Book Reviews, Contemporary

Review – ‘Long Way Home’ – Neve Cottrell

 I decided to read Long Way Home on a whim. I am not generally a fan of ‘chick-lit’ or ‘beach read’ romances, but I decided to spread my wings and try something new. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this book very much; the writing style was clunky and the story and characters simply reinforced the things that I don’t like about most romantic novels.

Alexis MacAdams grew up on Mangrove Island, but left after finishing school to get away from what she saw as a claustrophobic community that didn’t understand her. Seventeen years later, she is a corporate lawyer in London and still hasn’t returned, until now. It is the Christmas holidays when she shows up on her parents’ doorstep after years of not even a phone call. She tries to mend the broken ties she has with her parents and sister, and meets Tyler, a man who has had a crush on her since school.

81cbO3W+UxL._SL1500_From the description of this book in the Kindle store, I was optimistic. I love stories with lots of characters and interesting family dynamics, but I don’t feel like the relationships between the characters of this book were believable, and I just grew more and more frustrated with Alexis. Even though Alexis must be 30-or-so by the time we meet her, she seems to think and behave like a teenager. At no point did I, during the book, understand her motives for not speaking to her family for so long. Fair enough, you don’t exactly feel like you see eye to eye – most teenagers don’t – but for you not to tell your family anything, from your marriage to pregnancy to being widowed just seemed ridiculous.

I also became frustrated with the whole aspect of her family which was so gender-segregated and sexist, not because of it in itself, but because it didn’t seem to be written very well. There are hundreds, if not thousands of books where families have more ‘homely’ expectations of their daughters who want to achieve something else, but it just wasn’t addressed consistently in this book. At one point, Alexis seems to see her legal career as superior to those of the women in their family whose life centres around their families, and yet we see that in the middle of her career she wanted to become a stay-at-home mother, and then later she praises her sister for balancing career and motherhood – but none of this seemed to be linked in any sort of character development, it just felt like Alexis had really inconsistent beliefs about women.

Alexis’ romance with Tyler was actually, in my opinion, the centre of this novel, and not Alexis’ family reunion, but I just found it uncomfortable and unbelievable. Mainly, I found it difficult to see the relationship as anything but Tyler being in love with his high school crush rather than the woman in front of him, the same way that if you put a teenaged One Direction fan on a date with Harry Styles she would probably do nothing but stare at him and tell him how beautiful he was. I also found it pretty unbelievable that, even though the pair had never spoken, she didn’t even know who he was, she hadn’t been to the island in seventeen years and nobody had even heard from her, that Tyler could be so madly obsessed with her – and that is what it was, no longer an innocent crush, he was obsessed with Alexis. I would have believed the story a little more if there wasn’t so much emphasis on his having dreamt of his chance with Alexis his whole life, and all other women paling in comparison to this seventeen year old image of a girl he never knew, and if the story had just been of two strangers falling in love. Instead it felt like an awkward and slightly scary fanfiction, which phrases about Tyler’s “vibrant erection” just confirmed (Does this remind anyone else of Ms Perky and the ‘quivering member’ in 10 Things I Hate About You?)

My final complaint, although being the last is in no way the least important, is that the writing style of the book was just too stiff. There is an often repeated saying among writers that says, “Show, don’t tell,” and that it what this book really lacked. Scenes that could have been truly emotional and striking were ruined by Cottrell just telling us everything. For example, in the scene where Alexis is remembering being told that her husband has died, instead of feeling what she is feeling, we are just told that it is “the worst day of her life” and that “she spent the rest of the day sobbing and vomiting”. We are walked through the most emotional scenes as if we are reading a news report or a script, which meant that most chances at connecting with the story or the characters were wasted.

Overall, my main reason for finishing this book were that I was already past the halfway mark when I started contemplating giving up on it. If you like clunky and awkward chick-lit romances, this may be the book for you, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I still maintain hope on finding a ‘beach read’ romance that I enjoy and connect with, more than just finish because I don’t want to give up on it, but so far I have yet to find one.

Perhaps you can recommend one to me in the comments below?

Book Reviews, Classics

Review – ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ – John Buchan

The poster for the book's 1935 Hitchcock adaptation
The poster for the book’s 1935 Hitchcock adaptation

A few years ago, I watched the 2005 adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps starring Rupert Penry-Jones, and I thought it was a fun mix between period drama and James Bond. So, I thought I would read the novel behind it, by John Buchan, which was published in 1915. However, unfortunately I did not enjoy it as much as the film that I saw, and thought it paled in comparison to my expectations.

ThirtyNineStepsThe story of The Thirty-Nine Steps concerns Richard Hannay in May 1914. He is approached by a stranger called Scudder, who says that he is in great danger and in need of help. Hannay lets the man stay with him and listens to his story. He tells him of a conspiracy plot which will shake Europe and start a war, by assassinating the Greek Prime Minister, Karolides. However, one day Hannay returns home to find Scudder stabbed to death in his apartment, and flees, fearing that he will be blamed. His plan is to hide until the plot that Scudder predicted takes place, and then return with Scudder’s notes to prove his innocence. He gets on a train to Scotland, but finds himself a hunted man, both by the police for Scudder’s death and by Scudder’s enemies, in case he knows what Scudder knew. So, we follow Hannay as he tries to avoid capture and tries to prevent war.

What I found most boring about this novel was the lack of interesting characters. Not that Hannay was boring, because he was not, but he seemed to be brilliant at everything. Luckily for him, Richard Hannay has been a mining engineer, soldier and intelligence officer and speaks German, all of which proves very helpful as he evades capture. He manages to decode Scudder’s notes, discover where the German agents are hiding when all the best intelligence officers in England cannot, figure out what part of the coast it will take place even when a man who supposedly knows it better than anybody cannot, and just happened to learn spying techniques from a friend who was once a spy. Hannay was an early twentieth century James Bond, which is fine, but I would have much preferred some sort of side-kick character, a partner, which is what he has in the movie adaptations, in the form of a female love interest.

Writer John Buchan
Writer John Buchan

I admit, I spent most of the book waiting for the female character that I saw in the film, and know is also present in earlier adaptations, only to be disappointed. I was not waiting for it purely because I like romantic sub-plots, but because I don’t enjoy reading about character who know everything and don’t need anybody else! Relationships and partners in crime are much more fun to read about, and considering the time that the book was set and written in, such a character being female would have been fantastic. In fact, the only female characters in the whole novel were Scottish housewives who gave Hannay a room to stay in and some food, and barely spoke, if they spoke at all. So, apart from Richard Hannay being a superhero of his time, all of the other significant characters were male and largely useless in comparison to Hannay and his set of super-spy skills.

Nevertheless, the book’s writing style was not bad, and I actually enjoyed the way that Buchan wrote, which makes the characters even more of a shame. The sentences were easy to read and flowed well, and were sometimes quite funny. I particularly enjoyed a passage where Richard Hannay comments on how he escaped to evade a murder he had not committed, and in the passage of doing so committed crimes he would have never expected to. It is disappointing though, to think that just slightly better crafted characters this book could have been so much more, and genuinely enjoyable.

Overall, I was unfortunately disappointed with The Thirty-Nine Steps. Although the film that I watched probably set me up for failure considering how much I enjoyed aspects of it that weren’t in the book, but I think that the lack of interesting characters would have rendered me just as bored even if I had entered into it with no preconceptions.