I received a copy from the publisher, The Wild Rose Press, in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Love on a Train
Author: Colleen L. Donnelly
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical Romance, General Fiction
Number of Pages: 257
My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Description by the Publisher:
The moment Martha noticed Raymond on the train, everything her mother warned against erupted – romantic notions, palpitating heart, the desire to write it all in a novel and tell the world.
Martha lived and wrote that love story until the day Raymond handed her a sketch. “Want to see a picture of the girl I plan to marry?” The penciled profile resembled Martha… But when Raymond went away, she knew. She wasn’t the girl he planned to marry.
David was her father’s apprentice, everything Martha’s mother said made a good husband – hardworking, no romantic tendencies, no tolerance for writing about it.
Martha added a fictional happy ending to her and Raymond’s story and published it. Cleansed herself of romantic love, ready to marry David. Until a copy of her book appeared. Full of sketches, Raymond’s version of their love story, drawings that enticed her heart to beat once again.
Just from reading the title, I already knew I’d be in for a poignant and bittersweet ride – fiction components that a sappy reader like me has always been fond of. More so when I was reading the description, and felt the heartache, which carried on until I finished the whole book.
What I love the most about this book is the premise itself. I am a sucker for stories like this, which involve fateful encounters of the two characters in unexpected places and are separated by various circumstances. Plus, the protagonist Martha Cole is a writer here at a time when women who write down their original ideas and thoughts are looked down on, and are not encouraged nor celebrated. Then there is her love interest, Raymond Haynes, who complements her writing and their love story with his illustrations, bringing to life the real and unreal.
Ms. Donnelly writes Martha and Raymond’s bittersweet story with so much emotion that I read through the whole thing with a heavy heart while rooting for Martha’s happy ending. What also shine for me are the little bits of coincidence as Martha starts working on projects related to bridges, and Raymond’s own way of showing his love through his drawings. There are also good lines here and there that I took down.
What I also commend about the book is how it tries to show how ideas and thoughts, and reading and writing can be powerful tools to break the status quo (a threat if you will), compelling the readers in the book to raise the questions: “What could have been?” and “What could still be?” Of course there is also the discourse on the different kinds of love, and the portrayal of the roles of women in postwar England.
On the other hand, Love on a Train also has minor setbacks. The first one is the pacing. While I love reading into the feelings of Martha’s sadness and quandary, some of them have become repetitive and drag on too much. And while I also understand her reluctance to read her book with Raymond’s illustrations, she stalls for too long, and I’m like, “Oh my God, girl, just look at it and move on!” She could have ended her grief early. Credits to her best friend Karen, by the way. I like her.
The other setback is Martha herself. I like Martha and I sympathize with the difficult situations she’s wading in because of how their society functions (also with a pestering Mother like hers, I can’t blame her), BUT what I don’t like is how she is not fighting for her freedom per se and to be her own person. From the moment she meets Raymond Haynes, she starts psyching herself up to be Martha Haynes. It’s all she could think about. There is also a chapter where she is debating what to call herself: Martha Haynes or Martha Tidwell (the last name of her fiancé), and that dilemma has been written profusely all throughout the book. It irks me that while the context of her story in the book shows how women are treated in their society (no work; just stays in the house) and how her book has opened possibilities for younger and older women alike, I was hoping that she’d be that catalyst and fighter for change on behalf of the women in society; but at the end of the day, she does not want a voice per se; she just associates herself with a man. She either wants or has to be Martha Tidwell or Martha Haynes – not as just Martha Cole.
My other problem is Raymond. In the story, we only get to know Raymond by living vicariously through Jacob in Martha’s book, and also through the bits of flashbacks that Martha reminisces. Suffice to say, we don’t really get too much moments with Raymond, making him mostly a stranger to us as we do not really get to know him that well. Another thing is that wow, he can be a douche, too. I don’t want to spoil anyone, so I’m sticking with my complaint directed at Raymond: “Come on, Raymond, you plan to marry someone else, but you’re here constantly meeting the chick in the train??” The saving grace for Raymond for me is his drawings.
Speaking of drawings, while Ms. Donnelly does a good job in clearly describing Raymond’s drawings by words, it would have been nice to add real illustrations in Love on a Train. I feel the effect on us readers would be elevated as we can also clearly see the different perspectives and takes of Martha and Raymond in the course of their love story.
Another thing to mind is the timeline jump. There are a lot of timeline jumps here. There’s the writing on Martha at present, then it jumps to her and Raymond’s moments in the train, then there’s the shift to the story of the protagonists in Martha’s book, then there are also flashbacks of Martha with David, her fiancé. I am not saying it’s bad per se, but just a heads up to the readers as there are times when I have to backtrack and realize that what I’m reading is a flashback. But I do love how Martha wrote the continuation of her and Raymond’s story through her characters.
All in all, I give Love on a Train three point five out of five stars (3.5/5). I’d recommend this to every fans of the romance genre who’s in for a heartbreak, fateful encounters, and of course, happy endings. 🙂