Last month, I entered an Australia Day giveaway on the blog of the author, Christina Debi. Soon after, I was sent a complimentary copy of When Life Walks on Bare Soles. I've finished reading it now and these are just my honest thoughts on it.
There are three main plots in When Life Walks on Bare Soles by Christina Debi, but they all revolve around Maria Valance. She's essentially a single mother who works in a law firm. Being divorced hasn't necessarily been easy for her, but she's gotten by reasonably well. On a night out, with Josephine, she meets a German man called Dirk. The two begin dating and are soon in a relationship, one that Josephine doesn't quite approve of. She tries to be a good mother. Her daughter Julia and potential son-in-law, Jamie, are on the hunt for an apartment. She does her best to try and support Julia in this time, including apartment hunting and picking up Jamie when his car is broken down- which is a regular occurrence! Regardless of her how much she wants Julia to stay at home, she knows that she's quickly losing her daughter. Maria is a hard worker. Yet, due to her age, she feels that the people in her work place don't treat her as respectfully as they ought to. She is bullied by two co-workers, Ursula and Chloe-Rose. However, when it gets worse, she sort of loses her job and finds herself with a lot of time on her hands; as she's unable to find a new one.
The characters are fairly interesting. Maria and the situations in the book are very relatable. Though I do not have any children of my own, I can certainly understand the feeling of loss she experiences when Julia is moving out. Likewise, I can understand the hurt she feels from the workplace bullying and the new relationship she begins with Dirk. Throughout the story, there are all sorts of times where I can just think to myself that those sorts of situations could be happening to me at any point in my life, or anyone I know. I even found myself offended on her behalf when various people acted rude towards her. Though, I don't think her character developed much throughout the story. At the beginning, she seemed to be relatively well adjusted to her life. She was open to dating a new man, she was doing well at work and even going out with Josephine at night. Yet, after a while, she is not open to dating. Of course she's lost her job, but she eventually gives up on the job hunting. I don't even remember her actually going to the new one that Josephine and Dominic seemed to have set up. In fact, she goes out very little towards the end of the book; much of the time she just stays home and is miserable. She comments to herself that she's become a stronger person because of the experiences. However, I didn't find that to be true; it just felt like she'd given up. She was completely miserable at the end of the book and I found that to be kind of depressing.
Josephine was kind of an unfortunate character. It kind of pains me every time I need to refer to her as Maria's "friend", because I never really felt like she was any kind of friend to Maria. Josephine is essentially a stereotypical party girl character. She's confident, meddling and overly sexual (despite the book really not needing that kind of thing). My main thought whenever she's around is that she's very judgemental. She barely knows Dirk (Maria's boyfriend), yet she feels compelled to comment that he's not good enough for Maria because he's German and not Dinky-Di Australian. She even goes to further comment that his friends are Nazis. What? Just what? Being partly German myself, I just felt so offended by many of her comments about Dirk just because she was being so derogatory towards him. She barely knew him and yet, she keeps on making comments that he's not good enough for her because of his being German. So far as I can tell, that's really the only problem she has about him, is that he's German. I was purely disgusted at those kinds of comments. 'German men have been rated the world's worst lovers,' Josephine announced at one point in the very first chapter. She continues on to explain that it's 'Because they smell,' she proclaimed. Throughout the whole book, Josephine kept on making comments that, instead of looking for a life partner, Maria should be looking for just a sexual relationship. She bases this off of her own life, of course; commenting that she has a “friends with benefits” relationship of her own. I just think that she had little to add to the story, except to just be entirely annoying.
