Review: Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Lynn Redgrave

Prince CaspianI finished listening to C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian over the weekend, and I haven’t had a chance to do my review yet.

Prince Caspian takes place one Earth year after the Pevensie siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—have returned from Narnia through the wardrobe. They are at the train station preparing to go off to school, when they are suddenly whisked back to Narnia. It takes them some time to realize where they are because everything has changed. While they have been gone, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia, and they discover they have been summoned because Narnia once again has great need of their services. Prince Caspian, rightful king of Narnia, has had his power usurped by his evil Uncle Miraz, and he can’t defeat his uncle alone.

Each of the novels in this audio book series is narrated by a different great British actor. I found Kenneth Branagh’s reading of The Magician’s Nephew utterly charming, while Michael York’s reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a bit spottier. Alex Jennings’s read of The Horse and His Boy was also good. Lynn Redgrave’s reading of Prince Caspian is excellent. She did a masterful job capturing the characters’ voices and using different types of accents. She managed to inject the patronizing tone of older siblings into Peter and Susan, and her characterization of the dwarfs Trumpkin and Nikabrik made me glad whenever they took the “stage.” I also particularly enjoyed her characterization of Doctor Cornelius, Reepicheep, and Trufflehunter. It looks like she has narrated a few other audio books, so I have to recommend her highly. What a shame she is no longer with us.

Of the four Chronicles of Narnia books I’ve read or re-read this year, I would say Prince Caspian comes in a strong second after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies strike me as similar to King Arthur: they will come when Narnia has great need of them, and the device of Susan’s horn to call them was clever (and somewhat evocative of other myths). I really loved some of the minor characters in this one. Caspian is likeable, but Trumpkin, Reepicheep, Trufflehunter, and Doctor Cornelius are loveable. I like the idea that Narnian time passes at a different rate. I wonder if I can say this, though, without making someone angry: I just don’t like Aslan. He’s not bad, he’s just so heavy-handed a symbol. I realize it would wreck Lewis’s Jesus allegory if he removed Aslan from the stories, but I would find them more interesting if they had to figure out how to defeat the enemies without him as a deus ex machina. I also don’t find his personality particularly compelling. I understand his role in the stories, but he just doesn’t interest me as much as the children do. I suppose that if he is supposed to represent Jesus, then I’m not really sure I like this particular characterization of Jesus. Jesus struck me as less judgey and more gentle. I know he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple, but I mean on the whole. Aslan is forgiving, too; I’m doing a sloppy job putting my finger on their differences. Suffice it to say that I don’t find him as much fun as the other characters.

In all, this was a very enjoyable reading. I know I’m liking an audio book when I find excuses to wash the dishes so I can listen to a book while I do it. I mean, that’s just crazy, right?

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: Voyager, Diana Gabaldon, narrated by Davina Porter

Voyager audio book (Voyager)Voyager is the third book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Outlander is filming right now and will appear on Starz this summer. Can’t wait! The casting looks phenomenal. Spoilers follow for the first two books, so you might not want to read the rest of this review if you don’t want them wrecked for you. I figure you probably wouldn’t be reading a review of the third book in a series unless you had either already read the others or don’t mind their being spoiled.

If you’re not familiar with this series, it’s a most unusual and difficult to classify series of books: part historical fiction, part romance, part fantasy/sci fi—I can’t think of too many books like these that so defy labels. In the first book, a World War II nurse named Claire Randall steps through standing stones in a stone circle near Inverness and finds herself over 200 years in the past. As she tries desperately to get back home to her husband Frank, she winds up forced (after a fashion) to marry young Jamie Fraser and unexpectedly falls in love with him. In the second book, Dragonfly in Amber, the Jacobite Rebellion draws closer, and Claire and Jamie try to think of a way to avoid the devastation that will follow, even spending time in France, but Jamie is inevitably called to fight at Culloden, but before he faces a battle where he expects to die, he sends his wife Claire back through the stones to save her life and that of the baby she is carrying.

Voyager begins some twenty years later. Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna is grown, and Claire has become a doctor. She and Brianna travel to Scotland and discover that Jamie did not die at Culloden after all. Claire decides to go back through the stones one more time to reunite with the love of her life, leaving her daughter behind with Roger Wakefield, a young historian who helped Claire discover Jamie’s history and who is falling in love with Brianna.

