Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Lone Star by Paullina Simons

Lone Star
by Paullina Simons
Release Date: November 24th 2015
2015 William Morrow Paperbacks
Softcover Edition; 576 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062098153
Genre: Fiction / Literary Fiction
Source: Review copy from TLC Book Tours

3.5 / 5 Stars

Chloe is just weeks away from heading off to college and starting a new life far from her home in Maine when she embarks on a great European adventure with her boyfriend and two best friends. Their destination is Barcelona, but first they must detour through the historic cities of Eastern Europe to keep an old family promise.

Here, in this fledgling post-Communist world, Chloe meets a charming American vagabond named Johnny, who carries a guitar, an easy smile—and a lifetime of secrets. From Treblinka to Trieste, from Karnikava to Krakow, from Vilnius to Venice, the unlikely band of friends and lovers traverse the old world on a train trip that becomes a treacherous journey into Europe’s and Johnny’s darkest past—a journey that jeopardizes Chloe’s plans for the future and all she ever thought she wanted.

But the lifelong bonds Chloe and her friends share are about to be put to the ultimate test—and whether or not they reach Barcelona, they can only be certain that their lives will never be the same again.

My Thoughts
Lone Star is one of those books that I think is packaged a bit erroneously.  While touted as a so-called "love story", I think it is more to do with Chloe's coming-of-age story and learning to be honest with herself as well as those around her; it is a story about a young woman coming to terms with some of her issues and realizing who she is as a woman and what she wants.

First of all, I didn't have a problem with the slow start to the story as I think it was necessary fodder to the rest of the plot; it was important to set up the relationships of the four young people before they headed to Europe in order to understand the slow break-up of said relationships over the course of two weeks.  And while I couldn't wait until the Europe part of the book, I figured there must be a reason for the beginning, and there was; the reader just had to be patient.  I wasn't overly crazy about any of the teenagers before they left for Europe as I found them to be somewhat immature and a bit spoiled, even Blake who I was fondest of right from the beginning.  No one had ever traveled anywhere outside of their area and here they were, embarking on a two-week trip to Europe by themselves.  And because none of them could afford it, Chloe's grandmother offered to pay for the trip, with some stipulations, some of them I found to be quite interesting, especially as it required them to visit some concentration camps and to visit family.  I remember thinking this could get quite interesting, as some of the areas would definitely not be what they were used to.

And while I enjoyed the author's descriptions of Eastern Europe, I definitely could have done without the whining over the food and the sleeping arrangements, and the trains, and the buses, and so on.  I have traveled quite extensively and one of my policies has always been to try local food and to explore the culture of wherever I am, and I have instilled this into my children.  As I don't eat McDonald's here in Canada, I would definitely not eat it in Poland.  So the whining by Mason and Hannah over the food drove my crazy and I was constantly thinking, just eat the stuff and quit complaining and acting so spoiled.  I get that many of the things were culture shock and lack of traveling experience, but it was annoying nevertheless.  I did love the fact however, that Blake took the time to read up on the places he was visiting and learned some historical and culture facts and was willing to share them with the others, who showed little interest, and knowledge.  Really?  You're visiting a foreign country, and don't know anything about it?  Because this is something I would have done (okay, I'm a history geek and I teach history), I took to Blake enormously.  And to be on Auschwitz's doorway, and have no interest in visiting?  That I don't relate to, at all.

When Chloe met Johnny Rainbow, I figured he would be the catalyst that helped with the disintegration of the relationships, but that was not how things were played out.  Personally, I didn't care for Johnny and couldn't see the attraction Chloe felt for him.  I actually thought he was the most annoying character in the book and I couldn't see why someone would fall for someone with obvious tracks in his arms and who had spent time in jail.  Chloe was incredibly naive and how she survived traveling by herself in Europe was a miracle.  While Johnny was a charmer, he was devious and a liar and a cheat and I didn't like him.  Only Blake could see right through him, and I was definitely on his side in this case.  However, Chloe falls for him, hook, line, sinker, and chose to ignore the obvious signs of a drug abuser and a criminal.  Her affair with him was actually my least favourite part of the book simply because I didn't like him; I also couldn't believe she would ditch her friends in Europe and chase after this guy by herself.  Who does that?  I especially liked the scene where the characters are honest with each other for the first time, and finally disclose their secrets to each other; I thought it was refreshing to hear their real thoughts and emotions for the first time.  It's too bad the author didn't explore this a bit more, rather than explore the affair with Johnny, as I would have enjoyed that more.  I was glad to find out what happened to them all after Europe though, as it was nice to have closure. 

Lone Star definitely had some interesting moments and Ms. Simons is a fantastic writer; I truly enjoyed the dialogues between the characters as they are full of emotion and feeling, and her descriptive language is truly unique and fascinating to read; it makes you feel like you were right there in the middle of the scene.  It did take me awhile to realize the connection between this book and her The Bronze Horseman Trilogy, although I'm not sure why as I have read the trilogy, but it was only the periphery of the story.  I wasn't overly crazy about many of the characters as I thought they were whiny and selfish, although it was nice to have a relatively happy ending to this story and to know the characters came out alright in the end.  I don't think Chloe deserved Blake as she didn't treat him very well, and I definitely didn't understand her pining away for a man she'd known for several days, especially one I didn't think was all that likable. I do wonder if I would have liked Johnny more if I had known a bit more about his story and why he took the path that he did; unfortunately, the only Johnny I really knew about was the criminal Johnny and I didn't find him particularly endearing.   The undercurrents to the story were very subtle and I think you would have had to read the trilogy I mentioned in order to catch them.  They didn't go into the detail needed that would have given a bit more depth to the story and made it clearer to those who haven't read the trilogy.  This was definitely not my favourite Paullina Simons book, but as always, I am looking forward to seeing what she does next.