The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera

The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
Pub. Date: July 8, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, Atria!)
Summary: The Awakening of Miss Prim is a charming debut novel about a young woman who leaves everything behind to take a librarian job in a remote village of France. Though proud and self-assured, Prudencia Prim’s four advanced degrees make her a little overqualified. Nevertheless, there is something glimmering beneath the surface of the picturesque town of San Ireneo de Arnois that cannot be learned from books. Little by little, the peculiar and unconventional ways test Miss Prim’s world vision, her most intimate fears, and her most profound convictions.
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating:

Close your eyes. Picturesque. Charming. Quaint. What do you see? Offbeat. Unconventional. Quirky. This is exactly what you’re getting from The Awakening of Miss Prim. There’s something decidedly old-fashioned about this story – and that’s certainly high praise! One part The Village (bear with me here), one part The Sound of Music, this novel was just plain good and this is a review that scares me. Despite sitting on my thoughts, I’m still unable to come up with the right words to say (apart, of course from I LOVE IT).

Prudencia Prim has more degrees to her name than I have fingers on my hand. With a blatant disregard for a firm “graduates and postgraduates need not apply” and ignoring the “preferably without work experience,” Miss Prim marched up the hydrangea-lined path to inquire about a posting for a librarian position. The Man in the Wingchair (a man never named throughout the duration of the novel) decides to hire her on and Miss Prim quickly comes to realize San Ireneo is a town unlike any other.

The tiny village was founded as a refuge of sorts for those seeking to get away from the intensity of city life. In San Ireneo, values are sacred, gardens are perfectly tended, any goods are produced locally, education is prized (the Man in the Wingchair’s nieces and nephews – all under the age of 11 – are able to recite ancient Greek and Latin works and hold their own in philosophical debates). What makes this town different is that the school teacher? The bookseller? None of these positions are filled by professionals. Shops open simply because the town lacks a particular ware. Miss Prim comes to learn this way of thinking came largely out of the want for the town’s children to have an unbiased education, they learn the basics from the school teacher, but the bulk of their education is learned at various homes, largely the Main in the Wingchair’s private library (which Miss Prim has recently taken to organizing).

The Awakening of Miss Prim is such a delightfully sleepy tale, exactly the kind of story I adore. There wasn’t much in the way of action; instead, there’s a wealth of character development and depth. A variety of topics are explored – religion, philosophy, there’s even a debate on the merits of Mr. Darcy. While I’m relatively unfamiliar with the main bulk of 18th-Century British Literature (sorry, Janites!), The Awakening of Miss Prim felt right at home with those works. The Man in the Wingchair is a gentleman in every aspect of the word, San Ireneo itself had an old, primitive feel, the characters are all exceedingly formal. I loved every minute.

In addition to the story, the storytelling was beautiful too. Entire passages gave me pause and there were pages I read and reread because the language was so breathtaking. What boggles my mind is not only that this is a debut, but it’s also a translation. That a translation could be this gorgeous is nothing short of amazing! It pains me to say that I feel The Awakening of Miss Prim will go unnoticed by the majority, but those of you who actively seek out under-the-radar novels will find a true gem. Fiercely character-driven, intensely thought-provoking, and with an ending that left me wanting more (I need to know!!), The Awakening of Miss Prim is a fantastic debut that I eagarly look forward to revisiting again. If you like your characters prim and proper (Prudencia Prim is a most apt name) with more than a hint of quirk, do yourself a favor and read this book.

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lance by Kelly Harms

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms
Pub. Date: July 1, 2014 (orig. May, 2013)
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Thomas Dunne Books!)
Summary: This year’s lucky winner of a brand-new dream home: Janine Brown of Cedar Falls, Iowa
For heartbroken Janine “Janey” Brown, this announcement has the hallmarks of one of her Aunt Midge’s harebrained plans to lure her from her tiny kitchen, where she’s been submerging her grief in the pursuit of the perfect pot-au-feu. Meanwhile, across town, Janine “Nean” Brown couldn’t be more thrilled. She just knows that this house is her destiny, the chance to escape the latest in her revolving door of crappy jobs and drunken boyfriends.
When both Janine Browns descend on Christmas Cove, Maine, to claim the prize they both think is theirs, however, they discover that more than just a dream home awaits them at the water’s edge.

