Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Promise Me This

I'll admit it--I'm a sucker for a book with a beautiful cover. Promise Me This certainly drew me from the start with its attractive, vintage-looking cover, but I was pleased to find that the story inside was equally beautiful!

Promise Me This follows the lives of two people, Annie Allen and Michael Dunnagan. Annie is a 14 year old orphan, living in England as the ward of her domineering Aunt Eleanor. Her older brother, Owen, dreams of providing a better life for himself and Annie, but to do so he needs to sail to America and establish himself as a partner in his relatives' garden business. He books passage on the Titanic in the spring of 1912. In the meantime, Michael, a penniless orphan from Ireland, runs away from his abusive uncle and ends up in England, where he happens to meet Owen Allen. Owen takes Michael under his wing and cares for him in the weeks before he is to sail to America, even teaching Michael a bit about gardening, and lining up a job for him. But at the last minute, Michael decides instead to stow away aboard the Titanic, hoping for a fresh start in America. When Owen realizes Michael is on board, he once again sets out to take care of him, even sharing his food and letting Michael take turns sleeping in his bunk. He also has the opportunity to share his faith with Michael, and takes time to teach him more about gardening and his dreams for the family business in New Jersey. When the ship sinks, Owen saves Michael's life, while sacrificing his own.

Back in England, Annie is heartbroken when she learns of Owen's death. She also becomes angry and bitter when she hears that Michael survived, while her beloved brother died. Not only did Michael survive, but he then moved in with the Allen relatives in New Jersey, fulfilling his last promise to Owen to help with their garden business, and eventually to provide for Annie and bring her to America, too.

In time, Annie learns to let go of her bitterness against Michael, and the two even begin to form a friendship as they exchange letters. But just as their friendship is beginning to blossom into something deeper, the Great War starts in Europe. And Annie's vindictive Aunt Eleanor isn't done with her schemes, either. When Annie's letters to Michael abruptly stop with no explanation, Michael decides to sail to England and search for her. Will he be able to find her, or will the war destroy all his dreams for their future? You'll have to read the book to find out. :)

I have always been fascinated with both the Titanic disaster and World War I, so I really enjoyed reading a book that covered both. I hadn't actually ever thought about how close in time the two events happened (about two years between the time Titanic sank and the beginning of the war), so it was interesting to consider how the war would have affected those who had survived the Titanic tragedy.

Promise Me This was very well-researched and well-written. One thing I thought was really neat was that the author, Cathy Gohlke, had actually found the name "Owen Allum" on a copy of the ship's manifest, and researched his history. From this she developed the character of Owen Allen, who, even though he has only a short time in this book, is a central character because of how his life intertwined with Annie's and Michael's. Cathy also has a real gift for creating believable locations, as well as characters. From the lavish interior of Titanic to the grim ocean waters where she sank; from the city streets of England to the battlefields of France; from the Irish slums to the peace of small-town New Jersey, every setting felt real. I found myself caring about the characters and what happened to them. I was sad when Owen died. I really wanted to do away with Aunt Eleanor. :) I cheered for Michael in his dogged determination to keep his promises to Owen, and to find Annie. And I especially loved the theme of self-sacrifice and "greater love hath no man than this . . . " that ran through the book.

The only tiny "complaint" I had about this book was that the ending felt a little abrupt. I actually loved the way the last scene was written, but I wished there might have been an epilogue to give a more satisfactory feeling of completion.

This was my first Cathy Gohlke novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can visit Cathy at her website here, to learn more about her and her previous novels! Many thanks to Tyndale for giving me the privilege to be part of this blog tour!

Full Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review, and all opinions expressed are my own.


syds1girl said...

Thanks, Carrie, for this book suggestion. I have such a hard time knowing whether I want to order a book, only to find out I hate it. This one sounds good. I have just finished the Abram's Daughters series by Beverly Lewis and really enjoyed them a lot. I will check out Promise Me This, as I've found Amazon's used books (.99) each! a good source to order from. I'll look for it.

Cathy Gohlke said...

Thank you, Carrie, for your excellent review of "Promise Me This." You definitely captured the story! I had to smile--I, too, wanted to do away with Aunt Eleanor!! : )

Your children are so beautiful. God bless you and your family!

Carrie said...

Cyndy, this is a new release so you might not be able to find it used yet . . . but maybe before long. :) I think you would probably like it! I enjoy B. Lewis books also.

Carrie said...

Cathy, thank you so much for your comment! I am honored that you stopped by my blog. :) Yes, Aunt Eleanor was definitely one of those characters that I "loved to hate!" :) Thanks for writing such a beautiful story--I really enjoyed it.

UK said...

Promise Me This is truly one of the most beautiful books I've read in years. It's a twisted tale, leading the reader through several years of European and American history and is filled with romantic notions throughout. I've always been fascinated with the story of the Titanic, so those portions of the story captured my attention right away. What really drew me in, however, was the intense characterization. I found myself rooting for Michael and Annie, my heart pounding alongside theirs as the story moved forward from 1912 through the end of WWI. Though I'm a fast reader, I deliberately took my time with this book, only letting myself read a chapter or two a day. I wanted to savor every word. And savor, I did! By the time I reached the end, I realized I'd truly read a masterpiece!