After You by Jojo Moyes

after you

Book Review:  After You by Jojo Moyes

‘Write what you know’ is often bandied around as the best advice to aspiring authors, but I think we need to change this to, ‘write what you’re passion about’. That is, don’t give into the whims of what is popular right now, what you think your audience will want to read, or what your publisher is demanding you write.

Obviously Jojo Moyes was passionate about Louisa and Will’s story in Me Before You. Even more obviously, she was guilty of one or all three of those last points in the previous paragraph.

Me Before You was such a fabulous book. I loved it. It’s listed as one of my favourite books. And, like many others I would think, my love for it compelled me to read its sequel, despite the plethora of bad reviews. I wish I would have listened to those reviews and resisted because After You really is a jumbled mess. There’s so many things wrong with it, I don’t even know where to start.

Actually, I’ll start at the beginning and the ending. The ending of Me Before You is perfect. There was no need for a sequel. It was written as if there was no plans for a sequel. Hence this is a major problem with After You. Where do you start with a book when there is nowhere to start? Moyes obviously had no idea either, which led to a severe lack of plot. It’s almost as if she sat down and strung some ideas together and hoped for the best. (Note — it wasn’t the best.)

Let me run through the major plot points so you’ll get the general idea. Louisa continues to mourn Will, Louisa job hunts to escape her idiot boss, Louisa meets cute (sort of) new man, Louisa finds it difficult to be with new man because of Will’s memory (this conflict drags and drags until you want to scream), Louisa meets and becomes a surrogate carer for a teenager and… that’s about it. Oh, and there is the major plot line of Louisa’s mother’s resistance to shaving her legs. (Yeah, I know it was a metaphor, Hazel Grace, but it was still as boring as bats**t.)

Louisa’s parents were such strong characters in the original book. They jumped from the page and I could picture them so clearly. They were funny and so very very real. Their return in the sequel is such a disappointment. Louisa’s mum gets about one good line (to do with a toilet attendant) and Louisa’s father loses every bit of humour he displayed in the original. In fact, he comes across as a bit of an idiot instead of the sweet funny battler we knew.

Louisa’s sister appears again. She was forthright and bitchy in the original. This time her personality came across much more abrasive and annoying. Again, there was no humour in her scenes.

And Louisa herself? If I had to list my favourite book heroines ever, Louisa Clark of Me Before You would have made my top 10. Louisa Clark from After You would not even turn up in my top 100. How a vibrant funny and heartbreaking character like Louisa can turn into such a bore within three or four chapters is beyond me.

The other new character is the teenager Louisa takes in, Lily. Lily was not an awful character but, again, she and her plot were as unnecessary and forced as this book.

Aside from the new boyfriend and Lily, there is a cast of ‘’colourful’’ characters who attend a counselling group with Louisa. I thought they were completely wasted. If I’d been the editor I would have suggested putting their scenes between chapters and/or dedicating a whole chapter for each character attending the session’s life, letting their issues reflect Louisa’s somehow. As it was, these scenes and characters are shoved in willy-nilly. I had no idea who was who (apart from another teenager, Jake) meaning I became attached to none of them and in the end skimmed over these scenes.

After reading Me Before You, I had the urge to read all of Moyes’s other books. After reading After You, I’ve now got the urge to give them all a miss. I remember her changing the book’s narrator oddly in the original book and overlooked it as I enjoyed it so much. She did it again in this novel. The entire thing was written in Louisa’s first person point of view except for this one out of place chapter that switches abruptly to Lily’s perspective. I’m sure there must have been some way to reveal to the reader Lily’s secret/conflict without stooping to this idea.

I must add too, that Lily’s sad back story had none of the impact on me that Louisa’s relating what happened in the maze did in Me Before You. That was one of the most powerful and distressing moments I’ve ever read in a chicklit book but Lily’s story was cliched and the ‘sting’ operation Louisa arranged was just plain ridiculous.

I’ve tried to spend a few moments contemplating how I would have rated this book if I’d read it as a standalone and had not had the original to compare, but I’m still not sure. There’s some irony that I read the book because of the original and I hate the book because of the original.

If you’re strong enough, I’d recommend you don’t read this sequel at all. If you do get the urge, I encourage you to re-read the original. Hell, I’d even lay bets on that there’s fanfiction sequels that are better than this.

Horrifyingly, the book actually ends in such a manner that this could become a trilogy. I can’t even…

A generous 2 out of 5

The Woman Who Met Her Match

met her match

Book Review:  The Woman Who Met Her Match by Fiona Gibson

Lorrie might be the woman who met her match, but I’m the woman who has met her perfect chicklit novel.

