Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

October 29, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreThose who have read The Secret History by Donna Tartt always seem to be looking for a read-alike. That’s no easy feat, as Tartt’s blockbuster debut novel is not easily recreated due to its amazing storyline, rich prose, and creepy plot.

Along comes Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, whose explicit goal was to attract readers of The Secret History (we are a weird little cult who love this book). The author says, “I wrote Bittersweet for people like me, who love The Secret History and The Emperor’s Children; it’s a literary beach read.” Whoo hoo – get me a copy of this book!

A reviewer said Bittersweet, “evokes Gone Girl with its exploration of dark secrets and edge-of-your-seat twists.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it is a very good suspenseful psychological thriller that keeps you wondering where it is going, and how you will get there.

Meet Mabel Dagmar, a bit of a socially awkward but bright student at an unnamed East Coast private college. Mabel, who is from Oregon, has a roommate straight from a WASP manual: Genevra Winslow, a beautiful woman from a prestigious New England family. Mabel is fascinated with Genevra, a fascination that borders on obsession. When she is invited to summer with the Winslows at their Vermont family compound (like a forested Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port), she jumps at the chance to ingratiate herself with the family. But she gets more than she bargains for when the Winslows prove to have secrets of their own, and that under their blue blood-tinged skin, they are anything but aristocratic.

Is this novel anything like The Secret History? Not really. It lacks Tartt’s rich dialogue. The setting with wealthy East Coast college students is the same, and both novels examine the lives of the New England elite. Other than that, I didn’t see many similarities. Bittersweet is literary, and dark, and gothic. I think any readers of The Thirteenth Tale would appreciate this novel. I recommend this novel if you like your stories dark and medium in complexity, and somewhat literary.

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Dedication by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

May 7, 2014

bookcover.phpdedicationFrom the author of The Nanny Diaries and other chick let bestsellers,  Dedication  is for chick lit readers who have dreamed about what it would be like to get public and social revenge on an ex-boyfriend for breaking your heart.

Jake Sharpe is a mega recording star – think: John Mayer. He was also Kate Hollis’s first boyfriend/lover who jilted her only hours before their senior prom in the 1980’s. Jake split from their small Vermont town and never looked back. His first hit single was “Losing,” about his romantic experiences with Kate. The single vaults Jake to stardom and for 10 years Kate has to listen to Jake’s hit parade of music everywhere she goes, all songs that are based on very personal aspects of their physical relationship. 10-years older and wiser, but none the less still smarting from his jilting, when Jake announces he is headed back to Vermont for a music TV special, Kate jumps on a plane with a plan to finally confront Jake with how he has plundered her past, her life, her love – for his career.

With a cast of funny, well-drawn supporting characters, Kate sets out to embarrass Jake in a very public setting. Will she go through with it? Does she get sucked back into Jake’s charismatic (almost sociopathic) orbit? Fall in love all over again, either with the nostalgia or the man? Hmm, I’m not telling. Read “Dedication” to find out. Expect lots of 80’s references and double entendres related to romance and music. Readers who hail from New England will enjoy and relate to the setting.  This was enjoyable, funny chick lit.

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

February 21, 2013

I read this novel in 2004 when it was published. I still can’t get it out of my mind. Once in a while I will run across someone who has also read this book and loved it, and the resulting conversation is always interesting, and sometimes bizarre.

Richard Papen is a lower-income scholarship student from a strip mall-centered California suburb who is granted a scholarship to Hampden College in rural Vermont (based on the small, pricey Bennington College in Vermont where Tartt studied). He’s thrilled to get away from his indifferent blue-collar parents and head east for a new adventure. Upon arrival at Hampden, he is befriended by an odd little group of five students who devote their studies to the Classics under the tutelage of the distant and somewhat eccentric professor Julian Morrow. This odd little group embraces Richard and he’s drawn into their bizarre world of classicism – and ultimately – murder.

I generally judge the quality of a plot and the writing by how little I can say about the book without giving away the storyline. I can’t say much here without giving this story away, except that the group is involved in a murder and the subsequent cover up involves blackmail, secrets – and another murder, this time of one of the group of five.  This is all set against the backdrop of a picture-perfect New England small town and general college life.  All of this makes for a shocking juxtaposition, which I believe is what Tartt intended.

The characters are sharply and smartly drawn. Some are hateful and others sympathetic. Richard the narrator is probably the most recognizable, while other characters have personalities that verge on the bizarre. The funeral scene of their friend is tragic, yet ridiculously humorous.  The ending of the book will be recognizable – yet shocking – at the same time.

Tartt ties in Dionysian rituals, Classics, hormone-fueled college life, and a plot and narrative that will leave you wanting more. I waited years for her next novel, only to be disappointed in The Little Friend.

I doubt you’ll be disappointed in The Secret History – check it out today!

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The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

December 15, 2009

“Laurel Estabrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college.  Quite likely she was nearly murdered that autumn.”  These opening sentences drew me in, and I hardly put the book down until I was finished.  But this is not a novel about an attack.  It is a novel about the aftermath.

Six years after her brutal attack, Laurel is a social worker in a homeless shelter in Vermont.  After the death of one of the shelter’s residents, Bobby Crocker, she is asked to evaluate, and curate, a show of a large collection of photographs he obviously took.  Schizophrenic and alcoholic, Bobbie Crocker wasn’t really your stereotypical street person.  His photographs were used in 1960s issues of Life magazine, and included  Eartha Kitt, Dick Van Dyke, Muddy Waters—they’re celebrity shots he took, combined with elegant evocations of Jazz Age Long Island.  But among these fascinating shots, Laurel discovers something else:  photographs of her home town, and a snapshot of herself riding a bike, just as she had, on the day of her attack.   As she devotes more and more time to researching Crocker’s past, her friends and family become concerned for her mental well-being.

On the surface, this sounds like a straightforward story.  It isn’t.  Laurel is from East Egg, NY.  And many of the photographs she finds in Crocker’s collection are from East Egg, and include pictures of Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby.  Can this be true?  Is this, in some way a sequel to The Great Gatsby?  This is an amazingly complex novel, with a surprise ending I never would have imagined.

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