Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

I can't tell you where I first saw this cover; wherever it was, it caught my eye.  Then I read a short synopsis of the novel and decided that I just had to read it.  A rainy, chilly weekend with no plans guaranteed me plenty of time to read it, and I did in just a few short days. 

 I'm not one to sit for hours and buzz through a book; I get twitchy and have to get up and move around, so while I read quickly, it still takes me a few days longer to finish a novel.  This was the exception for me, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly why.

It appears by the cover this could be a romance, a historical romance, or even a chick-lit novel.  It's not really any of these.  After thinking about it for a few days, I still can't quite decide just what  exactly it is, so I'm going to stop trying.  I'll give you a quick peek:

An Irish-American family, growing up in Lynn, Massachusetts in the early 1930's.  Sisters Lilly and Neave are close in age, but pretty different personalities.  Lilly is all glamour, while Neave lives for books.  She gets paid a nickel to read to an elderly neighbor, and Neave hopes it is an entry into being able to read those forbidden romances her neighbor has on the shelf.  Nope, no luck.  The lure of those romances is too much to bear, and Neave steals The Pirate Lover and reads it in her closet at home.  It's terribly exciting, and the story of Electra Gates and her adventures reflects back onto Neave and Lilly's lives as they grow up and start a cosmetics company in post-World War 2 America.  Things are going fairly well, until Lilly meets a horrible, horrible man whom she marries (her second marriage).  She ends up dead.  No surprise, since the first chapter is Lilly telling you that she's dead.  

Lilly, along with the family dog Mr. Boppit (who appears on the other side as a young man in a naval uniform and wearing high heels) are there to help Neave not only keep the company going after Lilly disappears, but protect her from Lilly's husband.  Neave, quite frankly, doesn't take any crap from him, and he's filled with such loathing for her that he decides she must be punished.  He's a psychopath in 1950's America, and is a frightening character.  He eerily echoes a character in The Pirate Lover.  Poor Neave is finding out the hard way that love and romance in real life are nothing like romance novels. In fact, reading those romance novels as a young girl have given her a false sense of what life as an single young woman looking for love really means.  As Lilly finds out it can be downright dangerous, and finding the right guy isn't easy or guaranteed.  

This novel sounds like it's a bit crazy, right?  But it's actually quite good.  It is a mixture of mid-twentieth century America, family drama, romance, thriller, humor, and a bit of magical realism all tossed together.  Yet somehow it all works.  Neave just cracks me up.  She is so very funny as a young girl.  It was a treat to watch her mature into a poised young woman, even in the midst of her anxiety at being stalked and not knowing where her sister was, but knowing deep down something very bad had happened. The reader gets to know Lilly both from her perspective on the other side, and through Neave's eyes.  I grew to love her, too.  Mr. Boppit starts out as a dog (who loves to chew up shoes!) and Neave's companion, and ends up as a charming character who loves Neave so much he continues to protect her from the other side.  

The Romance Reader's Guide to Life is quite unlike anything I've read recently, and it was a refreshing experience.  I hope Ms. Pywell continues to write; I will eagerly await her next novel.  

Rating:  4/6 for a completely different novel that marries quite a few genres into one interesting read about family, love, romance, faith, and perseverance. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

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