welcome to our book reviews and news page

recent publications and classic reads revisited
covering a wide range of genre, taste and style
please join in the discussion

Saturday 13 November 2010

The Forgotten Garden

by Kate Morton

Kate Morton is a young Australian writer who lives in the Brisbane hinterland. She has been a fan of fairy stories since her childhood and has used this love of fantasy in this big, fat, delicious novel. The book, a work of historical fiction, is peppered with a wonderful set of characters and places where the reader feels part of the unravelling mystery.

The story is full of tragedy, secrets and discovery. There are three story lines happening, ranging from the present to early 20th century Victorian times, and all are tied together to create a suspenseful story of a family over several generations. The transitions between these periods create great tension, for example, the heat and frangipanis of the Brisbane setting is such a strong, marked, contrast to chilly Victorian England.

Morton uses wonderful descriptions, especially of the places she grew up in. As one who has experienced many a sub-tropical summer in Brisbane, her imagery captures the heat:

‘It was one of those desperate Antipodean spells where the days seem strung together with no gaps between. Fans do little else but move the hot air around, cicadas threaten to deafen, to breathe is to exert, and there is nothing for it but to lie on one's back and wait for January and February to pass...’ (Exactly, but now we have air conditioning!)

While some of the twists in the tale aren’t too difficult to predict, half the fun is finding out if you’re right and the other half is seeing which unanticipated twists Morton will throw in.

At the centre of the tale is Nell. Nell is secure in her identity and knows what she wants in life. Everything changes though, when on her 21st birthday her father reveals he is not her real father, her family is not her real family and she was, in fact, found on the Maryborough Wharf at the age of four. Her true origin and heritage are unknown. This news devastates Nell, as it would most readers, cracking the foundation of her life.

After Nell's death, it is her granddaughter Cassandra who must uncover the mystery of the little girl lost. This mystery takes her to Cornwall, to a cottage she has inherited from Nell. Here she discovers far more than she expects. In particular, she uncovers the long guarded secrets of the Mountrachet family, and of their ward, Eliza Makepeace. Eliza is the most fascinating character in the novel. From a young age she makes up stories to scare and fascinate those around her. Later, she puts these dark fairytales to paper, and these appear in the novel itself in the Victorian segment, making for a magical setting, mystery, and a fight between good and evil.

The characters are vivid, wounded and flawed in interesting ways that feel more Gothic than depressing. The story could be described as a combination of Daphne du Maurier and The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett puts in an appearance in the story.) The places are often as vivid as the characters, whether it’s the garden and cottage in Victorian England, Nell’s home in Australia in the now very trendy Brisbane suburb of Paddington, or a flat in London.

This is the second book of Morton's. If you can, chase down her other novel, international bestseller The Shifting Fog, every bit as breathtaking as The Forgotten Garden. I may review it next.

Reviewed by L’Aussie at L’Aussie Writing

Saturday 6 November 2010


I'm very pleased to announce that the winner of 'The Silver Locket' is Fee. Further details can be found on Debs' blog.

Thanks very much to Debs and to Margaret James for allowing Bookersatz to be involved in this.

Monday 1 November 2010

The Silver Locket

by Margaret James

'The Silver Locket' is set around the time of the Great War. Rose Courtenay is a well brought up young lady, who’s been raised to keep her mother and suitable acquaintances company until she marries the man her parents have chosen for her, whether she is in love with him or not.

She meets Alex Durham, a man of questionable parentage, who lives nearby with his uncle in a dilapidated house, and when Alex drunkenly asks Rose to dance, she rebuffs him despite feeling a disturbing spark for him and continues to talk with her proposed fiancĂ©. Her parents encourage her to accept Michael’s marriage proposal, but although he’s handsome and charming, she suspects it’s not her that Michael is really in love with. Then, when Rose discovers that Alex is to be married, she reacts in a way her upbringing and family cannot understand and find hard to accept.

Rose volunteers as a nurse in London and although she’s not very good, she perseveres and joins the VADs with a friend. Alex, is in the infantry and spending the war fighting in the mud-strewn trenches. He’s injured and ends up being sent to the hospital where Rose is nursing. Despite her initial misgivings, she ends up caring for him, as his scars begin to heal and he slowly gets better. The two become close, and although she knows he’s a married man, Rose can’t help wanting to make the most of what little snatched time she is able to enjoy with Alex.

However, these are troubled times, and when her friend’s sister asks for her help, Rose makes a choice that will embroil her in an incident that will change her relationship with her family, and ultimately the course of her life. With so much stacked against them, how can they ever have a hope of a future together? Especially when an old adversary is so intent on stopping Alex from being with the woman he loves.

I loved this book and although I’ve researched this era fairly well, I still learnt so much and couldn’t help being drawn into Alex and Rose’s struggle to be together for however short a time. She is a gutsy heroine, who despite everything she’s been brought up to believe, finds she has more strength than she could ever have imagined, and Alex, handsome, deep and battling his own demons, has to face many obstacles in his path.

I can’t recommend this book enough. Whether you usually read historical novels, or not, this is a romance that will keep you reading page after page.

Reviewed by Debs Carr