Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Title: Me Before You 
Author: Jojo Moyes 
Format: Kindle 
Year Published: 2012 
Source: I purchased this book. 

Jojo Moyes’ novel Me Before You has been labeled a romance novel or chick-lit. 

However, the book tackles some very serious issues: What if your life is irreparably changed in an instant? What if you suddenly have no control over any aspect of your life? 

Louisa Clark gets a job as a caregiver for a quadriplegic, Will Traynor. Will was a man who lived big – he was a financial wheeler-dealer, he climbed mountains, jumped out of planes, and loved traveling the world. All that changed when he was hit by a speeding motorcycle and his life was changed forever. 

At first Will and Louisa don’t like each other. Will is understandably bitter – the former daredevil now only has very limited use of one arm. He needs care 24/7 and is completely dependent upon others.

Will was a corporate type and Louisa is more of a free spirit, at least in the way outrageous ways she wears clothes, but is far more careful in her personal life where she prefers things to be simple and safe, due to a traumatizing personal incident that happened years earlier. 

But as they get to know each other, Will and Louisa learn to understand each other more than they thought they would. Will is intrigued by her kooky dress sense and her warm spirit. Louisa gets to know the charming, playful side of Will that he rarely displays to anyone anymore. They grow to care for each other and depend on each other. But is it enough? 

What I Liked: Even though the subject matter is so sad, I thought that the book was well written and was completely immersed in it right from the start. I was curious to see how the book ended. I liked Louisa very much – she’s spunky and fun, but she does need to expand her horizons. 

What I Didn’t Like: At first I didn’t like Will very much. He is very, very bitter, which is completely understandable in his case. He has made a certain decision that will not be changed by anyone else. He also never really tells her how he really feels until the very end. 

His mother is rather cold, but that may just be her way of handling trauma. We all have different ways of handling stress and tragedy in our lives, and that just may be her way.

Also, as some feminists have pointed out, why does Louisa need a male figure to expand her horizons for her? Can’t she do it herself? 

However, because of the dark incident in Louisa’s past, she needs to learn to get past that fear and learn to live again – to live big. Will helps her to do just that.

Conclusion: I believe that this book is worth reading. It does raise serious issues that need to be discussed, which is why I believe this book is a favorite of book clubs.

Book Review: Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper

Title: Love Saves the Day
Author: Gwen Cooper
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2013
Source: I purchased this book

Gwen Cooper wrote the charming memoir about her amazing blind cat Homer. I reviewed it here.

She has since written a novel about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship and about the cat that brings them together, but only after the death of the mother.Love Saves the Day tells the story of a mother, Sarah, who raised her daughter in New York’s then-shabby Alphabet City in the 1980s.

Sarah runs a record shop with only the coolest records, and the daughter, Laura, grew up in an area where the odd was normal. She was surrounded by rockers, druggies, and prostitutes.

A series of traumatic events happen in Laura’s childhood that changes her perception of her mother forever. Laura is bitter over things she believed her mother did or didn’t do. When Sarah dies, she leaves behind Prudence, her loyal and smart cat. Laura, now a successful lawyer, is going through her mother’s things and must take Prudence home to share her apartment with her husband, Josh.

The novel in alternating chapters is sometimes in Prudence’s voice (yes!), sometimes in Laura’s, and sometimes in Sarah’s. In Prudence’s chapters, you get a cat’s-eye view of the situation. She doesn’t understand that Sarah is dead. She keeps waiting for her to come home. It is touching because Prudence cannot figure out where Sarah is! It takes her quite awhile to realize that Sarah is never coming back.

To Prudence, Laura is just another cat, and not a particularly affectionate one. Prudence is very upset being in Laura’s apartment because she instinctively feels that Laura does not want her there. Laura does associate Prudence with all her bad feelings about her mother.

At first it was odd to read some of the chapters in the cat’s voice, but I actually found it touching and poignant.  Laura may not come across as particularly likable at first, but her childhood was so fractured that you come to understand why she is the way she is. She has a fine career and is a fully functioning member of society.

Prudence just doesn’t understand why Sarah never comes home!  Cooper has a deep understanding of cats. Like her, I firmly believe that cats can be very wise.

Why is she now living in Laura’s apartment? Where is Sarah? Because of Prudence, Laura finally learns to come to grips with her complicated relationship with her mother. Prudence’s innocent love does, indeed, save the day.

You will both laugh and cry reading this book, and Prudence will steal your heart!

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Genre: Fiction
Format: Kindle
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book

This novel is a tragic story studying the choices we make and how they can have long-lasting repercussions.

In the early 1900s, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the Australian coast. The island is very isolated, and there are few visitors. The supply boat comes once a season.

