The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

The Madwoman UpstairsThe Madwoman Upstairs is a contemporary adventure/mystery about a young woman who is beginning her studies in literature in Oxford. As the last descendant of Patrick Brontë, Samantha Whipple is hounded by the media about her father’s mysterious death (by fire) and the myth of the Brontë inheritance. When the Brontë books from her father’s library begin mysteriously showing up at her door (which she believed were destroyed in the fire that consumed her father), Samantha tries to uncover the truth behind who is leaving them for her, and what her father was trying to teach her between the lines.

I picked this up because one of my favorite novels of all time is Jane Eyre and although the only other Brontë I’ve read so far is Wuthering Heights by Miss Emily, I’ve always felt a little affectionate for their family (Anne, I’m coming for you!). I learned a lot about their family from this novel, but there are also some very definite spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the big four – Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and The Tenent of Wildfell Hall. Many scenes in the novel are Samantha in one-on-one study sessions with her literature professor discussing the classics, and I was feeling really stupid even a quarter of the way through when this 20 year old was discussing work from…well, pretty much everyone. I read a lot of classics and I’m nowhere near as well read this character is. I would almost say it is unbelievable, but her father was a writer and lover of literature and she did descend from possibly the most famous family of authors who ever lived, so maybe it wasn’t so out of the realm of possibility for her.

After first finishing the novel I was a little bit disappointed that the ending didn’t turn out as shocking/twisty as I was expecting (even hoping for), but the more time that passes now after having finished it, I appreciate it more and more. The suspense is built up quite a bit throughout the novel to the point I was expecting a ‘Madwoman Upstairs’ type twist as found in Jane Eyre, but there is nothing like that. In the end, this is a book about acceptance and family, a coming of age story, and I quite enjoyed it :-)

e.

Mrs. Hemingway, Naomi Wood

Mrs. HemingwayI love Ernest Hemingway. That’s probably something you should know about me. I love his writing so much that I’ve been savoring it, because I never want to run out of new things to read. First I read A Farewell To Arms – to this day one of my favorite novels of all time. Then The Sun Also Rises. Loved it. I’ve reread these two novels many times. Then I read The Old Man and the Sea. I didn’t like it as much as the other two, but still effective. And that’s it. That’s all I’ve allowed myself to read for ten years. It’s ridiculous. And it stops…well, soon. But first, I picked up this book: a fictional account of the beginnings and endings of all four of Mr. Hemingway’s marriages.

It is written in four parts (around 80 pages each), one for each wife: Hadley (my favorite), Pauline (nickname:Fife, as in Pfeiffer), Martha, and Mary. Before reading this book, I was only familiar with details from his marriage to Hadley and the transition into Pauline, so I did learn quite a bit from this book. Each section jumps back and forth from the beginning of each relationship to the end, and many times they overlap one another (Hemingway was never known for his fidelity 😕). It had to be tough to decide what vignettes to include for each wife that showed why they married and also why they parted, but I feel that the author did a great job capturing the right moments.

Hadley was his first love, who he met when he was 21. They had a son together and lived for most of their marriage in Paris. It was there Hadley and Ernest became acquainted with Pauline Pfeiffer and her sister. Pauline (who everyone called Fife apparently), became fast friends with the pair, and slowly fell in love with Ernest. The affair went on awhile with Ernest still married to Hadley, but finally they divorced and he married Pauline. They lived happily together for many years, mostly in the Florida keys, and had two sons. Ernest went back to working as a war correspondent during this period. He met his next wife, Martha Gellhorn, near his home in Florida, but convinced her to become a war correspondent as well (she was a writer herself). In Spain they began their love affair, and Pauline was pissed when she found out. She is the only of his wives to really hold spite for him, or so they say. He married Martha, and basically did the same thing to her, meeting Mary Welsh while working as a correspondent in London (Mary was also married at the time), and it was Mary who was with him in the end of his life.

While this book is highly fictionalized (no one knows exactly what was said and exactly what happened in all of the details), it is also drawn from historical accounts, letters, and telegrams, so everything in the book is at least in the gist of what actually occurred. Ernest Hemingway had a big life, there are no doubts about that, and I loved seeing little snipits of it through the lens of the women in his life. 

