Book Review: Me Before You

1550795812649718First of all a GIANT THANK YOU to Rebecca from Viking/Penguin for generously sending us not just one but THREE copies of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes! Now everyone in our Wink Three Book Club can have a good cry! Although this one is bit of a chick-lit read it is NOT a romance novel. It is more of a love story if anything– with a twist.

It is 2007 and Will Traynor is a hot shot business man. He has a Go! Go! Go! lifestyle, a smoking hot girlfriend and a designer apartment in the heart of London. He spends his weekends skiing, bungee jumping or travelling the world and he loves it! But everything changes for Will when he gets hit by a motorcycle on his way to work and becomes a quadriplegic.

Louisa (Lou) Clark is a quirky but simple girl who hasn’t done much with her life just yet. She works at a local restaurant and she really enjoys spending time with her customers– she sees them as a family of sorts because that is the kind of gal Lou is– her world is small. She is 26 years old and has never been anywhere far from home. She still lives at home, in the smallest room of the house and is comfortable with her boyfriend of seven years (Patrick, a former fatty who is now a marathon runner). Lou’s world is turned upside down when the restaurant abruptly closes down and she finds herself out of a job. She goes to the local job-seeker office where they suggest several things she is qualified to do– chicken farmer, pole dancer, adult chat-line supervisor aaaaand — personal care assistant for a quadriplegic– who happens to be Will.

With reservations Lou takes the job– it is only a six month contract, it pays well and she soon finds out why– Will is a bit of an a$$hole. He is moody, superior and insulting. His prickly behaviour often reduces her to tears. She finds ways to avoid being in the room with him and even considers quitting– but she really needs the money. Their relationship begins to blossom when Lou discovers that challenging and defying Will works better than crying and cowering. As she spends more time interacting with him Will realizes that Lou is homey and timid because she has never been given the opportunity to shine. They become each others’ pet projects. Will introduces Lou to his intellectual and worldly life before the accident– books, music and travel– and Lou introduces Will to enjoying the small things– laughing, nonsense and spending time with friends. A perfect recipe for LOVE– but it is not that easy.

There is another reason Lou has only been hired for six months. In addition to helping Will out with everyday tasks like eating and cleaning she has also been handed the task of cheering him up. Not just cheering him up, but cheering him up to the point that he no longer wants to take his own life. That is the twist. Will has been in contact with the assisted-suicide company Dignitas— he cannot cope with life in the wheelchair and has chosen to end it all. Lou has only 6 months to give him something to live for. Will she be able to do it??

For the most part the story is narrated from Lou’s perspective as she gets closer and closer to the deadline. The banter between Lou and Will was fantastic– the way they went at each other was charming and made me love them both– warts and all. There were also 4 chapters from 4 different perspectives (Will’s mother Camilla, Will’s physiotherapist, Nathan, Will’s father, Steven and Lou’s sister, Kartina) which provided a cool voyeuristic insight into the whole Lou-Will relationship which really added to the story. 3.5 stars (almost a 4 but the banter slowed down as the deadline arrived and that took away a bit of the charm for me– but it did NOT keep me from bawling like a baby). Looking forward to Book Club night on March 21st!! Hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I did!

I stole a look at Will. He was rapt, suddenly unselfconscious. I turned away, unexpectedly afraid to look at him. I was afraid of what he might be feeling, the depth of his loss, the extent of his fears. Will Traynor’s life had been so far beyond the experiences of mine. Who was I to tell him how he should want to live it? ~ Lou


Book Review: That Book About Harvard

Well, we got this book from Sourcebooks a few weeks before the Man Booker prize nominees were announced, the BookerMarks Project became my full-time reading job and this one got put on the back burner. Turns out that That Book About Harvard – Surviving the World’s Most Famous University One Embarrassment at a Time was the perfect follow-up to some of the intense and difficult reads that the BookerMarks Project required (Umbrella– I’m talking to you). It was light, it was silly and it was downright fun!

Eric Kester’s life is turned upside down when he realizes that his “Holy sh*t! I’m going to Harvard!” moment turns into an “Oh sh*t! I’m going to Harvard” one! It begins with his first day as a freshman when he gets locked out of his dorm room (in his Incredible Hulk underwear), analyzes his feelings of inadequacy as he fails calculus (NO ONE fails at Harvard, do they??), chronicles his pursuit of “the girl of his dreams” (soooooo out of his league) and ends with 2 events that can only happen in the movies (an actual “foam party” (Mather Lather) and a naked race (Primal Scream)).

