Book Review: Promised Land by Martin Fletcher

 

Promised Land is the sweeping saga of two brothers and the woman they love, a devastating love triangle set against the tumultuous founding of Israel.

The story begins when fourteen-year-old Peter is sent west to America to escape the growing horror of Nazi Germany. But his younger brother Arie and their entire family are sent east to the death camps. Only Arie survives.

The brothers reunite in the nascent Jewish state, where Arie becomes a businessman and one of the richest men in Israel while Peter becomes a top Mossad agent heading some of Israel’s most vital espionage operations. One brother builds Israel, the other protects it.

But they also fall in love with the same woman, Tamara, a lonely Jewish refugee from Cairo. And over the next two decades, as their new homeland faces extraordinary obstacles that could destroy it, the brothers’ intrigues and jealousies threaten to tear their new lives apart.

Promised Land is at once the gripping tale of a struggling family and an epic about a struggling nation.

Promised Land is an ambitious novel about family and love, set in the aftermath of the Holocaust and tracking two brothers’ lives during the early years following Israel’s independence.

As the book opens, Peter and Arie are young boys living with their family in Germany as war looms. Their parents are able to send Peter to America, but the rest of the family can’t avoid the Nazi terror, ultimately being sent to concentration camps.

Peter spends his teens with a kind American family before fighting in WWII, then ultimately moving to the new state of Israel and joining its intelligence service. Arie survives Auschwitz, but the rest of the family perishes, and Arie too ends up in Israel, where the brothers are reunited. A meeting with an Egyptian Jewish refugee, Tamara, changes both brothers’ lives. Peter and Tamara have an instant connection and a moment of passion, but Peter is sent on a mission with no communication possible for months. Meanwhile, Arie woos Tamara, and by the time Peter returns home, Arie and Tamara are married and expecting a child.

Promised Land takes place over a roughly 20-year period, from Israel’s birth in 1948 through the Six Day War in 1967. As the brothers and their families build their lives, we see the country also build and develop. Peter rises in the ranks of the Mossad, known for his operational expertise and sense of honor, while Arie becomes an astute businessman, always ahead of the curve in seeing opportunities for making money and profiting from the growth of the nation. Peter marries a lovely woman, a fellow agent, and has a good life with her; Arie and Tamara, while becoming fabulously wealthy, have a rocky marriage due to Arie’s excesses and infidelities.

Eventually, the love triangle between Peter, Arie, and Tamara explodes, which isn’t surprising… the only surprising element is how long it takes to reach that point.

In terms of my reaction to the book, I was hooked from start to finish, but at the same, I felt that the emotional set-up of the relationships in the story was somewhat flimsy and not well-developed. Arie is a terrible husband, no two ways about it, and just isn’t a particularly good guy. Why Tamara chose to stay with him really makes no sense, and neither does his reaction to learning the truth about Tamara and Peter, other than demonstrating Arie’s possessiveness and selfishness.

Peter really is a good person, a devoted family man and brother, and he acts in Arie’s best interest even when Arie is engaging in shady, criminal behavior. He is a good loving husband to his first wife, and (spoiler alert) after her untimely death, denies  his love for  Tamara well past the point when there was a reason for either of them to think that her marriage was worth saving.

What this book does very well, and what makes it a deeper read than a typical love triangle story, is the positioning of these characters at such a distinct and eventful moment in history.  The author, a former news correspondent, uses his well-researched knowledge of the events of the time to paint a portrait of a people’s psychology.

We come to understand the underlying needs, fears, and guilt of a Holocaust survivor. While despising much of Arie’s actions, I could also sympathize with his pain and understand why he acts the way he acts and what drives him to pursue wealth, power, and admiration.

We also learn about the psychology of the early Israelis, coming from the horrors of genocide, knowing that their new homeland may not be a safe place, and wanting desperately to find the security so long denied. The author does not sugarcoat the more unpleasant aspects of Israel’s creation, but does show a context and depth of understanding that’s often missing in today’s narratives.

At the same time, as the characters live through Israel’s cycles of war, we get a more in-depth look at the political machinations behind the scenes, thanks to Peter’s role in the intelligence service. It’s fascinating to read about the hidden reasons for Israel’s actions, the lingering impact of Nazi scientists on Middle Eastern politics, and the ways in which Cold War politics play into Israel’s strategies.

