The Secret Keeper and Storytellers

December 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

secret-keeperTitle:The Secret Keeper

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Atria Books

Genre: Fiction/ Historical Fiction

Length: 484 pages

I broke my Kate Morton rule.  I read TWO Kate Morton novels in a 12 month period.  And it was wonderful.

Forget my previously mentioned warnings to space out her books as long as it takes her to write them.  This was a perfect winter read, she sucked me in – as always – and I found myself thinking it was her best piece since The Forgotten Garden.  Don’t I say that every time?

I don’t just love Kate Morton as a reader, I find her inspiring as a writer.  When everyone else is diving into NaNoWrMo – something I signed up for, but just really don’t get – I dive into Kate Morton and find that’s the push I need to get my own stories out of my head.  (Same goes for Stephen King, that man really pushes my buttons and moves me to write.)

Semi side note: Is it just me or is NaNoWrMo distracting as all get out.  I write 2k words a day on average – granted, not all usable, obviously – but every time I open an email for NaNoWrMo I find myself reading and sifting through a bunch of stuff and not getting ANY writing done at all.  It’s fake motivation for me.  It’s a complete and utter distraction.  Like going to a pep rally.  I’m more excited for a football game when I’m at the football game, but if you push me through the noise of a pep rally I just don’t feel like going anymore.  SO counter productive.

You really want to be motivated to write? Read a good book.  Read a really good book.  Find someone who just moves you and you can’t help but think – I want to do that.  Not exactly that, mind you, I want to write my own stuff.  But I want to get a story out that moves people the way I’ve just been moved.  Or excites people the way I’ve just been excited.  The best motivation for a storyteller, I think, is to hear/read a good story.

Kate Morton’s stories are always good.  No, not good, GREAT.  She weaves through time with the skill of a T.A.R.D.I.S. and the hearts of a TimeLord.   She is always a master of her chosen histories and reveals stories with an onion layer effect that always makes me giddy.  The best moment of every one of her books is the, “I knew it!” moment.  I love that she feeds you all the details but somehow leaves you thinking she might just surprise you – even though you don’t want to be surprised because you need to be right about this one detail that has dropped bread crumbs all over the story but hasn’t outright made itself obvious.


Click to read another blogger’s review.

Even more than that, though, is Morton’s uncanny ability in every novel to write a character that feels so overly familiar to me.  Or, if not familiar, someone I want to be familiar.  The Secret Keeper had a lot of familiar faces from my real world.

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The Secret of Lost Things – A Review

March 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

secretoflostthingsTitle: The Secret of Lost Things

Author: Sheridan Hay

Publisher: Doubleday

Genre: Fiction

Length: 354 pages

I have a shelf in my house dedicated to what I’d like to call “bookish books.”  On this shelf are the likes of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind and first edition copies of Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness and Patience and Fortitude.  On this unit Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose, has an entire shelf dedicated only to him.  Everything Paul Collins, author of Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, resides here.  This is the corner of my house I go to when I need inspiration, to write, to read, to research and exist in the world I have built for myself.  Of course, when I purchased Sheridan Hay’s The Secret of Lost Things, this corner of my house is precisely what I was thinking of, knowing one day this title would fill a void in my academic and readerly drive.

DSC02817The Secret of Lost Things is a book written in the spirit of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, filled with dark library corners, clues in letters, and missing manuscripts.  The difference is, most books of this nature romanticize secrets, portraying the keeping of them as a means to grow closer to others.  Hay, on the other hand, presents a scenario closer to the truth: when all is said and done, these secrets cause heartbreak and drive people apart.

I find the character of Rosemary endearing.  Instead of being a master secret keeper, like many heroines thrown in the this kind of novel, she is awful at it.  Keeping a secret is her kryptonite, but not because she’s a chatty Cathy, just because it is not in her nature to be deceptive or to omit information from people she calls friends.  It’s a refreshing take on an often visited theme.


” ‘Reality is as thin as paper, girl,’ said Pearl, shaking her head. ‘I thought that was one thing you did know, what with an imagination like yours – as thin as paper, and as easily torn.’ ” – pg. 137 of The Secret of Lost Things

I love reading these kinds of books because they always give me lists of things to tackle, information to seek out, as well as reminders of things I have already enjoyed.  In this title alone, I am reminded of The Book of Imaginary Beings.  I found mention of this title nostalgic, as it is one of Rosemary’s early purchases from the new bookstore where she works; likewise, I purchased and read this book the first year I worked for Half Price Books.  It was a book I carried to lunch breaks at the lingerie store where I was still picking up shifts until I had the heart to break up with the boutique altogether.

After reading this novel I am also inspired to tackle more Melville titles.  I have read Moby Dick twice now, but I have Typee, Omoo, and Mardi on the shelf, as well as a biography I have passed over far too many times to read other biographies first.  It is virtually impossible to read Hay’s Secret of Lost Things and not want to immediately dive into a Melville binge.  If you doubt me, I dare you to try.  Come talk to me when you’re done reading.