The sort of love triangle between Dirk and Dominic was a little bland. I quite liked Maria's relationship with Dirk and felt that they worked well together. I don't quite understand why they broke up. I thought it more that the author was trying to make him out to be stereotypically German. It was quite confusing that soon after he broke up with her, he was begging to take her back. The author also sort of implied that their break up was because of Maria's age, but that didn't make sense to me either. I just felt that too much time was spent making Dirk out to be unsuitable because of stereotypical German qualities. There were also little bits that also seemed unnecessary to their relationship. She kept on making comments about him drinking so much beer; it happened in morning, noon and night. The only reason he drank so much was, according to him, because of him being German. Nothing really ever came of that point in the end. Dominic, however, seems like the character that the author obviously wants Maria to be with. However, to me, he just seems really needy. He constantly comes over to her place. For no real reason at all, he feels compelled to help her with her work situation, the situation with Julia/ Jamie and even tries to help her with her Dirk relationship. He keeps on turning up again and again, but I never really felt like he ought to be a part of the book. It just seems like the author is trying to force him in at various points, but nothing of their relationship seems genuine to me. It all seems forced and kind of makes me cringe that he doesn't notice she obviously doesn't want to be with him at certain points. I'm not happy with the love triangle. I think it could have been played out in a much better fashion and I also don't like the position of her love relationship at the end of the book.
Come to think of it, I'm not particularly happy with the end of the book at all. Her life has very few high points in the book, which I think is kind of depressing. Her life is mostly downs. She has a sad relationship with a man I don't think she even loves, despite what she says. She has lost her job because of work place bullying, yet when she tries to find a new job or try and get her old one back, it just gets worse and worse. Her daughter leaving makes her miserable and she's left home alone with only a few of Julia's childhood toys as company. By the end of the book, as I've mentioned above, she leaves the house very little and even has large periods where she just sits around her home being miserable. It's just really sad. At the end of the book, she comments that she accepts life now. However, I don't believe that she accepts it; she has just let it get her sad over and over again. The end is meant to be happy because of her new found love relationship, but it doesn't feel happy. Sure, she might be happy with the man she has chosen, but she's still essentially jobless, her daughter has still moved out, her friend still feels compelled to meddle in her life and her overall relationship with this man hasn't worked out earlier in the book. The happily-ever-after ending just seems so forced. I felt like a lot of the book was kind of repetitive as well. Some portions go super quickly, like the beginning of the book where we speed through much of her relationship with Dirk, the troubles at work and even the troubles with Julia. However, the majority of the scenes featuring Josephine are really drawn out. They go on so long, which is unfortunate because I don't really feel like she's a valuable character (or even a valuable friend). Much of what she says and the scenes they share get repeated over and over, yet it's essentially reiterating the same thing; she doesn't like Dirk because he's German, she doesn't want Maria to try for her old job and she wants Maria to have sex with Dominic. Many of these conversations could be taken out just because they don't accomplish much. Many aspects of the book don't even get fully explained at the end. Despite the huge chunk of time it took up, there's little explanation to the whole law firm work debacle. It's not even explained about the new job she was supposed to receive; all I can gather is that she essentially still doesn't have a job. Dirk's drinking; though it was obviously meant to be a major point because it was reiterated so often was never fully explained and could have been taken out entirely.
As I was reading it, at the beginning, I was thinking that the book was quite good. I was considering rating it five stars because I could feel how similar my life might be to Maria's sometime in the future. She's truly a relatable character for me; I can just feel what it's like to be her and understand what she's going through. However, there are a lot of drawbacks to the story, which caused my rating to go down. At the beginning, I found Josephine to be annoying, but I stuck with the story because I felt that maybe she redeems herself later on. Yet, she just kept on meddling and making all sorts of nasty comments. I told myself that I would hold out, just in case. Yet it continued so much so that it, combined with the awkward end of the relationship with Dirk, bumped my rating down at least a star. Towards the end, the book just kept on getting sadder and sadder. Maria just seems to get more depressing as the book goes on. The ending just leaves me somewhat sad, which doesn't seem to be the intention of the author; considering the quick little happily-ever-after ending we were given. To be honest, if I were to consider just those points, I would be rating it only two stars. However, I'd like to point out that it was very well written. The author is good with descriptions. There are a lot of moments, as I've mentioned before, where I can completely understand Maria's motives. I think that sort of connection I can feel between Maria and I sort of notches my rating higher just because I did kind of enjoy the book for that. For the most part, I was truly curious as to how her life and story might play out.