It’s a real pleasure today to be taking part in Bookouture’s Books-on-Tour: I’m sharing my review of The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom by Beth Miller, published on 1st March, and available from Amazon for kindle, in paperback and audio (also as an iBook, for Kobo, and through Googleplay). This isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed a book by Beth Miller – and I can hardly believe it’s over three years since I read and reviewed her last novel, The Good Neighbour (you’ll find my review here). I remember really enjoying the way she writes about relationships and families, and I was so delighted to see she had both a new publisher and a new book. My thanks to Kim at Bookouture for inviting me to join the tour, and for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
She followed her heart to change her life, but she didn’t realise how much she left behind…
Eliza Bloom has a list of rules: long, blue skirt on Thursdays, dinner with mother on Fridays, and never give your heart away to the wrong person. Nothing is out of place in her ordered life…
Then she met someone who she was never supposed to speak to. And he introduced her to a whole world of new lists:
New foods to try – oysters and sushi
Great movies to watch – Bambi and Some Like It Hot
Things I love about Eliza Bloom
Eliza left everything she knew behind for him, but sometimes love just isn’t enough. Especially when he opens a hidden shoebox and starts asking a lot of questions about her past life. As the walls Eliza has carefully constructed threaten to come crashing down, will she find a way to keep hold of everyone she loves, and maybe, just maybe, bring the two sides of her heart together at last?
An uplifting and heartbreaking novel about finding yourself, perfect for fans Jojo Moyes, The Hideaway and P.S. I Love You.
The cover certainly didn’t present any clues, and neither did the book’s description – although you might well pick them up from the name “Eliza Bloom” and mention of the list of rules – but this book did present me with a bit of dilemma on what constitutes a spoiler. So I’ll (slightly reluctantly) gloss over the reason why Eliza’s always needed to wear a long blue skirt on Thursdays, and simply say that I did find the cultural context for this story a fascinating introduction to a lifestyle and upbringing I knew lamentably little about.
Eliza’s dramatic choice – leaving behind the familiar and entering “the Real World” – did initially seem to be exchanging one set of rules for another, and it raised a whole raft of issues for me around when love might become a tad confused with control. But I think I read the “re-education” situation entirely wrongly, and really did like the changed perception over the years of “the book” and its meaning and purpose. The whole process of trying the new, unfamiliar and previously forbidden – and sometimes the downright frightening and unacceptable – was really well handled, although I did sometimes wonder why the lion’s share of change and trying new things fell only to Eliza.
I will admit to failing to understand Eliza’s overpowering urge to return to her past – I could understand the pull of family and the familiar, but not why she felt the need to put her new life at such risk by doing so much more than simply “going home”. And while I’m admitting things, I’ll also confess that I didn’t entirely take to the younger Eliza – her choices made me a little uncomfortable, and rather than brave and daring I found her rather selfish and self-centred. But I did very much like the way the story unfolded – and I particular enjoyed the way the story was structured and moved between 1999/2000 and the characters’ lives in the present day.
The characters and their interactions were wonderful – the visits to Zaida at the nursing home filled with intrigue and deception, Eliza’s relationship with her sisters and friend Deborah, the steadfast support of brother Dov, and so much more. I also liked the portrayal of Eliza’s father – always the bully, anger growing with his daughter’s defection, then visibly crumbling with the erosion of his power and control. The emotional content is particularly strong too – and I found Alex’s unexpected fragility particularly touching and realistically handled. And there was a nice circle within the plot – while Eliza chose one path, her daughter Leah begins to choose the opposite, and I thought that was particularly well done.
Balancing the drama in the earlier storyline, there’s considerable drama in the present too. The relationship between Eliza and her daughter is in stark contrast to her own family relationships – and if I didn’t entirely take to the young Eliza I most certainly didn’t like her spiky and foul mouthed daughter, although I thought the way she swung between vulnerable small child and all-knowing adult was really well done, and she was unquestionably a very realistic teen.
But enough about the story and characters – I loved the themes too. There’s that whole area of making decisions and choices, with the expectation that the new and different will be somehow better – only to find that what you really want might just be something you already had. There are questions too around love, honesty and loyalty, and the meaning of family – and the fact that you sometimes need to find yourself before you can think about making such life-changing choices.
I always think it’s a really good indication that you’ve enjoyed a book when you have strong feelings about its characters – it’s an acknowledgement that you’ve entered the world they occupy, that they’re entirely real to you even when you might not always agree with their actions, decisions or behaviour. And this certainly is such a book – although to get the full impact, I would suggest that you try to avoid the reviews that mention the story’s context and experience it for yourself. Highly recommended.
About the author
Beth Miller is the author of two novels and two non-fiction titles, including For the Love of The Archers. She has worked as a sexual health trainer, a journalist and a psychology lecturer and is now a mentor and book coach. Beth is a member of the Prime Writers, has a PhD in Psychology, and is a world class drinker of tea.