Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Because I loved Girl You Left Behind so much, I immediately began reading Me Before You, another book by the same author.

It’s a very different story from Girl You Left Behind, but equally wonderful and beautifully written.

Me Before You is the sort of book I want to tell everyone to read, because it’s really that good and I want to be able to talk about it to my friends.  But it’s so intensely emotional.  I don’t cry easily.  I sometimes say I cried when really I meant I could have cried, but I didn’t allow myself.  I had no choice in this matter.  By the end of this book, I was a sobbing mess, lying on the bed, so emotionally drained, I couldn’t think clearly.  Any book that has that kind of effect on a person is a book that needs to be read.

But at the same time, I know there are people who avoid things that make them feel that deeply.  I’m a cold-hearted person, and it broke me.  I can’t imagine what this would do to someone who actually has a healthy, normal relationship with their feelings.

This is the story of Lou, who needs a job after the cafĂ© where she’s always worked shuts down.  She is hired to sit with Will, who is paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair.  He already has a nurse, his family just wants someone to spend time with him and keep him company during the day.

One day though, Lou overhears a conversation in which she learns Will has decided to end his life in six months.  Hearing this, she decides to make it her mission to change his mind, to show him that his life is still worth living. 

Before his accident, Will had a big, bold life.  He had an amazing job, he went on exciting adventures.  And he lost everything that he loved about life one rainy morning. 

But in Lou, he sees potential.  She’s chosen to put her life on hold, and Will can’t stand to see that.  She has the chance to do all the things he couldn’t do and she chooses not to. 

And this is the story of the two of them trying to show each other how to live again. 

I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll end my summary of the book there.  I’ll only say this story is beautiful.  It’s well worth reading.  This is being added to the list of my favorite books.

I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I liked this book so very much.  It’s about art and lost love and France – all things I adore in a story. 

The story revolves around a painting – a painting titled, The Girl You Left Behind.  There are two storylines, one focuses on Sophie, the original owner of the painting, who was also the subject of the painting and married to the artist, and her life in occupied France during the First World War.  The other storyline is about Liv, the current owner of the painting, a woman living in present day London.  What connects both of these women – besides the painting – is that, they’ve both lost their husbands, and have, in a sense, been left behind.  One woman lost her husband to the war, and the other to an early death.

And here’s where I’m going to suggest that you read the novella Honeymoon in Paris before reading Girl You Left Behind.  The novella focuses on the two couples immediately after their marriage.  That will give you a better idea as to the depth of loss these women are enduring now that they’re alone.

They both loved their husbands very much and they’re both struggling to go on with their lives now that they’re alone.  One is waiting anxiously for hers to return, the other is trying to figure out how to move on with her life, knowing he’s gone forever.  Both of them cling to the painting, as a symbol of what they once had and what they long to hold onto.

But Liv’s first real attempt at dating results in her putting her painting at risk.  The man she allows into her home specializes in recovering art stolen by the Nazis, and her painting is one he’s been hired to locate.  Liv isn’t aware of the painting’s history.  Her husband bought it from a woman who was throwing it out on a street in Barcelona. 

The ensuing story is about the path the painting traveled, from Sophie to Liv, and how this painting and all that it represented affected their lives.  But also, it’s a story about surviving and figuring out when to hold on and when to let go and take a chance, even when there seems to be no hope in sight. 

This was the first book I’ve read by Jojo Moyes and I thought it was wonderful.  She writes in such a way that I could feel the anguish these characters were experiencing.  If I was the type of person who cried, I would have been bawling by the end of this book.  This story broke my heart and then put it back together again, only to break it some more.  Such a beautiful story that I would recommend to anyone who wants to read a good book. 

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Review: Honeymoon in Paris by Jojo Moyes

Honeymoon in Paris is a prequel to The Girl You Left Behind.  It’s a short story, or rather, novella, about two couples, early in their marriage and very much in love, but struggling to adjust to married life.  They’re trying to figure out how to balance work and marriage and issues from their past.  But as upset as they get, they realize they’ll make things work.
As a stand alone story, there isn’t much to it.  However, when read before The Girl You Left Behind, it adds quite a bit to the story.  While I understand that it was released before Girl You Left Behind as sort of a teaser for what to expect, I think it would be of move value if it was included as the first part of Girl You Left Behind, not a separate novella.
Girl You Left Behind focuses on the two women in Honeymoon in Paris, who as the title indicates, have now been "left behind."  It's the story of what happens to them after their husbands are gone – one because of death, the other because of war.  Knowing how they felt about their husbands, and having read about them when they were with their husbands, rather than simply relying on their memories enhances the emotional aspect of the story.  I think you have a better understanding of why the women did the things they did after having read Honeymoon in Paris.
So I very much recommend reading Honeymoon in Paris before reading Girl You Left Behind.  If you don’t plan to read Girl You Left Behind, not any reason to read this, however, I very much recommend reading Girl You Left Behind, because it’s a great book.  (Will post review of that book separately.)
I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: Cake by Lauren Dane

