MINI-REVIEW: Molly Harper’s SNOW FALLING ON BLUEGRASS

Snow_Falling_On_BluegrassMolly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass didn’t bode well for Miss Bates at page one: first-person narration in her romance reading is a no-no. Reading further, the no-nos amplified: there was the distinct whiff of chick-lit-hood (an unromantic genre often lumped with romance). There’s only one other designation that sends Miss Bates’ eyes rolling and lip curling than chick lit and that’s “women’s fiction.” The no-no’s piled up: one ruefully self-deprecating heroine down on her confidence? Check. Two love interests? Check. One marriage-obsessed, self-esteem-killing mother? Check. Cutesy secondary characters? Check. One worthless ex? Check. One true BFF, with deliveries of chocolate and cocktail-sharing commiseration? Check. Thus is the story of heroine, Kelsey Wade, her caricatured ex, Darrell; her office crush, Dr. (Ph.d, not medical) Charles Bennett; and, one snowed- and iced-in staff retreat with the members of the Kentucky Commission on Tourism at isolated, winter-wonderland Lockwood Lodge. Enter one handsome, smouldering park ranger/night clerk … and you have Harper’s third novel in her Bluegrass series in a nutshell.

Evidence Miss Bates’ derogatory remarks above, one would think she’d have DNF-ed this puppy early into it. What kept her reading? It was funny; chick-lit clichéd as characterization and plot were, Harper sure can turn a phrase into a hoot of reader-laughter. Like snorts. Like mocaccino-spewing guffaws. Harper kept her plot fairly simple, letting the sheepish voice of her narrator, the likeable, heart-of-gold, but confidence-lacking Kelsey carry the scene. Kelsey Wade and BF, Sadie Hutchins, run the Kentucky Commission on Tourism with the help of sundry eccentric characters, including Sadie’s secret boyfriend, Josh, and Kelsey’s love interest, statistician Dr. Charles Bennett.

When the novel opens, Kelsey is packing her pot-bellied-stove-weight “overnight” bag to go on staff retreat. Darrell, her no-good, shiftless ex-boyfriend recently broke up with her and left her significant debts after signing off on several credit cards in her name. She hopes the retreat will bring her closer to Charlie Bennett, with whom she’s been in love for ages … despite Darrell. Kelsey suffers from a lack of confidence, stayed with Darrell because she thought she didn’t deserve better. What really burns is that he left her for “Loud-Sex Shelley,” their neighbour, whose amorous adventures reached, um, significant decibel levels. Like most chick-lit heroines, Kelsey possesses both the eternal bounce-back and self-censuring of Bridget Jones. She’s in love with Charlie or, as she says, “Curse his sexy brain.” That sets Snow Falling‘s Miss B’s experience: a crude and stereotypical phrase like “Loud-Sex Shelley” and Harper lost her; something fresh and witty like Charlie’s “sexy brain” and Harper won her over. Or Miss B’s other favourite, Kelsey naming Josh’s plan to propose to Sadie “Operation Gollum” because she helped him pick the ring that’s presently burning up his pocket.

The wit was fresh and funny in places, while characterization and plot were derivative. Frankly, Miss Bates was glad she read the novel just for the scene with the crazed opossum, reminiscent of the vicious squirrel scene in Elf. Arriving in Lockwood Lodge in the midst of the storm “of the century,” as CNN’s “Breaking News” would have it (that’s MissB, not Harper). The snow soon followed by an ice storm … causing impassible roads, including the road out of Lockwood Lodge and a power failure. The enforced togetherness and need for survival with wood stoves, cold showers, and the eating of granola bars lead to all manner of funny shenanigans with the Lodge’s sole KCT denizens. The thing is, the novel was funny, but not terribly romantic, or all that focussed on a central couple. But it kept Miss Bates amused.

When Miss Bates hit the 75% mark on the e-reader, out of the blue (grass!), Harper’s Snow Falling went from funny to angsty … well, maybe not angsty, but definitely sombre-like. Suddenly, Charlie and Kelsey (while the delectable Luke bowed out graciously and somewhat abruptly) are talking earnestly about each others’ families and pondering a future. Suddenly, there are romantic trysts. Suddenly, Kelsey understands what she’s been doing by way of self-sabotage. The answers are derivative. There’s a Big Mis, some sketchy decisions on Kelsey’s part and the whole thing veers off like a snowmobile on ice.

