Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Last Embrace by Pam Jenoff

Expected publication: August 13th 2015 by MIRA - I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Also published under the title The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach.

Blurb: "In the summer of 1941, sixteen year old Addie Montforte flees war-torn Europe and arrives in Atlantic City. Forced to leave her parents on the other side of the world, she is dependent on an aunt and uncle whom she doesn’t know. She strikes up a friendship with the close-knit Irish Connallys next door and soon finds herself drawn to the eldest brother, Charlie.

But war changes everything. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour, Charlie enlists, leaving Addie alone again and holding onto the promise of a reunion. Tragedy strikes, pushing Addie to flee to London she finds a job with the Washington Post, and is forced to face the war at close quarters. The air raids and destroyed buildings are a constant reminder of everybody she has lost. The past, looming close, demands a reckoning. The Last Embrace is a skilful exploration of identity, destiny and what it means to be a survivor. Pam Jenoff is at her best as she pens Addie Montforte’s journey from Jewish refugee without to a confident young woman with a purpose and path of her own choosing. The Last Embrace shows the reader that home is not always where, or with whom, you think it will be."

I was asked to be part of the blog tour for the release of The Last Embrace by Pam Jenoff and was pleased to receive a review copy.

The Last Embrace is an entertaining read and quite moving at times. The story starts in 1945 in a prologue, then moves briefly to 1943 and then tells Addie's story from 1941 when she is sent by her mother on a ship to America to stay with relatives she has never met before. However, there were certain elements of this book that stopped me from really enjoying it.

The main problem, for me, was that Addie didn't grow on me as a character. It often felt like we were being told things about her character but I didn't feel like that was who she was. Similarly, at the beginning we are told how rebellious and destructive Liam is but nothing really jumps out at me as particularly bad behaviour. Addie seems quite naive and quiet, other characters comment how strong she is but it almost feels like she's oblivious at times to what is going on. I also found it difficult to understand some of her actions. For example, her mother gives Addie her necklace before she is sent away, the other half of which her father has, but Addie then gives it to Charlie when he is going off to war. This doesn't make sense to me as I find it hard to believe someone would give away the last memento of their mother when they may never see her again. In my Q&A with Pam Jenoff, she explained that the necklace represents love and hope to Addie and that she wants to keep Charlie safe. Perhaps that is my personality though, I tend to keep things of sentimental value, whereas other people see value in giving things another purpose. On another note, when Addie receives a photograph of her with the Connally brothers after the death of one of the brothers she sets fire to it, I do not understand why she wouldn't keep it for the fond memories she has of their time together, other than to maybe show that their time has passed.

What I did like about the book was that I enjoyed the descriptions of London during World War 2, it brought to life for me the struggles of life during the war, from air raid warnings causing panic and for everyone to stop what they were doing until the all clear sounded, to trying to travel on the underground but the the train stopping for no apparent reason. It also highlighted that women were brought much more prominently into the workforce at this time and how draining it would have been to work at factories and in other roles and then come home to look after children, all while worrying about the male family members who were away at war. Pam Jenoff did a wonderful job of depicting life during the war and she clearly did a lot of research and used it well.

I also really liked the depictions of the Connally family at the beginning, who are so warm and welcoming to Addie. I have to admit that I was surprised that they welcomed a stranger into their family so quickly, but it was a different era.

I wanted to like this more than I did, but often the characters didn't feel real to me and their actions didn't make sense to me personally. I also found the story quite hard to get into at the beginning.

This was 5 out of 10 for me. I'd really like to hear other people's thoughts on this book.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Blog tour Q&A with Pam Jenoff, author of The Last Embrace

Pam Jenoff very kindly agreed to take part in a Q&A for The Last Embrace, read on for her thoughts.

How long did it take you to write The Last Embrace?

I would normally say a book takes me about a year to write. THE LAST EMBRACE was different, though. It is not a new project for me, but a manuscript I started almost 20 years ago. I was living in Poland at the time; I was in my early 20s, alone and halfway around the world from my family. In the solitude of living remotely, I realized consciously for the first time what I had known all along: that I wanted to be a writer. So I began a story about Adelia, a young girl who goes to the beach for the summer and meets a family with four sons vacationing next door. For many months, I struggled with the manuscript – I had no English speaking peer group of writers and no way to connect with writing resources back home. I tried to publish it and failed. Ultimately I put it in a drawer and forgot all about it.

