Jodi Picoult

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about how to write a book review. While writing, I discovered that I have, to date, written 392 book reviews, of which a list is available here. Many of my reviews are about pre-published books sent to me by the author or publisher via NetGalley or Goodreads, but I also review books of my choice. Examples of the latter include books by American author Jodi Picoult.

Jodi Picoult (born 1966) is the author of over 25 novels that tackle a wide range of controversial or moral issues. She is adept at tackling matters in a sensitive, honest way, whether they involve abortion, assisted suicide, race relations, eugenics, LGBT rights, or school shootings. Geoff Hamilton and Brian Jones, the authors of Encyclopedia of Contemporary Writers and Their Works (2020), described Picoult as “a paradox, a hugely popular, at times controversial writer, ignored by academia, who questions notions of what constitutes literature simply by doing what she does best.”

I first came across Jodi Picoult in 2008 when my A-Level Religious Studies tutor suggested reading My Sister’s Keeper to help with our medical Ethics Module. Not only did I enjoy the book, but it also rekindled my love of reading. Picoult’s writing ability is exceptional, and her turn of phrases are almost poetical. It is no surprise that Picoult has won at least 14 awards and honours.

In 2014, I decided to write reviews of all Jodi Picoult’s novels. So far, I have only managed to write about eight books, but I plan to continue this goal in the future. (Although the 20+ books on my to-read pile suggest this will not be achieved any time soon!)

My Sister’s Keeper (reviewed 2015)

“If you use one of your children to save the life of another, are you being a good mother or a very bad one?”

My Sister’s Keeper was the first Jodi Picoult novel I read. (I have since read all Picoult’s books to date) I was not expecting much when I first picked it up, especially as I was reading it for a Medical Ethics module at college. Yet this book rekindled my love of reading, and suddenly, after only reading one story, I was asking for Jodi Picoult books for my birthday.

Many people may be familiar with the storyline, even if they have not read the book, as My Sister’s Keeper shot to fame when the film version hit the cinemas. Thirteen-year-old Anna Fitzgerald was Rhode Island’s first genetically engineered baby, created to provide her older sister Kate with the means to survive acute promyelocytic leukaemia. However, over the next few years, Kate relapses resulting in Anna going under numerous procedures, such as bone marrow extraction, to save Kate’s life. Now things have got so bad that Kate will die unless Anna gives up one of her kidneys, yet unwilling to do this, Anna hires a lawyer, Campbell Alexander, to sue her parents for the rights of her own body.

From reading a synopsis, the reader can already see that My Sister’s Keeper is going to be an emotional story, but what made me love the author so much?

The story was told from six points of view: Anna, Jesse (older brother), Sara (mother), Brian (father), Campbell and Julie (guardian ad litem). Notice that Kate was not one of the narrators, which leads us to speculate from the very start that Anna wins the case and Kate dies. Within the six main characters, there is no antagonist – unless you count cancer – and in all of them, the reader can find something relatable.

In one of the chapters, Jesse pronounces that Kate is the martyr, Anna the peacekeeper and himself the lost cause. With Anna, we can recognize the struggle to follow the decisions laid down for us by other people – a time when we have no choice of our own. Jesse represents the times when we have been ignored and forgotten because of bigger or more important events, thus resulting in attention-seeking behaviour. Brian, the firefighter, the man who wants to save everyone, cannot put out the metaphorical fire plaguing his family. Sara, whose narrative starts in the past rather than the present day, shows us how easy it is to get wrapped up in one problem (or daughter), ignoring everything (or everyone) else.

One great thing about all Picoult’s novels is that they are not focused on one storyline. Granted, this book focuses on the trial and Kate’s illness, but the inclusion of Campbell and Julia’s voices provide an additional subplot. Julia is not thrilled to discover that she will be working alongside Campbell, a person she knew from school with whom she had a difficult past. Since then, Julia has found herself unlucky in love and blames Campbell for this. Campbell, on the other hand, has troubles of his own and needs a service dog with him at all times. Yet, he is self-conscious about people knowing the reason behind this and often comes up with creative lies to stop people from asking questions. “Maybe if God gives you a handicap, he makes sure you’ve got a few extra doses of humour to take the edge off.”

Another reason Picoult’s books are so great is that the reader learns something every time. My Sister’s Keeper is full of medical and legal jargon, which may go over some people’s heads. Yet, it is also bursting with random bits of knowledge, for example, how to treat a fire, facts about astronomy, and many other interesting details that the characters use as metaphors to describe their experiences.

My Sister’s Keeper is a story that will stay in people’s hearts and minds for a long time. We never learn who the narrator of the prologue was, but we immediately assume that it is Anna and that she wants Kate to die. By the end, we are still unsure who the character was, but if it was Anna, we see it in a completely different light. This is not a book about whether it is ethical for Anna to be Kate’s donor; it is not a cancer story. Instead, it is a message about the right for each person to have choices about their lives.

A warning to potential readers: this book could break your heart, shock you or leave you in tears. My Sister’s Keeper is full of irony. For instance, Jesse’s experimentation with arson, causing fires that are subsequently put out by his father. But the biggest sense of irony and the biggest shock is the ending (FYI this is the complete opposite to the film ending). After everything that Anna has achieved, devastating circumstances result in the same conclusion that it would have had Anna sat back and done nothing. Yet this does not make it a pointless story. Despite Anna’s actions almost tearing the family apart, it also wakes them from the stupor that Kate’s illness has put them in and makes them realise how precious everything else in their life is too.

I highly recommend this book to everyone, and if you have not read a Jodi Picoult novel before, I strongly suggest you begin with this one. It is suitable for adult and adolescent readers, especially those who like to think about hypothetical, moral questions. My Sister’s Keeper gets you questioning your own choices and actions within your own life and may even make you view the world slightly differently.

The Storyteller (reviewed 2014)

Jodi Picoult is the bestselling author of numerous novels, with My Sister’s Keeper being the most well known. All of her stories are well written, although it is still possible to notice improvements in the writing over the years right up until now with her latest, The Storyteller, which quite possibly could be her best yet.

Arguably, The Storyteller does not quite read like a typical Jodi Picoult novel. This is, in part, because of the nature of the story. Most of her previous books deal with medical ethics and/or court cases, whereas this story features neither. The Storyteller contains a combination of past and present – the main focus being on the Holocaust.

Four people narrate the novel: two in the present day and two giving an account of their experience during the Second World War. It begins with Sage Singer, a 25-year-old, hermit-like woman with a disfiguring facial scar – the result of a terrible accident, one that also led to the death of her mother. For the past three years, Sage has been participating in a grief group – a place where people who have lost loved ones can come together and talk about their feelings. After three years, surely Sage would no longer need the help of the group? However, she still attends, not because she finds it helpful, but for the opposite reason. She even says herself: “If it were helpful I wouldn’t still be coming.” It unfolds that she still blames herself for her mother’s death despite the reassurances that it was an accident and not her fault.

It is through the grief group that Sage meets the elderly Josef Weber. After becoming friendly and discovering that Sage comes from a Jewish family, Josef confesses to something terrible – he was a Nazi during the war. He killed people. He wants Sage to represent all the Jews he killed and forgive him. Then he wants her to help him die.

While Josef recounts his experience of being part of the Nazi party, Picoult provides another account. Minka, Sage’s grandmother, describes the terrors she faced as an imprisoned Jew suffering fates such as the deaths of all her family and friends and her time in Auschwitz. Another element of the novel is the vampire story Minka wrote as a teenager. This is interspersed between the other chapters of the book. Unwittingly, Minka’s fictional tale reflects the alienation and destruction of the Jews. The final character is Leo who, like Sage, is narrating the present day and trying to locate ex-Nazi members to be punished by the government.

One thing to praise Picoult for, not just in The Storyteller, but also in all her novels, is the amount of in-depth research she undertakes to make her stories as accurate as possible even though they are fictional. Minka’s account was written in such a way that it was almost believable that Picoult had been there and experienced it herself. She even learnt to bake bread so that she could write from the point of view of a baker. This is pure dedication!

The Storyteller is an amazing, beautiful book that informs, shocks and stays with you for a long time. You will question your morals and ability to forgive. Is anyone entirely evil? Is anyone entirely good? Perhaps we are both, so why should anyone have the right to treat others as inferior to themselves?

