Book review – Sheltering Rain by JoJo MoyesPosted: September 17, 2016
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You (now a major motion picture) comes the touching, unforgettable story of three generations of Irish women faced with the fundamental truths of love, duty, and the unbreakable bond that unites mothers and daughters
Estranged from her mother since she ran away from her rural Irish home as a young woman, Kate swore an oath that she’d always be a friend to her daughter, Sabine. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Kate now faces an ever-widening chasm between herself and her daughter. With Sabine about to make her own journey to Ireland to see her grandmother, Kate is left wondering how they ever made it here, and what she can do to close the gap between them.
For Joy, seeing her granddaughter is a dream come true. After the painful separation from Kate, she’s looking forward to having time with Sabine. Yet almost as soon as the young woman arrives, the lack of common ground between them deflates her enthusiasm. And when Sabine’s impetuous, inquisitive nature forces Joy to face long-buried secrets from her past, she realizes that perhaps it’s time to finally heal old wounds.
Description and blurb taken from Goodreads
JoJo Moyes’ debut novel Sheltering Rain has shown me that you can write a fabulous, well-crafted first novel, but you may still have to wait another ten years before acquiring the type of world-wide fame brought by a best-seller like Me Before You. It has become apparent to me that, although her debut book was great, writing well consistently and over a number of years is often the commitment an author must make in order to achieve world-wide domination in the industry. As the saying goes:
Practice makes perfect.
I came across the book purely by chance. My grandma Sheila had been given the book by a friend, and because she was reading my copy of After You, she knew I was a fan of Moyes. I was excited by the book because I wanted to see how Moyes’ first novel compared to her recent best-sellers. I have read her second novel Forbidden Fruit which I really enjoyed (I really should have written a review for that one…) so I felt optimistic that Sheltering Rain would also not disappoint. I was right.
This book has been added to my list of favourite recent reads, and books that serve to truly inspire me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, believed the characters and was hooked from the first page to the last. If I can write a first novel as good as Moyes (miracles happen, right?) then I will be over the moon.
The characters are well developed, with backstory, intricate relationships, different personalities, flaws and goals all of their own. There are a lot of characters, and I am impressed with Moyes’ ability to manage them all, without getting herself or the reader lost along the way.
In just about any ‘how to’ on the topic of fiction writing, creating backstory for characters almost always comes with a warning. You do not want to write so much that it detracts from the story, however, the characters need to be believable as having a complex past that has shaped them, and the story. Finding the balance is a key element in writing a successful novel, and I think Moyes’ has done an excellent job of doing just that. The back story in Sheltering Rain exists because it adds to the story – it builds the characters to be who they are, as well as building the narrative tension. I wanted to know more about the secrets Moyes’ hinted at throughout, and I wanted to know why the characters behaved as they did. Moyes revealed it all in good time, which I felt added to – rather than subtracted from – the story.
Narrative point of view
What I think Moyes did really well with this book is her use of three different points of view. The story is told from the perspective of three women, from three different generations of the same family.
Usually, I struggle with head-hopping narratives, as I don’t like to be jerked from one mind to another and I sometimes find it hard to follow. However, Moyes handled it well – each character had a clear and distinct narrative voice and no head-hopping occurred within chapters.
Ultimately, Moyes’ POV choice helped to explore a meaningful and engaging premise – that it is easy to assume how other people are feeling and why they act in a certain way, but unless you walk in their shoes, you couldn’t possibly know. Personally, I enjoy stories that I feel I can learn from, and Sheltering Rain is a story that I feel helped me to engage with and understand aspects of my own life that exist way past the pages of the novel. It was intriguing to see how each narrator perceived the other two woman’s actions, and their assumed motives behind them. I liked to be able to compare the perceived motives with the actual motives, because there was often a great amount of misunderstanding between all three women, resulting in plenty of conflict (and we all know how important conflict is in writing!).
In terms of writing style, I was very much at ease when reading this book. It didn’t seem too much like hard work, and although there was not pages and pages of description getting in the way, I felt there was enough for me to immerse myself in the story. If I were to compare it to her more recent books, I would say that Sheltering Rain has a bit more of an elaborate/ornate style than Me Before You, although both styles worked for me.
I would assume that over time, and with plenty of practice and editing, Moyes has managed to hone the skill of giving vivid description in a succinct, subtle and unobtrusive way. This is a skill that I’d like to develop in my own writing, and one that I know will only come with practice.
Taking a critical view
Being a designer, I can’t pick up a book without judging the cover, and although I am careful not to let the cover dictate too me whether or not I buy the book, a good cover certainly helps to catch attention. After all, the first step in selling a book is to get readers to notice that it actually exists. We have written more about the importance of cover design here.
The cover for Sheltering Rain was nice, although personally, I feel it was not eye-catching in the slightest. It employs the typical flat illustration style often seen on Romantic Fiction novel covers, and the rather cliche silhouette of a woman. I understand that to some degree it is important that a novel looks clearly as if it sits within a genre, but perhaps even more importantly, is that it should stand out amongst its competition. If I had not been handed the book and had not been expressly told it was written by JoJo Moyes, I would probably not have even noticed it if it were on a shelf surrounded by hundreds of others. To conclude, my verdict is that it is an average cover for a higher than average book. Lesson being (here comes another saying!!):
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Much.
I would recommend this book to friends, and it has been one of my favourite recent reads. It was a strong story, full of emotion, passion and intrigue. It has also spiked my interest to hunt out more debut novels by best-selling authors, as I find it fascinating to see where they started compared to where they are now.