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Review: West of Here

March 17, 2011

West of Here by Jonathan Evison is a grand saga set in the fictional town of Port Bonita, Washington.  It actually alternates between two stories set in the same place but in vastly different time periods.   One story is set in 1890 and features the original settlers of the town and their desire to make a better place to live by creating hydroelectric power by building a dam on the Elwha River.  The second story is set in 2006 and it tells how the people of the town (many of them descendants of the original settlers) have struggled with the aftereffects of the dam and now plan to destroy it.

I’ve heard a lot great things about West of Here, so I was really excited when my online book club chose to read it.   I think I had my expectations set way too high because, ultimately, I was a little disappointed in the book.  Evison’s writing is beautiful – it transports you to the Pacific northwest – but there were too many characters and storylines for me and I struggled to keep track of them all.  I did find the story set in the modern day more compelling but, in the end, I felt like I was missing something.  Critics are raving over this book, though, so others will probably enjoy it more than I did.  I do look forward to more of Evison’s work because of the beauty of his writing.

Review copy provided by Algonquin Books.  I am an Indiebound Affiliate.
41 Comments leave one →
  1. March 17, 2011 5:50 am

    Sorry to hear you were let down! I tend to love books with then-and-now storylines, so I wonder if it’d work for me.

  2. March 17, 2011 7:12 am

    You know, I ordered this audio for book club and it did show up too late for me to read and discuss, but when I DID receive it, I just turned it back in. With this size of a cast, so spread out, I’m thinking it would have been quite a challenge to tackle on audio.

  3. March 17, 2011 7:17 am

    I am sorry that the book was disappointing. Like you, I find it difficult to keep track of too many characters. So this book is not for me.

  4. March 17, 2011 7:49 am

    I also like dual-time period stories, but I can see where this one would be difficult.

  5. March 17, 2011 8:01 am

    Sorry to hear that this one fell short for you. It’s hard when there is so much hype about a book, because, as you say, your opinion may be affected by the high hopes you had for the book. I don’t mind dual-settings, but from what I’ve read about this one, I don’t think it’s for me.

  6. March 17, 2011 8:37 am

    I have heard similar complaints a lot about this book, and have to admit that after reading all the reviews, my enthusiasm has waned for the book. It does sound like the writing was really lush, but the fact that there were too many characters and situations will probably keep me away.

  7. March 17, 2011 8:38 am

    Sorry this one didn’t work for you. I’m with you on too many characters.

  8. March 17, 2011 9:26 am

    I’s sorry you didn’t enjoy this one. This is why I get nervous when I hear so much hype surrounding a book before I read it. I had this high on my wish list but may just move it down and really lower my expectations. The “too many characters” thing worries me. I sometimes think certain authors don’t know when to show restraint in adding new characters to a story. Hope the next book works better for you.

  9. March 17, 2011 9:56 am

    I normally wouldn’t want to read a book with two storylines in different time periods, but recently read Bone Walker which was set in ancient times and modern day and I did like it very much. I didn’t know going in that it would be that kind of book – no expectations at all. Overly hyped books worry me.

  10. March 17, 2011 10:28 am

    I hate when I don’t like a book as much as everyone else! It makes me feel like it must be me! :–) But I know too sometime hype just gets out of control!

  11. March 17, 2011 11:52 am

    Thanks for the review, sorry you didn’t enjoy it that much.

  12. March 17, 2011 12:54 pm

    I really enjoy books that have a historical theme yet also are set in modern times…but like you, when too many characters get involved I get thoroughly confused. I almost feel like I need to set up my own storyboard to keep track. I’ll keep this one in mind though if I get a break from my TBR piles! Hey, btw, are YOU going to BEA and BBC?

  13. March 17, 2011 12:56 pm

    ugh, hey, Kathy it’s me Stacy. Playing around with different blogs and wondering if I want to switch over to WordPress and start afresh. Didn’t realize I was still logged in as someone else – silly, silly me!

  14. March 17, 2011 2:24 pm

    I don’t like it when there’s a lot of characters in a story, it always wind up to be very confusing.

  15. March 17, 2011 2:31 pm

    I’m not fond of books that have so many characters I get lost in them. Setting that aside, it sounds like an interesting book.