Overall, I found myself immersed in the story, fascinated both by the historical setting and the characters’ lives. Yes, I found the characterizations a little formulaic (good brother, bad brother, exotic love interest), but the story progresses in a way that kept me engaged and made me care about these people and their lives.

I did find the ending somewhat abrupt. The story seems to just end. I think even one more chapter, perhaps an epilogue, might have helped to create a better sense of completion and satisfaction.**

**While doing a final proofread of this review, I popped over to Martin Fletcher’s author page in Goodreads and discovered that this book is the first in a trilogy! I guess that explains why it ends when and how it does, and why I was left feeling that there was more of the story to be told.

Despite a few drawbacks that got in my way here and there, I’m glad to have read Promised Land. For anyone interested in Israel’s early years, this is a fresh take on the history of the time, and the characters in the story are memorable and relatable – you won’t soon forget them or their struggles.

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The details:

Title: Promised Land
Author: Martin Fletcher
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Book Review: You Me Everything by Catherine Isaac

 

Set in the French countryside on an idyllic summer vacation, a delicious, tender novel about finding joy and love even in the most unexpected places. 

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess’s ex-boyfriend—and William’s father—Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Lush gardens, a gorgeous pool, delectable French food, and a seemingly never-ending wine list—what’s not to like? Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she’s in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam fall in love with his own son.

But Adam has other ideas, and another girlfriend—and he doesn’t seem inclined to change the habits of a lifetime just because Jess and William have appeared on the scene. Jess isn’t surprised, but William—who has quickly come to idolize his father—wants nothing more than to spend time with him. But Jess can’t allow Adam to let their son down—because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody—especially William—must discover.

By turns heartwrenching and hopeful, You Me Everything is a novel about one woman’s fierce determination to grab hold of the family she has and never let go, and a romantic story as heady as a crisp Sancerre on a summer day.

I’m not entirely sure what led me to pick up this book at the library — I think I may have read about it on another blog sometime this summer, and something about that colorful cover just beckoned me to it when I saw it on the shelf. I’m so glad I gave into the impulse to pick it up and take it home!

You Me Everything is a sweet and surprisingly down-to-earth story about a single mother, her ten-year-old son, and unexpected second chances.

Jess spent a good part of her relationship with Adam feeling let down by him, and his failure to arrive at the hospital for his son’s birth was the last straw. Now, ten years later, Jess travels to France with William to ensure that the distant relationship between father and son has a chance to finally turn into something real. Jess expects little from Adam for herself, having been burned by his thoughtlessness so many times before, but she’s adamant that he finally step up and become a real presence in their son’s life.

The setting is gorgeous, full of fancy food, beautiful landscapes, endless sun, and great wine. William thrives, and is even willing to put down the IPad once in a while in pursuit of adventure with his dad.

At first glance, I was afraid this would be one of those chick-lit books filled with pretty people in pretty places doing pretty things, but without a whole lot of substance beyond that. Fortunately, my first impressions were wrong.

You Me Everything has deep feeling at its heart. I don’t want to reveal too much here, so I’ll just share that there’s a reason why Jess’s parents push her to spend the summer giving Adam a new chance with his son, and a reason why she agrees. The book has some real sorrow in it, but it also manages to be life-affirming and hopeful. Adam and Jess’s past is complicated and not without plenty of fault to go around — mostly, but not exclusively Adam’s. There’s hurt and miscommunication and some bad times to get past, but as we see through Jess’s memories of their earlier years, Adam was not always a selfish jerk, and they did truly love each other at one point.

The writing conveys the characters’ emotional states while maintaining a sense of fun and good humor, even in the more serious and difficult moments. Jess is a terrific lead character — a devoted mother and daughter, a good friend, and a woman who strives to do the smart and sensible thing. While I thought Adam was worthless at the beginning, we grow to learn more about him, his childhood, and what’s in his heart, so I couldn’t help warming to him over the course of the book. There are some funny scenes that depict parenthood in all its messy, occasionally infuriating, often exhausting glory. And the dynamics between the family members and associated friends who come together throughout the story are priceless.

