Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes
Lou Clark lives at home in a small English town with her parents, grandfather, sister, and young nephew. She likes her job at a local café, but drifts aimlessly when it closes. Her steady boyfriend Patrick spends his free time training for triathlons. When she is offered a job as companion to Will Traynor, confined to a wheelchair since a recent accident, she reluctantly accepts. Will is unhappy and bitter, but no-nonsense Lou refuses to pity him and plans adventures that might give him a reason to enjoy life again. Will, meanwhile, tries to get Lou to be more adventurous, and plan for her future. A bit of a tearjerker, this bittersweet novel is memorable, unpredictable, controversial, and occasionally funny.
The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch
Nell is one of only two survivors of a plane crash. She remembers nothing of her life, but learns that she runs an art gallery with her sister, and is married to (but separated from) Peter, and is the daughter of a famous reclusive painter who abandoned the family years ago. She is surprised to find that she’s a control freak who only wears neutral colors, and that she and her sister weren’t speaking before the accident. She used to like music, and her sister makes a recording of music to help prompt her memory. It seems that no one is telling her the whole truth, and she turns to fellow survivor, actor Anderson, to help her find out who she really is. I was really interested in Nell’s story, but found the lies her family and friends told somewhat unbelievable, more so than the amnesia itself. A real page-turner.
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
Alice hits her head during spin class one morning, and loses a decade of her life. She thinks she’s pregnant with her first child, and is stunned to find out that she and Nick have three kids, and are separated. Her sister Elizabeth is married but seems distant, and her mother has remarried, to the most surprising person ever, and enjoys salsa dancing. Alice only gradually remembers flashes of the last decade, and frankly doesn’t like the older Alice. She’s a super mom, very involved at the kids’ school, but they don’t seem that happy. Why is everyone asking her about plans to break the world record for lemon meringue pie? And is she really dating Dominick, the school principal? I really liked the early Alice, and was rooting for her to remain true to herself as she regained her memories. Besides the lemon meringue pie scene, some of my favorite funny parts were how she handles a child’s getting kicked out of school, and salsa dancing.
If you’d like to read more novels about people starting over after a memory loss, try these recent books:
Before I Go to Sleep, by S.J. Watson
The Last Letter from Your Lover, by Jojo Moyes
The Shadow of Your Smile, by Susan May Warren
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig
Rusty and his dad Tom Harry live in Gros Ventre, Montana, near The Medicine Lodge, where Tom is “the best bartender who ever lived”. Raised by his aunt In Phoenix until he was 6, Rusty was happy to escape his older cousins to hang out in the bar’s back room, taking inventory and helping clean the bar on Saturdays. Rusty knows his dad loves him, even if he won’t talk about the past, or Rusty’s mother, who is long gone. The guys have soup for breakfast and dinner at a local café. Tom and Rusty occasionally go fishing, though Rusty’s not a fan. In 1960, when Rusty is 12, new owners buy the café, and Rusty makes friends with their daughter Zoe. The pair hang out in the back room, surrounded by stuff customers have bartered for beer, making model airplanes near an air vent, listening to Tom and his customers. When The Medicine Lodge gets an award from a Montana brewery, Tom, Rusty and Zoe travel to a nearby city for a brewery tour, a minor-league baseball game, and a banquet, where Zoe pretends to be Tom’s daughter. Then Delano comes to town, ready to record Missing Voices for the Library of Congress and he wants Tom to introduce him to the mudjacks who built the dam at Fort Peck. At the mudjacks’ reunion, we meet Proxy, who wants her daughter Francine to learn bartending from Tom. Tom is asked to organize the annual fishing derby at the reservoir, the highlight of Gros Ventre’s summer, and a dramatic mudslide ends the day. It’s quite a summer for Rusty and Zoe, and the reader is happy to go along for a glimpse of life in 1960 Montana. Another old-fashioned reading pleasure from the author of The Whistling Season and Work Song.