Genre: Contemporary, Beach read
Rating:

As a beach/summer read, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane is perfect. If I had read it at any other time, however, I would have been less than impressed (and actually felt a bit disappointed I hadn’t enjoyed it more while reading). This book reads like a check list of beach read staples: heartbroken main character, wise/quirky grandmotherly figure, handsome strangers (in this case, two), a passion for cooking/baking, etc etc. Really, all that was missing was a loyal dog.

Janey’s fiance passed away unexpectedly five years ago and with his death her world shattered. While she had always been shy, Ned’s death took her fear and turned it into a debilitating phobia. She was no longer able to pursue the teaching degree she had so desperately wanted and, instead, became holed up inside her apartment, only speaking to her Aunt Midge. She can barely hold down a job and any interaction with someone new causes Janey to break out into hives. Unbeknownst to Janey, Aunt Midge enters her into a nationwide dream home contest – and her name, Janine Brown, is chosen.

Nean’s 24 years have not been kind to her. In and out of foster care and shelters, she’s well on her way to following in her mother’s footsteps (minus the heroin). She goes for the wrong guys, but at least those guys have a place to live, some food, and a television. Geoff isn’t boyfriend material, as her bald patches and bruises show, and the night she hears her name, Janine Brown, announced on live television, she knows her life is about to change.

The two (make that three – 88-year-old Aunt Midge is in tow) women head for Maine, and it’s not until they’ve reached the sprawling mansion with a state-of-the-art kitchen and lake view, that they realize there’s another Janine Brown. Who’s the real winner? How could Janey possibly survive living with a stranger? There’s no. way. Nean is going to be put back on a bus to Iowa. And who’s that cute farmer?

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane doesn’t pull any punches and any reader of this kind of fiction knows how the story will end before it even begins. So, yes, as a carefree beach read, this book is perfect. Entertaining enough without asking for a lot in return. While I can certainly get behind some good brain fluff, I had a good time getting past these characters and their actions. 24-year-old Nean is bratty and stubborn. Despite being nearly 90, Aunt Midge rocks out to the Rolling Stones and enjoys swimming in her birthday suit. Janey has a passion for cooking – which I loved – and she claims she loves cooking so much, she always makes way more than one person could ever eat and throws the leftovers away once she’s had her fill. I couldn’t excuse this, though it made for a nice coincidence since Noah just so happens to work at the local shelter. Naturally, the moment she meets him, her 5-year phobia all but vanishes.

As far as substance goes, there wasn’t a whole lot to this story, but that’s exactly what you’d want in a summer-y read. Unfortunately, this one was simply decent – and wholly forgettable.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Pub. Date: July 1, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Pamela Dorman/Penguin!!)
Summary: Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.
Genre: Contemporary
Rating: (hello, it’s JOJO)

Whenever Jojo Moyes releases a new novel I know I’m in for a good time. The moment I have it in my hands I begin planning my day around it (I do not appreciate being interrupted while reading her books!) and set aside huge blocks of time in which to dive deep into Jojo’s worlds. Since reading the incredible The Girl You Left Behind last year, I have since gone on to work my way through her backlist (something I rarely do). One Plus One is my fourth Jojo to date (The Last Letter from Your Lover and Silver Bay were both devoured earlier this year) and, while I’ve adored them all, Jojo’s growth and ever-sharpening skills as a writer are evident with each novel.

Because my first two forays into Jojo’s works were dual-era novels, I had mistakenly assumed this was her shtick. Silver Bay taught me that wasn’t the case and One Plus One follows in its footsteps while still employing the multiple narratives that I love so much. Jess doesn’t have much. She lives in a government-provided home, works as a house cleaner for wealthy vacationers, and struggles to make ends meet. Her husband took off two years ago and left Jess to support their daughter and his son on her own. Nicky, a smart-but-brooding teenager, is relentlessly bullied by the neighboring kids. Tanzie is an odd little girl, but phenomenal at math.