I ended up really enjoying You Me Everything, and tore my way through the book in about a day and a half. Once I started, I just didn’t want to start. This book is the author’s US debut — I’d definitely want to read more of her work.

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The details:

Title: You Me Everything
Author: Catherine Isaac
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: May 1, 2018
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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TTT REWIND: Top ten extra special love stories

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is a love freebie — so we all can come up with our own spin on a love-related post. Well…

I was wracking my brain for an idea, and happened to stumble upon my TTT list from February 2016… and realized that I still like it! Without further ado, here’s what I wrote during Valentines week, two years ago:

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I’m keeping it simple, and going with a list of love stories that have really stayed with me:

Love Across Time

Jamie and Claire, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

OL quote

Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

TTW

Richard and Elise, Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson

Somewhere

Married Love

Rosetta and Jeremiah, I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

ISBNTY

Don and Rosie, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Rosie

Unrequited Love

Severus Snape and Lily Evans, the Harry Potter series

Always

Sidney Carton and Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

TTC quote

Love Between Friends

Maddie and Julie, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

cnv

Supernatural Love

Matthew and Diana, All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

ADoW

Mercy and Adam, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

mercy

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Book Review: The Great Alone


Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

The Great Alone is many things — a portrait of life in rugged Alaska, a story of the damage done by war, a tale of the horrible secrets lurking underneath a family’s facade… and also, a story of love and devotion and commitment.

We first meet Leni as a 13-year-old who never fits in anywhere, thanks to her parents’ inability to settle. Ever since her father returned from his years as a POW in Vietnam, Leni has been pulled from home to home and school to school, as her father’s instability and nightmares make him unable to keep a job or stay put for very long. Meanwhile, Leni’s mother Cora remains madly in love with her husband Ernt, and constantly tells Leni that she wishes she could remember how he was before. Out of options, Ernt comes up with a seemingly crazy idea — they’ll move to Alaska, to a plot of land left him by a war buddy, and live off the land, off the grid, as homesteaders.

Leni, of course, has no say in this, just as she has no say in most of what happens in her life. Cora is desperate to find the answer to making Ernt happy again, so off they go in their battered VW bus, completely unprepared for the realities of the life ahead of them. When they finally reach their land in Kaneq, they find a falling-down dirty cabin, and not much else. Fortunately, the neighbors in this tiny community rally around to teach them what they need to know, with an emphasis on the all-important preparations for their first Alaskan winter.

The land and its surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful, of course… but the winter is harsh, leaving the small family isolated in their cabin for months on end. For Leni and Cora, life becomes increasingly dangerous, not because of the natural threats such as wildlife and climate, but because of the man they live with. Ernt does not do well in the dark, under stress, and he takes out his inner demons on Cora.

Over the years, the family becomes intertwined with their neighbors, and Cora and Leni develop deep bonds with their new friends, but Ernt becomes more and more obsessed with survivalism, his paranoia and nightmares becoming more and more intense. Leni grows up in the shadow of domestic violence, witnessing her father’s brutal treatment of Cora, but unable to do anything to stop it.

And as Leni matures, she falls in love with the boy who was her first friend in Alaska — but her father hates his father and everything he stands for, and it’s clear that the relationship must be kept hidden from Ernt before it pushes him into even more violence.

I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t so sure about this book for the first third or so. I was interested, but it was slow-going. The description of Alaska and what it takes to build a life there are intriguing, of course, but I’ve read other stories about life in Alaska, so this wasn’t exactly new. I had a hard time at first with the viewpoint, as this section of the book is seen mainly through 13-year-old Leni’s eyes, and there was just something a little limiting about that. Still, it was sadly fascinating to see Leni’s experience of her parents’ toxic marriage — the loving moments, when the two were so obsessed with each other that they couldn’t see anyone else — and the explosively painful moments, when Ernt’s rage would boil over into fists and abuse.

Later, when Leni is an older teen, her story becomes much more compelling. Suddenly, I couldn’t put the book down. (Seriously, I read the 2nd 50% of the book in one sitting.) Leni’s love story builds along a Romeo and Juliet trajectory, and while we can see the inevitable tragedy looming ahead, it’s still a shock when Leni’s life is turned upside down.