Overall I really enjoyed the book, it was hard to put down at times (I say that because I had to put it down, mommy’s need their sleep!). I love reading about Hemingway’s life. He lived in a different time, that’s for sure, and it makes me wonder how he would have liked the modern world. He wouldn’t have, probably. I have another fictionalized book about him called Hemingway’s Boat. I may be reading that soon, as well as Z. the novel about Zelda Fitzgerald (who was only in one scene of this book, but was alluded to a few other times). Why do the books I read always add so many other books to my to-read pile?! I’m trying to shrink it, but it keeps growing the more I read!! #readerproblems 😅

E.

Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoBardo:: A Tibetan Buddhist term meaning ‘of an existence between death and rebirth’.

This novel is quite unconventional. Not quite as unconventional as the book called S. by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, but it does not, as a typical novel would, consist of nothing but prose.  The chapters are quite short, and many of them are made up entirely of quotes pulled from historical accounts, history books, and letters. It is almost more of a work of art than a novel. And Although it took me awhile to get the rhythm, in the end I rather enjoyed it.
I came to this book straight off of Gone With the Wind and wanting to stay in the time period of the civil war. While this story does technically take place during the civil war, it is nothing about it but a vague backdrop that almost has no meaning to the story being told. This book is about the death and mourning of a child, and also an interpretation of the afterlife.

I read this book on audible, and it is the first audiobook I’ve listened to with a full cast. For this novel it meant 166 narrators! I can’t move on from this subject without mentioning how odd the experience was at first listening to people reading sometimes only a few words before another person jumped in. It was a cacophony of human voices for awhile, but once I understood what was going on, I loved it. As you may have seen, Nick Offerman (of Parks & Rec fame) leads the cast, playing a dead man called Mr. Vollman. David Sedaris has another leading roll as Mr. Bevins, and together they narrate much of the story from their perspective as ghosts in a graveyard. I was able to pick out a few other voices I knew: Rainn Wilson and Megan Mullally among them, and in 166 voices, I’m sure you will find others you know as well.

The story itself is devastating; Lincoln’s young and beloved son Willie dies. Since this was an audiobook it is hard to go back and pull quotes, but I will just say that the chapters full of quotes were extremely powerful and put together very skillfully. As a new mother, I found new layers of meaning and understanding in the scraps of real world accounts surrounding this event and my heart ached for our 16th president. Not only was he dealing with this horrific personal event, but he was also facing enormous backlash because of the war, where thousands and thousands of other men’s sons were being slaughtered on his order. What a terrible burden it must have been. Again, I find I am intrigued to learn more about this era, and even Lincoln himself. Knowing that his life was prematurely ended not terribly long after this, it makes me feel so terrible for him. What a hard life he had. Poor man.

But this is all only backdrop for the novel. Mostly the story takes place in the graveyard Willie is taken to after his death. The ghosts there are unwilling to accept that they have died, and therefore linger on, resisting their fate by essentially squeezing their eyes shut and ignoring anything that doesn’t fit their faulty beliefs. When Willie’s spirit joins them, he is confused, and resists ‘passing on’ when his father comes back to the mausoleum to hold onto his dead son’s body (apparently a true event). Through the quest to get this child’s spirit to pass on (something they all agree should happen), the other ghosts become more aware of themselves and what the true situation of their existence is, eventually accepting their fate and moving on themselves.

Yes, those were all spoilers, and yet I feel like none of that will ruin the book for new readers. This is the kind of book you don’t necessarily read for the story, but for the experience itself. I hope you read it, you who are reading this, and that you can appreciate it for what it is. I loved this book, and it has stuck with me in the weeks since I’ve finished it. Maybe it will for you too.

E.

Thoughts on My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin RachelLast night I finished reading My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne du Maurier. It had been at the top of my to read list for the past several years, but I never got past the first several pages until last week, which is strange, because the first several pages are almost as gripping as the first pages in Rebecca, one of my favorite classic novels.

