The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

I couldn’t put down The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes. I stayed up way past my bedtime to read it one night, but didn’t regret it even though the next day I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Jojo Moyes is also the author of Me Before You, a book I’ve reviewed and highly recommend.

The Girl You Left Behind is a split timeline novel, much like a lot of other books I have read. In 1916, we read about Sophie Lefevre, a French woman whose husband, Eduoard, has left to fight in World War I. Sophie’s town and hotel are overtaken by Germans, including a Kommandant who takes a particular interest in a portrait Eduoard painted of Sophie. Drawing on the Kommandant’s interest, Sophie makes a potentially dangerous decision in the hopes of being able to see her husband once more.

In the present day, we follow the story of Liv, who was given Sophie’s portrait by her late husband, shortly before his untimely death. After a series of seemingly-unfortunate events, Liv meets Paul, a man she just may be able to fall in love with. However, Paul’s bizarre interest in the portrait of Sophie threatens the possibility of love and happiness for this new couple.

The Girl You Left Behind takes you back and forth in time, allowing you to feel the intensity of feelings that come with love, loss, fear, and possibility. Jojo Moyes is a wonderfully descriptive writer, I felt myself being transported into the scenes in the novel. I absolutely recommend this book!

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That Summer by Lauren Willig

I really enjoyed reading That Summer by Lauren Willig, but my one complaint is that it went by too fast. And I don’t even think that’s a result of my speed-reading skills, I think that there could have been so much more character and plot development in this novel.

There are two distinct plotlines in this novel, one follows Julia Conley in 2009, the other follows Imogen Grantham in 1849. Julia has just inherited her family’s house in England and travels back there to clean it out and prepare the house to be sold. While cleaning, Julia discovers pre-Raphaelite paintings and attempts to find out their story. In the 1849 timeline, the reader follows Imogen Grantham, who happens to live in the very house Julia is cleaning in the future. That Summer goes back and forth between the two timelines as we figure out the mysteries behind the paintings. I am a big fan of dual timeline novels, but I know they are not to everyone’s liking. My mom calls it “lazy writing” because she thinks it signifies the author cannot write a complete story. I, on the other hand, think it is quite the opposite. There’s something wonderful about an author who can successfully weave two stories together. It adds to the mystery and beauty of the book.

Lauren Willig does a very good job of weaving these stories together, however I felt that her development of Julia’s character left something to be desired. I wouldn’t say this book is a “must-read,” but it is definitely a nice, easy book to read and it has some good twists and turns. Read it if you’ve got time and it will draw you in, but just know that it may leave you a bit unsatisfied at the end.

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

How would you react if you heard an asteroid was going to hit the moon? Would you continue to go about your daily life? Would you panic? Would your survival instincts kick in?

Life As We Knew It, a book for ages 12 and up, explores the lighthearted topic of the end of the world. Seriously I know this book was written for young adult readers, but it was really very intense and very dark. And you should most definitely read it.

Life As We Knew It is written as a series of journal entries by sixteen year-old Miranda, who chronicles her personal experiences following a series of terrifying natural disasters. After an asteroid hits the moon, the world is thrown into chaos. Tsunamis destroy coastal cities, cold fronts cut off food supplies, and volcanoes erupt, causing ash to block out any sunlight. Miranda’s journal entries take us into the mind of a teenage girl whose life is turned upside down. As a reader, you will be able to feel Miranda’s heartbreak, her sadness, and her struggle to stay alive.

This novel makes you explore how you would react in a situation where the world is seemingly ending. I now have a full-scale apocalypse plan, which includes buying a woodstove, stockpiling canned tuna, and buying an exorbitant amount of chocolate, so that I’ll never be have to be without. It also made me think about who I would want to be with if the world was ending. I have decided that if the apocalypse was coming, Ryan Gosling and I would find a nice cabin somewhere and live there forever. No, but seriously, this book really did make me think about my life and my loved ones and how far I would go to protect them. And I would go pretty far (all you loved ones are lucky you got me on your side).

