Audiobook Review: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Title: The Giver of Stars
Author: Jojo Moyes
Narrator:  Julia Whelan
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: October 8, 2019
Print length: 388 pages
Audio length: 13 hours 52 minutes
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From the author of Me Before You, set in Depression-era America, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond.

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic–a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post questioning whether we really needed another book about the Depression-era Kentucky pack hours librarians, after having read the excellent The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. A variety of sources had identified concerns about he similarities of this book and The Giver of Stars, which was published later in the same year.

At the time, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read another book on the same historical subject, particularly given some of the questions raised. However, I finally got around to The Giver of Stars after all, and I have to admit, it’s really good.

In The Giver of Stars, we’re introduced to the small town of Baileyville, Kentucky through the eyes of Alice Van Cleve, a young Englishwoman recently married to Bennett Van Cleve, the son of one of the wealthiest and most influential local men. Alice’s starry-eyed approach to marriage is shattered by the absolute lack of affection from Bennett and his constant deferral to his father, in whose house they live and who controls every aspect of their lives.

At a town meeting, a local woman introduces the idea of starting up a pack horse library as part of a WPA project spearheaded by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. While many townsfolk (mostly men) are scandalized, Alice is quick to volunteer, needing to find a purpose and an occupation to take her away from her domestic unhappiness.

The librarians, led by outspoken Margery O’Hare, ride up into the mountains on their mules and horses to deliver books and magazines to the families living there. The job is strenuous and difficult, but rewarding. The women of the library are clearly changing lives with each contact and each delivery.

Alice’s father-in-law is not one to tolerate disobedience, and he takes a particular dislike to Margery’s flouting of traditional feminine roles, painting her as an evil influence to anyone who’ll listen. Mr. Van Cleve owns the local mine that employs much of the adult male population of the area, and he has his own doubtful interests to protect, especially once he suspects Margery of promoting pro-union activism and helping the mountain folk to find ways to thwart his intended mine expansion. His anger becomes more and more dangerous to Alice, Margery, and the existence of the library itself.

The Giver of Stars is an absorbing read, with unique characters we come to care about a great deal, and a nice mix of focus on their personal lives with the bigger picture drama of life in Baileyville and its gossip, natural and man-made dangers, and good-old-boy politics.

The audiobook is lovely, with narration by the talented Julia Whelan, who brings the characters to life, but also beautifully narrates the more descriptive passages about the Kentucky landscapes and the quality of life in the hills.

So, I hereby take back my skepticism about this book! While there are some similarities to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (apart the most obvious, the choice of general subject matter), there was nothing that particularly jumped out at me while I was listening the The Giver of Stars enough to be disturbing or distracting.

Yes, I guess we really did need two books about pack horse librarians! Both are terrific. My main recommendation would be to read them with some time in between, so each can be appreciated on its own merits. I’m glad I finally gave The Giver of Stars a try!

Shelf Control #214: Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: Sheltering Rain
Author: Jojo Moyes
Published: 2002
Length: 451 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You, the basis for the major motion picture, comes the touching, unforgettable story of three generations of Irish women faced with the fundamental truths of love, duty, and the unbreakable bond that unites mothers and daughters.

Estranged from her mother since she ran away from her rural Irish home as a young woman, Kate swore a future oath that she’d always be a friend to her daughter, Sabine. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Kate now faces an ever-widening chasm between herself and her daughter. With Sabine about to make her own journey to Ireland to see the grandmother Kate abandoned, Kate is left wondering how they ever made it here, and what she can do to close the gap between them. 

For Joy, seeing her granddaughter is a dream come true. After the painful separation from Kate, she’s looking forward to having time with Sabine. Yet almost as soon as the young woman arrives, the lack of common ground between them deflates her enthusiasm. And when Sabine’s impetuous, inquisitive nature forces Joy to face long-buried secrets from her past, she realizes that perhaps it’s time to finally heal old wounds.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a copy at a library sale.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve read a lot of Jojo Moyes books — but I think there are about five or so of her earliest books that I haven’t read yet. And apparently, this was her very first novel! She’s such a terrific writer, always finding just the right balance between plot and emotions. I love mother-daughter stories, so this sounds like a great choice for me. And then, maybe I’ll work my way through a few more of her books too!

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten authors I’d love to meet

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Authors I’d Love to Meet. I could probably go on and on with this topic, but here are the top 10 on my mind right now, starting with favorite authors whom I’ve never seen in person:

1. Seanan McGuire: I’ve loved her books for quite a while, but this year I totally binged on the October Daye and InCryptids series, as well as the Newsflesh books by her alter ego Mira Grant. Sadly, I ended up out of town for a weekend in September when she was doing a signing event at a local bookstore, but since she’s incredibly prolific (I suspect she doesn’t sleep), I’m hoping it won’t be a long wait until there’s another book launch event to attend.

2. John Scalzi: Love, love, love his writing, and definitely need to read more.

3. Katherine Arden: I adored The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, and can’t wait for the trilogy wrap-up in 2019.

4. Amy Stewart: The Kopp Sisters rule! Her historical fiction is so much fun, and so full of terrific female characters straight out of history.

5. Jim Butcher: I’m a big Dresden fan, and loved Codex Alera and The Aeronaut’s Windlass too.

6. Jojo Moyes: Her books always move and inspire me.

7. Lisa See: I was fascinated by The Teagirl of Hummingbird Lane, and have enjoyed many of her books over the years. I’d love to hear her speak and learn more about her writing and research process.

8. Lisa Genova: Her books tackles such fascinating medical conditions. She’s another author I’d like to hear talk about inspiration, medical research, and the conditions she clearly cares so much about.

9. Dana Stabenow: I love the Kate Shugak series, and really enjoy reading this author’s blog posts on writing, general topics, and life in Alaska!

I’ll wrap up with an author whom I had the pleasure to meet once already, back in 2014 when Written in My Own Heart’s Blood was released — but I’d love to see her again (and again and again):

10: Diana Gabaldon: Author extraordinaire of the Outlander series!

Yes, I met her! What an amazing day!

Have you met any of the authors on my list? Which authors would you most want to meet? Please share your TTT link!







Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books By My Favorite Authors (that I still haven’t read)

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read. Usually, when I love an author, I read everything he or she has written… but there are always some books that fall off the bookpile or get otherwise overlooked. My selection of books by favorite authors that I still need to read :

1. Epitaph by Mary Doria Russell: This is the sequel to Doc, which I truly loved. Mary Doria Russell is a brilliant writer (The Sparrow will always be near and dear to my heart), and I bought Epitaph as soon as it came out. Why haven’t I read it yet? No idea… other than me just being lame.

2. The Sumage Solution by G. L. Carriger: Gail Carriger is an absolute favorite of mine, and I’ve read every bit of her published work… except The Sumage Solution. Maybe it’s because of the contemporary setting, since I love Carriger’s steampunk Parasol-verse so very much… but I haven’t quite brought myself around to starting Sumage. And there’s a sequel on the way, so I’d better get to it.

3. The Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi: I haven’t read a single book by John Scalzi that I haven’t enjoyed… but so far, I’ve only read his stand-alone books. I keep swearing that THIS will finally be the year when I read Old Man’s War… but it just hasn’t happened yet, and we’re getting frighteningly close to the end of 2018.

4. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: I bought this the day it was released, and I’ve just gotten too overwhelmed by ARCs and library books to ever get around to starting. I loved Uprooted, so I’m really excited to start this one.

5. SO MANY  BOOKS by Stephen King: I always think of myself as a Stephen King fan, but it’s scary to think how many I’ve missed! Just looking at the unread King books on my shelves, I have Duma Key, Lisey’s Story, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, books 4 – 7 of The Dark Tower series, The Green Mile, a few short story collections… ugh, it never ends! I guess on the flip side, I’ll never run out of good options for when I want to be scared silly by a book.

6. Earlier works by Patricia Briggs: I adore the Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega series, and could read those books over and over again (and yes, I’ve gone back for re-reads already). I really should make a point of reading some of her other works too, although I think I’m resistant to leaving those familiar worlds and going more into straight-up fantasy rather than urban fantasy.

7. More Jojo Moyes! I’ve loved so many of her books, and I actually own copies of these… so why haven’t I read them?

8. The Silk and Song trilogy by Dana Stabenow. I adore the Kate Shugak books — the characters, the crime drama, and the amazing Alaska setting. I really admire Stabenow’s writing and I enjoy historical fiction, so this trilogy (about the granddaughter of Marco Polo) should be right up my alley, despite the lack of Alaska! Seriously, the story sounds great — maybe a reading priority for 2019?

9. The Parasitology trilogy by Mira Grant: I loved the Newsflesh books SO much, and love everything she writes under her other (real) name (Seanan McGuire). I did actually read the first book in this trilogy, and thought it was really, really icky but also amazing… so I just need to return to the world of tapeworms and medical experiments gone haywire!

10. Yesternight by Cat Winters: I’ve read everything else by this author, and I think she’s so incredibly talented! I own a copy of Yesternight (I bought it as soon as it came out), and have every intention of reading it… so this is yet another book that I have no good reason for not having read yet, other than the good old “so many books, so little time” excuse.

What books are on your list this week? Please share your TTT link!







Book Review: After You by Jojo Moyes

After YouI’m normally really diligent about keeping my reviews spoiler-free, but this one will be an exception.

After You is the sequel to the author’s huge bestseller, Me Before You. I don’t think I can talk about After You without referring to the events of the first book.



Walk away now.

You’ve been warned.

… end of psychotic spoiler warnings…

Moving on –

After You picks up the story of Louisa Clark two years after the tragic events which conclude Me Before You. In Me Before You, Louisa takes a job as a caregiver/companion to a quadriplegic man named Will Traynor, basically for the sake of a steady paycheck. Will is an angry young man, stuck in a wheelchair after a devastating accident, and he initially treats Louisa abominably.

Eventually, the two crack each others’ tough shells. Will delights in teaching Louisa about life outside the confines of her small town and in showing her how smart and talented she really can be. Louisa is horrified to learn that Will intends to take his own life rather than continue to live as a quadriplegic, and makes it her mission to convince him that life can still be wonderful. The two fall in love — but sadly, it’s just not enough to keep Will from the path he’s determined to take.

(See, I said there’d be spoilers.)

Two years later, Louisa is aimless, sad, and just going through the motions. Thanks to a bequest from Will, she traveled all across Europe, but came home when she realized it all meant nothing to her. Now she lives in a flat in London (also thanks to Will’s generosity), attends a grief support group, and works in a depressingly awful Irish-themed bar (complete with a ringlet-y wig) at the airport.

Louisa’s life takes a surprising turn when one night, in a drunken funk, she slips off the roof of her building, surviving the fall with broken bones and other injuries, none permanent. Two unexpected people enter Louisa’s life due to the fall — a hunky paramedic named Sam and a difficult, prickly teen girl named Lily… who announces to Louisa that she’s Will’s daughter.

Turns out that Will’s college girlfriend never told him she was pregnant, so he never had the chance to be a part of Lily’s life. Would Will have made different decisions if he knew about Lily?

Louisa takes Lily under her wing out of love for Will, both wanting to protect her for Will’s sake and, for her own sake, to hold onto the last little bit of Will left in the world. Lily’s entry into Louisa’s tightly controlled, dull, unfulfilling life basically rocks her world, and changes begin, slowly at first, until Louisa’s outlook and future are completely transformed.

Okay, enough synopsis. That’s the gist of After You. The real question readers will want to have answered is: Does After You live up to Me Before You?

In my opinion, the answer is yes… but adjust your expectations.

After You is a much quieter book than Me Before You. Me Before You was intensely dramatic, with life and death on the line, passionate love with everything at stake, and characters in absolutely extreme circumstances. I don’t know anyone who walked away from Me Before You with dry eyes.

After You is not that book. Instead, it’s thoughtful and serious, examining the life that’s left after the drama and tragedy have already gone by. Will’s dying wish was for Louisa to go out and live life to the fullest, and she really did try. But as we see in After You, the intention isn’t enough. Louisa took off for Paris to escape her grief, but life and grieving don’t work that way. She carried the pain with her wherever she went, so eventually there was no point in continuing to run.

