Monday, June 12, 2017

Promise Me This by Cathy Gohlke, 2012

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Michael Dunnagan was never supposed to sail on the "Titanic," nor would he have survived if not for the courage of Owen Allen. Determined to carry out his promise to care for Owen's relatives in America and his younger sister, Annie, in England, Michael works hard to strengthen the family's New Jersey garden and landscaping business. Annie Allen doesn't care what Michael promised Owen. She only knows that her brother is gone--like their mother and father--and the grief is enough to swallow her whole. As Annie struggles to navigate life without Owen, Michael reaches out to her through letters. In time, as Annie begins to lay aside her anger that Michael lived when Owen did not, a tentative friendship takes root and blossoms into something neither expected. Just as Michael saves enough money to bring Annie to America, WWI erupts in Europe. When Annie's letters mysteriously stop, Michael risks everything to fulfill his promise--and find the woman he's grown to love--before she's lost forever.
(416 pages)

I am a total sucker for anything connected to the Titanic. I went through a massive Titanic obsession phase in middle school, reading everything from eyewitness accounts to fictionalized retellings, and to this day I will still snap up any book that promises to tell a story about the doomed ship. That's why I leaped at the chance to receive a copy of Promise Me This, which is marketed with a literal Titanic on its cover.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for those of you who don't like maritime disasters), the time on the ship actually only takes up about two chapters and it's not really dwelt on too much by Michael afterward. The rest of the book is either establishing backstory in Ireland/England or detailing the progression of events in the lives of Michael and Annie through the start and end of WWI. I actually really liked that Gohlke recognized and drew a connection between the ship and the massive war that came after it, because I always felt like books were either about the Titanic or WWI or the Russian Revolution, but never all of them. This one at least was about two of them. And it approached the war from a fairly novel angle, to boot.

To be perfectly honest, though, I didn't actually like the relationship between Michael and Annie that much. I felt like they just sort of started having feelings for each other over time, without much interaction or even letters exchanged, and that even when they did start writing letters to each other regularly we never saw much of a spark between them. I think the main problem was that we didn't really get to read many of those letters: we are told about them, but we don't get to watch Michael and Annie grow to know each other organically. Their relationship moves forward rather erratically because we don't really see it advancing until all of the sudden it has.

Also, the plotline about why Annie is suddenly cut off from contact with anyone else felt really contrived and unrealistic. I can't talk much about it, but there's no way I can see it working like that in real life. Besides that, though, I actually did enjoy the book. It's full of many different storylines that weave themselves around each other very well, and the historical research that went into it was clearly extensive–even this Titanic trivia nut had zero complaints about her description of the ship (except for the fact that I still think the band ended with "Autumn," not "Nearer My God to Thee," but this is quite definitely up for debate!). Anyway, Promise Me This is a good book for when you're looking to read a rather fluffy book that still has some real drama in it. If you do read it, be sure to let me know what you think in the comments section down below! And do tell me your favorite Titanic reads so I can check them out!


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through the Tyndale Rewards program (click here to check it out–by using my link you'll get 25 credits, which is enough to get a book).

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