Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Fairy Tale Girl (Book Review)

Title: The Fairy Tale Girl
Author: Susan Branch
Publication: Illustrated Hardcover, Spring Street Publishing, November 2015
Genre: Memoir/Coming of Age (first of two books)
Plot: This is a charming and beautifully illustrated memoir from the very talented Susan Branch, following her from childhood through her first serious relationship and unhappy first marriage.  She captures the warmth of her family and friends, as well as her discovery of her artistic talent and her growth as an artist and writer.  She asks if your life reflects who you really are and reveals how she came to recognize she had lost part of her true self while married to someone who cared only about his own accomplishments.

The book begins and ends with her flight (in several senses of the word) from California to Boston to begin a new phase of her life. It was the same year I graduated from college – we should have met up and worked on a plan together as I did not have a fully developed plan for my future either!

Audience: Branch’s fans are wide ranging and include Anglophiles like me and artistic/craftsy types who are inspired by her creativity and belief that anyone can develop her own artistic skills. This book is also a coming of age story and will appeal to those who remember the classic Seventeenth Summer.

What I liked:  My Betsy-Tacy friend Cindy Price recommended Susan's work to me slightly more than two years ago (I don’t think Susan has read Betsy-Tacy yet but she certainly loves books so perhaps it is just a matter of time). I followed a trip she made to England with a group, which sounded like so much fun and resulted in its own book.  I also bought her 2014 calendar which contained delightful illustrations as well as recipes, favorite quotes, and anecdotes, and cheered up my dreary office.  This memoir, which is based on her diaries, is the first installment of several autobiographical books, not written in chronological order.  It is chatty and fun, even when discussing serious topics, and celebrates female friendship.  In fact, reading it felt like having a long talk with a dear friend one hadn’t seen recently (or, in this case, had never met!).  My favorite part was when her friend Diana gives her a gift certificate to a crafts store.  This leads to the purchase of paints and experimenting with different types of art, all of which are delightful.  It really makes the book to be taken along with Susan on the Alpine Path as she asks herself, “Where do I start?” and tries different things, with replicas of these projects captured in the book.  She is talented in a way that is not intimidating and invites others to exercise their own creativity.  

I also enjoyed Susan’s purchase of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking to add an upscale element to her culinary skills. I was reminded of using this cookbook when I was in school to make Napoleons for a French class party.   I seem to recall it took my mother and me the best part of several days!  The results were impressive and very tasty, although not as perfect as Julia’s version. 

The book itself is designed to appeal to readers who love Susan’s illustrations. It includes watercolors, recipes, photographs and other mementos.  An expedition to see the Beatles made this reader feel she was right there!   The book also features a ribbon bookmark (when I worked in publishing, I was able to insist on this feature once or twice – it is costly but a certain type of reader like me just loves them).

I am not far from Martha’s Vineyard where Susan lives and works - I wish we could watch an episode of Downton Abbey together as we are both huge fans (although she likes Daisy, who I find very annoying).

What I disliked: Susan repeatedly says she grew up in a pre-feminism era where she was conditioned to submerge herself in her spouse. This may be true but it was painful to read about their relationship and the treatment she endured; on the other hand, haven’t we all occasionally been that way about people everyone else knew were wrong for us?  Still, the tone was very melancholy.   I look forward to reading about how she moves on in her forthcoming book, Martha’s Vineyard, Isle of Dreams, which appears to begin where this one ends.

Social Media: Susan’s blog is just like her books: you will feel you are chatting with a friend.   You can also follow her on Twitter or read one of her earlier books.
Click here to see if one of Susan’s book events will be in your neighborhood.  I have a conflict on April 30th (Swan Lake!) but will catch her another time.

Source: I received this book from Susan’s publicist Jocelyn Kelley in return for an honest review.

Images copyright to Susan Branch


Cindy said...

Just like Tacy I loved the part about me. :) This is a lovely review. I so wish we could get Susan to read Betsy-Tacy. Just think of all the quotes she could use in her artwork and calendars and blog!

GSGreatEscaper said...

When it comes to teapots and cups, she's great. I get so discouraged by hearing about women who are so talented but allow men to beat them down - Carol King's story really depressed me. Sounds as if this one would too.