Exchanges like these are what really do it for me:

“We’re looking for something that’s lost,” he said. “A book that was lost.”

“Well, if it’s lost, and people don’t know it’s lost, what am I supposed to notice?”

“Here, read this book of letters.  Just read and tell me when you find something interesting.  It’s called research.  The idea is that you don’t know what you’ll find until you find it,” he added irritated.

OvidAt one point, the character Pearl gives Rosemary a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a title that repeatedly haunts me in everything I read.  Seriously, will every author I love mention this title in every book that moves me until the end of time? I think so.  I have a beautiful hardback waiting for me on my coffee table.  It has been there for months.  It will be there for months still, but I am one step closer to diving in than I was before I read Hay.

So yes, Sheridan Hay’s book is appropriately dubbed one of my bookish books.  I have loved it, it shall join it’s literary cousins on my shelf.  One day I will take the time to read it again; it is that good.  In the mean time, I have research projects to tackle.

Aside from it’s bookish-ness, The Secret of Lost Things is exceptionally well written.  I don’t read the backs of books before I read them.  That’s especially rewarding when reading books like this where the sensation of experiencing a story the way you do a boat ride occurs… on waves of unexpected tales in motion with the lulls of the story you thought you would get.  It’s beautiful and pleasant and especially appropriate in a novel where the author of Moby Dick stands in the forefront.  What is equally lovely is that I had this sensation of being on a ship a mere ten pages before the narrator expresses the same sentiment about the setting of the bookshop.

What Rosemary likes about the Arcade is the same thing I first remember liking about Half Price Books when I was hired in 2007.  On page 139 Rosemary says, “Well, the Arcade is like the ship to me. You know, people from everywhere, on a great adventure.”  When I think of the Arcade, I imagine it to look and feel more like Good Books in the Woods of The Woodlands or The Recycled Bookstore in Denton than my Half Price Books location, but the sentiment is the same.

Note: People who enjoyed Kate Morton‘s The Forgotten Garden and Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale will probably also like this book.  They are bookish books that belong on that shelf, but have been squeezed into my general fiction section for lack of space.

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The House at Riverton – A Review

March 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

ImageTitle: The House at Riverton

Author: Kate Morton

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Genre: Fiction

Length: 468 pages

Buy The House at Riverton

I fell in love with Kate Morton’s writing when I first read The Forgotten Garden, Morton’s ode to her love for Frances Hodgson Burnett.  How appropriate then that I fall in love with her work all over again while reading The House at Riverton, Morton’s ode to all things F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ian McEwan’s Atonement – appropriate because I recently wept and swooned over Tanya Egan Gibson’s own ode to her love of The Great Gatsby (How To Buy a Love of Reading) and felt compelled to re-read the work myself.  Apparently it is to be a year of the jazz age.  I’m even on a mission to read the entire Agatha Christie Crime Collection.  In honor of it all, I may be a flapper again for Halloween this year, but what I really want is that green dress Keira Knightly wears in Atonement and for my husband to take me to a play while I wear it.  Of course, I no longer have the boyish figure of the jazz age, emaciated with Kate Hudson sized breasts, I haven’t had that since college.  Now I have the soft roundness of motherhood.

But of course, I’m not talking about me, I’m supposed to be writing a review.  That’s the thing about Kate Morton though, her work is beautiful and intricate and secretive and it feels so real.  Although I get completely engrossed in her story (because she is an amazing story teller), by the end all I can think about is my own story, my own secrets.  Obviously, nothing so dark and grand as love-babies out of wedlock and murder and suicide, but still she makes you think about all the things in your life left unsaid that will remain unsaid even after you die.

Morton wrote the elderly Grace beautifully.  I imagine that is exactly how it must feel to be old.  I loved her so much, and she reminded me so well of people I have met in nursing homes when I used to sing there.  She left so many little hints of other pieces of Grace’s life outside of Riverton, I was left longing for more of Grace even after Hannah and Emmeline’s story was over.  I wanted to dive into a spin off story of Grace on her archeological adventures and reconnection to Alfred.  I know it wouldn’t be a best seller, wouldn’t hold the same magic with Grace’s deep dark secret already revealed and the last thoughts at her death already documented, but I wanted to have a little more of Grace nonetheless.  That’s what makes Morton’s writing so great though, you don’t get tired of the story.  She wraps everything up so nicely for you, but still leaves an inkling of longing in your heart for what is now done.

One thing that I must say to the masses about this book… if you are one of those that reads the last page first – DON’T.  You will ruin the charm and the magic.  I can’t imagine reading the last page first without the whole book losing its adventure.

Check out this blog to read a more detailed and descriptive review:

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