Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: The Deal (Off-Campus #1) by Elle Kennedy

Title: The Deal (Off-Campus #1)
Author: Elle Kennedy
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars


Why the hype? Don’t get me wrong I liked this book; I gave it 4 Stars after all (though I feel like I was a little bit too generous). I just don’t get this buzz surrounding this book. Recently it seems that everywhere I turn someone praises The Deal. Yes, The Deal is very entertaining and addictive. I couldn’t put it down, the characters were likable and the romance was great, but at the core The Deal was the usual average NA with many tropes.

At age fifteen Hannah was raped (it’s not a spoiler since we’re told about it on the first page). Now she’s a junior in college and after years of therapy she is ready to leave it all in the past. She wants to date. One big problem: a guy she has a crush on doesn’t notice her. So she needs to do something to draw attention to her. Enter Garrett. He is a captain of the hockey team and a big player on hockey field and off it. Garrett has a problem. He needs to keep his grades high in order to stay on the team, but he failed his Ethics. So he needs someone who can tutor him as soon as possible. When he finds out that Hannah has A in this class he is very persistent. Finally these two make a deal. Hannah tutor Garret and in exchange he fake-dates her to make the other guy notice her.

Like I said before The Deal is very addictive. If I had more time I would read it in one day. I really liked the romance. Hannah and Garrett’s relationship progressed gradually from acquaintances to friends to lovers. It was slow and oh so amazing. There was a great chemistry between the main characters, and a lot of steam is waiting for you.

I loved main characters. Hanna is such a wonderful heroine. She is a strong intelligent girl with a great sense of humor. I also liked the author’s approach to the topic of survivor of sexual assault. Hannah portrayed in very optimistic way. She had therapy, she had time to cope; now she dates and wants a relationship. Yes, she has some issues but she looks forward positively. Nowadays NA authors often make the heroine a broken victim and use it to add more drama and angst and I’m glad this is not a case here.

Garrett. What can I say? He totally won me over. When we first met him he came as a cocky arrogant womanizer. But he is actually kind, caring, smart and funny guy.

I loved funny banters between Hannah and Garrett. Their teasing made me smile and there were moments when I laughed out loud. The scene where Hannah stormed in the locker room was hilarious.

The story was told in dual POV and there was something that annoyed me. When we switched to Garrett’s POV I had a feeling that the author intentionally added swearing to emphasize Garrett’s manliness. It’s not swearing itself that bugs me. It seems like many NA authors thinks that if they throw several F*ck words they would have a distinct male voice. Oh, also the guy should think a lot of sex. The first author who comes to my mind is Abby Glines. Her typical hero portrayed the same way. Do real guys think in such manner? Maybe I’m just getting too old and know nothing about college boys.

The other thing that annoyed me was the line with Justin.

From the first time he appears in the book I had the feeling that something was wrong with him. The author gave the readers the little signs that he was the bad guy. I was expecting the usual scene “the bad guy tries to rape our heroine and the hero saves her” at any moment. But at the end Justin ended up as a normal guy, he actually became Hannah’s friend. I’m really curious if anyone else noticed this or it’s just me being ridiculous.

Also I tired of main characters broken by their awful past. I want something new. Maybe I just need a break from NA for a while.

Despite my complaints I really liked The Deal. When I read this kind of books my main focus is on the romance. If the romance works for me I can look past many flaws. So if you’re like me I wholeheartedly recommend The Deal to you.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

Title: The Girl You Left Behind
Author: Jojo Moyes
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
SUMMARY (from Goodreads)
In The Girl You Left Behind, two young women, separated by a century, are united in their determination to fight for what they love most - whatever the cost.

Whatever happened to the girl you left behind?

France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision.

Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again...

"All that really matters is who you love."

I finished this book a while ago. Life went on; I started reading other books, but The Girl You Left Behind doesn’t want to let me go. It lingers and I have flashbacks to some scenes or phrases from the book. It’s so wonderful! It was a long time since a book made such a lasting impression on me.

The Girl You Left Behind is two stories in one. The first story set in France, 1916. Sophie lives in a small town under occupation. Her husband Edouard went off to war and one of very few things that she has of him is his portrait of her. The second story set in England, 2006. It is Liv’s story. Her husband, a talented architect, died four years ago. She continues to grieve, and the only thing that keeps her going on is the portrait of a young girl, which her husband gifted her on their honeymoon. When the heirs claimed that the portrait was stolen during WWI, Liv refuses to let it go without a fight. As confrontation escalates and facts about portrait’s past revealed it began to threaten Liv’s hopes for new love and happy life.

