My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
Source: ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada. Thank you!
Publication: June 21, 2016 by Scribner
An unforgettable debut with an irresistible love story, My Last Continent is a big-hearted, propulsive novel set against the dramatic Antarctic landscape.
It is only at the end of the world—among the glacial mountains, cleaving icebergs, and frigid waters of Antarctica—where Deb Gardner and Keller Sullivan feel at home. For the few blissful weeks they spend each year studying the habits of emperor and Adélie penguins, Deb and Keller can escape the frustrations and sorrows of their separate lives and find solace in their work and in each other. But Antarctica, like their fleeting romance, is tenuous, imperiled by the world to the north.
A new travel and research season has just begun, and Deb and Keller are ready to play tour guide to the passengers on the small expedition ship that ferries them to their research destination. But this year, Keller fails to appear on board. Then, shortly into the journey, Deb’s ship receives an emergency signal from the Australis, a cruise liner that has hit desperate trouble in the ice-choked waters of the Southern Ocean. Soon Deb’s role will change from researcher to rescuer; among the crew of that sinking ship, Deb learns, is Keller.
As Deb and Keller’s troubled histories collide with this catastrophic present, Midge Raymond’s phenomenal novel takes us on a voyage deep into the wonders of the Antarctic and the mysteries of the human heart. My Last Continent is packed with emotional intelligence and high stakes—a harrowing, searching novel of love and loss in one of the most remote places on earth, a land of harsh beauty where even the smallest missteps have tragic consequences.
What We Become by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
Source: ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada. Thank you!
Publication: June 7, 2016 by Atria Books
Bestselling author and Dagger Award winner Arturo Pérez-Reverte delivers an epic historical tale following the dangerous and passionate love affair between a beautiful high society woman and an elegant thief. A story of romance, adventure, and espionage, this novel solidifies Pérez-Reverte as an international literary giant.
En route from Lisbon to Buenos Aires in 1928, Max and Mecha meet aboard a luxurious transatlantic cruise ship. There Max teaches the stunning stranger and her erudite husband to dance the tango. A steamy affair ignites at sea and continues as the seedy decadence of Buenos Aires envelops the secret lovers.
Nice, 1937. Still drawn to one another a decade later, Max and Mecha rekindle their dalliance. In the wake of a perilous mission gone awry, Mecha looks after her charming paramour until a deadly encounter with a Spanish spy forces him to flee.
Sorrento, 1966. Max once again runs into trouble—and Mecha. She offers him temporary shelter from the KGB agents on his trail, but their undeniable attraction offers only a small glimmer of hope that their paths will ever cross again.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte is at his finest here, offering readers a bittersweet, richly rendered portrait of a powerful, forbidden love story that burns brightly over forty years, from the fervor of youth to the dawn of old age.
When looking at two similarly themed book covers, readers might not only wonder if the comparable images accurately reflect the stories to be found inside, but also if the stories themselves will be similar. With My Last Continent and What We Become, the two novels, superficially, look very much alike. From a glance at cover and blurb, it looks and sounds as though we have two novels about epic love, set against the backdrop of a grand ship and wild seas. But what lies here beyond the cover and story promises? Authors Midge Raymond and Arturo Pérez-Reverte have constructed detailed, consuming, tense and moving stories in My Last Continent and What We Become, respectively, bridging shared themes across locales and decades, while writing absolutely singular tales.
With both My Last Continent and What We Become, we have a relationship at the core of the story: in the former, we have Deb and Keller; the latter, we have Max and Mecha. In the novels, we have two couples who meet (by fate? by luck? by chance? by will?) time after time after time. With Deb and Keller, it is their draw- their intangible and savage pull- to the gorgeous and sometimes-deadly Antarctic, and their work with Adélie penguins that brings them together again and again. It is the place where they first meet and grow to depend on each others company. Circumstance are often beyond Deb’s and Keller’s control, however, and their tentative plans for meeting and making a life beyond their strangely safe haven of the Antarctic expedition ship and base are often foiled. With Max and Mecha, we have a slightly harder-to-define unscheduled love: theirs is a sometimes destructive, often deceitful, and usually carnal love that spans over four decades, with decades between two crucial and unplanned run-ins. Meeting on a cruise ship, Max masquerading as a cruise ship dancer, Mecha there as wife of an older, eccentric wealthy composer, their relationship/courtship is arguably unhealthy…for Max, former soldier and beautiful, immaculately trained young man living as a thief, the stunning, peculiar and impeccable attired and jeweled Mecha is not only someone he wants but someone he wants to steal from.
At the ends of both My Last Continent and We We Become, one thing readers may wonder is whether or not greater time spent apart than together can actually allow for a real, intense, epic love to flourish. Can short but intense meetings of very independent-minded (often selfish) people over the course of time pave the way for a great love- or is it the memory of time and absence that makes things so? In any event, Raymond and Pérez-Reverte do divert in how they ultimately present their couples in the last chapters of their novels, but one will likely come away considering how love and attachment can indeed show in so many forms. Without wanting to give away any spoilers here, I will say that choice and loss factor into endings of both My Last Continent and What We Become, but the authors do so in highly disparate and fascinating ways.
As a heady trip back into the opulence and glamour of the twentieth century, What We Become takes its honeyed time, but ends up hitting many great notes (and some surprising climaxes). While tending to be heavy on the rich detail of everything from cuts of fashion to smells, to dance styles and locale, readers on the lookout for a glamorous, languid, and old-fashioned kind of read may just adore how Pérez-Reverte carefully and deliberately weaves Max and Mecha’s story in What We Become. Readers looking for an excellently written suspenseful contemporary title that touches upon everything from ecological concerns to thoughts about love and solitude, may do well to try out Midge Raymond’s stunning and impressive My Last Continent.
I received copies of My Last Continent and What We Become courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review and for the purposes of this post. All opinions and comments are my own.