Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: Bittersweet

Summary: On scholarship at a prestigious East Coast college, ordinary Mabel Dagmar is surprised to befriend her roommate, the beautiful, wild, blue-blooded Genevra Winslow. Ev invites Mabel to spend the summer at Bittersweet, her cottage on the Vermont estate where her family has been holding court for more than a century; it’s the kind of place where children twirl sparklers across the lawn during cocktail hour. Mabel falls in love with midnight skinny-dipping, the wet dog smell that lingers near the yachts, and the moneyed laughter that carries across the still lake while fireworks burst overhead. Before she knows it, she has everything she’s ever wanted: friendship, a boyfriend, access to wealth, and, most of all, for the first time in her life, the sense that she belongs.

But as Mabel becomes an insider, a terrible discovery leads to shocking violence and reveals what the Winslows may have done to keep their power intact - and what they might do to anyone who threatens them. Mabel must choose: either expose the ugliness surrounding her and face expulsion from paradise, or keep the family’s dark secrets and make Ev's world her own. -- Crown

BITTERSWEET by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore is one of those books that has been getting rave reviews this summer. So when I had the opportunity to receive a copy from Blogging for Books, I jumped at the chance. This novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story, and part gothic tale; and for the most part, I liked it but I didn't love it like I had hoped. Unfortunately, I can't even put my finger on why....

BITTERSWEET tells the story of Mabel Dagmar, a girl on scholarship to a prestigious East Coast college. Her roommate is the beautiful Genevra Winslow who comes from a very wealthy New England family. The two aren't friends at all until one evening when Mabel is invited to Ev's 18th birthday party. Ev ends up inviting Mabel to spend the summer with her and her family at Bittersweet in Vermont.

Mabel is thrilled to be invited and given the opportunity to spend the summer with the Winslows. She immediately falls in love with the run-down cottage that she and Ev fix up, and she's charmed by the quirky Winslow family... and especially Ev's brother Galway. Once she's settled, she finds that everything isn't what it seems for this family. With the help of Aunt Indo, Mabel begins to investigate the secrets of this family and is startled to uncover the truth!

As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed BITTERSWEET but I wouldn't go so far as to say it was one of my favorite summer reads. I appreciated quite a bit about the book, namely the writing and the cleverness of the story, but I think the characters just didn't resonate with me. I wanted to really like Mabel, and it wasn't that I disliked her, I just didn't care about her as much as I needed to to love this book.

What I did enjoy about BITTERSWEET, though, was the mystery and intrigue that the author created. I really appreciated the author's writing style and I thought she did a great job of creating suspense with the Winslow family's strange members and their secrets. In addition, I thought there were quite a few surprises and twists thrown in that I'm guessing will surprise most (if not all) readers.

Despite not really feeling an affinity with Mabel, I thought she was a very interesting narrator. Because she was such an outsider, both to the Winslow family and the upper-class, her insights were intriguing. I liked how she decided to track down the secrets of the family, and in the process, discovered not only some horrible things about the Winslows but also some personal surprises.

I also appreciated the setting of the story. Ms. Whittemore gave this book an almost gothic quality in describing the old cabins and the small Vermont town. She did a terrific job of bringing the Winslow estate to life and her descriptions of the area were quite vivid. I could picture everything perfectly in my mind as I read the novel.

Because of the complex characters, I do think BITTERSWEET would make a good book club selection. There is, without a doubt, so much to discuss. In fact, there's a reading guide with fifteen questions (beware: there are spoilers!) that will help get you started. Some of the themes you might want to explore include family secrets, class structure, hopes, dreams, curiosity, love, family dynamics, greed, power, mental illness, and much much more!

BITTERSWEET is getting some rave reviews and I'm certain many readers will love this story. Overall, it was a worthwhile read for me but not a book that lived up to my expectations.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

Maybe you'll enjoy the author's next book more - it certainly sounds like she's talented.

Beth F said...

I was on the fence with this one. Not sure if I'll give it a try.

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) said...

I loved this one and thought it was a perfect summer read. I didn't really have an affinity with any of the characters either, but it didn't bother me. There was so much in the story and the writing to make up for it...and I didn't feel I was supposed to like any of the characters. I'm sorry you didm't love it.

Kim@Time2Read said...

This one has been getting so much hype.....I'm not sure if I will read it or not, but I appreciate the review!

Unknown said...

It is a total beach read. If you can suspend your disbelief about the plot line and the characters' motivations for a few days it is enjoyable.