About first 30 % of the book is Sophie’s story and then we abruptly thrown into Liv’s life. I was so shocked and frustrated. I was invested in Sophie’s story, and I wanted to know what happened to her. So it took me a while to connect with Liv. At first I thought that this was all I’ve had of Sophie and I would only see glimpses of her in letters, newspapers, and memoirs; and I was really angry, because Sophie became a real person to me. Fortunately this wasn’t the case here. There were more of Sophie’s POV weaved in Liv’s story. Actually there were more time jumps than that, because Sophie’s parts were interrupted by her memories about her husband. Though it was at times frustrating I think this structure of the book made a perfect sense. It reflects the atmosphere in which people lived during the WWI. Person didn’t know what would happen tomorrow. He could be abruptly torn away from his familiar life and his loved ones, his future unknown.

So, back to Liv’s story. As I’ve said before, at first it was difficult to connect with her. But it’s the kind of story that sneaks up on you. One moment I was annoyed and frustrated because I wanted to know what happened to Sophie, the next I’m consumed by Liv’s grieve and loneliness. The author made such an amazing job here. Liv’s loneliness was such a palpable thing, it broke my heart.

When Liv’s story started I thought that it can’t be as emotional as Sophie’s story, that I wouldn’t be so invested in Liv’s life as I was with Sophie. After all what all our contemporary mundane problems are contrary to the problems of people during WWI? I should’ve known better. Jojo Moyes made me feel, made me cry and I became so immerse in Liv’s story that at some point Sophie’s chapters became interruptions.

And I loved the romance between Liv and Paul. There was something in their relationship that squeezed my heart and wouldn’t let me go. Was it their tenderness and hope or heartbreaking revelation what they are to each other, their longing and broken hearts, their desperation, their love, strength and faith? I don’t know. I just know that I wouldn’t forget this romance for a long time.

Despite my love for Liv, my heart belongs to Sophie. It was like I was with her on every step of her heartbreaking journey. She is such a strong and purposeful heroine. There was one scene that nearly broke me

(the scene where Sophie brought the portrait to the Kommandant)

And another one left me in despair and anger

(when Sophie was brought to the camp)

"Do you know how it feels to resign yourself to your fate? It is almost welcome. There was to be no more pain, no more fear, no more longing. It is the death of hope that comes as the greatest relief."

We don’t really know Edouard. At the beginning of the book he had already gone to the front, so we only see glimpses of him in Sophie’s memories. But Jojo Moyes wrote these short chapters amazing, Edouard became a real man and their romance with Sophie was beautiful. It made me felt her loneliness, longing and desperation even more.

When we hear the word “war” we often picture explosions, injured soldiers and think about their courage and self-sacrifice. But how often do we think about the women they left behind? Women which lived in occupation, which also made sacrifices. This wonderful book brings light to this side of the war.

Sophie and Liv had more in common than just the portrait. Both women kept going on because of their absolute faith in what they were doing. In Sophie’s case she believed that she will be with her husband again no matter what happened, and Liv was willing to risk everything to save the portrait.

"Sometimes life is a series of obstacles, a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes… it is simply a matter of blind faith."

The Girl You Left Behind is a heartbreaking story about love and loss and hope. Now I can’t wait to read another book by Jojo Moyes and lost myself in her characters and their life.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Audiobook Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Title: Big Little Lies
Author: Liane Moriarty
Narrator: Caroline Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 Stars
My rating of Narration: 5 of 5 Stars


I don’t know why I’ve waited so long to read a book by Liane Moriarty. Big Little Lies is brilliant. The author brings to life these amazing complex characters and masterfully dissects marriage, motherhood, friendship and many other important topics. It doesn’t matter if you are married, divorced, or single; if you have children or not; if you work full time or you are staying at home; you will find something for you in this book. Read it.

I’ve listened to an audio version and I highly recommend it. The narrator Caroline Lee made such an amazing job here. I think she added a lot to the story. The only downside of audio was that I couldn’t highlight passages I loved; and believe me there were plenty of them.

I loved Liane Moriarty’s writing style and audio format allowed me to appreciate it more. She writes about serious things (it’s a book about a murder after all), but her writing is easy and funny.

Big Little Lies follows lives of three women, who live in one small town and those children attend the same kindergarten. Madeline is a force of nature. She deals with her ex-husband, teenage daughter and school politics with a smile. Gorgeous Celeste has a life from a magazine cover: handsome rich loving husband, two little sons, and big beautiful house. But nothing is like it seems from the first sight. Jane is a quiet and shy young single mother whose past hides painful memories. These three women couldn’t be more different but they form a friendship.

