Tuesday, September 29, 2015

After You - Book Review & Give-away

I wasn't sure I wanted to read After You, the follow-up novel to Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  As you know, I loved Me Before You, but it also ripped out my heart and stomped on it and made me feel all kinds of powerful and sometimes uncomfortable emotions. I wasn't sure I was ready to read about poor, sweet Louise going through any more trauma. However, I wasn't about to pass up an opportunity to read a novel by one of my favorite authors. Please excuse my review, it will definitely be more emotionally fueled since I seem to be so much more emotionally invested in this fictional character's life.

After You picks up on Louise's life eighteen months after the death of Will. She's living in an apartment in London and working in a bar. She's estranged from her family, lonely and unhappy. It was the exact situation I was worried she'd be in. Because how does one recover from the turmoil and pain and loss of Will's death? A series of events will force Louise to reconcile with her family, introduce her to a handsome paramedic and brings someone from Will's life back into hers.

Moyes tells Louise's process of mourning and grief in her typical and wonderful style that explores these painful emotions in her characters. She takes them to the very brink of destruction before allowing them to crawl out of the despair. The reader aches for Louise and feels her pain. It's completely believable. Fortunately human nature is generally pretty resilient and so is Louise. Almost simultaneously, Moyes can make her reader laugh at the hilarity of life--the misunderstandings and the ridiculous and the good. It's one thing for an author to be able to make her readers cry and it's another thing altogether to be able to make them laugh. This is where Moyes continues to excel as she delivers beloved novels to her readers.

In After You, Louise learns to love again. More importantly, she gains the strength to trust herself and be brave. It's all the things Will wanted for her but she couldn't attain until she was ready to let go and be herself.

In the end, it was nice to check up on Louise. Perhaps it was even cathartic and healthy for the readers who fell in love with her in Me Before You, to have a chance to meet her again and see that she can be strong and live her life with flair and passion and her own quirky, fun personality.

After You by Jojo Moyes is published by Pamela Dorman Books and released on September 29, 2015.

I received a complimentary copy of After You and the publishers are offering a second copy as a give-away. 

To enter, please leave a comment on this post. The contest will be open to entries until Friday, October 2, 2015 at 11:59 pm MST.  The winner will be chosen randomly and announced on Saturday, October 3, 2015. Open to US residents only.

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Check out Jojo Moyes's Facebook page to see Sophie Kinsella interview Jojo about After You.

And once you've read After You, you will want to discuss the book with your friends.  You'll love this After You Online Book Club Kit filled with recipes and fun ways to enhance your book club experience.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Book Review

From the cover :

In the brief golden years of the Edwardian era the McCosh sisters—Christabel, Ottilie, Rosie and Sophie—grow up in an idyllic household in the countryside south of London. On one side, their neighbors are the proper Pendennis family, recently arrived from Baltimore, whose close-in-age boys—Sidney, Albert and Ashbridge—shake their father’s hand at breakfast and address him as “sir.” On the other side is the Pitt family: a “resolutely French” mother, a former navy captain father, and two brothers, Archie and Daniel, who are clearly “going to grow up into a pair of daredevils and adventurers.” In childhood this band is inseparable, but the days of careless camaraderie are brought to an abrupt halt by the outbreak of The Great War, in which everyone will play a part.
All three Pendennis brothers fight in the hellish trenches at the front; Daniel Pitt becomes an ace fighter pilot with his daredevil tendencies intact; Rosie and Ottilie McCosh volunteer in the hospitals, where women serve with as much passion and nearly as much hardship as the men at the front; Christabel McCosh becomes one of the squad of photographers sending “snaps” of their loved ones at home to the soldiers; and Sophie McCosh drives for the RAF in France. In the aftermath of the war, as “the universal joy and relief were beginning to be tempered by . . . an atmosphere of uncertainty,” everyone must contend with the modern world that is slowly emerging from the ashes of the old.

My thoughts :

I absolutely loved The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres.  Writing with style, grace and a deep understanding of people, de Bernieres stole my heart. In the epic story, I fell in love with the characters. Their eccentricities were not simply characterizations but personalities of people who seemed so real, certainly they inhabited The Grampians. 

I love a good family drama and de Bernieres combines the McCosh's family history with world history as they experience World War I and its aftermath from several different perspectives. Taking the reader into the trenches of France and the hospitals and the home front, de Berieres spares no unpleasant details to show the horrors of war while writing in stunningly beautiful language.

The war left no one unchanged and de Bernieres explores the effects of family life and love and relationships with God and man as the McCosh family and their friends struggle to move on with their lives following the war. But the reader wants only the best for these marvelously flawed and human characters inhabiting the pages. It's a powerful story evoking a myriad of emotions and making one ponder life and war and love.

