January 2008 archive

The House At Riverton – Book Review

War makes history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear turning points, easy distinctions: before and after, winner and loser, right and wrong. True history, the past, is not like that. It isn’t flat or linear. It has no outline. It is slippery, like liquid; infinite and unknowable, like space. And it is changeable: just when you think you see a pattern, perspective shifts, an alternative version is proffered, a long-forgotten memory resurfaces. -From The House at Riverton, page 271-

Grace Bradley is 98 years old and living out her final days in a rest home, when she receives a letter from a film maker who requests her assistance in providing information about a family, a house, and the death of a poet. Grace goes back in time, mining long forgotten stories about the Hartford family, especially Hannah and Emmeline and David – the children who became young adults and carried their secrets to the grave. As a servant for the Hartfords, Grace’s memories are those captured in shadowy corners and whispered intimacies – creating the gothic mood of the novel. Swirling with family secrets and mysteries and set amongst the privileged of English society at the turn of the century, Kate Morton’s debut novel: The House At Riverton, is an enormously readable book…one that kept me compulsively turning the pages.

I found Morton’s novel to be similar to another gothic tale I loved: The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.  Both books are peopled by sisters (one named Emmeline) and an elderly woman who holds their secrets. The house itself, with its dark rooms and extensive gardens, becomes a character in its own right.

Thematically, The House at Riverton explores the effect of war on relationships, the tenuous threads of memory, and family secrets.  Morton’s writing is captivating and her character development and dialog are spot on. She provides plenty of suspense and foreshadowing in her prose, and even though I figured out at least one of the mysteries early on, it did not ruin the book for me. The House at Riverton is a spellbinding,  moody book which is perfect for winter reading next to a crackling fire and with a cup of tea at hand. I got my copy from Barnes and Noble’s First Look Program. The novel is set for release in April 2008.

Highly recommended.

Sunday Salon – January 6, 2008


January 6, 2008

9:00 AM

I’ve started 2008 with a bang – completing two books and starting a third. I don’t normally read children’s literature…but the last book of 2007 was The Borrowers (read my review here) by Mary Norton, and the first book of 2008 was The Giver (read my review here) by Lois Lowry. Both are examples of excellent children’s literature that also speaks to adults. I had forgotten what a joy it can be to read a child’s book.

Yesterday I completed a whopper of a book: The Winter Rose, by Jennifer Donnelly. This was an early review book through Library Things Early Review Program and published by Hyperion Books. In college, I read almost exclusively historical fiction because I could immerse myself in the pages and didn’t have to think too hard – it was a welcome relief from college texts! But in 2007, I tackled more literary and award winning fiction, as well as the classics – a great year of reading, but one which stretched me intellectually at times. It was wonderful to drop myself into Donnelly’s novel and get lost. Filled with romance and treachery, it is quite readable – and I flew through the more than 700 page book in five days. It probably helped that we were having a huge winter storm here in Northern California. You can read my full review here.

So today is another gray and wintry day in the mountains. I have a pile of end of the year tax records and work to get to – but, my current read is calling out and saying “read me!”  The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton came to me through the Barnes and Noble First Look Program…and I am hearing only great things about it. Set in England, the novel is a look back to the roaring 20’s through the eyes of 98 year old Grace Bradley. It was published to critical acclaim in Australia and became a #1 best seller in England. I started it last night, curled beneath my blankets, and blew through the first 25 pages. I would have kept reading, but my body wouldn’t cooperate and I fell asleep with the book drooping from my fingers.

More later…

4:40 PM

Guilt prevented me from reading too much this afternoon. I pulled all my 2007 files and organized them into my tax box, along with invoices and receipts. Then I thinned my other files: my ongoing writing projects, Physical Therapy reference files, all my Triple Creek Ranch board meeting and staff meeting notes. After lugging a huge bag out to the trash, I finally allowed myself some pure enjoyment time and returned to The House at Riverton.  This novel is very good – it reminds me (in tone, voice and somewhat of plot) of The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield…a book I read in 2006 and absolutely loved.