My Cousin Rachel begins in a place similar to Rebecca, with an orphan and a gothic, almost sinister, undertone. If I hadn’t been expecting great things already judging by the woman who wrote it, I definitely was after the first chapter, and I think ultimately this is what led to my disappointment in the novel.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it is about a young man named Phillip who was raised by his cousin Ambrose. When advised to winter away from his damp home in Cornwall by his doctor, Ambrose goes south to the continent of Europe. He goes to Italy where he meets and marries his cousin Rachel. Having been a bachelor all his life, this comes as a great surprise to Phillip and their friends in Cornwall. The marriage seems to suit him until Phillip begins to receive odd letters from his cousin, and before he is able to see Ambrose again, he is dead. Did his new wife have something to do with it? How will Phillip behave once he finally meets this mysterious cousin? What about this woman caused a lifelong bachelor to finally ‘take the plunge’?

This novel lacked the feeling of suspense that I adored in Rebecca. There were no twists, no shocking revelations, and honestly once I set it down for the last time I was left wondering what the point of the book had been. I’m not saying it wasn’t compelling or well written, because it was, but there was never the sense of satisfaction in the end for me. After such a kick ass beginning, I expected more. I gave it three stars on goodreads because it is quite an entertaining book, I just took issue with the ending – it left things unresolved for me. I’m having the same issue with the ending of Gone With the Wind (I am still working on a post for that one).

For those of you who have already read it, here is a little more detail of what I thought of the story::

The beginning is excellent. It sets the tone beautifully and anchors the story in a gothic mood. The plot set-up is also perfect – a man meets a woman, marries her, has a crisis that leads to his death, and his family is left to wonder/discover whether or not this mysterious woman had a hand in it. I mean, that’s got to be an excellent story, right?

Eh.

I felt like I was turning pages in order to find out if Rachel had really had any fault in Ambrose’s death or not. Since I still don’t know for sure it just feels unfinished. I feel like the story leaves off in exactly the same place as it was after the first few chapters of the book. In the end, none of the plot really changed anything in the character’s lives. I guess I was expecting something equally mysterious and scandalous to happen to Phillip once Rachel came to town, but the only thing that happened is Phillip absolutely losing his mind in love and sabotaging himself. And yet, he wasn’t really sabotaged after all. It’s like everything that happened had the ability to be a complete disaster, but in the end Phillip is left exactly as he was after Ambrose’s death, a wealthy bachelor.

There was a looming mystery as to what Rachel’s big fault was, and all it turned out to be was a shopping addiction (who doesn’t know someone like that?). There was the giving of the estate to Rachel, and what changed for Phillip? Not a thing, except Rachel’s attitude was a bit colder (but that’s because he is a fool who expects her to marry him). There was the death of Rachel, but even that was unsatisfying. Did Phillip intend to let her die that night, or was he so preoccupied with his own mission that night that he completely forgot there was any danger in the garden? For me, it seemed like the emphasis kept falling on things that didn’t matter, and the things I was really interested in were only briefly mentioned.

In my group on goodreads, everyone seemed to agree with the implications at the end, that Rachel had been innocent the whole time and that she had done nothing wrong. But how can that be? Did he not find the poisonous seeds in her drawer? …..hello!? Was that just another figment of his imagination? …or mine? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!

This story just wasn’t for me in the end. I still adore Rebecca, and I for sure haven’t sworn off du Maurier by any stretch, but this one just didn’t sit well with me. However, it will be lingering in the back of my mind for quite some time, I’m sure. And maybe that was the point after all.

If you’ve read My Cousin Rachel, please share your ideas with me in the comments about your theories. This is a book that begs to be discussed!

E.

Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King

Mr. MercedesDespite the fact that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors (as a person), I have only read a shameful amount of his fiction. I frequently watch his interviews and appearances on YouTube, and once heard him talking about a story he was working on; a retired detective is being mocked by one of the criminals he never caught on the job. The idea gripped me immediately. That work-in-progress turned out to be Mr. Mercedes. The one book expanded into a trilogy, and embarrassingly I never started Mr. Mercedes until long after the last book in the series had been published 😬

The novel opens with the scene of the crime – on a misty early morning, a madman drives a Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting in line for a job fair. It then fast forwards to find retired detective Bill Hodges doing nothing more exciting than watching daytime television and contemplating the thought of taking his own life, when a typewritten letter is delivered out of the blue. It is from the Mercedes killer, still at large, taunting him. Bouncing perspective between Bill and the Mercedes Killer, the novel is a non-stop crime thriller I found hard to put down.

