The Two Hearts of Eliza Bloom – Beth Miller

Rating: 3 stars

eliza bloom.jpg

Eliza is 23, and according to her father, “running the risk of ending up a spinster” in the summer of 1999; she has met and rejected six possible matches, an unacceptably large number. Her mother is growing increasingly despairing of her wayward child until Eliza agrees to meet 28-year-old Nathan, whose grandfather was close friends with Eliza’s beloved grandfather Zaida, and their families are delighted when Eliza and Nathan become an engaged couple just six weeks later. However, within a month fate throws a spanner in the works when Eliza meets handsome Alex through work, and they are instantly deeply attracted to each other.

The action in this book spools back and forth between 1999/2000 and spring 2016. The instant attraction between Eliza and Alex spins her world out of control and, on the morning of her intended marriage with Nathan, she runs away with Alex. In any family this would be a cause of major problems, putting it mildly, but Eliza Bloom is from an extremely conventional Orthodox Jewish family, and has lived her life by an entirely different set of conventions and rules from most young women in London at the turn of the millennium. Her father declares her dead to him and refuses to acknowledge that she is still his daughter, and most of her friends and family follow suit; only her younger brother Dov contacts her to let her know that Zaida is in a care home, having accidentally set fire to his annexe in the family’s home.

I’ve loved Beth Miller’s previous books, but struggled with this one. Because the upbringing of Aliza (to use her original name) has been so different from that of most people, there clearly has to be an explanation of the customs she has grown up with and accepted as essential. I found her capitulation to Alex’s charm and appeal a little hard to credit, as I did his making lists of things she needs to try in “his world”. What I found hard to accept was not her acceptance of the lists, which were constantly pushing the boundaries of what she would do (she’d grown up in a world where nearly everything was tightly controlled, after all), but his making of the lists and desire to push her beyond her lifelong limits of acceptability and desirability. I found it hard to like Alex and believe in their relationship, or to get any sort of feeling for what his and Eliza’s daughter was like. Eliza’s relationships with her family members were well drawn, as was the uncomfortable situation in which she found herself with her best friend, but because of my difficulties with the main characters, I found it really not the ‘feel-good’, ‘laugh-out-loud’ read that so many others have described it as being.

I really wanted to love it as much as I loved Beth Miller’s earlier books, but overall, though it felt like an interesting novel, it was sadly not one I warmed to.  I’m sure plenty of other readers and reviewers will feel exactly the opposite, and also feel it’s a very relevant book for our times, so I would encourage everyone to give it a go and make their own decisions about it.

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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The Good Neighbour – Beth Miller

good neighbourA huge vote of thanks to Beth Miller’s publishers, Ebury Press, for the timely arrival of this review copy. I’m struggling with slipped discs and spent 48 hours unable to do much except drink tea and read. And what better, more gripping read could I have had than Beth Miller’s second novel, The Good Neighbour.

It’s a compelling, well-written novel about a couple – Minette and Abe – who have a 9 month old baby – Tilly – and have been living with neighbours who constantly complain about the smallest noise emanating from them, making their lives unbearable. So their relief when new neighbours move in and are friendly is enormous. Her new neighbours are Cath and her two children, Davey (8) and Lola (4). They are a complicated family – Davey is in a wheelchair, suffering from Duchenne muscular dystrophy, while little Lola has multiple allergies, Cath explains. Andy, her husband, is working away as a driver, and they miss him and talk frequently on Skype.

Minette gets rapidly drawn into Cath’s world, joining her in training for a fundraising triathlon, pleased to have a change from the routine of looking after the baby while her husband is at work. And Minette is also drawn into much closer relationships with other neighbours, including handsome Liam. The readers soon realise that all is not well with Cath’s family – she is extremely keen to extract information about everyone else but very good at withholding information about herself and her family. And a series of events leads Minette to get enmeshed in the web of deceit which Cath has drawn around them. I don’t really want to give away more detail about the plot because it’s such a great tale, full of twists and turns, which keeps us in suspense throughout. It’s a terrific read which had me gripped.

It was all too easy to believe in Minette’s boredom and annoyance at her endless walks to the toyshop or the park, trying to keep little Tilly quiet (and to retain her own sanity), wondering whether to go back to her job or to give it up to become a permanent stay-at-home mother. It’s a dilemma which so many people face, and for Minette the first months have been even more difficult because of her constant worry about her neighbours complaining.

Cath is a wonderful creation – we hear her thoughts and her worries, her feelings of anxiety, and soon we realise that something is not right, and that she is not exactly what her new neighbours think she is. She covers her tracks, even to herself, really well, but at times things happen, inevitably, which are beyond her control and her complicated chains of stories begin to snap.

Beth Miller has again come up with a book which left me wanting more. There are lots of unanswered questions left at the end – could there be a sequel? I really hope so, as I’d love to hear what happens next to so many of these entirely believable characters.

Rating: 5 stars

Daisy Chapter and VerseReviewed by Daisy

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When We Were Sisters – Beth Miller

when we were sistersI’m an absolute sucker for novels with two very distinct narrative voices. And if there are also two distinct time frames – past and present – then the author has a really good chance of getting it just how I want. With When We Were Sisters, published by Ebury Publishing recently, Beth Miller has totally hit all the right notes for me to love this book, which I duly did. The step-sisters Miffy and Laura have very clear and persuasive voices, and through their separate narratives their tale is fleshed out, often describing the same incidents from their different viewpoints, both from their early teenage years and from the present, now that they are well into their thirties. This gives the reader great perspective into their characters and into the events which shaped their lives.

The differences between the two girls’ backgrounds are beautifully drawn. Miffy (or Melissa, to give her her “proper” name) is from a Jewish family and her life collides with Laura’s Catholic upbringing when their father and mother respectively meet through the girls and fall in love, testing the girls’ friendship to the limits. Beth Miller has an understanding of the strong bonds which can grow between girls, and describes their relationship with great sensitivity.

I was not quite so convinced by Danny, Miffy’s blood brother, either as a boy or as a man, but despite that tiny quibble I was gripped by this book and found it a complete page-turner. Now I want to know what’s going to happen next. Could there be a sequel in the offing?

Rating: 4.5 stars

Reviewed by DaisyDaisy Chapter and Verse

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