Leaving Time (reviewed 2015)

Jodi Picoult keeps getting better and better. Her latest novel, Leaving Time, explores a daughter’s search for her mother, who mysteriously disappeared ten years earlier. Jenna Metcalf is a thirteen-year-old girl living with her grandmother who is determined to discover the whereabouts of her mother, who has not been seen for ten years, since a tragic event at a local elephant sanctuary.

Jenna recruits the help of Virgil Stanhope – an ex-policeman who has gone into hiding – and Serenity Jones – a failed psychic. As the three of them look into the events of a decade ago, they begin to piece together possible scenarios resulting in a woman vanishing without a trace. But just as importantly, they try to explain the reasons for a mother to abandon her daughter.

Jenna’s mother, Alice Metcalf, was a scientist who loved to study the grieving processes of elephants. Although Jenna tells one part of the story, Alice provides the reader with a different story – one of the past, one of Africa, one of elephants. As with many of Picoult’s novels, Leaving Time is not purely a piece of entertainment; it teaches the reader something new. Through Alice, Picoult unleashes a torrent of information about the lives of elephants in Africa and explains their behaviours. She explains what happens to the animals that are captured by circus trainers or zoos, as well as the work a sanctuary may do to save the lives of these creatures.

Alice and Jenna are not the only voices of this story. Virgil and Serenity have chapters to describe things from their perceptions. What is great about this is that although the main storyline is about Jenna’s search for her mother, Virgil and Serenity provide additional stories alongside it. Jenna’s interaction with Virgil helps him deal with his past and come to terms with the mistakes he may have made when investigating the original tragedy at the sanctuary. Likewise, Jenna helps Serenity believe in herself again and to focus less on her past failures.

Picoult’s writing, as always, is beautiful and sucks the reader into the narrative. It is easy to relate to all the characters in some way and understand a little of what they are going through despite having never been in their situation. Through her ability to do this, Picoult engages the readers from beginning to end. Fans of Picoult’s other novels, such as My Sister’s Keeper, will be familiar with Picoult’s surprising plot twists. Leaving Time tops all of those and will leave the reader almost breathless and in awe of Picoult’s imagination.

It is with no doubt that Leaving Time is an excellent novel exploring numerous themes, from a mother’s love to the paranormal. It entertains as well as educates, leaving the reader a lot more knowledgeable by the very end. It makes you think, it makes you hope, and it makes you want to keep on reading. Glamour magazine defies us “not to be gripped” and, after reading it, you will agree that is not entirely possible.

Nineteen Minutes (reviewed 2016)

Your son says the bullying was unbearable. But his revenge was murder. What would you do?

Nineteen Minutes 
is perhaps Jodi Picoult’s most controversial novel, as well as one of the longest. Lots of things can happen in nineteen minutes, including a school shooting resulting in the deaths of ten people. This is what happens at the beginning of this book, leaving hundreds of teachers and students emotionally scarred for the remainder of their lives. Picoult explores the reactions of a community whose ideas of safety have shattered, the grief of the victims and their families and, perhaps most importantly, the heartache of the parents of the shooter.

Seventeen-year-old Peter Houghton has had enough of the bullying that he has endured throughout his entire school life. He has no friends, is constantly miserable, possibly suicidal, and so, on a typical morning in March 2007, he decides to permanently fix the situation, unthinking of the consequences. But why did he go to such extremes? What circumstances in his life led to firing a gun as the only solution?

As the evidence is gathered in the lead up to the court trial, many characters question their involvement in Peter’s life. Firstly there is Josie Cormier, a straight-A student who swapped her childhood friendship with Peter for popularity and her boyfriend Matt, a particularly aggressive bully. Secondly, there is Alex Cormier, Josie’s mother, who destroyed her friendship with Peter’s mother after finding their five-year-old children playing with guns in the Houghton’s basement.

If Peter’s father had never owned a selection of hunting rifles, would Peter ever have thought of guns as a way out of his predicament? On the other hand, Lacy Houghton blames herself for not noticing how badly her son was suffering, not just at school but home as well, where he had to live up to the memory of his saint-like older brother who died in a car crash the previous year.

Naturally, a tragic event such as this changes people, but not always in a negative way. Relationships begin to blossom as characters realize how close they were to losing the ones they love. Alex takes a step back from her demanding job to comfort Josie in the aftermath, thus feeling closer to her than she ever has done before. Alex, a single mother, also opens herself up to a romantic relationship, something she has had no time to consider up until now.

All the while, Defense Attorney Jordan McAfee, who some readers may remember from Salem Falls, fights a losing battle to get Peter acquitted by arguing and prying into Peter’s emotions to discover his reason for committing murder.

What I like about Picoult’s novels is that there is more to them than a simple storyline. While the story plays out and plot twists happen, the reader is learning something new. In Nineteen Minutes, Picoult provides insight into midwifery, psychology and economics – things that are not synonymous with the shootings.

Readers will constantly question whose side of the story they are on. Hundreds of people grow up being bullied and will understand how Peter was feeling, yet they would not pick up a gun. Likewise, by putting themselves in the shoes of the victims, readers will think about how they would feel in the same situation, however, would anyone be willing to admit that they made someone else’s life a living hell? There is no simple conclusion to Nineteen Minutes; someone will always lose. Nevertheless, Picoult’s fantastic writing skills provide an enthralling story of love and loss.

I cannot recommend this book to readers in general due to the nature of the themes found in the story. Gun crime and school shootings are sadly still an occurrence in the present time, particularly in America, therefore, there are thousands of people who have been affected by such an event, whether directly or indirectly, as part of a local community. Some readers may find Nineteen Minutes challenging and upsetting, which is why I am not going to encourage everyone to read this book. However, Picoult has excelled herself with this novel, and it would be a shame for people not to read it. Fans will not be disappointed with her writing and will love all her characters, possibly even Peter!

Small Great Things (reviewed 2017)

Jodi Picoult has been my favourite author since I first came across her novels in 2008. With twenty-three novels under her belt, she continues to delight readers with her page-turning stories. Most of Picoult’s books contain a moral issue, often, but not always, in the form of medical ethics, as well as a hefty court case. Although following along similar lines, Small Great Things is a radical, revolutionary book, which, with great courage, Picoult has written with the intent to expose the reader to truths that most of us, as a society, are intentionally oblivious to.

The gist of the storyline is a baby dies whilst under the care of a nurse, prompting the grieving parents to take her to court with the accusation of murder. Although that sounds like an interesting story, it barely begins to describe what the book is about. The character on trial, Ruth, is an African American labour and delivery nurse. In this day and age, race is not so much of an issue. Yet, the parents of the baby are White Supremacists: seriously racist with the belief that white people are the master race. The father, Turk, refuses to let his wife and child be treated by Ruth, but circumstances result in her being the only nurse available to watch Davis. Unfortunately, it is at this moment that the baby happens to go into cardiac arrest. Although the reader knows that Ruth is not at fault, Turk insists she murdered his child – but is he accusing her of medical negligence or punishing her for being black?

Three characters, all with different views and experiences when it comes to racism, alternately narrate Small Great Things. Ruth and Turk represent the extremes on either side of the scale. Ruth experiences first-hand the negative impact of prejudice in the American system and society, not only through this court case but in everyday life as well. She also reveals the difficulties growing up in a predominately white environment, never feeling like she fitted in with her peers. On the other hand, Turk spent his teenage years attending KKK rallies, participating in a white power movement, and beating up anyone different: black, foreign, gay, Jewish and so forth.

The third character represents the majority of white people living in America. Kennedy is a public defender and the lawyer assigned to Ruth’s case. Like most of the population, she believes that she is not racist and persuades Ruth to leave the colour of her skin out of the argument. However, as she gets to know her client, she realizes that it is nigh on impossible to ignore racial prejudice.

Picoult shocks the reader on two accounts: one, the way that people of colour have been, and still are, treated; and two, the revelation that an invisible empire of White Supremacists is living amongst us. Yet, there is a third way in which Picoult provokes outrage – she indirectly accuses the reader of being racist, too.

There is always something to learn in a Jodi Picoult novel, for instance, medical terminology or how a court trial is conducted. Small Great Things provides more eye-opening information than her previous books, unveiling facts about such a controversial subject.