One of the best things about Life As We Knew It is that there are 3 more companion books that  you can read after you finish this one! They are also worth a read. After I reread them (it’s been a little while), I’ll most likely write reviews about them because each book has a pretty different setting and cast of characters.

I hope you check out this great book and please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

The Shack by William P. Young

I sat down yesterday to think about some reviews that I can write while I finish the long novel that I’m currently reading. The first book that popped into my head was The Shack by William P. Young, a novel that I have read many times and plan on rereading ASAP. It’s one of those books that never gets old, in fact it seems to become even richer each time you read it.

On its Wikipedia page, The Shack is listed as a “Christian novel,” which I guess is technically true, but I feel that it is so much more than that. It’s a novel about overcoming loss, about spirituality in general, about the power of healing. Yes, God and the Holy Trinity are central characters, but I think people of all faiths and beliefs would be able to see the beauty in this book. This book brought me tremendous healing without making me feel like I was in church. It’s a wonderful read for all people and please remember: just because you read something, doesn’t mean you have to accept it as truth.

The Shack centers on the story of Mackenzie Allen Phillips, “Mack,” and a period of his life deemed “The Great Sadness.” As you can read on the back cover of the novel (so it’s not really a spoiler), Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy, was abducted during a family trip. Four years later, Mack is invited to the cabin where Missy was most likely killed by a mysterious figure who might just be God. Throughout this novel, Mack questions God, hates God, yells at God, acts just like so many of us do when we are faced with incredible loss.

I want to tell you so many more things about this book, I want to go into incredible detail about my favorite parts, but I also just want you to explore this novel on your own.

If you even have the faintest bit of interest in it, definitely just check it out. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? And if you do read it, please comment below and let me know what you think – I would love to hear your thoughts!

All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am to write this review of the All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness. But before I get started, I want everyone to take a nice long look at the word “trilogy.” Isn’t it a weird word?

Okay, back to the reason we’re all here. The All Souls trilogy consists of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. This trilogy follows the story of Diana Bishop, a history professor who unknowingly uncovers enchanted and presumed lost manuscript, while researching different alchemy texts. Diana must come to terms with her repressed witch powers in order to figure out the mystery and danger behind this manuscript. As Diana struggles to uncover the secrets of the manuscript, she meets a vampire named Matthew Clairmont, who becomes her companion on this treacherous path of discovery. Each novel in the trilogy is spectacular and delves into this story in intricate and fascinating ways. Now, I’m not the best at describing books, so if you want a better description, I’ll leave it up to you to look up “All Souls trilogy” on Google. I’m just going to tell you that none of the descriptions online come close to describing how awesome this trilogy is.

A Discovery of Witches was published in 2011, however I only learned of it this summer. I had just finished reading the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time in preparation for a Harry Potter trivia night at a Philadelphia bar (we came in first place, by the way). I was craving another book that had magic in it and did not want to reread the Twilight series again (once is enough for me and probably one time too many for a lot of people). It just so happened that The Book of Life, the third in the All Souls trilogy, so the entire trilogy was on display on the Barnes & Noble website. As you can imagine, I was a happy camper when I read that this series combined witches and vampires and history, some of my favorite topics.

These books are filled with mystery and intrigue, they pose hefty philosophical questions, explore various historical periods, and are all-around awesome. In my opinion, one of the reasons why this trilogy stands out is that the author, Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She weaves actual historical facts with fiction in these novels, which adds a layer of sophistication and intelligence to these novels.

My cousin Colleen can attest to the fact that once I started reading these novels, I would not put them down. So here’s a word of caution from me to you: you may not want to start them before you go on a fabulous trip to Italy or else you may be tempted to sit in one place until you finish them all. Which is kind of what happened to me. Also, when you are finished reading the All Souls trilogy, you might feel really sad, not because the book itself is necessarily sad, but sad because you will never read the series for the first time ever again. And it’s so good, it makes you want amnesia so you can start them all over again and not know what happens. If you like supernatural fiction or historical fiction or fiction in general, read this trilogy.

