Monthly Archives: May 2020

The Girl You Left Behind #BookReview

Book: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes

That’s my second Jojo Moyes in a row and she’s fast redeeming herself. I know I know I’d said I’d read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, but The Girl You Left Behind was sitting there on my bookshelf begging to be read, and well, I couldn’t resist.

I thought I’d have a quick look you know, just to check if I needed to put Moyes back on my favourite-author list, but before I knew it I was sucked right in.

Books have a way of doing that.

Let me share the story so you know exactly how that happened

The Girl you Left Behind tells the story of two women in two different timelines. 

First, there’s Sophie, a proud and courageous Frenchwoman Her story is set in 1916 during the German occupation of France in the First World War. She runs a small hotel along with her sister, and is forced to serve the German Kommandant and his men, much against her wishes.

Sophie’s husband (who is away fighting the war) was a painter and did a striking painting of hers that hangs in her hotel now. It catches the eye of the Kommandant who seems to be obsessed with it. Through it all, Sophie struggles to keep her family safe even as she tries to find her husband through the Kommandant. How far will she go?

Cut to London, 2006. Sophie’s painting is now owned by Liv Halston, who is mourning the recent loss of her husband. The painting is now worth a fortune, although Liv is unaware of it. To her, its value lies in the fact that it’s a wedding gift from her dead husband. Events then on, shake up Liv’s life as she struggles to keep ownership of the painting.

What I thought of it

I’ve read a few other books with two timelines and in each of them one of the two stories has stood head and shoulders above the other. Moyes’ book also suffers from the this problem, although the contrast wasn’t as stark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me begin at the beginning. 

The book opens with Sophie’s story…

…. and I was completely captivated. Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres and Moyes brings it alive. The fear, the hunger and the cold. The shortages, the prejudices as also the sense of community, it was all there. And there was intrigue. Sophie’s interactions with the Kommandant made for compelling reading. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. It was riveting right up to the very end.

Then came Liv’s story…

…and the pace fell dramatically; as if sudden brakes had been applied on an enjoyable adventurous journey. I had to push myself to keep going and my mind kept wandering away, wondering why Moyes had to desert Sophie at all, why she even attempted to add Liv’s tale and water down a stunning narrative.

While Sophie’s romance with her husband Édouard Lefèvre (before he leaves for the war) is passionate and real, their life idyllic, Liv’s remains vague. When I think of her husband, David, all I can think of is a genius architect, not a loving husband. And that is why Liv’s loss doesn’t ring true even though Moyes takes great pains to try to convince the reader of it. 

That said, the story does come together towards the end. There’s a court trial and Moyes redeemed herself somewhat by the time I turned the last few pages. I still maintain Liv’s part could have been shorter.

The end..

…tied up neatly, a little too neatly, but I won’t complain, sucker as I am, for happy endings. Moyes seemed to be making up for Me Before You :-).

The title of the book..

… fitted both heroines beautifully. Sophie (as ‘the girl who was left behind’) pines for her husband, who, I have to add, was an adorable character and a perfect foil to Sophie. In the other story, Liv is the one who is ‘left behind’ and cannot forget her dead husband. It seems only right then, that the painting with that title holds both narratives together.

It may sound presumptuous to comment on a bestselling author but this book could have done with better editing. Just a bit of tweaking could have made a difference.

PS: If you’ve read the book …

….. do tell what purpose Mo served by being in it. I thought she ate up too many pages without adding a whit to the story or even supporting it in any way whatsoever.

Also, since I mentioned Sophie’s husband earlier, I have to add he was my favourite character in the book even though he’s barely in it. His letters to Sophie were enchanting. His bear-like joyful personality leaps up from the letters. I’d have given the world to see that drawing of his – the bear in a French army uniform with Sophie by his side.

Last Thought: This isn’t a perfect book but I’d still recommend it if you like Historical Fiction.

Just Two People #BookBytes 27

World War I. Germany has taken over France. It’s Christmas Eve as a German Kommandant stands before a French girl saying:

“You shall forget that I am part of an enemy army, I shall forget that you are a woman who spends much of her time working out how to subvert that army, and we shall just . . . be two people?” 

Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind

Doesn’t this remind you a little of the famous dialogue from Notting Hill?

It’s incredibly romantic of course. My brain says it’s also highly unlikely outside of a book.

Tell me, is it possible to think of a man as ‘just a person’ when you’ve watched him shoot down your countrymen? Can one connect with the enemy on a human level? Can one have enough perspective to realise that there are no winners in a war? And that perhaps the perpetrator is just as troubled as the victim?

Perhaps it is. Perhaps one would never know unless one is in that situation.

I picked this quote from Jojo Moyes’ The Girl You Left Behind – a book that traverses two time zones. Do drop by for the complete review soon.

What’s the most romantic book you’ve read?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
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  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on 2nd June 2020.

The Giver of Stars #BookReview

Book: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes

I’ve had an up and down kind of relationship with Jojo Moyes. First I read Me Before You and I cannot ever put into words what I felt for that book. Let me just say that it made me laugh and cry like no love story ever did. This, despite my passion for happy endings.

Then I read the sequel After You and was sorely disappointed. It was just so very mediocre that I lost interest in the Louisa’s life as well as in the author. Then someone (and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was), strongly recommended The Giver of Stars. And because she felt the same about the other two books, I trusted her and I’m glad I did.

