Monday, May 7, 2018

Review - Beyond All Dreams

Original Title: Beyond All Dreams
Series: -
Author: Elizabeth Camden
Published: December 15th, 2014

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

This is one of those books I don’t know very well why I decided to read. For some reason the cover was stuck in my head, so I had to go for it. It is my first book by Elizabeth Camden, and I have to say, it wasn’t so good. Don’t get me wrong, though, I will give the author another try, I’ve heard wonders about her other books, and the covers are pretty much some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. But this one, in particular… No. I’m not going to destroy it with my review, I promise, but neither I will be overly generous. I can’t say that I liked it.

First of all, an obvious point. As the setting of the novel suggests, this story is going to mean so much more to you if you are American, which is not my case. However, I looked up some pictures of the modern Library of Congress in Washington, and it is a fascinating place, from every possible point of view. I admit that at one point I felt a little jealous of Anna for working in such a beautiful place, a true palace, every single day of her life. No wonder she loved her job.

The first thing I noticed as I read this book was the narration. It feels kind of one dimensional, very simple and straightforward. As for the characters, I liked them, but I can’t say I loved them. Their backstories are told as soon as they are introduced, like Anna’s, or her friend’s, Neville Bernhard. And I’m not a fan of knowing every detail right from the get-go, because as the story progresses, I’m surely going to forget things. I’d rather discover things along the way. Plus, for example, after reading about Luke’s past, I felt like all the suffering he went through didn’t seem to belong to the same man whose story I was reading, so brutally honest and frank as he was. Both he and Anna have deep backstories, difficult pasts, but I liked to see them power through them, their main motivation being to prevent it from repeating itself, clearing mistakes, and trying to make peace with all the wrongdoings they suffered.

I liked Anna O’Brien. She’s passionate about her job, she loves books and knowledge, and truly devotes herself to both of them. We could have been friends. She’s also very determined, and ready to make her life count, even with all the the difficult situations she lived as a kid, without her parents, and suffering her aunt and uncle’s abuse. I liked that she didn’t give up on the ship’s true story, until she found out the truth, even with the threats from the Navy over her. She didn’t let her past define her, and I liked that. But I wish she had shown that very same passion and determination in her relationship with Luke, and also, I would have loved to see her finally writing her so desired biography about her father’s cartographic contributions, instead of leaving the idea out of the ending’s wrap up. As Luke encouraged her so much to do it, and had so much influence on her, it would have been nice to see her working on it.

Right from the first chapter you know which the main plot will be: the Culpeper’s disappearance, and Anna’s obsession to correct the final report that says that the ship sank during a hurricane in the Caribbean, based on some letters she has from her father, who supposedly died in that shipwreck. That whole plot is ok, but it is introduced so fast that feels like a slap in the face. After that, the novel drags at times, it gets slow, and at one point I was just begging for something to happen instead of so much speculation and theories around the ship. Sometimes, so much past prevents the present from unfolding. These characters are stuck in the past. 

Talking about the past, I have to mention Luke Callahan. I liked him, but to a certain extent. He has this strong personality and temper, and has lived a difficult life. But the problems that have plagued his family since forever, like drinking and violence, take so much time and space! He constantly worries about them, and is scared his nephew could go down the same path his father, brother and sister went… It’s fine, it makes him very human, but at some point it needs to stop. The whole thing is all over the place, and at one point I found myself thinking “Ok, I get it, your family has a drinking problem. Let’s move on.” I couldn’t care in the least about his rivalry with Speaker Jones, that part simply did not hold my interest at all. Plus, there’s some things about him that make me wonder why Anna likes him in the first place. He has a temper, he’s is quick for anger, and is very intense and passionate. But he’s also very controlling, and invasive; he helps Anna to figure out what happened to the ship, until he finds out a truth he can’t possibly reveal and deliberately breaks into her room, and steals her father’s letters, when he had previously said he loved her and wanted her to fall in love with him. And, if I were Anna, that wouldn’t help at all to that purpose. It doesn’t sound like someone who claims to love you, and wants to marry you, would do.

