Book Review: At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

waters edge

First I want to complain about the marketing of this book, comparing it to Downton Abbey. Really? What? Obviously these people have never seen an episode of that show in their life or have any idea what attracts people to that show. Just please stop comparing everything set prior to 1950 to Downton Abbey. Thanks. Okay, I feel better…

Let me start the actual review by admitting I began reading this novel and nearly gave up at about the 50 page mark. (I’ve noticed a lot of other reviewers have had the same problem, so I don’t feel completely stupid.) I was sooooo close to tossing it in the ‘did-not-finish’ pile. The three main characters started out so horrid, I didn’t see how any of them would ever redeem themselves and make me care about their outcome. However, as I received this via The Reading Room and Allen & Unwin (thanks!!!) in exchange for an honest review, I thought I’d persevere. I’m very very glad I did.

Maddie is married to Ellis, but the two of them are joined at the hip with Hank. All three of them are busy drinking and partying their lives away in America during WW2. Neither Ellis nor Hank is accepted into the army; Ellis due to colourblindness, and Hank because he is flat-footed. Of course, no one really believes their excuses, including Ellis’s ex-WW1 Colonel father.

After one of their many parties, Ellis and his father end up having a terrible argument and the Colonel decides to cut him off financially. Ellis and Hank hatch a plan, if they go to Scotland and prove that the Loch Ness monster is real, they’ll prove themselves as worthy as any man enlisted in the war.

Yes, this is about where I gave up. I mean… WTF?

The scenes of the trio travelling via ship to Scotland were a little rushed and thought could have been much better if expanded, and only added to my concerns about whether or not I would finish the book.

I held on too because I enjoyed Gruen’s style of writing; it’s easy to read, despite my continued doubts regarding the plot or the appeal of the lead characters.

Again, I’m pleased I hung on. Because once Maddie, Ellis and Hank arrived in Scotland, the twists in the plot kept me enthralled and I hardly wanted to put the book down.

As we all know that finding the Loch Ness monster won’t happen, it’s pretty obvious that the ‘cunning plan’ will not end well but other than that I don’t want to say too much more about how the plot develops, because to spoil it would be a shame. I would actually recommend you grab this book and read it sooner rather than later, because I think it will be that type of book that’s talked about a lot. I also think it will be filmed, just as Gruen’s previous work, Water for Elephants. (I’d actually rather if it was a tv show so that the whole thing could be drawn out and all the finer details included.)

Though marketed as a sweeping saga/drama, the book is essentially a romance, with one of the best romantic heroes I’ve seen written in quite a while. The UST was fabulous, and the sex scenes well written.

Surprisingly, I’d also class the book as a thriller. The villain of the piece (I won’t say who) is very creepy on several occasions and I was quite nervous as to how things would be resolved.

One of the things that drew me into requesting the book originally was the Scottish setting. Scotland is one of my favourite settings for any books or movies, and Gruen uses the country to its finest. She’s done her research and it all seems very authentic.

The wartime setting is also fantastic, sad and quite relevant to the plot. Gruen didn’t just throw it in for a little dramatic effect as sometimes happens.

Amazingly, considering the way I felt at the start of this book, I give it 5/5 and have included it in my favourites’ file.


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