Of late, the quality of chicklit books I’ve read has been rather low, but happily The Woman Who Met Her Match has restored my faith.

Despite the blurb, the storyline does not revolve around Lorrie travelling to France (most of the book is set in London but, don’t fret, we do get a few pretty scenes with the French setting) and starting up a relationship with her first love, Antoine. There’s a little more to it than that.

There’s quite a bit about ageism. The plot surrounding Lorrie’s new employers especially highlights that society has a long way to go towards changing people’s attitudes about when a woman has reached her use-by date. (At 46, Lorrie is mature without being over the hill, in my opinion, but it might be something to do with the fact I’m also 46…)

Fat shaming is also a huge issue tackled in the book. I’d like to say the number of times this happens to Lorrie was an artistic exaggeration, but I know it was probably spot on. (It doesn’t help of course that, like everyone else in her/my generation, Lorrie suffers from low self esteem.)

Gibson also adds the themes of handling grief, the futility of revenge, and forgiveness with a deft touch.

In the romance department, there’s a plethora of men parading through Lorrie’s life. There’s the aforementioned Antoine, a couple of likely (and not likely) candidates she meets via an online dating site, a cutie from the dog park, and you might even count Lorrie’s old friend and boarder, Stu.

I liked that none of her potential suitors were tycoons ready to sweep her off her feet and into their sports cars/yachts/private islands. Antione was as close as we got to a millionaire, but even he was not over the top.

Choosing a hero for me to cheer on wasn’t a difficulty. Lorrie’s end game guy was my choice, so at last the HEA had me punching the air in happiness.

I also enjoyed the way Gibson wrote the romantic scenes. I thought there was just the right balance between sexy and sweet.

Well, actually, I enjoyed everything about this book. I will definitely be checking out Gibson’s other novels. Highly recommend for those looking for a satisfying chicklit read.

5 out of 5

A Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson

song for tomorrow

Book Review:  A Song for Tomorrow by Alice Peterson

I picked up this book (from net-galley, thanks!) thinking it was a romance/chicklit. However, if you’re thinking of reading Song for Tomorrow, be warned that it is more of an inspirational dramatic tale with a romantic undertone that will bring a tear to your eye.

Alice already has a boyfriend and has had some minor success as a model. She isn’t particularly passionate about either. She meets Tom and feels an instant attraction. While sorting out her lovelife, she also decides to pursue the career she’s always wanted; to become a singer. Life is short, after all. In particular, it’s expected to be short for Alice. Alice has cystic fibrosis.

This book is based upon the real life story of Alice Martineau (some fictional characters/scenarios were added by the author but on a whole, now that I’ve researched this a little, most of it reflects Alice’s real life). Unfortunately, at the beginning of the book, this was not stated. I didn’t realise until the end/acknowledgements that Alice wasn’t simply a fictional character. I think this is a real error on the part of the publishers because it made me reflect upon the characters in a completely different way and I would have enjoyed googling Alice’s songs etc whilst reading.

This will sound silly, but the beginning and ending of the book were great, but the middle sagged. Right up to the 40% mark, and from the 90% mark onwards, I would have quite happily given Song for Tomorrow a rating of 5/5. In between Peterson just seemed to get lost for a moment. I thought later that perhaps she was trying to add some substance and drama to the plot. This was unnecessary as Alice’s life was dramatic enough.

Basing the book on its writing merits alone, I would complain about the change of point of view. We get chapters from Alice and her mother which are first person, and then abruptly we get some chapters titled ‘Tom’ written in the third person point of view. I found this jarring.

I also admit I became a little disinterested in some of the repetition in the storyline from the halfway point of the book onwards. Yes, Alice wants to be a singing star. Yes, Tom finds the disease overwhelming at times because he wants a family. Yes, people are ignorant when it comes to disabilities. Yes, Alice is a funny girl who loves her friends, family and the medical staff who attend to her. I don’t know… I didn’t need to hear these sort of things over and over and they bogged down the flow of the book at times.

Despite these occasional missteps from Peterson, Alice Martineau’s and her family’s real life struggle increased my respect for the book. It will bring a lot of attention to organ donation and cystic fibrosis awareness. Alice Martineau’s music will also gain a new wave of fans. (Yes, I have now listened to her songs via youtube but unfortunately I can’t find them on itunes or spotify in Australia.)

Ultimately I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

4 out of 5

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life

romance readers

Book Review:  The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell

I had not previously heard of Sharon Pywell, and I admit to requesting this book from Net-Galley because of its pretty cover and interesting title.

