Book Review: Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult Leaving Time

A library borrow 🙂

About the author (from official bio):

Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-four internationally bestselling novels, including My Sister’s Keeper,  and The Storyteller. She has also co-written two YA books with her daughter Samantha van Leer.

She studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Realism – and a profound desire to be able to pay the rent – led her to a series of different jobs after graduation, and she worked as a Wall Street technical writer, a copywriter, a textbook editor and an 8th grade English teacher before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education. She married Tim Van Leer, whom she had known at Princeton, and it was while she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale.

Four of her books have been made into TV movies and My Sister’s Keeper was a cinema release. She has received numerous awards and now lives in New Hampshire with her husband, three children and a menagerie of animals.

About the book:

Jenna Metcalf was with her mother, Alice, the night she disappeared, but she remembers nothing about it – and nor does her father, as far as she can tell. He is in an asylum and unable to help her understand what happened. Now, Jenna lives with her grandmother, who finds it too painful to talk about what happened, and the world of the elephant sanctuary where she was raised is just a memory.

Ten years on, Jenna is the only one who still seems to care; to wonder and worry, trying to fit the pieces together. With  no family to help her, she must get some unlikely helpers on-side in the shape of a washed-up psychic, Serenity, and the police officer who has done all he can to put the night of Jenna’s mother’s disappearance behind him.

What I liked:

I loved the way the story alternates between the viewpoints of Alice, Jenna, Serenity and Virgil, and merged the lessons learned about elephants, memory, loss and grieving into the story that surrounds these characters. As with all the Jodi Picoult books I’ve read, the story is clever, although the pace is a little slow to start with. However, the tension is maintained and the language is understatedly elegant.

Every main character had a strongly individual voice and I became completely engrossed in the story of each of them, hoping passionately for a happy outcome for them all. The information about elephants was fascinating and integral to the plot points (although see below).

And finally… the twist. It made me stop, go back a little and read on again, just to make sure I’d understood. It’s not a massively original idea, but I didn’t expect it in this story – or in any JP novel; I thought I knew exactly what I was getting in terms of the book’s quest, so it was a surprise.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

Not much, although Virgil was a little stereotypical as the ‘damaged cop’ who drinks too much and has let himself go, and there were one or two points where the book felt a teensy bit too preachy and intense on the subject of elephants and how they’re treated, particularly in the first half of the book. I think the editor needed to be a little more zealous here.

I suspect there will be people out there who don’t like the ending of this book, feeling it’s much less grounded in normal human lives than a usual Picoult wrap-up (I can’t explain in more detail without spoilers!). I thought it was clever, though, and found it believable in the context of a belief system I don’t believe in – i.e. it’s no different, for me, than reading a book in which a character is healed by their belief in Christianity. Just because I don’t believe that can happen, doesn’t mean I can’t read a book in which it supposedly does.

Overall, for me, a big fat winner! 🙂


Book Review: Moth Girls by Anne Cassidy

This one was a library borrow. 🙂

moths girls

About the Author (official bio):

Anne Cassidy was born in London in 1952. She was an awkward teenager who spent the Swinging Sixties stuck in a convent school trying, dismally, to learn Latin. She was always falling in love and having her heart broken. She worked in a bank for five years until she finally grew up. She then went to college before becoming a teacher for many years. In 2000 Anne became a full-time writer, specialising in crime stories and thrillers for teenagers. In 2004 LOOKING FOR JJ was published to great acclaim, going on to be shortlisted for the 2004 Whitbread Prize and the 2005 Carnegie Medal. Follow Anne at or on Twitter: @annecassidy6

About The Book:

Moth Girls focuses on Mandy as she lives with the guilt of what she didn’t reveal when her two friends, Tina and Petra, went missing five years ago. But were they really her friends? As she begins to recall more of the events that lead up to their disappearance, we are shown a girl who was very much a third wheel, desperately trying to squeeze her way into a close friendship between two girls.

Gradually, Mandy pieces together what really happened on that fateful night; the night Tina dared them to visit the mysterious house that drew her to it like a moth to a flame. And when she does, the truth and her part in what happened are not what she expected.

What I liked:

I liked the plot and the twist, and thought the relationship between the three 12-year-old girls was very well rendered and believable (although they did seem to belong more to my teen years than now; their lifestyle and dialogue felt quite dated). Petra and Zofia are sympathetic and well-drawn characters whom we begin to care about – more so, perhaps, than we care about Mandy. The build-up of tension is very good too as we go back and forth between now and the past, and there’s satisfaction in feeling that for some characters, at least, there is closure and a happier, if not happy, ending.

