Monday, June 21, 2010

Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm — 336 pgs

Book CoverAfter a secret assignation gone wrong, Leo Hoffman is headed to Shanghai to begin life anew. But just before leaving Europe, Leo meets the alluring and irresistible Martha, who he has to leave behind in his haste to escape. After settling in Shanghai, Leo sends for Martha, who makes the difficult passage by herself to share her lover's new fortune. Soon Leo and Martha are living in delicious style in 1920's Shanghai, sharing the best of what life has to offer them. But Leo is not being completely truthful with Martha and has to keep the real reason for his fortune a secret from her. When Martha gives birth to a daughter, the little family seems to be on the path to true happiness. Then one day, a horrible accident wipes away all of their shared happiness and the couple's young daughter, Maddy, is shuttled off to America with Leo's promise that he will soon join her. But things in Leo's past hold him back and he is not able to leave Shanghai as planned. This forces Maddy into the clutches of a selfish and scheming woman who desires Leo above all else. When the events of Leo's life finally leave him free to make the journey to America, he finds that Maddy has grown beyond her love for him and he must make a painful decision that will have repercussions for father and daughter alike. In this historical tale of intrigue, one man must make very difficult decisions regarding the life he longs to leave behind and the daughter who lives only for his love.

I don't know what it was about this book. Usually, I love historical dramas that showcase places and times with which I am less familiar, but in the case of this book I think there was some kind of disconnect. While I found the story interesting enough and the characters were agreeable and intriguing, I felt that somehow this book missed its mark with me.

One of the problems I had with this book was the fact that I couldn't really get invested in the characters' plights. They all seemed very one-dimensional and their emotions just didn't resonate off the page. There were times I found it hard to empathize with the characters because they didn't seem to reflect any deep feelings at all and they never seemed to reflect upon their emotions. I think the problem was that they never had any meaningful perceptions and revelations about their emotional situations. They never grew as a result of their experiences and instead remained static and unmovable. As as reader, I was told that Leo felt sad dejected, and hurt, but I never really bought it because he just seemed so disaffected all the time. It was definitely a case of telling instead of showing and because of this most of the characters seemed less than sincere.

I really liked the plot of the book for the first two-thirds, but when the accident happened and the book focused more on Maddy and her plight in America, I began to lose interest. I felt that the story had taken a turn and the characters I had grown to like were being replaced by the sad plight of a child. This was not bad per se, its just not what I had been expecting and I found myself wanting to skim these sections, although I did not. One thing that hampered me with Maddy is that I felt she was very spoiled for most of the middle section of the book and she seemed almost precocious at times. When her fortunes turned, I just couldn't scare up a lot of sympathy for her and her plight. I did not get on well with her and the fact that the book focused so much on her during its closing section made me feel a little disgruntled.

Although some things didn't work well for me, there were some great aspects that I really enjoyed about the book. First off, I felt that there was a lot of good intrigue sprinkled throughout the plot and things were far from predictable. I liked the way the action that centered around Leo's business dealings was so clearly delineated and full of suspense. I was rooting for his success and disentanglement during these sections and felt that the author did a wonderful job of perking up the plot through the uses of Leo's particular problems and his reactions to them. I also really liked the relationship between Leo and Martha. Leo was incredibly romantic at times, and as a reader, it was nice to see a man who was not too masculine to be tender within the pages. Though he did some things that I was not exactly thrilled with, I found Leo's love for Martha to be one of the brighter spots of the book.

In writing this review, I realize that the main reason for my disconnect with the book is probably because the story tried to straddle too many genres. At first, it seemed like a historical mystery and suspense story but then it quickly morphed into a tale of domestic intrigue. Towards the end, the tale moved more into the realm of melodrama. I think any one of these would have been fine had the author stuck to it, but the effect of placing them all into one story made the book feel disorganized and overcrowded. I think the rapid shifts of perspective and storyline were a bit confusing to me and it was hard to feel connected to any of the stories because of it. While I did like the book, I was not wowed by it and would probably not continue on and read the sequel.

Though this book didn't really work for me, I do believe that it might work for other readers out there. If you are fond of stories that feel very fluid and that will keep you guessing, then this is the book for you. While I found the story to be a little less interesting to me, I do feel that there are some things that the author really excelled at in the book and because of that, I am glad to have read this novel.

About M. L. Malcolm

M. L. Malcolm is a Harvard Law graduate, journalist, recovering attorney and public speaker. She has won several awards for her short fiction, including recognition in the Lorian Hemingway International Short Story Competition, and a silver medal from ForeWord magazine for Historical Fiction Book of the Year. She has lived in Florida, Boston, Washington, D.C., France, New York, and Atlanta, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

Check out M.L. Malcolm's website here.
M.L. Malcolm

TLC Book Tours A warm thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. Please continue to follow the tour by visiting these other blogs:

Tuesday, June 8th: My Two Blessings
Wednesday, June 9th: I'm Booking It
Thursday, June 10th: Books for Breakfast
Monday, June 14th: Diary of an Eccentric
Wednesday, June 16th:  Rundpinne
Tuesday, June 22nd: Raging Bibliomania
Wednesday, June 23rd: Peetswea
Monday, June 28th: Heart 2 Heart
Tuesday, June 29th: Chefdruk Musings
Wednesday, June 30th: Dolce Bellezza

This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.


bermudaonion said...

I know how you feel. I just finished a book that everyone else raved over, but I just never felt any connection to. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I liked this book a lot more than you did, but I agree that when the book moved to America to tell Maddy's story it lost a bit of steam.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Hey, it happens. There is some serious missed opportunity here, with that type of plot and the setting of Shanghai. These are basic ingredients for drama and emotion and investment. I've had disconnects with books that others have loved, but that is just the way it goes. Bravo for the honest and as always, very informative, review!

Jenny said...

hmmmm, interesting! It actually sounds like one I might like even though there were parts you didn't care for... well, except telling-not-showing... that bothers me! I have this book in my box of BEA books if it ever shows up....

Hannah Stoneham said...

Shame you didn't love this one too much - of well I guess that that only makes the really brilliant books better!

Anonymous said...

It is rather disappointing when you don't love a book as much as you want to. :(

Thanks for the thoughtful review!

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Sorry this one was not perfect for you. I added it to my list but the priority isn't high right now. As always thanks for your thoughts -- well done.

Lisa said...

What a shame that Malcolm wasn't able to flesh out her characters more--seems like the book had so much going for it otherwise.

Marie Cloutier said...

I hope to be reading this one soon & doing a feature on her for my work blog. Nice job :-)

Anonymous said...

The plot looks very interesting, but I am hesitant to pick it up since you didn't enjoy it as much as you had expected.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've read other reviews that said the same thing, so you're not alone! :--)

Darlene said...

I was wondering about this book-if I'd like it or not. I don't favor stories where I can't really connect with the characters though. That's an important one for me. Nice review even though the book didn't quite do it for you.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I appreciate your honesty and thoroughness in this review ... proving that a blogger doesn't *love* every book she reads, and that one can write an insightful critique. A pleasure, as always, to read your thoughts.

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