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle
Sometimes I just want a light, fun book to read. That description perfectly fits Peter Mayle’s books. How about a luxurious working vacation in the south of France? American sleuth Sam Levitt and his girlfriend Elena are off to Marseille so that Sam can help wealthy Francis Reboul win a waterfront development contract. Readers of The Vintage Caper may remember that Reboul was Levitt’s quarry in a wine theft case, but he isn’t the type to hold a grudge. British rival Lord Wapping will stop at nothing to win the contest, while the other developer is Parisian, and not likely to win many votes in Marseille. Much sightseeing, fine wines, and gourmet dining are enjoyed by Sam and Elena until Lord Wapping’s thugs resort to kidnapping. This is a very breezy and relaxed caper, and enjoyable to read.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain
Bravo Squad’s Mind-blowing evening in Dallas. This novel is a confluence of three big players in the nation that we call America. Big Military, Big Sports, and Big Hollywood. Billy Lynn is a nineteen-year-old grunt soldier in the United States Army serving a tour of Duty in Iraq. He is from a poor part of rural Texas and has joined the army as part of a deal, either join the military of go to prison. He is part of Bravo Squad, an infantry unit. During a patrol their unit comes under heavy fire. Billy’s cherished friend and mentor, Schroom, is hit and killed and dies in his arms. But, amazingly, the whole firefight has been caught on tape by an embedded Fox news reporter and camera crew. The footage becomes a hit in the states and the military is quick to hit on these men as a moral boaster for the war. Billy wins the Silver Star for gallantry. They are sent on a two week “Victory Tour” of the United States. The book concentrates on one of the stops on the tour, a Cowboys game at Texas stadium. There they are trotted out to the public at a half time show featuring the Cowboy cheerleaders and the musical group “Destiny’s Child”. In addition to free seats to the game, they discover that they are to be part of the big half time show. During their tour they are joined (more like stalked and harassed) by Albert, a movie producer, who wants to turn their story into a film and is constantly on the phone with Hollywood trying to make a movie deal.
Billy and the rest of the squad are on a surreal journey through America, being treated like heroes yet always knowing that they will be sent back Iraq after the tour is over, where they may or may not come back. They are constantly bombarded by cries of “Thank you for your service, bless you for your sacrifice.” Also questions: “Are we winning? What’s it like over there? What’s it like to kill people?”
This book encompasses all the contradictions of the Iraq war. Looking for heroes in an American venture that has no heroes.
Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris
Do you remember watching the movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp or reading the book by Joanne Harris? It’s been more than ten years, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it. I apparently missed the next book set in the French village of Lansquenet, Blackberry Wine, but I eagerly picked up Joanne Harris’ newest book, Peaches for Father Francis.
Vianne, Roux, and her daughters are living on a houseboat in Paris and Vianne still makes chocolates. One day, Vianne gets a letter from an old friend in Lansquenet who has died, and she and the girls travel back to Lansquenet, to find the village much changed. Muslim immigrants have moved to town, and there is some discord between the Catholic and Muslim communities. Father Francis Reynaud, the priest who tried to make Vianne leave town years ago when she opened a chocolate shop during Lent, is now suspected of setting fire to a school for Muslim girls and a younger, more modern priest is temporarily taking over his duties. Vianne uncovers some dark secrets within both communities, and Father Francis is stunned to learn that she has become his friend. Vianne again tries to work her magic with chocolate and reunite the community, while also worrying about Roux, left behind in Paris. Charming and eccentric, as well as suspenseful, I will remember this book for a long time.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Monarch butterflies amaze the Turnbow family and members of their church when they completely cover the hillside behind their sheep farm. The monarchs’ usual winter resting place in Mexico was flooded, and they migrated to Tennessee where it might get too cold for them to survive, and where Bear Turnbow wants to log the hillside to pay bills. Unhappy Dellarobia, married to Bear’s son Cub, was the first to spot them, and it changes her life, especially when scientists come to study the butterflies. Dellarobia and Cub married young, and have little in common besides their two young children. Kingsolver is really good at dialogue and description, noted in a Christmas shopping trip the couple make to the dollar store and scenes in their mega church. The author is a little preachy on the topic of global warming, but Dellarobia, her son Preston, and the reader become fascinated by the butterflies and really care about their continued survival. This book could only have been written by the author of Prodigal Summer and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
Canada by Richard Ford
This novel is as bleak, austere, and desolate as the featureless plains that stretch between Great Falls, Montana and Port Royal, Saskatchewan, Canada, where most of the events in the book take place. The main character is Dell Parsons, a fifteen year old boy, an army brat who has moved all over America with his father, Bev Parsons, his mother Geneva, and his twin sister Berner. At the beginning we encounter Dell and family living in Great Falls, Montana where Bev is enlisted in the Air Force and works at the nearby air base. His mother Geneva (called Neeva) is a substitute teacher at a local school district.
