Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The First Rule of Swimming

Author: Courtney Angela Brkic
Genre: Historical/Contemporary Fiction
Type: ARC - Kindle
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
First Published: May 28, 2013
First Line: "The letter was written in a girlish hand, the purple letters drifting across the sky blue background of the stationery."

Book DescriptionA woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.

Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

A haunting and sure-footed debut by an award-winning writer, The First Rule of Swimming explores the legacy of betrayal and loss in a place where beauty is fused inextricably with hardship, and where individuals are forced to make wrenching choices as they are swept up in the tides of history.

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Thoughts:  I have to admit that I'm a total sucker for a great book cover.  I've passed by many a book due to a ho-hum cover.  If it doesn't grab me and stand out amongst the other books on the shelf I will probably pass it by.  Too many books, so little time and all that.  This is one beeeautiful cover so I noticed it right away when I was perusing all that NetGalley had to offer the reading beast that dwells within me.  

What next drew me to this book was the premise.  Oh I do so loves me a book filled with family secrets and skeletons in closets!  Throw in a culture that I can learn more about and a mystery and I'm in heaven!  Unfortunately I didn't find this book nearly as suspenseful or riveting as I was initially expecting.  

The First Rule of Swimming just didn't grab my interest and I didn't feel a connection with the main characters.  The sisters definitely had their share of hardships and secrets but even those didn't engage me enough.  The premise is good but the pace lags and it was really hard for this reader to keep at it. 

I think a big reason that I didn't connect with the book is that very little background was given about Croatia's history.  Readers get dropped into the middle of (what I've since learned is) Croatia's struggle for independence from Yugoslavia.  Not being given this information made it quite confusing at times.  I don't need, or want to be spoon fed a history textbook on the subject but a little background information would have gone a long way with keeping me interested in the plot and how it affected the characters.  For example, I still have no idea what "UDBA Assassins" are or how they were involved in Croatia's independence.

There were a few things that did stand out for me in this book.  My favourite part was the vivid descriptions of Rosmarina -- the Croatian island where Magdelena, Jadranka and their family lived.  It was so well described that I could easily picture the people, the old houses etc in my mind.  Deliciously descriptive.

I also loved to read about the connection between the two sisters.  Witnessing the hardships that they faced growing up and how it created the bond between the two very different young women.  And seeing the struggles that Jadranka (as well as other Croatian immigrants) faced as they immigrated into the US was eye-opening and felt authentic.  That said, I found that the reason behind Jadranka's disappearance wasn't nearly as suspenseful as I was hoping.  In the end I didn't feel that there was any sense of urgency for me to learn about what happened to Jandranka.

I really struggled to determine how to rate this book.  It wasn't an edge of your seat read with a lot of action.  It wasn't boring (I liked the premise) ... and yet it wasn't all that interesting either.  The characters felt disconnected and I think that the pace derailed my interest early on.  In the end, this book was a bit of a battle of endurance for me.  That said, I did enjoy seeing the depths of the bonds between the three generations of family members and how they were able to 'keep each other afloat' even in their darkest times.

My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

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