August 17, 2013

The Secret Keeper: A Close-Up Review (Adult)

"The new novel from the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours is a spellbinding mix of mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined.

The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers, and schemers told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world." (Goodreads)
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton


Dolly: Dolly was a very darkly intriguing sort of character. Her constant need to move up the social ladder, her grasping, manipulative nature and selfish desire to get what she wanted at the cost of others' happiness was positively fascinating from a psychological perspective. One of the other characters points out that she has a bit of a narcissistic streak, and I'd say she also has a tendency to histrionic personality disorder — she likes to be the center of attention (at least in some ways) and certainly likes to think of herself as glamorous. Plus, she's very good at imagining what she wishes her life was like and then living in the fantasy she's concocted (spoiler, highlight to read: she makes up this friendship with the rich woman who lives across the street, Vivien, and in reality they're never really friends). But she takes it way too far, and when reality comes and pokes a hole in this dream world she gets very vengeful, because she doesn't like being brought face to face with the fact that she's still pretty much "nobody." Dolly always wants to be somebody special; she never felt she belonged in her family (and I did feel sorry for her about that, at least when she was younger) and this festers inside her, ultimately turning her into a very, very unlikeable person. It's disgusting what she tries to pull in order to gain a foothold in society. Her pathetic desperation actually causes a lot of harm — the fall-out is greater than even she anticipated.

Vivien: I really liked Vivien and wish we'd gotten even more of her story, but the glimpses we are given are fantastic. I would have liked to have seen a little more of why she ended up marrying a certain man (spoiler: her abusive husband), as Morton only really skims the surface of her motivations (spoiler: her need for punishment). I thought this explanation was a bit too convenient and pat, too much like "pop psychology" rather than actually exploring greater depths of Vivien's psyche. What we do see of Vivien, though, is a very strong person — as a child she loved nature and her family, and she became drained and depressed after a certain incident (spoiler: everyone in her family died, and she blamed herself). Jimmy sort of brings her back to life, and they certainly share a connection and spark.

Jimmy: he's a really good-hearted, honourable kind of guy, and it was frustrating to watch him be so in love with Dolly when it was obvious he deserved so much better. I thought he and Vivien were much more suited to each other than he and Dolly were.

Laurel: her search for the truth was understandable and I particularly liked the younger Laurel (the older one I couldn't identify as well with). I admired that she was so persistent in finding out the truth despite the fact that she was investigating her own mom. Laurel kept on going even though everything she was discovering was bad news, and then in the end she was rewarded for her search.


There are a few settings in here, but it primarily alternates between present-day and 1940s England. Kate Morton's writing really shines in the historical sections; she manages to capture the mood of the times in a way that feels very authentic and puts you right smack-dab in the era she's portraying. The language she chooses is evocative of the time period, and the writing manages to give the reader a sense of wartime life — the outfits they wore, the gritty atmosphere of rationing — without getting bogged down in description. While WWII settings have been done to death in a lot of novels, and there is nothing particularly unique in Kate Morton's depiction, she captures it well.

I admit, the contemporary storyline didn't grab me the same way; I always wanted to get back to the historical. While they meshed together well enough, I think they didn't depend on each other as much as the interweaving storylines of the other Kate Morton novel I've read, The Forgotten Garden. I feel like the past storyline was telling us most of what we needed to know anyway, so the contemporary one didn't feel that necessary. But I did like the idea of Laurel conducting this search to get to the bottom of this mystery, because she was quite young when she witnessed her mom killing someone (not really a spoiler, as it happens very early on) so there was definitely a compelling reason for her to investigate.


There's a twist towards the end that I didn't guess at all! Spoiler: the twist of Vivien switching identities totally jived with the observation that Laurel's mom seemed so different from how she "used to be" — since her mom wasn't Dolly after all.

The way things turn out has a slight bittersweet quality (spoiler: Jimmy and Vivien don't end up together, despite their compatibility; they both end up marrying other people) but it's a relatively happy ending with some karmic justice (spoiler: Dolly unexpectedly dies in a bombing and Vivien's ex-husband is, of course, killed by Vivien).

Final verdict: 4.5 shooting stars. I'm very glad I've found Kate Morton as an author because her writing style and plots are one of the few in adult fiction that appeal to me. I really enjoyed the psychology in here, particularly in the twisted character of Dolly.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book as part of Atria Books' Galley Alley.

August 9, 2013

July "New Adult" Reviews — Link Them Up Here!