I knew I would be spending a large part of my day in waiting areas - my day started with a dentist appointment, followed by a hair appointment, then car maintenance type things.  So I needed a book that would keep me occupied during those times.  Something fun, not too heavy.  I'd just finished reading Bronze Horseman (800+ page epic set during WWII) and was not looking for any sort of heavy, long-term commitment.
And Cake was perfect for what I needed.
This is exactly what something called Cake from a line called "Red-Hot Reads" should be - quick, sweet and very hot and sexy.
I liked the setting, an art student and a successful artist, their circle of friends and social activity all being in the art world.  As a former art student, I enjoy revisiting this world - even though my own experiences weren't quite this entertaining.  No hot Russian artist to mentor me, darn it.
I liked Wren and I liked how she was so determined to succeed in art as well as go after what she wanted.  However, I didn't really love Gregori.  When Wren decided to make the big gesture and tell him how she felt, I cringed a bit, thinking that in most cases, with a guy like Gregori, she would face mortifying rejection.  To me, he didn't seem worth all the effort.  Yeah, I know things worth having take a lot of work and all that, but relationships shouldn't feel that one-sided.  But this is fiction and this is a romance story, in the end, of course we find out the guy feels the same way, but really, I didn't see a lot in the story that indicated he did.  Wren and her friend just assumed that Gregori must feel the same way and went with it, her friend assisting in setting up Wren's plan.  Part of me kept thinking, he's okay for now, but do you really want to be with a guy like that in a "real" relationship?  Yes, I know, I'm overthinking this. I ruin everything that way.  I've noticed I do this a lot with novellas.   
Overall, this is a quick, fun story.  Nothing too intense or deep.  And it kept me fully engaged during my day of running errands.  I'd readily recommend this to anyone wanting a quick, sexy story.
I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: The Bronze Horesman by Paullina Simons

I was hoping to like this book a lot more than I did. I have a very strong interest in things associated with WWII and also a strange fascination with Russia, so this book seemed perfect for me.  I was specifically searching for a book, a historical romance of some sort, based in Russia during WWII and saw this mentioned and it was only 1.99 on amazon.  Several people I follow on twitter had mentioned loving this book, so I was eager to read it. 
I liked the book, but I wasn't blown away by it, the way I expected to be.  I really didn't like Tatiana very much, she was a little too perfect, too heroic, too selfless. She's so childlike. There seemed to be something disturbing about a grown man being so attracted to someone who acted like such a child - I get that he was drawn to her innocence while surrounded by the horrors of war, but still. Even after they're married, she's wanting to play games with him all the time. Also, near the end of the book, I grew so tired of the "it's a sign from God" statements she kept making. She's surrounded by sickness and starvation and death and perfect little Tatiania is so arrogant as to think for some reason God has singled her out to save, but he cares nothing for the bodies piling up in the snow on the side of the street?  (That's one of those things that always bothers me when people start involving God in tragedies. When someone says, "God saved my child" and to me I'm hearing, God neglected the people who died.)

The story did hold my interest, I'd been worried about the length, but finished it in about a week, reading the last 50% in one night. But despite being interested in what happened to the characters, I didn't feel a strong connection to the characters. Their story didn't break my heart as I expected it should. (Also, I know that there are two sequels, so the ending isn't as devastating as it might have been had I not known there were sequels.) I don't feel any strong compulsion to read the sequels. Maybe if I ever see them at the library or I can find them at a deep discount. But at the moment, too many other books I want to read more. 
Suffice it to say I'm still in search of a great Russian romance/war story.  I've got a list, but welcome any suggestions.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Review: Thinking Woman's Guide to Practical Magic by Emily Croy Barker

I was so excited about reading this book.  It sounded so cool based on the description.  University setting and magic, other worlds and romance.  All things I love.

And it started out okay.  I loved the magical world the main character found herself in.  Everything seemed so beautiful and wonderful.  I was a little thrown by the writing style, seemed to be a lot of, this happened and then this and this and this.  I suppose it was intentional, so that as readers we had the same blurry, fast-paced impressions as Nora.

Once Nora left this world though, and ended up living with an old wizard, I quickly began to lose interest and wished I'd not already invested so much time in the story.

I thought the author did a great job in creating these other worlds and complex characters.  But I didn't like the characters, the more I knew about them, the more I disliked them.  And the world they were in didn't seem all that wonderful either.  It was cold and the people seemed kind of dirty and crude.  It simply wasn't a place when I wanted to spend time.

People I respect have given this book high praise, so I forced myself to finish the book - though I admit to skimming parts of it, because things kept happening that made me angry. 

Nora was so weak.  She was supposed to be a smart grad student, but she didn't seem very intelligent at all.  In the beginning, she's upset about being dumped by her boyfriend, and she doesn't seem to be doing very well at her job either.  It's understandable that she would behave submissively while enchanted.  But even after the enchantment, when she's living with the wizard, she behaves so weakly, I found it difficult to read.

There's a scene where she's ordered to burn her boots - boots which she bought herself.  I got so angry reading that.  I wanted to stop then, but like I said, I'd already put quite a bit of time into the book.

What bothered me the most though is that I felt readers were expected to view the wizard as some sort of romantic hero.  In my mind, he just seemed old (yuck) and grouchy - not sexy.  The idea that Nora would be attracted to him creeped  me out quite a bit.  Just another example of her weakness.

This book simply wasn't for me.  I need the women in my stories to be a bit stronger, a bit more interesting and independent.

I received a review copy of this via NetGalley.  I also received a copy of this book through a GoodReads giveaway, and thus feel quite guilty about not liking it.  I do plan to pass on the copy I won to a friend that I think may like it more than I did.