Dear Ms. Marsland,
When deciding on a romance novel to read, if there is something out of the ordinary about it, I’m more likely to give it a second glance. It still might not make the cut but it has a better chance. Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1917 with WWI still raging, a heroine hoping for a hero whom she never thought would be interested in her and a looming event which changed the town forever definitely is different.
In the six months since injured Liam Cochrane returned from the battlefields of France, not much makes him want to dream. Instead he prefers to spend his time trying to find a bottle and have a good time. Not so much to get drunk as to avoid making any choices about his future. Though his family doesn’t blame him for coming back when his younger brother didn’t, Liam blames himself and between that, the shell shock he knows he’s still not over, and his badly damaged leg he’s just not ready to move on with his life.
Alice O’Neill has been in love with Liam for years, though she’s never said a word and has tried not to give her secret away. Her family might be socially a bit above his but she knows that a woman who can’t read can’t aspire to much more than being either a housekeeper for her parents or settling as a wife to a man she’ll never love. Her ne’er-do-well, belligerent brother’s unexpected return from France doesn’t help the home life situation either.
As Alice keeps coming into his life, will Liam finally see the woman she is now instead of the girl he barely remembers? And if he can win her love, will it be ruined when a secret from his past appears?
The best thing about this book is how real Liam and Alice are to me. They aren’t perfect people by any means. They make mistakes. But then who doesn’t? Their slowly blossoming love feels realistic and I enjoy that they take their time about it and aren’t about to rush into anything. Perhaps Alice is a bit too forgiving and understanding about Liam’s issues and the blast from his past but then she’s already loved him for years and has realized that nothing has changed her feelings in the months since he returned, even if she didn’t hold out any hope of a relationship with him. What clinched it for me is when Liam thinks that with Alice now he is actually looking forward to the future instead of just looking for a way to get through it.
Not everything works for me though. Alice’s issues with her learning disabilities are mainly told in past tense with only a few nods to how she copes now. Carl O’Neill is obviously being set up for his own book, which I realized before reading the notice about it, but his character never interests me much and during his page time, all I wanted to do was get back to Liam and Alice. The issue facing Liam from his time on leave in England also seemed contrived and merely there for page padding purposes.
As the book progressed, I noticed a lack of foreshadowing of the Halifax explosion. Of course the townspeople wouldn’t have known it was coming but I kind of liked that you didn’t Drop Clues or Point Arrows towards what was in store for the city. Yet when it did – finally! – occur, it also seemed an afterthought to the main issues of the book. Explosion, a little wandering around as the characters tried to find friends and loved ones then – poof – the book jumps past it to the epilogue. Kind of seemed like a let down after I anticipated it for so long.
I enjoyed the realism of not only the main characters but the secondary ones as well. The historical feel of the book is good. And I always like to see a heroine who never thought she would get her happy ending. I just wish that some of the plot threads didn’t seem so superficial and quickly disposed of. C+