Tom marries Isabel, a young and devoted wife. Their extreme physical isolation from the rest of the world means that they depend on each other for everything.

After Isabel suffers two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat washes up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Isobel makes a critical decision: she wants to keep this baby! After all, who would know?

Tom does not approve, but Isabel has been so wracked with depression over losing her other children that he finally acquiesces. Tom never stops regretting the decision, however.

This decision leads to a heartbreaking series of events that will change their lives forever. His guilt increases over the years until he has to decide whether to tell the authorities. The story was depressing, but so well written that I really wanted to find out what happened.

What prices would Tom and Isabel pay for the decision to keep someone else’s baby? They are not bad people at all; they just make serious lapses in judgment.

I found the final chapters convincing in tying up the storyline. The story is poetically written but it is overwhelmingly sad.

Book Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Crime
Format: Hardcover
Year Published: 2012
Source: I purchased this book

Nick and Amy Dunne seem to have the perfect marriage. They are bright, very attractive, and talented writers. Amy is the daughter of well-known psychiatrists who have created a series of children’s books called “Amazing Amy”, based upon their own daughter. But on their fifth anniversary Amy disappears from their Missouri home she shares with Nick, leaving behind signs of a struggle.

As the media turn up to report the story of the missing beautiful “amazing” blonde wife, Nick’s problematic behavior comes under increasing scrutiny. He doesn’t seem to be the grieving husband that everyone wants him to be. As public suspicions turn  towards Nick, a closer look reveals the unraveling seams of the seemingly “perfect” marriage.

Both had lost their jobs in New York and had moved back to Nick’s hometown in Missouri. Amy was unhappy with the move. Nick was having an affair with another woman. Was this motive enough to want to harm Amy? Has Nick murdered her? Or is there any other reason for her disappearance?

This very popular novel is interesting in that alternate chapters are “written” by Nick and Amy. I found this a little confusing at first, since Nick’s chapters are at first written in the present and Amy’s chapters, are told in the past tense, by necessity, from sections of her diary.

There are several major characters in the book: Nick, Amy, Nick’s sister Go, Amy’s parents, Nick’s senile father, Nick’s selfish mistress, and several other key characters. As the story goes along, however, it becomes increasingly clear that none of the main characters are very likable, except perhaps Nick’s sister, Go, who is a not a fully fleshed out character. As a matter of fact, most of the characters are pretty loathsome, and one of them is a certifiable psychopath.

Flynn does have an amazing imagination, and is able to tell a great story for the most part. However, the book is quite graphic, and anyone squeamish about strong language and sex scenes should not read this book.

The ending, which I shall not give away here, has been controversial. Some readers have not found it satisfactory, partially because not everything is resolved in a tidy little way. It may be somewhat realistic, however, noting the strange, twisted relationships that these people have. I find myself ambivalent about the ambivalent ending!

Book Review: The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Title: The Little Women Letters
Author: Gabrielle Donnelly
Year Published: 2011
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: I received an Advanced Reading Copy at Book Expo America.

The Little Women Letters is Gabrielle Donnelly’s imagining of a future generation of the March sisters, who first appeared in Louisa May Alcott’s book, Little Women. The Atwater sisters of London are direct descendents of Jo March from Louisa May Alcott’s classic semi-autobiographical novel.

The Atwaters are a modern London family consisting of Fee, the feminist American mother; David, the good-natured British father; and daughters Emma, the perfect sister planning her wedding; Lulu, the rebel; and Sophie, the ambitious actress. They have not been particularly interested in family history, mocking their New England forebears with exaggerated hillbilly accents.

One day Fee asks her daughter Lulu to search for old family cookbooks in the attic. While searching through dusty family possessions, Lulu discovers a cache of old family letters – including letters Jo March wrote to her sisters, Meg, Amy, and the departed Beth. As Lulu begins to read through the letters, she suddenly realizes that great-great grandmother Jo was not merely some remote ancestor but a real human being with frailties and dreams. As a matter of fact, some of their tribulations that Jo and her sisters faced in the nineteenth century are not so very different from what the Atwater sisters face in the 21st century.

Lulu has been struggling to find her identity and what career path she wants to follow. During the book Lulu wanders through several jobs including at an art and auction house, bar maid, dog walker, and in a toy store. Lulu also despairs of finding romance, wondering if she will ever find a soul mate.

The Little Women Letters is a charming extension of the Little Women story, which began with Little Women, and was followed by Little Men and Jo’s Boys. It does help to have read Louisa May Alcott’s classic although you don’t have to read it to enjoy this story. Sometimes I had to remind myself that Donnelly wrote all of the letters in the book. She has been careful to try to capture the spirit of the original. Interestingly, the real-life Louisa May Alcott had a namesake niece who was nicknamed “Lulu”. Clearly, Donnelly has done her research.

