Book Review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell
I had not previously heard of Sharon Pywell, and I admit to requesting this book from Net-Galley because of its pretty cover and interesting title.
I assumed, a romance. I assumed, a main character who liked to read romances getting into some entanglements when she applied that genre’s rules to real life. I assumed, chick lit. My assumptions were, for the most, incorrect (although some of them were right in a roundabout way). But I do understand the marketing people’s dilemma in summarising the book and even placing it into one specific genre.
If I had one complaint about the book, it would be its beginning. It didn’t burst out of the blocks and win me over immediately. Instead, I plodded through the first couple of chapters, trying to get a grasp on what I had discovered was not a traditional romance. It was almost like some strange mixture of The Book Thief and The Lovely Bones. In fact, as it starts off when all the main characters are children (the time setting being around America’s entry into WW2) I wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into reading a young adult novel.
A few chapters in and I was switching my thoughts to a Judith Krantz type saga. The lead female characters were shown to be strong, independent and intelligent, and we were given some wonderful details of them building their own successful post-war business empire.
Then, things changed again, and I was suddenly reading a thriller. And, one thing was for sure, I was hooked.
The book is written mostly from Neave and her sister’s, Lilly, first person point of view. There is also a ‘bodice ripping romance’ book being told concurrently. Sometimes I enjoyed this parallel pirate book more than at other times. Thinking about it now that I’ve finished The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life, I’m not sure it was a necessary addition to the plot. I didn’t hate it though.
What I did hate is the depressing truth about domestic violence. I loved how the book showed the inability to protect and, quite often, the uncaring attitude towards, the victims of this crime by the authorities of the time. I’d like to hope we have come a long way… But unfortunately I know this isn’t always the case.
Women’s’ rights overall are a huge theme of the book. Gender inequality is particularly highlighted in the workplace and the home. Again, I’d like to think we’ve come a long way…
There is one supernatural element, but thankfully it never got into the ridiculous territory of the aforementioned Lovely Bones. Again, thinking about it later, I’m not sure it was a necessary addition, but I didn’t mind it at the time.
I’m also happy to report there is in fact romance in a Romance Reader’s Guide to Life. Quite a nice one too.
4 1/2 out of 5 for this unexpected gem.