Wednesday, June 03, 2015

What we're reading: JoJo Moyes

I read my second book by JoJo Moyes this past weekend; I still haven't managed to read Me Before You, the New York Times bestseller for which she has received the most attention, because it's still checked out all the time! But after enjoying The Girl You Left Behind back in February, I decided to read One Plus One.

The Girl You Left Behind was split between World War I France and contemporary London, with a story tied together by two women and a portrait. The portrait--of a beloved wife painted by her husband--travels an odd path during its history that ends up making it a bone of contention between the heartbroken widow whose beloved architect husband gave it to her as a wedding gift, and the family of the artist, who are claiming the portrait (which ended up in German hands) was illegally obtained. There is a complication in this contentious lawsuit that is at the heart of the contemporary story, but I don't want to say what it is, since it's something of a spoiler.

I don't often enjoy books that jump back and forth between two people and two time periods, but Moyes pulled this one off. I found the part of the book that took place in World War I more compelling than the contemporary story, but the ending was satisfying enough to make up for that.

The book reminded me a bit of the novels of Kate Morton (The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden, and The Distant Hours). Oddly, none of those books pops up in NoveList's recommendations of similar books, despite the similarities in criteria--historical fiction, atmospheric, intricately plotted, and character-driven.

One Plus One had a whole different vibe. It's contemporary fiction about a divorced mother of two who is struggling to make ends meet, and what happens when she dares to dream of something better for her daughter, a mathematical prodigy, and sets out on a crazy adventure to get her to a Maths Olympiad in Scotland, trying to win enough money to send her to private school. This family just can't catch a break, although their meeting with software magnate Ed Nicholls initially looks like the rescue they've been needing. Everything that can go wrong does, and it's hard to see how anything will be resolved for any of them--Ed included.

This one was a teensy bit chick lit-ish, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but not what I was expecting. Diane, our staff member who extolled the audio version of this in 2014's favorites in January, christened it "domestic fiction," which I thought was a great description. But I enjoyed it as much as she did, and thought it rang true. I loved how feisty Jess was in defense of her kids, I loved how the progressions from optimism to heartbreak and disillusionment and back again were painted for Tanzie and Nick, and Ed's predicament was well done too. And although the circumstances of their trip to Scotland were a little over the top, there was so much that wasn't.

There was one point where Jess was detailing how she paid for the groceries with the water and power money, and paid the water and power bill with the rent money, and put the rent on her charge card, every second waiting for the card to be rejected and possibly sucked back into the ATM or cut up by a vengeful clerk with a handy pair of scissors, and remembering those days (haven't we all been there at some point?) made me appreciate this story even more. Nicely written, JoJo Moyes. Now if I can just get lucky and grab Me Before You at some point…

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