Review: Me Before You

Me Before You
Me Before You
By Jojo Moyes
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143124542, July 2013, 400pp.)

The Short of It:

Smart, funny, heartwarming and yes, a bit gut-wrenching. I was warned to not read it in public due to its sob-inducing content but it doesn’t really matter where you read it, as long as you read it!

The Rest of It:

It’s difficult for 35-year-old Will Traynor to accept his quadriplegic status. Prior to being struck by a motorcycle, he traveled all over the world living life to the fullest. But his days and nights are now spent reliant on others. Nathan, his primary caregiver, takes care of his medical needs, but when his family sees how despondent he is about his current condition and the fact that’s he’s attempted to kill himself once already, they intervene by hiring a secondary caregiver by the name of Louisa Clark.

Louisa (Lou) is a struggling 26-year-old. Having just lost her job, her prospects are slim and having to support her father, mother and sister forces her to consider jobs that she normally would not give a second thought to. When she’s sent to interview for a caregiver position, she gives it a go, not realizing what her true purpose will be, which is essentially to give Will a reason to live again.

Tall order, huh?

At first, Lou has no idea what her job is. She’s there to be a companion to Will and to watch him when Nathan is not around. Although she feels awkward around Will. she quickly realizes what she’s been tasked with and after a minor freak-out, she embraces it. Albeit, not all that confidently at first, but after getting to know Will and what he’s all about, she feels sure that she can sway his position on life in general.

I think the success of this book, has a lot to do with Lou as a character. She’s efficient but in a bumbling sort of way. Not perfect, but her flaws make for some entertaining reading. Her too tight skirts and odd sense of style are endearing but her genuine concern over Will is what makes this entire situation a bitter pill to swallow. Her dedication to him and yes, her eventual love for him prove to be very challenging obstacles, but ones that she is willing to push through in order to get the result she wants.

What makes this story even more special, is that it’s as much about Lou, as it is about Will. From the moment Will sees Lou, he knows why she’s there. Even though he’s chair bound, he realizes he’s in the perfect position to see that Lou (he calls her Clark) lives the life that he cannot. Through new experiences, some they make together and some Lou manages on her own, the two manage to add a little bit of adventure to their day-to-day existence.

Through it all, you can’t help but be reminded of Will’s precarious health. His inability to regulate his body temperature, his increased risk for infection and his drastic mood swings are all reminders of what they are up against. In the middle of happiness, comes heartache and it’s so incredibly difficult to understand how a life can change so drastically in such a short amount of time. The unfairness of it all will leave you shaking your head and if you’re the type to cry while reading, you will definitely well-up with this one.

This is the type of read that will take you through all of the emotions. I was happy, sad, disappointed and mad. There were times when I wanted nothing else but to curse Will’s mother or shake some common sense into Will, but all in all, the experience of reading this book was like spending time with dear friends. It took me forever to pick it up because I really considered it to be straight-up romance and it’s really, so much more than that.

If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must! The cost of care and the use and availability of assisted-suicide are some of the weightier issues included in this novel. Will is rich, so the cost of his care is not really an issue but I imagine it would be for a lot of folks in the same situation. My book club chose not to read Me Before You but I think we missed out on a good discussion opportunity because there is plenty to discuss with this one.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via a blog giveaway. Thanks Jean!
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Dept. of Speculation

Dept of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation
By Jenny Offill
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385350815, January 2014, 192pp.)

The Short of It:

Dept. of Speculation is a glittery, moving entity that grabs the reader quickly with its sharp and lovely prose.

The Rest of It:

This novel is quite different from anything I’ve read before. Reading it, was like gazing into a prism. It dazzled me with its simplicity and had me rereading passages every time I turned a page.

The story is told by the Narrator, who later becomes The Wife. She marries, has a child and then when the marriage begins to fall apart, she quietly observes the destruction almost as if she is a stranger on the outside, looking in. Infidelity plays a large role, as does the exhaustion that comes with raising a child. But in the midst of the not-so-good, is the good. The smell of her baby’s head, the way her husband used to look at her, the fact that they’ve come this far, even with all of the angst. There is something to be said for working through your problems, and that is what The Wife does, in her own head, as she carefully weighs what’s important to her.

Before getting married, we possess a sense of self. We know who we are and most often, what we hope to be. But once married, that plan or that sense of self often doesn’t pan out or changes into something else. That is the case here. With marriage, comes experience and life lessons and when we have children, we learn from that experience as well and it changes us. It would be impossible for it not to.

This book captures that moment of when Me, becomes We and then back again. Don’t let the book’s length fool you either. It’s short but packed with meaning. There’s plenty to reflect on here and although it certainly deals with the struggle that lots of married couples experience, it’s hopeful and tinged with the promise of something better.

Dept. of Speculation is a lovely read. I highly recommend it. Oh, and if you don’t read it, I may have to stop talking to you. I just threw that in to see who’s paying attention.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances

The Realm of Last Chances
By Steve Yarbrough
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385349505, August 2013, 288pp.)

The Short of It:

An unraveling marriage, an illicit affair with a younger man and an online book club is what prompted me to read this one.

The Rest of It:

Earlier this month, Gayle hosted a book club for The Realm of Last Chances and seeing that it had all the finer points of what I look for in a novel (a crumbling marriage, dysfunction, dishonesty and secrets) I jumped on board.

