Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Puzzle King by Betsy Carter + Contest!

Published August 25th, 2009.

On a gray morning in 1936, Flora Phelps stands in line at the American consulate in Stuttgart, Germany. She carried a gift for the consul, whom she will bribe in order to help her family get out of Hitler's Germany. This is the story of an unlikely couple, the lively, beautiful Flora and her husband, the brooding, studious Simon, two immigrants sent to America by their families to find better lives. They meet in New York City and fall in love. Simon - inventor of puzzles and other novelties - eventually makes his fortune, becoming the "Puzzle King." Now wealthy, but still outsiders, Flora and Simon become obsessed with the fate of the loved ones they left behind in Europe whose future will be determined by the growing anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic. (book back blurb)

This was another book where I wasn't sure what to expect out of it. I snagged it at BEA because I love the whole World War II era and anything centering around that I'm immediately interested in. I had to say, though, the blurb on the back of the book gives the story a heightened sense of intrigue that, for the most part, isn't there until the very end.

In fact, the scene that the blurb sets up is actually the very end of the story. It doesn't start with trying to get the family out, as one might think. Instead it's a story leading up to that moment and what it took to get to that point in their lives. I'm not sure how a lot of people would feel about something like that. I knew I kept looking for that scene and when I finally found it was like, "Finally! It's over?"

The beginning of the book isn't even about Flora but about Simon. We get to see his trip over to the States and how he starts off his life has a non-English-speaking immigrant in New York. You'd think that since it appeared to be a story about Flora, we'd see that part of her as well. Not so much. By the time we get to Flora and her family, they're already in New York, have settled themselves and didn't have nearly as interesting a time finding their way around as Simon did. So really it kind of makes sense not to start with her.

The story doesn't stay on Simon or Flora singularly for much of a length of time but flips back and forth between the two. These were two divergent paths that came together and had a similar goal: to get their families over to America and out of an unstable Europe. Really, it is a good thing they ended up together because their like-mindedness with foreign affairs was fitting.

While I enjoyed the story and I found myself getting really into the lives of Flora and Simon and even Seema in her full facade, I felt the story would have had a better starting point more towards the end, when Flora and Simon head back over to Europe in a very vital time, when Seema's already defected away from her life in the States and moved back to Germany. There, I felt, was where the real struggle began and I felt the story was ending just as it was starting to get good. We have no idea if Flora's visit to the consulate even works to get her and Simon's family out of Europe. We're left hanging and I was pretty frustrated by that. Sure, what we did get from the book was excellent backstory but I felt it could have been better suited drizzled into the larger story of finally getting the family out of Germany.

Overall, though, I did enjoy the book. It's amazing what foreign families did in an attempt to provide better lives for their children. What a different world that was when families would actually consider sending an eight-year-old son to a foreign land completely unsupervised to make his way in the world. Like we would even dream of that now! I actually liked Simon more as a child than I did as an adult. He was so much more vibrant and enigmatic and he had great friends! Flora was a relatable character but I never felt she stood out all that much. Seema, on the other hand, was the true puzzle. She wanted to be an arm piece for the WASP boys and fit in with society but she struggled with it. I felt she was a stronger character than her sister was.

I'd recommend this if you're looking for a nice relaxing read. It's definitely good for a once over but once you've finished reading it, you'll probably be all set with it.

Contest Time!!!

Want my ARC? It's all yours. Just leave your name and an email to enter.

+ 2 for new followers
+3 for current followers
+2 for linking (up to 3 links)

Contest will end October 10th at midnight, EST. US residents only, please. Good luck!


Falling Off The Shelf said...

Enter me please! I love reading books regarding WWII :)


I'm a current follower.
I posted on my sidebar over @
Falling Off The Shelf


elnice said...

Please enter me.
+3 i am a current follower of Bites


Jessica said...

Count me in please. The book sounds great, it's a shame it wasn't quite what you were expecting. I too would have expected it to be more about the mystery that it suggests it's about but a good read is a good read. jessica(at)fan(dot)com

+3 I'm a follower

Lauren said...

I would love to enter.

+3 for already being a current follower.


Kaye said...

I love books set in this time frame. Please enter me in the drawing.


Misusedinnocence said...

Please enter me. :)

+3 I follow!

speckldharted22 said...

enter me into this amazing contest please!!!


posted this on twitter(dot)com/speckldharted

Julie said...


Kathy said...

I'd love to read this so please enter me!

Already a follower+3

Tweeted about the contest here +2

Melissa said...

I would love to read it. It looks very interesting.

I just became a follower


Debbie F said...

Please include me!
+2 I'm a new follower!

dcf_beth at verizon dot net

Kristi said...

Sounds like a good book - I am a new follower.


kherbrand at comcast dot net

Flip The Page! Book Reviews said...

Books set in that time period are always great!

+3 for current followers
+2 for linking on my sidebar!


Lindsay's Photographys said...

I would LOVE to win this!!
Thankyou!! :D:D:D


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