If I Stay AND Where She Went by Gayle Forman

I just recently read Where She Went by Gayle Forman, which is the sequel to If I Stay. I figure it wouldn’t be fair just to write a review of the sequel, so this post is a two in one – how exciting! Also, if you haven’t read the sequel, make sure to stop reading where it says quite boldly and clearly to stop reading.

I also want to say that I have not, and am not planning to in the near future, seen the movie adaptation of If I Stay. It was a book that I really enjoyed and I am not sure that the movie does it justice. If you think differently, comment below and maybe I’ll give it a chance!

If I Stay is one of those books that will stay with you for a long time after reading it. This novel follows Mia Hall, whose family has just been in a horrific car crash. Mia then has an out-of-body experience where she is able to relieve past moments in her life and decide whether to stay alive or to choose death (and presumably be reunited with her family).

I spent the majority of this book sobbing. Family stories are near and dear to my heart and never fail to make me cry. Forman describes every scene in such vivid detail, I felt like I was alongside Mia as she waded through intimate moments in her life. My heart ached after reading this book. I especially love the ending, which I won’t give away.

This is definitely not a light read and I wouldn’t suggest reading it in public because it’s more suited to a curl up under the covers with a box of tissues situation. But it is definitely worth a read if you’re looking for something more serious that will touch your heart and make you think.

OKAY SO THIS IS WHERE YOU’RE GOING TO WANT TO STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE SEQUEL AND DON’T WANT SPOILERS. SERIOUSLY. DON’T READ ANY FURTHER. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

I didn’t even know that Where She Went existed until months after I read If I Stay, which I see now as a good thing. It gave me enough time to get over the emotions I felt while reading If I Stay and made room for the new emotions that came along with the sequel. So, if you want my advice, I would wait some time after reading If I Stay and then read Where She Went, if you want.

Personally, I don’t think that there needed to be a sequel to If I Stay. Part of the beauty of If I Stay was that so much was left unsaid, and you got to draw your own conclusions. And I know that cliffhangers make people crazy (myself included), but this time, I enjoyed not knowing 100% what happened to Mia at the end of If I Stay. It added to the power of the book. That being said, Where She Went was a good book, albeit a little unnecessary.

Where She Went picks up three years after the accident that killed Mia’s family and left her in a coma. This time, the novel follows the story of Adam, Mia’s boyfriend from the first novel. In the beginning of Where She Went, the readers learn that Adam’s band has made it big and they are about to start a world tour. We also learn that Mia is alive (!!!) and will be playing at Carnegie Hall, which we can assume means she has made a full recovery.

Sadly (but not too surprisingly), Mia and Adam have not spoken in about three years, since she left for Julliard. Adam decides to see her show at Carnegie Hall, hoping that hearing her play will be enough to ease the pain of the past three years, but (shockingly) it is not. Adam and Mia then set off on a one-night tour of New York City, where old wounds are opened and this couple struggles to find closure.

Unlike If I Stay, Where She Went did not make me cry like a baby. It was not absent of feeling, but it did not in any way pack the same punch as the first book. I would say it’s definitely worth a read if you like closure and want to get a little deeper into Adam’s world. It’s well-written, beautifully descriptive, and makes you feel good at the end.

Atlantia by Ally Condie

It’s no secret that dystopian novels are in right now, especially in YA literature. And I need to be honest here, I’m a sucker for a good YA dystopian novel.

Atlantia by Ally Condie follows the story of Rio, a young girl who lives in the underwater city of Atlantia (I wonder where she got that name from). Atlantia, a sprawling city, was formed after a series of natural disasters happened “Above,” on the planet we call Earth. Atlantia is almost like a bubble underwater, there’s air that is pumped in from Above to help the inhabitants live and the citizens of Atlantia work in underwater mines and send coal (maybe? I don’t quite remember) Above. It’s quite a wonderful symbiotic relationship… or is it?

The conflict in this intriguing novel comes when Rio’s twin sister, Bay, decides to abandon Rio Below. In order to figure out what happened and find her way Above, Rio sets off on a treacherous path where she discovers all is not how it may seem.

