Live by Mary Ann Rivers

LiveWhy I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building. But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence—penance for a failed marriage—finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other—to learn how to live and love again.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Immediately before I opened this book, I’d read Unraveled by Jen Frederick and Reaper’s Legacy by Joanna Wylde.  They don’t have much in common with each other or with Live, beyond the fact that they are all contemporary romances.  There is something in the writing style of the former two books which I would describe as “easy, effortless and engaging”.  They were both the sort of books I could read very quickly – not that they didn’t have serious moments or didn’t pack an emotional punch – they did, but the style was something I find easy to tap into. 

Rivers’ style is something else again. There’s a denseness to it. It is heavily descriptive and long on metaphor.  There is an effort required to read it.  It’s not the sort of writing one can easily skim.  Sometimes the sentences don’t make sense unless you kind of roll them around on your tongue a bit.  It takes me longer to read a book like this.  I have to concentrate more and if I get distracted I lose the rhythm of the language.  There is a reward for effort.  Uncovered in some of the beautiful language are some word pictures which are just right – a book like Unraveled has it’s own joys but so does a book like Live.

The tone of Live is kind of melancholy.  The central conflict is that Destiny is rooted in Ohio and Hefin is going home to Wales.  So, right from the start, they are saying goodbye.  It casts a pall over their entire relationship.  It has a use-by date on it and there’s no forgetting.  If Unraveled and Reaper’s Legacy are a kind of pop song, then Live is a rich haunting melody, bittersweet, orchestral in nature.  That said, there were parts of the story where I felt distanced from the characters.  I can’t tell if that was something to do with the style or my reading mood.

Rivers did an excellent job of showing me just how rooted in Ohio Destiny was and a similarly great job of showing my why Hefin had to go.  She did such a good job with that, I wasn’t sure I entirely bought the resolution.

The book is so redolent with description, it sometimes got in the way for me.  For example, there would be a conversation between two of the characters and in the midst of it, one party would have a long session of introspection and then a page and a half later, the conversation would resume.  As a reader, I find that distracting.  As I said before, I have to concentrate (not like I’m doing a science experiment upon which the world hinges, but, you know, I have to pay more attention) on the description to get the rhythm and cadence of it right and by the time I’d got to the end of that bit, I’d forgotten what the conversation was about.

There were parts of the story I found a bit heavy-handed.  Destiny’s name for example.  Perhaps I am a cynic but I found I couldn’t buy into the idea that because her mother named her Destiny she had more of a destiny than anyone else.  I think everyone does. Or no-one.  I don’t think a name makes a difference in that context.  (Otherwise I would have named my son Happiness Millionaire Looks After His Parents Forever.) Destiny is a skinny redhead with freckles.  She has a lot of freckles and Hefin finds them very sexy.  I get it.  But her freckles were mentioned so often (35 times) they could have been another character in the story.

I wanted more dialogue, especially in the earlier part of the story.  I wanted to see more of Hefin and Destiny falling in love.  Instead, I got the impression that they were somehow fated and their connection was a fait accompli.  There were sections in the book which told me that they had had a conversation about this or that.  But I wanted to see more of the actual conversations. The author’s note at the end acknowledges that this is a very “interior” book.  And it is.  The tone and style were very introspective and close and I would have liked more dialogue to open things up a bit.  Perhaps it was that which made me feel disconnected at times?   I am a naturally reticent person and perhaps I shied away from being so very intimate so quickly.  Or something. And, while the sex scenes were all beautiful, I did think they were a bit too plentiful.  I would have liked a little more conversation and a little less action.

So, all of that sounds like I didn’t like the book very much. But that’s not the case.  While I didn’t love it as much as The Story Guy, which was one of my favourite books from 2013, there was a lot to like about Live.  And, truthfully, it was almost entirely when I was not reading that the issues I had with the story came to mind.  While actually reading I was too caught up in the language and the mood. Because there were a lot of beautiful words, put together thoughtfully and lovingly.  I feel like I don’t really need to say much – they kind of speak for themselves.