Although I wouldn’t call this book a member of the ‘Horror’ genre, it is probably the most disturbing book I have personally ever read. Being inside the head of a serial killer is a freaky place to be, as you can imagine. **spoiler**At one point I thought I may have to put it down, as I have a sensitivity to cruelty to animals, but I pushed through and luckily the dog was not poisoned and brutally murdered. Somehow finding that his mother was instead didn’t bother me as much. (It’s the fact that animals are helpless and completely at the mercy of their caregivers is why, in case you are thinking I’m a monster for thinking that) **end spoiler**

Even though this book is part of a trilogy, I feel this novel stands alone very well. That is to say, it doesn’t leave off on a cliffhanger; there is a satisfying and complete ending, which I appreciate very much. There’s nothing worse than a cliffhanger ending. Or a violently abrupt ending (I’m looking at you Margaret Atwood), but this book doesn’t have that, so let’s move on.

Thrillers (especially crime thrillers) aren’t my preferred genre of novel to read, but every once in awhile a really good one can be quite satisfying. If you’re looking for something that fits the bill and is really well written, I recommend it! I’ve borrowed the next two books, Finders Keepers and End of Watch, from a friend, and I plan to read them later this summer. Stay tuned!!

E.

The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

The Girl You Left BehindI have to say, I was not expecting to love this book. Like it maybe, or more likely to be disappointed halfway through and feel obligated to finish it. It is not a perfect book by any means, and yet here I sit having finished the novel (in two days), and I am temporarily at a loss for words.

The Girl You Left Behind is about two women: One living in a German occupied town in France in WWI, the other a mourning widow in modern London. Both of them have lost the men they loved; one is off fighting a war with no word if he is dead or alive, the other died suddenly much too young.

The first part of the book is dedicated to Sophie, the Frenchwoman whose town has been occupied by Germans in World War I. Her husband, who is now off fighting in the war, was a painter. He had painted a portrait of Sophie in their happier days, and it now hung in her family’s hotel, reminding Sophie that she wasn’t always a skeletal being of fear and hunger. When the Germans commandeer the hotel, having Sophie and her sister cook for them every night, the painting catches the eye of the Kommandant, a man feared by the villagers.

Later we are confronted with a jolting change in time. Suddenly we are in England in modern times and introduced to Liv, who is now somehow in possession of the painting. She is a widow, struggling to move on, and clings to the painting as an emotional support. When she finally meets a man she thinks she could fall in love with, she learns he works for a company that restores paintings stolen in wartime to the families they belong to, and that her painting, The Girl You Left Behind, is being claimed by the family of the man who originally painted it.

This novel is two in one: a historical fiction account of what it was like to live in German occupied territory during WWI and the horrors that brings with it, and a modern court case driven thriller/mystery in the second half. In the beginning I wasn’t sure how I liked how lopsided it seemed to be…you never meet the present day characters until around halfway through the book, and then closer to the end it flips back and forth again a few times, but somehow it works.

I was reading the first half of Gone With the Wind (about the American Civil War) while listening to this novel on audio, and I think the wartime stories had a greater effect on me in both novels because of that. Both were terrible, bloody wars and it was difficult at times to read about them. It is quite graphic as it details the horrors of war…not gore from the front lines, but the starvation, pure fear, and destruction of a way of life that existed for those left behind.

*some spoilers in the following paragraph*

The modern piece wasn’t quite as good. To me it felt a lot more formulaic and bordered on unrealistic at times. Would Liv really have blatantly dug her heels in on the matter of keeping her painting without even considering the possibility of giving it back to the rightful family at all? I feel like there would probably have been moments of doubt whether she was doing the right thing, espcecially as those around her began to question it (and when she completely cut out Paul without even pretending to listen to what he had to say seemed odd to me, as they had really spent a lot of time together up to that point). Also how was Liv actually paying for everything? I feel like it was super improbable that she’d be able to get as far as she did financially from the spot she was in at the beginning (who would give her a second mortgage with so little money in the bank and presumably terrible credit). Why did Moe suddenly decide she wanted some space from her? And right when Liv needed her resilience and friendship the most? Because it made the dramatic timing of the plot right, that’s why. It was a little disappointing being able to see the blueprints behind the novel as I read, but those are my only complaints! Overall it was still a very good book and I will probably read it again one day.

