The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
First of all, I have to say that Kate Morton is my new favorite author. I can't put a finger on exactly why, but I am finding her books thoroughly addictive. I am trying to put off starting The Distant Hours because I know it is the only one I have left of hers to read until she publishes her new title next year. Of the two I have already read, I have not yet decided which I liked better: The Forgotten Garden or The House at Riverton. Luckily I don't really have to choose and I can happily find a permanent place on my shelves for both of these wonderful books.
The basic premise of The Forgotten Garden is the story of a little girl who travels alone on a ship from England to Australia in 1913. The girl is taken in by the family of the dockmaster who finds her and raises her as their own, naming her Nell. On her 21st birthday, Nell's father tells her the truth and shatters her sense of self. Nell has an intense desire to figure out who her birth family was and why she was abandoned on that ship all those years ago. One of the only clues Nell is left with is a white suitcase containing a book of fairy tales written by a woman named Eliza Makepeace.
The book is told from various points of view and over various time periods. The story is alternately told from Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra's (Nell's granddaughter) point of view. It takes place 30 years ago when Nell is first investigating her origins, the present time when Cassandra has taken over the investigation after Nell's death, and the early years of the 1900s when all the mysterious "action" is originally taking place. It was fascinating to see Cassandra and Nell piecing together the mystery while also "going back in time" to see what really happened. From reading other reviews, I have gathered that many readers did not like all the bouncing around, but I found it intriguing and feel it really added to the story, making it more interesting.
As with Morton's previous novel, this one also had all sorts of twists and turns. Even when I thought I had it all figured out, there was always at least one more curve ball thrown my way, keeping me on the edge of my seat until the very last page. But unlike The House at Riverton, after finishing this book, I still had a few unanswered questions in my mind. I spent a good hour flipping back and forth, looking up various passages and piecing together a few of the more minor mysteries. I just couldn't shake the feeling that I was missing something. Upon further examination, I found there were indeed a few small connections that had slipped under my radar. I normally would not have done this, but I really enjoyed playing detective after the fact. Trust me, the details I was looking up were not the main thrust of the story-line; Morton wrapped up the primary mystery/secret in a very satisfactory way. But for anyone who likes to read in between the lines, there were a few other things to be discovered. If you were slightly more astute than I, or if you read this book over less time than I did, maybe you would see these things the first time around. Either way, it was an excellent and enjoyable read that I will treasure for a long time to come.
The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is an interesting memoir about a Harvard educated city girl who quits her job, gives up her lease in Manhattan and moves upstate with her farmer boyfriend. He has big dreams of owning his own farm one day and operating a CSA that feeds people a whole diet - not just veggies, but eggs, chicken, pork, beef, grains, flour, beans, and maple syrup to name a few of his other products. Kristin falls head over heels in love with this guy and truly admires his conviction and his vision. She, however, is very much a fish out of water. Over time, she becomes more accustomed to farm life and the demanding, physical work it entails. She even comes to enjoy her daily chores and working alongside her now husband.
I found this book very informative and also a bit of a reality check for anyone who has ever daydreamed about the "peaceful" or "quiet" life out on a country farm. Farming is hard work! And if you ever balked at the cost of organic veggies, read this book and you will understand exactly why they cost so much. I'm almost beginning to think they don't cost enough.
Kristin does not sugarcoat any part of farm life. For her, trading in her stilettos for work boots has been both challenging and rewarding. While she may have questioned herself along the way, when all is said and done, she doesn't seem to have any regrets, and that is saying something.
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It's killing me that I don't know anyone who has already read this book because I am dying to talk to someone about the ending! The overarching plot line is the suicide of a young poet witnessed by two sisters, Hannah and Emmeline. Grace, now an elderly woman recounting her days as a servant in the girls' home, harbors a sense of guilt and we know there is more to this story than meets the eye.
As the book continued toward its conclusion, I could not put it down. It was a little slow going at first, but once I kept reading, I just couldn't stop. This is what you would call a gothic mystery, set in 1920's England and filled with family secrets, an old country house, and an almost unbearable amount of sadness and death. But, it also contains some brilliant bursts of happiness that I truly enjoyed reading. We know from the very beginning where the book will end, we just don't quite know how the story is going to get there.
I give this book exceptionally high marks because I was not able to figure out the narrator's secret until the very moment the truth is revealed. As a reader, I love being surprised and hate it when I see things coming from a mile away (in a book with mystery elements, anyway; I am still a sucker for predictable romances). That being said, there is more than one surprise in this book and one of the more minor ones I did figure out pretty early on. I'm fairly sure that most readers who are half paying attention would also figure out the same secret I did. This is not the type of book to have a happy ending, but the grand finale is grand indeed and just might leave you breathless. You'll have to read it yourself to find out because I'll never tell!