I assumed, a romance. I assumed, a main character who liked to read romances getting into some entanglements when she applied that genre’s rules to real life. I assumed, chick lit. My assumptions were, for the most, incorrect (although some of them were right in a roundabout way). But I do understand the marketing people’s dilemma in summarising the book and even placing it into one specific genre.

If I had one complaint about the book, it would be its beginning. It didn’t burst out of the blocks and win me over immediately. Instead, I plodded through the first couple of chapters, trying to get a grasp on what I had discovered was not a traditional romance. It was almost like some strange mixture of The Book Thief and The Lovely Bones. In fact, as it starts off when all the main characters are children (the time setting being around America’s entry into WW2) I wondered if I’d accidentally stumbled into reading a young adult novel.

A few chapters in and I was switching my thoughts to a Judith Krantz type saga. The lead female characters were shown to be strong, independent and intelligent, and we were given some wonderful details of them building their own successful post-war business empire.

Then, things changed again, and I was suddenly reading a thriller. And, one thing was for sure, I was hooked.

The book is written mostly from Neave and her sister’s, Lilly, first person point of view. There is also a ‘bodice ripping romance’ book being told concurrently. Sometimes I enjoyed this parallel pirate book more than at other times. Thinking about it now that I’ve finished The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life, I’m not sure it was a necessary addition to the plot. I didn’t hate it though.

What I did hate is the depressing truth about domestic violence. I loved how the book showed the inability to protect and, quite often, the uncaring attitude towards, the victims of this crime by the authorities of the time. I’d like to hope we have come a long way… But unfortunately I know this isn’t always the case.

Women’s’ rights overall are a huge theme of the book. Gender inequality is particularly highlighted in the workplace and the home. Again, I’d like to think we’ve come a long way…

There is one supernatural element, but thankfully it never got into the ridiculous territory of the aforementioned Lovely Bones. Again, thinking about it later, I’m not sure it was a necessary addition, but I didn’t mind it at the time.

I’m also happy to report there is in fact romance in a Romance Reader’s Guide to Life. Quite a nice one too.

4 1/2 out of 5 for this unexpected gem.

Secrets of a Happy Marriage

secrets of a happy marriage

Book Review:  Secrets of a Happy Marriage by Cathy Kelly

I’ve read a few duds lately, so I was excited to be offered this novel via Netgalley. However, as it turns out, Secrets of a Happy Marriage too was a bit of a dud.

It started out well. We were introduced to Faenia, who left Ireland in her youth and is now thinking of returning after forty plus years for her brother’s, Edward, 70th birthday. Edward has recently married Bess, after losing his wife, Lottie, three years previous. We’re also introduced to Edward’s daughter, Jojo, his niece, Cari, Bess’s daughter, Amy, Edward and Faenia’s two other brothers, their wives, their other children, their cousins, their siblings, their work colleagues, their work clients, their clients and colleagues partners and siblings… You see the problem? I needed a spreadsheet to keep it all straight!

I don’t understand how the book got past the editors in this form. It could have been cut down, with Kelly concentrating on one or two characters and their plot lines, and been a wonderful book. Instead, it’s a mishmash that’s ultimately dissatisfying and difficult to finish.

The problem with having so many characters is needing too many plot conflicts. There might have been a touch of hope with Bess and Edward’s story line, but on the whole, the conflict of plots’ Kelly created were forced and ridiculous (a 30-something being upset because her 70 year old father remarries after being widowed for three years? I could spend an entire blog post on the insanity of this conflict of plot for starters).

There were other editing issues, with some characters’ thoughts being repeated from chapter to chapter. It was almost like Kelly needed to remind us about the plot and the character traits (and maybe she did!). My eyes glazed over at times, especially when I had to read about the wisdom of Nora and the goodness of Lottie far too many times.

There is one small surprise near the end of the book which I would have enjoyed (regarding Faenia) but Kelly unfortunately went into some sort of politically correct psycho-babble about why this happened. Really… It just spoilt the whole effect. It also made it seem like she plopped the whole thing in to win over some minority group…

Ms Kelly, please remember next time: Less is more.

2 ½ out of 5.

Paper Hearts & Summer Kisses

paper-hearts

Book Review:  Paper Hearts & Summer Kisses by Carole Matthews

This book started out promising. It’s written in the first person point of view of Christie, a 42 year old single mum with a teenager son. I nodded and agreed with just about all of her observations in the early part of the book. Then, somewhere around the 35% mark I found my interest waning.

Christie has a passion for crafting. She tries to juggle this crafting hobby around her ‘real life’ job as a PA in a solicitors’ office.  It’s a job which involves a ridiculous amount of time commuting on a bus where she meets a potential suitor, Henry.