The first time I read this book was probably around 1998 or 1999. I remember that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two at that time because I thought I like it better when Claire and Jamie were in Scotland, and I also had more difficulty enjoying them as an older couple, which sounds pretty horrible now (thought it’s an accurate representation of my feelings at the time). For crying out loud, Claire was something like 50! And Jamie was at least mid-40′s. Now that I am actually a lot closer to their ages in this book, I found that I no longer seem to have much trouble enjoying Jamie and Claire as an older couple. ;-)

I will admit that this book starts a little bit slowly. I suppose it is necessary for the reader to be filled in on exactly what Jamie did following Culloden and how Claire found out he was still alive and decided to go back in time to reunite with him, but the book drags a bit through this part. Once Claire goes back through the stones and finds Jamie in Edinburgh, the book picks up quite a bit, and frankly, the action doesn’t let up for pretty much the remainder of the book. I had forgotten what a swashbuckling story this one is. Jamie and Claire spend much of the book running away from or chasing Really.Bad.People. Pirates even. Witches! Possibly—just possibly even zombies. It’s crazy adventurous, and for that reason, it makes for quite a gripping read.

Gabaldon does get bogged down in details sometimes, but that’s actually one of the interesting things about her writing. Sometimes these scenes she writes, which don’t necessarily move the plot forward, are compelling in terms of character development. I am surprised she has been able to get them past an editor, who might be tempted to cut them. Then again, like I said before, these books tend to break all the rules.

I enjoyed this one much more this time around than I did the last. Davina Porter is an excellent reader who is able to do a wide variety of accents and brings life to the characters. She’s so good that I’ve just about decided listening to her read is the only way I want to read the rest of the series.

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s WifeI have had Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife on my to-read list for an age, and I’m not sure why I wasn’t compelled to actually start reading it sooner. I started watching Doctor Who on Netflix, and I found the story of the Doctor and River Song deeply compelling. In the episode “The Day of the Moon,” River is going back to prison, and she kisses the Doctor goodbye.

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I found the idea of two time travelers, in love, but living in opposite directions, so devastatingly, hopelessly sad. And as I did some digging online, I found that people compared the relationship between River and the Doctor to this novel, which is what prompted me to read it at last.

The Time Traveler’s Wife is the story of Henry and Clare DeTamble. Henry has a genetic disease that causes him to travel through time. He is unable to control it, and when he arrives at his destinations, he is naked (being unable to take his clothes with him through time) and often has no idea when he is. From Clare’s perspective, they first meet when she is a little girl, and Henry occasionally visits her as she grows up. Though Henry can’t seem to control his travels, he does seem drawn to important people and places in his life. Their love story is both beautiful and tragic.

At this point, the review is about to be spoilery, so you have been warned. Don’t read further if you don’t want parts of the book ruined for you. Though I realize this book has been out for a while now, and spoiler alerts are technically “off,” I enjoyed the book spoiler free (excepting for spoiling it for myself by peeking ahead), and I think everyone else who wants to read it has that right. For that reason, spoiler text is in white below. Select the text to read it.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I thought Henry’s death was unsatisfactory. After all the times he managed to get out of scrapes, he winds up being shot, and by Clare’s father and brother while they’re out hunting, no less? Yes, it’s probably a miracle that he managed to survive as long as he did, given all the bizarre situations in which he finds himself, but that was just pretty awful. All that said, I loved the rest of it. I admit it was a little difficult to keep up with Henry’s adventures, but his life with Clare, and their love for one another, was so well drawn and compelling, that I couldn’t quit turning pages. And then I peeked ahead and realized Henry was going to die, and I had to put the book down for a while because I just couldn’t take it. I knew that a story as strange as this one was bound to be fraught and most likely could not end well, but I didn’t want to read about Henry’s death. At last I picked the book up again and finished it. I adored the ending and the comparisons to Odysseus and Penelope. We read The Odyssey and see Odysseus’s story, but we have glimpses, only, of Penelope’s twenty years of waiting. In many ways, Clare’s own story is much more heartrending than Penelope’s.

In all, this was a good book, and it’s been a while since I read a book I enjoyed this much.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Review: The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Alex Jennings

The Horse and His Boy CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I know I read the third book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, about 20 years ago when I stalled out somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, but I had no memory of its plot at all. I think I know why. It’s utterly forgettable.