Through Kennedy, the reader’s eyes are opened to the racial discrimination, to which we all turn a blind eye. Ignored are the difficulties African Americans suffer when going shopping, applying for jobs, attending school, walking down the street, sitting on a bus, and so forth. Picoult asks me as a reader to think about how my life has been affected by racial discrimination: being served politely in shops because I am white, not having my ethnicity questioned when applying for college etc. Living in Britain, I have not experienced openly hateful comments or behaviours towards people with a different skin tone – I used to believe this was primarily an American problem. Yet, Small Great Things has made me think about the hierarchy of power within society, particularly in regards to the ethnicity of those at the top, compared with those at the bottom.

Jodi Picoult sat on the idea of writing a book about racism for well over a decade, yet, it is particularly apt that it is published now, with the current predicaments America is facing. Although we have come a long way in attempts to achieve equality for all – compare the trial in To Kill A Mockingbird to Picoult’s version – recent events have revealed that we are nowhere near.

Small Great Things will shock everyone who reads it regardless of their ethnicity and so forth. Many may find it uncomfortable to read, become upset or outraged, and even feel like they are being directly targeted. If this is the case, then good – it should do that. Everyone needs to read this book. On the one hand, it is a brilliant, well-told story with a beautiful, almost poetic narrative, and, on the other, it causes us to face up to the issues we are forever making light of or overlooking entirely. We have grown up believing that racism is a form of hatred when really it is about power. However Small Great Things makes you feel, it is worth reading, especially for the satisfying ending – one that you do not see coming.

Handle With Care (reviewed 2015)

As with most of Jodi Picoult’s novels, Handle With Care contains a deeply moral issue regarding abortion, especially in the case of the baby having a life-debilitating illness. Willow O’Keefe is six years old but only looks half that age. Suffering from Osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bones Disease), Willow will never live a normal life.

After a disastrous trip to Disney Land, Sean O’Keefe plans to sue the authorities for the way he and his wife, Charlotte, were treated after Willow broke yet another bone. However, once Charlotte learns about Wrongful Birth lawsuits, she decides to take action against her obstetrician with the argument that Willow’s diagnosis could have been discovered earlier in her pregnancy – the issue with this is it involves suing her best friend.

Picoult explores the arguments for and against what Charlotte is doing, and delves into how it affects the people involved. Friendships are broken, and relationships are damaged. As her family is torn apart, Willow feels unwanted and worried that she is the cause of all the tension. Through it all, Charlotte’s older daughter, Amelia, gets forgotten about and develops harmful ways of coping – bulimia.

The story is not solely based on the O’Keefe family. Picoult includes the character Marin, an attorney, and her search for her birth mother. This contrasts with the theme of abortion and makes the reader question the rights and wrongs of the dilemma.

Throughout the novel, Picoult creates a sense of foreboding. The narrative is written as if being spoken to Willow, however, the use of past tense implies that something horrible befalls her later in the book, regardless of the court case outcome.

Handle With Care is a novel that makes you think and plays with your emotions. Readers have a chance to develop their own opinions by reading the different characters’ perspectives. Another way in which Picoult connects with the reader is with the inclusion of recipes for baked goods. Charlotte used to be a baker before Willow was born, therefore, these extra bits fit well with the story. The recipes are also something readers could try out at home.

Jodi Picoult is a brilliant author with imaginative, thought-provoking ideas. Handle With Care fits in well with her other novels. It is quick to read, gripping and not quickly forgotten. This is a definite read for someone interested in ethical issues and those who like a novel that makes them think.

The Tenth Circle (reviewed 2016)

Admittedly I do not think this is one of Jodi Picoult’s best novels, however, that does not mean that The Tenth Circle is not a good book. Like all her stories, a large part of the storyline is about relationships, in this case, between father and daughter. On the other hand, The Tenth Circle stands out from the others as being a little different.

When Daniel Stone’s fourteen-year-old daughter Trixie accuses her ex-boyfriend of rape, he becomes an overprotective father, determined to keep his child from any more harm. What begins as a rape case spirals into a murder case with Daniel as the prime suspect. Suddenly the police turn to Trixie as an alternative suspect, and frightened of being accused, she runs away to Alaska – a place Daniel grew up as a child; a place he has been running away from all his life.

In a way, The Tenth Circle feels like two different stories: the rape and murder, and the flight to Alaska. Although the rape/murder case is the key focus of the plot, this story is also an insight into the relationship between father and daughter, and husband and wife.

“The real mistake he made was believing that you could lose someone in an instant, when in reality, it was a process that took months, years… lifetime.” Despite the Stone’s world turning upside down after a single event, Daniel realizes that he was losing his daughter a long time before that. She was growing up and keeping secrets. He barely knew the real Trixie. Likewise, his wife, Laura, was also keeping her fair share of secrets.

What made The Tenth Circle different from Picoult’s other novels is the inclusion of a comic book. It is an example of Daniel’s work as a comic book penciler (illustrated by Dustin Weaver in real life). This short graphic story represents Daniel and Trixie’s relationship. A daughter goes missing, and her father goes through hell and back to find her. It is interesting to compare the two stories and understand how Daniel feels. This comic book also allows the reader to have some fun. Within the illustrations are hidden letters, that when put together, spell out a quotation. It is the readers’ job to find and solve this puzzle.

Hell is a theme that kept coming up in this novel. As some may realize, The Tenth Circle is a brief reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante believed there were nine circles of Hell, each one representing a sin. Picoult has added a tenth circle, a circle for people who lie to themselves. The topic of Hell is emphasized through Laura Stone, a professor at Monroe College, Maine. She lectures on Classics, particularly on Dante’s Inferno. Picoult constantly alludes to this as a metaphor for the life Daniel and Trixie are experiencing.

Reading The Tenth Circle for a second time, I found I did not enjoy it as much. The element of surprise and plot twists were lost, as I already knew what was going to happen. For first readers, however, all of that is still to be experienced. Some may be put off or triggered by the rape content, but rest assured that Picoult deals with this delicate topic in the best way possible.

As fans will already know, you cannot read a Jodi Picoult book without learning something new. In this instance, you learn about Dante, forensic investigation and Yup’ik Eskimos – including intriguing words in the Yup’ik language. Due to this, Picoult’s writing is interesting to read, as well as delightful and meaningful due to her powerful metaphors.

Before reading this book, however, bear in mind that it contains rape, self-harm, drugs, suicide and murder. If any of the subjects are too upsetting, then I suggest you avoid this novel. On the other hand, if you are okay with delicate topics, I say go for it!

The Pact (reviewed 2016)

“Your son says they both meant to die. But he lived. What would you do?” As fans will already be aware, most of Jodi Picoult’s novels involve a “What if” or “What would you do?” scenario. The Pact is no different. This book contains all the elements you expect to find in a Picoult story: an ethical dilemma, family, relationships, love. However, The Pact is one of her more challenging reads – and it still was for me, reading it a second time.

Bainbridge, New Hampshire is an idyllic town that oozes a sense of security and safeness; it does not seem possible for crime to exist there. For a long time, that was the case, with the Harte and Gold family living as neighbours in a pragmatic family environment. Chris Harte and Emily Gold grew up together. They knew each other from birth and remained friends ever since, becoming intimate on reaching their teens. But suddenly, this serene atmosphere is shattered after seventeen-year-old Emily is found dead after being shot through the head, with Chris covered in blood beside her.

Despite defending himself by claiming that it was a joint suicide pact gone wrong, Chris is on trial for first-degree murder. The defence and the prosecution have to look deeply into the supposed crime and the events that lead up to it. Was Emily suicidal even though no one noticed? Did Chris love her, or was there a motive for murder? Whilst Chris anxiously awaits his verdict, the two families, the Hartes and the Golds, instead of pulling together in their time of grief, begin to crumble apart.

That is the general gist of the story, however, as with any Picoult book, there are smaller, subtle storylines dropped in here and there. The most prominent of these is the life of the defence attorney, Jordan McAfee, and his Private Investigator, Selena Damascus – two names that may be familiar to avid readers. These two are recurring characters in a couple of other novels by the same author. Instead of only being names dropped into a story for convenience sake, they have lives of their own. By reading all the books containing the pair, readers get to know them well and witness their growing relationship – providing they are read in the correct order, of course.

