The Door that Led to Where – Sally Gardner

the door that led to where

I enjoyed this book so much I read it in one day! Then I recommended it to my daughter and she did too! it ticks lots of boxes; time travel, mystery, dangerous villain, romance etc. and it has a great main character. Meet AJ Flynn; just finished his GCSEs and not very hopeful about his future. His mum is a cleaner at a law firm in Clerkenwell and she manages to secure him an interview for a job, this is where the fun begins. He goes to the interview and everyone seems to know who he is, even more strangely there is a connection to his dad who disappeared before AJ was born. AJ has always assumed that he had run off and left him and his mum but it soon becomes clear that there is more to it then that.
To his surprise he is offered the job and given some money to buy himself a suit. He is then given a load of mundane tasks to do, one of which is to clean out the old store cupboard. There he finds an old key with a label on it with his name and date of birth. He meets a mysterious stranger who tells him what the key is for and he ends up in 1830! It’s a crazy ride; AJ is juggling 1830 problems with modern day worries in the form of his evil stepdad and trying to look after his mum and his friends who seem to be making life twice as hard! The main baddie is pretty good too. there is also a good scam going on where people are bringing in antiques through the door and selling them for profit in the present day; the trial that is taking place through the story is linked to this.
I really enjoyed the jumping between two worlds thing; the characters in 1830 seem more real than the modern day ones and you end up wishing that you could live there too. although it probably wasn’t as nice as Gardner tries to make you think! I have read several of her books before and really enjoyed the historical content of them. She really manages to capture what the time must have been like to live in. This one in particular has a lot of detail about clothing and social etiquette – it feels well researched. If you enjoy this book you will also enjoy The Red Necklace and The Silver Blade – these are about the French Revolution and are every bit as good!

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

Sixteen-year-old Mattie Gokey has big dreams. Desperate for money, she takes a job at the Glenmore Hotel, where guest Grace Brown entrusts her with the task of burning a secret bundle of letters. But when Grace’s drowned body is fished from the lake, Mattie discovers that the letters could reveal the grim truth behind a murder. The book is based on the real murder of Grace Brown by her lover Chester Gillette. Some of the characters are fictional but the main players are real.

This is the debut novel by Jennifer Donnelly and was written in 2003. She has since gone on to write some amazing novels, not least of which is Revolution (see review). This one is outstanding. The book is set in 1906, a time in America where anything was possible. People like Mattie went to work at places like the Glenmore and succeeded. Earned money, met new people, changed their lives – the class system in America was not as stringent as it was in Britain. So when she meets Grace Brown she is fascinated, and a little overwhelmed.

The opens with the staff watching as the lake is dragged for a body. When she is brought in Mattie assumes that she isn’t dead, just faint. The description in this book is amazing. The cold foreboding of the lake, the dripping of the dress as the body is brought in, the naivety of Mattie – it’s so clever. The present is juxtaposed with stories of Mattie’s upbringing. There are lots of mouths to feed and not much money to go round, but Mattie is obviously trying to better herself and her siblings. She gives them all a word of the day and is trying to teach them all to read. She spends all their grocery money on a notebook because it looks so pretty and she wants to write in it. It is a constant throughout the novel that she worries for them and their future.

The book is part mystery novel, part thriller and part social commentary. Life was tough, there is no doubt; but not if you had money. The difference between the staff who eek out a living at the Glenmore and the guests is obvious. Mattie holds the key to mystery and it becomes obvious that Grace Brown gave her the letters because she assumed she couldn’t read, so there would be no danger of her discovering the truth. Grace in turn is not as wealthy as her lover, not a great catch, and this is ultimately the reason that she has to go.

A really well written and clever book. Donnelly is so good at describing the world that she creates, it makes you feel as though you can reach out and touch it. You empathise with Mattie, but also with Grace and her predicament. Well worth a read if you want to immerse yourself in something on a rainy day.