My favorite character is Madeline. She is such an energetic optimistic person. She is strong and honest, she thrives on fights and never back down. She is so caring and loyal to her friends. I wish I had such a friend in my life. Raising a teenager is not an easy task on its own, but having your ex-husband and his new family living in the same area, and trying to be civil and supportive when he participates in their daughters life despite that he abandoned them? Not an easy task.

Celeste’s storyline was like watching a wreck. You know what’s coming but can’t look away. It also made me question how much I really know about people around me, even my close friends. We all are so quick to post our smiling photos and happy updates on social networks, but who knows what happens behind the closed doors?

Jane was another story. It’s obvious that something happened to her in the past. She is broken and lonely. As her story revealed, I sympathized with her. I was so happy to see how she gradually changes.

Big Little Lies is a very character-driven story. Little happens in terms of plot. The pace is slow and there is a lot of mundane life of characters. For me the beauty of this book was in these everyday events and thoughts.

So many things in this book resonated with me. I connected with these heroines on so many levels. There were sad and ugly things like Jane’s past and Celeste’s present and there were happy and filled with hope moments like Jane’s new love and Madeline’s relationship with her husband. Like in real life.

I was especially punched by this whole suburban community scene. All this judgment, talking behind someone’s back. Community expectations and community pressure. How often does a woman, a mother make her decisions thinking about what her neighbors would say, not what is best for her and her family? Though I live in another country in the big city I recognized so many patterns in my life.

The structure of this book is unusual. Between the parts of main story we have the parts where neighbors and witnesses are questioned. At first it was a little confusing and overwhelming, all these short comments from so many people, but as the story progressed I begin to like it. It’s a great illustration on how community thrives on rumors.

The author keeps the readers glued to the pages not only with the fascinating and complex characters, but also with the mystery and suspense elements. We don’t know what happened with Jane, why she is the way she is. At first we have no clue what is wrong with Celeste. And finally there was a murder. From the start we know that there was a murder at the school Trivia Night, but we don’t know what happened and even who was murdered. The author gives the readers little snippets of information and gradually we can see the big picture. Big Little Lies is not a murder mystery in its classic meaning, this aspect made the book more interesting.

I’m not sure I can make this wonderful book any justice. I highly recommend it. Especially in audio.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Review: The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes

Title: The Distance Between Lost and Found
Author: Kathryn Holmes
My rating: 4 of 5 Stars


Last year we all here in Russia were shocked by tragedy happened in the Irkutsk region. Three teenagers who lived in the rural area got lost in the forest. That day after school they decided not to wait for the bus but to go home on foot. Next morning one was found dead and two others were taken to the intensive care unit with severe frostbite. I forgot to mention that it was winter and temperature was about - 30 °C (-22.0 °F). So when I started The Distance Between Lost and Found I was acutely aware that this could happen in real life. People make stupid choices and get lost in the forest and die.

Oh, well, back to the book. Main character Hallelujah (Hallie) is a pariah in her school. She is constantly bullied and subjected to ridicule by classmates. Their leader is Luke, the preacher’s son. We don’t know why she is in this situation. The book starts with Hallie coming on a youth group retreat in the Smoky Mountains. This part is only a short introduction to the main story, but the author made a great job picturing this situation. I felt Hallie’s humiliation, her anger, her fear to open up. The only person who is willing to speak with Hallie and show her kindness is Rachel, new girl from the different area, who knows nothing about Hallie’s past.

The main story however begins when Hallie, Rachel and Jonah (Hallie’s ex-friend) after one bad decision are lost in the forest.

The Distance Between Lost and Found is a survival story. Hallelujah, Jonah and Rachel had a lot to overcome: thirst, hunger, exhaustion, cold, injuries, and storm. It felt real to me (especially because of the tragedy I’ve mentioned earlier). But also it is a Hallelujah’s story of self-discovery, of finding her voice figuratively and literally.

As the story progressed we are given information piece by little piece about what happened to Hallie. It’s emotional and heartbreaking story. Through the course of the book Hallie became stronger, she opened up to Rachel and Jonah and it’s wonderful to witness changes in her.

I tend to avoid religious books. If I knew about this aspect of the book I would probably skip it. I’m so glad I didn’t. I never felt like I was preached. Even the name Hallelujah made sense. For me the message was: you need to believe in yourself in the first place. You are much stronger then you think you are. Sometimes a person needs to be put in extreme circumstances to understand what’s important and what’s not, that it is your choice to be silent or not and finally find strength to speak up, to fight back.

There is a hint of a romance in this book. But don’t expect much, the characters have more serious things on their agenda, like survival. The romance gives us hope that everything can be different, can be ok.

All in all The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes is a good book which raises a number of important topics.