There are times where the novel drags on a bit but thankfully, it picks up steams toward the ending. And while de Bernieres and reality doesn't have its "happily ever after" endings there is a wonderful feeling of hope for the future.

The Dust That Fall From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres is published by Pantheon and released in August 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Dust That Falls From Dreams. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, September 14, 2015

Girl Waits With Gun - Book Review

It was a chance encounter. An accident. When Henry Kaufman's car plowed into their buggy, the Kopp sisters didn't realize how it would change their lives. Hoping for a quick payment from Kaufman, the trouble escalates and Constance, Norma and Fleurette fear for their lives. The Sherrif issues them handguns to protect themselves and Constance takes on the responsibility of ridding their lives of this menace.

Bringing this true story to life with class and humor, Amy Stewart creates a fun and entertaining novel with a protagonist that is unique and unforgettable. Constance is the very best part of Girl Waits With Gun. She's tall and intimidating. Constance is inspiring as she's simply not afraid of standing up for herself and what she knows to be right. After going to the authorities, Constance is aware that she must take the responsibility of keeping her sisters safe. No matter her strength, she's also a vulnerable woman and sensitive. She loves her family and has a conflicted past. Her sisters, Norma and Fleurette also come alive as their doubts, fears and passions burst from the page.

Stewart keeps the pace steady as the Kopp sisters are consistently threatened by Kaufman and his gang. She weaves in Constance's back story and history expertly so that it doesn't detract from the main story. The ending was a bit too drawn out but otherwise I was constantly engaged.

Girl Waits With Gun is free of cursing and sex. It is excellently researched and is a fascinating trip back in time. Amy Stewart succeeds at memorializing the Kopp sisters with dignity in this fabulous novel.

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 1, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Girl Waits With Gun. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Courtesan - Book Review

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is a retelling of the Chinese legend of Sai Jinhua. After a tragic period of time as a prostitute, Jinhua becomes the concubine of a scholar. Jinhua joins her husband on his travels to Europe and dazzles the Austrian Empress and others. Jinhua returns to China and becomes famous as the Emissary's Courtesan in Peking. She survives the brutality of the wars during the end of the nineteenth century as she searches for the Great Love.

Much has been written about Jinhua in the past and Curry adds to the tale with her humanized version of this enigmatic Chinese woman. Curry's writing style is beautiful and haunting. Her descriptions of China were mesmerizing and fascinating in their beauty and violence. She writes about horrifying and violent moments that leave the reader breathless and anxious but without being obscene or gratuitous.

Curry's beautiful writing and Jinhua's tortured and hopeful life combined to create a very readable novel. Curry seeks to make Jinhua a believable and real person instead of feeding the rumors and legend. Though the novel drags in parts, I was caught up in Jinhua's world. I ached for the tortured little girl with her bound feet as she's forced into prostitution--hoped for the adult Jinhua as she got another view of the world and searched for true love.

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is a sweeping novel that doesn't immortalize the sympathetic Sai Jinhua yet captures her beauty and fortitude and makes her entirely authentic.

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry is published by Dutton and released on September 8, 2015. 

**I received a complimentary copy of The Courtesan. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase

Roberta's grandmother has gone to live in an assisted living facility and Roberta inherits an old suitcase full of books. Since Roberta works in a used book store she immediately starts going through the books and discovers an old letter from her grandfather to her grandmother. But the letter doesn't fit the family history story that Roberta has always been told.

In this split narrative novel, Roberta's grandmother Dorothy Sinclair lives in the countryside of England during the beginning years of World War II. She meets a Polish pilot who is training nearby and events conspire to change Dorothy's lonely and unhappy life forever.

I read three World War II era books in a row. Unfortunately for Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters, it followed immediately on the heels of a All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which I loved with all my heart. I feel bad for books that have to follow absolute masterpieces. They get judged against the previous book instead of just being held up on their own merits. So, I'm going to try to critique Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase fairly.

Here's what it had going for it :

1. Interesting characters that are not perfect and sometimes not even likable. Occasionally, the characters make despicable choices but there are consequences.
2. A solid plot that while dependent on the war era for its plot is not fully about the war.
3. Fresh writing that is simple but mostly keeps a nice steady pace.

I wasn't blown away by Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase but I was curious enough about the ending to keep reading. It's an easy read, really--short, succinct and the pages kept turning. As is often the case with split narratives, one story is stronger than the other. Other than the familial relationship there's not much to tie the storylines together. Occasionally, the reader gets lost in Roberta's lonely ramblings. I didn't mind the particulars of the ending, it's fairly predictable, but it seemed to come together all at once without much fanfare. Overall, the novel just felt lackluster and forgettable.

**There is some swearing and a brief scene of sexual violence.**

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters is published by Putnam and released on August 4, 2015.

**I received a complimentary copy of Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.**