Most helpful critical review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2014
I don't like giving a book 3 stars. I wouldn't usually bother to review one that I give such a low rating. But this one could have been so much better. This story had a lot going for it, enough tension to keep me turning pages, gripping emotional complexity, and two or three big problems to solve. The family history set in the Holocaust has immense implications and gave the story scale. I come away from this story feeling that there was potential here, and some very good writing, but too many flaws, which made the story fall flat.
In the beginning I had trouble getting past the stereotypical single mother with a rebellious preteen, but I kept reading, and it got better. For a while it got much better. There were problems to solve, a daughter to raise, a bakery to save, and a grandmother with Alzheimer's who was finally revealing a bit of family history before it would be lost forever. There was a race against time, which kept me turning pages. There were emotional revelations about the characters' backgrounds that held my stake in the story intact.
The family background set in the horror of the Holocaust I had no problem with. It's important to remember that very real horror, and it's so much a part of the personal, ethnic, and religious history of many of our fellow humans that we owe it to them to remain cognizant of the events. I also liked that people of different religious beliefs, Muslims and Catholics, came together to aid Jews in evading the deportations.
There's certainly enough in that historical background to provide a canvas for a story. A brilliant story. But this was not a brilliant story. There were lots of minor problems I won't go into, and some big flaws.
One big problem was the romantic content. Do I believe in love at first sight? Yes, I do! In fact I'm a romantic person at heart, always have been. I used to collect stories people told me about how they met their mates, and some of them were amazing. But the romantic ideals voiced by characters in this story in such a way that we're meant to take them seriously were the stuff of Disney fairy tales. At the same time, the one new, developing romance going on in the story is completely unconvincing. The biggest problem with it is the protagonist - more on her later. The two romances in the story seemed extreme, one exaggerated in its intensity, which conflicted with the grandmother's later actions. The other seemed almost nonexistent.
There was too much in the story that I found unconvincing. I wasn't convinced by the characters and their motivations. I wasn't convinced of the grandmother's reasons for keeping her secrets. I wasn't convinced by her lack of effort to find her lost love, by her depending on a husband who would of course have his own agenda, to do that for her.
The preteen daughter Annie's language seemed exaggerated. Some "whatever" and "like" I could believe, but there was too much of both and it seemed too habitual, as if this otherwise smart girl didn't hear what she was saying, had no control over her own speech. Her anger seemed exaggerated too.
I was a bit shocked by the idea expressed by Alain and Hope that the horror of the Holocaust could never happen here in the US. To me that's a dangerous notion. It could happen anywhere.
Finally, but probably the biggest problem for me was the protagonist, Hope, who seemed too numb, too passive, too negative, too willing to just let life happen to her. There wasn't that much trouble in her prior life to have made her this way. A cold mother? An inconsiderate spouse? Please! She also had grandparents who were always there, a daughter who was a sweet kid at heart, as she well knew, and a business she'd inherited that could have been so much more if she'd put some thought into it instead of laboring like a robot that couldn't veer from its programming. Especially after the revelations about her family in the story.
-- spoiler warning --
I could see if the grandmother had wound up this way after all she'd been through, but not the granddaughter. There wasn't enough in her character to make her so appealing to her love interest, Gavin, who seemed to hang on to something that wasn't there. What did he see in this - eh - woman who was so full of self-loathing, and where did that self-loathing come from? I found it difficult to believe this woman had ever aspired to be an attorney. I didn't feel that she grew much by the end of the story, either. She went grudgingly to Paris, learned a lot about her family, and she stood up for her daughter once, finally, but other than that she did nothing to stand up for herself or solve her own problems, and yet they were magically resolved by the end, which just seemed contrived. Her last rejection of the young man was downright cruel and came out of the blue, when she had finally seemed to be warming up to him. The final reconciliation seemed lukewarm for what had been described by another character as a great love. Milk toast, one-sided love, if you ask me.