Even though there a couple of difficult events happen, this is a happy book. I would have wished probably more depth to the situations facing the Atwaters, and sometimes I thought the answers were obvious (for example, it was obvious to me from the beginning what Lulu should choose as a career!), but this book is meant to be fun, light reading. If you loved Little Women, you will enjoy The Little Women Letters.

Book Review: Last Exit In New Jersey by C.E. Grundler

Title: Last Exit In New Jersey
Author: C.E. Grundler
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Year Published: 2011
Format: Kindle
Source: I purchased this book.

Last Exit In New Jersey by C.E. Grundler is an intricately plotted thriller that keeps you guessing until the very end. I kept thinking that I knew where the plot was heading – but I didn’t! I was initially intrigued by the settings since I am a Jersey girl and some of the towns and highways are familiar to me. However, it was the plot that drew me in.

Hazel Moran is a tough young woman who knows her way around boats and trucks. The book opens when Hazel and her father are dumping a body from their boat into the water. Hazel’s cousin Micah is also missing, and Hazel is determined to find him – even though there are some very bad people who very clearly do not want her to do so.

The seedy underbelly of New Jersey is something that I really don’t know much about (except by watching The Sopranos), but I certainly learned about it by reading this novel. Part of what makes this book different is the author’s obvious vast knowledge of boats and the denizens of the boating world. It gives the book a distinctive flavor. These are not yachts with millionaire owners, but rather those who use boats in their work – sometimes rather shady work.

The point of view of the novel shifts between several characters, including Hazel, the junk-food addicted and seriously disturbed Hammon, Hammon’s mysterious girlfriend Annabel, and other assorted characters.

I like Hazel because even though she is fearless and brave, she is surprisingly naïve and vulnerable when it comes to men. She just doesn’t like to show it.

My only problem with the book was that it is so long and densely plotted that my interest started flagging about half-way through the book. This might also be because I rarely read thrillers and I rarely read novels with such complex plots. However, after misplacing my Kindle for over a week (while I was totally re-organizing my apartment), I missed the book and was happy to get back to it to find out what happened. The ending is satisfying but will leave you wanting more!

The author is currently writing a sequel, No Wake Zone, that is scheduled to be published in Spring 2012. I can’t wait to read it and continue Hazel’s adventures.

You can read more about the author here.


It’s Friday — time for Follow My Book Blog Friday, hosted by Parajunkee View and Alison Can Read!

Question: What superhero is your alter-ego?

Answer: I guess my favorite superhero is Wonder Woman! I wish I had her magical powers and I wish I looked like her! She was an early feminist icon, but still gorgeous (of course, she was created by men).

Book Review: Expiation by Greg Messel

Title: Expiation
Author: Greg Messel
Genre: Paperback
Year Published: 2010
Source: I was sent this book for review.

Expiation is a love story. Author Greg Messel tells the tale of high school sweethearts in the 1960’s who lose track of each other and find each other thirty years later.

Dan and Katie are the stars of their high school in Seattle, Washington. Dan is a hero football player, and Katie is a cheerleader and homecoming queen. They believe that they belong together for always.

But when Dan goes away to college in California, he leaves Katie behind in Seattle. Through a series of misunderstandings, they lose contact with each other. During the years that follow, Dan marries a girl he falls in love with at the University of California at Berkeley, and they settle in San Francisco, where Dan is a newspaper reporter. Katie marries a dentist. Dan has a daughter, Vickie, but his wife dies tragically of cancer. Katie’s marriage is a disaster, and she has no children. While Dan loves his wife Wendy, he can’t help wondering about Katie.

Dan’s mother dies in November 1999, on the eve of the new millennium. When he goes back to Seattle to attend his mother’s funeral:

About halfway down the long aisle, something made me glance up. Then I saw Katie. Could it be, after all of these years? I’m sure my solemn, sad mask slipped as I registered complete astonishment. It had to be Katie! I briefly broke ranks and gave her a quick hug, saying “Wait for me afterwards.” I sure hoped that was Katie or else I had just picked up a woman, who was a total stranger, at my mother’s funeral.

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a good love story, and this is a good one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dan really did love his wife, Wendy, but Katie was his first love. Will she also be his last?

I’m hopping with two blog hops! Cym Lowell hosts a book review hop every Wednesday!

And Jennifer at Crazy-for-Books hosts a Book Party every Friday!

