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Jojo Moyes is fast becoming one of my favourite authors - I loved Me Before You and The Last Letter, and was really excited to read this new novel. This is a great read for anyone who is after something for a holiday read.
The Girl You Left Behind opens grippingly with the story of Sophie Lefevre and her family. It is 1916, and her French village has been occupied by the Germans - life is tough. Sophie's husband Edouard, an artist, is away at war and she and her sister Helene are struggling to make ends meet, running Le Coq Rouge, the village inn. Then a German Kommandant insists that they begin cooking for his men, much to Sophie's disgust. Chillingly, the Kommandant seems to take a liking to Sophie, and appears bewitched by the portrait Edouard painted of her, entitled The Girl You Left Behind. Can Sophie use his liking of her to get information about her husband... or is that a dangerous game too far?
The action turns to the present day and we meet Liv Halston, a young widow, who is trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life following the death of her beloved husband, David. The Girl You Left Behind now hangs on her wall, a gift from David, yet she has no idea of the story behind the painting... until the Lefevre family start trying to trace the missing artwork, claiming that it was looted illegally by the German army during the war, and should rightfully be returned to them. Desperate not to be parted from her husband's gift, Liv digs in her heels. Moyes cleverly reveals the story of Sophie, and the two women's lives become entwined.
I absolutely loved the first half of this book - I was gripped by Sophie's storyline. She is a great character - feisty and resourceful, proud, spirited and loving - yet fallible and vulnerable too. I found the second half of the novel much slower and in all honesty, a bit long. I wished that the legal part of the story could have been cut right back, I much preferred the relationship dramas to this element. I also lost some sympathy for Liv and wasn't quite convinced by some of her actions.
Overall, I enjoyed the book - Moyes writes brilliantly as ever - but for me, it didn't pack quite the same emotional punch as this author's previous novels.
I read my first Jojo Moyes book back in January and it blew me away. Me Before You is easily my best read of 2012 so far so when I heard that Moyes was releasing another book I couldn't wait to dive into her writing world again so imagine my joy when I received an early review copy, needless to say it didn't sit on the side awaiting my attention!
The cover of this book is a similar style to her previous book and I love both of the covers they are definitely something that would catch my eye in the book shop.
The first part of the book made for quite a compelling read for me we meet Sophie who is living in France in 1916 but their little village has just been overtaken by the Germans and without her husband Edouard around Sophie is forced to prepare food for the Germans in Le Coq Rouge much to her dislike. Edouard is away at war and Sophie has not had any correspondence from her husband for sometime so when the Kommandant shows a soft spot for her and a great interest in the painting of Sophie that her husband painted of her that hangs on the wall so she wonders if she can use him to try and attempt to get her husband out of danger.
The second part of the book is when we meet our other heroine Liv this time we have jumped to 2006 and we see a reappearance of the painting of Sophie. The painting now belongs to Liv and was a gift from her husband David who has passed away. Liv is heartbroken and struggling financially then to top it all off she now has a court case over her head when it arises that the painting may have been illegally looted and so Liv stands to lose yet another thing close to her heart.
I fell quickly into the storyline from the start of this book. It is easy to warm to each of the characters especially Sophie whose emotions shine through in this book. It is apparent early on that she would do anything to try and get her husband home but you cannot predict the lengths she would be willing to go through to make that happen. She seems like such a strong and feisty character when we first meet her not taking the Germans actions and requests lying down but as the story moves along and she interacts more with the Kommandant we start to see a softer more vulnerable side to her which only makes us warm to her the more.
Unfortunately I didn't enjoy the second part of the book as much as the first I felt like this part was a little to drawn out and at times my interest started to waver that is until we have small snippets of Sophie creep up again. I didn't warm to Liv as much as Sophie but we all usually favour a character in a book and for this book it has to be Sophie who is my favourite heroine. Although I enjoyed this book and it is a very touching and interesting storyline, I can safely say my tissues are still in place!
This is yet another beautifully written compelling read from Jojo Moyes and after reading The Girl You Left behind I am still a firm fan but this has not knocked Me Before You off the top spot.
Review also on www.reabookreview.blogspot.com
Having loved Me Before You, this author's previous book, I was a little nervous about starting this 500 page novel, her latest, but I needn't have worried I loved it from beginning to quickly reached end - I read it in less than 24 hours and thoroughly enjoyed it.
The story centres around 2 main female characters in two different time periods - in modern London there's Liv, the young widow who lives in the achingly beautiful yet empty house her late husband David designed, which is where an incongruous but beautiful painting of "The Girl who you Left Behind" hangs, having special meaning for her. It soon becomes clear at the start of the book that the painting is of Sophie, a young French woman who in 1916 France is living in occupied France, thinking about her artist husband but trying to survive and strangely troubled by her encounters with the German Kommandant who, too is drawn by the painting. The novel is about both women's lives. The story goes back and forwards between present day and the past as the story of Sophie is revealed and as Liv finds her life changing and being challenged in ways she hadn't imagined, all driven by the painting that is pivotal to everything. When Liv meets Paul one night things are about to get interesting as we find out that for both women love is never as straightforward as it seems.
As well as finding this book unputdownable I thought that, in the main, it was well written. The modern day scenes were perhaps more convincing than those set in the France of the past - although having lived in France and having a love of all things French I'm a bit of a harsh critic in all honesty. Some suspension of disbelief was required to make the story work - there were quite a few coincidences and amazing discoveries along the way, as a whole it worked and I finished the final page feeling that the characters would live with me for a while. It's the kind of book you read for a little bit of escapism, it's not high literature but it's enjoyable all the same. I thought that the swapping between time frames was handled well and didn't make for a confusing story at any point. All the main characters were likeable and there was a whole cast of convincing secondary characters such as Mo the waitress and Greg, Paul's brother who runs a gay bar in the modern story and a whole cast of villagers in WWI France which add interest to the plot.
This book would be the perfect accompaniment to a beach holiday or plane journey, it's probably not best started if you have anything urgent to do as you might find, like me, that you just HAVE to read on until the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if you like a light read with a big heart then you probably will too.
Book read as part of the Amazon Vine programme and due for release in Sept 2012, pre release price £7.12 for paper back version.