As for the key plot – the botched suicide pact – the story is told from a variety of perspectives, although all in the third person, from both after the event and before, going as far back as 1979, the year Emily was born, up until the present day, 1997. Naturally, the characters are going to reflect on the recent incidents to understand what has happened, but it is necessary to delve deeper into the past so that the reader can understand Chris and Emily’s relationship. It would be rather difficult otherwise to know who Emily was without any background knowledge, especially as she is already dead on the first page.

Picoult tackles the suicide theme delicately, showing full awareness that it is a difficult concept for people to read. She uses her characters to reveal the different ways people or societies react to the idea that someone would want to take their own life. The divide in the belief that suicide is either intrinsically right or wrong is evident from the characters who support Chris and those who accuse him of murder, maintaining that there was no way Emily would willingly take her own life. Some witnesses brought to the stand during the trial speak of suicide and depression from a medical and psychological point of view, fuelled by the in-depth research that Picoult has undertaken. Visiting a prison and experiencing what life is like for the inmates is an example of how far Picoult is willing to go to make her novels as realistic as possible.

As mentioned earlier, The Pact provokes the thought, “what would you do?” By engaging the reader in this way, Picoult encourages people to develop their interpretations and opinions about the storyline. She leaves hints and clues lying around to nudge our minds in a variety of directions. What was it that made Emily suicidal? Could her relationship with Chris, who for a long time was like a brother to her, be confusing the way she feels towards him and her family? Are there other factors? As for the outcome of the trial, readers will take either the prosecutor’s or the defence’s side – despite most of the book written in a way that paints Chris as wrongly accused. Picoult admits in an interview that even she was not sure how it should end and only made the decision by thinking about what the majority of readers would favour and the amount of hate mail she would receive if she did the opposite.

There is no denying that The Pact is a difficult book to read. Anyone who has experienced depression or suicidal thoughts will relate to Emily and Chris’ predicament, which may be too much to handle for some readers. On the other hand, if you have picked up this book knowing what to expect from Picoult’s writing, then you are less likely to be as shocked by the narrative. This is a book that will make you feel many emotions and question your own beliefs and opinions. Although not as beautifully written as her more recent novels, The Pact will suck you into the storyline and not let go until a long while after you have read the last page. Be prepared!


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How to Write a Book Review

There is no right or wrong way to write a book review. For some, writing “I liked this book” is good enough, but many writers prefer in-depth feedback and critique. A friend recently asked me for advice about writing book reviews, knowing that I have written many reviews, and new authors send me copies of their books in exchange for honest opinions. Admittedly, I do not follow a strict method of writing reviews, but I do try to include a few key points. At my friend’s request, I wrote the following instructions.

How to Write a Book Review

Firstly, write a brief description of the book. What is it about? Is it fiction or non-fiction? To what genre does it belong? Do not give anything away, especially the ending, but it is useful to tell potential readers a little about the narrative to entice them. Also, mention whether it is part of a series or a stand-alone. Is this the author’s first work, or are they a well-established writer?

For example:
Ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom have been expressed through storytelling for thousands of years. With this in mind, Limesh Parekh wrote his first business book Cracking the CRM Code in fiction format. CRM, which the author fails to define in the book, stands for Customer Relationship Management and is a useful process for businesses to interact with their customers.

What did you like about the book? Even if you did not enjoy it, try to find something positive to say. Was it well written? Did it contain interesting ideas or characters? What made you keep reading? Mention the emotions you felt, whether the author made you laugh or cry. Could you relate to the subject? Did you learn something new?

For example:
Many business books and manuals are nondescript and boring, whereas Limesh Parekh keeps the reader engaged with anecdotes, stories and quotes. Rather than learning how to use CRM, the characters show the process of purchasing and using the software, which is far more enlightening than a step-by-step guide.

For some, the hardest part of writing a review is mentioning the things they did not like. It is so easy to tell someone you liked their work rather than criticise them. Yet, even if it is unpleasant to hear, authors appreciate honesty and take on advice and comments in their future writings. If you found the book uninteresting, say so. Perhaps you were not the intended audience. Was the narrative easy to follow? Did you dislike any of the characters or ideas? Were there too many mistakes? (Be aware, typing errors are sometimes the fault of the editor and publisher rather than the author.)

For example:
English is presumably not the author’s first language, hence the sentences do not always flow, and the punctuation is far from perfect. At times, it is difficult to work out which character is speaking, making it a little confusing to follow.

Why should other people read this book? Did your reading experience benefit you in any way? Was it entertaining or educational, or was it a waste of your time? To whom would you recommend the book? Was it written for people with particular interests? Is it suitable for older or younger readers? Did it remind you of any other books you had read?

For example:
Cracking the CRM Code is written for business-minded people who understand the jargon and acronyms, many of which are unexplained. As a layperson, some of the information went over my head, but the fiction format helped hold my interest.

The final sentence of your review should indicate your overall impression of the book. You may have mentioned both positive and negative points, but which opinion comes out strongest? Some people find it easier to end their review with a rating out of 5 or 10 to indicate how much they enjoyed the book. 

For example:
Cracking the CRM Code has the potential to be a big hit with small business owners and business consultants. (3/5 Stars)


Below are a few examples of book reviews I have written over the past few months.

Larry, Bush Pilot by Jordan Mierek (2020)

Jordan Mierek, also known as Jordan Elizabeth, usually writes for young adults, but after many requests, she has published her first children’s book. Larry, Bush Pilot is a collaborative effort between Mierek and her father, Lawrence Mierek, who grew up on a dairy farm. Larry, a ten-year-old boy, also lived on a farm during the 1970s with his father, who owns an aeroplane. Despite his age, Larry’s father taught him to fly, which came in handy when his father suffered an accident in the middle of nowhere.

This short story loosely reflects Lawrence Mierek’s childhood. As a teenager, his father taught him to fly a plane on the airstrip behind their barn. The narrative is likely an imagined scenario, placing a young boy in a precarious situation, which many children would not have the means to solve. Only through extreme determination and courage is Larry able to rescue his father.

Larry, Bush Pilot is a short story intended for primary school children. The few illustrations between chapters make it an appropriate step between picture books and teenage novels. Larry’s life on the farm allows modern children to learn about the world before digital technology and the importance of a family working together. The story also tells the reader that if they believe in themselves and their abilities, they can achieve great things.

Jordan Mierek has stepped into the world of children’s literature and proved that she is more than capable of writing for several age groups. Larry, Bush Pilot is the first in a series called Flying Acres, and we look forward to joining Larry on his next adventure. (4/5 stars)

Home at Last: Your Journey of Faith in Challenging Times by Ruth Pearson (2020)

Ruth Pearson wrote Home at Last during the pandemic for those who have felt discouraged and afraid about the future. Suggesting Covid-19 could be a sign of the Second Coming, Pearson focused on three questions to prepare the reader for such an event. 1. How important is God in your life? 2. Do you have a personal relationship with God? 3. Where are you planning to spend eternity?

Using examples from the Bible, Pearson explores the idea of a journey of faith. Several characters in the Bible went on journeys that brought them closer to God. Pearson uses the Parable of the Prodigal Son to explain the notion of “coming home” to God. Readers may have drifted away from the creator, but He will welcome them back with open arms. The story of Ruth and Naomi explores faith, and the story of Joshua and Rahab features truth, about which Pearson also writes.

Whilst the ideas in the book are worth pursuing, the written narrative is poor. Pearson is either more confident verbalising her thoughts, or the English language is not her strong point. Frequent spelling and grammatical errors make the book difficult to read, and it is hard to follow the author’s thought process.

Pearson claims she wrote the entire book in 48 hours, and I believe her. Although some editing must have occurred, it needs a lot more work to make it a successful seller. It appears the author tried to conclude the narrative several times but thought of more to say. Chapter Nine ends by informing the reader that the next chapter is the last. Chapter Ten concludes the book, only for the reader to turn the page to find another chapter headed “Conclusion”.

It is a great shame the quality of writing lets the book down because the ideas could potentially help many new and old Christians. Although she does not reveal her denomination, Pearson’s beliefs suggest she is a Seventh-Day Adventist and emphasises the Second Coming. Some readers may be uncomfortable with this, but Pearson’s ideas are suitable for all types of Christians. (3/5 stars)

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline (2021)

Ollie’s Dad died. Richard had an incurable brain tumour, and before he passed away, he sent everyone a special present. He also told Ollie that “being alive was like a puzzle and it was all falling into place.” Ollie is autistic. He thinks his father left him a puzzle to solve. Could it involve the gifts? Why won’t anyone help him solve the puzzle?

