Have the tissue box handy when reading, “Me Before You,” by Jo Jo Moyes. This novel will move you to tears without ever tipping the scale toward maudlin.
Settle back with a cupper and meet Louisa, a quirky, English 27-year-old with a flare for vintage fashion. This will-’o-the-wisp has plenty of pluck and wit, balancing out a story line that deals with difficult issues.
Lou lives with her working-class parents, sister, nephew and senile grandfather. For six years she’s had a job at a café, but hard times have forced the Buttered Bun to close. Now she’s unable to help support her extended family.
The British economy isn’t exactly booming, so Lou visits the employment agency to learn about job openings. There she hears about a moneyed family seeking a companion for their paraplegic son. Will used to be a jet-setter, swishing down ski slopes, dashing off to Paris, dating the ladies. Now he only has partial use of one arm and is an embittered and angry recluse.
Will’s controlling mother hires Lou to take her son places and get his mind off his troubles, but not to attend to his physical needs. A male hire handles those responsibilities. All Louisa is supposed to do is shake Will out of his gloom — or so she thinks. In actuality, Will’s mother has an ulterior motive that the young woman knows nothing about.
Originally published in the United Kingdom, “Me Before You” is a beautiful book that’s fast gaining a following in the United States, and its popularity is well deserved. At once witty and serious, heartbreaking and joyous, the novel has a lot to say about a person’s right to choose death, rather than face a life of seemingly endless days filled with despair and pain. Scenes from this marvelous book will stay with you long after you digest the last page.
The siren call of a lost city in remote southeastern Honduras beckons to adventurers, one past and one present. The tales of their dual quests to discover the White City make for an edge-of-your-seat, nonfiction ride into the wilds. Readers will quickly fall under the spell of “Jungleland,” by Christopher S. Stewart.
It’s not easy to turn your back on wanderlust and squelch a desire to live life on the edge. Stewart, a writer and editor with the Wall Street Journal, was thus afflicted. Married, with a young daughter, a mortgage and hoping for another child Stewart yearned for the days when he was able to drop everything and take off for faraway places, reporting and writing about his experiences.
In 2008, while researching a story about the drug trade in Honduras, Stewart first heard about Ciudad Blanca, the mysterious lost city and the legend of Theodore Morde, a 1940s American adventurer, and World War II spy, who claimed he’d discovered an overgrown ancient site in the jungle with gold and treasured artifacts, where tribes once worshipped “monkey gods.”
In the humdrum of his settled Brooklyn existence, the story niggles at Stewart, and soon becomes an obsession. He discovers that Morde died under suspicious circumstances, though his death appeared to be a suicide. Stewart tracks down Morde’s relatives, and they provide him with a log the adventurer kept that detailed his journey into the Honduran jungle, a perilous four-month trek into a rain-forest rife with poisonous snakes, alligators, wild pigs, jaguars and bandits.
The journal of Morde’s expedition, fuels Stewart’s fire to follow the adventurer’s path. With his wife’s blessing, overlaid with worry about the dangers her husband will face, the modern day explorer is off to another world where conveniences like cellphone service and paved roads are non-existent. For over a month, Stewart walks in Morde’s shoes with a 40-plus pound pack on his back driven by an insatiable urge to reach the White City, return and write about his discovery. The pace of this exciting book moves because its chapters alternate between Stewart’s and Morde’s adventures.
Stewart’s harrowing journey is fraught with difficulty, and at times he’s so miserable and fear-filled he contemplates ending his quest, as do his companions. But Stewart sees his journey through, and the end result is far different from what he expects, one that forges an even stronger connection between adventurers separated by decades.
An entertaining trivia night could be based on “Because I Said So,” by Jeopardy! champ, Ken Jennings. This witty little volume is packed with facts and has a subtitle that details what to expect when you crack open its cover, “The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.”
Pick it up for a laugh and a conversation starter, or put a copy in your guest bath to replace that dog-eared issue of National Geographic.
Haven’t all parents warned their kids not to run with lollypops in their mouths, and to avoid swimming right after they eat? And what child hasn’t had nightmares about getting lockjaw from a rusty nail or worms from running barefoot on the grass?
These myths and cautionary tales, and 123 more “Mom- and Dad-isms,” are debunked in research gathered by Jennings. Each is assigned a value from true to false, with many landing in the gray area of mostly true, mostly false or possibly true.
Though Jennings’ book is mostly clever and comical, it also contains useful, if at times frightening, information for those of us who managed to forgo certain death from eating watermelon seeds and nibbling on a stray poinsettia leaf. His chapter on “Bathroom Badgering” will have you flushing the toilet with the lid down and rushing out to get an airtight holder for your toothbrush.
“Because I Said So,” would make a thoughtful shower gift for parents-to-be. Generations to follow will be grateful to Jennings for debunking the old wives’ tale that has taken its toll on Toll House cookie lovers.