One phone call changes their world. When Tanzie is granted a hefty scholarship to an elite private school, Jess is left to find a way to come up with the rest of the cash – and fast. Word of a Mathematics Olympics has the family – and their gigantic dog – piling into a less-than-reliable car and on their way to Scotland.

When Ed was in college, the world was in his palms. He partnered with a buddy and together they created a booming software business, leaving both of them very well-off. Unfortunately, Ed ended up in a rather compromising position with an old college friend and now phrases like ‘insider trading,’ ‘litigation fees,’ and – the worst – ‘jail time’ have become a part of his life. In an attempt to lay low for a bit, Ed heads down the coast to stay in his beachfront home. When he first meets the cleaner he doesn’t give her the time of day. The second time he meets her (and her kids and dog broken down on the side of the road) he decides to do something right for once: Ed offers to drive them to Scotland.

To say One Plus One is a road trip novel would be selling it short. Yes, technically, it is, but it’s about so much more. These are flawed, broken characters who, over the course of the book, discover what it’s like to love and be loved in return. My emotions ran the gamut: I laughed, I cried, I fretted over several choices made but stood in their corner through it all. While reading I lived and breathed these characters and now that it’s over, I’m left feeling like I’m six years old again and my best friend has just moved away. I cannot praise Jojo’s skill highly enough. She took a relatively ordinary story – single mom trying to support her kids – and turned it into something extraordinary.

One of my favorite things about any Jojo novel is the sheer amount of character growth. She has a no-holds-barred kind of attitude when it comes to her stories and seriously puts her characters through the wringer. Nicky, a Goth boy who likes eyeliner and prefers online friends, became so much more than a moody teenager. Ed, at first an extremely unlikable, egotistical man, did a complete 180° and turned out to be a fantastic – and fascinating – character.

I feel this review is more of me spouting my love for Jojo than anything and, as with each of her books, I’m struggling to find just the right words to say. One Plus One is story that made my heart swell and break – usually within the same chapter! For me, it’s a perfect summertime read, though in a different way than your average beach read. The characters come alive and their circumstances – trying to keep up with bills, going from paycheck to paycheck – hit home for many. While most beach reads are about escape, One Plus One takes hold of your hand and shows you there are others out there just like you. And who doesn’t love a smelly, drooling dog?

One Plus One is a phenomenal novel and firmly secures Jojo’s rank as one of my favorite authors. Are you a long-time fan? Read this. Are you still new to her work and feel a bit overwhelmed by all the love she’s received? Read this. Are you looking for a damn fine story? Read this.

NOTABLE QUOTES

“You know, you spend your whole life feeling like you don’t quite fit in anywhere. And then you walk into a room one day, whether it’s at university or an office of some kind of club, and you just go, ‘Ah. There they are.’ And suddenly you feel at home.”

The only things Jess really cared about were those two children and letting them know they were okay. Because even if the whole world was throwing rocks at you, if you had your mother at your back, you’d be okay. Some deep-rooted part of you would know you were loved. That you deserved to be loved.

He dropped his head and kissed her. He kisses her and it was a kiss of utter certainty, the kind of kiss during which monarchs die and whole continents fall without your even noticing.

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio
Pub. Date: May 27, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Penguin!)
Summary: June Andersen is professionally successful, but her personal life is marred by unhappiness. Unexpectedly, she is called to settle her great-aunt Ruby’s estate and determine the fate of Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby founded in the 1940s. Amidst the store’s papers, June stumbles upon letters between her great-aunt and the late Margaret Wise Brown—and steps into the pages of American literature.
Genre: Adult, Fiction, Contemporary
Rating:

You know those books you hear about that sound AMAZING, those books you cannot wait to get your hands on and cherish, only to be horribly let down? Allow me to introduce you to Goodnight June. Let’s revisit that summary: June Andersen is the vice president of a very lucrative bank in New York where she oversees foreclosures, even personally shutting down beloved businesses. She’s carved out a new life for herself on the East Coast and never planned on returning to her past in Seattle until the day she received a letter; her great-aunt Ruby passed away and everything was left for June. Including Bluebird Books, the children’s bookstore Ruby owned for decades. As much as June loved Ruby, returning home would mean facing things she’s just not ready for. When she uncovers a secret Ruby kept hidden – her friendship with Margaret Wise Brown and the true story of how Goodnight Moon came to be – June finds herself enchanted. Could she possibly learn to let go and move on?

Goodnight June sounded positively dreamy: a bookstore, an absolute classic work of children’s literature (raise your hand if you had – or still have! – a copy of Goodnight Moon), and a treasure hunt! Nothing better, right? Sadly, this novel fell victim to the Matthew Pearl Effect (new friends to the blog, the MPE is where a story has an incredible premise, but the actual storytelling falls short – named after one-too-many disappointments following Matthew Pearl’s works). Goodnight June sounded great, but the execution was anything but.

There were so many issues I had with this novel, it would be easier to discuss what I did like. The idea behind the story? Ruby and Margaret’s friendship? And that’s where my praise ends.

June, a painfully stubborn and immature woman, falls for a cute new guy and after two short weeks they’re in love. The problem? Gavin is co-owner of a restaurant with his ex-fiancee. The ex-fiancee who’s still in love with him. This doesn’t matter to June though, because mere days after meeting Gavin, she suggests they team up, knock down a wall between their buildings, and combine the two businesses into a bookstore/cafe. …and Gavin agrees. Uh.. Then there’s the problem with the bookstore. The entire reason June left for Seattle was to settle her aunt’s finances and sell the place. Ruby had amassed an overwhelming amount of debt and even if she were to sell her apartment and use her entire savings, June still wouldn’t have enough to cover the cost. So what brilliant plan does Gavin come up with? Why not e-mail her boss to ask for money! And June does. She e-mailed her boss JUST ONE DAY AFTER QUITTING to ask him to help her pay the money Ruby owed.

Honestly I’m surprised my eyes are still in my head they were doing so much rolling. Any obstacle or conflict that arose in the story was swiftly dealt with. There was nothing for June to work for. At one point she’s trying to locate a man who had been given up for adoption in the 70s. It was a closed adoption and she only had the name he was given at birth. Well what do you know, June does a Google search, comes across a website for adults who had been adopted, and types up a post on their message boards. The following day she receives a reply. The entire book was like this. June’s money problems? She holds a grand reopening (I was ROLLING at the scene where Bill and Melinda Gates randomly showed up along with big name authors like Clive Cussler) and gets a ton of donations. I get that this is supposed to be the Happy Ending, but I never saw it as a reward. June never had to struggle or put in any effort to reach her goals.

My other big issue was with the actual writing. If this is what Jio’s work is like after six books (with a seventh coming out later this year) I’d seriously hate to see what her debut was like:

We pretend to be angry at each other for about three seconds before we hug.
“I’m going to miss you,” he says.
“I’m going to miss you too.”

We sit at a corner table and talk and laugh over Americanos and blackberry scones, then continue our tour of Winslow, stopping at a wine store. Gavin buys a case of local cabernet for the restaurant, and an extra one for me. When I notice a bookstore, Eagle Harbor Books, across the street, we walk there next.

I study the letter carefully and see that Margaret must have heeded Ruby’s advice, because the letter has obviously been folded many times. Its creases are very deep and worn, as if she might have done just what Ruby suggessted. ‘I hope you’ll take what I’ve just written and put it in your pocket and save it.’ She must have done just that.

Of course, I should point out these are from an uncorrected copy. Her editor is definitely earning her paycheck with this one. Overly simple sentences – they went here, then they went here, then they looked at this – and an absurd amount of repetition (you think Margaret took the advice??). No thank you.

It’s such a shame that I truly have nothing good to say about Goodnight June but I certainly can see the appeal in Jio’s works; Goodnight Moon was an extremely easy, very quick read with an abundance of fluff. Unfortunately, I wanted more from this book than I received.

NOTABLE QUOTE

Sometimes I think of my life as a great big story. Each silly thing I do is a new paragraph. And each morning I turn to the next chapter. It’s fun to think of life that way, each day being an adventure of the grandest proportions.

Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Steal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Pub. Date: April 14, 2014
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Viking!)
Summary: Emmy is a shy, sheltered sixteen-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now, Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child. Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door.

In a part of the country where the age-old tensions of cowboys versus Indians still play out, theirs is the kind of magical, fraught love that can only survive with the passion and resilience of youth. Their story is mirrored by the generation before them, who fears that their mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben.
Genre: Adult, Fiction
Rating:

A few months ago I discussed imprints and I mentioned one of my go-to imprints (according to my ratings) is Viking. Steal the North is one of Viking’s latest releases and, once again, proves just how well that imprint knows me.

Steal the North is not a happy story by any means. Instead it’s a story of a family brought together by lies and tragedy and shows how they cope with the past and, ultimately, struggle to move on. Sixteen-year-old Emmy thought her only family was her mother. Her world shatters when she finds out that, not only is her father alive and well, but she also has an aunt and uncle living in Washington. Even more shocking is when Emmy’s mother tells her she’ll be spending the summer with her new-found family. Kate was just barely out of her teens when she became pregnant. Having been raised in a fundamentalist church, Kate’s pregnancy cast her out of the only thing she knew. Her father disowned her, the church disowned her, the boy she planned on marrying took off. In order to support herself and Emmy, Kate did unspeakable things and, when she couldn’t take it anymore, left Washington for California in order to start a new life. It’s been sixteen years since she last spoke to her sister and now her family needs her help.

When Kate left, Bethany lost a huge part of herself. Her older sister was her rock and the year she was able to spend with Emmy was the happiest she’d ever been. Since she was a child Bethany’s dream was to have children of her own, but she’s suffered miscarriage after miscarriage and realizes she has one more chance. While Matt can’t convince her to see a doctor, Bethany has started looking into alternative medicine – herbs, plants, but not to the extent that her fellow worshipers would become suspicious. The new pastor has agreed to do a healing and Bethany’s niece is needed for a vital role. Next door to the Millers lives a Native American family. Life on the reservation might provide them with family, but the trailer court holds far more stability and a life away from gangs and poverty. Theresa supports her kids as best as she can and her younger brother Reuben helps out whenever she needs him. The summer Emmy spends in Washington brings together two wildly different families and she discovers what it truly means to be home.

Steal the North is beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s emotional, raw, real. The story is set in the late ’90s and, in the easiest way to get to my heart, features numerous points of view. I don’t want to say Emmy is the standout character, though the story is very much about her. Bethany, Reuben, and Kate are every bit as important to the story and each chapter shows a side to the story that wasn’t there before. Bethany, with her homemade dresses and long hair. Kate’s bitterness and regret. Reuben’s desire to hold onto his Colville traditions. I was pleasantly surprised that even minor characters were given a chapter or two: Jamie, Emmy’s father, isn’t quite the deadbeat he’s originally made out to be. Spencer, Kate’s boyfriend, loves her and Emmy more than anything and is determined to become a family. Every single character, big or small, was beautifully written and felt like people I could easily pass on the street or stand behind in line at the grocery store.

Be warned, though: this isn’t a lazy day read. It’s not a novel to be devoured in an afternoon. I spent well over a week with this book and I feel that truly helped me get a real feel for the place and the characters that I would have missed had I raced through it. I also feel that my slow reading pace subconsciously mirrored the slow story-telling – and I don’t mean that in a bad way! Steal the North was not a novel that dragged its feet or one that bored me. Instead, it was a story that simply wasn’t ready to give up its secrets; instead I had to earn them and when I finally discovered the truth it hit me hard. My heart broke a hundred times over for these characters and while my life isn’t anything like theirs, by the end of the book I wanted to reach out to my family. That is the sign of good story-telling, ladies and gentlemen.

My only – only! – complaint about the novel has nothing to do with the story itself, but with the cover. Personally I find the cover stunning, but what you can’t see on the screen is that, because of the camera angle, there’s a clear view down the model’s dress. It would have been so easy to fix: a different angle, different lighting, a different dress.

It floors me that Steal the North is Bergstrom’s first novel. With a debut like this there’s no telling what the future holds – but I look forward to it! Steal the North was filled to the brim with emotion: heavy subjects like loss and race were handled with grace and the love coursing through these pages hit home. This is definitely a novel I’ll be talking about for a long, long time and certainly one I’ll be recommending to friends, family, and customers. Pick up a copy of this novel – trust me.

Notable Quotes

Matt claims I’ve never gotten over the loss of my sister. He says it might’ve been easier if Kate had died like our mother because then I wouldn’t be more betrayed every year that passes without her making contact. But Kate didn’t betray me. There’s more to her leaving than Matt knows.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the day I boarded a bus bound for California, I followed in the footsteps of the Donners and the Joads and the millions of others who have left their pasts behind to seek and, in my case, find redemption in the Golden State.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes + Winner!

Title: The Last Letter from Your Lover
Author: Jojo Moyes
Pub. Date: July 7, 2011
Source: finished copy via publisher (thank you, Penguin!!)
Summary: It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply “B”, asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper’s archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie’s search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.
Genre: Adult, Fiction
Rating:

And if you feel that your decision was the right one, know this at least: that somewhere in this world is a man who loves you, who understands how precious and clever and kind you are. A man who has always loved you and, to his detriment, suspects he always will.

I am not a sappy girl. I don’t get mushy or go all starry-eyed over forbidden romance. That said, I truly believe Jojo Moyes is on a one-woman mission to utterly destroy me. The Last Letter from Your Love ripped out my heart and stomped all over it…and I loved every second.

Much like The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover follows two stories over two different eras. In the 1960s, Jennifer Stirling had it all: a fabulously wealthy husband, a beautiful house, all the finest dresses, and her parties were renowned. A devastating car accident left her with memory loss and as she slowly pieces her life back together, she uncovers letters. Passionate letters from a man who certainly is not her husband. Times were different then – a woman was expected to maintain the house and children while the husband worked and divorce could ruin her reputation. Despite this, Jenny wants, needs to find this man she loved so fiercely.

In 2003 Ellie Haworth isn’t where she envisioned herself to be at 32: a year into an affair with a man who has no interest in permanently leaving his wife and trapped in a newspaper office constantly searching for the next big story. With the building undergoing massive renovations, Ellie’s tasked with searching through the archives and writing a feature on life in a previous era. While going through decades-old files, Ellie discovers letters – not just any letters, but love letters. The more she reads the more she becomes attached to these two strangers and their forbidden romance that so clearly mirrors her own. She decides then and there to track down these two people and see what came of their romance: did the woman accept his offer and leave her husband? Did she decide it was a mistake and has spent the past forty years trying to put it behind her?

With two Moyes novels now under my belt, I feel confident in saying she’s a favorite author. Even before this book, when I had only read The Girl You Left Behind, I knew there was something special about her and I was left wanting more. Moyes has a way of making me completely incoherent and I absolutely love that her books have such an effect on me.

I will say though, that as much as I love her novels, Jojo Moyes has a slightly jarring way of switching eras. The novel opens in 1960 and although there were a few small skips to 1964, the story followed Jenny and Anthony for so long that I began wondering if perhaps I read the summary wrong and 2003 had been left out completely. It wasn’t until page 231 that the second story line appeared and by then I was so invested in the previous story that I struggled a bit to get into it. Roughly 150 pages were left to not only wrap up the first story, but also introduce and complete the second, and I felt Ellie’s story suffered because of this. My other minor (minor! This is Jojo we’re talking about and she can do no wrong in my eyes!) issue is with the letters. While Anthony’s words were breathtakingly beautiful and heartfelt, they are read and reread so many times by so many different characters that it felt like overkill – especially since each instance features the letter in its entirety.

With only two small distractions, I’d say The Last Letter from Your Lover is about as close to a perfect novel as you can get. My heart ached for Anthony and Jennifer and I fell in love with their story. In hindsight, several plot twists are obvious, but while I was reading I was shocked and surprised – definitely the sign of a great writer! Also, Moyes threw in a Doctor Who reference and that alone is enough to warrant five stars! I loved this book and I adore Moyes: do yourself a favor and read The Last Letter from Your Lover. It’s sweet and sad and beautiful and heartbreaking.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Last week I announced a two-book giveaway and now it’s time to announce the winner:
Estelle!!