This Shining Life by Harriet Kline is a heartbreaking tale about a family coming to terms with death. Told from several people’s point of view, Kline explores different portrayals of grief. Ollie’s mum wants to stay in bed; his aunt wants life to carry on; his maternal grandmother tries to exert control; his paternal grandmother wishes she could understand her grandson; and his grandfather has no idea what is going on. No one has time for Ollie and his obsession with his puzzle.

Before Richard’s death, Ollie dominated family life. Ollie had a strict routine, always had a few spare pairs of socks with him because he hated dirty ones, and had meltdowns if his parents used the “wrong” tone of voice. Without his familiar habits, Ollie’s life was a mass of confusion – an apt metaphor for the grief the rest of the family experienced.

With a contemporary novel such as This Shining Life, there is no “happy ever after”. People do not come back from the dead. There is no answer to the meaning of life. Grief is a long process and different for everyone. It causes depression, anger and confusion, but hidden under all these negative feelings is love.

Harriet Kline takes death and grief seriously but adds a touch of humour to the narrative for the reader’s benefit. It is not a light read, nor is it markedly profound. Instead, This Shining Life is painfully honest, and for that reason, it is beautiful. (4/5 stars)

Nine Ways to Die by Jordan Elizabeth (2021)

Fifteen-year-old January “Jan” hates the new town she has moved to but loves her new boyfriend, Jean. Her parents are never home, and her sister is in hospital, so she spends the summer days with her new friends. The only people she meets are around her age, and she never comes across any adults. The buildings are decrepit and old, almost like a ghost town. The more time Jan spends with her friends, the more peculiar the town, Memoir Falls, feels.

Nine Ways to Die is a short story by versatile writer, Jordan Elizabeth. The details about Jan’s past gradually emerge until Jan, along with the reader, discovers the truth about the strange town and its inhabitants. There are clues everywhere, but like Jan, readers fail to notice them until they come together in a sudden climax.

Through Jan’s eyes, readers experience the town as though they are also new inhabitants. Although it is a short story, there is so much on offer: suspense, romance, thrills, and the supernatural. For those familiar with Jordan Elizabeth’s work, this is a welcome addition to her vast collection of books. For newbie readers, this is a tempting taste of the author’s full potential. (4/5 stars)

Cracking the CRM Code by Limesh Parekh (2021)

Ancient Indian knowledge and wisdom have been expressed through storytelling for thousands of years. With this in mind, Limesh Parekh wrote his first business book Cracking the CRM Code in fiction format. CRM, which the author fails to define in the book, stands for Customer Relationship Management and is a useful process for businesses to interact with their customers.

Rather than produce a mundane manual about how to purchase and use CRM software, Parekh writes a story about four friends and their journey with CRM. Liladhar Shastri, a successful business owner, is encouraging his friends, Anubhav, Jagdeep and Irshad to consider using CRM to improve their businesses. What follows is a lengthy discussion about buying CRM, using CRM and getting the most out of the software.

As the Indian entrepreneur, Rashmi Bansal writes in the introduction, Limesh Parekh is “not a salesman but a friend.” The author gives advice through the voice of Liladhar, and the other three friends express the reader’s questions and concerns. The book is written for small businesses with the potential to grow with the help of CRM. The story analyses what the friends do wrong and what they need to change.

Cracking the CRM Code is written for business-minded people who understand the jargon and acronyms, many of which are unexplained. As a layperson, some of the information went over my head, but the fiction format helped hold my interest. English is presumably not the author’s first language, hence the sentences do not always flow, and the punctuation is far from perfect. At times, it is difficult to work out which character is speaking, making it a little confusing to follow.

Many business books and manuals are nondescript and boring, whereas Limesh Parekh keeps the reader engaged with anecdotes, stories and quotes. Rather than learning how to use CRM, the characters show the process of purchasing and using the software, which is far more enlightening than a step-by-step guide. Cracking the CRM Code has the potential to be a big hit with small business owners and business consultants. (3/5 stars)

The Boy I Am by K. L. Kettle (2021)

Imagine a world where women are safe from men. Imagine a world where women are in charge. Imagine a world where men no longer reduce women to something to flirt with or dismiss as beneath them. This is the way of life in K. L. Kettle’s dystopian novel The Boy I Am. War has left the Earth in ruins, and it is no longer safe to go outside, yet humanity is surviving in tall, secure tower blocks overseen by the Chancellor. Men and boys are confined to the basement floors as a punishment for their behaviour during the war. To earn their right to live on the upper floors, they must learn to behave like a gentleman, and never look at a woman’s skin without their permission.

The protagonist, Jude, is running out of time to earn the right to live amongst the women. If he does not gain a sponsor, he faces a future in the dangerous mines. Yet, Jude is not sure he wants to live with the women, who have demeaned him for his gender since his birth. He has seen another side to them and believes the Chancellor has killed his best friend. Jude wants to escape, risk the poisonous fog outside and search for a better life. To do this, the Chancellor must die.

The way women treat men and boys is uncomfortable to read. Female readers, in particular, may have experienced similar treatment at the hands of men. Feminists desire an equal world, but there is the risk of going too far the other way. Yet, as Jude discovers, it is not as black and white as Female versus Male. An underground gang of women known as Hysterics are also trying to escape. They want to save themselves and the boys from a society not run by women, but by the elite.

K. L. Kettle explains her intentions behind the novel in a letter to the reader at the end of the book. She quotes Lord Acton’s (1834-1902) proverb “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and questions if everyone is equal, does everyone have the ability to abuse the power they have? What may have seemed a good idea for humanity after the war, has become an oppressive state where no one is safe from those in power, not even the women. The Chancellor controls everyone, but Jude and the Hysterics are determined to take that power away from her.

Telling the story from Jude’s perspective highlights the faults in today’s societies. Many are unaware of the belittling behaviour happening around them, but when the roles are reversed, they are obvious. The Boy I Am is both thrilling and eye-opening, challenging gender roles and power dynamics in general. Those who have read books such as Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman are guaranteed to enjoy K. L. Kettle’s novel. (4/5 stars)

In Picardy’s Fields by Hannah Byron (2020)

Told from two perspectives, In Picardy’s Fields is the story of two brave young women during the First World War. Set mostly in France, the two women put gender stereotypes to one side to help the allied soldiers. Baroness Agnès de Saint-Aubin, a young surgeon from Paris, follows her teacher, Dr Alan Bell, to the Château de Dragoncourt on the front lines in Picardy to help her friends, Jacques and Elle de Dragoncourt care for the injured soldiers. Meanwhile, the youngest Dragoncourt child, Madeleine, is determined to escape from her finishing school in Switzerland to play her part in the war effort.

The author, Hannah Byron, accurately describes the devastation and dangers the characters faced both in Paris and at the front. Flowing seamlessly from scene to scene, Byron paints a dark picture of life in war-torn France at the same time as weaving a captivating story. Agnès is a reticent but strong woman, a stark contrast from the stuck-up Madeleine, used to getting her way. Yet both characters develop, forced to face horrifying circumstances. While Agnès becomes more confident, Madeleine uses her head-strong determination to secretly help the allied soldiers, even if it means putting herself in danger.

Whilst the war is the main feature of the novel, the author weaves themes of friendship and romance into the narrative. Although only two people narrate the story, In Picardy’s Fields shows the importance of working together and putting aside prejudices. The undercurrent of a developing romance brings a sense of hope that everything will end happily, yet the reader also knows nothing is safe during wartime. With each turn of the page, disaster could befall the characters, which makes for a gripping read.

Hannah Byron admits she is not a medic or war expert, yet she undertook extensive research to make In Picardy’s Fields as accurate as possible. She also confesses it is unlikely a female doctor went to the front lines, yet as a work of fiction, this does not matter, especially as Agnès’s profession is key to the story.

Authors have written novels about the World Wars ad nauseum to the point that writing an original story seems impossible, but Hannah Byron proves this assumption wrong. In Picardy’s Fields feels almost modern in some respects, despite being set in the 1910s, which adds a freshness to the story. These women, these characters are just like you and me, living in a time we could not possibly understand.