Book Blogger Hop

This week’s question: “What is the thing you like most about reading book blogs? Is it the reviews, author guest posts, articles, giveaways, or something else entirely?”
My answer: I love reading book blogs mostly for the reviews, but I also love to study the way the whole blog is put together: the writing, the design, and everything else.

Book Review: No Greater Sacrifice by John C. Stipa

Title: No Greater Sacrifice
Author: John C. Stipa
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Mystery
Format: Paperback
Year Published: 2009
Source: I was sent this book for review.

No Greater Sacrifice by John C. Stipa is a novel that combines many different genres in one book – history, romance, archeology, mystery, thriller, and religion. It is a rollicking ride from start to finish.

With a complicated and densely written plot, the book is quite long — almost 400 pages, but Stipa maintains interest until the end. This book is not superficial — the main characters are carefully drawn, and giving real-life quirks and passions all their own, and there is lots of detail.

The book begins with the murder of a priest in 1917 in France. The murder has remained an unsolved mystery. Fast forward to the present day. The main protagonist, Renee d’Arcadia, is an archeologist who is running out of time — she’s been diagnosed with a fatal case of leukemia. 

Renee is already quite fearless, but this diagnosis gives urgency to everything she does. She meets David Arturo, a troubled history professor, and soon they are embarked on a wild adventure involving archeological finds, tombs and literature in various European cities. There is a whole evil network racing to destroy them.
David is troubled by his past as a helicopter pilot, and thinks about his own character:

Not that most people cared about character. Outward appearance was what society emphasized. It wasn’t right. Character should be tantamount — integrity, bravery, and compassion are the things by which all men should be judged.

David is immediately fascinated by Renee, and knows that she is a kindred spirit in addition to acknowledging the strong physical attraction between them. The fact that they don’t immediately act on that attraction is also interesting.

David and Renee are pursued all over Europe by the “bad guys” who want precious artifacts. This evil network of criminals will do anything to destroy Renee and David.

If you enjoy romance, adventure, or mysteries, you will enjoy this book. The book doesn’t just entertain, it makes you really think about such diverse topics as archaeology, religion, and literature. You become completely involved in Renee and David’s world, and you are rooting for them to triumph over the evil forces against them.

You can read more about John C. Stipa at his WEBSITE.

It’s a Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop

Crazy For Books has a hop every weekend!

This week’s question:

“What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?”

That’s easy! Just like Jennifer at Crazy for Books, I would love a whole room dedicated as a library in my home. Right now, I live in a tiny apartment, but I dream of having a library room, with books on tall built-in shelves, cozy armchairs to sink into and ottomans to stretch my legs on, and a fireplace to sit by! A sidetable for a cup of tea . . . *dreaming* (sigh)

I also think that I will soon have to get an e-reader because I’m running out of space for my books!

Book Review: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Title: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Author: Betty Smith
Genre: Fiction, Classics
Format: Paperback
Year Published: 1943
Source: I purchased this book

When A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was originally published in 1943, it was a huge success, and Betty Smith’s book became an instant classic. It is about several years in the life of the Nolan family in the early 20th century and it is mostly about the coming-of-age of the main character, Francie Nolan. It is that rare novel that can be enjoyed by both teenagers and adults.

This book very definitely has its own style, I think partly because it was written as a memoir and changed into a novel. Smith obviously poured her heart into this book. Her other novels are charming, but they don’t have the depth of this book. Because Smith could fictionalize apparently real people, she could flesh out the characters until they seem like real people, not characters in a novel. Sometimes even minor characters are given thoughts and feelings, as how they relate to the main characters in the book.

A strong point of the novel is its sense of place. Smith even describes in detail the neighborhood. the neighbors and everyday life until you feel are actually in the Brooklyn of 100 years ago. The novel opens by describing Brooklyn in 1912:

Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn’t fit those words into Brooklyn. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in the summer.

The women are the stronger people in the book. Many of the male characters are weak-willed, while the women persevere. Francie Nolan, the main character, is the daughter of Johnny and Katie Nolan and the sister of Neeley. Francie is a fully-realized character. Francie is a strong person, who you know will do well in life.

Katie, the mother, is very hard-working. She cleans apartment buildings for a living. She is scrubbing floors when she is an advanced state of pregnancy. Katie refuses anything that smacks of “charity.” One wonders what she would think of Section 8, food stamps, free school lunches, and WIC. Sometimes there is no food in the house, and the children go hungry.

Johnny Nolan, the father, is a singing waiter, but has no steady job. He mostly works at one-shot jobs like weddings and parties. Johnny is an alcoholic. There was little understanding or treatment of alcoholism when Smith wrote the book. We now know that alcoholism is a disease, with both powerful psychological as well as physical components. So even though Johnny is lovable, and really loves his children, he is perceived as weak and a loser. Johnny comes from a long line of alcoholics; perhaps his problems were at least partially due to a genetic disposition toward the disease.