Morton has my attention – I want to see what the secrets are and find out what happens to the characters. Following are some passages I’ve marked thus far.

About Memory:

I have surprised myself. While moths have torn holes in my recent memories, I find the distant past is sharp and clear. They come often lately, those ghosts from the past, and I am surprised to find I don’t much mind them. -page 6-

But of course, those who live in memories are never really dead. -page 25-

About Aging:

Obstinate, I own. But I m not deaf and do not like it when people assume I am – my eyesight is poor without glasses, I tire easily, have none of my own teeth left and survive on a cocktail of pills, but I can hear as well as I ever have. It’s only with age I have learned solely to listen to things I want to hear. -page 11-

I love books that suck me in and have me inserting stickie notes here and there. I think I’ll finish this one quickly…

The Winter Rose – Book Review

Her gray eyes sparked with passion as she spoke. Sid looked into them and for a second he glimpsed her soul. He saw what she was – fierce and brave. Difficult. Upright. Impatient. And good. So good that she would sit covered in gore, shout at dangerous men, and keep a long, lonely vigil – all to save the likes of him. He realized that she was a rare creature, as rare as a rose in winter. -From The Winter Rose, page 126-

India Selwyn Jones is a medical doctor – graduating from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900. Determined to make a difference, she begins practice in Whitechapel – a seedy, poverty stricken are of East London. She arrives with little experience, but armed with her ideals and a dream to make a difference. Then, one night, she saves a man’s life – a man far removed from her privileged upbringing, one who lives his life on the dark streets as part of a gang of criminals – and India’s life is turned upside down. Sid Malone, India’s green eyed love interest, provides the conflict and tension in The Winter Rose.

Jennifer Donnelly has written an epic novel which spans the globe from the streets of  London to the plains of Africa. The Winter Rose is first and foremost a love story, with all the twists, turns, and tragedy that such stories bring. But, it is also an historical novel which explores the underside of British politics in the 1900s, the cultural divide between posh London and the poverty of Whitechapel, and colonialism in Africa.

The novel has its flaws – namely its predictability and its tendency to try to cover too much ground at times. Some of the characters are a bit stereotypcial, such as the evil Freddie Lytton. But despite its shortcomings, The Winter Rose had me compulsively turning the pages. It is highly readable and the kind of book I like to classify as a guilty pleasure.

Donnelly is careful to provide adequate background and recapping of the novel’s prequel (The Tea Rose) so that readers new to the series need not fear being able to navigate The Winter Rose. I was captivated enough by this massive tome to be curious about the next book in the series – The Wild Rose – which is out in the UK, but has not yet hit the bookstores in the USA.

I read this book for Library Thing’s Early Review program, and am glad I requested it. Recommended for readers who love historical fiction and romance.

The Giver – Book Review

“Well…” Jonas had to stop and think it through. “If everything’s the same, then there aren’t any choices! …” -From The Giver, page 97-

Jonas lives in a Utopian society where everything is managed and everything is safe – a world without color, or music, or even love. The year Jonas turns twelve, he is selected to become the Receiver of Memory…and as his training progresses, life for Jonas forever changes.

The Giver is a book about keeping the world we live in safe and sanitary vs. the value of freedom…and ultimately about the power of hope and faith.  Lowry’s writing is rich and provocative and stimulates the reader to think about what is truly important in our lives. This is children’s literature at its best. Through the power of simple language, a tightly woven plot, and characters who come to reside within the reader’s heart, Lowry makes us take notice of our world and to appreciate the simple things we often take for granted.

Lowry won a number of awards and accolades for this slim volume – not the least of which was the Newbery Medal in 1994. The Giver is worthy of this prestigious award.

Highly recommended for children aged nine to 100 years old.

THEMED READING CHALLENGE – LInks to January & February Reads


January/February 2008 Links to Reviews

Please use Mr. Linky below to link to your reviews read for this challenge in January and February ONLY. Please do not link to your main blog, but instead link DIRECTLY to your posted review. Thank you!!!

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