My favorite character was Moe. Not only did she serve as the quirky silly friend, but she was just such a character! I could imagine her so clearly in my mind, and yet she was always surprising me. I loved how she came back into Liv’s life at the right moment and was able to bring her back to life a little bit, just by being there.

I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, as it was recommended to me. I have to say I enjoyed this book much more than Me Before You, and it gives me hope that Jojo Moyes has written other good books I’d enjoy. Any suggestions on what I should read next??

E.

Thoughts on The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman

The View from the Cheap SeatsNeil Gaiman is one of those authors whose fiction has a distinct style. You can point to something he wrote and say with confidence, Neil Gaiman wrote that. It’s in the names he chooses, the subjects he writes about, the stories he weaves, and the language he uses as the strands to do so. After having read and loved many of his novels (Neverwhere, The Graveyard Book, Anansi Boys, and Stardust are some of these), and hearing his incredible speech titled Make Good Art, I was very excited to read his book of collected non-fiction, The View from the Cheap Seats.

The book is comprised of magazine articles, essays, speeches for various occasions, and book introductions which are grouped together in an order that generally flows from subject to subject. Some pieces are short, others are quite long, and some of them seem to overlap each other slightly. He writes about everything from his own fiction, authors he admires, his career in comic book writing, the internet, music, films, mythology, and his childhood.

Beginning with the dedication – “For Ash, who’s new, for when he is grown. These were some of the things your father loved and said and cared about and believed, a long time ago.” – I loved this book. It is filled with the wisdom and insights of a man who has dedicated his life to telling stories. From a young boy reading his way through the children’s section of the library, to the young man who discovered and devoured the science fiction genre and comic books, to the young journalist, to the comic book writer and finally the award-winning novelist he is today. This book is all at once a reader’s guide to great fiction, a quasi-memoir, a conversation about what makes a book great, but most of all it is a love letter to story telling and literature. Neil Gaiman is one of the great authors of our time (in my opinion), and getting to see the inside of his brain in this book was such a treat.

Right off the bat we are confronted with discussions about the importance of literacy, libraries, and the freedom to read whatever you feel compelled to read. Reading teaches you how to think, it exercises your imagination, and it teaches us that anything is possible. According to Neil, a child should never be forbidden to read a book, even if it is not necessarily what you want them to be reading. He says every book is a gateway drug into the next book, and eventually they will probably stumble onto things you do feel more comfortable with, while all along learning about themselves and the world.

I loved his discussions about what makes a genre a genre, and another piece on what the difference is between a children’s book and a book for adults. He comes at these questions from a place of pure curiosity, taking the questions down to their fundamentals and building up from there. Truly, what is the difference between a book for children and a book for adults? It is not easy to point to one criteria that makes the difference, is it?

There is a good chunk in the middle of the book to do with comics; how he read and collected them as a kid to his eventual career writing them, working with different artists, as well as reviews and introductions for them. I myself have never read comics or graphic novels at all, and while this was not my favorite section of the book, I still feel like I came away from it having learned a lot about them, and harboring a new curiosity to find one of the ones discussed to see what I might think of it.

Neil, like me (and you, I presume), is a lover of fiction. He shares the names of works and writers who have inspired him, books that helped shape him, and the stories of how he came upon them in the first place. His introductions offer new perspectives on works you may have read before, and have definitely sparked my interest in some books I’ve never heard of. His recommendations span throughout many genres including children’s, science fiction, horror, and classics so you’re bound to find something you’ll love as well as something that may be out of your comfort zone.