The story doesn’t so much chronicle his first year at Harvard than it does provide an overview and feeling of what it must be like to be there– especially when you are just a normal, unambitious kid with a football scholarship trying to get by at a school famous for producing greatness (can you truly call someone “normal” when they obsess about taking a pee on the famous John Harvard statue?). Along the way I learned a little bit about the school (the John Harvard statue is not really John Harvard– just some random model; they care more about academics than sports– so different from most American Universities; the students that go there are so obsessive about over achieving that they actually have therapy groups to help them cope) but mostly I learned that Eric Kester is a hilarious writer! His quips had me literally laughing out loud. Check out some of these nuggets of hilarity:

I once left my Volvo sedan on North Harvard Street only to find a brick through its window the next morning with a note attached that said: “Harvard Douche…Your an asshole.” I couldn’t understand why the locals hated Harvard students so much, and why they chose to ignore such simple grammatical rules.

Personally, I really wasn’t really into the whole “entrepreneurship” craze at Harvard. It didn’t really bother me much– different people are into different things. Mark Zuckerberg spent his time making Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, and I spent my time making cups of ramen noodles. Both are special in their own way.

By far the most common mental issue Harvard students face is “perfectionism.” I know it doesn’t sound like a particularly harmful condition to live with, but perfectionism can be extremely difficult to live with. (For instance, many Harvard students will be physically unable to read past the previous sentence, since it ended with a preposition.)

The bottom line is that both Harvard guys and Harvard girls thought they were too good for each other. Girls were looking for a mature romance worthy of a Jane Austen novel, and guys were looking for a girl with the unmatched sexiness of Jabba the Hutt’s slave Leia. And you weren’t going to find either at Harvard.

One minute you’re slouched in your chair spacing out, doing your best to stay awake and not stare at boobs, then the next you’re on trial for human rights violations.

This book was pure fun! It is not going to change the world or anything but it will make you chuckle while you are trying! 3.5 stars from me! Thanks to Sourcebooks for providing us a copy!

Review: The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace is indeed impressive historical fiction. Betrayal, intrigue, espionage, an evil and selfish empress, chaos, maddness, torture and banishment in the court, to end with a final coup. Ms. Stachniak spins this tale beautifully.

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.

If you are however, thinking this novel is solely about Catherine and her greatness as ruler of Russia, you may wish to take note that it is far more about the palace spy Vavara and her fight to keep Catherine relevant and help her rise to power.  Barbara, the Polish bookbinder’s daughter, the foreigner, handed a more appropriate Russian name of Vavara for when she succeeds in becoming the palace tongue. Vavara is groomed for the Empress Elizabeth, but her strong connection and favour to Princess Sophie is what sets her on the path to do everything in her power to assure Catherine succeeds in taking over the crown.

I knelt on the ground, recalling the first time I saw her, a child of fourteen arriving in Moscow, unsure of her fate. I thought of the young woman she became, branded by injustice and pain, singed by humiliation. Much had been taken from her and yet her heart had not been broken. My Empress, I thought.

You need to wait until the final 80 pages or so before you are able to read about the Catherine that is to be “Catherine the Great”. And it is here that the story really grabs hold of you. But never mind that, because it is all fulfilling and fun as we listen to Vavara weave her interesting tales of betrayal and secrets and her undying love and support for Catherine. This is more of a tale of friendship between Vavara and Catherine.

So that all Elizabeth had destroyed could be repaired, all that she had filled with secrecy could be illuminated by the truth of the new reign

The Winter Palace is however wonderful and Stachniak’s writing is vivid and full with delightful details. I did feel slightly disappointed though as you are led to believe this is more about Catherine, and her time as ruler, given the full title, (The Winter Palace: A novel of Catherine the Great) but I then I decided to sit back and enjoy the fact that this was a story written through the eyes of Vavara, and her determination to see Catherine as the successor to Empress Elizabeth. It is Vavara’s story giving us insider information about palace betrayal and the secretive nature of Imperial Russia and her growing dislike for the life shrouded in secrecy and betrayal.  

The words that come to me are simple, though I will have to disguise them in my letter: I know what power does to your heart. I know the price of fear. Your world is not the world I want for my child.

Some parts around the middle did begin to drag, and some were a bit tiresome to hear repeated like Empress Elizabeth’s continuing fear, jealousy and selfishness, but overall, a highly worthwhile and very enjoyable story. 3.5 stars.

I read this too for Random House Canada’s Historical Fiction Challenge. You can check the Challenge out here, as you still have until the end of February to challenge yourself to read their selected list of titles.

