Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The China Garden - Liz Berry


 When Clare moves with her mother from London to Ravensmere, an historic English estate, she can't shake the feeling that the residents already know her, especially Mark, a maddeningly attractive biker. Clare also feels compelled to take midnight walks in Ravensmere's abandoned China Garden. Then her mother reveals that their own past is tragically linked to the estate. But when Clare discovers that Ravensmere is in grave danger, will she risk her future-and Mark's-to save it?


Back in my early teens, I read this book and it instantly earned a spot on my "special" bookshelf.  Having reread it for the first time, I'll have to chalk that up to inexperience and an over romanticized ideal of love and fantasy.

Although the novel attempts to give a dark, gothic atmosphere, it just comes off as cheesy and unrealistic.  So many aspects of this story really could have made the novel excellent if they had just been developed a little further.  For example, many characters are too flat and stereotyped!  Clare is probably the most well developed, but that is because she is the main character.  Her attraction to Mark is somewhat understandable as he is a "bad boy", but once again this is something that just isn't developed enough.  The author takes the hates-but-secretly-loves route - but rather than a gradual change of heart, Clare is suddenly okay with this attraction...with no explanation whatsoever.  Mark is even worse!  He has no reason to be attracted to her whatsoever - he just is!  Although this attraction could be , and probably is, attributed to the Benison, it just isn't explored.  Mark has no problem with his lineage whatsoever and he isn't worried about why he likes Clare.  He is sickeningly close to the romance novel stereotypical bad boy.  Tough outside, soft inside.  Again - this angle COULD work - but he comes off closer to bipolar!  But the worst fault of all in characters is the villain - whose name currently escapes me.  He is a completely black villain.  He is going to destroy the beautiful landscape of Ravensmere, but there is no motive! Money?  Why does he want money?  Or what twisted him to value money over all else?  Or is there a reason other than money? Did something in his past happen? There is absolutely no character development here.  Apparently he was just born evil.  I also wish that the owner had a little more mystique, but I suppose it makes it more realistic that in then end, he really is just a whiny old man.

The love triangle of the past was pretty interesting. Considering how soap-operaish the plot was, the relationships were much more genuine and developed than those expressed in the main story line.  I also liked that there wasn't a quick fix - it just implied they were headed in that direction (I won't give away anymore or I'll have told you everything about the novel!)

I did enjoy the more sci-fi/fantasy (probably closer to fantasy) aspect of this novel. It was an interesting concept.  I would have preferred for the "power" to have been explained a little more in depth, but I feel that the author consciously made the decision to leave things a little broad so the reader can interpret as they please.

After all this ragging I have on the story - it was actually a decent read.  Don't let this review deter you from checking it out (granted it's not even really sold in print anymore so I really mean check it out - from the library haha).  Unfortunately for this novel, I read it directly after Alice Hoffman's Here on Earth, a story that dealt with similar topics (inexplicable attraction and a very dark mood).  Hoffman's book was adult - and extremely dark, so in contrast, Berry's book seemed juvenile - which in a sense it is meant to be.  It also very difficult to follow a book with the quality of writing Hoffman usually displays.  I am also a lot harsher on novels that are so, so close - but just miss being an excellent read by a few points. 


I found many thing irritating about this novel, but overall it had a very engaging plot line.  I am glad I reread it, but probably will not do so again.


Readers chick lit, young adult, fantasy, and romance.  This novel has a heavy emphasis on environmental issues, so if you consider greeen reading crap, you might not enjoy this.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

BBC's 100 books

Right, so there's this thing going around facebook that says the BBC thinks the average person has only read 6 of the novels on this list (which I think is absolute bullshit - the BBC is unlikely to have said that I mean).  But in any case it has inspired me to go through them and rid myself of boredom.  Sorry if you were expecting anything particularly thought provoking - I am much too lazy to do any actual work at the moment!

So here are the rules - an x if I've read it, a + if I loved it, and a - if I hated it.  Simple enough, eh?

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen x+
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien x
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte x
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling x+
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee x
6 The Bible 
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte x
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell x+
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman x+
10 Great Epectations - Charles Dickens 
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott x
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy x-
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller 
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare + (meaning I've loved most of them but haven't read all of them)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier 
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien x+
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger 
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald x+
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens 
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams x+
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh 
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck 
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll x
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame x
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens 
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis x+
34 Emma - Jane Austen - (I'm not finished reading it yet, but the fact that I haven't finished it means something)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen x
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis x+
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini x
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden x+
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne x
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell -
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown 
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving 
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins 
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery x
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood x+
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding x+
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel x
52 Dune - Frank Herbert x
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen x-
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon x+
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens 
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huley 
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon 
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez -
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck x
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov 
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt 
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold x
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Aleandre Dumas x+
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac 
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville 
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens 
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker 
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett x+
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson 
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath 
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt 
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens 
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell 
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker 
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro 
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert  
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White x
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom x
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle +
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton (I love Enid Blyton I have no idea what this book is though!)
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad x-
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Eupery x
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks 
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams x
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Aleandre Dumas 
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare x-
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl x
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Thirteenth Tale - Dianne Setterfield

 The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel

  Rated: A++


When Margaret Lea opened the door to the past, what she confronted was her destiny.
All children mythologize their birth...

So begins the prologue of reclusive author Vida Winter's collection of stories, which are as famous for the mystery of the missing thirteenth tale as they are for the delight and enchantment of the twelve that do exist.

The enigmatic Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself — all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter's story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.

As Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden and a devastating fire.

Margaret succumbs to the power of Vida's storytelling but remains suspicious of the author's sincerity. She demands the truth from Vida, and together they confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves.

The Thirteenth Tale is a love letter to reading, a book for the feral reader in all of us, a return to that rich vein of storytelling that our parents loved and that we loved as children. Diane Setterfield will keep you guessing, make you wonder, move you to tears and laughter and, in the end, deposit you breathless yet satisfied back upon the shore of your everyday life.


Diane Setterfield's language is exquisite in this book.  From the first page of this novel I was sold.  I have read many reviews of this novel where the author was dreading the read (although all of them agreed it was worth the read).  I was even more surprised when some reviewers had said that the book was only a pretty good read, or that they found the narrator boring.  Well of course in comparison to Vida's story, the narrator is boring!  Margaret is used as our link to reality - she could be any one of the readers, whereas Vida's story is as dark and mysterious as any tale you would find in a gothic novel.  Again, I am stuck for words in describing my favourite novel.  If I had to pick one book that I would call my favourite novel of all time (although it would really be impossible for me to pick ONE book!), this novel is probably the closest I could choose.  I found the story original - you would never expect what happens in this novel.  The twists are almost unreal - but they stay plausible through Setterfield's expertise in prose and her control of her characters and plot. 

Anyone who thinks this is just a cute beach read would be mistaken.  The amount of color and depth this novel evokes is peerless.


A fantastic read, especially for those who love the way words roll off your tongue, surprise twist, plot and character complexity, or for any true book lover. Dianne Setterfield has given us everything that makes a perfect novel: beautiful prose, a complex yet plausible plot, and excellent character depth.


Book lovers.  Lovers of gothic mystery and prose.  Lovers of the unexpected and beautiful.  I could not recommend this book more.

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