Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book 6 (2011) The Forgotten Garden

This review of The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is a little different than how I usually write reviews! I was invited to a book club and this was the monthly offering. I read it and then went but had so many thoughts I didn't get to say at the book club so here they are, presented in a slightly academic fashion, sorry to say.

I hope you all feel free to leave as detailed a comment as you wish, whether you've read it or not!

Fair warning--- SPOILER ALERT- SPOILER ALERT- I am discussing important things that will totally ruin your reading experience, so if you haven't read, but think you will, SPOILER ALERT!!!

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is one of those huge, sweeping epic stories that spans 4 generations and more than a 100 years. The story is around modern day Cassandra, who is a young widow and an antiques dealers; Nell, her grandmother who raised her; Eliza, the mother of Nell who tried to do right; Rose, the woman who is the cousin and best friend of Eliza; and, finally and briefly of Georgianna, mother of Eliza.

Nell was found at age 4 years, sitting on a suitcase at the ship dock in Australia. The ship-master brings the child home and since no one ever tries to claim Nell or is hunting for a missing child, and the ship-master and his wife can bare no children, they keep her. On Nell's 21st birthday, her father reveals how she came to him. Nell then extracts herself from her family (her parents later finally had children, 4 other daughters), ends her engagement and leaves for parts unknown, on a quest to find how she ended up on a ship.

Nell leads a lonely life, but she does marry and has a child herself. Nell knows she's a terrible mother, feeling disjointed and disengaged from her own daughter. When her own daughter is grown and gone from home and Nell is widowed, she embarks on a journey to discover her real family, the one she never knew existed, the one she can't remember (even though she was four and should remember something, she was sick with fever on the ship from England to Australia and doesn't have any memories). With the help of a clue found in a the suitcase she arrived with, through research, and the aid of a private detective, Nell starts untangling her past. Just when she's about ready to solve the riddle of her life, her wayward daughter arrives and dumps Cassandra, Nell's 15 year old granddaughter, in her lap.

Nell is a better grandmother than mother, does the right thing and raises her granddaughter, then dies before she can solve the mystery of her life.

In The Forgotten Garden we have Cassandra taking up the mystery, journeying in her grandma Nell's footsteps across the wordl to see if she can solve the mystery of her grandma's life. through Cassandra we learn of Nell's own journey, the story of the wild child Eliza and her sickly cousin Rose, and about the humble beginnings of Eliza's life with the tragic loss of her baby brother Sammy and her mom Georgianna.

The story's chapters are chunked into the voices of the various women, through diaries and the voices of other's who knew the various women involved. Eliza, who was a story teller, wrote her own fairy tales and these tales are sprinkled throughout the entire novel.

I loved the story of Eliza the best. She had a such a deep connection to her cousin Rose. She overcame a huge amount of adversity, from losing her mother and finding her baby bother dead, trampled beneath horses' hooves in the streets of London. She was then taken to her "family" where she survived the continuous denigration by her Aunt Adeline (Rose's mother and Eliza's guardian). She and Rose become such close friends, like little soul mates. She has a remarkable personality and it fun and silly; her resilience is admirable. I love the story of her.

I admire the storyline of the novel, though I'm really not one to be a fan of the "grand, sweeping epic" novel. I usually avoid these at all costs. And while I love the intricateness of this plot-line, if falls into the trap of most other "grand, sweeping epic" novels- it's way to long and becomes mired. I couldve hacked about 200 pages out of this and still told the story, and I would've liked it a lot better, too, actually.

I do like the richness of all the characters. The story is a fair tale in and of itself, and then weaves fairytales within so I like that cleverness. The evil aunt Adeline who makes the poor wretched child's life miserable while doting her on her perfect, yet ill, child. The handsome princess, the tragedies.

Something else that I do love is that I didn't have it completely figured out- almost but not quite. I knew that Nell was Eliza's baby but I hadn't figured out the father. It was a toss up between Nathaniel (Rose's husband) and Eliza's creepier Uncle Linus. Eliza and Nathaniel became so close during the writing and illustrating of the fairytale book that I thought they had an affair, but Eliza had such a fierce love of Rose and would do anything to please her, I thought that would see our of character for Eliza. After Uncle Linus attacked Georgianna and with his obsession with Eliza, I thought he raped/ molested her. So the twist at the end, of the final parentage of Nell, with a surprise. I also liked how it all fell into place, why Nell actually arrived on the ship and sailed alone, at age 4 years old.

The dirtiness of turn of the century London lead to the bleakness of this tale. I've studied that time period of London quite a bit because I have a fascination (albeit twisted) with London of that time- so I was secretly thrilled and appalled with this part of Eliza's young life. It was deliciously horrid to think the children played a game called "Ripper" or about Mrs. Swindle being for Fagan-like in her evilness that she robbed the dead who washed up on the shore, or stole frocks right off the little rich girls of London. Oh how Dickensian dark and gloomy this part of Eliza's life, but still an important part of the story.

Rose was the most unlikeable character, I think. I realize she was a product of her evil mother and the creeper Linus but she was so unlikeable. to think she was so close to Eliza and then to turn on her after she gave her the baby. Even as Cassandra reads the scrapbooks, letters and diaries of Rose, we see she never even tells the truth there, that she lives in lies and fantasies. It's sad she couldn't even manage the truth in her own journals! It's sad, really, and her constant worrying and whining became dreary. Yes, it's terrible about the radiation scars and the killing of her womb, and her sickness because of it, but to grow to hate Eliza was just so sad, and showed how small and much like Adaline she really was.

The one thing that puzzled me all the way through the story was a piece of Nell's story. she had wonderful loving parents and doting sisters. She had a such a great life and was shown so much unconditional love and happiness. Her father revealed her secret to her and she changed entirely. Why? Why couldn't she still love the man who raised her, that she called dad/ Why coudn't she still love her sisters? Why did she pull away and become so cold, such a shrew, so unbending and unforgiving? Why? This is what I never understood. I comprehend she wanted to learn where she came from and all the abandonment emotions that went with that, that she needed answers. But why did she change so abruptly? Why become almost a different person entirely? I could see being mad at her father but to shun them all , to become so unfeeling, to grow apart, to not even be able to love her own child. I don't understand the harsh line that was drawn, especially since she was show so much love and affection all her life from those who found her.

As an academic study, I can find I could discuss the book, but I didn't really like it, or enjoy it. I will take some of the blame for that since I felt like I never had time to read this for a long unbroken period of time. Every moment I wanted to read this, I was being interrupted, so maybe some of the dislike is my fault. (549 pages)


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My library needs YOU!

I've recently been hired to be a school librarian at a high school At a detention center (correctional facility) for kids who are grade 7-12 age. I LOVE this job, these kids, this place. I BELIEVE in what they do. They're a private facility and not a direct link to the Dept. Of Corrections but it's the closest anagoly I can get for those who are familiar. This is a place that is non lock down AND it's a "hand off" meaning that we don't hit the kids. or use any sort of physical restraining unless there is an absolute necessity (ie- a kids hurting him/herself).

That being said, I work in the facility's school library. And we are POOR. Of course.

I've been researching grants so I can buy stuff for the library books to have a book club, and funds to sponsor an "art and lecture" series. We have a decent budget for books and supplies but there is NOTHING extra. At all.

My idea for an "art and lecture" series is to bring in guest speakers who would give a 15-20 minute program and then teach the students how to do a craft/ art project. I have a woman in town who makes jewelry. She could come in and tell her story and then show the students how to make something. I would need money to cover the cost of materials. I know of a woman who makes her skeins of wool yarn. It would be awesome for her to share the process and let the kids knit a hat. Ditto a candle maker. Ditto a soap maker. Ditto an organic gardener. These people will donate their time and sell me supplies at cost but I need money for the "cost" part.

As for book club, I want to be able to get 10 books a month so 9 kids (and me) can participate each month. I would like the students to be able to keep the books if they want- I can't even begin to explain how much would mean to some to these kids to be "given" a book. (And I have a sign up process so different kids will be able to participate monthly; I don't want it to be the same kids over and over.)

Any suggestions of where to go for money, please let me know. I know about our community foundation, local churches, and utility company foundations. I used to write grants for a living in a previous lifetime, so I know the basic drill. But I've been out of the game for awhile and it can't help to give me some ideas, please!!!!

The problem I have is that we have a development office who writes grants for stuff for the entire facility and I'm not "ALLOWED" to write to the same places. I understand, on principle. But I want a couple hundred bucks where they ask for several THOUSANDS.

Someone suggested I tap into private individuals I know who would give some money. Ummm, okay. I don't that many individuals who could give me $100 a month so I can do book club, and another $50-100 a month for art and lecture. I'm going to give that a whirl. I know I could just ask people for whatever they can give, and do it in small increments, and that's probably what I will do.

So, I'm cheating and starting here. If any readers would like to make a donation to the library for either of these projects, please let me know. I can start a paypal account, or for those of you who know me/ trust me, I'll give you my address and you can send the funds to me, made out to the school of course. And I can provide a receipt- tax deduction!