In some ways, the story of Ernt’s violence is simply tragic. It’s hard not to hate him as the years go by and his craziness and violence escalate — but there’s an element of pity, too. In today’s world, his PTSD would be recognized for what it is and he’d be able to get help. In the early 1970s, just back from hellish years as a captive in Vietnam, not only was there no psychological help, but he also was subject to the derision of anti-war America when he returned. It might be easy to view Ernt as simply an evil character, but we can’t. He is horrible and abusive and destructive, but his horror stems from his own status as a victim of war and torture. We can absolutely condemn his behavior and his treatment of his family, but I can’t help but feel sorrow too for how different this man might have been without the trauma of Vietnam.

The depiction of domestic violence is harrowing but has a ring of truth. At that time, there was much less support for “battered women”, and a woman who fought back could easily end up either dead or behind bars, without much in the way of legal defense or public awareness. Seeing Leni’s need to protect her mother, and Cora’s inability to find a way to leave, is painful and tragic.

At the same time, I loved the way Leni’s life in Alaska grows. She becomes a part of the community, part of Alaska itself, and this stays with her and changes her in deep and unalterable ways.

I won’t say more about the love story or its outcome, other than WOW and SOB and TEARS and… well, read it yourself to find out!

The Great Alone is powerful and moving, with a unique setting and memorable characters. Check it out.

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The details:

Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #91: A Little Something Different

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: A Little Something Different
Author: Sandy Hall
Published: 2014
Length: 272 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

The creative writing teacher, the delivery guy, the local Starbucks baristas, his best friend, her roommate, and the squirrel in the park all have one thing in common—they believe that Gabe and Lea should get together. Lea and Gabe are in the same creative writing class. They get the same pop culture references, order the same Chinese food, and hang out in the same places. Unfortunately, Lea is reserved, Gabe has issues, and despite their initial mutual crush, it looks like they are never going to work things out.  But somehow even when nothing is going on, something is happening between them, and everyone can see it. Their creative writing teacher pushes them together. The baristas at Starbucks watch their relationship like a TV show. Their bus driver tells his wife about them. The waitress at the diner automatically seats them together. Even the squirrel who lives on the college green believes in their relationship.

Surely Gabe and Lea will figure out that they are meant to be together….

How and when I got it:

I bought myself a copy of this book soon after it came out. The cover caught my eye, and then once I read the description, I had to have it!

Why I want to read it:

Every once in a while, I’m in the mood for a quirky, upbeat love story, which is exactly what this sounds like. The idea of fourteen different viewpoints (including a squirrel’s!!!) is so charming. I’m glad that I just “discovered” this book on my shelves, because I really do want to read it!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: Forever, Interrupted

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

forever-interrupted

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year’s Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn’t expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they’ve eloped.

Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met and who doesn’t even know Elsie exists.

Interweaving Elsie and Ben’s charmed romance with Elsie and Susan’s healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there’s more than one way to find a happy ending.

 

My Thoughts:

Get ready for heartbreak.

Seriously. This books picks up your heart and smashes it into little bits within the first few pages. We start with newlyweds Ben and Elsie reveling in the simple joys of a lazy day as husband and wife, and within moments, Ben is dead and Elsie is left alone, devastated, and unwilling to even imagine her life without Ben in it.

The book alternates between Elsie’s life after Ben’s death and chapters focusing on how Elsie and Ben met and fell head over heels in love. Their love story is sparkling and fresh, but carries with it the knowledge of tragedy looming. Meanwhile, in the present, Elsie is forced to figure out how to deal with incessant grief and to confront a life without the man she intended to build her future with. By opening herself up to Ben’s mother Susan, she is able to understand the magnitude of love, whether in a marriage that lasts days or years, and what life can still hold once that love is gone.

Forever, Interrupted is a lovely, powerful look at unexpected love and loss, and the families we find along the way.

