Thursday, 7 May 2015

At The Water's Edge

Author: Sara Gruen
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Pages in Hardcover: 368
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
First Published: March 31, 2015
First Line: 'The headstone was modest and hewn of black granite, granite being one of the few things never in short supply in Glenurquhart, even during the present difficulty.'

Book Description from GoodReadsIn her stunning new novel, Gruen returns to the kind of storytelling she excelled at in Water for Elephants: a historical timeframe in an unusual setting with a moving love story. Think Scottish Downton Abbey.

After embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year in high society Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off financially by Ellis’s father, a former army Colonel who is already embarrassed by his son’s inability to serve in WWII due to his being colorblind. To Maddie’s horror, Ellis decides that the only way to regain his father’s favor is to succeed in a venture his father attempted and very publicly failed at: he will hunt the famous Loch Ness monster and when he finds it he will restore his father’s name and return to his father’s good graces (and pocketbook). Joined by their friend Hank, a wealthy socialite, the three make their way to Scotland in the midst of war. Each day the two men go off to hunt the monster, while another monster, Hitler, is devastating Europe. And Maddie, now alone in a foreign country, must begin to figure out who she is and what she wants. The novel tells of Maddie’s social awakening: to the harsh realities of life, to the beauties of nature, to a connection with forces larger than herself, to female friendship, and finally, to love.

My Review:  There were a few things that drew me to this book -- WWII fiction and it is set in Scotland (swoon).  But I never would have imagined combining a WWII romance and ... Nessie (yes, of Loch Ness Monster fame).   One would think that a sea creature of the deep would negatively influence the romantic element or take away from the horror of war but it worked.  It really did.  And if I'm being honest, I also wanted to give the author another chance because I'm the one person who didn't love Water for Elephants.  Yup, that was me.

I am thrilled that I gave this book a shot.  It has a lot going on but it works.  Gruen paints a clear picture of what life was like in Scotland during the war - the restrictions, food rationing, air raids and fear were all well described.  enjoyed the book even though the Nessie story line takes much more of a back seat than I was hoping for. Instead the book focuses on Maddie's personal relationships and settling into their spartan digs in rural Scotland during the war. I was glad that I found Gruen's characters were much more vibrant and believable this time around.  The addition of the secondary characters - Meg, Anna and Angus - were a breath of fresh air and balanced out the main characters' strong personalities.  

Maddie was a good main character.  She was easy to root for especially as the reader learns more about her upbringing and her marriage.  In the beginning Maddie was a little flat for me but as she goes through some self-reflection about what she wants in life and learns to stand up for herself I began to like her.

Ellis and Hank were another story.  I found them a little too cliched and just so easy to hate.  Hank may have had a moment or two where some human qualities shone through but Ellis had no redeeming qualities at all.  I actually started to think of Ellis and Hank as a much nastier version of Niles Crane (of Frasier fame).  Picture a much more pompous, spoiled, insipid and self-righteous Niles and you have a picture of Hank and Ellis. 

There is a wee romance in the book too but unfortunately I found it a little rushed and predictable.  That said, it was nice to see love bloom in the craziness of war and the epilogue was a nice touch to bring the story full circle.

While I enjoyed this book I did find the ending a little odd and predictable as well.  I wasn't sure that I liked the mystical twist but when you're dealing with Nessie I suppose anything can happen and in the end it was a satisfying ending for a very unique book. While some of the characters are a bit eccentric the majority are well drawn and believable.  And though the monsters - both real and imagined - take a back seat to Maddie's self-discovery, in the end I would say that I enjoyed this 'Gothic, historical romance with a twist' and had a hard time putting it down once I got into it.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to NetGalley and Random House Publishing for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy of At The Water's Edge in exchange for my honest review.

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