her to reconsider everything she thought she was running from.

I really hated Rosoff’s earlier novel How I Live Now and still don’t entirely understand how it won the Printz Award in 2005 when, to me, it barely felt like a YA novel. I picked up The Bride’s Farewell because the plot and the time period intrigued me. While I was surprised to find this novel not being marketed as a Young Adult title (it seems more YA than How I Live Now frankly), I am happy to say I was not disappointed.

Short chapters tell the story of Pell’s present departure as well as the story of Pell’s past that led to her momentous decision. Rosoff’s writing is sparse and somewhat utilitarian, a fitting style for a book set at a time when England was still reeling from the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.

Equally fitting to the period, perhaps, is the fact that parts of this novel are bleak and miserable to the point of being excessive. Except that, for real people of the time, such events often comprised everyday life. Without saying too much, the ending made such parts bearable.

Pell spends much of the book wandering the English countryside at a time when communication and transportation between towns were minimal. Rosoff conveys this haunting sense of vastness and space with surprising vividness.

The Bride’s Farewell is intricately structured with characters and events intertwining in unexpected ways. As a result the book is filled with surprising twists that, by its conclusion, make perfect sense as parts of the whole.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The Bride’s Farewell

Random Poll #3: Miss Print’s Read Alikes

I’m considering adding, possibly even retroactively, possible pairings to the end of my book reviews. These are commonly known as read alikes but might also include similar movies, music, etc. in addition to similar books. But first I need to know if readers would enjoy such a feature, so I have created a poll for your voting pleasure:

In defense of American Girl (especially Gwen)

Have you heard about the new American Girl doll Gwen? You might have read about it in the New York Post where Andrea Peyser commented on the matter with equal parts information and vitriol.

Gwen is homeless. Peyser tries to comment on the implications of selling a homeless doll for $95 but instead just spends a lot of time talking about her intense dislike of American Girl in general.

I’m really angry about the whole thing.

First and foremost: I know that American Girl dolls are expensive. I was very lucky to receive Molly for Christmas when I was a child. She is still a cherished doll. And I loved her. I also loved all of the books. Say what you will, but American Girl books are excellent historical fiction. Some of the situations are not realistic. But the books set the scene for each time period. They introduce girls to history in a fun way. I used to love Ann Rinaldi and I’d say the American Girl stories work perfectly well as historical fiction for a younger reader.

Second: I think it’s obscene to describe American Girl as a cult of indoctrination. Heaven forbid girls have diverse dolls that can look like them! Even I was annoyed when the 1970s doll, Julie, was Caucasian with her friend Ivy being Chinese–especially in San Francisco. But let’s review: American Girl has dolls who are Spanish, Native American, Black, Chinese, Jewish, and Dutch. There are dolls who have experienced immigration, war, revolution, slavery, the Depression. Characters who have overcome discrimination and hardship. Do you see a bad message yet? I don’t. Those are just the historical dolls.

There are also modern dolls marketed as being “just like you.” And yeah, there might not be homeless girls who will be getting any Christmas gifts let alone an American Girl doll. And maybe there shouldn’t be such a thing as a homeless doll. But there should be books. Because children live in all kinds of situations.

Third: Peyser constantly notes that children treat the American Girl dolls as if they are human. Isn’t that kind of the point of having a doll? Isn’t that the point of toys? Of pretending?

Later on Peyser writes: “For starters, men are bad. Fathers abandon women without cause. She’s also telling me that women are helpless. And that children in this great country, where dolls sell for nearly 100 bucks a pop, are allowed to sleep in motor vehicles. But mothers don’t lose custody over this injustice. Because, you see, they are victims, too.”

I don’t know the full story (and notice there isn’t a book about Gwen specifically so I imagine Peyser doesn’t know it either), so I can’t say for sure, but is there anything that would justify a father abandoning his family? Would it be acceptable if Gwen’s mother burned dinner too many times? How about if she forgot to buy milk? Are those acceptable causes?

As to women being helpless? Again, I don’t know the story, but what if Gwen’s mom was a housewife with no marketable skills? What was she supposed to do? I don’t know about Peyser’s experience but I don’t think it’s magically possible to acquire job experience.

Finally, let’s think about what would happen if, as Peyser suggested, Gwen’s mother lost custody because of this: Gwen would be alone, probably in a group or foster home. She might get lost in the system. She might never see her mother again. She would probably be even more traumatized. Maybe even abused. Yes, an ideal solution for a child. And, of course, this would all be the mother’s fault. She wouldn’t be a victim at all. Because she wanted to wind up homeless and living out of a car. That was her master plan. Gee, I wish I had thought of it myself.

