The Vespertine: A (rapid fire) Review

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell (2011)

The Vespertine by Saundra MitchellYou guys, I don’t even know how to talk about this book. I’m pretty sure this will have spoilers. Or maybe it has fundamental plot basics? I’m not sure. You have been warned.

From the looks of the pretty cover and the intriguing jacket text, this book looked like it would have everything I wanted. Historical fiction, check. Romance elements, check. Paranormal, fantastical visions, check.

The Vespertine has a lot of similarities to A Great and Terrible Beauty with its historical fantasy blended with ruminations on feminism and young women struggling against societal mores of the nineteenth century. Except for the girls in this book that struggle doesn’t turn out so well.

I was telling my mom earlier, I like my fantasies straightforward. I don’t need questions about whether it was all a dream or insanity or whatever. I want to take things at face value and when I hear supernatural I want to know it is true.

That didn’t happen here.

Amelia’s summer in Baltimore turns strange when she begins to see visions at sunset (vespers). But are the visions real? Are they madness? Is it both? Hard to say.

Nothing came together quite to my liking. The writing was a bit too stilted. Amelia was a bit too histrionic. She should be a likable narrator and her romance should be epic. But, for me, it just wasn’t.

I still don’t know what to make of the ending. Literal? Figurative? Again, hard to say.

The other problem, one that’s beyond the writing and my questions and everything else, is the fact that everything–Amelia included–is ruined at the start. There is no fixing anything, there is no hope. In any format, in any genre, that is my least favorite structure; looking back on a catastrophe from the aftermath. It’s hard to really follow that kind of destruction. It’s hard to care about a character when you already know, from the outset, that all hope is lost.

What I can say is that this book will have a lot of appeal to anyone with the patience to unravel the threads of a not entirely linear narrative (the story shifts a few times between Autumn and Spring of 1889) and draw their own conclusions–even if a lot of them are not, shall we say, optimistic. It’s an interesting blend of historical detail and something else–maybe fantasy, maybe not. And it’s a very interesting commentary on feminism and women of that period.

It just also happens to be a book I can’t connect with much as I wish it could be.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie StandifordThe Sullivan family’s Christmas began in the traditional way that year. The six Sullivan siblings opened their gifts. Daddy-o made pancakes for breakfast and Ginger contributed her signature dish to the feast (sliced grapefruit halves sprinkled with Splenda).

Christmas would take an unexpected turn at the Sullivan’s annual holiday dinner with the family matriarch–unaffectionately known by family, friends, enemies, and most of Baltimore as “Almighty Lou.”

One of the Sullivans has deeply offended Almighty.

Subsequently the entire family has been cut out of her will unless the offending person comes forward with a full confession by New Year’s Day. If not, their share of the fortune will be donated to Puppy Ponchos–a charity providing rain ponchos for dogs in need of raincoats.

No one knows for sure what drove Almighty to this extreme.

Could it have been seventeen-year-old Norrie and her completely unsuitable romance? Did sixteen-year-old Jane’s airing the family’s dirty laundry on myevilfamily.com seal the family’s fate? Or does it have something to do with fifteen-year-old Sassy maybe, possibly, sort of having something to do with the death of Almighty’s fifth husband Wallace?

The girls dutifully write their confessions hoping to appease their grandmother. If they can appease her their lives can go on as before. But once the confessions are written and the secrets revealed, nothing will be the same in Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters (2010) by Natalie Standiford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters is an interesting blend of romance, humor, elements of the magical and a classic coming-of-age story all rolled into one. Broken into three parts, each sister has a chance to tell her own part of the story. Except all of their stories occur over the same period of time. This fact creates an interesting narrative with overlapping events, blended narrations, and multiple viewpoints used to flesh out certain aspects of the story.

Standiford also provides a surprising amount of suspense for a story that is decidedly not an adventure. Will the Sullivans be disinherited? Is Norrie’s romance going to end horribly? Is Jane’s family really evil? What is going on with Sassy? There are so many juicy questions to be answered that Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters quickly becomes equal parts page turner and Bildungsroman.

Some aspects of the story are bizarre and almost out of place–the whole novel is actually very reminiscent of the blend of everyday and surreal elements commonly found in magical realism–but by the end of the story it all kind of works. Standiford has once again taken a unique premise and made it something really special with winsome characters and clever prose.

Possible Pairings: Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, King of the Screwups, Girl Overboard by K. L. Going, by Justina Chen Headley, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

How to Say Goodbye in Robot: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie StandifordIcelandic hairdressers are the happiest people in the world. Unfortunately for Beatrice Szabo, no one knows their secret. And Bea isn’t even a hairdresser, let alone living in Iceland.

Bea is used to moving a lot thanks to her father’s professional wanderlust. But moving constantly is pretty easy once you stop getting attached to things like houses and gerbils. Finding herself in the familiar position of new girl in town (Baltimore this time) is nothing to worry about, especially since Bea knows it will only be a year before college when she can finally be alone.

It’s much worse watching her mother’s slow, embarrassing, breakdown and listening to her constant accusations that Bea is a hard-hearted robot.

Robot girls still have to go to high school where the alphabet conspires to seat Bea next to Jonah Tate–known to most everyone as Ghost Boy. A loner since the third grade, Jonah lives his life apart from the usual bustle and flow of his small private high school’s social circle.

Neither Jonah nor Bea are looking very hard for a new friend. Still they somehow manage to find each other through the unlikely common ground of a late night radio talk show featuring a quirky cast of regular “Night Light” callers. It isn’t a traditional friendship or the usual romance, but it’s definitely love.

The more Bea learns about Jonah and his tragic, lonely world the more Bea knows they need each other; that scary as it seems their friendship might finally be showing her how to be a real girl instead of a robot. But will one former robot be enough to make Ghost Boy into a solid Jonah? Do robots and ghosts even speak the same language? in How to Say Goodbye in Robot (2009) by Natalie Standiford.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bea’s narration is a sharp-witted look at high school from an outsider’s perspective, but also something more. This book offers an authentic look at a type of friendshipnot often seen in young adult novels. There is a theory that in every relationship there is one person who loves a bit more–one partner who loves a little stronger. Standiford examines that kind of relationship in How to Say Goodbye in Robot.

Despite the seriousness of the core plot, this story is charming and surreal even at its grittiest moments. Like the Night Lights, Standiford creates a world here between waking and sleep where–if you believe hard enough–magic might be real and anything could be possible.

How to Say Goodbye in Robot is a beautifully written book. Standiford paints Bea’s simultaneously stifling and fantastical world with beauty and style deserving of its charming flap copy and enchanting cover.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Waiting for You by Susane Colasanti, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner