Book Review: The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

The Versions of Us

We are up to book number 41 of my Goodreads Reading Challenge (and book number 9 of my holiday reads!).  My latest review is of The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett.

‘What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.’ (Thanks Amazon)

Eva Edelstein and Jim Taylor have a chance meeting one day in 1958.  From that moment on we follow the three different versions of their futures, as we explore how changing one tiny detail can affect the future.

These three versions of Eva and Jim’s lives contain different love stories, marriages and heartbreak.  The only constant throughout is Eva and Jim, their stories beautifully interwoven over the course of 50 years.  The story is reminiscent of One Day by David Nicholls, but with its own twist.  Barnett cites The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger as an influence on her as a writer, and this can clearly be seen in the way that she moves effortlessly between versions and time periods.  It is hard to believe that this is Laura Barnett’s debut novel, with its intricacies and interwoven versions of the same story.

I must admit that I found this novel difficult to read at first, despite each chapter being clearly labelled with which version of the story you were reading.  Most of the characters appeared in each version, and I did find this confusing.  However, once I had really got into it I discovered that it was worth my perseverance – each version of the story was clearly written with a love for both Eva and Jim as they dealt with the consequences of their actions from that one moment back in 1958, even if they didn’t realise it.

I picked up and read this novel with no expectations (I didn’t even realise it has been a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick until after I’d read it).  I was rewarded for choosing this novel with a beautifully written story of love and loss, family and solitude, showing how one decision can influence the path that your life takes.  If you haven’t already, go and pick up this novel.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📖

Book Review: Life and Other Near Death Experiences by Camille Pagan

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So book number 40 (nearly there!) in my Goodreads Reading Challenge (and book number 8 of my holiday reads) is Life and Other Near Death Experiences by Camille Pagan.

‘Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.

With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?’ (Thanks Amazon!)

So Libby is dying, a fact that she finds out at the same time that she discovers a secret her husband has been keeping from her.  In the space of one afternoon, she is forced to rethink everything she has ever believed about her ‘perfect’ life, and as a result she makes a run for it, leaving behind Chicago and embarking on a spontaneous trip to the idyllic tropical island of Vieques in the Caribbean.

Spending time alone (or hiding, from both her husband Tom and her twin brother Paul), Libby is forced to examine her life up until now, including the loss of her mother which clearly had a profound impact upon her.  Whilst on her journey to self-discovery she meet Milagros who teaches her Spanish, and Shiloh, a Puerto Rican pilot who forces her to open herself up in a way she never expected.

As she contemplates death, Libby inadvertently learns how to live, a lesson which we all need from time to time.  Life and Other Near Death Experiences really makes you consider what is important in life, and it makes you explore what is good and what is lacking in your own life as Libby does the same.  Life, death, family, friends and love are all important themes within this novel, and I really enjoyed following these themes throughout the novel.  At times I found Libby to be impossible, but considering the position that she had unexpectedly found herself in, there is little I can say against her.  I enjoyed reading about her, and following her as she made her journey to self-discovery to work out just what she wanted from life in the face of death.

I am more than happy to recommend Life and Other Near Death Experiences – it is hard-hitting in places, Libby is sometimes infuriating and I can confirm that it doesn’t end exactly as you would expect.  It does however deal with a particularly difficult subject – cancer.  This is something that we have all been touched by, whether it be personally or someone we love.  The novel deals with it in a light, sometimes humorous way without taking away the heart wrenching reality of how it affects people when they discover it is now part of their future.  Please do give it a read.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📖

Book Review: Kahayatle by Elle Casey

Kahayatle

Book 39 in my Goodreads Reading Challenge (and book number 7 of my holiday reads) is Kahayatle (Apocalypsis Book 1) by Elle Casey.

‘KAHAYATLE. My name is Bryn Mathis. I’m seventeen years old, and I live in a neighborhood outside of Orlando, Florida. I’m here alone because my dad died almost a year ago, along with all the other adults in the world. I’m almost out of food, and the gangs of kids that roam around my town are getting more vicious by the day. It’s time for me to leave and find another place to live … a place where I can find food and shelter … a place where they won’t be able to find me. Alone, it might have been possible, but now I’ve got company. I’m worried that I don’t have what it takes to get from here to my final destination, and I have no idea what might be waiting for me when I get there.’ (Thanks Amazon)

Kahayatle is the first book in the Apocalypsis series, a YA dystopian series aimed at older teenagers/adults due to its violent nature.  I generally really enjoy dystopian novels and so was excited to give this novel a go.