Sounds interesting right? And maybe a little weird too? At first I was concerned that this book would be too out there and it was trying too hard. But after about a quarter of the way through, I was completely engaged. I haven’t read a good dystopian novel in a while and this one definitely did the trick. It’s not on par with some of my favorite dystopian/end of the world YA novels, like The Hunger Games series or the Life as We Knew It series, but it was a quick, good read.

Fan Art by Sarah Tregay

Fan Art was probably not a book that I would have picked out myself. It was given to me by a dear friend who wanted me to read it and share my thoughts with him. Shout out to him for pushing me outside my comfort zone (not that this book is way out there or anything).

Fan Art follows the story of Jamie, a high school senior who happens to have fallen for his best friend, Mason. As someone who has had many a crush in her life, I could really relate to Jamie in his struggle to keep his emotions in check. Falling for your best friend is never easy, but the struggle seems to multiply tenfold when you are a young man falling for your seemingly-straight best friend.

Sarah Tregay does an outstanding job of transporting the reader into Jamie’s mind, of helping us to understand a small tidbit of the struggle that young gay men must face in high school. This book opened my eyes to my relationship with acceptance. I was able to see more clearly how love is honestly just love. While I’ve always considered myself to be an accepting and open human being, I think I still have some improvements to make. Fan Art helped to bring those to the surface for me and helped me heal those parts of my self that weren’t as accepting as I thiyght.

I’m incredibly grateful to Sarah Tregay for this wonderful YA novel that delves into the world of crushes in a sweet and wonderful way.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Just read it – this was one of the best books I’ve read in the past few months. I’ve been considering reading Jojo Moyes’ works for a little while now, but hadn’t made the plunge for some reason. And I can tell you that I am so glad I did. Moyes is a fantastic author whose characters and storylines are exceptionally written.

Me Before You is about love, loss, and one of the toughest decisions human beings must make: what do you do when granting your loved one their biggest wish means breaking your heart? After the tea shop she works in closes, Louisa Clark takes a job as a caretaker for a very wealthy man named Will Traynor. A few years prior, Will was in a terrible accident and is paralyzed, angry, and constantly in pain. As the story progresses, the reader can see the affection and attraction between the two main characters. Louisa is the first person in a long time who refuses to treat Will like an invalid and Will is never afraid to tell Louisa exactly what he thinks of her.

I honestly did not expect to love this book as much as I did. I felt drawn to all of the characters in this story and could vividly imagine all of the adventures they went on. I also did not expect to be so emotionally invested in this story. It made me think seriously how I would act if I would put in Louisa or Will’s place. It made me think about what constitutes living and contemplate the significance of loss. I definitely recommend this book and would love to hear your opinions on it!

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Hooked on Phonics

As most of my friends and family know, I’m an avid reader. When I start a new book, you can be sure that I’ll be out of commission until I finish it. As cheesy as it may be, I love to get lost in books. I find myself drawn into the stories and craving more. I go into my own little book world, where people usually have to yell at me to bring me out of it. It’s great.

Recently, I’ve discovered this amazing newfangled (okay, not new at all) institution called THE LIBRARY. No, it’s not some cool hipster bar, it’s the actual library, with books and stuff. Did you know that with a library card, you can take out all the books you may ever need, including cookbooks and eBooks? FOR FREE. How amazing is that? Seriously, the library is fantastic and we should all appreciate it more.

In honor of my rediscovery of my love of books (and at the suggestion of friends), I have decided to start a blog dedicated to reading. I’ll write about all the books I read, the books I start but don’t finish, why I love reading, the merits of physical books vs eBooks, etc. I figure I’ll start off with the books I’ve read in the past few weeks and then maybe backtrack a bit to my favorite books of all-time.

I am in no way a book critic and I do not claim to read only the classiest of novels. I read what I like and I like what I read. Take my suggestions as you may, leave comments, engage in dialogue, do whatever your little heart desires.

Please feel free to leave suggestions, I’ve got a huge list of “To Be Read Later” books that I would love to add to!