Only I didn’t forget. A few years ago, I pulled it out again. The language, though unpolished, leapt out and grabbed me, still ringing fresh and true. I knew there was still a story there worth telling.

Once I started writing it again, it was about a year. But since I started it 20 years ago, the answer is something of a cheat!

How did you become interested in WWII history?

I was a diplomat for the State Department working on Holocaust issues in Krakow, Poland and I also worked at the Pentagon as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Army. Many of my stories are inspired by survivors I met. For example, when I was at the Pentagon I had the privilege of traveling with my boss to events around the globe commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II. On one trip we traveled a remote cabin I the Slovak mountains where a local girl had aided the paratroopers and the partisans during the war. Her story became the inspiration for my previous book THE WINTER GUEST.

How did you go about researching the book? Did you interview many people who lived through the war? 

I use many different resources: I memoirs, correspondence and accounts of people who lived during a particular period are particularly useful. Periodicals from the era, magazines and newspaper, are great, as are photographs. The archives to a museum or institute that are fully online can make it as though I was actually there.

For this book, I particularly enjoyed learning the details of everyday life in London during the war, how it changed during and after the Blitz. I also enjoyed learning about the lives foreign war correspondents led. Stateside, it was fascinating to learn about the role my own shore
town, Atlantic City, played during the war, training thousands of soldiers at what was dubbed “Camp Boardwalk.”

Perhaps the most fun “interview” was my mom, who could tell me all about the 1940s Philadelphia setting from her own childhood there.

Did your time living in Poland influence this book?

All of my books are influenced by my years in Poland working on Holocaust issues. In THE LAST EMBRACE those experiences are reflected in both Addie’s past in Fascist Italy and also in the life of young Leo, the orphan she helps in London.

THE LAST EMBRACE is my first book set predominantly stateside. But interestingly, I started writing it when I was living in Poland almost twenty years ago, so it was very much influenced by those experiences.

Which of the brothers in the book is your favourite?

I love all of them! But it’s a tie between Charlie (who is every crush I had on an older boy when I was a kid) Liam (who reflects my secret attraction to the “wild child.”)

Did any of the characters surprise you while you were writing?

My characters surprise me all the time. Addie is very independent and her choices were not predictable. Aside from the obvious one at the end (which I won’t spoil here), I was most surprised by her choice to move to London during the war. Her world had been so destroyed that running toward danger was actually the least painful option.

How accepting do you think people of the time would have been of Jack's relationship?

I do not think people would have been accepting at all; it would have to have been extremely secretive. And I wanted to reflect that reality in the varying reactions of the Connallys to Jack’s relationship: Liam, Charlie and Addie all have very different responses.

I found it hard to believe that Addie would give away her mother's necklace to Charlie when it is the only thing she has to remind her of her mother. Why do you think she would do this?

I think she does this because, given all she has been through leaving her parents, she realizes how very serious it is that Charlie is going away and the reality that they might never see each other again. She remembers the love that her mother showed in giving her the necklace, and the hope that it would keep her safe. She wants to share that love and hope with Charlie.

The story often moves between the past and the present, what prompted you to use this style?

I don’t really consider this a true past/present hybrid novel that alternates between the two times in each chapter. Rather, the book opens in 1945 when Addie is facing a painful homecoming, and then goes back in time to show what happened years earlier to bring Addie to that place. It doesn’t return to the “present” (1945) until part three when the reader has a full understanding of what has happened. This approach can allow more flexibility than pure linear/chronological storytelling.

Can you imagine the book being made into a film?

From your mouth to G-d’s ears, as they say – I would love for that to happen!

What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

I loved MY VERY BEST FRIEND by Cathy Lamb, PRETTY BABY by Mary Kubica, and THE SILENT SISTER by Diane Chamberlain, among many others.

The Last Embrace by Pam Jenoff is published in paperback on 6th August (£7.99) and my review will be up on here this week.

The next stop on the blog tour will be with Miss Bookworm Reviews.