One person suggested I post the titles of the books I want to see if people would donate a copy (copies) rather than send money. That is such a brilliant idea!!!

If you want to provide the book club with a copy of any of the following please leave me a comment and I'll get you the address.

We need 10 copies of each book. Here are the first three we want to start with, for Feb.-April

Thanks in advance for donations!

The Books:
  1. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
  2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
  3. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Thanks for your support!
Maggie the Librarian

PS- In my opinion, no book club is complete without food. Since I, ironically, picked two books with food titles, I'm going to fix pie and, of course, Lemon Cake! (thank you, Jain...)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book 5 (2011): The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian was good. I mean, really good. I want to say at about page 180 of the 356 page tome, I was starting to figure it out, but I wasn't sure how right I was. I don't want to spoil it, but I'll say that I am USUALLY pretty good at solving a thriller but this psychological thriller was one I pulled all the threads and was sort of right but there was enough mystery left that my jaw dropped at the end.

All that being said, I loved this psychological mystery. The main character, Laurel, was attacked when she was a student, living in Underhill, Vermont. Fast forward to 7 years later and she's a budding photographer, reclusive, dating an older man, living with her college roommate, and working at a homeless shelter. A homeless man dies and Laurel learns he, Bobbie Crocker, was a a photographer with a secret. As she attempts to solve the secret, she learns that Bobbie might have been a son to Daisy Buchanan, and her lover Gatsby. She travels to West and East Egg to... what?!?

West Egg? Daisy Buchanan? Jay Gatsby? Yes, these classic characters from the excellent novel (one of the best ever) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald come to life and become the center of the mystery at the heart of the novel The Double Bind. As Laurel gets deeper and deeper into Crocker's life and his photography, she becomes obsessed to finding the secret.

And the twist ending is amazing, creative, grabbing, startling and at the same time tragic.

I think all book lovers want their favorite novel characters to come to live so I especially love this novel because Gatsby characters mix and mingle on these pages with the modern day contemporary characters Bohjalian presents.

A deeply riveting psychological mystery that should be read in one sitting, because no one is going to want to set this aside until the last page is read! (384 pgs)


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Book 4 (2011): Room

Emma Donoghue's novel Room is everything the critics say it is: "powerful, moving, haunting, must read in one sitting." It is all those things as well as being dark, sad, and tragic.

Room is the story of 5 year-old Jack and his Ma. They live in Room, and 11x11 foot space. The share Bed, Food, Toilet, and everything else. They have a routine. Jack sees tv and thinks everything he sees on there is pretend, a fantasy, because all he knows is room. He's never touched grass, breathed outside air, been to a mall or playground, never talked to another living soul except for Ma because all he knows is Room. The only bad thing he knows about is Old Nick and Ma hides Jack in Wardrobe at night so the two never meet in case Old Nick arrives.

Until one night when Ma convinces Jack to be brave and save them. Then he lives life outside of Room and most of the time he wants to go back, not understanding that to Ma it was a prison but to him it was his safe world.

Following the advice of one critic, I did read this entire book in 1 four hour sitting. I just couldn't put it down, even if I wanted. The first person narrator of Jack's little voice is spell binding. as a reader I just ached for Ma and as the story came out of how Jack and Ma came to be in Room, it was an even more tragic story. Something else I appreciate about this book is the twist of the story, the cleverness of such a tale. (321 pgs)


Friday, January 7, 2011

Book 3 (2011): Last Night At Chateau Marmont

After I read the last book (Chasing Harry Winston) by Lauren Weisberger, said I would never read another one, yet I did anyway. I think I wanted something light and fluffy and it was on the shelf.

In this book, Brooke and Julian Alter are a young married couple in NYC. Julian is and up and coming musician and Brooke is a nutritionist, working two jobs to support them. When Julian's music career takes off he becomes enamored with the lifestyle that goes with it. Brooke is thrilled for Julian but she wants to continue her own career while he wants her to quit her job and travel with him, enjoying his new found rock star fame. Then he does something stupid, the paparazzi have photos and Brooke and Julian split.

It was just a chick lit novel. It named dropped left and right and pushes along a very expensive and famous lifestyle. I read it, it was quick and painless but I now remember why I wasn't going to read her stuff anymore.

I still say The Devil Wears Prada was her best book to date. (384 pgs)


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Farewell to a favorite

My favorite blog Food for Thought, as I know it, over. This was an amazing blog. I looked forward to reading her posts more than any other blog I see.