He opened it up to find a stack of cream-filled pastries with the chocolate icing on. He stared at them like they might start to talk to him. Tell him what to do with the perfect woman when you found one in the wrong place at the wrong time and were very likely the wrong man. They did not say anything because donuts didn’t talk and he was going mad

That kind of loss must change the number of breaths you’re supposed to breathe in an hour until you can imagine just not breathing at all. Loss like a crater that you sit on the edge of, throwing things into it in the hopes you can hear them hit the bottom.

“How do you know where to start, do you think, to find yourself?”
He looked at her. “Sometimes when I pull a panel off the wall, I don’t know if I can salvage it. I start by scrubbing away the rot, to see what’s been damaged and what’s hale. If I can still see what the original carver meant the panel to look like, I’ll try to restore it, whittle the little pieces to build it back up, try to make all the joins invisible.
“In my case, I feel like I need someone to tell me what’s rot. Maybe if I ramble with my mum, dick about with my dad, have them take a good look at me, they’ll tell me, and I can get started on makin’ up the little bits to build myself back up.”

He didn’t have to go to Wales to put himself back together. He had to go so he could finally break.

“I just need a minute because I was working myself up, slowly you see, and the look of you halfway-naked is moving up my schedule.”

There is also a fair portion of the story taken up with Destiny’s siblings – Sarah, Sam and PJ (Paul).  Sarah was injured in a bike vs. car accident only a short time after their father’s death and that only occurred six months before the story begins. Sam is a doctor and is not coping with the loss of his father and the injury to his sister.  He is mostly a jerk about it.  I get that he’s not coping but he takes it out on his siblings fairly mercilessly and it didn’t fill me with all that much sympathy for him.  So, I will be interested to see whether Ms. Rivers can “redeem” him for me in his book (which I think is the next one).

In many ways the book is about love and loss and finding your place in the world – home.  It’s a book of mood and tone and emotion and some of the words and phrases are mesmerising in their intensity and beauty.  Which I loved, but I wouldn’t have minded seeing it stripped back, just a little and opened out, just a little more.

A lot does depend upon the mood of the individual reader though and maybe I wasn’t in quite the right kind of introspective zone. On another day, I could have found the book completely immersive and that feeling would have stayed with me after I closed the book too.

Grade: B-

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2 comments on “Live by Mary Ann Rivers

  1. AJH

    I really loved this, but I’ve read … it … kind of a lot. And I think it’s one of those books that deepens with each reading. Like, the first time I read it I liked it a lot, but I fell in love with it quite slowly, and now I think about it all the time. I feel the same way about The Dream Hunter, actually. It’s just one of those books that has stayed with me so closely, I feel sort of warm every time I think of it.

    But I definitely agree you have to be in the right mood. It’s not a pick up and pass over kind of book.

    I think what it has in common with TSG guy actually is that love doesn’t need … reasons … to be real? If that makes sense. I didn’t read it so much as fate (or destiny) so much as a quiet choice they each make to trust each other with themselves, and with intimacy, even though it comes with the danger of parting. Sort of the way Carrie makes this choice for Brian – to accept the inevitability of pain, for the hope of joy.

    That said, I do see your points – there is a lot of interiority in this book :)

  2. Kaetrin

    @AJH: I saw in the acknowledgements at the back that you were involved in the line edits so I guess you did read it a lot :) To be honest, I don’t see myself reading it again. In part, that’s because I only rarely re-read anyway – with more than 1500 books on my TBR, it does seem like an extravagance to read something twice. Unless I’m going for a favourite comfort read or trying the audio instead of the print/digital book, I very rarely re-read. (That’s kind of the thing that stops me from offering to be someone’s beta reader. Because I expect I’d have to read something over and over again and I’m too easily distracted by the shiny.)

    I agree with you that love doesn’t need reasons but I did feel a bit like the courtship aspects of the story were skipped over. I felt like I was told not shown in some respects.

    Writers like Rivers, Cecilia Grant and Meredith Duran (historical) provide (in their different ways) a more “meaty” kind of read – by which I mean that there is a requirement (I feel) on the part of the reader to think while reading. I need to be in the mood to read books like that more than other kinds of books but there is such a joy in the use of language and the effort is well rewarded. But they’re not books I pick up if I’m having trouble concentrating.

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