Peyser also kept mentioning girls as young as four pestering their parents to “collect them all.” That is not a cause. It’s an effect. American Girl isn’t making children spoiled and it doesn’t make them want dolls young. Gwen is a strange anomaly in the world of consumerism and dolls. But that doesn’t mean everything they do is wrong. It doesn’t mean we don’t need American Girl dolls to show that there are many different kinds of Americans. It certainly doesn’t mean that a doll can’t be special and that stores can’t be a fun experience for children.

Three Witches: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Three Witches by Paula JolinAliya, Gillian and Miya are all haunted by the same boy.

Aliya loves him even though he isn’t Muslim. Gillian needs the money he promised her so that she can get back to Trinidad. And Miya desperately wishes she could take back what she said to him at that party.

But Trevor is dead and he isn’t coming back. Unless these girls have it their way in Three Witches (2009) by Paula Jolin.

Sounds exciting right?

I particularly liked that this novel was drawing on witchcraft lore from three different cultures (Jolin has a Master’s in Islamic Studies which is likely why that aspect of the story is most plotted out). Except by the end of the story, the girls are really just making it up as they go along.

The pacing is incredibly slow. Jolin jumps around a lot, telling different events of the story from each girl’s perspective. Instead of creating a tight narrative, this made all of the characters feel distant. The plot also felt really tedious because Jolin has a knack for switching point of view right when readers will want to see what happens next.

The writing itself was also frustrating. Certain parts of the story were presented in a very heavy handed fashion. Gillian’s love of Trinidad, for instance, was so over the top it actually became hyperbolic. Other aspect Jolin treated with such a light touch that it is still unclear what actually happened.

Spoilers ahead:

The real problem with Three Witches was the ending. As the story progresses and the girls continue to chase after Trevor and piece together his last night (and bring him back) it is obvious that they are falling apart. The story ends abruptly with what I can only call band-aid fixes for the girls problems.

Aliyah did actually seem to grow and move on. Gillian, bizarrely went through the entire book only to end up back where she started with her desire to go back to Trinidad (with the one distinction being eventually rather than right away).

Miya, meanwhile, has turned to Asceticism and is convinced that by hurting herself she is able to channel the spirits and invoke their power. There are so many problems with that I don’t even know where to start, especially because I really liked Miya as a character initially.

The Lifetime Movie Style Ending (speedy wrap up and little resolution) make it unclear if the girls’ spiritual misadventures worked or not. If they did, Miya is going to keep hurting herself to gain more power. If they didn’t, Miya is still going to keep hurting herself. AND she’s delusional.

Jolin never addresses this one way or the other. It is so painfully clear that Miya is broken and needs help, but she doesn’t get it by the end of the story. And, worse, Jolin never even really says she needs help leaving a huge opening for readers who, looking for an excuse to hurt themselves, might have found the excuse they needed in this character who thinks she is “new and improved” and stronger because of the pain she is causing herself. (I’m talking standing naked under waterfalls in winter, walking over hot coals, and pricking herself with pins by the way.)

Now, you might say there are other books that deal with this kind of problem like Cut, Wintergirls, and even in some way Specials. The difference is those books eventually do address hurting yourself as being a problem. Jolin never does. In fact, the open-ended closure of the novel suggests it might even be giving Miya the power she thinks she has. Substandard writing aside, I don’t really know how anyone could recommend Three Witches in good conscience when it has a character like Miya as model.

Apparently I am stylish . . .

I have suspected all along that I am quite stylish and so ahead of the trends as to actually appear un-stylish because people can’t keep up with me. I have not yet received confirmation on that matter. I did however receive a lovely award from the equally lovely Aimee of My Fluttering Heart because my blog has been stylish, which is equally good to hear.

We can all admire the award together before I provide my own nominations for stylish blogs:

Stylish Blogger Award

I’m pleased as punch to receive such lovely comments from Aimee, and am fortunate to have other lovely blogs that I read which are totally deserving of such a stylish honor (and perhaps they will have other stylish blogs to point you to as well!).