If you are not familiar with the plot, it is the story of a foundling boy named Shasta, who is raised by a fisherman named Arsheesh in Calormen, which seems to be C. S. Lewis’s stand-in for the Arab world. Shasta runs away upon learning that he is to be sold, and he meets talking horse from Narnia named Bree; a feisty fellow runaway named Aravis, who is escaping a marriage she does not want; and Aravis’s horse, Hwin. In their escape, they go to the city of Tashbaan, where Shasta is mistaken for a prince of Archenland named Corin. You see where this is going, right? I figured out most of the rest of the plot at that moment. At any rate, Shasta does meet Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, and King Edmund in his travels, as well as Aslan, who guides him in the night when he is running to tell the king of Archenland of an impending invasion by forces from Calormen.

I thought the plot was predictable. My reaction on finishing the book is really just a resounding “meh.” The characters were fine. I liked them. I just felt the plot was fairly well trodden. I really wonder why the book needed to be included in the series. It feels like filler material. However, Alex Jennings does an excellent narration, and I think I would like to read other books read by him.

Book Rating: ★★½☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★½

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Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Michael York

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I recently decided to finish reading The Chronicles of Narnia, as I never read them as a child, and the time I did start them, I never finished the series.

The second book in the series, chronologically speaking (the first book published), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is arguably the most famous. In fact, one of my students made a reference to going inside the wardrobe as a metaphor for exploring the unknown just today. I often wonder how many children spent several frustrating minutes inside closets and wardrobes over the years in a desperate attempt to get to Narnia.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story (not sure how that can happen), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of the four Pevensie siblings: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are sent to live in the country house of Professor Digory Kirke during the London air raids, and while playing hide and seek, Lucy, the youngest, discovers a magical wardrobe that transports her to a snowy land inhabited by a faun, Mr. Tumnus. She befriends the faun, and he reveals that he is in league with the White Witch and has promised to give the Witch word should any “Sons of Adam” or “Daughters of Eve” show up in Narnia. He meant to turn Lucy in, but he couldn’t do it. She returns through the wardrobe back to Professor Kirke’s house to discover she’s been gone no time at all, and the others don’t believe her. Later, the others all discover she is telling the truth, but not before the White Witch manages to sink her claws into Edmund via some fiendishly addictive Turkish Delight and convince him to rat out his siblings. The Pevensies find themselves caught up in ancient Narnian prophecy and wind up having to rid Narnia of the White Witch.

So, we have to talk about Aslan. Is it me, or is he the least interesting character? I mean, I understand he is supposed to be a Christ figure, and I have nothing against Christ figures in literature, but Aslan’s depiction in that role is just so heavy-handed. Perhaps it isn’t so heavy-handed to the intended audience of children. I actually really liked Edmund this time around. He was a pain in the rear, but he redeemed himself, and he was a little more interesting than the other characters. Jadis makes for a nice villain. I had forgotten the ending was so violent. I also have a soft spot for Lucy, but I confess I found Peter and Susan to be too goody-goody and boring to be terribly interesting. However, the storyline is deeply engaging, and it’s not hard to see why it has endured as a children’s favorite.

Also, as a side note, the missing Oxford comma in the title really bothers me, given C. S. Lewis was an Oxford man. Anyone know why it was left out?

It had been quite a long time since I read this book, and I have to say the Disney movie did a superb job capturing all of the book’s elements (and in casting). I couldn’t help but think about the movie as I was reading and remembering how the various parts of the book were depicted. I have to say Michael York’s reading was uneven. He did an excellent job characterizing most of the Narnian characters and Edmund and Lucy as well, but I didn’t care much for his Aslan, and he had a sort of odd cadence that sounded slightly patronizing. I think it was an attempt to sound avuncular, but it didn’t always hit that mark. All things being equal, I liked The Magician’s Nephew better in terms of the narration.

Because this book features Jadis, as the White Witch, I will count it for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge.

Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★☆☆

2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

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Review: Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard

Mr. Timothy: A NovelCharles Dickens’s yarn about the redeeming power of Christmas is one of my all-time favorite stories. I try to watch a version of it every year, and one year, I read the book itself. When Mr. Timothy came across my radar, I couldn’t resist. I think I requested the book on PaperBackSwap. And then it sat unread on my shelf for quite some time.

