Me Before You (Me Before You #1) by Jojo Moyes

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has never been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair-bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.

A love story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?


I came across this book on a list to books to read before they become movies, and after checking out the movie’s trailer, I decided to give it a go. It is an unconventional love story about a girl named Louisa, who falls in love with quadriplegic after becoming his care companion, only to discover that he has made plans to end his life at an assisted suicide facility in six months time. Louisa sets out to change Will’s mind and in the process, the two fall in love and Louisa finds herself.

I liked Louisa’s character a lot. I found her to be charming and funny, and her personality is infectious. She is a surprisingly dynamic character who is easy to relate to and who you can't help but root for. The narrative is largely told from her perspective, but it does switch to other characters periodically. The author is British, so the narrative has that dry, self-deprecating humor and quite a few slang terms that I had to look up.

This story is much more than a traditional love story. It is a story that acknowledges love’s many facets and explores what it means to truly love someone through several different “love” relationships, not just Louisa and Will’s story.

In the end, it wasn't quite the emotional tearjerker I was expecting, but it was still a good story and worth the read. I liked it enough that I'm still interested in seeing the movie, which is scheduled for release this summer and checking out the book’s sequel.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book that's becoming a movie this year


Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined by Stephenie Meyer

Even though the original story has some plot issues, even though the character development is lacking, and despite it being a little “soft” when it comes to vampire lore, I love Twilight. There, I've said it and I'm not ashamed to admit it. I can't believe it's been ten years since the story was first published. Like other fans, I had hoped that the tenth anniversary would mean that we would finally get what we have long been waiting for, a completed Midnight Sun (Twilight retold through Edward’s eyes, which Meyers began but stopped working on when it was leaked to the Internet). What we got instead was a gender bending reimagining.

I didn't like it. I felt that several of the characters lost some of their appeal and essence by having their genders switched. For example, Emmet, who for me is the lovable, protective big brother, just didn't translate as well as a female and everything I loved about the character was stripped away. Beau was even more bland than Bella’s character, and lacked a strong male voice. I think Charlie, one of two characters whose gender was not altered, is probably the only character that was recognizable.

Readers should also be prepared for some serious plot changes. Life and Death is definitely a reimagining and not a retelling. I'm glad Meyers made the changes she did because it ensures that there will be no continuations of this story line, which I wouldn't read even if there were.

This reimagining certainly didn't diminish my love for the original, but I'm hoping that when Twilight turns 20 that Meyers will give her fans what we really want...Midnight Sun.


Stronger: How Hard Times Revel God's Greatest Power by Clayton King

When we think of success, we think of words like "bigger," "more," and "better." Bigger paycheck, more security, better reputation. But what if God's perspective on success was radically different than our own? What if the things we seek to avoid--pain, suffering, weakness, insecurity--were the very things he used to mold us into his image?

With insights born from his own difficult journey, Clayton King offers readers a truly liberating understanding of weakness and suffering--not as God's punishment, but as his pruning. Revealing the God who is a companion in our most difficult seasons, King shows us that when we are in Christ, our deepest pain becomes the source of our greatest power, and our times of testing become our strongest testimony. Anyone who struggles to make sense of seemingly hopeless situations will find in this book not only hope for a brighter future but purpose in their imperfect present.


The message that I came away from this book is not to be afraid of my scars. All of us have scars because we have all experienced pain and setbacks that have left marks, physically and spiritually. But it's our weaknesses and our scars that make us the strongest. Such a counter-intuitive idea. How can weakness be strength? I've learned that it's our weaknesses that draw us closer to God, because it is only in those moments that we realize that we need something bigger than ourselves.

I heard somewhere that there is purpose in pain, and to be honest, there were many years of my life where saying this very idea to me would have earned you a dirty look. I do not believe God causes us pain. It is against His character. The pain we experience comes from living in a fallen world, and often times from our own mistakes. The idea that there is purpose in pain, or that God uses our pain for a greater purpose is a concept that I have only recently come to understand (not completely) over the last few years.

What I know for sure is that there will be pain in this life, and that we will all end up with our fair share of scars. However, there is no pain too great that God cannot bring you through if you place your faith in Him. And in the end, your scars will help tell your story, empathize with others, and help you reach those far from Jesus. That is the purpose in the pain. To leverage it into strength and use it to reach others. God works all things, including our pain, for our good.

I have had the privilege to see Clayton King preach a few times at my church, LifePoint. I like his style and appreciate his humor. The tone of this book is much more serious than what I have seen from Clayton in the past, not that his sermons are not serious, it was just a new level. The narrative of this book is extremely vulnerable and raw. Clayton doesn't sugarcoat his pain or shy away from it. He is honest about it. He exposes his own scars, and in so doing, his pain serves a higher purpose. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to grow in their walk with Jesus. 


The Giver Quartet: Books #2-4 by Lois Lowry

Book #2: Gathering Blue
3 Stars

It is a society ruled by savagery and deceit that shuns and discards the weak. Left orphaned and physically flawed, young Kira faces a frightening, uncertain future. Blessed with an almost magical talent that keeps her alive, she struggles with ever broadening responsibilities in her quest for truth, discovering things that will change her life forever.

As she did in The Giver, Lowry challenges readers to imagine what our world could become, how people could evolve, and what could be considered valuable. Every reader will be taken by Kira's plight and will long ponder her haunting world and the hope for the future.


It has taken me forever to read the rest of The Giver series. I love The Giver and have read it numerous times, but for whatever I never read the rest of the quartet. I think part of it was because when I read the synopsis of Gathering Blue, it didn't appear to be related at all to Jonas and Gabe, which was frankly all I cared about. While I love The Giver, I have always been left wanting by its ending. Nevertheless, after reading The Giver again with my seventh graders, I decided it was time to check out the rest of the series. 

When I first read Gathering Blue, I was completely confused about how it related to the story of The Giver at all. It wasn't until I read the other two sequels that Kira and her story began to make sense. Gathering Blue sets the stage for events that will happen and introduces us to characters who will be important in the subsequent sequels. It is very much a bridge novel, whose place in the grand scheme of this story cannot be fully seen until later on. So, if you pick it up expecting answers right away, don't be discouraged when you don't get them.

Nevertheless, the story is well written and even though I didn't quite get it at first, Kira's story was enjoyable and worth the read.


Book #3: Messenger
4 Stars

Matty has lived in Village and flourished under the guidance of Seer, a blind man known for his special sight. His community once welcomed newcomers, but something sinister has seeped into Village and the people have voted to close its borders to outsiders.

Now Matty must risk everything to make one last journey through the treacherous forest…


Messenger is my favorite of The Giver sequels. It offers readers the first glimpses into Jonas and Gabe's lives after leaving the Community. There are a few plot holes in this narrative that I had trouble with. There is a lot of talk of "gifts" in this book, but there doesn't seem to be any explanation as to why some people have them and others do not. Nor do they really explain why the people with gifts feel the need to keep them secret, or at least on the down-low. I wouldn't say this detail is essential to the story, but the narrative did seem lacking in some back story. There is also a lack of detail surrounding Trader, the evil influence that begins to change the villagers. Where did he come from? Where does his power come from? Why does the seemingly benign forest surrounding the Village all of a sudden become so treacherous?

Despite its plot flaws, I did enjoy this story. Matty, the main character who reminds me of my younger brothers, is adorably impish and I couldn't help but love him. I love his relationship with the Seer and his youthful yearning for his true purpose. His journey through the forest is full of adventure and suspense, and makes for a page turner. The ending is dramatic and sad, and I have to say not entirely expected. I liked Messenger better than Gathering Blue, but feel it lacked some of the polish of The Giver.  


Book #4: Son
3 Stars

They called her Water Claire. When she washed up on their shore, no one knew that she came from a society where emotions and colors didn’t exist. That she had become a Vessel at age thirteen. That she had carried a Product at age fourteen. That it had been stolen from her body. Claire had a son. But what became of him she never knew. What was his name? Was he even alive? She was supposed to forget him, but that was impossible. Now Claire will stop at nothing to find her child, even if it means making an unimaginable sacrifice.

Son thrusts readers once again into the chilling world of the Newbery Medal winning book, The Giver, as well as Gathering Blue and Messenger where a new hero emerges. In this thrilling series finale, the startling and long-awaited conclusion to Lois Lowry’s epic tale culminates in a final clash between good and evil.


Son finally brings The Giver series full circle, and while the book started out with great potential, I was once again left wanting by the ending. Through Claire's story, we get to see the events of The Giver through new eyes, and her connection to Gabe, the focus of this last installment, was surprising and intriguing. Her journey added an element of drama to the narrative, and Lowry really had me through parts one and two of the novel. 

However, when I made it to part three, things started to lose steam for me. The evil that threatened the Village in Messenger is back, and now it's Gabe's turn to use his gift to eradicate it once and for all. Again, the build up to the final showdown was good, but the event itself was lackluster. It just didn't live up to the hype. And the ending just felt abrupt and left me wanting more.

In the end, I think the series is worth the read. It's not perfect, but the good things about this series outweigh the flaws. I enjoyed finding out what happened to Jonas and Gabe after their fateful sleigh ride at the end of The Giver, and I am pleased, though not entirely satisfied, by how their stories played out. It's kind of nice not having to wonder anymore... :)  

2016 Reading Challenge: YA bestseller


The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

A forbidden love story set on the tropical island of St. Thomas about the extraordinary woman who gave birth to painter Camille Pissarro—the Father of Impressionism.

Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.


When I read the synopsis, I thought that this was going to be a simple love story. You know the one - boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, enter some sort of obstacle, but in the end, love conquers all. This novel is anything but a simple love story. It has many moving parts and explores many different facets of love. Yes, there is a passionate love story, but this novel also speaks to the love between a father and daughter, the love between a mother and daughter, the love between friends, the love of a mother for her son, the love between unequals, the love one feels towards their community, forbidden love, love versus companionship, and love for oneself. 

The story centers around the main character, Rachel, and chronicles much of her life from her early teens through her latter years. I found Rachel to be an incredibly complex character. She was defiant and strong-willed, yet at times obedient, but only to certain people. She refused to back down when her love affair caused a scandal, yet she refused to acknowledge her son's relationship when he went against her wishes. Like so many other great women, Rachel is a well of contradiction. Her life story, which is based on fact, is incredibly fascinating and compelling.

Although Rachel's story is the central story, there are several other "love" stories happening in and around her story that intersect with hers at different times throughout the novel. Alice Hoffman does an amazing job weaving together these various love stories, and even manages to throw in a surprise or two. She brings the cultures of St. Thomas and London alive beautifully and vividly, and this narrative is artfully written. This might be my favorite novel by Hoffman yet. Well worth the read.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book that takes places on an island


Emma by Jane Austen

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr. Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.


I've always thought that Emma has such a lighthearted feel as compared to Austen's other novels, and I suspect it is because of Emma herself. While I never connected with Emma the way I connected with Elizabeth Bennett or Elinor Dashwood, I have always liked her as a character. She's like the effervescent, albeit shallow, friend who is fun to be around and who everyone can't help but indulge. Her main mission is entertainment, and you can't help but to fall in line with whatever scheme she is planning.

Nevertheless, I can never quite take Emma seriously, at least for most of the book. For the most part her antics are well-meaning and harmless, but she is a rather spoiled and selfish individual. She does make quite a mess when she decides to meddle in Harriet's love life. While Emma's actions were never intended to cause harm, they do speak to her rather self-centered nature. On the surface, Emma appears to be trying to secure Harriet a superior match, but she completely ignores the realities of Harriet's social status and position. Her driving motivaI tion is less about her friend's happiness and more about how the match will gratify her, and in the end it only results in disaster.

Emma is not altogether irredeemable, however. Mr. Knightley, another one of my favorite literary leading men, serves as the perfect counterbalance to Emma. While having a partner who loves and accepts you for who you are is certainly important, I've always thought that the right person would also push you to be the best version of yourself. I think that is what Mr. Knightly does for Emma. He sees her for what she is and draws attention to her failures, not to shame her, but to encourage her to do and be better. And I think under his influence, Emma is better at the end of the novel than she is at the beginning.

I am never disappointed when I pick up Emma. I find the novel to be highly entertaining and several readings of it have not diminished my love for it. I love it just as much now, as I did the first time I read it. It's sense of frivolity makes it a great novel to start with for readers who are new to Austen, or a great book to return to when in need of a break from reality.   

2016 Reading Challenge: A book at least 100 years older than you