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REVIEW:  The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

REVIEW: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E....

GeographyofyouandmeLucy and Owen meet somewhere between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, they spend a single night together, wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is restored, so is reality. Lucy soon moves to Edinburgh with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.

Lucy and Owen’s relationship plays out across the globe as they stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails, and — finally — a reunion in the city where they first met.

A carefully charted map of a long-distance relationship, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. It can be a person, too.

Dear Ms. Smith,

I was quite charmed by the blurb and there was something about the title that piqued my interest, so I requested this book for review.  I had hoped it would be an epistolary book – something for which I have much love.  I hoped to see the postcards, text messages, letters and emails they exchanged when they were in different places.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I can’t really say how much that informed my overall opinion of the book, but I know it didn’t help.

While I understood from the blurb that Owen and Lucy would spend a lot of the book apart, I had hoped to see their connection grow via postcards and other communications.  Instead, the story seemed to me more about the individual growth of each character, with a dash of romance thrown in.  It has a hopeful happy ending and there are parts of the story that are very romantic, but… it didn’t quite scratch my itch.

Perhaps the fault is mine – I have little experience reading YA and my main interest is romance (if it’s a YA romance, that’s fine but I know that YA is a far wider category and romance is a subset of it).

Owen’s mother died and he and his dad are trying to put the pieces of their lives back together and, during the course of the book, slowly, they do.

Sometimes it seemed as if his whole life was an exercise in waiting; not waiting to leave, exactly, but simply waiting to go. He felt like one of those fish that had the capacity to grow in unimaginable ways if only the tank were big enough. But his tank had always been small, and as much as he loved his home—as much as he loved his family—he’d always felt himself bumping up against the edges of his own life.

Lucy is, not exactly estranged from her parents, but they seem to live quite separate lives – little satellites not really connecting.  Lucy longs for that connection and over the course of the book, slowly, this grows between her and her parents.

The coming of age aspects of the story were moving and I think if I had approached this book as that kind of story, it would have worked better for me.  (Let’s leave aside that if that were the case, I probably wouldn’t have approached it at all because I’m primarily a romance reader.)

I enjoyed the word pictures created for me – like here, where Lucy is considering the elevator where she first speaks to Owen:

And how many times had they all been stuffed in here together? Dad, with his newspaper folded under his arm, always standing near the door, ready to bolt; Mom, wearing a thin smile, seesawing between amusement and impatience with the rest of them; the twins, grinning as they elbowed each other; and Lucy, the youngest, tucked in a corner, always trailing behind the rest of the family like an ellipsis at the end of a sentence.

There was some beautiful writing in the book.  Some of it seemed… lightly written but heavy with meaning and portent.  I found it wasn’t a book to skim – it felt a disservice to the prose to do so.  I felt the need to read more slowly and let my mind roll over the words and their various meanings. There was a kind of spare beauty to much of it.

“What do you want to see most?”

“Notre Dame,” she said without hesitation.

“Why?” he asked, expecting to hear something about the architecture or the history or at least the gargoyles, but he was wrong.

“Because,” she said. “It’s the very center of Paris.”

“It is?”

She nodded. “There’s a little plaque with a star in front of it that marks the spot: Point Zero. And if you jump on it and make a wish, it means you’ll get a chance to go back there again someday. There’s something kind of magical about that, don’t you think?”

“It’d be nice if every place came with that kind of guarantee.” He leaned over to draw an X between them with the piece of gravel, then rubbed it out with the heel of his hand and replaced it with a crooked star.

“Does that mean we’re in the exact center of New York?” she asked, nodding at it, and he felt momentarily unsteady beneath her gaze.

“I think,” he said quietly, “that we’re in the exact center of the whole world.”

I find the book hard to grade because as a romance, it didn’t deliver what I was hoping for, but at the same time, what it did deliver wasn’t bad by any stretch.  I ended the read feeling vaguely melancholy and unsatisfied.  The other aspects of the story were meaningful, important and well written but there was something that kept me distanced from the prose. It may have been a function of the style which was episodic -  more like little glimpses into what each character was doing and feeling. I didn’t find it immersive and I couldn’t just relax into it like I wanted to.  In the end, it was a book I admired but did not love.