I also liked the realism of the underlying theme – that we are more often hurt, emotionally and physically, by those closest to us; those that we should be able to trust.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

The language was a little simplistic for a YA novel – it felt aimed at tweens or young teens rather than a young adult audience. Mandy seemed inconsistent as a main character and the book has a feeling of inconsistency too, sometimes swinging away from the thriller plot for an unnecessarily long time and becoming more a ‘coming of age of a troubled teenager’ book. Mandy’s is he/isn’t he boyfriend could be removed from the book without any real harm.

Would I read another?

If the blurb drew me in, then yes, I’d probably read another Anne Cassidy. As it happens, I’m quite intrigued by her Murder Notebooks novels:

The Murder Notebooks are a series of books about two teenagers, Rose Smith and Joshua Johnson. For three years they lived together as a family with Rose’s mother and Joshua’s father. One night their parents go out for a meal and never return. Rose and Joshua, 12 and 14 at the time are shocked and traumatised by this. Rose is sent to live with her grandmother in London and Joshua is sent to Newcastle to live with his uncle.The books follow their attempts to find out what really happened to their parents and the meaning of two notebooks, written in code…

Intriguing, eh? These may make it onto my TBR pile at some point.

Book Review: Doubting Abbey by Samantha Tonge

Dounting AbbeyAbout the Author:

Samantha Tonge lives in Cheshire and writes rom-com novels and short fiction. Doubting Abbey was her debut novel, published in 2014 by Carina. She has since written From Paris With Love (‘the fun, standalone sequel to Doubting Abbey’), Mistletoe Mansion, Game of Scones, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding (a Game of Scones sequel) and How To Get Hitched in Ten Days, her recently published novella.

About The Book:

I was very lucky to win a signed copy of this book on Twitter. The premise of the book is that aristocratic Abbey, torn between helping boyfriend Zak on a mercy mission abroad and helping her estranged family win the reality show Million Dollar Mansion, asks her decidedly unaristocratic friend Gemma to pretend to be her – and rush off to help save the ancestral pile (Applebridge Hall).

How can Gemma pretend to be her? Well Gemma, her flatmate and pizza parlour colleague, conveniently looks so much like Abbey – despite the fact that she acts and presents herself completely differently – that Abbey believes her relatives won’t be able to tell the difference, as she hasn’t seen them for years. And it seems to work at first, with even young Lord Edward, Abbey’s dishy cousin, not suspecting a thing…

What I liked:

I thought the title was clever (I love Samatha’s pun titles!). I liked the portrayal of the reality show and what went on behind the scenes. I found this ‘carefully constructed’ reality that contestants are asked to ‘act’ in very believable. The rivalry with the other semi-finalists was amusing too, with its side-swipe at their pseudo-historical artefacts and dodgy hen weekends. Oh, and I loved the twist (which I didn’t see coming!). I wasn’t expecting there to be a twist, either, as the ‘will she be discovered or won’t she’ and ‘will they win or won’t they’ plot strands seemed sufficient to maintain the tension, so it was a pleasant surprise.

I giggled at Gemma’s cooking dilemmas and interactions with the aristocratic people around her, and thought the minor characters were portrayed well, particularly Kathleen, the stern but warm-hearted housekeeper.

I also liked the lighthearted but topical look at the value of older buildings and estates, and how the families that own them have had to repurpose them to keep them viable and continue to employ local people.

What I wasn’t so keen on:

The stereotypical nature of the two main characters. Gemma is sketched as a stereotypical ‘chav’ (if you’ll excuse the expression) and almost presented as someone for us to laugh at rather than with. She’s addicted to bronzer, too much make-up, false eyelashes and revealing tops (and I would like to have seen the incident where a male character suggests that by wearing them, she’s leading him on, dealt with differently – and to have seen him get more comeuppance). Gemma sometimes appears to laugh at herself, while at other times she seems convinced her look is attractive and symbolic of making an effort. Confusing.

Also, if something is not ‘mega’ (a word she uses as an adjective, adverb and superlative), then it’s amaaazin’. The editor is at fault here for failing to curb the constant repetition of these words in Gemma’s dialogue and thoughts, and the constant ‘megas’ nearly made me give up, a few chapters in. It’s this aspect of the book that’s persistently criticised by other reviewers, so I’m not alone. Chavs don’t talk like that; I’m originally from the Medway Towns, so I know.

And does Lord Edward need to be stuck in the Victorian era just because he’s an aristocrat? He is only aware of classical music, has never eaten a burger and shares his thoughts, including every ‘um’, ‘ah’ and half-finished sentence, on his new blog in a way that no intelligent, self-respecting person ever would – yet he’s portrayed as intelligent and self-respecting…

It’s also difficult for the blossoming romance between Edward and Gemma to be believable when it seems mainly based on her thinking he’s fit and him being won over by the hedonistic pleasures of eating a burger in a car for the first time.

Will I read another?

