Monday, January 14, 2019

The Girl You Left Behind

I'd posted online that I was reading The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes for one of my daily photography prompts*. People who don't follow this blog got an opportunity to see what I was reading. I got all sorts of recommendations for other books to read. Kind of ironic, too, if you think about the fact that The Last Letter from Your Lover isn't the type of book I've been reading of late.

One of the recommendations was for The Girl You Left Behind, also by Jojo Moyes. I read the synopsis.

Jojo Moyes’s word-of-mouth bestseller, Me Before You, catapulted her to wide critical acclaim and struck a chord with a wide range of readers everywhere. Now, with The Girl You Left Behind, Moyes returns with another irresistible heartbreaker—a breathtaking story of love, loss, and sacrifice told with her signature ability to capture our hearts.
Paris, 1916. Sophie Lefèvre must keep her family safe while her adored husband, Édouard, fights at the front. When their town falls to the Germans in the midst of World War I, Sophie is forced to serve them every evening at her hotel. From the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait—painted by her artist husband—a dangerous obsession is born, one that will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before his sudden death. After a chance encounter reveals the portrait’s true worth, a battle begins over its troubled history and Liv’s world is turned upside all over again. 
It sounded good. It was available at the library immediately. I decided to read it.

There's been a lot about returning stolen artwork to the families of victims of the Nazis during WWII. But not much written about WWI. That was part of the intrigue. The Girl You Left Behind follows to plot lines, one set during the occupation of France by the Germans. The other is set in more modern day London. A piece of art called "The Girl You Left Behind" is what binds the two storylines together.

In 1916 Germany, Sophie is the subject of the artwork painted by her husband, Edouard, while they were living in Paris. Edouard is off to fight the war and Sophie returns to her family hotel in northern France. Sophie brings the painting with her and hangs it, her most cherished possession, in a prominent place so she can enjoy it and so she can be reminded of the girl she once was.

She and her sister keep the hotel going. Moyes give a rich picture of what the occupation was like for the people in Sophie's town. The Germans requisition many things from the residents of the town. Eventually they show up at Sophie's hotel, demanding that she and her sister feed the Germans nightly. The Kommandant becomes obsessed with the painting as well.

The modern story is about young widow, Liv, whose most treasured possession is the painting "The Girl You Left Behind," which her husband bought for her on their honeymoon. Liv had been so down, emotionally and financially, when she meets a guy in a bar. She has hope that live can be happy again. That's when the family of Edouard learns about the painting and they want it back. Complications ensue and we're not really sure who will end up with the painting in the end.

I think that I didn't know which way the story is going to go because I wasn't sure how it should go. Emotionally, I was vested in Liv and I wanted her to get to keep the painting. But ethically, was that the right response? What about Jewish family during WWII who lost their possessions to Nazi looting? If those items were "sold" later on, shouldn't the Jewish families get their items back? I was so torn. This book gave me so much to think about. The Girl You Left Behind would probably make an excellent book club choice.

Suffice it to say that I was very satisfied with the resolution.

Upon turning the last page, I noticed that there was a prequel novella, Honeymoon in Paris, to this novel. That was available from the library. It's only about 70 pages long so I'm now about 1/3 of the way thru that one, too. I'm not sure if it's making me like Sophie and Liv more or less. I'll report back when I finish.

*In case you're wondering about daily photo challenges, check out the one I've been part of the longest. Fat Mum Slim Photo a Day (otherwise known as FMS PAD).

Monday, January 7, 2019

How many books are on your "To Be Read" shelf?

I was looking over my reading challenge for 2018 on Goodreads and noticed that many books that I'd read in previous years showed up - as unread - as being on my "Want to Read" shelf. I clicked through a few and deleted them. But then started really looking at my shelf. Even after deleting many of the books that were put in on error, I have a total of 891 books - that I have an interest in reading! I need to figure out if there's a way to somehow prioritize the list. Or categorize the list. I can't possibly read 891 books any time soon. Even if I was back to reading more than 100 books per year as I did when I was working, it would take me over 8 years to read through this list. And that assumes that I don't discover any new books that I want to add to my list.

Ideally, I could have my list broken up into books recommended by friends, books I've heard about through some reading newsletter, books that are in the news, and new (or old) books by authors that I love.

I considered deleting books from my list that I figured I'd never get to. But then I realized that when I'm between book club books and I'm looking for something to read, it's handy to have books that I ever even considered reading on my TBR list.