Francie senses that her mother loves Neeley more by her actions, but she eventually comes to peace with it. This does not mean that her mother doesn’t love her, of course she does. It is partly because Neeley is reminiscent of the father and Katie does not want him to turn out the same way. Francie is like her mother in that she is strong and smart, but she has also inherited her father’s creative ability and his dreaminess. One of the main differences between Francie and her father is that Francie takes action, and Katie admires that. Francie works hard at school and at her various jobs, and in improving upon her hardscrabble beginnings.

The novel does have flaws. Some of the psychoanalyzing and character analysis is quite dated. Women are thwarted by “starved love instincts.” However, I find the book to be mostly very strong, especially about the characterization of Francie. She is a completely realized character. You feel as if you know her. The book takes her from an eleven-year-old child to a young woman about to leave Brooklyn and start new adventures. Even though she is going far away, she will never really leave Brooklyn behind:

She might get rid of her Brooklyn accent that way. But Francie didn’t want to get rid of it any more than she wanted to get rid of her name. It meant that she belonged some place. She was a Brooklyn girl with a Brooklyn name and a Brooklyn accent. She didn’t want to change into a bit of this and a bit of that.

You just wish that there had been a sequel.

Book Review: This One is Mine by Maria Semple

Title: This One Is Mine
Author: Maria Semple
Genre: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Year Published: 2010
Source: I was sent this book for review.

Maria Semple was a television writer for many years. She wrote for the shows Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. Her knowledge of show business and of Hollywood forms the basis for her first novel: This One is Mine. Her novel is a tragi-comic tour de force.
In case you’re thinking of reading a superficial novel about Hollywood, this is not it! When I first started reading the novel, I didn’t like some of the characters. They seemed like self-involved and shallow Hollywood types. But then Maria Semple surprises you, and all of her characters become real people who just happen to live in Los Angeles.

The main character is Violet Parry, who is married to David Parry, an extremely successful rock band manager. Violet and David have a beautiful little daughter, Dot, are very rich, and have a glamorous lifestyle that most people would envy. 

But Violet is desperately unhappy. She seems to be suffering from a prolonged post-partum depression, and her mansion has become a gilded cage. Her husband has become increasingly frustrated with her depression and has become quite angry with her. He doesn’t listen to her or ask for her opinions, and never asks her how she really feels. Her opinions seem worthless to him. He seems to be deliberately cruel. 

It’s very upsetting to Violet, because they had a very close marriage for a long time. Violet gained a quite a bit of weight during her pregnancy, and has been unable to shed the weight since her baby was born, thus exacerbating her depression. She is ripe for the attentions of another man.

His name is Teddy Reyes, and he is a small-time bass player. I’ll admit that I never cared for Teddy, who spews racist remarks and seems to be incapable of telling the truth or being faithful to those who love him. He is the exact opposite of David, who is extremely responsible and loyal to his family. 

Violet is immediately attracted to Teddy, probably because he actually listens to her. Violet may also be attracted to the bad-boy side of Teddy, because he has long-standing drug and alcohol addictions. He was more interested in shooting up than in his career, and is now penniless. Violet knows instantly that she wants to have an affair, and fantasizes about the life they will have together. It never occurs to her that Teddy may not be as smitten with her as he is with drugs. However, there is a strong physical attraction between them.

The other major character is David’s sister, Sally, who at first seems to be a rather trashy. She sets her sights on Jeremy, a man who looks like a sure bet for sportscasting stardom. She seduces him within moments of meeting him. She manages to get him to the altar, but then makes a series of huge errors to make her life very complicated. Sally is a diabetic former ballerina, and while it seems that she is trying to marry a soon-to-be rich man for his money, I suspect that Sally really feels unloved and insecure, and just wants someone to love her.

Violet’s affair with Teddy has huge ramifications for all of the other characters, in ways that she could never have foreseen. David finds out about the affair, and the surprising way he handles the situation was a turning point in the book (at least for me).

This book has characters suffering from various ailments (diabetes, Asperger Syndrome, Hepatitis C, drug addiction), all of which are not mere plot devices, but crucial to the development of the story. All of these are very serious diseases, but the book’s dark comic undertone sets the plot racing along, especially in the last few chapters, where the pace seems to really pick up to a satisfying finish.

I don’t want to give away the entire plot of the book because I want you to enjoy reading it yourself!

Here is a video of Maria Semple reading excerpts from the novel: