All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

The Last Letter From Your Lover
Jojo Moyes
Hodder & Stoughton
2010, 489p
Read from my local library

Ellie is a London journalist who finds herself in the firing line of her boss. Desperately looking for a story, something to fill the newspaper’s feature pages, she heads down into the dusty archives. The paper is moving and Ellie’s boss thinks that something from when the newspaper first moved into its building versus now, might make a good news piece. Ellie doesn’t expect to find anything but her job seems a little under threat right now and given that her personal life is a mess, she needs something to go right for her. She finds a simple letter, tucked into a file. It’s written by a man in the 1960s, to his lover, asking her to leave her husband and meet him so they can go away and be together. Ellie is immediately caught up in the mystery of it, she’s determined to see if she can track down the couple in the letter and see if they ever ended up together. That will be her great story.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes from a coma in a London hospital with almost no memory. All they tell her is that she was in a car accident, both her mother and her husband refuse to answer any questions, clearly changing the subject and letting her know that they find it uncomfortable and she shouldn’t ask anymore questions. She returns home to a life she cannot remember, with the husband she barely knows and friends she struggles to fit in with. Her life suddenly seems so pointless and shallow, like there is no purpose to it. She is to look pretty and be an asset to her husband – she seems to have no aspirations and interests of her own. That is until she finds a letter tucked away into a book, a love letter. Slowly Jennifer begins to remember a lover, someone that she was willing to risk absolutely everything for. Now she just needs to find him again.

The Last Letter From Your Lover is split between Ellie and her life and Jennifer’s re-discovery of her own life. Both stories will come together in Ellie’s search for the ultimate happy ending.

After reading and absolutely loving Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You recently, I’ve been intending to read her backlist. This was the one that I’d heard quite a bit of praise for so it’s the first one I borrowed from the library. I really enjoyed the contemporary part of the story – I loved Ellie and even though she is involved in an affair with a married man, I still felt for her, because she’s in that hopeless stage where she honestly believes that he will leave his wife… it’s a classic scenario. I did find her attitude towards her lover’s wife a bit callous at times – not in line with my personal way of thinking, but perhaps that way the way she had to be in order to justify the fact that she was messing around with a married man. I got right behind her quest to find out the mystery letter-writer and to find out what happened – I would’ve been exactly the same.

I didn’t enjoy Jennifer’s story as much, mostly because I really struggled to connect with her. She and her lover meet before her car accident and you get quite a picture of Jennifer – pretty, young, married a rich man and basically it is her job to keep him happy. She wears beautiful clothes, she sparkles at parties. She’s a bit cold, a bit…remote. Even as she changed and fell in love, perhaps for the first real time in her life, I couldn’t really relate to her. I didn’t dislike her as such, I just couldn’t find anything to really like about her, someone to cheer for. I felt for her at times in her situation…but then it was her own making.

I also would’ve liked a little more time spent on Ellie and her situation, rather than just brief sections at the beginning and at the end. I felt like that story could’ve been a little more involved without losing anything from the Jennifer story line, especially as Ellie comes to terms with where her life is headed and how it might not actually be making her happy.

Despite my criticisms, this is still a hell of a story. The whole idea and execution of it is wonderful and it kept me utterly engrossed, even with my slight aversion to Jennifer as a character. The story was bigger than her and I felt like it was such an enjoyable ride – it didn’t resonate with me quite as much as Me Before You but it was still an amazingly well written book. It’s definitely got me hunting down my next Jojo Moyes read, without a doubt.

8/10

Book #107 of 2012

The Last Letter From Your Lover is the 3rd book read for the What’s In A Name?5 challenge, fulfilling the 5th criteria: Something you’d carry in your purse/backback (obviously being letter. Not lover!).

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The Stormchasers – Jenna Blum

The Stormchasers
Jenna Blum
Dutton
2010, 304p
Read from my local library

Karena is in her late 30’s and hasn’t seen her twin brother Charles in 20 years when she gets a phone call from a hospital in Wichita, Kansas to tell her that he has been admitted and that she is his next of kin. Charles has bi-polar disorder, diagnosed in his teens after several manic episodes and a stint in a mental health facility. Charles, a passionate stormchaser and enthusiast, didn’t like the fact that meds rendered him almost catatonic. After an incident in their late teens, he disappeared from her life and all Karena has heard of him since is noting pictures on a stormchasing forum.

She flies down to Wichita only to discover that Charles has been released. But it’s stormchasing season and when Karena spots a company that you can sign up to and chase storms with she decides to finally bite the bullet and face her fear of tornadoes in order to search for Charles properly. A journalist, Karena convinces her boss to have her join the group in a work capacity, writing detailed pieces on chasing the storms. As they are full up, Karena has to hire her own vehicle and trail them, with one of the professional stormchasers along with her for the ride. Although everyone she asks seems to know of Charles, including Kevin, the one riding along with her, no one can tell her where he is. And given the sideways looks, wry smiles and ‘Crazy bastard’ comments, Karena finds it pretty obvious that Charles is still off his medication.

After 20 years though, Karena will stop at nothing to finally find him. She has always longed for the moment where she is able to bring him home and take care of him, the way she always did when they were children. But the reality of Charles and his disorder is far, far more complicated than Karena imagines. And it will dredge up a lot of dirty past and threaten the newfound happiness that she has cultivated.

I just want to preface this by saying that I don’t know anyone with bi-polar disorder. It’s a term that’s often bandied around lightly for people with severe moodswings but I don’t know someone that has ever been officially diagnosed as having bi-polar disorder. And I think perhaps because of that, I felt very disconnected from both this story and its characters.

I’m sure that having a family member or someone close to you with bi-polar is incredibly difficult, particularly when they are having manic episodes and not taking their medication. But because I cannot relate to this, I had a hard time being able to put myself in Karena’s shoes with her all-encompassing desire to find Charles and the way she puts him first in everything. She lives her life desperately wondering where he is, what he’s doing, if he’s ok, which I think is natural for anyone with a family member who is missing. But Karena is obsessed and she treats Charles like a small child, smothering him, mothering him, basically afraid to take more than two steps away from him. This was also something that occurred in their childhood and teens – when Charles was in a sunny mood, she would forgive any bad treatment of when he was not. And when Charles was not in a sunny mood, he was one mean, abusive man. And although this may have been caused by his condition the fact that everyone pandered to him and did not make him accountable to his actions or words, or even attempt to make him understand what he was doing when he was not well, was hurting them. I’m sure that his disorder made relating difficult but I simply could not relate to doormat Karena. Charles infuriated me. Well actually, Charles himself didn’t – the way everyone else acted around him, infuriated me. Where do you draw the line for what you let people get away with, because they are ill? Be it physical, or mental? Because in this book – Charles gets away with a lot. And I’m not just talking about insulting his sister or stealing his mother’s car. I’m talking about serious, serious things.

In saying that, it’s not that I didn’t like this book. I actually think it’s well written and I loved the sections that dealt with the storms and chasing them. I just couldn’t relate to it or the characters because I’ve never been in their situation and I’m not sure I would handle it the same way if I was. That’s my flaw, definitely not the book’s in any way.

6/10

Book #46 of 2012

I’m counting this novel towards my What’s In A Name?5 Challenge. It falls into the second category: Read a book with something you’d see in the sky in the title. Storms are definitely seen in the sky!

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Devil’s Peak – Deon Meyer

Devil’s Peak
Deon Meyer
Hodder & Stoughton
2007, 406p
Translated from the Afrikaans by K.L. Seegers
Read from my local library

Benny Griessel is an alcoholic. Not just a too-many-drinks-after-work every night sort of alcoholic. Not a bottle-of-red-with-dinner-every-night alcoholic either. But a drinking-during-the-day-at-work and every night until he passes out sort of alcoholic. A shoving around the wife and having to be helped drunkenly to the couch by his teenage son sort of alcoholic. And then the shoving around of the wife turns into whacking her one.

Benny’s wife Anna decides she’s had enough and for her sake and the sake of their two teenage children, Benny has to go. If he can stay sober -fully sober- for six months, then they’ll talk. Benny is on the knife edge of losing everything so when a new case comes in, he’s the best they’ve got, even if he is an alcoholic. Because Benny is a cop. And he needs to stay sober and catch a killer.

Thobela Mpayipheli lost someone close to him, someone that meant the world to him. He watched the justice system screw him over and when he sees a report of a child rapist going free on a technicality, something inside of him snaps. Who is standing up for the children? Who is fighting for their rights and for justice? The system isn’t working. Thobela thinks that he might be able to do a bit of a better job than the system. He turns vigilante, tired of reading things that sicken him in the media. Tired of feeling helpless over his own loss and the lack of justice within it. He’s already fought in wars. This is just another one.

Christine is a prostitute in Cape Town, a single mother who finds that sex work pays a heck of a lot more than waitressing . When she stumbles into something dangerous, she sees opportunity. Her world, Thobela’s world and Benny’s world will collide as Benny fights to solve not only the case of the vigilante killer but also a crime involving a Colombian drug lord. His professional life and his personal life will also collide in the worst way and everything will threaten the sobriety he clings to so precariously and his family relationships and the respect from his colleagues.

Devil’s Peak is my third Deon Meyer book in the last month or two and because I’ve read Trackers (although it was published later) it certainly helped with the experience of reading this one. What you get here are threads of stories that at first seem entirely unconnected. The narrative jumps back and forth -often without announcing that it’s going to do so, or that we’re switching the perspective- and the information is dribbled out in bits and pieces, often while other stuff is going on. This probably shouldn’t work as well as it does, but there’s something so seamless about the writing that all three strands of this plot weave together effortlessly.

Benny is an interesting protagonist (this is the first of two Benny Griessel novels that I know of). He’s a drunk – there’s really no other word for him. He’s ruled by alcohol, sinking into it to escape the demons he faces in his work in the Serious and Violent Crimes unit. His wife has had an absolute gutful of him and his drinking and the fact that he gave her a bit of a whack during his most recent binge has tipped her over the edge. Benny is now faced with a choice – get off the drink and try and win back the family he began to lose when the alcohol became more important, and try and regain some respect as a good cop who knows what he’s doing…or not. Succumb to the lure of the drink, to just drift through life in a wasted way, like so many other washed up cops. Benny’s thoughts revolve around alcohol, the compulsion to drink is enormous and he goes through hospitalisation, the DT’s and treatment via naltrexone in this novel. I won’t spoil if he slips up or not in this book but I already have the next novel out from the library and I’m interested to see how he’s going there!

The story line is clever in that the vigilante killer is a hard one to dislike. Criminals guilty of atrocities the world over get off on technicalities and when the atrocities committed are violent and sexual crimes against children, or even tiny babies, it’s easy to get inflamed over the lack of justice and the often pathetic punishment. It’s hard not to sort of like Thobela for the choices he makes, although this novel also highlights an extremely important point about undertaking such a role – you want to be very, very careful about being absolutely certain the person you’re seeking is the right one. And that they’re utterly 100% guilty of the crime.

As I’m reading this for Shannon’s Around The World in 12 Books Challenge, where the January month is South Africa, I’m going to talk just briefly about the points she wanted us to consider when reading a book for this challenge. My knowledge of South Africa isn’t extensive, limited to videos watched on apartheid during high school. Although this novel doesn’t touch on that and is set after it, it certainly addresses the divide that still exists between blacks and whites socially. Thobela is black, but it is assumed he is white by the police and profiler because he visits white neighbourhoods without arousing suspicion or even being detected, something that seems very difficult given how surprised and impressed people were about it.  There are remarks made by white cops about having to work with black cops, people are distinguished by their colour immediately whereas in other novels set in other countries, that wouldn’t be the first thing mentioned. Does this novel want to make me visit South Africa? Not really, but that’s not because I didn’t like what I read! It’s a plot driven crime novel, so it deals with the seedier side of things – importation of drugs, child abuse crimes etc. Not things that happen exclusively in that country (they happen everywhere) but that’s what the novel focused on. It was set mostly in Cape Town, so there wasn’t too much descriptively about the landscape or the geographic features. Blood Safari, another novel of Meyer’s made me want to visit the country but the setting wasn’t strictly important here – it was all about the story, with not a lot about the cities/towns/villages and lifestyles therein. I am finding the area (and southern Africa in general) fascinating though and have read 5 or 6 novels set in this part of the world in the last couple of months and have a couple more on my shelves. So with each novel I read, it does make me want to read more books set here and learn about this part of the world.

8/10

Book #9 of 2012

This is my January novel for the Around The World In 12 Books Challenge, set in the first nominated country, South Africa.

I’m also counting this novel towards the What’s In A Name?5 Challenge. It fits into the first category: Read a book with a topographical feature in the title. Devil’s Peak is actually part of the mountain range near Cape Town in South Africa, where this novel takes place. So it doesn’t just feature a land formation, it is one!

Both challenges allow books to cross-qualify.

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First Challenge of 2012: What’s In A Name?5 Challenge

Even though I haven’t finished my challenges for 2011 yet, it’s time to start thinking about challenges for 2012! The first one I am signing up for is the What’s In A Name?5 Challenge, again hosted by Beth Fish Reads. This is the third year running I’ll be participating.

Here’s How It Works

Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:

  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you’d see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you’d carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah’s Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you’d find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking

The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Other Things to Know

  • Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • You do not have to make a list of books before hand.
  • You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.

Looking forward to this one again, it’s always fun to track down some new titles that fit the categories. If you’d like to take part head over here and sign up!

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