Things really aren’t going very well for this family. It was a shotgun wedding for the parents, and they don’t get along. Dell tries to keep his wits while around him the family is disintegrating. Bev, the father gets involved in some illegal activities with the local Indians, and from there events take a turn for the worse. The parents are involved in a botched robbery attempt and Dell and his sister find themselves cast out into a hostile world. They separate and go to their quite different fates. With the parents in prison Dell is sent by family to live with a distant relative in Fort Royal, Saskatchewan. This move is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. In Fort Royal, he meets Arthur Remlinger, a dark, foreboding, and slightly sinister hotel owner and raconteur. Arthur has a lot of secrets that he wants to keep secret. He takes a liking to Dell if only for sinister purposes.
The novel is written from the point of view of Dell after fifty years have passed, and the events in the story have faded into the haze of history. As he puts it “what I know is, you have a better chance in life, –of surviving it—if you tolerate loss well; manage not to be cynical through it all, to subordinate as Ruskin implied, to keep proportion, to connect the unequal things into a whole that preserves the good, even if admittedly good is often not simple to find. We try, as my sister said. We try. All of us. We try.”
I tried this book because the setting reminded me of books by Larry Watson, author of Montana 1948, which I had enjoyed. I actually finished this book which is a good sign, but it was a real downer. I agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon who stated: “While the basic story is very interesting, too much of the book is taken up with descriptions and un-necessary details.”
Prisoner of Heaven, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves)
This is the third in a cycle of novels that began with The Shadow of the Wind and The Angels Game. I would recommend that you read the first two books before reading this one.
This novel is set like the others in Barcelona, Spain. The main character is Daniel Sempere, who, together with his father runs Sempere and Sons Bookshop. There is also another fascinating place, “The Cemetery of Lost Books” a huge library of old forgotten books protected by an elite of old bookkeepers. According to tradition initiates are allowed to select one book from the collection and must protect it for life.
The saga starts with The Shadow of the Wind and then is continued in The Angels Game which is actually a prequel. There are a lot of doings and plots and run ins with the Fascist authorities under General Francisco Franco.
Prisoner of Heaven recounts the imprisonment of Fermin Romero de Torres in a notorious political prison run by the Franco regime during the Spanish Civil War. Fermin is a character in the first two books, but not the main character. He is something of a rogue, a bon-vivant, and protector of Daniel. He escapes from the wretched prison using a technique gleaned from The Count of Monte Cristo.
There is romance, intrigue and shadowy forces in these books. I highly recommend them.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
If you look at the book cover of Rachel Joyce’s first novel, you may be expecting a happy, quirky, light read. While a very good read, this is not a light or happy book. It’s about a journey taken by Harold Fry, whose life is rather empty. His wife Maureen cleans obsessively; Harold does yard work. He gets a letter from former coworker and friend Queenie Hennessey with news that she is very ill with cancer. Harold writes a brief note and goes to post it, but is troubled that a note is inadequate. Harold was a brewery sales representative who traveled with bookkeeper Queenie to visit pubs. So he keeps walking while he thinks about it. A talk with a young woman at a gas station’s convenience store inspires him to keep walking, the whole length of England, to visit Queenie.
His wife Maureen is flabbergasted, and can’t decide if she’s more angry, worried about him, or lonely. Harold is not much of a walker, and gets lots of blisters. He sends postcards to Maureen and Queenie, and buys souvenirs for them along the way. His wife is concerned that he will empty their retirement savings account on such a long journey, so Harold starts camping instead of staying in hotels. Harold is very shy, and has always felt akward because he’s tall, but people like to tell him their stories. His walk to save Queenie inspires some fans and even gets some publicity, leading to some funny parts of the story. Harold’s long pilgrimage gives him lots of time to think, and to reflect on his life. The journey eventually answers some questions for the reader. Why did Maureen move into the spare room, yet they stay married? Why does their bright, troubled son David never come to visit? Why did Queenie leave the brewery, and why doesn’t Harold drink? Will Harold’s walk for Queenie make a difference? And, finally, will Harold be able to finish his pilgrimage? A memorable journey for Harold and the reader.