The one thing that surprised me the most about this collection was how much Neil Gaiman has done. He has been involved with magazines, newspapers, collaboration fiction, short stories, children’s books, novels, comics, as well as being the speaker at any number of conventions and events, he’s been asked to write about books in all different types of genres, as well as writing for music albums, film scripts, and essays. What hasn’t the man done? He has a curious mind, and is a true believer in art and creativity. He understands the impact one good book can have on a person, and more importantly, he wants everyone to be able to feel that incredible feeling.

If I’ve come away from this book with only one thing, it’s that I love Neil Gaiman. I already knew it, but I saw so many more facets of the man through this book, and it’s made me love him all the more. I highly recommend it for any reader.

E.

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, by Katarina Bivald

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendOne of my favorite books of all time is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. After I recommended that book to a friend (she loved it too), she told me she’d heard of a book often compared to it called The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. Odd title, I thought, and immediately it went on The List. Then one day when I was very pregnant, I went to Target on a ‘Treat Yourself’ mission (which was really just me trying to do a lot of walking to get little boy out of me) and saw this book. Sold.

It’s the story of a Swedish girl named Sara, who goes to visit her friend Amy in rural Iowa. It is her first trip to America, and her parents are skeptical of letting her go in the first place, but the bookshop Sara had worked in recently closed down and she wanted to see the town her friend had written to her about so fondly. By the time Sara arrives in Broken Wheel, Amy has died. Not sure what to do next, the townsfolk of Broken Wheel rally to make sure Sara is taken care of for the duration of her stay. It is not the trip Sara had imagined, but in time she learns the secrets Amy had kept from her letters, and falls in love with the town.

First, let’s just get this out of the way: It does not live up to Guernsey. Not by a long shot, not for me. But, since that’s one of the greatest books of all time…I really didn’t expect it to.

It took me quite awhile to get into the plot. It was past the halfway point before I really felt like I couldn’t put it down. To be honest I was worried for awhile that the book was never going to strike a resonating cord with me. The writing through the beginning seemed to do a little too much telling and not enough showing, and I’m not sure if that has to do with the fact that it was translated from the original Swedish. Sometimes it’s the translation that’s ‘bad’ and not the story. Overall, it was very what-you-see-is-what-you-get; it didn’t have the depth either of character or of plot to really blow me away. However, by the end I was very interested in how the story played out, and it was a satisfying, sweet ending. For me there was just something a little bit odd about the whole thing that I can’t quite put my finger on. Maybe it was the cliches of a micro-community in rural America, or that some of the characters were a little bit over the top…and I’m still not satisfied with the title. But all of this is generally why I avoid contemporary ‘chick lit’ type books, it comes down to a style preference. You may love this type of book & love the style.

I did enjoy the fact that Sara and Amy’s relationship was based completely around their love of books & reading. Sara is a complete bookworm, and there are many passages throughout the novel about authors and books and how Sara feels about them. It’s always risky to do this in case the reader hasn’t read the books mentioned. If they have, there is a great payoff of camaraderie with the character for having thought the same thoughts or sparking a new conversation in the reader’s mind, but on the other hand, if the reader hasn’t read the mentioned books, there are some major plot spoilers. For me, there was a mix of both. I found her thoughts on Dan Brown to be especially accurate ;-) It does seem a little bit unfair for the author to assume that just because someone is reading this book, that he/she should be expected to have read ALL of the other books mentioned. Ultimately there are really only one or two passages with actual plot spoilers, the rest seem to just bring attention to books you may or may not have read – I can see some readers adding to their TBRs while reading this book.

This novel is very much in the chick lit/summer reads category for me. Purely entertainment. This isn’t the type of book that is going to change your life, but it’s a fun distraction from the every day and a fun book for people who call themselves readers.

E.

P.S. No one I’ve ever met in my entire life has made homemade corn dogs or sloppy joes. Just sayin’. These things generally come from the fair (or freezer section), and a can, respectively. It’s the American way.

Leaving Time, Jodi Picoult

Leaving TimeSometimes you just want a book that will grab you early and keep you turning the pages the whole time. I picked up Leaving Time exactly for that reason; Jodi Picoult is pretty reliably compelling, whether it’s a controversial subject, a thrilling court case (…or both), or a mystery (like this one).