What we see in After You is what loneliness and sorrow look like. There’s nothing sexy or glamorous about it. Louisa is living a very sad life when we first meet her in this book, and her lack of hope and disconnect from anyone who might actually care about her is distressing to see. And yet, I felt like it was all so real. Grief takes time. There’s no magic cure. Even meeting someone new doesn’t fix everything. It was so sad to see vibrant, rambunctious Louisa dressed in dull grey clothing and going through the motions, day after day.

Just as Louisa’s life picks up when Lily and Sam make their entrances, so too the tone of the novel picks up as well. The energy of the narrative reflects the slow return to life and purpose that Louisa goes through, building up steam and gaining more ups and downs, breaking out of the sad sameness of a depressed existence.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of Jojo Moyes’s books. I’m happy to find that After You is quite as good as some of her strongest works. It won’t “wow” people the way Me Before You did, but it does carry true emotion within its pages. This is the story of picking up the pieces, and that’s never going to be as stunning as the story of how the pieces broke in the first place (if that makes any sense).

People responded very, very strongly to Me Before You, and rightly so. Many readers cherished the idea of Louisa’s life being enriched by her short time with Will and being able to imagine her going on from there to having a life full of amazing experiences. For some, the realities of Louisa’s life in After You will be a letdown, bursting the bubble of a tragically romantic illusion. Before reading After You, I probably would have had the same vision of Louisa’s life, but I’m so pleased that After You set me straight.

Grief isn’t easy. Money and adventure can’t fix it. Recovery takes time, and a lost love can never be forgotten or replaced. In After You, Louisa gets the time to grieve, to rediscover her inner self and strength, and to finally start moving forward again. I’m so glad that I read this lovely book.

After reading After You, I felt such a strong connection to Louisa and to Lily, and I walked away feeling good, knowing that they’d found not only each other, but also a path pointing the way toward future happiness and hope.


Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides
The Last Letter From Your Lover
Me Before You
Silver Bay


The details:

Title: After You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Book Review: Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Silver BaySilver Bay is an older work by bestselling author Jojo Moyes, originally published in 2007 and re-released in the US in fall of 2014. And while Silver Bay is perhaps not quite as tear-inducing as Me Before You, it certainly fits in with the author’s talent for portraying unusual relationships full of tragedy and redemption.

Silver Bay is a sleepy little coastal town in Australia, known for its harbor full of marine life, its ramshackle old hotels, and its whale-watching expeditions. Liza and her daughter Hannah live in Liza’s aunt Kathleen’s inn, which has been in her family for over 70 years. Liza keeps to herself, takes tourists out on her boat, and socializes each evening on the front porch of the inn with the other “whale chasers”.

But then Englishman Mike Dormer shows up on a secret mission, exploring Silver Bay as a possible development site for a luxury resort. Mike’s job is to secure the location and smooth out any local resistance to the plan so that his wheeler-dealer boss can pin down the venture capitalists’ money and make boatloads of money himself. Mike doesn’t count on the connection he starts to feel for the small town, the local folks, and most especially, for Liza herself.

But Liza has her own secrets too, and she’s not looking for love or anything like it. What’s more, when the truth about Mike’s mission comes to light, Liza, Kathleen, and all of the Silver Bay people feel betrayed by Mike… but his own beliefs have been shaken as well. Ultimately, it’s up to Mike to reverse the damage done and try to save not just the town, but the friendships that have come to matter so much to him.

I found the beginning of Silver Bay a bit slow. The book has multiple narrators, and after a brief introduction told by Kathleen, we spend the first long chapter of the book looking through the eyes of 10-year-old Hannah. This did not feel like a wise choice to me; it’s a book for adults, and the child viewpoint was by necessity somewhat weak and narrow. Once Mike is introduced, the story opens up in scope, and as I got a bit further into it, I was hooked.

The storyline itself isn’t particularly unique. I feel like I’ve seen the basic footprint of the story in other books or movies: Small town, outside big business coming to ruin things, quirky locals banding together to fight the good fight, etc. The love story too proceeds along mostly predictable lines. Of course, Mike falls in love with Liza. Of course, her secret, tragic past keeps her from being able to open up. Of course, Mike’s business dealings threaten all of the relationships he’s built.

All that being said, there’s a lot going for Silver Bay as well. There are some truly delightful supporting characters, especially tough old Aunt Kathleen and her would-be beau Nino, fellow whale-chasers Greg, Yoshi, and Lance, and even Liza’s daughter Hannah, who ultimately takes a big hand in helping to save the town.

What would a Jojo Moyes book be without a tragedy? Yes, the secret from Liza’s past that eventually comes to light is awful and terribly sad… and yes, I did get a bit teary in the final third of the book. The author does a masterful job of giving just enough hints along the way to let us know that the secret is a doozy, and once revealed, it’s impossible not to feel for Liza and her sad story.

Again, I saw the ending coming from about a mile away, but that’s okay. Having a pretty good idea of how it would all work out didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. It’s a quick read, and after the first several chapters, it’s a book that will pull you in and make you care.

This isn’t my favorite Jojo Moyes book, but it’s a good choice for fans who’ve read all of her more recent novels and want more.

Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides
Me Before You
The Last Letter From Your Lover


The details:

Title: Silver Bay
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: Originally published in UK in 2007
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Book Review: The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

last letterJojo Moyes is quickly becoming one of my go-to, auto-buy authors. After reading a few of her more recent books, I decided to look into some of her previously published works, and picked up a copy of The Last Letter From Your Lover, which was originally released in 2010.

In Last Letter, we follow two timelines: a contemporary story bookending the novel and then a 1960s story, the major part of the book both in terms of length and where the heart of the tale is concentrated. Within the two timelines, we follow three different narrative arcs, all of which come together by the book’s end.

In the prologue, we meet journalist Ellie Haworth, whose career is suffering while her private life consumes her every waking thought. Ellie is one year into an ill-advised affair with a married man, and despite absolutely no evidence to support her hopes, Ellie can’t help dreaming of the day when she finally gets more from her lover. As part of a retrospective feature at work, Ellie starts going through her newspaper’s archives and comes across an old letter that knocks her socks off. Drenched in romance, the letter-writer (identified only as “B.”) declares:

I’ll be at Platform 4, Paddington, at 7:15 on Friday evening, and there is nothing in the world that would make me happier than if you found the courage to come with me… I’ll be waiting on the platform from a quarter to seven. Know that you hold my heart, my hopes, in your hands.

Ellie doesn’t know who wrote the letter or to whom it was addressed, but she’s reduced to tears by the passion and the emotion. The letter seems to awaken something in Ellie…

From there, the action switches to 1960, in which a pampered, sheltered wife of a very powerful man meets a brash and disrespectful reporter. Jennifer Stirling is beautiful but bored; Anthony O’Hare despises the spoiled society members who flit through life above and apart from the world’s real troubles. Of course, sparks fly between Jennifer and Anthony, but obstacles keep the lovers apart.

In yet a third narrative stream, we see Jennifer waking up in a hospital after a car accident, suffering from amnesia and brought back home by her husband Laurence to recover. Jennifer feels certain that she’s missing something important, but has no idea what has truly happened or what that key piece of information about her past might be.

Eventually, the story streams come together. Ellie traces the mysterious love letter to Jennifer, now  in her 60s, and sets out to discover whether the lovers ever did manage to unite and start a new life together. At the same time, Ellie faces some unpleasant truths about her own love life, and must make decisions about who she is and who she wants to be.

I enjoyed Last Letter, although perhaps not quite as much as some of the author’s other novels. The mixed timelines didn’t especially work in favor of narrative tension. After meeting Ellie in the prologue, we don’t see her again until about halfway through the book. Meanwhile, the story of Jennifer and Anthony’s relationship is interwoven with Jennifer’s post-crash story, and sorting out what came first and what resulted is a bit of a challenge.

By the end of the book, I was very invested in Jennifer and Anthony’s story and in finding out what had happened between them, but given the mixed narratives and the shifting point-of-views, it was always a struggle to piece together the actual events versus the characters’ perceptions of events, which were often two different things. I didn’t quite buy the build-up of the love affair or believe how instantly and passionately they fell in love, yet as the story moved forward, it was the descriptions of their thwarted yearnings that were more convincing than their stolen moments together.

Jennifer reminded me strongly of Mad Men‘s Betty Draper, although a less childish and selfish version. Still, she’s the quintessential beautiful but useless society wife, a woman whose job is to be ornamental and a credit to her husband, with no actual skills or education and no chance of forging a life of her own. As the story progresses, it’s heartening to see Jennifer face up to her reality and try to find a way to take control and pursue a path that gives her life meaning, despite the cost.

Ellie’s story is a bit pale by comparison, and the parallels aren’t always comfortable ones. We’re meant to sympathize with and root for this young woman, but it’s hard to do so while she’s enmeshed in a very stupid affair, refusing to acknowledge the real damage she may be doing to herself and to others. An awakening eventually comes, of course, thanks in large part to Ellie’s growing fascination with Jennifer and her exposure to what real love looks like. Perhaps Ellie is meant to be the reader’s entry point into the story, but Jennifer is the far more compelling character.

One especially fun feature of this novel is the lead-in page for each chapter, each featuring an excerpt from a real break-up letter, text, or email. Some are wistful, some are harsh, and some are downright comical (like the text message “U n me finished”), but all add a touch of spice and poignancy to this sentimental and occasionally sorrowful book.

All in all, The Last Letter From Your Lover is an engaging and often moving look at how love doesn’t always work out, how life can get in the way, and how sometimes it isn’t too late to start over and find happiness. For those new to Jojo Moyes, I’d probably suggest starting elsewhere, but fans of the author shouldn’t miss this one.

Want to know more? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides
Me Before You


The details:

Title: The Last Letter From Your Lover
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: First published in UK in 2010
Length: 390 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased

Thursday Quotables: The Last Letter From Your Lover


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!
 last letter

The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes
(published 2010)

The romance just drips off the page:

When you looked at me with those limitless, deliquescent eyes of yours, I used to wonder what it was you could possibly see in me. Now I know that is a foolish view of love. You and I could no more not love each other than the earth could stop circling the sun.


What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Leave your link in the comments — or, if you have a quote to share but not a blog post, you can leave your quote in the comments too!
  • Visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Book Review: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

me before youI’m a little late to the party here. I know people have been reading (and crying over) Me Before You for a couple of years now. In fact, I’d reached the point where I was hesitant to read it, simply because I’d heard from so many people about all the feels and all the tears caused by this book — and hype is pretty much the enemy of enjoying books, in my opinion.

But thanks to my book group, I finally buckled down to read Me Before You this week… and despite the choked up feeling in the back of my throat that still hasn’t gone away, I’m glad that I did.

Me Before You tells the story of two people who would never have met, had life gone the way they’d expected. Despite coming from the same small town, Louisa and Will could not be more different. Lou grew up in a working class family, where every bit of income matters, and where her super-smart sister was expected to be the first in the family to attend college, until she dropped out to have a baby. Will Traynor is the son of a wealthy family, accustomed to grabbing life and enjoying every moment, whether via corporate takeovers or extreme sports. The only way these two would have met would have been in some cafe, with Lou serving and Will barely looking up to notice the waitress standing by his table.

Yet life can change in an instant. Lou is informed by the owner of the cafe where she’s worked for years that he’s shutting the doors due to a slump in business, and Lou desperately seeks a new job, knowing that her parents count on her pay to keep the household running. But there’s nothing available for a 27-year-old with little education and few skills, other than a job in a chicken plant or working as a pole dancer. Finally, one more opportunity is presented, working as a carer for a quadriplegic. Despite having no relevant experience, Lou is hired to provide companionship and distraction — and meets Will, whose normal life was snatched away from him two years earlier on a rainy day in London in a freak motorcycle accident.

Will is mean, sarcastic, sullen, and withdrawn, and wants to be left alone. Lou is petrified that she’ll screw up, worried that she’ll lose the only decent-paying job she was able to find, and intimidated both by the wealthy Traynor family and by the silent man in the wheelchair who most emphatically does not seem to want her around. But bit by bit, Louisa, with her wildly colored clothes and ability to say just the wrong thing, starts to crack Will’s shell. She actually makes him laugh, and Will for his part seems to see Lou as a challenge: He’s determined that this small-town girl who’s never gone anywhere or done anything should try new things and expand her horizons. But Lou has set herself a challenge as well: To make Will realize that his life isn’t over, and that there’s still joy and hope for him in this world.