In Mr. Timothy, Louis Bayard takes up the story of Tiny Tim Cratchit, all grown up and mourning the recent passing of his father. Aside from saying “God bless us, every one,” Tiny Tim is probably most famous for being the saintly crippled child who finally melted old Ebenezer Scrooge’s icy heart. When Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Present if Tiny Tim will live, the ghost replies, flinging Scrooge’s own words back at him: “If he be like to die he had better do it and decrease the surplus population.” Louis Bayard imagines a Timothy Cratchit who is altogether crushed under the weight of expectations of having survived and received the beneficence of the former “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” He has grown up, but who has he become? He is as lost, in his way, as Ebenezer Scrooge. He lives in a whorehouse, where he pays for his room and board by teaching the madam to read. His parents are gone, and he is reduced to taking handouts from Uncle N (old Uncle Scrooge, that is). He hates himself for being unable to cut the purse strings, but he seems stuck, unable to do anything with his life. Then he finds the bodies of two girls, curiously branded with a letter G, and he discovers another lost little girl being hunted, and fearing she will be next to die, Timothy enlists the help of a foul-mouthed street urchin to save her. What he uncovers is the grossest exploitation of the lower classes by the upper echelons of British society. But is he the man to do anything about it? Bob Cratchit once said that in church, Tim said he was happy that others could see him in church and remember, on Christmas Day, who it was who made blind men see and lame beggars walk. Grown up Mr. Timothy insists he never said any such thing—his father only wished that he had. When it really counts, can Timothy Cratchit really offer salvation to anyone? Can he even save himself?

A page-turning tale of Victorian gothic suspense, this novel really begins to pick up once Timothy is hot on the trail of the people at the center of a horrific child slavery ring. Do not look for Dickens in this novel, though I admit he shows up a bit in chapter 16, when Timothy Cratchit is brought before a magistrate on trumped up charges of sexual assault. I love the description of the lawyer Peter Cratchit has engaged to defend his brother:

A stout, whey-skinned man with a decamping hairline and advancing whiskers, soldierly red on both fronts. The hand he presents to me is quite damp, and there is a prevailing humidity all about his person: wet eyes, wet lips, wet teeth … and, exhaling from his pores, an effluvium that, unless my nostrils deceive me, represents the final gaseous iteration of imported Jamaican rum. … There is no doubt, however, that Mr. Sheldrake exudes confidence. (213)

The whole chapter through had me chuckling, and brought to mind Dickens’s own way with characterization and scenecraft.

Bayard deftly captures the soot begrimed streets of Victorian London, from the refuse in the streets, to the cabbies, to stately manors behind lacy wrought iron fences. Timothy’s character winds up being believable. He has so long been the protagonist of a narrative written by others, as he reflects, that it is easy to see how he might lose his way and find it necessary to discover who he really is. If you are looking for the squeaky clean, cherubic Tiny Tim of myth in this story, you’ll be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a different sort of tale of redemption, Mr. Timothy should do nicely.

Rating: ★★★★½

Check out these other reviews of Mr. Timothy:

Mr. Timothy is the first historical fiction book to count towards the 2014 Historical Fiction Challenge.

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Review: The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Kenneth Branagh

The Magician’s Nephew CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)Many years ago, I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia, but I think I stalled out somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’. I never did finish the series, and I have almost no memory of what happens in the books (with the large exception of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). I did remember that Jadis spoke the Deplorable Word and destroyed Charn in The Magician’s Nephew, but that is truthfully just about all I remembered. So when I discovered that the audio book versions of the Chronicles of Narnia were all read by great British actors like Kenneth Branagh, Michael York, Derek Jacobi, and Patrick Stewart, I decided to use my Audible credits to get the whole series and re-read it once I had accumulated the entire collection. I have decided to follow the apparently controversial chronology established by Harper Collins rather than the publication order. I know plenty of people seem to feel quite strongly that following chronological order instead of publication order is doing it wrong, but I am going to do it anyway. I hate reading rules, anyway.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot of The Magician’s Nephew, it concerns the story of Digory Kirke, the nephew in question, who later grows up to be the professor who takes in the Pevensies when they are fleeing London during World War II. His evil uncle Andrew is a magician who believes he possibly had the last real fairy godmother in Britain. He creates some magic rings that will take the bearer to another world, but as he’s too chicken to try them out himself, he forces Digory to try them by sending his new friend Polly to this other world without a ring that will bring her back. When Digory goes to rescue Polly, he discovers the rings actually take to bearer to a place between worlds. Digory and Polly decide to explore one of the other worlds before going back to mean Uncle Andrew, and they wind up in the destroyed world of Charn. Digory wakes up the evil former queen of Charn, Jadis, when he is too tempted to ring a bell to resist, and she manages to go back to London with the children, where Andrew is both charmed and frightened by her. In an attempt to take Jadis away from London, the children, Andrew, and a hapless cabbie and his horse all wind up in the land between worlds and from there end up in Narnia, which is just in the process of being created by Aslan (the Jesus allegory lion). Unfortunately, Jadis is there, too, and Aslan is disappointed that people have already brought evil into the world he just created (cue really heavy-handed Genesis allegory here). He asks that Digory right the wrong by retrieving an apple from a far distant tree. When he arrives, Jadis tempts him to eat the apple himself, but he manages to resist and bring it back to Aslan, who uses it to plant a tree that will protect Narnia from Jadis, now the White Witch, at least for as long as the tree stands. He gives Digory one of the apples to take back with him to London so that he can give it to his ailing mother and cure her, which he does. Later he plants the core, which grows into a great apple tree from which a certain wardrobe is later made.

