Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What I'm Reading: "Vlad All Over" by Beth Orsoff

I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to read an ARC of "Vlad All Over." I'm not going to lie--receiving a book without its final cover and with the disclaimer, "NOT FINAL/UNCORRECTED COPY," was swoon-inducing for a book geek like me. I felt like I needed to read it in highly public, prominently displayed areas, hoping that someone would ask me, "What is that extremely interesting book you're reading?" And then I could pretend to be super cool as I nonchalantly rubbed my nails against my lapels (not that I wear anything with lapels in my post-corporate current life) and say, "Oh this? Why it's an ARC of course...let me tell you alllllllll about it."

But instead, I settled for voraciously devouring author Beth Orsoff's latest creation, due out Nov. 20. In all, there is much to like in this unexpected tale of identity, relationships, Romania, and titillating historical tidbits woven seamlessly into a plot that will most definitely surprise you (several times). Allow me to, in the parlance of hip-hop culture, break it down for you. I'll studiously avoid plot spoilers.

"Vlad All Over" is the story of LA-dwelling, first grade teacher Gwen Andersen. The father of one of her students offers her the opportunity to go to Romania for six weeks as her student/his daughter's nanny. Being of sound mind and on a teacher's salary, Gwen accepts. Over the course of the next six weeks, she's swept up in a very unexpected relationship, magnetized by the legends of one of Romanian history's shockingly violent, legend-spawning despot rulers (you will be too), starts to piece together her possible/probable connection to this very foreign (to her) land, and wrestles with questions about whether we are who we are born as or who we are raised to be (nature v. nurture), which feeds into her personal history and future possibilities. Phew! That's about as much as I can say about this deeply involved, deliciously tangled web Orsoff wove without giving anything away. You'll have to order one to learn more (I recommend you do).

In general, I like my "chick lit*" on the upmarket side. To me, that means great writing (sharp, tight, descriptive), great plot (believable and relate-able), strong female characters (no shrinking violets, por favor) and plenty of humor. Orsoff meets and exceeds all these items on my wish list. From the first page, I wanted to be friends with Gwen and her best friend Zoe. Sometimes, I didn't fully identify with Gwen--she's a singular character and the reasons why become clear toward the end--but that's why we read books: to immerse ourselves in a world that's not ours as seen and experienced through someone who's not us. Otherwise, we'd re-read our own journals (zzzz). Obviously, this is fiction, but the interactions between Gwen and Zoe are so real and believable, it felt like my friends and me (if we were always super funny, fabulous, and off on adventures) (uh...which we are, natch). 

Orsoff is a very funny, very smart, very witty writer with a dry sense of humor. You can get a sense of this simply by perusing her author website. To me, there's almost a classic Spencer-Hepburn witty repartee kind of quality to her writing. Or if you're not a fan of old movies (I am), then a more-modern example might be "True Lies" with Arnold Swarchenegger, Jaime Lee Curtis, and Tom Arnold. Watch that movie and really pay attention to the writing and the comedic timing. Hubby and I re-watched the beginning last week as I was clicking through the channels and randomly stumbled upon it, and it's really, really good. "Vlad" has that same quality. And I will always gobble that witty, back-and-forth parlance up with a giant spoon and ask for more.

Orsoff is also very adept at keeping you engaged and reading...even past the point you planned to stop. For instance, "Oh, I'll just read a chapter before I head to bed," turns into many more chapters and 2:30 a.m.

Yes, that actually happened.

More than once.

I also like historical fiction. I enjoy learning obscure (and not obscure) facts as well as reading an author's speculation about what a real-life character might have been thinking back then. It was an unexpected bonus to learn a bit about Romania and the history of Vlad Tepes (known as Vlad the Impaler), who is the real-life Dracula (!).

I may have minored in European history, but I didn't know anything about Dracula (real or ficticious versions), and definitely didn't know that this was a real historical figure who lived in the real-world place of Transylvania from 1431-1476. Whoa! I love learning fun little things like that. And I also love mysteries and legends (who doesn't?)..."Da Vinci Code" sort of stuff. So, without giving anything away, I'll just say that are strong elements of these sorts of legends and secrets in Orsoff's book, woven artfully in with real-life news (a real-life Prince Charles media announcement even made an appearance) and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel--I've got to know where this story goes and where Gwen ends up (and with whom!).

Bottom line: An engrossing read that will keep you flipping the pages even after you planned to stop reading.
Best for: Upmarket chick-lit lovers and historical fiction fans
Stars: 4.5, baby!

(*Note: I do not like the term "chick-lit," but I'll use it for clarity's sake.)


  1. Oh cool! I actually like Dracula stuff.

    1. Amanda: Then you should definitely check this book out. You probably already know a lot of the stuff that was news to me, but I bet you'll appreciate how Orsoff gets in his head.

  2. As a former teacher, I would have loved the opportunity to travel on someone else's dime, though not as a nanny, ha. Serious question though - the book seems to explore a lot of themes. Does it do so adequately or do you feel it sacrifices depth for breadth?

    1. JJR: Welcome - and good question! (I'd expect nothing less from a former teacher!:) For me, it was enough depth because it gave me some tasty tidbits that intrigued me to want to learn more on my own. Cue me, googling Vlad Tepes and reading his Wikipedia page. If Orsoff had gone any deeper, she would've lost the fast-flow of the story's pacing that kept me reading as much as a fast as I did. But see what you think!

  3. Thanks for the review! I'll definitely pre-order a copy. As usual you have tantalized me into checking out a book that would not have been on my radar. This may not end well for my academic standing...

    1. Hanna: You're welcome and that's so cool! I'm always happy to expand your non-academic reading list :) Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Is Dracula a vampire? I wouldn't necessarily think a Dracula book was my thing if I saw it in a bookstore (or on Amazon), but your review is interesting. I'll check it out.

    1. Anon: I'm definitely not an expert (about as far from it as possible), but the REAL Vlad Tepes was a royal son and human (who seems to have done inhumane things). I don't know much about where the whole Bram Stoker fictional Dracula came in.

      Maybe someone who knows more can enlighten both of us??

  5. Sara,
    1) I had no idea that you minored in European history! Very cool.
    2) I share your enthusiasm for historical fiction. I love it and am always eager to find a book in that genre that is as satisfying as you say this one is.
    3) I have never read any Beth Orsoff stuff but your detailed review has intrigued me. I may have found my next nook purchase... :)

    Thanks for the great review!!

    1. Thanks, Sandy!
      1. Yes, definitely a history geek over here...especially European history.
      2. Oh cool! Let me know if you have any recommendations as well. :)
      3. You should def check out Beth Orsoff's books. Her first one, How I Learned to Love the Walrus, is being re-released as "Girl in the Wild," along with "Disengaged," and "Honeymoon for One." I already ordered them :)

  6. The book sounds fantastic. I like the cover. And--wow--that was a really well-crafted, enjoyable review.

    1. Thank you, MP! That is especially high praise coming from you! I genuflect to the Grammar Goddess ;)

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