Kristen, a fifty-something, loses her high paid administrative job at a California university. She, along with her husband Cal, move to Boston so she can accept a position at one of the smaller colleges in town. Still recovering from the shock of losing her job, they are both forced to make a new life for themselves, where neighbors seem to know your every move. But the move itself is a last chance of sorts. Their marriage has hit a dead-end. Communication is at an all time low. When Kristen takes up with a younger man, the situation is further complicated.

This was an interesting read and made for a good discussion, but it wasn’t a fave of mine. I think the most interesting aspect of this novel is that Yarbrough catches these people at the worst point of their lives. They are tired of having to hold it together. This is most evident in Cal’s actions. He’s the brooding type whereas Kristen is sort of cold fish. She’s more calculated and because of that, I liked her the least.

My main problem with this novel is that I just didn’t buy Kristen’s affair with Matt. He seems consumed by Kristen but between you and me, she wasn’t all that. She was so closed off that I had a hard time believing anyone could love her, much less a younger guy. Sure, a lot can be said for a physical attraction but I didn’t see much of that either. Had Yarbrough gone a bit deeper with Kristen’s character, everything might have been a little more believable.

However, Yarbrough’s take of a marriage on the rocks is pretty accurate. The distance between each other while lying in bed, the long silences and the quiet observation all add to the tension between Kristen and Cal. As a reader, you know something is about to happen but you aren’t quite sure what, and that is what kept me reading.

Overall, some gorgeous passages that stuck with me but I needed a little more character development for me to really get into the story.

If you want to read what the others thought, check out this post.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher for an online book club.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, Hardcover, 9781250012579, February 2013, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

You know when you were in school and drew hearts all over everything to express your love for a particular thing or person? Well, if I could actually bring myself to write in a book, there would be hearts all over this one.

The Rest of It:

Eleanor, an awkward, “big girl” with crazy red hair, lives at home with her numerous siblings, her mother and her abusive stepfather. She’s poor. Poor enough to learn how to make do with what she has, and often, what she has is very little. Her crazy outfits make her the butt of everyone’s jokes and the morning bus ride to school is made worse by the fact that no one wants to sit next to her.

However, none of this goes unnoticed by Park. Park observes Eleanor from afar, before offering up the seat next to him. Half-Korean and in a circle of his own, Park is not popular, but not unpopular either. He’s able to blend, mostly because he grew up with these kids. There is a degree of respect for him, so once Eleanor accepts the next to him, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. Hesitant to talk at first, the two bond over comic books. When Park notices that she’s reading his comic books as they lay open in his lap, he begins to bring them just for her. What happens next is nothing short of magic. These two unlikely characters forge a friendship, which eventually becomes love. Through music and comic books, they come together and once Park gets close enough to know Eleanor’s true story, he does everything in his power to save her.

Sometimes, I think the success of a book comes down to how well an author captures a feeling. Reading this book was like living my high school years all over again and I mean that in a good way. Even with all of the teen angst, the high school years are the ones that stick with you. Am I right? Good, bad, ugly. It’s the stuff of memories and that is why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell’s ability to strip the characters down to their most vulnerable state is what makes this book so readable and probably why the characters felt so real to me.

I loved Eleanor’s awkwardness but I think I loved Park’s pragmatic approach to life even more. And his parents? So awesome. Loving, supportive parents who aren’t perfect. Sure, there was a heavy dose of sap when it came to the romance itself, but that’s how it is when you are young. You can’t wait to see each other and you do nothing but obsess about it until you do. Rowell captures it all beautifully.

One bonus to reading this book is that it’s set in the 80′s and the musical references are like whipped cream added to a sundae. Delightful! I grew up in the 80′s so that entire decade is near and dear to my heart but this book has a little something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Mr. Lynch’s Holiday

Mr. Lynch's Holiday

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday
By Catherine O’Flynn
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091816, October 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Things don’t always happen as planned. Sometimes, you need to be rescued.

The Rest of It:

After his wife’s death, Dermot Lynch leaves his home in England to visit his estranged son, Eamonn, who’s made a new life for himself in Spain. When Dermot arrives unannounced, what he finds is that Lomaverde is not the ideal neighborhood that Eamonn had described. Its dilapidated appearance, its empty pools and the feral cats are just a few of the tip-offs that things are not going well for Eamonn.

Also hard to ignore, is the fact that Eamonn’s wife Laura,  is nowhere to be found. Shortly before Dermot’s arrival, Laura left him and returned to England. This is not something he wants to discuss with his father, or anyone really, so he tells Dermot that she’s taken a trip. With his father standing before him, Eamonn is forced to play host, when all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep the day away.

This is one of those great, sleeper reads that you come across every now and then. The book came and went without any fanfare and that’s a shame, because it’s really very good. There is a closeness between Eamonn and his father, but it’s not one that is easily seen on the surface. Dermot, is basically a happy guy. He’s at peace with who he is and what he’s done whereas Eamonn is not satisfied with life. His decision to leave a good life, for a better life, blew up in his face and he’s not able to admit it. With the economy the way it is, he can’t sell, so he’s reminded daily of what a failure he is.

What Dermot does, is what any caring father would do. He picks Eamonn up, brushes him off and gets him on his feet, even if that means going to the crazy neighbor’s house for dinner or walking around the compound that has become his prison. It’s all too exhausting for Eamonn but at the same time, he seems to realize that something has to give and that he can’t go on living this way forever. Through these daily interactions, Eamonn begins to realize that perhaps, all is not lost.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday is a quiet, feel-good book. It’s about appreciating what you have, when you have it and finding happiness in the simple things. It’s a lovely story that is both well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read her other books.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

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