Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes - Review

I really enjoyed Jojo Moyes' previous book, Me Before You (particularly as the theme was the subject I wrote my dissertation on), so was very excited when I found out that I would be getting an advance copy to review, courtesy of The Reading Room and Penguin.  As with most people, I sobbed at times while reading Me Before You, and if anything, The Girl You Left Behind made me cry more.  How much a book makes me cry is a very good indication of whether a book is really good, as it means I have empathised with the characters.  If I have empathised particularly well with the characters, I cry at the happy as well as the sad parts.  In fact, I should probably review books with a tear rating!

This book revolves around a painting 'The Girl You Left Behind' and how it connects two women living almost a century apart.  In German-occupied France, 1916, Sophie Lefevre's artist husband has been sent to fight at the Front.  His portrait of her hangs in her family's hotel.  A constant reminder of their love, it gives her hope that they will be reunited.  Sophie will do whatever it takes to ensure his safety.

In London, 2006,  Liv is grieving for her husband who died suddenly 4 years previously.  Her most precious possession is the portrait of a young woman he gave her shortly before his death.  A chance encounter initiates a chain of events which leads to the discovery of the painting's tragic history and leads to Liv putting everything on the line to fight for what she loves most.

Will Sophie and her family survive the war and be reunited with their loved-ones?  Will Liv be able to move on and find happiness once again?  What is the truth of what really happened to the painting in the intervening years? 

This is a fantastic book.  Gripping and with plot twists right to the final pages, you will not be able to put it down.  The attention to detail gives you the feeling that you are actually there, experiencing everything with the characters.  Sophie and Liv are fantastic heroines.  Completely believable, they are determined and strong whilst their flaws keep them entirely human.

If you have enjoyed Jojo’s previous books, you will love The Girl You Left Behind.  If this is your first experience of her writing, you’re in for a treat.  Intelligent and emotional it’s a story that will stay with you.

The Girl You Left Behind is published by Penguin.  It will be available in paperback and Kindle editions on the 27th September 2012.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng - Review

I was lucky enough to be a guest reviewer over at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm.  I am posting the review here as well as I really enjoyed this book.

You can read the review here or below.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng is beautiful, haunting and deeply moving.  It has very deservedly been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012, as was the author's first novel The Gift of Rain in 2007.

This is the story of Teoh Yun Ling, the second woman judge to be appointed to the Malaysian Supreme Court.  Retiring from the bench after 14 years of service she decides to record her experiences as a young woman while she can still remember them.

The only survivor of a Japanese slave labour camp in which she was interned at the age of 17 during the Second World War, her hatred of the Japanese and grief and guilt for her sister who did not survive are the defining aspects of her life in the following years.

Six years after she leaves the slave labour camp, she travels to Yugiri 'the only Japanese garden in Malaya.'  Here she attempts to put aside her hatred of the Japanese to seek the assistance of the former gardener of the Japanese Emperor, Nakamora Aritomo in designing the Japanese garden her sister had dreamed of building.  He refuses to design it for her, but offers to take Yun Ling on as an apprentice so she can learn the skills required to create the memorial garden herself.  Studying the Japanese Art of  Setting Stones with Aritomo in the Garden of Evening Mists she is in the shadow of another war, as communist terrorists fight for independence from British rule.  However she finds she is learning far more than just the art of Japanese garden design.

As Yun Ling sets down her memories on paper, she discovers there may have been more to Nakamura Aritomo than she had known.  Can she piece everything together before it is too late?  Is she able to at last find the peace she has sought for so long? 

Starting off slowly, the story becomes more and more gripping the further you get into it.  At times disturbing - primarily because you know the events are based in fact, the strength and resilience of the human spirit to overcome the atrocities that can be inflicted on it make it an uplifting and inspiring read.

I loved this book.  It is a fascinating insight into the period of the second World War and the years following it in Malaya (now Malaysia).  This is an area of history of which I knew little before, but of which I have now become particularly interested.  The imagery is very strong - at times you could believe you were in the jungle too.  All characters have so many layers to them that you feel they must actually exist somewhere.  It has made me want to read more of Tan Twan Eng's writing, so his first book The Gift of Rain is on my 'to read' list.