Also by this author:
Maybe In Another Life
One True Loves

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The details:

Title: Forever, Interrupted
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Publication date: July 9, 2013
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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Shelf Control #37: The Hypnotist’s Love Story

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Redesign_9780425260937_HypnotistsLo_cover.inddTitle: The Hypnotist’s Love Story
Author: Liane Moriarty
Published: 2011
Length: 480 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Ellen O’Farrell is a professional hypnotherapist who works out of the eccentric beachfront home she inherited from her grandparents. It’s a nice life, except for her tumultuous relationship history. She’s stoic about it, but at this point, Ellen wouldn’t mind a lasting one. When she meets Patrick, she’s optimistic. He’s attractive, single, employed, and best of all, he seems to like her back. Then comes that dreaded moment: He thinks they should have a talk.

Braced for the worst, Ellen is pleasantly surprised. It turns out that Patrick’s ex-girlfriend is stalking him. Ellen thinks, Actually, that’s kind of interesting. She’s dating someone worth stalking. She’s intrigued by the woman’s motives. In fact, she’d even love to meet her.

Ellen doesn’t know it, but she already has.

How I got it:

I bought it!

When I got it:

A couple of years ago, after reading The Husband’s Secret.

Why I want to read it:

After reading two amazing books by Liane Moriarty, The Husband’s Secret and Big Little Lies, I decided I should investigate some of her earlier books as well. While I’ve had The Hypnotist’s Love Story on my shelf for a while, I just haven’t gotten around to it. Meanwhile, the author’s newest book comes out this summer, and I can’t wait!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten extra special love stories

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a Valentine’s Day freebie, meaning we can come up with our own take on the theme.

I’m keeping it simple, and going with a list of love stories that have really stayed with me:

hearts-37308_1280

Love Across Time

Jamie and Claire, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

OL quote

Henry and Clare, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

TTW

Richard and Elise, Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson

Somewhere

Married Love

Rosetta and Jeremiah, I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe

ISBNTY

Don and Rosie, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Rosie

Unrequited Love

Severus Snape and Lily Evans, the Harry Potter series

Always

Sidney Carton and Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

TTC quote

Love Between Friends

Maddie and Julie, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

cnv

Supernatural Love

Matthew and Diana, All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

ADoW

Mercy and Adam, Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs

mercy

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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What kind of Valentine theme did you pick this week? Please share your links so I can check out your TTT posts!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly features, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

 

 

 

Book Review: Flat-Out Love

Flat-Out LoveIn Flat-Out Love, college freshman Julie learns an important life lesson: Never rent an apartment sight-unseen via Craigslist.

When Julie arrives in Boston from small-town Ohio to start her college adventure, she’s in for a rude awakening. The apartment she’s rented (and paid for via cashier’s check — not smart) doesn’t exist… although there is a bustling burrito place at the same address. Left on the sidewalk with all of her suitcases and no place to go, Julie is taken in by the family of her mother’s college roommate, although the two have been out of touch for years.

Julie is welcomed into their large home, and despite the family’s oddities, finds it warm and comfortable. Odd? You bet… especially the life-size cardboard cut-out that the youngest, 13-year-old Celeste, takes with her wherever she goes. Flat Finn looks just like real Finn, the absent oldest brother who, Julie is told, is busy traveling the world on a non-stop adventure combining volunteer work and thrill-seeking. Flat Finn sits at the dinner table with the family, comes in the car to drive Celeste to and from school, and watches over Celeste when she sleeps at night.

When it turns out that there simply are no affordable apartments to be had and the dorms are all full, Julie’s temporary refuge turns into a permanent arrangement for the year. The family loves having Julie around, and she forms a tight friendship with middle brother Matt, a self-proclaimed geek studying at MIT who lives at home and seems to be Celeste’s main caretaker. Meanwhile, Julie also finds Finn on Facebook and strikes up an online friendship with him… which turns into a flirtation… which turns into a whole lot more.

But why is Celeste so socially awkward and friendless? Why are the parents almost never around? What IS up with Flat Finn, and why will no one explain to Julie? What it with all the underlying weirdness?

Flat-Out Love is a fast-paced read filled with humor as well as sorrows. The Watkins family members clearly have secrets and painful incidents in their past, but author Jessica Park handles it all with a light touch. There’s no needless melodrama here — we see everything through Julie’s eyes, with a mixture of amusement, bafflement, and frustration. Julie truly cares about the family, and is able to slowly gain Celeste’s trust and help bring her out of her shell, and yet she’s still kept in the dark about all of the reasons for the family’s problems, up to and including Flat Finn.