Jain (aka Once in a Blue Moon) authored said blog. Over the course of 2010, she cooked and photographed the 167 books she read. That's right, 167 books. The pictures were glorious and the food looked wonderful every single time. She was creative with her table-scapes (presentations) and everything was just amazing. Jain is one talented lady and I enjoyed every scrumptious read. And not only were were pictures amazing and her food looked fab, her book picks were great. I read many books from her recommendations (and I have many of her suggestions on my 'to-read' list).

But after reading, shopping, cooking, photographing and posting that many books in a year, she is laying Food For Thought to rest. Or least as we know it. Mary at Home is where the Boat is, will be taking up the torch for the project.

I want to say a huge thank you to Jain for her marvelous blog and I will miss her. It was a wonderful experience and I loved reading, eating and looking at everything she did!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book 2 (2011): Ella Minnow Pea

This is a completely sweet and charming story by Mark Dunn! It also reminds me of the evils of politicos getting too much power and the commoners are bullied. I prefer to go with a sweet and extremely clever story, rather than looking at it as a political uprising of the bourgeoisie.

In Ella Minnow Pea, there's a small island country 21 miles off the banks of South Carolina. It's a rather quaint place until the day the letters fall. yes, letters. See the country of Nollop was founded by the man who penned the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." this sentences is a statue in the center of town and one fateful day a letter falls, the Z

The town council gets together and decides that Nollop is sending messages from his grave to the countrymen that the letter Z should be forever stricken from the vocabulary of these residents of Nollop. And hilarity ensues.

This story is told through letters, as in correspondence, of Ella and her family and friends. And as letters start falling from the statue and as they are continued to be banned, the writing of these letters becomes more creative and hilarious. Ella fights for freedom and her family. And readers who love words and linguistics are in for a real treat.

I thought this was a hoot. Because it's told in letters, as each alphabetical letter falls and is forbidden, then the text of the book eliminated the letter usage as well. By the time we get to the chapter where the only letters left are A,E,I,L,M,N,O,P,R,S,T,W the letters Ella is exchanging are outrageous, and creative. Dunn does an amazing job of manipulating the English language to show written communication can still live on! He also ended the "broken writing" just in time, before I felt frustrated. had it gone on much longer, I wouldn't given up.

Anyone who loves words and language, and especially those who teacher English, really should read this! What a delightful story! (208 pgs)


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Book 1 (2011): Case Histories

In Kate Atkinson's novel Case Histories, there are so many twists and turns that even the best sleuth reader wont figure them all out.

We have several cold cases, a missing 3 year old girl, a woman who kills her spouse, and a dead daughter whose killer wasn't brought to justice. All three of these cold cases converge on the desk of one private detective: Jackson Brodie.

As Jackson, a former cop, tries to solve these years old cold cases, his live intertwines with the families of these victims, with the survivors who did and didn't move on with their lives. Jackson, along the way, chases his own ghosts.

This is a great thriller with complex characters. Every character is given a rich and full story and I love the layering of the stories, one over the other. I like the dollop of humor, just when the story feels as if it would be too heavy for the reader to continue, too dark, a bit of humor goes a long way. (336 pgs)


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Book recap of 2010

I like to look back on books I read each year and see what stands out as the good, the bad and the ugly. it was a quiet year on all fronts for there doesn't seem to be many that were good, bad or ugly. There was piles of books I read that were just... there.

The best first. The best books I read this year are as follows:

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

3. Beachcombing for a Ship Wrecked God by Joe Coomer

4. The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

5. One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus

6. The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

7. South of Broad by Pat Conroy

8. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

9. Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
Of these, I would say South of Broad was the best of the best. I had a love affair with this book, with the characters, with the writing style, with the words. I loved everything about Conroy's novel. i loved it so much that I own a copy! I loved it so much that I participated in "food For Thought" one time this entire year and it was this book. I love everything about South of Broad.

The bad:
1. The Lake Shore Limited
2. Jane Austin Ruined My Life
3. The House at the End of the Road
4. True Colors
5. Cleaving
6. Eat, Pray Love

The ugly:
1. The Last Will of Moira Leahy
2. Little Bee
3. Irreplaceable
4. Love in Mid Air
5. Love in the Time of Cholera
6. On Mystic Lake

So that wraps up the best and the worst for me for 2010.

I had several books on my list at the beginning of the year of things I wanted to read in 2010. Okay, when I started 2010 there were 27 books I wanted to read. The ones I didn't are: Dirty Job, Motion of the Ocean, Last Night in Twisted River, The Book Thief, The Life of Flannery O Connor, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Half Broke Horses, The Poisonwood Bible, and A Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt. These are back on the list for 2011. And who knows what else will pop up, too!

I can't wait to start my 2011 reads!