Sorry this post is up so late this month! Participants in the "New Adult" reading challenge, if you have NA reviews from July, here's your chance to link them up. And to everyone else: if you have not yet signed up for the NA Challenge but want to participate, don't stress — you can still sign up here! :)

August 1, 2013

Emerald Green: A Panoramic Review

*Note: There will be spoilers here for the first two books in the series, Ruby Red and Sapphire Blue. You can read my reviews of those here and here.
"Gwen has a destiny to fulfill, but no one will tell her what it is. She’s only recently learned that she is the Ruby, the final member of the time-traveling Circle of Twelve, and since then nothing has been going right. She suspects the founder of the Circle, Count Saint-German, is up to something nefarious, but nobody will believe her. And she’s just learned that her charming time-traveling partner, Gideon, has probably been using her all along. This stunning conclusion picks up where Sapphire Blue left off, reaching new heights of intrigue and romance as Gwen finally uncovers the secrets of the time-traveling society and learns her fate." (from Goodreads) 

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier

My reaction: I read it in a day, so it's safe to say I was pretty into it! It was certainly better than Sapphire Blue. Of the three, this one focuses the most on the mythology of the Circle of Twelve and the philosopher's stone. On the flip side, though, there wasn't as much experience of the historical atmospheres and costumes (and very little fencing!), which was a bit of a bummer since I always like reveling in the historical side of things. Like in the first two books, the humour here is light and gentle, not taking itself too seriously or trying too hard.

Gwen and Gideon are super cute, especially once they get over their big misunderstanding (begun in Sapphire Blue) and bond together. Just generally the characters are lively, and I grew to quite like Gwen in this one. She didn't act as ditzy as she did in the previous books.

Best aspect: I am impressed by how Kerstin Gier really embraced the time travel concept; the plotline relies heavily on the fact that Gideon and Gwen go back in time, meet people, gain knowledge, and manipulate things. Of course, I'm sure there are a whole bunch of holes in reasoning — such is the nature of the time travel beast — and in the case of Emerald Green in particular it gets very convoluted. I couldn't keep all the back-and-forth time travelling and the sequence of events straight (although I think I got the main gist of how things were handled at the end). Nevertheless, it was neat the way the author so thoroughly utilized the mechanism she'd set up for time travel to enable her characters to solve the mystery involving the Count's search for immortality. 

If I could change something... I'd give it a stronger ending. I was a little disappointed with the present-day villain reveal (spoiler: I didn't guess it was Mr. Whitman, but I was expecting it to be someone who seemed very innocent, and quite frankly we'd gotten lots of warnings about how creepy he was!) and I thought there should have been more denouement. The ending came off as rather abrupt, and I wanted more closure (in particular I wanted to know what happened to the villain). I also thought the way the climactic scene was set up was kind of cheesy (spoiler: Gideon getting shot and then it turning out that he'd swallowed a potion of the philosopher's stone) and not as epic as I was hoping for. I would have liked something that involved all the Guardians, and that never materialized; instead the focus was just on Gideon and Gwen. Overall it seemed like the ending was wrapped up in a slapdash sort of fashion, as though the author had spent less time on the final chapters than the rest of the book.

I also wish some of the side characters — the gargoyle, Great-Aunt Maddy, Gwen's siblings, Charlotte — had been given more of a role to play, plotwise. It seems like many of them were mostly there for comedic effect. I thought Gwen and Gideon should have involved one of the Guardians they thought they could trust; they rely on this or that Guardian at very specific times, but I feel like they should have had a mentor.
If you haven't read it: read the first two books before you read this one! Even if you've already read them, a re-read might be a good idea to refresh your memory. It'd been a while since I'd read the first two, so during my read of Emerald Green I was kind of shaky on some of the names and details of the world-building.

If you have read it: I don't understand something spoileryhow were Lucy and Paul able to escape to the past and live there? Did they stop aging at that point? Gwen meets them and they're really young... so are they immortal too? How are they able to elapse for that long without getting sick? I'm not sure if this issue was addressed and I just don't remember, or if it was never fully explained. Anyone else have an answer to this?

Just one more thing I want to mention: the other reveal (spoiler: that Lucy and Paul are Gwen's parents) was not very shocking for me, as that possibility had crossed my mind at least a couple times earlier in the series. 

Quote (from the ARC): 

"That's just what I don't know! What ought I to beware of?"

"Pastrami sandwiches, for one thing, and too much sunlight. It's bad for the complexion," said Lady Tilney firmly—and then she blurred in front of my eyes and I was back in the year 1956.

Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. The series as a whole didn't blow me away, but they're certainly very quick, easy reads. I think readers who enjoy time travel and history but aren't super picky about historical accuracy or sci-fi notions would enjoy this series. If you really want to figure out all the time travel details then things get complicated, but it's impressive that the author went to that much work. It seems like if you tried to connect all the dots it would probably make sense... Anyway, I think this series would actually make a really entertaining movie. 

Disclaimer: I received an ARC for review from Raincoast Books.

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