The Rules of Love and Law (review)

Friday, January 9, 2015

the rules of love and life by jeff russell
Title: The Rules of Love and Law
Author: Jeff Russell
Rating: 3 stars

“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.”
*Author provided a copy for an honest review.*

The author, Jeff Russell, contacted me to see if I would read and review his book. A love story set in the 30's? It sounded interesting, so I quickly said yes.

When the book first started, I wasn't sure if I was going to like it. Juliana is attacked and Will comes to her rescue. Straight forward, right? Except the POV jumped back and forth and I was confused. "She looked at Will for the first time..." But how did she know his name was Will? Was the POV 3rd person omniscient? Was I going to be jumping heads all book, and not just in different chapters?

But then the story continues, and the plot began to unfold. The jumping POV settled down, and we mainly switched off for the different sections, with several sections filling a chapter. I was able to quickly get over my fear and get into the story.

The Rules of Love and Law is not a plot driven story. Yes, Juliana is attacked, and yes the events afterward shape the characters and the novel. Even with all the things that happen, family drama, the prelude and effects of war, perusing high education and starting a job, this is never going to be billed as an action book.

Instead, this book is a character driven book.

You have Juliana, who is a little rich society girl, who is in the wrong place in the wrong time. She may have access to more things than the average man, but she is not a worldly girl. And I really hated her when the book first started. She is exactly what you think of with the phrase "spoiled rich girl." She sees the world the way her class does, the way her father taught her to. "You cared more about what happened to that horrible, dirty man more than what happened to me." It never occurred to her that this instinct cultivated by society, could be far from the truth. (She even says something like this later on in the book.) So when a certain plot thing happened, I wanted to scream at her for parroting her father to Will and not even bothering to think about the words she was saying.

As the story continued on, I really did not think my opinion of her could change. But looking at the last page again, I must admit I was wrong. She'll never be my favorite character, I'm still soured from my initial opinion of her for that to happen. But somewhere along the way, meeting Will and the people he associated with changed something within her. She started seeing and started thinking for herself.

Will, on the other hand, I found to be intriguing right from the start. Will may not be worth much in terms of dollars, but the boy is worth more than a pile of gold in character. When he learns the black man who attacked white heiress Julianna faces rape charges, even though no such act occurred, he knows the guy will not be treated justly based on the policeman's attitude over the possible chargge. As a law student, Will feels this deep connection with truth and justice. He is determined that this man be treated fairly, and his conscious will not allow him to just walk away as so many people would have.

The Rules of Love and Law is chocked full of powerful messages over social dynamics, prejudice and racism, to war between the rich and poor. All set against a backdrop of the coming world war. And this I think is where the book really excels. It makes you question and think, at the same time it feels like you really stepped into the 1930's/40's. If this would have been the focus, and not the romance I would have been much happier. Thought I suppose you really couldn't have one without the other, because Juliana needed Will to broaden her horizons and break her free from her delusions.

Words To Live By

"So I guess I'm asking - is it ever hard for you because of that? Already knowing what your whole life is going to be like? Never getting to wonder about it?" (Will, 18%)

"He was tempted to ask sarcastically if there was a secret rule book, or a set of secret guidelines, which everyone in the wealthy class was expected to follow." (Will, 31%)

"I've always thought I should be the same person to everyone at all times. But there's a flaw in thinking like that, Will, because the times aren't always the same." (Juliana, 92%)


The Rules of Love and Law is a West Side Story/Romeo and Juliet kind of book. Rich vs poor, white vs black, wrong vs right. If you are a fan of historical novels with powerful themes, then this may be the book for you.

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