Miss Bates appreciated the chuckles, though she renews her vows to stay away from chicklit, or in this case, chick-lit-lite-then-dark. In the end, Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass was of “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.

Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass, published by the e-only arm of Simon and Schuster, has been available at your favourite vendors since September 22nd.

Miss Bates received an e-galley from Simon and Schuster, via Netgalley.

4 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Molly Harper’s SNOW FALLING ON BLUEGRASS

  1. Hi Miss Bates, Had to read your review even though I haven’t read the book, although it sounds like I should check out this author. But, I was very interested in the distinction you draw between romance/chick lit/women’s fiction categories. I don’t do a lot of women’s fiction – at least not as I understand the term, but I have read a LOT of chick lit – some of it terrible, but some of it very good. Some of it really very romantic too. So, this is making me think about that line, and where you draw it. I like chick lit because it does involve romance, and wouldn’t care for it without that element. Like you I react against contrived, slapstick humor in chick lit, but there are fair number of romances that could do with a dash of humor. So, something fun to think about! And that’s what I always appreciate about a Miss Bates review : -)

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    • Greetings to you! Miss Bates’ knowledge of chick-lit is actually quite limited (sheepish face here, considering how she goes off at the mouth about it), except she read and enjoyed Freya North’s Pillow Talk and, of course, as we all did, watched the Bridget Jones films. And it’s those films that determine her criticism more than any others.

      I agree with you, I don’t particularly love the overly angsty romance novel, and I love humour in romance too … Chase’s Mr. Impossible being one of my favourite romances and guffaw funny. I guess there is sweet romance in chick-lit, but it is engulfed by the urge to get a laugh, and to create a heroine who is so down on herself, even if she gets the guy in the end. I don’t like how the greatest butt of her jokes is herself. Admittedly, I’m not all that keen on the first person voice (shudder New Adult), except in my beloved Jane Eyre, as well. But I think it’s important to keep an open mind: any genre, any trope can work, even ones a reader hates the most, in the penning of a good writer. 🙂

      One of the things that I like about chick-lit is its portrayal, even if stereotypical, of female friendships, in the unconditional support and affection that are the core of them. And, it’s a more realistic portrayal in some way … as one senses, that these friendships will continue even after the heroine has found true-love.

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  2. Hi Miss Bates, I have been crazily busy with no time for much reading in the last couple of weeks, but my subconscious has been chewing on the chick lit vs. romance thing, and I feel COMPELLED to trouble you once again with my maunderings . Do I get extra points for that word 😉 Specifically, contemplating your reference to Jane Eyre and the first person narrator re: chick lit, made me think about (The Mighty) Jane Austen who we think of as the inventor of the romance novel, but what if she also invented chick lit? Embarrassing family? check! Disparaging friends/neighbors/etc. ?? Check! Bad judgement about men? check, check! Close confidantes, one or more of whom betrays the sisterhood? well, there’s that bitch Caroline Bingley, but Charlotte Lucas has no principles except avoiding poverty either… Self doubt? most definitely! Also, the knowing modern reader realizes that Austen is full of snarky humor, but let’s face it, there are a lot sly allusions in there that only the most nerdy of early 19th century English lit majors are going to get. This is NOT to say that The Devil Wears Prada is deathless literature, any more than the gothic novels of Jane’s contemporaries that have pretty much failed to come down to us today. But Austen perhaps defined a sweet spot between romance and self knowledge, that the modern writer of romance can strive to emulate.

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    • I loved your word: maunderings! I think what you say is true: Jane Austen contains multitudes and the possibility of her influence is evident in so much of literature. I especially liked your phrase that she “defined a sweet spot between romance and self-knowledge”. That is so so true: from the effervescent Lizzie to the introspective Fanny. And really, what chick lit owes her is that intense focus on the heroine yes, but the heroine and her consciousness and the world that makes her up all rolled into one. No wonder her heroes, fine and upstanding and fitting as they may be, are not half as interesting. 🙂 (Also, Caroline Bingley IS a bitch … )

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