Review: 'The Rules of Love and Law' by Jeff Russell (2014)
It's 1938 in Baltimore, Maryland,and a lot of people around town thought things were pretty good that year. The worst of the Depression was over and a troubled Europe was an ocean away. Pesky labor unions seemed satisfied, Jews kept to themselves, and blacks knew their place. For everyone else the city’s odd blend of Southern attitude and Yankee hustle offered a comfortable, complacent stability with the promise of even better times to come. But on Thanksgiving Day that year a violent assault brings two very different people together and changes their lives forever.
Juliana Corbeau is a near perfect example of blue-blood upbringing. She lives in the city’s most prestigious neighborhood and attends private school. Will Stahl is an immigrant’s son. He lives in a rowhouse. Yet he too is a near perfect example; that of a first generation American. He’s a scholarship law student who’s both idealistic and ambitious.
Their unlikely love story begins when Juliana is taking a walk through exclusive, whites-only Wyman Park and is attacked, or so it seems, by a colored man. It’s Will who comes to her rescue, and that chance encounter sets them on a path where they must confront not only the class distinctions, prejudices, and racism of the times, but a tragic miscarriage of justice, a fateful Supreme Court decision, and danger for family trapped in Nazi Germany. When the war eventually reaches America at Pearl Harbor everything changes again, forcing them to make impossible choices about love, justice, family––and ultimately their very lives.
Since I started book blogging I've been lucky enough to have a big pile of review books waiting for me at all times. While it's great to have so many promising reads to pick up, it can sometimes also be quite tricky to schedule everything and not forget about any books. Today's book, Jeff Russell's 'The Rules of Love and Law', had been patiently waiting for me for quite some time already. So, when I suddenly found myself with some extra free time on my hands last week, I straight away knew which novel deserved my attention. 'The Rules of Love and Law' was released in 2014 by Abbott Press and Jeff Russell contacted me several months ago about the book. Even though it took me way longer than expected, I was excited to sit down with the book and to share my review of it with all of you today!
'The Rules of Love and Law' is set in 1930s Baltimore. Will Stahl is the son of German immigrant parents, who moved to the USA for a better life, and aspires to become a lawyer. Juliana Corbeau is a society girl, part of a rich family and used to a certain way of life. While Will and Juliana seem to have nothing in common at first sight, the two of them are thrown together when Juliana is attacked by a man in the park. Will happens to see everything and saves Juliana. This is the start of a special bond between the two of them; something they can hold onto as the world around them, which happens to be at the start of World War II, and their own lives keep changing.
I love historical novels that tell a good story (with a nice touch of romance, preferably) while also making it possible to step into a completely different time period. I wasn't too familiar with the American 1930s and 1940s and it was also really interesting to look at the World War II years from a perspective from across the Atlantic. The protagonists of the book, Will and Juliana, are interesting characters; both from a different world, but thrown together. The book is definitely a character-driven novel and not a plot-driven one. It also took me a bit of time to get into the story, but after a few chapters I was really fascinated by both Will and Juliana and was curious to find out more about them as individuals as well as together.
The book deals with several quite serious topics such as social class, equality, and democracy. It's clear from the author's way of writing that he did a lot of research to make sure everything in the novel fits the time in which it is set. While this made the story come alive, it also resulted in a more abstract novel which seemed to lack emotions (especially the ending felt really sudden and quick). While I really liked Will and Juliana, I didn't get completely immersed in their story and didn't get the chance to cry or laugh with them. Don't get me wrong; I still really enjoyed the book, but it was something I did notice and think about after having finished it. Overall, though, 'The Rules of Love and Law' is a thoroughly fascinating, compelling and enjoyable read with a lot of history and a lovely romance story at its core; I really enjoyed it!