Books You Already Knew I Was Going To Tell You To Read

I was on the road quite a bit in December and read a whole pile of books I enjoyed. But none of them quite seemed to warrant their own review, since none of them are going to come as a surprise to anyone who’s spent any time here. So a list seems appropriate, so I get to mention a few things that I heartily, if predictably, recommend:

1) Landline by Rainbow Rowell. I saw Rainbow Rowell speak in person earlier this fall, and that woman is made up entirely of curly hair and charisma, and the stories she told about writing this book had the audience literally screaming with laughter. This is no Eleanor and Park, but I’m not sure my heart could handle another one of those, so this story about a marriage and a magic telephone will do just fine.

2) Dreams of God and Monsters by Laini Taylor. Quite a while back on the blog I mentioned the first book in this trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone. That book was your fairly standard YA, magical realism, independent female narrator, star-crossed lover sort of story. And then book two, man, book two took a turn. It got dark and weird and tragic and bloody, and I actually put off starting the third one for months because I was scared of where things might go. But I ended up really liking how the story resolved, and I promise you, you have not read anything like this.

3) One Plus One by Jojo Moyes. I’ve already raved about Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind, so it shouldn’t be any surprise that Moyes’s latest was equally heart lifting/breaking. (Note, because I know my readers: don’t worry too much about the dog. It will work out.)

4) The Secret Place by Tana French. This wasn’t my favorite of the Dublin Murder Squad novels–that would be The Likeness–but it was a compelling read. While the plot and mystery of this one didn’t grab me the way some of them have, it still delivered on the two things I think Tana French does best–unsympathetic but fascinating characters, and a romance-free vision of modern-day Ireland.

The Girl You Left Behind

Back in the summer I raved about Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, and I have apparently become one of her groupies: she is delightful on Twitter and I’m here now to tell you to go read her new book. Like Me Before You, this latest one would be an excellent airplane book, and would be a great distraction for those of you about to embark on holiday travel.

The Girl You Left Behind is a little more intricate than Me Before You, with a narrative alternating between two story lines. The first story involves Sophie, a French woman in a small town occupied by the Germans during World War I. Her husband, a painter, has been sent to the front and all she has to remember him is a portrait he painted of her. But the portrait catches the eye of a German officer, and no good can possibly come of being too involved with the occupying soldiers. The second story line follows the painting to the current day, where it’s owned by Liv, a London woman with problems of her own. Her troubles get worse when the mystery of how the painting got from small-town 1917 France to modern-day London blows up in a very public way.

I have heard some critics of Me Before You say that is was predictable, and at times a little far-fetched. I think both those things are true and they’re true of this book, as well. I never know where any story is going, and I guessed pretty early into The Girl You Left Behind how the issue with the portrait would be resolved. But that doesn’t really matter in either book. The characters are so nicely drawn–complex and flawed, but sympathetic–and the stories move along at such a clip that both of these books are just very readable. And I mean that as a high compliment. I finished The Interestings by Meg Woltizer not long ago and while I was reading it I enjoyed it a lot and thought it was very well done. But the instant I closed the book each night I forgot all about it and lost all interest in picking it up again. I didn’t think about it when I wasn’t reading it, I didn’t long to get back to it, or feel the need to read “just one more chapter.” With The Girl You Left Behind, I stayed up until 1:00 in the morning on a Tuesday, desperate to find out what happened.

Also, both of Moyes’s books seem absolutely made to be turned into movies. I’m not sure what it is about them that make me think that–I’d be interested in hearing what other folks think makes a book seem ready for adaptation to the screen. But I think both of these stories would movies as compelling as the books are.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: A sad, suspenseful page-turner.

You might also like: The Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, which also deals with a painting of mysterious provenance, or any of Tracy Chevalier’s novels about historical figures, including The Girl With the Pearl Earring.

Me Before You

I can’t remember why I picked up Me Before You by Jojo Moyes–I must have seen it recommended on a blog or on Twitter, since those are those places I learn about everything–but I didn’t know a thing about it when I started reading. I think I thought it was a romance. Which I guess it is, sort of, but calling it a romance seems way too simple.

Now, when I summarize the plot, you’re going to think it sounds like a bummer. It’s about a young British woman, Louisa, who takes a job serving as a companion to Will, a man who was recently paralyzed in an accident and isn’t very pleased about having her around. I know, I know, I wouldn’t have wanted to read it based on that either. And it’s not a happy book–there were definitely tears. But it’s also charming and the characters are real and funny. When the book starts, Lousia is working at a coffee shop with no plans to do anything else, and Moyes did a great job of making Louisa aimless without her seeming dumb or unsympathetic. The relationship Louisa has with Will is complicated and layered, but her relationship with her family is presented with equal care. Even when some of the plot turns got a bit melodramatic, the characters kept the story grounded.

Gretchen Rubin (the author of The Happiness Project, a book I’ve raved about before) offers monthly book suggestions on her site, but very specifically doesn’t describe the books at all. She says that she finds herself less interested in reading a book when someone tells her what it’s about. I like hearing details about books before I read them, but I struggle with the actual describing part here on the blog sometimes. Often I feel like I’ll steal some of the magic of a book by revealing things that are better discovered as you go along. If I were queen, I would just tell everyone that they should trust me and read what I tell them to. Me Before You is definitely a book where I don’t want to risk any of the magic, so just trust me and read it already.

If you need any more convincing, Anne Lamott raved about this book in the most recent People magazine, so I feel like it’s been blessed–if she likes it, how could anyone not?

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Funny, sad, cathartic.

You might also like: Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It’s not really like Me Before You–it’s a non-fiction memoir for one thing–but it’s the last thing I read that inspired the same kind of emotional reaction (laughter, tears, inability to get it out of my mind days later).