And so we get to the love story. Honestly, I didn’t like it. It had potential, but when the insta-love showed up, I just couldn’t deal with it. He literally likes her from the first moment he sees her, when he addresses her disrespectfully, and Anna responds him curtly, but smartly. And she obviously starts liking him back, if not right there, shortly after their first encounter, as he starts frequenting the library, and working with her in the map room. I couldn’t understand how Anna, after being abused by a violent man as a child (her uncle), fell for a man who’s often verbally violent, a control-freak, and is not beyond using methods like breaking in into her bedroom to steal from her, or grabbing her and pulling her with him every time he’s being passionate or angry about something. 

On the other hand, I believe the author relies too much in telling, where she shouldn’t. Look at this:

Luke has a past love, her name was Violet Desjardins, and by the time he falls for Anna, at one point it says: “He didn’t want to think about Violet. He wanted Anna”.

Two pages earlier, this happens: “The attraction she felt for him was growing, like a sponge expanding in water, and this sort of fascination was dangerous”. This is Anna, and obviously, she stops herself immediately when she thinks of him.


This frustrated me. All I could think was “No. You DON’T say they feel attracted to each other. You just don’t”. I shouldn’t need to be told this. I should be able to see it, through their dialogue and actions, I should see their growing feelings and their chemistry, instead of being told about their attraction, because it will do nothing more than making their love less believable. It feels like they will fall in love just because the author said so. I personally think that this book could have been so much better if the author had decided to show their love instead of telling about it, so we can actually feel those intense emotions she claims Anna and Luke are experiencing.

Luke’s declaration to Anna happens way too soon, and their first kiss is probably one of the least romantic first kisses I’ve ever read, because he just does it, without even being gentle with the woman he wants to make fall in love with him. He proves himself sweet and in love later, but until then I just couldn’t really like him. But what happened at the end had me rolling my eyes. After the story about the Culpeper appears on the newspapers, Luke storms into the boardinghouse where Anna lives, as she and the other women are dining, and yells at her in front of everyone, red with anger, accusing her of selling the story he had made her swear she would never reveal. He had no proof she had done it. None at all. But I think that if you supposedly love a person, as he claims to love Anna, you wouldn’t do this. You wouldn’t humiliate her in front of everyone, and even less without any solid proof that she’s actually guilty. And what bothers me the most is that, one or two pages later, when they talk and she tells him she didn’t do it, it says:

Maybe Luke couldn’t solve peace between the nations, but he had tamed the wildness inside him. Trying to pretend his stormy passion did not exist would be hopeless and a waste of one of his greatest strengths. But he could tame it and turn it toward worthy goals.

Seriously? Are you kidding me? Literally, two seconds earlier he came and made a scene in front of everyone, without even knowing the whole story –just because he thought–, and not even doing the basic thing a gentleman would do before snapping like that, like, I don’t know, discretely taking her outside for a private conversation, perhaps? And that, my friends, is how he trusts the woman he claims to love. Don’t try to tell me he dominated his temper, because he clearly didn't. 

Apart from Luke and Anna, the rest of characters feel like background noise. Luke’s sister and nephew do give him a motivation, something to live for, but the rest…? I mean, look at Neville Bernhard. He’s Anna’s lifelong best friend, and everyone thinks they will eventually get married. But after some strange behavior, he reveals that he’s in love, and will marry his landlady, a Mrs. Norquist. And I think, what kind of surprise can it be if he, one of the main characters, ends up marrying a woman who never appears in the whole story? What it is supposed to make me feel or say? Who is this woman? We don’t know her, she’s just there, and her only contribution to the story is being Neville’s mysterious ladylove, and being jealous of Anna (she doesn’t stop frowning up at her until she marries Luke). This whole subplot could have been better, because, I mean, it’s Neville, right? Anna’s best friend! He should have had a decent ending.

And finally, there’s this woman, Eliza Sharpe, translated as one of the most useless characters I’ve ever read. The moment she’s introduced, we are told the entire backstory that explains her relationship with both Anna and Neville, but this character leads, literally, nowhere. I don’t understand why we needed to read about her and get so much detail about their time in school together, for her to finally be a character who does nothing, or adds anything relevant to the story. I think about her and I can’t possibly understand why Elizabeth Camden wrote her in the first place.

So, finally, I don’t understand the glowing five stars reviews about this book. It’s not that big of a deal. Or at least, for me. The location is beautiful, and the character are deep, I can affirm that, without a doubt. But I just couldn’t care for the whole plot as I was expecting too. I will, however, read more by Elizabeth Camden, and I hope it gets better.


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