In Picardy’s Fields is a fantastic debut novel and Hannah Byron is a writer to keep an eye on. (4/5 stars)

The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel by Amanda Hope Haley (2021)

“Finding Noah’s ark … would be fun, but it wouldn’t be instructive… wouldn’t teach us about God or each other.” This is the view of Amanda Hope Haley in The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel, a book about the author’s travels in the land of the Bible. As a Harvard-trained biblical archaeologist, Haley spent time in Israel excavating areas of land where Jesus once walked. Her goal was not to unearth evidence of Jesus but to discover what life was like for the everyday person during Christ’s time on Earth.

Only the first couple of chapters mention items and foundations Haley found on her digs. After that, Haley describes her holiday in Israel with her mother, father and husband. She writes honestly, admitting to tourist errors she and her family made. She describes the places she visited as though speaking to a reader who plans to make the trip too. Yet, it is far from a holiday diary.

In each location Haley visited, she describes the history of the place, the biblical references, the antagonism between the Jews and Muslims, and its current state. She discovers why Jesus chose to preach in certain areas, locates towns and cities mentioned in the Bible, and notes how much places have changed since the 1st century.

It is interesting to learn how the three religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, both merge and alienate each other. Haley visited areas that banned Jews, yet as a Christian, she could enter. She paints Israel as a dangerous place but also highlights its beauty spots.

The title, The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel, is misleading because there is little physical digging mentioned. Haley only documents a few of her finds, and readers do not learn a great deal from them. On the other hand, Haley’s metaphorical dig into the history of Israel proves fruitful, enhanced from her first-hand experience.

Those looking for a book about archaeology may be disappointed with The Red-Haired Archaeologist Digs Israel but those wishing to learn more about the biblical land of Israel, past and present, will appreciate Haley’s knowledge. For Christian readers, this book will enhance their understanding of the Bible. (4/5 stars)

The Diamond Courier by Hannah Byron (2020)

Twenty years have passed since the end of Hannah Byron’s World War One novel In Picardy’s Fields. It is now 1939 and the Second World War is just beginning, but all seems peaceful in Kent, England where the narrator, Lili Hamilton, lives with her parents. War is the last thing on Lili’s mind as she contemplates how to get out of an arranged marriage and pursue a career in journalism.

The surname Hamilton may be familiar to those who have read the previous book but Lady Madeleine has left her war achievements far behind in The Diamond Courier where she plays the role of a prim and proper lady of the house. Her daughter, Liliane, feels trapped by her sensible parents’ expectations who thwart her plans to be a political journalist. Yet Lili, encouraged by the handsome leader of the British Communist Party Leo Oppenheim, perseveres, thus estranging herself from her family.

Lili soon learns living in London with Leo is not the life she desired, but feels it is too late to back out, especially after witnessing the treatment of Jews on the continent. The Jewish community need someone to bring their precious diamonds to safety before the Germans get their hands on them, and they believe Lili is the best person for the job. Unless, of course, she gets caught.

The Diamond Courier is much darker than Byron’s previous book. Naturally, war is not a happy topic, but the sense of hope felt in In Picardy’s Fields is missing in this novel. The story is divided into two sections, “Leo” and “After Leo”. The former is lengthier, drawn-out, and not always pleasant to read. The latter, on the other hand, is packed with danger, excitement and adventure.

For Lili, Communism is something new and exciting, which she desires to pursue. The party has clear views about the war, with which all members must agree. Yet, when faced with the horrors of war, Lili realises she must cast aside her political opinions. Whether Communist, Jew, sympathiser or resistance member, no one deserves the terrible treatment delivered by the Nazis.

Although this is a work of fiction, Byron remains faithful to the true nature of the Second World War. She does not gloss over any of the atrocities and, whilst the reader keeps their fingers and toes crossed that Lili will get her “happily ever after” ending, this cannot be possible for everyone in the novel.

Aiming to show the strength of women living in a “man’s world”, Byron has created female characters of whom to be proud and respected. Whilst the storyline may not always be pleasant, it is a gripping narrative that immerses the reader into Lili’s life and experiences. Hannah Byron has a way with words that keeps the reader engaged throughout. She is an author to keep an eye on. (4/5 stars)


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Thought, Drew, Created!

 

One of my first posts on this blog back in January 2016 was a brief review of Think, Draw, Create!, an art journal-type sketchbook from Parragon Publishing (here). As I demonstrated, I had set myself the challenge to complete a page a week and posted updates of my progress (here and here). Another year has now gone by and I have finally completed every task in the book. Above are some examples that I am particularly pleased with.

As I have said before, Think, Draw, Create! was produced with the intention of helping creatives to nurture their imagination. With over 100 prompts, the book encourages would-be artists to contemplate ideas outside the constraints of linear thinking. The instructions are a mix of literal and figurative tasks that challenge both the brain and artistic skill.

Some pages are fairly straightforward – “Draw something hot.” “Add flames to these candles.” “Design a book cover for a spy novel.” – complete with tailor-made illustrations as starting points. However, some instructions are more obscure, causing thought and careful planning before pen can be put to paper. Examples of these are “Draw this wolf’s howl.” “Draw a joke.” “Draw a wish.” “Draw blue submerged in yellow.” The remaining pages provide the opportunity to illustrate whatever you wish, the only restriction being the colourful or textured background design.

Think, Draw, Create! is not about producing perfect artwork, instead, it is focused on ideas and preparation. Although instructions are given, they are open for interpretation. Many people struggle to think for themselves and need precise direction in order to complete anything. This book is an opportunity to develop a new way of processing instruction and a safe place to increase confidence in your own abilities. Instead of “Draw a bear,” we are asked to “Draw a bear that is late.” The first instruction would have resulted in a range of bears from polar and grizzly to Teddy, however, the latter requires more thought. Not only must we decide what the bear looks like, we need to consider the situation, where he is, why he is late and how is he dealing with this.

The pre-existing illustrations featured in this book have been drawn by Eleanor Carter, an art and design lecturer at Sussex Coast College Hastings. She has used a range of techniques including printmaking and collage as well as drawing to create a fun, light-hearted atmosphere in which to create your own artwork. The imprecise, rough appearance of Eleanor’s illustrations encourages would-be artists not to attempt to be too perfect in their designs and to embrace varied styles and technique.

Since completing the book, I have been able to look back and see the developments I have made in my thinking and drawing ability. I already had a preferred drawing style that had blossomed whilst I was at college, but by taking on these tasks I have been able to expand and evolve my drawing technique.

If someone were to have asked me to draw a picture in 2015, it would almost certainly be a black and white sketch produced with a fine-tipped pen. I never used colour (something that was often mentioned in feedback from tutors) unless I was adding it in digitally – something that was not an option in this book. Initially, I stuck to my monochromic approach, after all the pages already had coloured backgrounds. Eventually, I broke out the coloured pencils and bravely attempted a coloured illustration. I was not disappointed.

Below are a few of my favourite outcomes, all but one coming from pages that gave free rein to do as you pleased. The one directly below was the penultimate task in the book, which instructed me to draw something brave. Admittedly, I did not think about this one for long (to be honest, I struggled with thinking up unique ideas in general) and decided to draw a superhero. For many of my drawings, I researched online for visual references to draw from, so after finding a sketch of Superman, I drew my own version, adding colour to finish. A friend loved this outcome so much, she has a scanned version of it framed on her wall.

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On the first set of pages with the space to do anything, I decided to draw a portrait of a friend. Naturally, I had not altered my illustration style at this point, therefore it looks similar in technique to many other portraits I have produced in the past. However, I am still pleased with the result. I had lost confidence in my drawing ability and seriously doubted I would have been able to create a likeness again, yet I proved myself wrong.

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These final two examples are my favourite outcomes. On a whim, I decided to experiment with pointillism. Whilst searching for inspiration, I had come across an illustration of Matt Smith as the Doctor in Doctor Who, which had been drawn in a similar style to my own. However, I had a vivid image in my mind about how it would look shaded with dots instead of cross-hatching. Since the facial features were cropped out of the image, I was able to draw a brief outline in freehand (I often trace photographs to get proportions correct) then began filling it in with tiny dots. It took many hours to complete, spread over several days, but it was completely worth it.