One thing I thought as I listened to this book, aside from the thought that Kenneth Branagh should just read all the books to me, is that J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman owe a fairly obvious debt of gratitude to C. S. Lewis. I know both have acknowledged him as an influence, but the writing style and humor really reminded me of the kinds of things I have heard in Rowling (particularly the first few books of the Harry Potter series) and Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Polly in particular reminded me of Scarlett Perkins in The Graveyard Book. She was utterly charming, and I liked her very much. I didn’t remember Uncle Andrew very much from my first reading of his novel, but Kenneth Branagh gave him this fabulous unctuous manner of speaking that made me happy every time he was given a line. In fact, Branagh was fabulous the entire way through. I really could listen to him read all the books.

Because this book features Jadis, who later becomes the White Witch, I will count it for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge. From this time forward, audio books will receive two ratings: one rating for the story and one for the audio interpretation.

Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

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The Odyssey, Homer, Narrated by Ian McKellen

The OdysseyIf you have an Audible membership, you should totally use one of your credits to purchase The Odyssey read by Ian McKellen. It is the Fagles translation, which I had not previously read. As you might imagine if you have ever seen McKellen act, he is a masterful reader, and given the material he has to work with in this instance, you can’t miss. I seem to remember that Jenny once said that Fagles was her favorite translation, but I can’t remember if she said why. I believe she was a Classics major as well. I have previously read the Fitzgerald translation, and while I appreciate its beauty, and I understand his reasons for preserving the Greek spellings for names, it was a little confusing. I used a translation by Stanley Lombardo when I taught sometimes as well.

One of the things that struck me again upon listening to The Odyssey is how modern it sounds. People certainly haven’t changed much, and The Odyssey lays bare human nature from the ridiculous to the sublime. I love it. My favorite parts of the book cover the period beginning in Book 9, when Odysseus encounters the Cyclops, to Book Twelve, when Odysseus’s crew is destroyed by Scylla and Charybdis, and he washes up on Ogygia and is held captive by Calypso.

After listening to this version, I was quite struck by how much the poem focuses on loyalty. Penelope is considered throughout all Greece to be the epitome of the loyal wife because she refuses to acknowledge her husband’s purported death and marry one of the many suitors courting her. In truth, they’re all so boorish one doesn’t wonder that she refuses to marry any of them. Eumaeus, Eurycleia, and Argus the dog are all held up as shining examples of loyalty as well. It is not as though I had not noticed this aspect of the poem before, but I think listening to it helped me to see the emphasis on loyalty as it runs throughout. But what bothers me, I guess (as it always has) is the double-standard. Odysseus is not expected to be loyal to his wife or his servants. Their loyalty to him is praised, but his disloyalty is not remarked upon. True that it was written at a different time with different values.

I had completely forgotten the suitors show up in Hades at the end and talk with Agamemnon. For a few minutes, I thought that there was something wrong with my recording, and it had somehow switched back to the part when Odysseus goes into Hades to speak with Tiresias. It felt completely new to me. I wondered at the fact that the suitors blamed Penelope for their downfall. Naturally!

This translation and narration is spot on and gorgeous. I highly recommend it.

