Friday, May 3, 2013

Recent Reads

You Before Me by JoJo Moyes
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I initially checked out this book just to see if I was right about the ending (I was), but it proved to be a really great read.  It's about a working class English girl Louisa (Lou) Clark who lives a relatively sheltered life and works at a small local cafe.  However, when the cafe closes shop, Lou is forced to take a job care-taking for a wealthy cantankerous quadriplegic, Will Traynor.  Will used to be an adventurer and shrewd businessman before being badly injured in a motorcycle accident.  Despite their differences and Will's perpetual bad mood, the two soon become friends.  However, Louisa discovers that Will has a shocking deadline.  This book is a real tearjerker, but there is humor throughout the book.  I really enjoyed Louisa's somewhat contemptuous relationship with her single mother sister, Katrina- the "smart one" of the family. 

The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill
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Set in the mid 1800s in a Quaker community in Nantucket, this novel follows 24 year-old Hannah Price who dreams of one day discovering a comet.  She works as a librarian and spends the evening observing the stars. Overall, Hannah is pretty happy with her existence until her father announces that he is moving to Philadelphia to remarry.  As an unmarried woman, Hannah is forced to either leave her observatory and the island she's lived all her life, or marry a man she doesn't love for stability.  Things are further complicated when Hannah takes on a student Isaac Martin, an ambitious sailor from Azores.  Martin is not white, and his relationship with Hannah causes problems for them both even in the relatively liberal Quaker community.  This book is slower paced, but moody and romantic.  Hannah is sometimes a bit too stubborn, but it was hard to not be sympathetic to her plight and inspired by her accomplishments.  I definitely rooted for Hannah and Isaac's relationship.  Hannah is very loosely based on a real life "lady astronomer" Maria Mitchell.

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
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The premise of this book sort of reminded me loosely of W. Somerset Maugham's Painted Veil.  In spite of her father's Irish working class roots, Frances Irvine has led a life of privilege in London until her father dies suddenly.  Before his death, her father had made some poor investment choices and Frances is left with nothing.  Frances must choose between either working as caretaker for her aunt or marrying a distant cousin Edwin, a doctor in South Africa.  Frances doesn't really like Edwin all that much, she finds him rather serious and boring.  However, after initially rejecting his proposal, she changes her mind and agrees to the arrangement.  Edwin pays for her to travel to South Africa by ship.  While en route, Frances meets the charming and handsome diamond miner William Westbrook.  Frances falls hard for William, but finds out he's engaged to wealthy woman in Kimberley.  Once Frances arrives in South Africa, she finds life with Edwin even worse than she expected.  He lives in relative poverty, and insists of investigating a potential smallpox outbreak in Kimberley despite the express displeasure of the powerful mining boss.  Will Frances leave Edwin for the more dashing William? 

Frances can be a difficult character to sympathize with, mainly because she makes some really poor decisions.  One of the guys is so clearly great and on the right side of history and the other guy is an obvious jerk and up to no good.  However, the setting of the book is really interesting and I found the plot quite compelling.