Bittersweet ****** Miranda Beverly Whittemore Mabel Dagmar might not have any money or prestige, but she certainly possesses aspirations, enough brains to land her a scholarship at a fancy college and a few dark secrets to boot. Ambition and desire for better things burn inside that gray mouse, underdog exterior with an intensity only the most dedicated can achieve. When her glamorous, wealthy roommate Ev unexpectedly befriends her, she cannot believe her luck. But things are complicated in Ev’s family, the Winslow clan. That much, at least, seems apparent from the beginning. Nonetheless when Mabel receives an invitation to spend the summer at her new friend’s Vermont estate (Winloch), she agrees without hesitation. After all, what can be more exciting than hanging out with the rich and beautiful and pretending like she actually belongs in their world? Spending blissful summer days with the likes of Genevra, Gallway, Birch or Luvinia (the pretentious, “aristocratic” names of the gang did not fail to offer some delightful entertainment), immersed in sweet, carefree prosperity? Well, let’s just say that what she eventually experiences could certainly be described as adventurous, but maybe not the kind she was hoping for as she gradually uncovers decades of lies, deception, cruelty, family feuds and laundry so dirty, washing it publicly might just cost her everything she was striving for. Bittersweet certainly contains all the elements of an enthralling read: mystery, romance, twisted alliances, forbidden passions, sordid secrets and murder. Even though none of the main characters seem entirely likeable (not even our self-serving, possessive, jealous and somewhat obsessed Mabel), I still found myself quite drawn into the plot and loved playing detective with her. Our unhinged Heroine also serves as the narrator of the story; therefore we can only see the events from her point of view, which only adds to the overall confusion regarding the true meaning of things. The initial clues that not all is well surface rather early, however in the first half of the book the action is a little slow and not much happens in terms of blood churning revelations. It’s more about creating the ambience, a slightly unsettling Gothic vibe in an otherwise cozy tale of friendship and romantic entanglement. But the sense of unease and foreboding progressively grows as we uncover the intricate web of intrigue, misplaced loyalties and sinister crimes that define the Winslows. The second half of the book takes on the tone of a particularly sensationalistic and dramatic telenovela: it definitely made me stay up reading long into the night trying to get to the bottom of all that bizarre mess. But Bittersweet is also a novel about the misleading nature of appearances, about accepting the unacceptable and sacrificing principles to achieve something we desire. How very appropriate that in the whole course of her stay at Winloch Mabel attempts to read Milton’s Paradise Lost, while trying to gain permanent access to a Garden of Eden (Gone Wrong) of her own. How far will she go to be granted entry? How much will she ultimately give up for it to be denied? Will her scruples be her downfall? Or will the cause of destruction be her lack thereof? This passage in particular describes so well what it feels like to reach that point of no return: “But whatever the transgression is doesn’t really matter. What matters is that lapsing is our fate. We humans are doomed to it. Worse, it is our destiny to look back longingly, with nostalgia, at our world before we changed, at who we were Before. We can never forget. But we can never go back.” (p. 166) Bittersweet, as engaging as it is, does possess a few flaws. For one, as mentioned above, it appears kind of slow at times, almost like the author was just trying to drag it out and fill the empty pages with lyrical descriptions of the countryside and events inconsequential to the plot. I must also admit that I was not in the least impressed with the erotic scenes. They oscillated somewhere between a soft porn paperback and a Victorian era romance. All “dangling sex” (as in penis), accompanied by similarly unappealing verbiage and uncomfortable descriptions. Thus created imagery might strike the reader as awkward, even funny, but sexy it is NOT. Also considering the whole build-up, I personally found the resolution of the mystery somewhat anticlimactic and predictable. Luckily this was just the final piece of the puzzle in a string of several dark secrets, the other revelations being infinitely more satisfying.  Overall I still really enjoyed reading this novel and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a little darkness under the sunny surface of the perfect summer day. Quotes come from the following edition of this work: Beverly-Whittemore, Miranda: Bittersweet. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.