Leaving Time is the story of a young girl named Jenna Metcalf in search of her mother, Alice. Alice was a researcher living and working in an elephant sanctuary in Pennsylvania. She ended up there for love, following a man who didn’t think her study on grief in elephants was a waste of time like many of her colleagues. When Jenna is only three, a woman is found dead, trampled to death by an elephant, and Alice disappears. Due to the lazy work of a retiring detective and no missing persons report, there is no investigation into the disappearance. Now a young teen, Jenna takes the search into her own hands. Consulting with a washed up celebrity psychic and the detective whose guilt never went away after the botched investigation, they are determined to find out what happened that night in the elephant sanctuary.

In the format of a typical Jodi Picoult novel, the narrative bounces back and forth between characters. Alice is the only narrator who isn’t in the present. Instead, she acts a flashback character, providing the background story that leads up to the night she disappeared, eventually revealing what actually happened. It is done skillfully, the reader never learns until the end whether or not she is still alive or if her story ends that night. Hers was ultimately my favorite perspective, although an impatient reader would call hers the slowest. I really enjoyed reading about her accounts of elephant behavior observed both in the African wild and in the sanctuary. The elephants definitely have personality, especially Maura, and I enjoyed the sections about them – you can tell, maybe a little too much, that the subject matter was researched well by the author. It reminded me of another of her novels in that way, Lone Wolf. As an animal lover and general softie in life, I could have done without some of the graphic descriptions of what happens to some of the elephants, but Alice is researching grief, so grief-inducing events are kind of necessary and expected. And everyone knows that historically elephants have not been treated very well in captivity, which were some of the hardest parts for me to read.

Another characteristic element of a Picoult novel is a twist ending, sometimes even on the last dang page (Handle With Care, anyone?). Leaving Time is no exception. While I did enjoy the pleasure of the plot completely flipping (a twist you don’t see coming is always oddly satisfying), it also cheapened the whole story in a way. I won’t give it away, but let’s just say this particular twist has been done before, and very famously. The author had to know it was a risk to use it, and I kind of wish I could get into her head to see what the other possibilities were, if there ever were any. For me it didn’t ruin the story because it made complete sense once it was revealed. It wrapped up the storyline of one of the characters in a great way – in fact, you could say the entire story was actually about her. Okay okay, let’s move on…

All things considered, this wasn’t my favorite novel by Jodi Picoult. I haven’t read them all, but I’ve read around a dozen. Leaving Time probably floats around the middle of the pack among them. As I said, I wanted something compelling to read, and in that sense it did not disappoint. However, if you are new to Jodi Picoult, I would recommend some of her other novels over this one. Some of my favorites have been Keeping Faith, Handle With Care, Lone Wolf, Vanishing Acts, My Sister’s Keeper, and Plain Truth. Just whatever you do, don’t start with Songs of the Humpback Whale. I couldn’t get through it!

Any other fans of Jodi Picoult out there? Which of her novels is your favorite?

E.

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel

The Scarlet Pimpernel, Emmuska Orczy
Classic/Adventure
271 Pages
Published 1905
Goodreads Page
To Buy at Book Depository

I actually read this book back in March of this year, but I wasn’t feeling very motivated to write reviews at that time, so this is quite late! I read it with a group I am a part of on goodreads. Before that, I don’t think I’d ever heard of this novel.

I admit I rushed through this novel a little bit. Since it is so short, I wanted to knock it out quickly and move on to something I wanted to read more, which I slightly regret after the fact. It was an interesting story, and the plot was constantly moving forward, but something about it wasn’t as engaging as I’d hoped for. This novel is widely considered the first of it’s kind, a political spy/rebellious thriller complete with tricks, secret identities, and sidekicks/accomplices.

I remember being a little bit irked that the wife was not ‘allowed’ by the characters or the author to play the role that seemed natural for her to do in the climax of the plot. I felt like there was a lot of lead up to where there was a greater expectation for her part in the adventure, but all she ended up doing was solving the mystery and getting herself in the way. For that reason, it wasn’t my favorite book, but I do appreciate it for what it is, and I’m glad this novel opened the creative door for future works such as Zorro and other political mysteries and thrillers.

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