How to keep your list of what you think you'd like to read organized?

The Last Letter from Your Lover

Romance novels aren't my usual genre. However, I am a sucker for a book that includes written correspondence. In this case, the letters were love letters. If the story is good - and this one was - and that crucial element is included, I'm in.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes starts with Jennifer recovering from a bad car accident. She's got amnesia and can't remember what's come before. She finds a letter, what appears to be a love letter, while straightening up in her bedroom... and that starts to jog her memory. She eventually finds more and more letters, and after a chance encounter at a cocktail party, she seems to remember a big huge chunk of what's been missing from her life since the accident.

Interspersed with Jennifer's post-accident story are chapters which fill us in with details of the back story. Many of the same characters are in that story so the book was confusing at first. I didn't realize I was reading a "current" story and a back story.

The book then picks up many years later. Ellie, a journalist who is focusing too much on a bad love relationship and not enough on her career, is tasked with writing a story that connects the 1960s to the 2000s. She goes to the archives of her newspaper and is handed a folder. In the folder, she finds some love letters. She's then determined to find out more about the lovers who sent and received those letters.

Other than the confusion in the beginning, this is a well-crafted story. It wasn't too schmaltzy for me. There is some reference to asbestos and since I'm much more of a historical fiction fan, I would have really loved this book had that part been much more developed.

In any event, I'm really glad that I picked this up when I wasn't sure what to read next.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Big Little Lies

I'd finished Only Child and needed something else to read while I was in New York for Christmas. Spotted this on Overdrive, remembered I'd liked Liane Moriarty, figured I'd want something lighter and fluffier than Only Child. When asked by my daughter what I was reading, I said, "Some chick lit by Liane Moriarty." She knew that Big Little Lies was an HBO mini-series. What did I know?

Seriously? What did I know!

Big Little Lies was not the fluffy chick lit that I was expecting. It was funny. It was easy to read. There was lots of sweetness. But it was also chockfull of big issues. I mean big issues. Bullying - on both the child and adult level. Domestic violence. Sexual violence. And how all this impacts families around us.

If you've been following my reviews for any time, you know that I seem to enjoy books more when I can make personal connections. It seems almost wild to me all the connections I was able to make to this book and the characters in it. Crazy, I tell you!

I could relate to Madeline. She's married with 3 children. But her current husband is her second husband and her oldest child is from her first husband. And her teenage daughter decides that life will be better living with the father who had abandoned her. Oh, yes, I could relate on so many levels.

I could relate to how Madeline felt after learning more about Celeste's marriage. Madeline feels like she's not been the greatest friend. When I was faced with something similar, I felt that my support after the fact was more important than my awareness earlier on.

I could relate to Celeste on a tiny level. I was married to a wealthy man and had so much more financial freedom when I was married to him. My former husband wasn't charming nor did he care about appearances, so that's where that small connection ends.

I could relate to Jane, the single mother. Jane's youth stands out and is what keeps her apart. I wasn't a young single mother. But I was a single mother in a very married community.

I could also totally relate to Miss Barnes, the kindergarten teacher. I remember being faced with bullying in the classroom that it was impossible to be on top of. That always gave me a sick feeling. Sometimes I was aware of what was going on, but was unable to figure out who the bully was. I wanted to work with the parents, I felt I was doing my best to try to get some control over the situation, but more times than not, that was so stinking difficult!

Not only was their bullying on the kids' level, there were a bunch of parent bullies as well. Although there was no desire by the adult bullies to cover up their bullying. They did it in the open for all to see. How or why mothers (and yes, it was mostly mothers in the novel) think it's okay to act that way towards other parents is astounding!

The story is set in a beachside town in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to just hop on a flight and visit Madeline, Celeste and Jane. I'm in a daily photo group on Facebook that was originated in Australia. Many of the participants are in Australia. As I'd read, I'd picture Pirriwee to look like some of the photos I've seen posted online. I wanted to be there!

And oh, did I want a coffee shop like Blue Blues and a barista like Tom.

I've read that if I watch the miniseries, my wanderlust will be over the chart! I wonder where I can watch it without having HBO. Does anyone know?

Would I recommend this book? Totally! I also think it would be a great book club book fora book club with a younger dynamic than my community book club and with more of a popular lit bend than Books & Beer.