Here’s what the book is about

Alice, an Englishwoman, marries the handsome Bennet Van Cleve, more to escape her dull, restricted life in England, than for love, and moves to Kentucky, USA. However, she soon realises that with her domineering father-in-law always around, she had exchanged one prison for another.

When she gets the opportunity of becoming part of a girl gang of pack-horse librarians she signs on eagerly. These women travel long distances on horseback, through sun, rain and snow, carrying with them books to be delivered to isolated houses on the hills.

The library is headed by Margery, a strong independent woman and Alice is at once awed and enchanted by her devil-may-care attitude. Beth, Izzy and Sophie make up the rest of the group. Through their books the women open doors not just to knowledge but also to comfort and camaraderie.

They become an inseparable team, a support system for each other, specially for Alice, who has to struggle hard on the personal front.

Partly because Margery supports Alice and partly because of her love for the mountains and the mountain-folk, she comes into a confrontation with the Van Cleves who own the largest coal mines of the area. The story takes on a dangerous turn when she is accused of murder.

What I thought if it

The book is set in Kentucky during the times of the Great Depression. It intrigued me to find out that pack-horse librarians really existed way back then. I couldn’t help but marvel at these brave women who travelled 14-15 hours a day, four-days a week to bring learning and pleasure to the hills.

The setting

…is gorgeous. Moyes brings alive the raw beauty of the mountains – the vastness of the terrain in all its magnificence, harsh yet beautiful, the clip-clop of horse hooves and the chirping of birds, the sounds and the silences, as the women rode in solitude. She describes the changing seasons in all their glory – the heat, the intense cold as also the angry rains.

Her descriptions of life on the hills are real. While she doesn’t romanticise or glorify it, she doesn’t make it pitiful either.

She talks of small-town life with equal authenticity, the dullness of it as also the the gossip-mills that never stop churning and feuds that go on for generations. 

The story

…proves that Moyes is a master story-teller. The library is the heart of the book. Interwoven with it are personal stories of the women with their individual dreams and struggles. The narrative moves from Alice to Margery seamlessly including a host of characters as they go along. The two romances are sweet in their own different ways.

Although the story takes time to be set into motion and nothing much happens in the first few pages, I was happy soaking in the setting and acquainting myself with the characters. This isn’t a pacey read, but Moyes keeps one engrossed.

The characters

…were well crafted. I liked that most of them had strong, credible backstories. Obviously Alice and Margery were my favourites. I specially loved the growth of Alice’s character. From a sedate, timid, Englishwoman, constantly cowed down by her father-in-law, to a rebel ready to take on the world for the people she loved and believed in – the transformation was wonderful.

What I didn’t like

In Moyes’ book black is black and white is white with a fair bit of stereotyping (the rich mean mine owner). That doesn’t happen in real life and it pretty much reveals the end. While I loved the characters, I’d have liked them to be more layered. A little bit of grey could have added depth and intrigue to the story.

Also, the language didn’t seem to be in sync with time the book was set it. I could have been reading any book set in modern times.  

My biggest grouse was with the ending.

***** Spoiler Alert*****

This last bit might have spoilers so stop here if you’re wary of them. And though I’m trying to keep it to a minimum I can’t help but rant just a tiny bit.

The court-case as the grand finale was an inspired idea, but the end was too easy, too tame. Also, had I been the judge or jury, it wouldn’t have convinced me at all, and lastly, it in no way assured me that Van Cleve was well and truly vanquished. 

That’s all I’ll say. If you’ve read the book I’d love to know what you though of it, specially the end.

Despite the end, I’d recommend The Giver of Stars as a good read.

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Last thought: A read well worth your time.

After thought:

Moyes faced plagiarism charges after her book was published. Kim Michele Richardson accused her of plagiarising her novel The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.

And so that’s my next read. A little bit to check up on the claims of plagiarism but more because I don’t want to come back from the mountains of Kentucky or let go of the lives of pack-horse librarians.

When a Man Hits a Woman #BookBytes 26

Hola folks. Welcome back to another edition of #BookBytes. The lockdown derailed me for a while but I’m back now and I just finished reading The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. I picked it up with some amount of trepidation but I’m glad I did. I won’t go into what the book is about. You’ll have to wait for my review coming right up this Friday. Do drop by.

Meanwhile here’s a quote that struck me with how apt it was.

“You know the worst thing about a man hitting you?” Margery said finally. “Ain’t the hurt. It’s that in that instant you realize the truth of what it is to be a woman. That it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how much better at arguing, how much better than them period. It’s when you realize they can always shut you up with a fist. Just like that.” She mulled over it for a moment, then straightened up, and flashed Alice a tight smile. “Course, you know that only happens till you learn to hit back harder” 

– The Giver of Stars, Jojo Moyes.

I find it hard to handle violence in books as well as films which is why I shy away from them, specially the ones that depict graphic violence against women.

Have you read one that left a lasting impression on you? Would you recommend it?

I happened to watch the Hindi film ‘Thappad’ recently and that brought this quote even more sharply into focus. Hitting a woman is the cruelest, stupidest, most barbaric way of shutting her up.

Perhaps hitting back harder is the only way. What do you think?

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If you stumble upon a quote, a line (or two) or even a passage from a book that leaps out at you demanding to be shared join in with #BookBytes.

Here’s what you have to do:

  • Share it on your blog and link back to this latest post.
  • Put in the logo (above) so it’s easy to spot.
  • Leave the link to your blogpost in the comments so I can drop by too.
  • Book Bytes goes live every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month. Do join in.

The next edition of BookBytes goes live on 19th May 2020.