You may wish to watch the Winter Palace Book Trailer here

Visit Eva Stachniak’s website here

For second opinions:

Read The National Post’s Review here

Review: 1Q84

Well, I’m happy it’s over. But please, don’t get me wrong, I honestly did enjoy reading this, but it will be one of the last 1,000 pagers I read for some time.  Boiled down, it is a nice “love story” with out there fantasy and magical elements to it. But…also plenty of ridiculousness as well. And, I admit to growing quite fatigued, with hints of boredom beginning to creep in. It felt more like a full time job having to devote this much time to one story.

What I Did Enjoy:

  1. Aomame: She had hints of Lisbeth Salander.
  2. The Dowager: I liked this woman: she’s in her 70s taking care of business, giving respite to battered women and being the Queen Organizer for ridding the world of worthless abusive men.
  3. the interconnectivity of many things mentioned throughout the book, for instance Tengo would be reading a novel, and then you would find the Tamaru discussing the same book and author in his conversation with Aomame. Or Tengo reading a book about a place to Fuka Eri and later you find that this is where Tamaru was raised. They are entirely separate, yet connected in so many ways.
  4. It was “easy” to read, and was a good story.

What I did Not enjoy:

  1. Way.Too.Long. Fatigue and frustration were abundant towards the end. It was a considerable investment of time to make, making me anxious to end rather than enjoy.
  2. WAY too much mention of sex and sex organs. All in silly and inappropriate parts. There was no escape from it, most notably in Book 1. The excrutiatingly bad descriptions of sex, sex organs, pubic hair, size, shape, colour, etc. It came in to conversation far too often and in far too many inappropriate parts. Most cases, it had NO business being said. Seriously. I understand it was nominated or a serious contender for winning Worst Sex Scene, but in my opinion, that needs to be pluralized. Inserting talk about stroking scrotums in the last sentence of a paragraph where stroking a scrotum was so completely unnecessary was a major turn off.
  3. Some of his comparisons were ridiculous, “it was out of place like a centipede in yogurt.” What? There is another in there about feeling tension in your female organs and stirring hot cocoa but I can’t remember that precisely enough to quote it here. You may get the idea though…
  4. Repetitive. Many times I had to look at what page I was on to make sure I didn’t hit the back button by accident. Entire sections felt as though they were repeated in following chapters. Liberal skipping of pages taking place by this point. Most especially in Book 3.
  5. Far too much time spent on frivolous details about Ushikawa and his quest in Book 3. I was so fatigued (and becoming bored) by this point that I did even more liberal scanning/skipping of pages. Because by this point I could care less about Ushikawa and his life, all chapters devoted to him could easily have been edited right out and not make a fig of difference to the story because I was only anxious to:
  7. The end was shaping up nicely, and then Murakami puts this in there, and just about causes me to throw the e-reader out the window. It is the part where Aomame is remembering her two lost friends in the world:

Aomame thought again of Tamaki. She remembered her smooth, beautifully shaped breasts. So different from my own underdeveloped chest, she thought. But those beautiful breasts are now gone forever. She thought of Ayumi Nakano…She had beautiful breasts as well. Aomame mourned the deaths of these two friends deeply. It saddened her to think that these women were forever gone from the world. And she mourned their lovely breasts – breasts that had vanished without a trace.”

ARE YOU KIDDING ME? That just about did me in! When mourning a lost best friend, the very last thing I mourn about is their breasts! I don’t even give them thought!!!!!!!!!!

Overall, I did enjoy it, but was it something that rocked my world or changed my life? Not really. Because if I have to repeat myself, I’m just glad it’s done. I feel like perhaps I should get a prize. And it bothers me to say that, because it was a very enjoyable story! It was just way too long and with moments of ridiculousness (as above!) and added many unnecessary elements in the end. 3.5 stars.

Upon reflection this morning, I realized this book strongly reminds me of Big Machine, by Lavalle: . It held many of the same elements: religion, Leader(s), fantasy, “little”, or “different people”, etc.

I also realized that these two books something I was “challenged” to read. Oprah suggested Big Machine (from a survey I took) and when reading the description it was nothing that I would normally pick up. As well, with 1Q84, it was the Opinionless Online Book Club that put the challenge out to read Murakami’s 1Q84. Again, nothing I would ever have considered. And although I can say I enjoyed reading them, I think my original hesitation in reading this style, or genre, remains. It will take a great deal of convincing me to pick another book from this genre again in the near future.

In the end, you may wish to read Big Machine (it’s way shorter too!):