As we (and Louisa) discover early on, there’s a reason that Lou was only hired for a six-month assignment: Will has decided to die via Dignitas, a Swiss clinic offering assisted suicide services. He’s promised his parents to give them six months before proceeding, and in desperation, Will’s mother has hired Lou, hoping that her awkward yet charming demeanor and colorful personality will pull Will out of his despair the way the love of his family hasn’t been able to.

I won’t discuss the plot any further, but suffice it to say, it’s a doozy. It’s not all drama and tears, though. Louisa and Will are both smart and funny, and their interludes are full of laughter and awkward, silly moments. Lou is determined to make Will want to live, and plans a series of misbegotten outings, most of which end in disaster. Will, for his part, forces Lou to spread her wings, through little moments like watching her first subtitled movies or going to the symphony, ordering books from Amazon for her to read, or forcing her to read the newspaper every day so she can debate current issues with him.

Will’s parents are not the most sympathetic people in the world, but I couldn’t help feeling their pain, and while they seem cold and stand-offish at first, through Lou’s eyes we come to see the nightmare of these people who so desperately want to help their son. There are other memorable and wonderful supporting characters, especially Will’s nurse Nathan and Lou’s sister Treena. Lou’s clueless and self-centered boyfriend Patrick, who is so obsessed with triathlons and his fitness routine that he doesn’t see Lou’s needs or feelings, is a comically obnoxious yet cleverly written character. Lou’s parents, who come to play an important role as she makes more dramatic decisions about her intentions toward Will, are equally impressive, as the author portrays them with a convincing sense of heart and history.

But ultimately, this is the story of Lou and Will — how they change each other, and whether they can challenge each other to think differently, and perhaps to feel in new and unexpected ways. A few times, I was sure I knew exactly where this story was going, and yet I ended up surprised by the dramatic developments, the emotional depth, and the final twists of the story.

Because I’d been warned over and over again that I’d cry, naturally, I didn’t. But I did find it a little tough to breathe or talk by the time I got to the last 100 pages or so… and if I hadn’t been told so emphatically to expect tears, then I probably would have ended up a big, soggy mess.

Jojo Moyes is a gifted writer who has a beautiful way with words. She takes ordinary people and conveys the beauty and sadness of their lives and relationships. In all of the books by this author that I’ve read so far, I’ve seen gorgeously drawn love stories, evocative romances, and edge-of-your-seat suspense and dilemmas. The characters in her books feel like real people, and the skill with which she draws us in and makes us care is remarkable.

I’ve read a total of four books by Jojo Moyes by this point, and I’m eager both to explore her earlier works and to read anything new that she writes from this point forward. Meanwhile, my only complaint is that my book group discussion doesn’t start for several more days, and I just can’t wait to talk about Me Before You!


Interested in this author? Check out my reviews of other books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One
The Ship of Brides


The details:

Title: Me Before You
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books/ Viking
Publication date: December 31, 2012
Length: 369 pages
Genre: Adult contemporary fiction
Source: Purchased


Book Review: The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes

20510869In 1946, thousands of war brides set sail to join the men they married and start their new lives. Can you imagine the bravery involved? Around the world, in the midst of the second World War, local girls fell into hasty, romantic marriages with soldiers stationed in their towns. Is there a more swoon-worthy ideal than the heroic GI, on leave for a few days, wooing the local girl and then heading back into battle?

Following the war, the British government made it their business to reunite the brides and their men, commissioning ships to transport the young women to England. Competition to get onboard was fierce; the brides lived in suspense, waiting for their letters to arrive to confirm that it would finally be their turn.

In The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes, originally published in 2005 and getting its first US release this month, we follow the journeys of four Australian war brides as they embark on their life-changing journeys. As the story progresses, we get to know more about each young woman, what makes her tick, and how she ends up crossing oceans for the sake of love. We meet:

  • Jean, the 16-year-old party girl, uneducated and slightly crass, but with a taste for fun and a daring spirit. Jean seems to 1373381genuinely love her soldier Stan, whom she married in a flurry of flirtation.
  • Avice, a wealthy society girl who always strives to be seen as the epitome of proper wifey-ness. Avice always has to be just that much better than everyone else.
  • Maggie, a farm girl who’s devoted herself to caring for her father and brothers for the last few years. She’s never been away from home until now — but can a carefree country girl find happiness among strangers in England?
  • Frances, a nurse who’s seen the horrors of war first-hand caring for released POWs in army hospitals. Frances has a reserve and dignity about her, and doesn’t appear to be caught up in the girlish frivolity of the other brides. There’s something going on behind the quiet appearance; Frances is clearly a woman with secrets.

