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REVIEW:  The Young Clementina  by D.E. Stevenson

REVIEW: The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson

“Charlotte, the determined heroine of beloved author D.E. Stevenson’s The Young Clementina, has her future all planned out. But when Garth, the man Charlotte loves, marries her sister instead, Charlotte is heartbroken and moves to London to escape her pain. After the two divorce, Garth’s tragic death forces Charlotte to care for her young niece, Clementina, who gives Charlotte a new perspective on life.”

Dear Readers,

God, I love the covers that Sourcebook is reissuing her books with! But frankly if this had been the first Stevenson book I’d read, I doubt I would have sought out any more. A Patient Griselda heroine + an angsty hero whose emotions run hot and cold as well as a slightly saga feel means I would probably have written this author off.

Young-ClementinaThis has a very different feel to me from the previous two Stevenson books I read. I found less humor – in fact almost no humor – much more angst and – at times – a soap opera-ish feel. I had been expecting an immediate feeling of romance or at the very least a possible romance but after reading the first 2 chapters, I had to search out reviews to be sure that I would get one. Yes, it does eventually arrive but the journey is a long one and fraught with heartache. Oh, what one little lie and some innuendo can do.

In the Miss Buncle books, Stevenson presents mainly country folk who look askance at Londoners even as they prefer to stick to their Own Kind. This is even more the case here although Charlotte Dean recounts how she spent 12 years living in London. Since she was pining for the country the whole time – does it count? The country life is lovingly detailed in all seasons – its freshness, openness, and healing atmosphere. The people, however, can be just as judgemental as anywhere else, as Char realizes.

Her sister’s divorce proceedings were shameful and painful for Char while she was in London and as she discovers once she is among them again, the 1930s attitude to a broken marriage can be as pointed in the country.

The story and people are also products of their time and might come across as odd, disturbing or prejudiced to us now. The country people are horse mad, there is an older man who fancies himself in love with a much younger girl and the attitudes of the English in the story towards African porters and Australian aborigines are very 1930s.

Once the romance arrived, it was delightful. The only problem is that after a fleeting glimpse of it at the beginning of the book, it doesn’t arrive again until the very end. Frankly, I wanted more than what I got.

It does show life from early turn of the 20th century through the mid 1930s – the good the bad and the ugly. But it is a shattered “Young Love’s Dream saga of heartache bravely faced with a stiff upper lip, one must carry on in the face of broken dreams and duty to one’s ancestral line” sort of story as well. I didn’t find it as much fun as the Buncle books but if you’re looking for an angst-fest, it might be for you. C-


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REVIEW:  Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

REVIEW: Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

“Peilin is betrothed to Kwan Yao, the only son of a wealthy pearl farmer. However months before their wedding, Yao is killed by the Japanese in the Nanjing Massacre. The Kwans insist on proceeding with the wedding and the beautiful Peilin is married to a ghost husband. When an uncle passes away, Peilin is sent to Shanghai to manage the Kwan family herbal shop.

Meanwhile in Berlin, Henri graduates from medical school just as Hitler rises to power and unleashes prejudice and violence against the Jewish population. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, a young disfigured rickshaw driver. Ping introduces Henri to his sister Peilin. Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him.”

Dear Ms. Wong,

I was excited to get the chance to review this book because it has such an unusual setting – late 1930s Shanghai – and features a multicultural romance. For various reasons, unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

shanghai-loveThe story begins with separate locations for the two main characters. Peilin’s early life as she learns the science of Chinese herbal medicine from her grandfather is followed by scenes of her being matched with the son of a business associate who supplies her grandfather with pearl powder after which comes the wedding. This was actually fairly interesting and I read it closely.

Meanwhile around the world, Henri is a doctor in Berlin suffering under the increasingly restrictive laws against Jews. His escape is into the world of jazz and there he meets and falls in love with blonde, sultry singer Sophie. Their sexual affair is torrid and Henri makes the mistake of thinking this will overcome Sophie’s family’s objections to his religion. When his family is attacked on Kristallnacht by the gestapo lead by Sophie’s brother, Henri flees into the night with a hastily packed bag and a ticket to Shanghai given to him by his uncle – a place he’s been told will allow Jews without a visa to stay. While a little melodramatic in places, most of this was interesting too.

But while I found I was enjoying learning aspects of Chinese life I didn’t know and the ways Henri was getting around the anti-Jewish laws, it dawned on me that there’s a lot of telling going on here and that this is continued for most of the book. Too much telling – pages and pages and pages of telling – usually make me feel at arms length from a story. Personally, I find it very difficult to get caught up in the characters or feel much emotion for their issues or be interested in their HEA.

Yet this isn’t what started me skimming the book. Not even the fact that Henri and Peilin don’t actually meet until just before the halfway mark of the book did that. Two things happened that did this book in for me. Peilin’s family was murdered by the invading Japanese. Her brother witnessed it. At one point he erupts in pent up anger at what happened and Peilin seems amazed that he’s so angry. My jaw dropped. I know it’s the main responsibility of the son of the family to avenge anything done to the parents but to not understand why her brother is still enraged at what occurred seemed totally bizarre to me.

The second thing that flabbergasted me was Henri’s actions – or maybe I should say lack of actions – once he arrived in China. Here is a man whose father and brother were hauled off by the gestapo, whose uncle was left wounded by the same attack, who fled his homeland with little more than the clothes on his back and who is living among a flood of Jewish refugees who have also fled Nazi oppression and he seems remarkably calm about what might be the fate of his family. He’s sent a few unanswered letters but that’s all that is mentioned. He’s not shown to be scanning newspaper headlines or watching news reels – regardless of how old they might be by the time they get to Shanghai – or even questioning the new arrivals to the refuge center much less making any effort to get his family out of Germany. Nope, after 9 months, he’s just hoping all is well. Henri seems far more interested in Chinese herbal medicine than if his family is all right.

I. Was. Stunned.

To be fair, these issues do come up more in the second half of the book but by this time I was in full skim mode. The story had lost me after the actions of both Henri and Peilin in regard to these major issues didn’t seem realistic. I was not engaged in the telling romance and I had little interest in finding out how they would finally get together. Since I didn’t actually pay full attention to the second part of the book, I guess my grade should be DNF.


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