Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Wolf Princess: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Wolf Princess by Cathryn ConstableSophie Smith has never been special or interesting. She is the poor girl at her elite private school complete with her shabby clothes, unbrushed hair and callous guardian.

Sophie thinks things might have gone differently if she wasn’t an orphan. But she is. Trapped in her grey English boarding school. Trapped in her grey boring life even as dreams of winter in Russia, majestic wolves and a strange forest haunt her.

Nothing interesting ever happens to Sophie. She wouldn’t expect anything different.

Then a stranger comes to the school and invites Sophie and her roommates–glamorous Delphine and bookish Marianne–on a school trip to St. Petersburg.

The following adventure is even more than Sophie could hope for as they girls are abandoned in a blizzard and whisked away to a wintry palace to rival Sophie’s grandest dreams in The Wolf Princess (2012) by Cathryn Constable.

I went into this book with high expectations and only a vague sense of what to expect beyond a rags to riches fairy tale story.

In a way that is exactly what The Wolf Princess delivers. But in other ways it was a disappointment.

Sophie is fascinated with Russia in a way that should be endearing and draw readers in as well. Instead it comes off as vaguely condescending as she describes Russian words knocking into each other and, at one point, describes a Russian character’s handwriting as distinctly foreign.

All of the characters in the story feel like caricatures complete with an icy winter princess, a sturdy Russian officer and, of course, one friend who is defined solely as being glamorous and half-French (no, really) and another who is interesting only in that she is intelligent (I don’t even remember if we were ever told her hair color).

Beyond that Sophie is infuriating. She is a mousey heroine with absolutely know self-confidence. Instead of blossoming or coming into her own as the story progresses Sophie continues to doubt herself and remind readers and her friends that she is decidedly not special. Worse, her friends are quick to agree.

The book is also oddly out of time. Reference to cell phones suggest the book is set in the present although the atmosphere and attitudes of the characters seem to suggest an earlier time period. The characters are similarly ageless. The Wolf Princess is marketed for ages 10-14 meaning, because the ages are never implicitly stated, there is a huge spread for how old the characters can be. Taken as a middle grade novel Sophie’s behavior might make more sense but I doubt it would make her more tolerable.

This story is likely to appeal to anyone who has enjoyed Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha books or wants a riff on the tropes found in A Little Princess. However readers should be wary of the flaws in certain aspects of The Wolf Princess.

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Kiki Strike by Kirsten Miller, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*