There’s a love triangle, which in many books is enough to send me running for the hills, but it’s actually handled quite well here. Julie spends almost every day with Matt and has a close connection with him, but Finn is the one who makes her feel more, despite never having met him.

An underlying story about Julie’s absentee father and their strained relationship is underdeveloped and feels rather tangential to the whole story. Other than that, the author does a nice job of capturing the excitement of the freshman year experience, including new friends, a new city, the chance to break away from the social pressures of high school and start fresh, and the joy of finding classes and professors who inspire you.

I did pretty much guess the family secret right away (really, it wasn’t hard), but that in no way detracts from the enjoyment of the story — and I still found myself gobbling up the final chapters to get all the details and see how it would all turn out.

The dialogue is funny and breezy, and I liked the little touches such as Facebook status updates from the different characters and ongoing commentary on Matt’s choice of geeky T-shirts.

I was interested to note that Flat-Out Love was self-published via Amazon. I always assume that self-published books won’t appeal to me, but Flat-Out Love showed me that I should perhaps expand my horizons a bit!

I definitely recommend Flat-Out Love. It’s a great choice for anyone looking for a quick and light read that mixes quirky humor with real emotion. I understand there’s a companion novella (Flat-Out Matt) and a sequel (Flat-Out Celeste), and I hope to track down both.

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The details:

Title: Flat-Out Love
Author: Jessica Park
Publisher: Amazon Children’s Publishing
Publication date: 2011
Length: 389 pages
Genre: Young adult contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten things I like or dislike when it comes to romances in books

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is all about the LOOOOOVE. What works in a book romance? What sets our teeth on edge? I’m finding it a bit easier to come up with dislikes at the moment, but I’ll give it all a go:

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Starting with dislikes:

1) Love triangles: Been there, done that. I think we’ve seen enough.

2) Insta-love: I just can’t buy these mad, passionate, yours-for-eternity love stories where the characters have seen each other once and maybe exchanged five words. Love needs to build. I won’t believe it’s there just because the author said so. Show, don’t tell!

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3) Good girl saves the bad boy with her awesome superpower of LOVE. Redemption stories are so yesterday.

4) Rudeness as a sign that he’s really, really into you. If he’s name isn’t Darcy or Rhett, then I’m not buying it. Guys who are worthy treat their love interests with respect.

5) Perfection: Why do male romantic leads always have to have the perfect abs and faces and eyes and everything else? Can’t a love interest be less than gorgeous?

6) Money: Does Mr. Perfect always have to come with heaps of money? It would seem so, based on quite a bit of fiction.

Okay, turning to the positive…

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Likes:

1) A relationship between equals. Sass, snark, and witty banter are great, so long as it’s two-sided. I love reading about two strong and intelligent people who find a connection.

2) Slow burn. Maybe the attraction is there from the start, but the most convincing love stories in fiction are the ones where feelings build over time, until they just can’t be denied any more.

3) Standing together against a common enemy: If the whole book is just about the gooey-eyed faces they make at each other, it gets boring pretty quickly. I like a romance where the love gets a chance to sizzle, and then there’s some sort of harrowing adventure or danger that unites the couple and lets them fight side by side. (There’s a chance that I read too much urban fantasy. Sorry.)

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4) Interesting lives: For me to sustain interest in a fictional romance, the people involved also have to have something in their lives besides their relationship. I like reading about strong, smart people who do cool things and ALSO find love. Is that asking too much?

5) Love that lasts. Weddings aren’t the end of the love story; in the best of cases, it’s just the beginning. Oh look, I haven’t mentioned Outlander once in this post. So here goes: One of the things I love about the Outlander series is that Jamie and Claire remain in love, passionately and physically, throughout their lives together. Their love story isn’t only about getting together; what makes it beautiful is everything they go through to stay together and nurture their commitment and passion throughout their lives. *swoon*

Yes, I know that 6 + 5 = 11. I’d finished writing my top 10 list before I remembered #6 in the dislikes, and I couldn’t leave it out!

So what are your pet peeves about romances in fiction? And what do you really love about love stories?

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