I think, if one approaches this as a YA coming of age book with a gentle romance arc to it, it would probably be a B/B- but for me, with my expectations and my distance, I ended up at a C+.



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REVIEW:  Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton

REVIEW: Hearts and Minds by Rosy Thornton


“St Radegund’s College, Cambridge, which admits only women students, breaks with 160 years of tradition to appoint a man, former BBC executive James Rycarte, to be its new Head of House. As Rycarte fights to win over the Fellowship in the face of opposition from a group of feminist dons, the Senior Tutor, Dr Martha Pearce, has her own struggles: an academic career in stagnation, a depressed teenage daughter and a marriage which may be foundering. Meanwhile the college library is subsiding into the fen mud and the students are holding a competition to see who can ‘get a snog off the Dean’.

The taint of money, the politics of gender and the colour of the SCR curtains: Hearts and Minds is a campus satire for the 21st century.”

Dear Ms. Thornton,

It’s been a while since I read “Crossed Wires” but you’d always remained on my list of authors to keep an eye on and when I was looking to read something a little different, I remembered that I’d bought some more of your books. Though it didn’t turn out to have quite as much romance as I was hoping for, I got caught up in the story, the writing and learning all kinds of things about Cambridge colleges. After reading your page at Emmanuel College, I would imagine that if anyone could write a romance with a sticky legal will issue and get me to believe it, it would be you.

For readers like me who have no first hand experience with Oxbridge and all the attendant traditions, rules and regulations, this is a full on immersion. And I loved it. Senior Tutors, Heads of Hall, actually referring to someone as “Master” and it not be related to BDSM, ents officers, and Michaelmas Term are among the things I can now say I know a little about. Before I read this, my knowledge of the behind the scenes of academia was pretty much limited to the phrase “publish or perish” but no more! I appreciate the way all this information is presented. Since James Rycarte is new to it all, having him be the “guinea pig” to whom all is explained allowed me to vicariously go along when he’s introduced to the “way things are done at St Radegund.”

Interesting as all this is, without characters I cared about, I wouldn’t have kept reading. James and Martha are both at crossroads in their lives. James is switching professional gears, leaving behind the world of the BBC and entering an environment where there are pitfalls at every turn from where he can park his bike, and how will the college keep the library from sinking into the fens to questions of academic integrity. Meanwhile Martha is struggling with a depressed daughter, an inert husband, twenty six hours worth of things to do each day and the worry that her own research and publishing have been allowed to flounder thus rendering her unemployable when her term as Senior Tutor ends.

I felt as if I knew James and Martha. Sometimes I wanted to shake Martha out of her denial and, yes let’s be honest, martyrish guilt. As much as her husband annoyed me as he lay about not even composing poetry in Italian as he was supposed to be doing, he did come out and tell her the truth that not everything is her fault or under her control. Then I stopped and realized that for me to care this much about her, you’d done a good job in making her real. Meanwhile James’ concerns about being accepted in this rarefied world of academic women ring true to anyone embarking on a new career while trying to avoid a misstep. I wavered back and forth about the issue he’s attempting to lead the Fellows through. Does the greater good justify the means or not?

The battle lines and mixed alliances faced over the course of two terms seem realistic from the small annoyances to the gigantic pitfalls. I did lose interest in the activities of certain of the students bent on creating conflicts though not in the way that James and Martha met them and deflected their sting. As I said earlier, I would like for there to have been a romance or even a HFN. Still, I did enjoy my foray into the behind the scenes struggles of the modern meeting the hallowed traditions in this fictional world of St. Radegund’s and in watching, and cheering on, a woman’s day to day struggle to basically do and be everything for everyone. Oh, and I totally agree that the chick lit cover doesn’t begin to do the book justice. B-


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