Probably, yes – despite what I’ve said about the main characters in this novel. That’s because many of the reviewers who have read Samantha Tonge’s later works were surprised by these flaws in her debut novel, commenting that her later books are far better. So I’ll be giving her the benefit of the doubt. I love Greece, so Game of Scones may soon be on my TBR pile.

Book Review: The Taxidermist’s daughter by Kate Mosse

I’ve read all of Kate Mosse’s fiction (with the exception of Eskimo Kissing). I borrowed Crucifix Lane  from the library years ago, yet didn’t put two and two together when I was hooked by the blurb of Labyrinth. It was only when I was describing Crucifix Lane to someone, desperately trying to remember its author and title, that I did a web search for its plot points – and discovered the book I was remembering was by Kate Mosse (and yes, I’ve learnt my lesson and now write down everything I read!).

And because I’ve read all of them and loved every one, naturally her latest novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, was at the top of my Christmas list.

By Patryk Korzeniecki (Patrol110) via Wikimedia Commons

The Taxidermist’s Daughter is not a timeslip novel; it is set in the village of Fishbourne in Surrey, in 1812. Its story is not told by any of the characters involved in the event that is central to the book.

And yet... it kind of is a timeslip novel. The chief narrator, Connie, does slip through time now and then; but rather than slipping into the life of a person in the past, as she might do if she were a character in Kate’s Languedoc Trilogy, she slips into her own past – a past she can barely remember.

Because Connie had an accident that nobody will talk about. Connie has no idea why she calls her father by his surname. Connie doesn’t know why she remembers a yellow ribbon she doesn’t own, tied around hair that is not hers – or why she has a vague impression that she was once loved and cared for by someone who was not her mother but is, like her mother, no longer present in her life.

She also doesn’t understand why her father is tormented and retreats into the bottle, and why he gathers with other men in the graveyard at night. Why is she being watched, and is the dead girl washed up near the bottom of her garden just a coincidence? What surely can’t be a coincidence is that when her father goes missing, Dr.Woolston, the father of her new friend Harry, goes missing too – after signing an erroneous death certificate for the dead girl in Connie’s garden.

It’s this loss of memory and bewilderment at the strange events taking place in the present that make Connie the perfect narrator of the story. We begin to put the pieces together as Connie does, although we have the advantage of brief, enigmatic glimpses into the lives of other characters that help us begin to guess at the truth before she does.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a story of guilt, revenge, loyalty, love, loss and long-kept secrets. From the start, it reminded me of a Dickens novel; the vividly depicted  marches and graveyard, the revelation of an old secret, people not being where or whom we expect them to be, and the names of characters and places that resonate so strongly with their role in the story. Could Crowther have had any other name, as he watches and waits for his moment? Could Blackthorn House have been called anything else? I think not. Connie’s father certainly has a metaphorical thorn in his side and yet, like Connie, we spend our time hoping, as the layers are pulled back and we get closer to the kernel of truth, that we’re being misdirected and her father is innocent of any wrongdoing.

In an interview in the Guardian in 2014, Mosse said she no longer wrote literary fiction: “I realised that I should have listened to myself sooner. My skill is storytelling, not literary fiction.”

Much as I hate to disagree with someone whose work I admire so much, I think she’s wrong. I’m not keen on the literary distinction anyway, but it’s possible to tell a great story while using beautiful and well-crafted language to do so. I know this because Kate does it so well – and she has done it again with this novel. The gothic, foreboding tone is set right from the start by her opening paragraph:

Midnight. in the graveyard of the church of St Peter and St Mary, men gather in silence on the edge of the drowned marshes.
Watching. Waiting.

Her blending of description with narrative is masterful, too, setting the scene simply and vividly:

The rain strikes the black umbrellas and cloth caps of the farm workers and dairymen and blacksmiths. Dripping down between neck and collar, skin and cloth. No one speaks.

Literary devices? Hmm, I’d say she can use a few. I’ll let you pick out the assortment contained in just this paragraph – and we’re still only on the first page:

It is a custom that has long since fallen away in most parts of Sussex, but not here. Not here, where the saltwater estuary flows put to the sea. Not here, in the shadow of the Old Salt Mill and the burnt-out remains of Farhill’s Mill, its rotting timbers revealed at low tide. Here, the old superstitions still hold sway.

The drama of the final scenes, the wildness of the weather, the isolation of the village and Blackthorn House, and the bittersweet twist when the truth is revealed, make this an atmospheric and compelling gothic thriller – and a perfect example of a book where plot, characterisation, theme and setting are perfectly balanced and beautifully blended. I won’t say effortlessly blended, because this kind of excellence requires a great deal of effort – effort that, thankfully, Kate Mosse seems willing and very capable of putting in.

Fabulous! 9/10