Thursday, September 11, 2014

Extreme Sibling Rivalry Overshadows the Seriousness of War in The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff

The Winter Guest"We are showing the Germans, and our people, that as long as there is spirit in the heart, we are not defeated."

I rarely waste too much time on books I don't like, but I was curious enough about what was going to happen to Sam and Helena in this book, that even though I disliked it already at 17%, I kept chugging along, only to come to regret that decision.

Having read and enjoyed for the most part Ms. Jenoff's work before (see my review of the Ambassador's Daughter), I am surprised to be saying this, but I hated this book. Been a while since I disliked a book as much as I dislike this one, especially one I read all the way through. That being said, however, the fact I feel so strongly about it and what the characters do within its pages is actually a point in the author's favor. At least it evoked strong emotion in me.

I enjoyed Helena and her romance with Sam and this being a Harlequin book, I expected a nice romance, but something happens in the story that makes what starts beautiful turn into ugliness. I couldn't stomach it. There's a lot of things I can handle, but this was a sick twist I seriously disliked to the point it ruined the story for me. It was also utterly ridiculous. What woman is overtaken by lust at the sight of a man she doesn't know, who's hairy, stinky, and starved?

That being said, there's a war on, all right. It's Poland and the Germans/Nazis have taken over, the Jewish community is disbanded, trains are roaring past full of Jews on their way to the camps, there's very little food to be had, but in the middle of all this trauma and war, the book focuses on a stupid sibling rivalry and loads of resentment between two twin sisters. Sadly, that's where all the emotion of the story is: resentment between sisters. Helena resents that Ruth has been coddled, favored, considered prettier, etc. Ruth resents Helena having a romance while she's stuck at home raising three kids due their being orphaned. And it goes on and on.

I loathed, with an extreme passion, Ruth. What a horrid woman. I wanted to gouge her eyes out and sadly, she's half the story.

There are bad things happening and Helena witnesses them, yet there's so little emotion here that even things that should have been frightening just fell flat. Example: the hospital. You hide under the bed while a nurse is raped on top of it and it warrants a mere three or four sentences? Then it's never mentioned again? I would think the trauma of that would evoke a lot more reaction. As I said above, there's a lot more emotion when it comes to the sisters hating on each other or blabbering about their family history than actual traumatic events.

And Helena just traipses around all this danger unscathed. That was also a killer. I was like, seriously? Nobody stops to check your papers? You just waltz around the Jewish hospital, the ghetto, the blackmarket, and nothing happens? It's WWII, lady...and you're occupied.

And the ending....the book went on and on and on about their parents, their past, their surprising heritage (*****spoiler************************that's something else I didn't care for. How can one suddenly feel any passion about something they know nothing about? All of a sudden, you're Jewish when you know nothing about the religion?************) and yet the most important stuff was wrapped up in a few pages.

Just a disappointment for me.

I received an ARC of this via Netgalley.

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