Congratulations, E! She’ll be receiving a copy of The Last Letter from Your Lover as well as

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Pub. Date: February 11, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror
Rating:

All quotes taken from the ARC.

The story of a little girl named Gertie who died.

Whose mother loved her too much to let her go.

So she brought her back.

One of the first reviews ever posted on the blog (back in August, 2011!) was Don’t Breathe a Word, a deliciously creepy novel about the disappearance of a little girl who went off to marry the King of the Fairies and never returned home. That novel was my introduction to Jennifer McMahon and has stuck with me ever since, a perfect combination of horror and reality and how blurred the lines separating them really are.

Two years later I’ve got another McMahon novel under my belt and I’m itching for a third (and fourth and fifth…). Going off the two I’ve read so far it’s clear McMahon has something of a formula, a recipe of sorts, that she uses when writing. Don’t Breath a Word had a cop-out ending that I didn’t care for at all – the final destination made the entire journey feel a bit worthless – and was a little worried the same would hold true for The Winter People. Despite my worries, I jumped right in and discovered a novel even better than the first.

She remembered her parents’ warnings when she was little: Stay out of the woods. Bad things happen to little girls who get lost out there.

The first thing you should know about me: I love dual time periods in novels. I live and breathe multiple eras so right off the bat The Winter People was looking good. The second thing you should know about me: the more character perspectives there are, the happier I am. The Winter People had a huge cast of characters, and the story played out over many of their points of view. Giddy from the get-go, I only came to love this book more and more the further I read.

An old farmhouse in West Hall, Vermont holds its share of secrets (some, literally). In the late 1800s, Sara Harrison grew up in the house with her siblings, father, and Auntie. Auntie’s strange and otherworldly beliefs ostracized her from the rest of the townsfolk, yet when they needed a surefire way to win the eye of someone or needed a remedy the doctor couldn’t provide, she was the person to go to. While growing up, Sara had heard whispers of sleepers, those returned from the grave, and on one occasion saw a classmate in the woods not long after having attended her funeral.

Now grown and with a child of her own, Sara Harrison Shea still lives in her childhood home. Unfortunately Gertie is in a terrible accident and her untimely death is too much for Sara to handle. As she sinks deeper and deeper into depression (or, as her husband and brother-in-law believe, madness) she faithfully pens her diary, filling it with knowledge Auntie had passed down.

Since then, multiple families have come and gone, and now Alice and her two daughters reside in the old farmhouse. As far back as the girls can remember, Alice has made it clear they are never to go into the woods, especially not the Devil’s Hand as the locals call it, and if anyone should ever knock on the door they are never to open it. Never. Alice’s sudden disappearance one morning sends the girls on a manhunt through states and decades as they discover hidden diary entries and realize the town’s legends might be real after all.

The Winter People had me thoroughly creeped out in the middle of the afternoon! I think that’s a pretty good testament to McMahon’s skill as a writer, don’t you? Broad daylight with the sun shining through my windows and there I was, jumping at every sound. More than once I steered clear of the closets, fulling expecting to be greeted by a sleeper. This novel is very much a winter read and not just because of the title. There’s a stark coldness that’s ever-present, and a resounding sadness that left me thinking in shades of blue and grey. Death is also a key theme and the novel explores the lengths some people would go to in order to see a loved one for one more day – or, in this case, one more week.

It’s been a while since a novel has captivated me from beginning to end, but The Winter People did just that. In one case I was reading well into the night (not my best decision!) simply because I could not put the book down. I came to know and care for these characters: Ruthie and her little sister Fawn; Katherine and her anguish over the loss of both her husband and son; Sara with her sorrow and excitement. Despite the number of characters and eras, McMahon wove the story together flawlessly.

Again, however, the ending loses a bit of its magic. Ruthie doesn’t so much make a decision as accept what’s thrown upon her. While it does leave room for a possible sequel, I had hoped for more. Despite that minor bump I absolutely loved The Winter People and highly recommend it. If you’re in the mood for a quick and compelling novel that will keep you guessing, this is it.