Soon, however, her apparently boring career and lovelife is given a boost when her mother puts her name forward to a huge US craft company. It ends up that she’s not only offered a new job, but a place in its owner’s, Max, bed also.

Now, I admit to knowing zero about craft companies, but I will admit to having issues with Max.  I just found it very difficult to imagine a craft company flying their employees around the world and its owner living such an extravagant millionaire lifestyle. So, for me, Max’s character slipped over into trashy romance territory far too many times.
Meanwhile, Christie’s son is diagnosed with a serious illness. I’m not marking this a spoiler because it was predictable from page one. The outcome also was a little predictable. No tenterhooks with this storyline, I’m afraid.

I also wasn’t anxious to learn just which man would win over the fair maiden. There was no chemistry between Christie and either leading man, in my opinion.  I wasn’t rushing to turn the pages as one should when reading.

I’ve got to point out that I can’t even sew on a button, and craft isn’t something I’ve ever done (not even when my kids were kindy/preschool age).  Despite that, I want to make it clear that the passages dedicated to describing what craft project Christie was carrying out at various times didn’t have any bearing on my rating. If you are into crafts you’ll probably be in heaven. If you’re like me and have no interest, you should know those scenes aren’t too intense.

It was the romance that didn’t work for me and that would help in a chick lit/romance novel.   And unfortunately, overall, I didn’t really find Christie an appealing heroine either.

3 out of 5

Book Review: Lizzie’s Christmas Escape

lizzies-xmas-escape

Book Review:  Lizzie’s Christmas Escape by Christie Barlow

I admit I have been doing some other things over the Christmas holidays but this book has still managed to put me in a complete reading rut. So, finally, at around the 60% mark, I’m throwing in the towel. I really can’t think of a single thing that has endeared me to this book to make me want to go on.

Lizzie wants a Christmas escape because basically she’s a selfish cow who, despite her age, needs to grow up. Her kids have left home and she feels her husband, Henry, takes her for granted/ignores her/neglects her. The truth of the matter is he’s working long hours while she stays at home making a bit of pin money as a seamstress. She gets angry when he comes home, clearly exhausted, and eats his dinner in front of the tv before heading off to bed. And that’s about it when it comes to Henry’s crimes.

Apparently that’s enough for immature and gullible Lizzie because when a single male, Marcus, moves in next door, she instantly falls for him.

Lizzie’s moping around and whingeing about how hardly done by she is nearly did my head in. Here’s an idea, Lizzie, how about you expand your business so that you poor ol’ Henry doesn’t feel like he has to take on extra work to pay the bills. Although I suspect Lizzie’s a crap seamstress anyway, considering that there’s a few chapters dedicated to her shopping for a dress to wear on a date with Marcus and the dilemma she faces when she can’t afford the ‘perfect’ one. I mean, seriously? She’s a seamstress!! Can’t she just make her own dress?! Ugh.

Marcus is just about the most unintentionally sleazy character I’ve read in a while. He knows Lizzie is married right from the start, but that doesn’t seem to stop him from constantly approaching her (without ever bothering to introduce himself to Henry or call around when he’s home) and, basically, using her. She’s so self-absorbed she doesn’t even see how much Marcus is taking advantage.

As I’ve only gotten to around the 60% mark, I can’t tell you for sure, but I would assume Marcus is either some sort of a criminal or gay. Some ‘bombshell’ anyway that will shock Lizzie into running back to Henry with her tail between her legs and screaming that she now realises it’s Henry she really loves. What.ever.

I must also mention Lizzie’s bestie, Ann. Well, what a pain in the proverbial. One minute she is telling Lizzie that she should go out with Marcus and have some fun etc etc. The next minute she’s warning her to be careful because she’s married etc etc. Make up your mind!!!!

There’s all sorts of cliched romantic moments with Lizzie and Marcus that made me cringe: ice skating, dog walking, him buying her expensive gifts… Gross.

There is a sprinkling of Christmas, so I will give it half a star for the effort of making the holiday relevant to the storyline.

The cover/blurb indicates there’s humour in the book, but I’m afraid I find nothing funny in making plans to be unfaithful. I didn’t even get the Gary Barlow part because I have no idea who he is (okay, I did google, but I was clueless until then).

I was going to try and finish the book but the last chapter I read was a detailed account of Lizzie and Ann’s weekly bingo night (where Lizzie wins and will spend that money on the new dress and a weekend away with Marcus, I assume). Not really the escapism I was looking for…

One out of 5. Did not finish.