Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls review

I finally finished it!

So, a while back Rory mentioned how much she loved this book called Empire Falls, and then recently Katie read it and reviewed it and liked it, and so clearly I HAD to read it. And I have. And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that I actively disliked this book – don’t hate me, guys!

Rory also mentioned recently why she usually includes personal tidbits in reviews, and how she likes to think about how her own experiences might have influenced her opinion of a book, and I think that’s worth me kind of doing here.

I’ve said it before, but I’m not really the nicest person. Well, it’s not that I’m not nice, I guess, but rather I’m much more assertive than I was back when I was 19 or so. Then I learned how to have a backbone, and to just generally stand up for myself, be more honest (even when the truth hurts), and kind of just not put up with things that I shouldn’t have to. A BIG part of this was learning to stand up to my dad. Some of you know a bit about my dad already, but basically he was a drug addict for most of my life, and he was also always pretty terrifying. Dude had/has a BAD temper, and ever since I started working at the age of 16 he was able to hound me and get money out of me, something he rarely tried with any of my siblings. And it SUCKED, and it took me until about the age of 20 or 21 to finally be able to stand up to him – not to just lie and say that I don’t have enough money or I’m too busy to give him a ride, but just to say NO. My father is not a good person – he loves me, and I love him of course, and he’s much better now than he used to be (not on crack, for example), but he’s still unreasonable and hot-tempered. He still has a sense of entitlement I’ll never understand. But the difference now is that I fight back, and that’s something I’m glad of. I’m glad I finally grew a backbone, and that I’m not afraid to argue back or say no when I don’t want to do something. I just don’t have the same tolerance for bullshit that I did 6 years ago.

Anyways, that part of me – the part that got tougher, and a bit meaner, but happier for it – might be the reason why this book was frustrating to me.

So Empire Falls is about a town called – wait for it – Empire Falls! that has seen better days. It used to be a bustling town, but when the textile mill and shirt factory closed, the town lost it’s luster and never got it back. There’s only one rich family in town, the Whitings, and they own just about everything there is worth owning. Miles Roby, our main character, is the grill cook and manager at Empire Grill, the town’s only real functioning restaurant. His wife Janine is leaving him for a gym club owner, his daughter Tick is navigating the confusing waters of high school, and more and more Miles is looking at his life and wishing he could make a change.

This book was wordy and long, much longer than it needed to be. Now, I can get into a wordy book with little action, as long as there are some great, interesting characters. But these characters KILLED me. Miles is the token “good guy”, the one everyone agrees is just a genuinely good person. But he’s also a doormat who lets everyone walk all over him, and that frustrated me. A lot. His wife Janine – oh my god, I have two pages of notes complaining about her. UGH. Tick, the daughter, was okay until she started to exhibit a couple of the traits in her parents that I’d come to be annoyed with. And Max Roby, Miles’s (Miles’ ?) father, reminded me SO MUCH of my dad. Max is an alcoholic that constantly demands, manipulates, or steals money from people to fuel his addiction and everyone just acted so OKAY with it. A few people were disgusted and tried to keep their distance, but a lot of people were just “Oh, that quirky old man Max. Silly guy.” From what I told you about my dad, you can probably tell why this rubbed me the wrong way.

The most interesting and sympathetic characters, ironically enough, were the two semi-villians of the story – Francine Whiting, the rich lady who owns and manipulates everything in Empire Falls, and John Voss, a deeply disturbed kid at Tick’s school. I couldn’t like them, but they were the only characters who seemed to have real reason and motivation for being the way that they were.

I wanted to like this novel. I really did. And even though it was slow going, I was keeping an open mind about it until about halfway through the book. That’s when I couldn’t ignore any longer how much the characters were driving me insane and I was getting impatient at there being so little action. I plowed on, and things pick up A LOT in the last 100 pages, but by then it was too little, too late.

So, check out Katie’s review and head on over to Rory’s blog to chat with her, because they both liked it and according to the Amazon reviews, a whole lot of people agree with them. I’m in the minority here, but I think my own personality and experiences probably have something to do with that.

Sarah Says: 2 stars


The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway



Sadly, I didn’t love The River of No Return the way I was hoping to.

So, Nick is an English dude from the 1800’s who is about to die in a nasty battle when suddenly he transports roughly 200 years into the future to 2003. Cool. An organization called the Guild picks him up, makes him spend a year learning about the modern day along with some other accidental time travellers, and then sends him off with a buttload of money to quiety live the rest of his years in the northeast of America. A decade goes by and Nick is quite accustomed to the fun things of our age – easy women, jeans, cars, watches and all that – but then he suddenly gets a summons from the Guild. They’re sending him on a mission back to his past.

Julia is a young lady in the 1800’s mourning the death of her grandfather. Her giant douche of a cousin shows up to inherit the estate, and he constantly quizzes and berates Julia while he searches for some special object that he thinks gave her grandfather his ability to manipulate time. And then Julia finds out that SHE can manipulate time as well, and must struggle to hide this from her cousin and try to escape his clutches.

So obviously when Nick goes back, he and Julia cross paths (easy enough, since they lived next door) and fall in love, yada yada yada.

Let’s start with the things I really liked about the book, kay? I liked the whole idea of time travel via feelings. Apparently you use emotions to travel along the river of time. Interesting concept. I liked the idea of a secret society (the Guild) and the idea of time travelling, being taught about the time you’re in, and then being sent on your way to just chill. I liked Nick well enough, as well as Julia. They both had spunk, which I enjoyed. I also liked Arkady, who was a grumbly Russian guy who said things like this:

“You are a man. We will save her. Why? Because it’s beautiful and romantic to do so. We will fight this maniac like the men we are – with fists. Why? Because it’s beautiful and romantic to do so.”

How can you not love that?

But now on to the things that made me not love this book…

The thing between Nick and Julia had a hint of insta-love about it. I mean really, it’s very love-at-first-sight.

My biggest complaint: It was so slooooowww. By page 160 (out of 450), the main characters hadn’t even really met yet. By page 300 I was glad that the romance factor was finally picking up but I STILL felt like I was waiting for the story to start. There was so much build-up and mystery to the secret society conspiracies that it seemed to take forever to get anywhere, and I felt just as confused and frustrated as Nick did. And I felt like the end is where things really finally started to happen, which means it ended with some unresolved issues. I’m assuming there might be a sequel, but it’s not confirmed on the Bee Ridgway’s website as far as I can tell.

Sooo yeah. The writing was enjoyable, but the storyline was just way too drawn-out for me. Even if I knew a sequel was coming, I’m not sure I’ll want to read it because it took SO LONG to be set up in this book. I’ll have to wait and see.

I am pretty sure I’m in the minority here – plenty of fellow bloggers read and loved this book, so don’t be discouraged. Give it a try. Maybe The River of No Return just wasn’t my jam.


Sarah Says: 2.5 stars