Like other dystopian novels, this one focuses on teenagers following the death of all adults in the world.  Some teenagers, such as Bryn, choose to go it alone whilst others join together in gangs.  These gangs become increasingly violent, leaving it unsafe for Bryn to remain at home or alone, as the search for food becomes more difficult.

This novel follows a trio of teenagers: Bryn, Peter and Bodo, each of whom have spend a long time alone, but find themselves pulling together in the face of a new breed of gang – the canners.  The canners force Bryn and her friends to find a place where they can live in peace; somewhere that is safe from outside dangers but hospitable enough to allow them to live there.  Along their journey to find such a safe place, they encounter unimaginable horrors and dangers, as they continue to fight for their safety and for their lives.

The first book in this four book series has left me intrigued, and I will certainly be working my way through the next three novels.  If you like dystopian novels then give this one a try!

Rating: 📖 📖 📖

Book Review: Wives of War by Soraya M. Lane

Wives of War

Book number 38 of my Goodreads Reading Challenge (and book 6 of my holiday reads) is Wives of War by Soraya M. Lane.

‘London, 1944. Two young nurses meet at a train station with a common purpose: to join the war effort. Scarlet longs for the chance to find her missing fiancé, Thomas, and to prove to her family—and to herself—that she’s stronger than everybody thinks. Nursing is in Ellie’s blood, but her humble background is vastly different from Scarlet’s privileged upbringing. Though Ellie puts on a brave face, she’s just as nervous as Scarlet about what awaits them in France.

In Normandy, the two friends soon encounter the seemingly unflappable Lucy. Scarlet and Ellie are in awe of her courage and competence, but the experienced nurse is well aware of the dangers of the job they’ve chosen—and even she is terrified they won’t make it home alive.

Pushed to their limits by the brutality of a world at war, Scarlet, Ellie and Lucy will need to rely on each other—and the power of their friendship—to survive.’ (Thanks Amazon!)

So I find myself back in my comfort zone reading historical fiction that is focussed on women in World War II.  This novel follows Scarlett, Ellie and Lucy, three women who become military nurses to assist in the war effort and who find themselves on the frontline in Normandy.  These three women come from very different backgrounds, and each have their own reasons for becoming military nurses.  Scarlett comes from a very privileged family but finds herself undertaking her nursing training in the hope that she will be able to search for her lost fiancee Thomas whilst stationed on the frontline.  Ellie is an Irish farmers daughter, seeking to play her part in the war effort.  Scarlett and Ellie meet on their first day as they set out to train as nurses, and provide each other with much required support as they deal with unimaginable horror and heartbreak once they reach Normandy.  Lucy is already an experienced military nurse when Scarlett and Ellie join, but no less vulnerable, and no less in need of good friends.

This novel explores the strong relationships between women during World War II, as they found themselves thrust into positions that had previously been out of reach to them.  In order to survive the horrors of war they relied on each other for support and comfort, and this novel really highlights the sacrifices that they made alongside their men who were fighting for our freedom.

There is of course love strewn throughout this story, as we see how couples had to make quick decisions and choices, not knowing if they would ever be together again as they were separated by war.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as it is now known also plays a prominent role in this novel.  It explores how this disorder affects not only the individual who is struggling to cope with the trauma that they have survived, but also how it affects their loved ones when life returns to ‘normal’.  This is an important topic, as we learn more about the impact of war on our veterans and what we need to do to help them.

I really enjoyed this novel.  Whilst the characters are fictional, they are set during real-life events from our recent history.  It is vital that we remember what the generations before us had to do to ensure our freedom now, and novels such as this are a great way of doing that.  Even if you are not usually into historical fiction, this is a great novel full of strong characters that focuses on love, but more importantly, hope.

Rating: 📖 📖 📖 📖