Book Reviews: Kill Me Softly, And We Stay, & Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

kms Goodreads blurb:

Mirabelle’s past is shrouded in secrecy, from her parents’ tragic deaths to her guardians’ half-truths about why she can’t return to her birthplace, Beau Rivage. Desperate to see the town, Mira runs away a week before her sixteenth birthday—and discovers a world she never could have imagined.

In Beau Rivage, nothing is what it seems—the strangely pale girl with a morbid interest in apples, the obnoxious playboy who’s a beast to everyone he meets, and the chivalrous guy who has a thing for damsels in distress. Here, fairy tales come to life, curses are awakened, and ancient stories are played out again and again.

But fairy tales aren’t pretty things, and they don’t always end in happily ever after. Mira has a role to play, a fairy tale destiny to embrace or resist. As she struggles to take control of her fate, Mira is drawn into the lives of two brothers with fairy tale curses of their own . . . brothers who share a dark secret. And she’ll find that love, just like fairy tales, can have sharp edges and hidden thorns.

My Review: *** out of five

This is a strange book for me to review. In matters of concept and world, this book is pretty cool. A whole town filled with a twist on fairytales and characters, and a strange relationship with destiny and fate. The tattoos that mark the characters/types is also fun. Big fan of that.

The rest of it is just strange. You know how when you read a first time writer, or you write something early in your writing and it’s like it exists in a vacuum? Like the adults are absent so much that it’s unbelievable. Or the characters go so much with the plot and momentum that it’s hard to believe that no one is stopping and thinking, ‘hey, this is weird and I need a moment to process.’ That’s this book. The main character goes to Beau Rivage to find her parents’ graves, etc. but after maybe a day or something, she’s completely taken in by the citizens of the town and it’s like her parents don’t matter. She falls in love quickly (which I hate) even though it’s toxic. It’s kind of twilight zone or dream-like in the sense that I can’t quite buy the world and the circumstances. And that really threw me.

Also, the characters are less charming and more annoying. I continued reading because the concept of the story was enough to propel me forward, but in the end, I rolled my eyes a lot at the characters (insta-love or love in a a matter of days really isn’t my thing).

So would I recommend it? Maybe. If you liked fairytale retellings and twists, liked the show Once Upon A Time, but darker and weren’t bothered by the above story issues. Which when Once Upon A Time goes the direction of inconsistency and you’re not bothered, then you might really like this book.

and we stayGoodreads blurb:

Senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend, Emily Beam, and then takes his own life. Soon after, angry and guilt-ridden Emily is sent to a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where two quirky fellow students and the spirit of Emily Dickinson offer helping hands. But it is up to Emily Beam to heal her own damaged self, to find the good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

My Review: *** out of five

This has a strange style to it. In the beginning, the voice bothered me. It didn’t flow to me. As I continued, that went away, but I’m still not sure how I feel about how the story is written.

It’s some heavy stuff in this story. Not just what you find out in the blurb. And some of it are things that I’m not completely comfortable with, so I had to turn off that side of me. I realized that I might have picked up this book because yay poetry, Emily Dickinson and teen story (set in the 90s, yay!), but I forgot that I’m really not a huge fan of Ms. Dickinson’s poetry. I totally respect her and appreciate what she did for American literature, but personally, her poems don’t connect with me. So that was a hindrance to the enjoyment of the story.

Then there’s the fact that Emily, our protagonist, starts drinking a lot of coffee when she starts at the all girls school. Like tons, to the point that I worried for her health and really wanted some adult to catch on. I know, it’s a weird response, but it really did concern me.

But it’s a good book. It’s different, and doesn’t offer easy answers. There’s no romance with a new guy to shake her out of her issues. and I am grateful for that. Emily’s poetry was nice to read even when like Dickinson, I didn’t quite follow it. Certainly worth reading once, but I’m not sure I’d ever do a reread.

unnamed Goodreads blurb:

“Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why­ she—along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing—remains unmarried.

This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless—the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.

Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives—a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor.

My Review: ****out of five

So much I related to and so much I differed on. This will make me muse for a long while. I’m mostly appreciative that Bolick gave me so much history on women, and women writers. I think I added five new books to read while reading this.

I was reading/skimming over the reviews and found that just like Bolick does in the book, the reviewers view Bolick’s experiences through their own, very specific lens. Bolick herself does this when researching her ‘awakeners’, comparing them to her and her experiences. There is nothing wrong with this; it is often how we see the world, but in realizing that, I see how narrowed a reading experience can be. And in some ways, I disagree with Bolick. She and I have really different beliefs on a number of things. However, the similarities are comforting for me. That my weird dichotomous desire for love and companionship, yet deep-seated need for solitude is not just me.

This book makes me want to find my own ‘awakeners’ and have a few conversations.

I had a very nice short twitter convo with the author.

Kate Bolick ‏@katebolick May 16
@ec_newman TY for “getting” my project: Show my highly subjective experience so others can agree/disagree=ENGAGE + find own awakeners.

E C Newman ‏
@katebolick I’m a southerner so I feel like I need to be checking out southern spinster writers 🙂 TY again for your openness & honesty.

Kate Bolick ‏
@ec_newman YES — a whole book in itself, really. I wanted to include (particularly as I’m half southern!) but just didn’t have time/space.

E C Newman ‏
@katebolick Flannery o’Connor is first on my list.

Kate Bolick
@ec_newman Indisputably!

Which totally made my day because holy cow, I had a conversation with the author!! (cue star-struck expression).

And maybe that’s it. She says that her book is entirely subjective, which as a nonfiction memoir/autobiography,….whatever you call it, of course it’s subjective. I don’t get why anyone reading it would deny her the chance to share her life and experience.

It’s an interesting read and I went in with curiosity and a hope to learn something new. I enjoyed finding out about the five awakeners: Neith Boyce, Maeve Brennan, Charlotte Gilman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Edith Wharton. Millay is fairly new to me, so learning about her rather…intense life was fun. The history of single women and their role in society, not a lesson I ever got in school. I’m grateful to get to see the world from a new angle.

Bolick’s life is very different than mine. She grew up in New England, she moved to NYC, she lost her mom in her early twenties. We don’t have a lot in common on the surface. She has dated way more than I have (which really is a pretty low bar to overcome. I’m not much of a dater), and judging from the cover, she is exceptionally pretty. She’s older than I and her views on what belongs in marriage are different than my views.

Despite all those differences, I related. The wanting independence and living alone. The need and desire to write, but having no time because bills need to be paid. Watching so many friends get married…I get all that. And knowing that someone else out there wants to be loved and to love, yet enjoys her aloneness, that’s incredibly comforting. That my experiences are mine, but they are not completely foreign to others.

© ecnewman, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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