I would definitely recommend this book and have high hopes that it could go on to win this year's Man Booker Prize. 

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng is published by Myrmidon Books and is available in paperback and Kindle editions now.

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes - Review

Rarely if ever have I anticipated the release of a book as greatly as Marian Keyes’ new novel.  I first discovered her books in 2002 and they have helped me through some difficult times.  Her writing style feels like you’re talking with a close friend, and the combination of heart-breaking sadness and laugh-out-loud humour is always a winner.

Marian has been very honest and open about her experience of depression over the past few years.  Shortly after the release of her last novel The Brightest Star in the Sky in 2009 she found herself in the grips of a Major Depressive Episode which stopped her from being able to write.  In February 2012  Saved by Cake was released.  As well as a wonderful recipe book (we’ve had fun converting many of the recipes to gluten-free versions as my children both have Coeliac Disease), she spoke about her depression and how baking had helped her get through the darkest periods.

Now, over three years from the release of her last novel comes the long awaited The Mystery of Mercy Close.  Not any old story though - this is one of the much loved Walsh sisters stories, my personal favourites of all her books.

This time the star of the story is Helen Walsh, the youngest sister.  As you will know if you have read any of the previous Walsh sister books (Watermelon, Rachel’s Holiday, Angels, Is There Anybody Out There), Helen is acerbic tongued, tough and devil-may care.  But in The Mystery of Mercy Close we see another side to her.

Now 33 with her work as a Private Investigator having dried up, and her bed having been repossessed she is left with no choice but to move back in with her parents.  Enter Jay Parker, a dodgy ex-boyfriend who comes to her with a missing person’s case.  Desperate for money, and intrigued by the case (the missing person is no less than Wayne Diffney from boyband Laddz) Helen agrees to do some initial investigation with no guarantees she’ll take on the case.

As Helen digs deeper, she finds that Wayne, the ‘Wacky One’ of the band has seems to have vanished without a trace.  With 5 days until Laddz big reunion gig, the pressure is on to find him.  The more she looks into his life, the more Helen begins to empathise with Wayne until she feels that maybe it would be best for him not to be found.

While investigating Wayne’s disappearance, Helen is fighting her own battles.  The depression that she had suffered from 2 1/2 years ago seems to be returning worse than ever.

What happened to Wayne?  Can Helen find him in time?  Will she manage to overcome the depression that is threatening to drag her under?

When I received the book (very kindly sent by Penguin for me to review), I was almost afraid to start reading - I had built it up so much that I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  On the surface this is a brilliant detective novel which has you gripped to the very last revelation.  However, this is also a very personal experience of depression.  That the seemingly least-vulnerable of the Walsh sisters could be afflicted by this terrible illness just goes to show that it could happen to any of us. 

It was great to read another Walsh sister story, with all the characters we‘ve come to know and love.  Witnessing the vulnerability in Helen, someone who’s only weakness we‘ve previously seen is her possibly being  too tough makes you feel an empathy for her, and you feel so strongly for her throughout the story.  Whether she is successful in finding Wayne and fighting her demons is a journey that is sometimes painful (yes I did cry.  A lot.), often funny (strange looks from the family as I burst out laughing on numerous occasions) but always gripping and brilliantly written.  There is even a reference to one of my other literary heroes, Douglas Adams.

For a very long time, mental health issues have been seen as taboo.  Given how many people suffer from them at some point in their lives, this is just wrong.  The more we are able to talk about such things, the more people who are suffering will feel able to ask for the help they need.  How Marian has used her experiences to write such a beautiful and touching book is incredibly brave.  If you have suffered from depression yourself as I have, then you will find yourself identifying with a lot of Helen’s feelings and experiences.  If you haven’t then I urge you to read this book for an insight into what it can be like. 

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes is published by Michael Joseph for Penguin.  It is released in Hardback and Kindle editions on 13th September 2012.

If you can’t wait that long, Mammy Walsh’s A-Z of the Walsh Family: an e-book short is released on the Kindle on 27th August 2012.  If you want to catch up with Marian’s previous books, her back catalogue has been re-issued this summer with lovely new covers.

For more information about Marian Keyes visit her website
You can follow her on Twitter for regular updates
You can also follow Mammy Walsh ( and Helen ( on Twitter!