In keeping with the Doctor Who theme, I decided on a Cyberman for the facing page. Using a vector image I had saved on my phone, I used the same method of pointillism to shade in the robot-like creature. I am still pleased with this particular illustration and often stare at in disbelief. Did I really draw that?

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Think, Draw, Create! has been a lot of fun and has given me the opportunity to draw without the added pressure of deadlines and perfection (okay, that’s a lie. I struggle with perfectionism). I definitely recommend purchasing this book if you are looking to enhance your creativity. It is suitable for all ages and abilities and has certainly helped me develop my own skill.

Getting Published – Thoughtfully

Networking Thoughtfully
The 30 Minute Read That Could Change Your Life

A year ago, three friends were sat around a table when one asked “what is your dream?” The answers ranged from the farfetched – to ride a unicorn (ask me something on the spot and you will not get a sensible answer) – to the more possible, but mostly wishful thinking. The one answer that stuck out the most was “To get my book published.”

Having not known Martin had written a book, I was interested to find out more. On the understanding that I would write a review, Martin gave me a copy to read. [See review below] Naturally I did as I was asked, and produced a positive review of the manuscript, yet Martin’s dream was continually on my mind. What is the point of a review if the product or book is not available for purchase?

After a little internet research, I put forward the idea that Martin could email copies of his work to various publishing companies. The trouble was, he no longer had a digital version of his book, only a printed copy. Nevertheless, refusing to give up, I offered to retype the entire manuscript.

With digital copy now to hand, it was time to brave sending it out to publishers. Being digital phobic, Martin left that task down to me. Doubtful that I would get any response, I first emailed a few of the large, well-known companies, and was predictably proved right. Yet, this was nothing to worry about; during my research I had sourced nine self-publishing companies. So, they were my next focus.

Eventually, I received two responses from self-publishing companies interested in Martin’s book. One was a bit vague on details about the process, however the other, and incidentally the first to reply, looked really promising.

The company Martin opted for was Matador, a self-publishing service belonging to Troubador Publishing Ltd. The various staff we spoke to, either through email (me) or phone (Martin) were extremely helpful, explaining the processes, costs, and making sure the book was printed to our complete satisfaction. They even encouraged Martin when he had doubts about the quality of his work by declaring that they only publish books they deem good enough.

The next month or so consisted of emails being sent back and forth containing updated manuscripts. Firstly, a proofreader made a few corrections (some of which I pointed out as incorrect!), then digital proof copies were put together in the format that they would be printed. These I proofread thoroughly, pointing out a few errors, until satisfied with the final version.

All of this occurred at the beginning of Autumn 2016, leaving us a long wait until the publication date of February 2017. We were not forgotten however, particularly as Martin had payments to make, but were also kept up-to-date of the book’s progress. This included an Advance Information sheet, containing quotes from the review I wrote at the beginning of this journey.

Here is the review:


Networking Thoughtfully
Martin Wheadon
*****

Are you the kind of person that struggles with networking? Do you have to strain to come up with satisfactory conversation starters? Is making business deals with other people something you find challenging? Then Networking Thoughtfully is exactly what you need. This short book by Martin Wheadon is a guide for people who need to build relationships but do not know where to start. With simple points, Wheadon takes readers through a step-by-step process to help achieve positive results.

With over thirty thoughts, the reader is taken through clever ideas to boost their confidence and communication skills. The advice is written clearly, accompanied with examples to help get the most of the author’s guidance. The tone of the writing is almost conversational, resulting in the sense that the author understands your anxieties and is talking from personal experience.

Although written with business gain at the forefront, Networking Thoughtfully can also be used to aid personal development. Learning how to start conversations and come up with ways to introduce yourself is beneficial when meeting new people regardless of the circumstances.

The book itself is set out neatly making it easy to follow. It is also easy to dip in and out, reading only the parts relevant to yourself, though if you wish to read it cover to cover it will only take half an hour.

Whether you are new to networking or want to improve your skills, Networking Thoughtfully is an excellent book to read. You are guaranteed to learn something new and develop techniques that benefit both your business and yourself.


As you can tell from the review, Networking Thoughtfully has a specific target audience and needed someone to find the potential buyers. Martin, naturally, knew many contacts from his years in banking, however Matador do not leave authors to fend for themselves. One of their services is Marketing, and so we could sit back in the knowledge that someone was revealing this book to the world.

On 28th February 2017, Networking Thoughtfully was born. Martin’s dream had come true. His book had been published, our goal achieved. The book publishing journey was over … or was it only beginning?

Since February, Martin has been interviewed live on Talk Radio Europe and featured in the business section of the local newspaper. More recently, Networking Thoughtfully has been listed on Book Monthly for the month of April 2017.

In March, Martin and I got the opportunity to meet two of the Matador team, who have been particularly helpful throughout the publishing process, at The London Book Fair. It was lovely to put faces to the names I had been emailing for the past months, as well as to see Networking Thoughtfully displayed amongst all their other latest publications.

Networking Thoughtfully is now available in paperback and ebook from various online sources, including Troubador and Amazon. It is, of course, also available at all good book shops. Alternatively, why not order it from the local library?

When three friends sat around a table discussing their dreams, they did not consider any of them coming true. But now a book has been published, and who knows where this exciting venture could lead?

Now it is my turn … Where is my unicorn?!

Who Says Pandas are All Black and White?

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Anne Belov is a satirical cartoonist with an obsession for pandas. She has published several books in The Panda Chronicles and has now produced a colouring book to go with the series. Pandas may seem like a peculiar subject for a colouring book since they are, as Belov puts it, “chromatically challenged,” however the world around them is bursting with different tints and shades.

The pandas featured in The Panda Chronicles are not the typical bears you might see in a zoo, or endangered in the wild. Anne Belov’s pandas get up to all sorts of mischief. In this colouring book you can expect to find pandas in all sorts of locations, wearing a variety of odd outfits, taking part in highly suspicious activities. So despite monochromatic fur, there is so much to add colour to.

The Panda Chronicles Colouring Book contains approximately 60 single sided illustrations. Although the paper feels quite thin, the lack of anything on the reverse means that it is safe to use any medium you wish to fill the drawing with colour.

Belov’s drawing approach is not the typical style of the hundreds of colouring books you see in stores – i.e. thick, precise lines and patterns. Belov sticks to her sketchy manner that she has used in all the chronicles thus far. In fact there is reason to believe (although do not quote this) that many of the illustrations are from the original books. While standing out in such a niche market, these particular pages may be more difficult to colour in. Some contain many scribbles rather than clear objects, however that does not detract from the overall fun guaranteed with this book.

Pandas in unconventional settings are a great cause for hilarity and satire. Not only is it funny that these bears are parodying human life, but the things they are up to are highly amusing. One particularly comical scene contains a mother panda telling her child off for being the cause of the LEANING Tower of Pisa, to which the youngster protests, “I didn’t do it! It was leaning when we got here!” The wittiness continues throughout the remainder of the book.

I bought this book hoping it would be suitable for my “pandamaniac” friend, who on occasion tells farcical stories about her (imaginary) friend Miss Panda. Anne Belov’s colouring book is the absolutely perfect present for her. It is almost as if the scenes are written/drawn about Miss Panda herself, despite the artist and my friend having never met… Unless… oh the horror! Maybe Miss Panda IS real!

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Where’s Wally? The Colouring Book

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                                              The ultimate colouring challenge!

Everyone knows who Wally is. Created by Martin Handford, Wally first appeared in the book Where’s Wally? in 1987, and has since become famous throughout the world. The aim of the book is to locate Wally and all of his friends in numerous crowded, hand-drawn scenes.

Whilst the colouring book franchise is taking the world by storm, what better time to release a Where’s Wally? colouring book? The idea is the same as the previous Handford publications, in that the ultimate aim is to find Wally; however in this instance it is also left up to you to add the colour to the scenes.

Where’s Wally? fans will recognize many of the drawings from the original books, and therefore will already know where Wally is hiding – but it is much harder to spot him without his traditional red and white stripes being shaded in.

There are twenty-seven double-paged scenes to colour in and keep you entertained for hours. Those familiar with Handford’s illustrations will be aware of the detail he includes; and yes, you are meant to colour ALL of it! This colouring book will definitely take you a while to complete. The downside to such detailed pages is that there are so many tiny elements to add colour to. You will need to keep your pencils sharpened and sit in a well-lit area.

