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4 Stars for Shattered by Jennie Marsland
Author: Jennie Marsland
Genre: Historical Romance
Liam Cochrane no longer belongs. He lost his youth and his brother on the battlefields of Europe. Now he’s home in Halifax, Nova Scotia, trying to dull his pain with liquor and the occasional willing woman. He’s become a stranger in the North End neighbourhood where he grew up.
Alice O’Neill has never belonged. Able to read notes, but not words, she dreams of teaching music – and of Liam, who has held her heart for years and never known. But Liam has shadowy ties in England that he’s revealed to no one, and in that fall of 1917, Halifax is on a collision course with fate. On December 6, a horrific accident of war will devastate the city’s North End. What will be left for Liam and Alice when their world is shattered?
Although historical romance isn’t my usual reading stock, I was drawn to this novel when I read the sample because of its strong, vivid writing style and a glimpse of flawed characters that I hoped would find their strength and develop in the course of the story.
Well, I was not disappointed. Both protagonists, Liam and Alice, start out very weak and desperate – Liam crippled by his war experience, the death of his younger brother and his war injury, and Alice with her low self confidence made worse by her dysfunctional family and inability to read. But the novel follows the change in their characters, two perfect arcs of improvement, as the events propel them along until they manage to take charge of their lives. I must say that this in itself was immensely satisfying for me as a reader.
The setting felt very real and the secondary characters were also three-dimensional and believable. There was no black and white, no evil and perfect people, only people coping with personal tragedies each in their own way and coming into conflict with others.
The atmosphere of the time was palpable in the pages of this novel and to my joy I was transported back into time to this small town devastated by the effects of a war so distant and yet so near, a war taking away their sons and leaving behind widows and orphans. Everything, from the balls to the masses at the church to the hospitals and the beliefs of the society were consistent and created a world in which I happily lived for a few days.
Although it is mostly sweet romance, the novel does include a few sex scenes, well written and not overly explicit, but certainly not for children. They are not gratuitous; they work well in the story and advance the relationships between characters.
The novel has a good pace, neither too slow nor too fast. No big surprises awaited in its pages, everything went as I imagined it would, but that is not necessarily a bad thing: seeing the way the author handled situations and conflicts was for me the best thing about this novel.
A final note: I was surprised with the events in the final pages of the novel (the Halifax explosion) but was pleasantly surprised to find a historical comment at the end of the book explaining that these events are real and detailing what we know about them.
This is a well-researched and well-written book, and I highly recommend it to lovers of the genre and to everyone who likes a good, character-driven story.