  • I’ve become a big fan of Dog Ear recently–and not just because I often agree with Nicole’s opinions. Her reviews are short, sweet, and most importantly, insightful. All must haves for a blogger to be stylish.
  • I remember being very proud of myself the first time I noticed the same image on two book covers. I was equally excited to find Jacket Whys which discusses the ins and outs of YA and Children’s book jackets.
  • A good, short, review is hard to find. I enjoy Marian’s List because it’s got a clean layout that doesn’t detract from book covers, Marian updates a lot (because she reads a lot!), and the reviews are cogent and to the point.
  • Lindsy isn’t a book blogger, but she is a librarian. And lindsy in the city is super stylish with all of the cool pictures Lindsy posts in her cool posts that I never feel cool enough to comment on.
  • Couture Cherie is one of my favorite people in the world, and I know she has the potential to be a super fabulous stylish blogger if she wants to. Perhaps this award will inspire her?

Mathilda Savitch: A review

Mathilda Savitch by Victor LodatoThere is an important distinction that needs to be made clear before proceeding to the actual review of Victor Lodato’s debut novel Mathilda Savitch (2009): Some books are classified as young adult novels (books written for teenagers) because they capture some vital aspect of the adolescent experience. Other books might have a teen-aged protagonist but they are still very much an adult novel (a book written for adults) because of the voice or attitude of the book.

I am 99% certain that Mathilda Savitch falls into the latter category. And that’s fine. But this review is written very much because of the fact that I spend a lot of time reading young adult novels.

Mathilda wants desperately to be awful. Not just bad, but truly awful. She hurts things, even things she loves. As Mathilda will readily tell you, awful is easy if you make it your one and only.

It might seem that she is a spoiled child (I believe thirteen years old, but perhaps twelve) looking for attention and excitement. But really, Mathilda is living in the aftermath of a tragedy.

I have a sister who died. Did I tell you this already? I did but you don’t remember, you didn’t understand the code.

A year ago, Mathilda’s beautiful, perfect sister died. Helene’s death is shrouded in uncertainty. Her parents won’t speak of it, won’t unearth her possessions or open her room. Mathilda will tell you the details she knows. But it’s not enough.

Mathilda won’t stop investigating until she has the full truth about Helene’s death–a search that unfolds a secret life she never would have imagined.

The writing in Mathilda Savitch can be quite intricate. Lodato is clearly talented. But Mathilda herself is utterly unconvincing as a teen (almost child really) narrator. Her voice is too mature and her thoughts too bizarre. The tone here is very similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon–but even the narrator there was seventeen.

Lacking a narrator that I found convincing, it was impossible to really get into the story or particularly invested in the characters. Mathilda Savitch felt like it was trying to be something different than what the writing dictated, a problem that made the book seem at odds with itself and unconvincing, possibly as a result of having a teen character at the center of what is ultimately an adult book.

“Hello my friend from another branch.”

This is basically the reason I know I want to work with young people (younger since I of course am ancient at 23):

I was working at my new place of employ when a girl came up to me at the circulation desk. I didn’t recognize her right away.

Then she said those magic words: “Hello my friend from another branch.” (!!!!!)

Having had time to think about it, this is a girl I have discussed books with when she checks out because she has excellent taste and borrows books like Ella Enchanted which I love.

I’m still not clear why she was at my new place of employ instead of at MU–her local branch. But she was there and she recognized me. And she said hi. And she called me a friend. And that was enough to end my epic fail week on an up note.

Book Giveaway: Traveling with Pomegranates[CLOSED]

Greetings, readers. I once again have the opportunity to give away two copies of a book through a sponsor arrangement of sorts. The book is Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd. I have not read the book, but one person (so far) on Amazon really likes it. You can also view information about the book over at Penguin.

September’s been kind of lame for me, so to enter you have a couple of options: Post a funny story, or post something good that has happened to you lately. Basically, cheer me up. One winner will be selected for cheering me up the most. One will be selected randomly. I’ll accept jokes too, will that make it easier? Is everyone having a horrible September?

Entries will be accepted until September 25. Winners will be determined and notified via email on September 26.

UPDATE: This giveaway is closed. Congratulations to the winners.

Sprout: A Review

Sprout by Dale PeckSprout Bradford has a secret. Everyone knows it. But no one talks about it. It isn’t what you think. His secret has nothing to do with his green hair, his romantic relationships, or even his dysfunctional family life.

All of the characters might know the secret at the center of Sprout (2009) by Dale Peck. But after finishing the novel, I still have no idea.

The premise behind Sprout is rather clever. Preparing to compete in a state essay contest in Kansas the chapters of the story are, for the most part, Sprout’s practice essays as presented to his writing coach Mrs. Miller. This conceit gives the novel a very meta quality–Sprout knows that he is writing the story and so do you. But in a weird, jarring way, it works. It makes the story interesting. It seems so clever.