  16. March 17, 2011 2:33 pm

    I do not know. Sure it sounds good, perhaps all those characters could be kept track of…perhaps

  17. Beth Hoffman permalink
    March 17, 2011 3:21 pm

    A part of me wants to read this book for the lovely writing, and the other part is quite reluctant for the exact reasons that you mentioned. Too many characters can really dampen my reading enjoyment.

  18. March 17, 2011 3:33 pm

    A wonderful and honest review. I set myself up for the last book I reviewed, it was no fault of the author, I just built it up to be more than it could live up to before I read it.

  19. March 17, 2011 3:38 pm

    I see this one everywhere and I have hesitated over it too…I always appreciate your reviews!!!

  20. March 17, 2011 3:54 pm

    Since this is set in the PNW where I grew up I am pretty intrigued by it.

  21. March 17, 2011 4:19 pm

    UGH…. I just don’t know….

  22. March 17, 2011 5:15 pm

    Sorry to hear you were a bit disappointed in this one. Like you, I’ve read a lot of great reviews for this one. Perhaps I should wait awhile to read it.

  23. March 17, 2011 6:02 pm

    I’ve been waiting for you review of this one. I should probably wait a while to read it b/c of all the hype. My expectations are all skewed I think. Loved hearing your thoughts, though 🙂

  24. March 17, 2011 6:18 pm

    I heard the same thing about the book and went and got it in print to have when I listen to the audio.

  25. March 17, 2011 6:39 pm

    At least you found the writing to be beautiful. Very nice review, Kathy, as usual. 🙂

  26. March 17, 2011 7:02 pm

    I’ve been curious about this book, in part because it is set in the Pacific Northwest. I would like to read it, but don’t know when that will happen because of its length.

  27. March 17, 2011 7:07 pm

    I get affected by all the hype too, so I’ve shelved this book for later. It does sound good and I’m glad to hear that the writing is beautiful!

  28. March 17, 2011 9:11 pm

    Oh I hate it when a book that everyone loves just doesn’t do it for me. I think I’m missing something. Oh well…not every book is for everybody.

  29. March 17, 2011 10:38 pm

    And now I don’t feel so bad about skipping this one.

  30. March 18, 2011 1:22 am

    The cover of the book is gorgeous, so I may read it for that reason alone. I do tend to get frustrated with large casts of characters, especially if they all don’t seem to have a purpose. I may read this one, someday, I’m just not sure I would rush to do so. Thanks for your review.

  31. March 18, 2011 7:40 am

    I think anything described as a saga screams, “too much” for me these days. Maybe our attention spans are shorter than they were in the Barbara Taylor Bradford days!

  32. March 18, 2011 11:09 am

    I’ve heard a lot of rave reviews for this one but I still don’t think it’s for me. I’ll leave it to others to review. lol.

  33. March 18, 2011 12:50 pm

    I completely agree with you, Kathy – I expected so much and it just wasn’t there for me. I felt like I was missing something too.

  34. March 18, 2011 12:53 pm

    Sometimes, you just have to be in the mood for such a novel. And sometimes, regardless the mood, a book still remains just okay.

  35. March 18, 2011 3:57 pm

    Too bad this didn’t make you swoon but all books can’t do that. I usually like the alternate time period/one place books. Sounds like too many characters.

  36. March 18, 2011 9:25 pm

    Sorry to hear you didn’t really enjoy it. I like the duel timeline structure, but it can be difficult to enjoy if you can’t keep track of all the characters. I’ll keep that in mind when I get to this book.

  37. March 19, 2011 8:31 am

    Kathy, I was wondering about this book, but wasn’t sure it was for me. You just confirmed that; thanks

  38. March 19, 2011 12:44 pm

    I like a dual-storyline, too, but often find I like the historic story more than the contemporary story. Interesting that you found the opposite with this one.

    I haven’t yet reviewed (OK, I haven’t yet finished reading!) WEST OF HERE; will let you know my thoughts …

  39. March 20, 2011 12:16 pm

    This is one of my main fears… I expect to much and then… Ka Poof! Will keep in mind your words if I decide to jump on this one. I think for now, I’ll just keep this book tucked under… maybe one day.

  40. March 20, 2011 7:36 pm

    That’s the one thing that I’ve been working hard on…not trying to set my expectations too high. I’m glad that you had it to discuss with your book group though.

  41. March 20, 2011 10:19 pm

    You know I felt similarly about this one. It just didn’t keep my interest!

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