Friday, August 21, 2015

"The Last Letter From Your Lover": Anticipating 'Me After You' by Jojo Moyes

Ahhhhh love . . . .

Who doesn't appreciate a great love story full of unrequited passion, missed opportunities, realizations about life, and the possibility of a happy ending after so much suffering?

I'll tell you who loves them.  This girl.

I needed to read something by Jojo Moyes as I anticipate the release of After You (the sequel to her bestselling Me Before You) in late September.  As the last days of carefree summer vacation wane, I wanted to get lost in a romance with substance - something that wouldn't feel like cotton candy and make my teeth hurt, but something more like a flourless dark chocolate torte from a high end restaurant.

And, you know what? Jojo Moyes delivered yet another gorgeous landscape of romance in her 2010 novel "The Last Letter From Your Lover." Both love stories in this book are heart wrenching in different ways - human, flawed, tragic and believable.

The main love story focuses on Jennifer Stirling and her chance meeting with a playboy reporter while she is vacationing in the south of France in 1960.  They are immediately drawn to each other, and although she doesn't want an affair and he doesn't want to tear her from her life which she claims is not unhappy - their chemistry can't be denied.  Sound cliche? It didn't feel like it while I was reading it.  Moyes never fails to give her characters so much depth that the reader can understand why they make the choices that they make even if they seem immoral.

Adultery is wrong, right? What about if your husband is dull, verbally abusive, absent, and also bribing victims of asbestos to not rat out his company? And what if your lover "cracks himself open" in letters that ache with tenderness and raw emotion.  Maybe you don't believe in soul mates or true love, but reading about it on warm summer breezy nights makes me believe.

The secondary love story centers on 32 year old Ellie, a determined feature writer who is in the midst of a torrid love affair with a married novelist.  She makes excuses for her affair and even after she befriends Rory who just happens to be into her and he's funny, single and awesome to be around, she can't quite seem to break the habit of the married guy.

Why can one affair be okay but another can't? Is adultery ever okay? What about when children are involved?

I loved when Rory attacked Ellie for her choices and said, "Every act has a consequence, Ellie.  In my view the world divides into people who can see that, and make a decision accordingly, and those who just go for what feels good at the time." Maybe humans are just blind to the consequences of their actions.  We don't have foresight, and that may be our biggest weakness when it comes to love.

I enjoyed my escape into another Jojo Moyes love novel, and if you are in the mood for a romantic escape this love story might be just what you need as the cicadas sing their end of summer song.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"The Good Girl": A 'Gone Girl'-esque Thriller Worth the Ride"

After I picked my jaw up off the floor when I finished "The Good Girl" by Mary Kubica, I realized that I was going to miss the characters.

It's a thriller which isn't always my favorite genre, and it's also about the abduction of a young woman and the events that lead up to the abduction as well as the events that come after the abduction similar to the very popular "Gone Girl." Just like "Gone Girl," it's plot driven with many surprising twists and turns.  There are psychological realizations as the story unfolds, and clues that lead the reader to believe one thing, when often the opposite occurs.

The difference between this and many of the other thrillers like the wildly popular "Gone Girl" and  "The Girl on the Train" is that I actually found myself caring about each of the characters in this book.  With the all the cray cray characters in other thrillers, I end up not really caring what happens to them, and often race to the end just to finish instead of savoring the journey of the thrill ride. Kubica sets up a story worth caring about with family dysfunction, a surprising love story, and deeply flawed but likable and relatable people at the center of the plot.

The story revolves around Mia, the youngest daughter of a high profile Chicago Judge who is abducted by Colin Thatcher. Colin has disdain for this woman of privilege even though he takes pity on her. Although she comes from a wealthy family, Mia, unlike her older sister, is not a daddy's girl and more often reveals herself as a huge disappointment to her father so much so that she is barely scraping by as an art teacher.  The reader gets her mother Eve's perspective, the abductor's perspective, and Gabe's perspective (the detective who tirelessly searches for Mia).  It is only at the very end of the book that we hear from Mia, and it's a twist that I wasn't expecting (hence having to pick my jaw up off the floor when I finished the novel).

So much happens in the span of the book as the characters reveal themselves.  While they spend days and months together in a secluded cabin in Grand Marais, they begin to disclose the stories of their lives. We learn about Colin's troubled past and his touching relationship with his mom.  He's a criminal, but I actually cared about him based his backstory and his actions with Mia. And as Mia opens up, we see her as "the good girl" - the quiet forgotten daughter, who didn't become a lawyer or fascinate her father.  She liked to have tea in secret with her mother and she would stay hidden during hide and seek sometimes for hours until someone found her.

Even Eve, whose weak nature allowed her husband to stomp on Mia's spirit, redeemed herself during the span of the novel.  Through her recollections of the past and the realizations after her daughter's abduction, she woke up to the abuse that both she and her daughter suffered under the judge's tyranny.

The brilliance for me in this novel is that Kubica chose to structure it with not only alternating narrator perspectives, but also with alternating time perspectives.  We learn clues to what happened to Mia by knowing what comes after the abduction, but it's in the before chapters that the tension mounts.  So smart.

There isn't much that I didn't like about Kubica's debut novel, and I am already looking forward to reading her 2nd book, "Pretty Baby" which was just released on July 28th, 2015 and has already received great reviews.

If you want a thriller that won't make you wish ill on the characters or think that the characters are getting exactly what they deserved, Mary Kubica's "The Good Girl" is the perfect book to take with you on your last breath of summer beach trips - or maybe even take it with you to your secluded cabin up north which as Kubica knows is the perfect place to hide away from the world.