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Bittersweet ****** Miranda Beverly Whittemore Mabel Dagmar might not have any money or prestige, but she certainly possesses aspirations, enough brains to land her a scholarship at a fancy college and a few dark secrets to boot. Ambition and desire for better things burn inside that gray mouse, underdog exterior with an intensity only the most dedicated can achieve. When her glamorous, wealthy roommate Ev unexpectedly befriends her, she cannot believe her luck. But things are complicated in Ev’s family, the Winslow clan. That much, at least, seems apparent from the beginning. Nonetheless when Mabel receives an invitation to spend the summer at her new friend’s Vermont estate (Winloch), she agrees without hesitation. After all, what can be more exciting than hanging out with the rich and beautiful and pretending like she actually belongs in their world? Spending blissful summer days with the likes of Genevra, Gallway, Birch or Luvinia (the pretentious, “aristocratic” names of the gang did not fail to offer some delightful entertainment), immersed in sweet, carefree prosperity? Well, let’s just say that what she eventually experiences could certainly be described as adventurous, but maybe not the kind she was hoping for as she gradually uncovers decades of lies, deception, cruelty, family feuds and laundry so dirty, washing it publicly might just cost her everything she was striving for. Bittersweet certainly contains all the elements of an enthralling read: mystery, romance, twisted alliances, forbidden passions, sordid secrets and murder. Even though none of the main characters seem entirely likeable (not even our self-serving, possessive, jealous and somewhat obsessed Mabel), I still found myself quite drawn into the plot and loved playing detective with her. Our unhinged Heroine also serves as the narrator of the story; therefore we can only see the events from her point of view, which only adds to the overall confusion regarding the true meaning of things. The initial clues that not all is well surface rather early, however in the first half of the book the action is a little slow and not much happens in terms of blood churning revelations. It’s more about creating the ambience, a slightly unsettling Gothic vibe in an otherwise cozy tale of friendship and romantic entanglement. But the sense of unease and foreboding progressively grows as we uncover the intricate web of intrigue, misplaced loyalties and sinister crimes that define the Winslows. The second half of the book takes on the tone of a particularly sensationalistic and dramatic telenovela: it definitely made me stay up reading long into the night trying to get to the bottom of all that bizarre mess. But Bittersweet is also a novel about the misleading nature of appearances, about accepting the unacceptable and sacrificing principles to achieve something we desire. How very appropriate that in the whole course of her stay at Winloch Mabel attempts to read Milton’s Paradise Lost, while trying to gain permanent access to a Garden of Eden (Gone Wrong) of her own. How far will she go to be granted entry? How much will she ultimately give up for it to be denied? Will her scruples be her downfall? Or will the cause of destruction be her lack thereof? This passage in particular describes so well what it feels like to reach that point of no return: “But whatever the transgression is doesn’t really matter. What matters is that lapsing is our fate. We humans are doomed to it. Worse, it is our destiny to look back longingly, with nostalgia, at our world before we changed, at who we were Before. We can never forget. But we can never go back.” (p. 166) Bittersweet, as engaging as it is, does possess a few flaws. For one, as mentioned above, it appears kind of slow at times, almost like the author was just trying to drag it out and fill the empty pages with lyrical descriptions of the countryside and events inconsequential to the plot. I must also admit that I was not in the least impressed with the erotic scenes. They oscillated somewhere between a soft porn paperback and a Victorian era romance. All “dangling sex” (as in penis), accompanied by similarly unappealing verbiage and uncomfortable descriptions. Thus created imagery might strike the reader as awkward, even funny, but sexy it is NOT. Also considering the whole build- up, I personally found the resolution of the mystery somewhat anticlimactic and predictable. Luckily this was just the final piece of the puzzle in a string of several dark secrets, the other revelations being infinitely more satisfying.  Overall I still really enjoyed reading this novel and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a little darkness under the sunny surface of the perfect summer day. Quotes come from the following edition of this work: Beverly-Whittemore, Miranda: Bittersweet. New York: Crown Publishers, 2014.
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