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.

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