The pages are quite thick, but as they are double sided I would be wary of using felt-tip pens. Perhaps test them on the title page first to make sure they do not bleed through to the other side. Also, only fine tipped pens will be suitable in order to stay within the lines.

Many people believe that colouring is childish, but this book proves otherwise. You will need lots of control and patience in order to finish this book. Good luck.

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Addicted to colouring as I am, I needed a book I could easily pack in my hand luggage when I went abroad. It needed to be light weight, paper back, and full of easy relaxing patterns.

colouring-book-resized3 In Tiger I came across this beautiful book for only £2. It contains 80 pages, double sided, which is more than enough to keep you occupied, but is still a thin, easily packable colouring book. It is approximately 22.2 x 22.2cm, still quite large, but a good size for my on-flight bag.

Pictured above are nine, completed, examples of the patterns and images included in this book. It does not reveal who the artist is, but presumably it has been put together by one person as the style remains consistent throughout.

I have to admit that a few of the designs are rather peculiar. Some have completely black backgrounds with a limited amount of sections to colour, whereas others have large white spaces. There are a few that contain actual images, for instance, animals, flowers, feathers, but most are patterns, some more random than others. I like colouring in patterns as I enjoy making my own rules when adding colours, however I have come across a couple that are rather uninspiring. The 8th image pictured above is an example of this. I am unsure of the artist’s intention.

What I like most about this book is the thick lines that help prevent smudges. They are a great guide to help you keep within the lines. This makes it a suitable book for children as well as adults, although whether a child would cope with the intricate patterns is a different issue.

Whether you are looking for a lightweight colouring book, or something cheap, I suggest you take a look in your local Tiger store and see what they have to offer. You are guaranteed a bargain. However, be aware that they change their stock often, so once they are gone they are gone!

 

 

Start Where You Are

A journal for self-exploration

Start Where You Are is a “self-help” journal put together by an American artist, Meera Lee Patel.It is a book that causes you to think and contemplate about your day, behaviour, life and dreams.

91i5z-42velMeera Lee has used her self-taught artistic talents to produce beautiful, hand-rendered typographic compositions for every page of the book. She has selected appropriate quotations that relate to a task she has set the reader on the facing page.

Most of the tasks throughout the book require the reader to think carefully and write down their answers. Each instruction is to help people sort through their true feelings and put their thoughts into some kind of order. For example: “What is something you wish you could leave behind?”

Although Start Where You Are has not (yet) be medically approved by mental health professionals, it contains a lot of deep, meaningful, assignments that can help you to learn more about your own insecurities, anxieties and depression. Meera Lee admits in her introduction that it took her a long time to be comfortable with her own life and spent a lot of time waiting for the future to arrive, but not really knowing how to get there. She discovered that in order to move forward she needed to find out who she really was, what was important to her, and what she wanted out of life. Meera Lee confesses that this is no easy task and warns that some questions within the book will be harder than others – but ultimately Start Where You Are will reveal your true personality, hopes and dreams, and convince you that life is not all doom and gloom.

There is no right or wrong way to complete this book. It is not a course or a linear activity, therefore there is no need to complete the pages in order. Some pages may feel too difficult, which is not a problem – the book’s purpose is not to cause stress – you can skip that task and come back to it when you are ready.

I have found Start Where You Are very interesting so far. I particularly enjoy reading the quotes included in the fantastic artwork. They are all positive and inspiring, showing the brighter side of life. As an artist, I have decided to also use this book as a way of practising my art skills. Recently art journal photographs that have appeared on Pinterest have been inspiring me to make my own. Instead of starting with a blank book I am using Meera Lee’s publication instead. On each page I complete the task given, but instead of merely writing my answers down, I display them in some sort of typographic or illustrative composition. So not only is Start Where You Are benefitting my mental health and thought processes, it is helping to improve my art skills too.

I highly recommend Start Where You Are for everyone feeling a little lost and unsure about the future. Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder or are going through a low period of your life, this book is perfect for you to help pick yourself up again. But please remember this is not a form of therapy and is not going to “fix” you. It will either be a bit of fun or something insightful depending on how you approach it.

Learning to Draw

Many people ask me how I learnt to draw, and the most honest answer is “I don’t know.” I never had drawing lessons, art classes at school consisted of copying rather than learning how to, and, to be perfectly honest, I passed my Art GCSE with a grade C and appalling artistic ability. My two years of Graphic Design A Level were purely computerised and it was not until my second year of my BA that I realised that I COULD draw – or as the tutors saw it, EVERYONE can draw.

In some ways it feels like I suddenly developed the ability to draw, but in hindsight I think the skill was always there but I needed someone to explain the method of drawing and what to look for – something I will always be grateful to my degree tutors for.

As I look back over the artwork I have produced I can see a marked improvement over time, even in the past few months. It is not possible to create your masterpiece on your first try with no experience behind you. Everyone needs a starting place, and mine, I believe, was when I received some Draw 50 books for Christmas 2008 (or 2007? I forget).

Draw 50 is a series of six books by the late-American artist Lee. J. Ames. Each book contains fifty step-by-step methods of drawing realistic images. Of the six I had four: AnimalsHorses, Endangered Animals and Flowers; and by using these instructions I produced the first ever drawings I was proud of.

My favourite book was Flowers, which I found much easier to draw. It helps that if you go a little bit wrong, the drawing still looks like a flower, whereas if you draw an animal incorrectly it looks horribly misshapen. I also found that, although all the books were by the same artist, the Endangered Animals contained so much more detail that it was almost impossible to produce a perfect replica.

It is that idea of a “perfect replica” where the flaws of these types of book emerge. Draw 50 did not teach me to draw. They taught me to copy. My friends complimented me on a drawing of a horse, but did that mean I could draw horses? No, it meant I could copy that particular horse in the book. There are no written instructions as to what to look for when drawing the animals or flowers in real life.

Yet, these books gave me a starting point on my artistic journey. They gave me the opportunity to practise holding a pencil, creating line marks, shading etc. Also, learning to copy is not necessarily a bad thing. Whether you are drawing something from a step-by-step guide, from a photograph or from life, you are essentially copying what is in front of you. I often rely on photographs or even line drawings as a starting point for the art I am producing today… so am I any better than I was when I was sixteen and using the Draw 50 books?

I do recommend the Draw 50 series (or any step-by-step books) for the wannabe artists, the people who wish they could draw. It is a great way of boosting your confidence about drawing. However if you are serious about becoming an artist you need to be able to move on from these guides and learn about different drawing techniques so that you can draw (or copy) the things you see around you. And, do you want to know a secret? I am still learning with every piece of art I produce!

Below are three examples of drawings I made using these books (2009, aged 17)

Continuing to Think. Draw. Create.

Every weekend I have completed a task in my Think. Draw. Create. book that I blogged about back in January. Above are a few examples of the art I have produced since then. I have found a few of the tasks challenging and have been unhappy with the outcomes, which is why I have only included five images.

My favourite is the Shadow Puppet. People have commented saying that the hands and shadows look like they belong on the included background papers. For this I used my usual black fine liner to draw the hand, but decided to use black pencil to shade in the shadow as I thought using ink would make it too dark.

I enjoyed drawing the cartoon sheep (see top two images). The task was to add bodies to the arms on the pages, and for a while I did not know what to do. When it comes to drawing people I need an image (preferably an illustration) to copy. It would be impossible to find what I need to fit with those arm positions. Instead I decided to create something cartoon-y. Sheep, especially in caricature form, are fairly easy to draw. For each set of arms I drew a similar sheep, but experimented with the facial expressions. I think some of them look quite good – slightly amusing.

One of the problems with forcing myself to complete a page a week is if I am not in a creative mood the outcome is not that great or imaginative. It does not help that some of the tasks are rather peculiar. Take “draw this grasshopper’s chirp” for example. Being someone who occasionally struggles to think outside the box (my box is very comfortable, thank you very much!) this assignment was particularly difficult. I resorted to writing the word “chirp” over and over again. I wish I was able to think of something more exciting.

I am going to continue doodling in this book regardless of how creative I’m feeling, as it should help develop my drawing skills in the long run.