The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra’s life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.
Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace—the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century—Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.
This deliciously haunting- historical fiction was written by a native Aussie, and it’s a bestseller in the UK. It features lovely imagery, sort of gothic in tone, and if you like the idea of people living in decaying castles and solving mysteries this read is for you. Secrets, suspicions, and an ending that wraps everything up perfectly–this would be a great read for any mystery fan, or reader who enjoys family intrigue or gothic literature.
Katie Recommends: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones
Sophie has the great misfortune of being the eldest of three daughters, destined to fail miserably should she ever leave home to seek her fate. But when she unwittingly attracts the ire of the Witch of the Waste, Sophie finds herself under a horrid spell that transforms her into an old lady. Her only chance at breaking it lies in the ever-moving castle in the hills: the Wizard Howl’s castle. To untangle the enchantment, Sophie must handle the heartless Howl, strike a bargain with a fire demon, and meet the Witch of the Waste head-on. Along the way, she discovers that there’s far more to Howl—and herself—than first meets the eye.
Sophie is a delightfully practical, down-to-earth heroine who finds herself in over her head with magical castles, incredibly powerful Witches, and one wizard’s ridiculous drama about everything that happens to him. Her and Howl’s banter is clever and sweet, building a wonderful friendship between two very, very different people. Their interactions, coupled with Jones’ lovely storytelling and character work, make even the most mundane activities seem fascinating, while giving weight to the most outlandish of events.
This is truly one of those books that can make you laugh or cry, no matter your age. A great book to read aloud as a family, or to enjoy under the covers with a lovely cup of tea.
Recommended for: readers who enjoy well-written characters, strong female leads, modern fairy tales, and stories set in the British countryside.
There’s also a movie based very loosely on the book by the spectacular Studio Ghibli. You can watch the trailer here.
Deb Recommends: The Vanishing, The Fate of Mercy Alban, and The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Web
Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired…and who the world believes is dead.
Grace Alban has spent twenty years away from her childhood home, the stately Alban House, for reasons she would rather forget. But when her mother’s unexpected death brings Grace and her teen-age daughter home, she finds more haunting the halls and passageways of Alban House than her own personal demons.
A young woman travels to uncover a past she never knew was hers in this thrilling, modern, ghost story. A letter upends Hallie’s life. She was raised by her loving father, having been told her mother died in a fire. Her mother, Madlyn, was alive until very recently. Why would Hallie’s father have taken her away? What happened to her family thirty years ago?
These moody and atmospheric gothic dramas feature so many family secrets, twists and turns that they’re a joy to read, especially on a dark, stormy weekend. The endings are so satisfying, despite the twists and turns. A recommendation for any fan of dramas, mystery, and plot twists.
Katie recommends: Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century.
Genres: non-fiction, graphic novel, middle grade, science, feminist heroes
A lovely biography of three very important scholars which shows just how intertwined their careers were. The delightful art brings such personality to the story, allowing for multi-page silent passages with just these scientists interacting with the apes. Combined with the smart, fast-moving narration that’s conveniently color-coded to the characters and not afraid to tell the nastier parts of living in these jungle locales (like malaria, lack of running water, poachers, and lack of contact with the outside world), this story gives a down-to-earth feel to these pioneers of science, without scaring readers off from their less than glamorous lifestyle.
Recommended for amateur scientists, animal lovers, and voracious graphic novel readers.
Debbie Recommends The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.
What was your favorite part?
When the reader comes to grips with the severity of the poverty that these children live in. When the kids find an abandoned house that’s filled with canned goods they are so excited because they think they’ll get food. They open them all and find they’ve all gone bad and they’re so disappointed. They learn how to forage things like crab apples, black berries, and pawpaws. The poverty they grew up in was just astounding.
Who was your favorite character?
The narrator was my favorite character because she found a way to move beyond what her childhood was and had an incredible amount of fortitude and strength to overcome
Who would you recommend this book to?
Nonfiction readers who like to know about other peoples’ lives and anyone who wants to read it before you see the movie.
Katie recommends The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
This lovely exploration of childhood through the eyes of an adult has an almost surreal tone, like a long remembered dream. Gaiman’s beautiful prose, perfected over longer novels like American Gods and Anansi Boys, presents this short, tight narrative so fluidly that you might not notice how quickly everything reads until it’s done. Lettie’s family is just the right kind of unusual to make you question whether this book is really fantasy, and the narrator’s reactions to the Hempstock family’s care is just the sweetest.
A recommendation for anyone who enjoys British literature, modern-ish depictions of witches, or literary explorations of what it means to be a child.
Did I mention that Gaiman is very, very talented at reading his own books?
One day a man gets on a boat and sails to a faraway land in search of a better life for his family. He has to navigate the ridiculously complicated systems of this strange world where everything looks odd and the language is completely new to him and everything from the food to the appliances is foreign. It’s a struggle, but he meets other immigrants along the way who encourage and help him create a home for his faraway family.
With that kind of summary you might be surprised to learn that there is not a single English word in this entire book. Tan’s mastery of human facial expression, his fantastical yet relatable sketches, and the cinematic conventions he uses from image to image paint a clear, stunningly detailed story of a man just trying to survive in a foreign world.
If you want a taste of the Immigrant experience, you’ll find no better than Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.