I picked up one of Morton’s books on a whim and promptly read all of her novels in three weeks. While Morton is not the best writer, I find her style thoroughly engrossing and captivating. Her novels are moody and nostalgic, a combination that appeals to my melancholic tendencies. The Forgotten Garden is a bittersweet family saga that begins at the turn of the 20th century and stretches to the modern day. Morton explores identity, heartbreak, the cost of secrets, and self-identity through the points-of-view of three complex female protagonists. Cassandra, “Cass”, feels lost and adrift after the death of her grandmother, Nell. However, a mysterious bequeath from Nell causes Cass to question everything she thought she knew about her family and heritage. Nell’s bequeath is a book of dark fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace, a Victorian authoress who mysteriously disappeared in the early 20th century. Morton jumps between the lives of Cass, Eliza, and Nell to create a gothic atmospheric drama. While all the characters are well-thought out and developed, I would have liked a more in-depth look in Nell’s psyche. Nell is interesting but Morton makes Cass and Eliza’s experiences more engrossing. So Nell’s development is rather stunted and bland. However, Morton excels at world building. All of her settings are slightly spooky and feel like real places. This is a bittersweet story and few of the characters achieve a happy ending.
The Forgotten Garden, Pan Books, 2008, 9780330449601
Kearsley always manages to seamlessly weave together historical fiction and fantasy. The results are usually engaging, if uncomplicated, stories steeped in romantic nostalgia. I have read all of Kearsley’s novels and The Rose Garden remains my favorite. After Eva’s film star sister dies, she travels to Cornwall to scatter her sister’s ashes. But Eva also has to confront the ghosts of her past and some from the eighteenth century. For the house Eva is staying at mysteriously transports her back in time and causes her to question the emptiness of her life. Eventually, Eva is forced to choose between her life in the present and the past she feels drawn towards. Based upon the description, you might imagine that this is a story about redemption and coming to terms with the death of a sibling. While the narrative somewhat addresses these issues, it is mainly about Eva’s relationship with Daniel Butler, an eighteenth century smuggler. The romance was an odd mixture of blandness and excitement. If romance was supposed to be the main theme, then I wish Kearsley had just gone all out and written a more compelling romantic arc. The time travel aspect is underdeveloped; Kearsley throws in some vague explanation involving ley lines. However, I did enjoy Kearsley’s exploration into the moral and ethical implications of time travel. Overall, The Rose Garden is an absorbing piece of historical fiction escapism.
The Rose Garden, Allison & Busby, 2011, 9780749009519
I decided to read this book because I needed a break from fantasy fiction. Sometimes even the most passionate of fantasy fans needs a palette cleanser. I had never heard of the author and picked the novel solely on the basis of the cover picture. Anyways, I was pleasantly surprised and found the narrative quite engaging. My one main problem with this novel is the split narrative format. Tessaro does an excellent job making both of the main narrators feel like fully fleshed characters, I just wanted more time with both people. London, 1955: Grace Monroe is recently married and heavily involved in the whirlwind known as high society. However, Grace struggles to fulfil the role of sophisticated socialite, much to her husband’s displeasure. One evening a letter arrives from France and reveals that Grace has been left the estate of Eva d’Orsey, a complete stranger. This launches Grace into the mysterious world of perfumers and their muses. The Perfume Collector interweaves the stories of two different women and how the role of women has changed in society. Overall, this is a beautifully written novel with an interesting plot. The narrative moves at a nice pace and only drags in two places. And I desperately one some of the scents described in here, they sound wonderful.
The Perfume Collector, Harper, 2013, 9780062257833
Willig broke into the literary world in 2004 with the publication of her debut novel, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Since then, Willig has firmly established as a talented historical romance writer. The Ashford Affair was her first standalone novel. Set in the 1920’s and late 1990’s, this novel oscillates between London, Kenya, and New York. All of Willig’s books are told using a split narrative style. After thirteen books, she has somewhat mastered this format. I wish this novel was about a hundred pages longer, the modern half suffers from a lack of development. The primary narrative is about Addie, an orphan who is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in London. The year is 1906 and Addie is terrified; she manages to survive thanks the friendship of her outgoing and glamorous cousin, Beatrice. Then Beatrice marries Addie’s crush, Frederick Desborough. Resentment arises when Addie joins Bea and Frederick in Kenya in the early 1920’s. The millennium narrative follows Addie’s granddaughter, Clemmie. At Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, Clemmie discovers a long-buried family secret, leading her on a journey into the murky past. Willig’s writing shines in the 1920’s section, Addie’s story is engaging. Clemmie’s story is okay but feels unpolished. Ultimately, this is a story about how friendships can be destroyed via jealousy and neglect. The plot is engaging and Willig is a master at crafting a unique story.
The Ashford Affair, St. Martin’s Press, 2013, 9781250014498
Williams and Willig have a similar writing style, they are actually co-writing a book. So it is unsurprising that Williams explores similar themes and situations in her novels. The setting is Memorial Day 1938. New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned to the oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island. All she wants is a relaxing summer full of family traditions and friendships. But then Nick and Budgie Greenwald decide to also spend the summer in Seaview. The Greenwalds are an unwelcome reminder of everything that went wrong in Lily’s past and seeing them brings up painful memories. Eventually the truth behind Nick and Budgie’s marriage comes to light and forces Lily to once more confront her past. Lily and Nick have the kind of romance only found in novels, instant and dramatic. Given the intensity of Lily and Nick’s connection, the events that pull them apart needed to be over-the-top. While the event was significant, it was not quite what I was expecting. The climax of the story is the Great Hurricane of 1938. Williams uses the hurricane’s destruction to parallel Lily and Nick’s relationship. It is heavy-handed and atmospheric symbolism, but, strangely, works in this context. Though the hurricane felt too much like a convenient way to move the plot along and achieve the ending everyone knew was coming.
A Hundred Summers, Putnam Adult, 2013, 9780399162169