The first part of Sprout was a blast. Peck introduces a bunch of truly screwball characters–all flawed but all somehow likable in spite of it. Or maybe because of it. Sprout’s narrations were also funny and witty. Here’s a sixteen-year-old boy you’d really love to meet in real life.

Then I got to the halfway point and everything fell apart. A new character was introduced. The writing style changed. Characters that were likable became loathsome. And I was certain that the novel would. Never. End. Because it dragged so much. I can’t really explain why, because it would be an epic spoiler, except to say I think what was meant to be the focus of the story was introduced too late. I was ready to read one type of book when the author threw a totally different type at me that I was unprepared to deal with.

Sprout is a boy who keeps himself at a remove. The strongest parts of Sprout come when he is observing his world and describing it. That aspect of the story was lacking in the second half when things verged a bit to closely to the surreal for my tastes.

After breezing through the first half of the novel, and loving it, I was truly disappointed to find the second half not only lagging but also lacking anything in the way of a true resolution at the end. The story was so open-ended that I still don’t really know what happened to most of the characters. And then, honestly, what’s the point of reading about them?

Swoon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Swoon by Nina MalkinThe first thing to keep in mind about Swoon (2009) by Nina Malkin is that it’s a sexy book. By which I mean racy. The second thing to keep in mind is that it’s totally nuts. More about that after the summary.

Nothing ever happens in Swoon, Connecticut. Just ask Candice, Swoon’s newest (transplanted) resident. There are many reasons Dice would rather be in her native New York City but the fact remains that she is in Swoon. And strange as this land of cookie-cutter preps and family values is, Dice is getting used to it.

Everything changes when Dice’s cousin, the beautifully and tragically perfect Penelope, nearly dies. In those moments between life and death, Pen’s body picked up an uninvited guest: a long-dead ghost named Sinclair Youngblood Powers. Wronged by the town years ago, Sin is looking for revenge and none too concerned about the Swoon residents who stand in his way.

Pen is blithely unaware of the havoc Sin is wreaking, but Dice is painfully aware of both the havoc and its instigator. Dice knows that Sin needs to be stopped before someone gets seriously hurt. But Dice doesn’t know how to stop Sin, especially when she’s hopelessly in love him. More importantly, she isn’t even sure she wants to. What really happens when the boy of your dreams is too bad to be true?

Swoon is a sexy book, a fact clearly played up by the one syllable names (like Sin) that Malkin uses for each character–a conceit which, though initially amusing, became rather tiresome by the end of the story. Equally tiresome was the fact that this book was clearly trying–very, very hard–to be titillating. That isn’t to say it didn’t work. It just got to be a little much.

As happens with shocking books, Swoon includes a lot of drinking, some drug use, and crazy amounts of sex (mentioned, mostly not described). Some is actually relevant to the story. Some is just meant to add to the shock factor of the book.

More frustrating for this reviewer was the erratic nature of the writing. What sounds like a compelling, fast-paced story actually moved quite slowly and dragged in several places in favor of tantalizing tangents.

There are also holes in the prose big enough to throw rocks through.

The first thing readers learn from Dice is that she did not fall in love with Sin at first sight. In fact it happened much earlier than that. Except it is never actually made clear when it happened. She is just not in love with him one minute and then hopelessly in love with him the next. This also changes at the end of the story (see: last chapter).

The narrative is jumpy. Chapters ending on cliffhangers will be followed by openings about unrelated topics often only loosely related to the story. Other aspects of the story, parts that were meant to be heart wrenching, teeth clenching moments, came across as untroubling likely from being juxtaposed to the extraneous “sexy” scenes–or it could have been from Dice’s casual reactions to what should have been heart wrenching and teeth clenching.

Finally, Dice herself is a huge problem. Sometimes movies, or video games, obscure the main character. The protagonist is never seen on camera although events play out through their eyes. In many ways, Dice’s narration felt that way. Not because readers were meant to take part in the story in any traditional sense but because Dice was so undeveloped as a character.

Reading Swoon was very much like looking through a mask with Dice’s face on it. It may have been possible to see Dice’s face in a mirror, but that reflection gave no indication of what she was really feeling. This flatness made the epically star-crossed love triangle at the center of the story fall apart.

Sin, the other character who carries the bulk of the story, was similarly uncompelling. Angry ghost seeking vengeance, fine. Crazy good looking guy with enough charm to bewitch an entire town? Much less convincing.

The frustrating thing about this novel is that the story was so intriguing and, though riddled with issues, the book did have moments of good writing–of truth even. Unfortunately, Swoon was so bogged down by problems with the characters and gimmicky distractions that the negatives far outweighed the positives by the end of the story.