Rating: ★★★★★

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Splintered, A. G. Howard

A. G. Howard’s novel Splintered is a sequel, of sorts, to Lewis Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. What if Alice really did go down the rabbit hole, and all the adventures she had really happened? Alyssa Gardner is a descendant of Alice Liddell’s, and she carries a family curse—beginning with Alice herself, a strain of madness has run through each woman in Alyssa’s family. Alyssa’s mother Alison lives in a mental institution, and Alyssa herself hides the fact that she can hear bugs and plants talking to her because she knows her mother’s fate is the fate that awaits her as well. But a Wonderland resident reaches out to her and convinces her that she has the power to save her mother, and herself, if she is willing to go down the rabbit hole and put right what Alice destroyed when she went to Wonderland.

The cover of this book is gorgeous, and the beautiful cover, along with the plot description, convinced me to pick up this book. The book owes a great debt to Tim Burton’s visions of Wonderland, which A. G. Howard acknowledges herself. Parts of it were quite enjoyable, and the ending was a page-turner. However, there were stretches of time when I found myself avoiding reading it, which is always a sign to me that something’s bothering me about a book. I like the premise, but the writing isn’t even, and I almost felt like Alyssa and her crush Jeb were a little too “cool.” I really wanted to like this book more than I did. If it is part of of a series, I don’t believe I’ll be picking up the other books. I admit it was diverting in some places. I liked it best when Lewis Carroll’s characters showed up in all their glory, however. What that means to me is that Alyssa and other characters created for this sequel more or less pale in comparison to Carroll’s memorable characters, even if their descriptions were rather deliciously morbid and freaky. The Wonderland landscape is rendered vividly. I think the right readers will find and love this book, and truthfully, I’m not the book’s intended audience. I give it 3½ stars for being more than just OK and for being different and creative, but in the end, I just wanted to like the new characters and to find them more interesting than I did. It just took me way too long to finish.

Rating: ★★★½☆

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The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden: A NovelI finished reading Kate Morton’s novel The Forgotten Garden some time last week, but I haven’t had a chance to review it. The novel is a multi-generational saga about secrets. As the novel begins, Cassandra is mourning the death of the grandmother who raised her, and she discovers her grandmother has left her a cottage in Cornwall. Astonished to discover her grandmother had ever even been to Cornwall, much less bought property there, she begins to investigate and discovers her grandmother was put on a ship when she was a small child, apparently abandoned or kidnapped, and wound up in Australia, where she was adopted by the man who found her. When Nell, the grandmother, discovers she is adopted, she searches for her lost origins, but life events prevent her from rooting out the truth. Cassandra takes up her grandmother’s search and returns to the Forgotten Garden surrounding the cottage her grandmother bought in Cornwall.

First, I should say I was expecting this book to be creepy—a sort of ghost story. I can’t fault it for not meeting that expectation. I have been wanting to find a really good creepy book like Rebecca or The Little Stranger. If you have recommendations, please share. I am still in R. I. P. Challenge mode. I failed to read the number of books I wanted to, but I’m still looking. Bonus points if you find me one set in Ireland.

That said, it was a good story. I thought I figured out what happened to Nell halfway through the book, and then the author threw in a curve ball, and I thought I was wrong, but then it turned out I had been right all along. That bothered me a little bit. I did like the setting, and the characters were engaging. The story was told well, and I wanted to find out what happened.

I do think it was a little overlong. I do not complain about long books, but this one could have been trimmed to tighten the plot. I liked Eliza Makepeace, but I didn’t care for her cousin Rose, and I had a hard time understanding why Eliza liked her so much. She was spoiled. She wasn’t as nasty as her evil mother or father, but she wasn’t awesome, either, and Eliza’s devotion to her is weird. Of course, who else did Eliza have?

There was a really, really interesting mystery at the center of the novel that involved Eliza’s mother and her brother, Linus, and that mystery never did get unequivocally resolved. I have my theory, but I would rather the book made the reveal more explicit. Similarly, some hints are thrown out about the connection between Nell’s adopted family and a Cornwall family with connections to the Mountrachet family, but none of the characters make these connections, so it remains an unexplored thread (and perhaps too coincidental, given the distance we’re talking, but it’s still interesting enough to explore).

I am struggling with a rating, but I’m going to go with 4 stars, despite some flaws, because it did hold together enough for me to turn pages and look forward to reading it, but I could completely understand anyone who gave it 3 stars. I might have also, if it hadn’t been set in Cornwall and had Jack the Ripper references.

Rating: ★★★★☆

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