Friday, July 18, 2008

Laughter Reviews #20

TWIN REVIEWS: ABANDONED WOMEN

UNPREDICTABLE
by Eileen Cook (Women's Fiction)

&

THE BRONTE PROJECT
by Jennifer Vandever (Women's Fiction)

Title
Excellent. Apprentice Writer adores one-word titles, elegantly capturing content with economy.
*
Intriguing. There is currently a powerful Austen wave rolling through print- and celluoid entertainment. Due to contrary nature, this naturally meant AW was fascinated by the Bronte label. The title (and cover) were sufficient on their own to make her purchase.


Cover
Beautiful cover in gorgeous scarlets and creams. Would have drawn Apprentice Writer's eye even without buzz.
*
Interesting mirror image of a modern young woman and a historical young woman each writing at what looks like the same desk. Plus, the font is very cool.



Author

Debut author, who will soon release her next title and maintains a lively internet presence via her personal website and one she shares with a number of other debut authors.

*

Debut author, who appears to have no follow-up book in the pipeline and who maintains no internet presence that AW could detect. It seems she has returned to her film roots.


Premise
Abandoned woman's efforts to convince her fiance to return lead to the launch of psychic career.
*
Abandoned woman's efforts to convince her fiance to return lead to change in academic career.

Epigraphs

Chapters open with astrological forecasts that foreshadow upcoming scenes.

*

Chapters open with apt quotes from Charlotte Bronte's correspondence, one phrase of which is also chosen to act as chapter title.


What Works

The heroine, Sophie, expresses her self in first person and has several Bridget Jonesesque moments (i.e. she is a fun and endearing heroine). The story opens with a very funny and characteristic scene, and proceeds recklessly from muddle to mess to awkward in linear fashion:

“I’m crouching under the utility sink in the laundry room, clutching Doug’s socks. Not all his socks, just one from each pair, to slowly drive him insane or better yet, drive him back home. I consider trying to stuff myself into the one empty dryer, I consider standing next to the wall (to) blend in with the surroundings, (then I) dive to the floor, pull the stacked laundry bags out (of their shelf), tuck myself in, and pull them back over me. The door opens and Doug walks in.”

The heroine, Sara, is expressed in third person and undergoes character testing both via fiance departure as well as interactions with a great, quirky cast of secondary characters. AW's favorites among them were a French poet who refuses to write any of his work down so as to avoid opinions of others and also due to a wish to include 'everything' in his living poem that he experiences, and the fascinating, aggravating character of a rival academic who heads the 'Princess Diana studies' department.

The writing also appealed, with something funny, thoughtful, or both appearing on almost every page:

"...Sara favored colors that, as her mother liked to point out, occurred naturally in bruises - blacks, blues and grays - while (on) Claire even black looked red."

"...Sara sat on a panel Claire conducted in stony silence. After an hour of tepid debate among the other panelists about quilting and women murderers, Claire turned to Sara and asked if she was giving a demonstration of 'Victorian feminine silence.' Sara mumbled something incoherent about corsets..."

"...'There's a promising young filmaker next to that column,' (the publicist's young female assistant) said. 'Doric or Ionic?' Paul asked. The young woman stared at him, uncomprehending, then ran a hand down the front of her suit. 'Donna Karen. Where have you published?' 'Mostly in Hungary and the back of men's magazines.' She frowned slightly. 'Right now I'm editing "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing a Complete Idiot's Guide," Paul said. 'What about you?' she wheeled around to Sara. 'Working on my thesis.' 'On?' 'The Bronte sisters.' She thought, cross-referencing with speed-dial celerity. 'I love that old Motown stuff!'..."


What Doesn't

Sophie is not a particularly deep thinker or given to planning. She makes things up on the spot as she goes along, meaning she often has to bear the consequences of her lack of foresight by wiggling out of yet another awkward mess. This is part of her charm, but may also wear thin quickly for some readers, even those who like her but wish her penny would drop with a little more acceleration.

This reader also never quite understood what it was that drew the fiance back at a certain point, and there was an 'Are you kidding me?' moment when no-one but the villain objects to her plan to get in a car and drive herself down an unfamiliar mountain road in the dark within seconds after coming to following a fainting episode. Of all people, her mother - her mother!- is the one to hand her the keys and encourage her to go. Apprentice Writer considers herself generous in suspending disbelief for the sake of a story that is unfolding well, but this put too large a nail in the coffin (tire?) for her.

*

For Sara, the only aspect AW objects to is in how the story ends. Not because it should have ended differently - it ended exactly right in terms of this particular character and how she had developed. But because this reader would have loved to have had an epilogue or glimpse or SOMETHING to hint at what became of the heroine and the quriky cast of secondary characters following 'The End' (the Gentle Reader will not be surprised to learn that the epilogue in 'A Fish Called Wanda', where the hero and heroine are said to have 13 children and found a leper colony while the villain becomes a government minister in South Africa and fixes the state lottery, is a favorite). All she can do is hope that the author will write another book that satisfies her rampant curiosity.



Overall

Enjoyed Sophie's story as a quick, breezy read.

*

Absolutely loved Sara's story as a satisfying story,peppered with well-thought-out observations on the nature of love and loss, and poking well-aimed fun at popular culture, literature, and the people who populate highter academic instituions. One of AW's best impulse book buys ever.





But does it make you laugh?

YES & YES - on different levels.

If you like your heroine as a hapless everywoman with a dash of slapstick, take a look at Sophie. At first, she simply gets swept along with the tide, making impulsive, opportunistic use of what fortune sends her way, but by the end she has learned that she can actually steer the course of her life. There are some laugh-out-loud moments and physical humor.



If you like your heroine more intellectual, with a gift for seeing parallels between literature and real life, take a look at Sara. At first, she stands somewhat apart from contemporary events around her, focussing more on the bygone lives of the Bronte siblings, but by the end she has gained the passion to live more directly and became a participant/actor rather than primarily on onlooker/acted upon. The humor is more cerebral than laugh-out-loud, but no less effective in this reader's view.

6 comments:

Julia Smith said...

The French poet made me laugh merely through your description of him. And the 'Princess Diana studies' department. Guess I should check out 'The Bronte Project'.

Amy Ruttan said...

Sounds good, but I can't add anymore to my heaping pile.;)

J.K. Coi said...

These sound great, I think I will put them on my pile, thanks!

M. said...

julia - the french poet is even better 'in person'. i thin you'd love him and the way he expresses his philosophy. and the princess diana thing wasn't just one throwaway line, there was a whole thought process behind it. some of it harebrained because it stemmed from claire, true, but some of it quite cuttingly insightful about real life celebrity obsession

amy - i hear you!

jk - if you do get a chance to read one or both, please let me know what you think! your immortal is working its way up my list, never fear....

Tempest Knight said...

I'll have to check it out when I go to Borders today. :) Thanks for the heads up!

M. said...

tempest knight! hi! always happy to welcome a paranormal author in this little corner of cyberspace. i'm happy to hear your reading choices are not restricted to lunar creatures *g*