As The Ship of Brides begins, we find out that the bride program is winding down. Some earlier voyages were made aboard luxury liners — but disappointingly for Avice and some of the others, the ship available for our group is the HMS Victoria, a British aircraft carrier that’s seen better days. Rather than sailing in comfy staterooms and dining in formal dining rooms, these brides are provided with hastily built dorm-style cabins in the nooks and crannies of the naval ship, allowed up on deck for exercise, and eating in the converted mess areas. Oh, and the sailors’ areas are strictly off-limits: Yes, these are newly married brides — but they’re also young women spending six weeks at sea in close quarters with a bunch of sailors… and you really can’t be too careful, at least as far as the Navy is concerned.

The Ship of Brides provides a vivid depiction of life on board the ship, aptly showing the unlikely contrast of frilly women’s fashions and the need for a makeshift hair salon with a naval vessel full of planes, fuel, gray walls, and a company of Marines. It’s not just the brides venturing into life-changing territory. For the men on board, the journey represents their voyage home from war — a return to normalcy, to civilian life, and to a peace-time existence that has only been a distant memory during the war years. For the brides as well as for the sailors and soldiers, the six weeks of the voyage are full of uncertainty, hope, and fear.

1172548Fear especially comes into play for the brides as they look ahead toward their married lives. Most had whirlwind romances and hasty marriages; for many, their time spent thus far with their new husbands can be counted in days or weeks. And yet, here they are, sailing around the world and leaving everything behind in pursuit of love and happiness. Nothing is guaranteed, though. After the initial giddiness of the departure from Sydney, the brides inhabit a sort of purgatory, an in-between time with no assurance of a happily-ever-after. Over the course of the journey, several brides receive the dreaded Not Wanted Don’t Come telegram — and once the husband has changed his mind, the journey is over for that bride, who is taken off ship at the next available port and sent back home to pick up her life in Australia once again. No matter how excited and in love the brides are, no matter how romantic their stories of wartime wooing, each knows that this could possibly be her own fate, and the nervous energy of uncertainly underlies each waking hour.

The book gets off to a somewhat slow start, and it’s not immediately clear at the outset who the main characters are and about whom we’re really intended to care. But within a few chapters, we begin to know the brides more deeply, and as the story progresses, we become completely invested in their fates and their potential for finding happiness.

The characters themselves are sharply defined, each with her own story to tell. Frances is the most interesting of the lot and the one whose journey I found the most compelling. There’s a noble tragedy to her tale, and I couldn’t help feeling her pain and her hope as the story unfolded. In many ways, The Ship of Brides is an old-fashioned love story, but with a sense of honor and hopefulness that I found utterly romantic. The young women are often depicted as silly girls, chasing dreams of glamorous love that can’t possibly hold up in real life, and yet there’s something so brave and vulnerable in their commitment to their dreams, stepping out into the unknown in pursuit of their hopes for happiness.

The Ship of Brides is truly a lovely book, perfectly capturing the heady adventure of wartime love, and the bravery of countless young women who took the ultimate risk in pursuit of a dream. I’d never really known much about the war bride phenomenon, and found this book to be an eye-opening peek at a unique little corner of history. I learned a lot, and yet never felt like I was reading a history lesson. Instead, I became swept up by the personalities and courage of the characters, and felt like I was on the edge of my seat, hoping and praying for a happy ending.

If you enjoy a well-written love story with unique characters and a moving narrative, check out The Ship of Brides! As for me, I’ll be reading as many books by this author as I possibly can, starting with Me Before You for a November book group selection.

See my reviews of more books by Jojo Moyes:
The Girl You Left Behind
One Plus One


The details:

Title: The Ship of Brides
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: October 28, 2014 (originally published in UK in 2005)
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Penguin Books via NetGalley