Day 1289: The Clockmaker’s Daughter

Cover for The Clockmaker's DaughterBest Book of Five!
The first character we meet in The Clockmaker’s Daughter is the ghost of the clockmaker’s daughter. Although she used the name Lily Millington, we don’t find out her true name, or why she haunts Birchwood Manor, until the end of the novel.

The novel begins in the present, though, with Elodie, an archivist. She is about to be married, but she is having trouble concentrating on the wedding. That is because, in going through the archive of James W. Stratton, a philanthropist, she has found the belongings of a Victorian artist, Edward Radcliffe, in particular, a sketchbook. This discovery is of interest because inside it is a picture that she realizes is of a house from a children’s story handed down in her own family.

link to NetgalleyWhile Elodie begins exploring this link between Radcliffe and her family, we slowly hear the stories of Lily Millington, of a beloved house, and of a long-lost family heirloom. We also learn the stories of a series of inhabitants of the house.

Although I love a good ghost story, I wasn’t sure whether I would appreciate the ghost being one of the narrators. And this is not a traditional ghost story, for the ghost is not one that frightens. Kate Morton is a masterful storyteller, however, so that I was engrossed as always. Although this is not my favorite book by Morton, which still remains The Forgotten Garden, I really enjoyed it.

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Day 852: The Lake House

Cover for The Lake HouseThe Lake House is another of Kate Morton’s enthralling novels about family secrets. It is set in two time periods, 1933 and 2003.

In 1933 Cornwall, Alice Edevane is 16. She loves her life in the woods and gardens of the family estate, Loeanneth, and she spends her time writing stories of romance and mystery. She reads her stories to Ben Munro, an itinerant gardener whom she loves. Her newest one is about a kidnapping, set in her own home.

In 2003, Sadie Sparrow is a police officer on an enforced holiday. She got over-involved in a case, in her partner’s opinion, and went to the media when she thought it was mishandled. Her partner is trying to keep her name out of the subsequent investigation, but he wants her on vacation for a month.

Sadie chooses to visit her grandfather Bertie in Cornwall, where he recently moved after her grandmother’s death. In traipsing around the woods with the dogs, she comes upon the abandoned house at Loeanneth. When she tries to find out about the house, she learns that it was deserted after the disappearance of a little boy, Theo Edevane, who was never found.

Sadie decides she would like to look into the cold case with the help of retired officer Clive Robinson. She tracks down Alice Edevane, now a famous novelist, and writes asking for permission to enter the house. But she hears nothing back.

Alice has always believed she knew what happened to Theo and thinks it is her fault. She has no desire to reopen the investigation, however unofficial. But a frank conversation with her sister Deborah reveals something she didn’t know, which leads her to re-evaluate her belief in what happened long ago. When the persistent Sadie writes again, she agrees to see her.

The story alternates between the investigation in the present and the events leading up to Theo’s disappearance. We see the past events from the points of view of several different characters but mostly from that of Eleanor, Alice’s mother.

I absolutely loved this novel, with one caveat. It is intricately plotted and beautifully written, as are Morton’s other novels. I also found it completely absorbing.

However, the coincidence of what happened to Theo I found a bit much. I can’t explain more, but read it yourself and tell me what you think.

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Day 196: The Secret Keeper

Cover for The Secret KeeperI loved The Forgotten Garden so much that Kate Morton’s other books, although very good, have not been able to hold their own against it. At first I thought The Secret Keeper would also be good but not great, but a terrific surprise at the end of the book made me change my mind.

The novel begins in 1961, when sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson is up in the treehouse on the family farm dreaming about her boyfriend. She sees her mother Dorothy go into the house with her baby brother Gerry. It is Gerry’s birthday, and Laurel knows her mother has left the birthday picnic to fetch the family’s special birthday knife so she can cut the cake. A few minutes later, a stranger goes to the door, and Laurel sees her mother stab the man with a knife. He is assumed to be the man who has been attacking women in the area.

Fifty years later, Laurel is a famous character actor who has come home to visit her ill mother. Her mother’s memory is failing, but she has asked Laurel’s sister Rose to get some things out of a box that has always been private. Among them is a photograph of Dorothy and her friend Vivien, who died during the Blitz.

Laurel’s memory of the long-ago incident with the stranger has become muddied and even inaccurate, but she begins to remember it more clearly when she decides to look into it further. She finds that the attacker was Henry Jenkins, Vivien’s husband. Since Dorothy must have known Henry, there is obviously more to the story.

From here the story alternates between Laurel’s investigation in the present and the war years of young Dorothy (Dolly) Smitham. Dolly is madly in love with Jimmy Metcalfe, a newspaper photographer who also has sole care of his senile father. Dolly wants to marry immediately, but Jimmy thinks they can’t afford it yet, so Dolly takes a job as a companion to a wealthy old lady in London. At a war effort volunteer job, she meets Vivien, who lives across the street with her husband, a successful novelist. Dolly, who comes from a lower middle class background, gets carried away with the idea of leading a more exciting, fashionable life. After a series of misunderstandings, she hatches a plan to get money for her marriage and talks the reluctant Jimmy into helping.

At this point, my major problem with the novel was a growing dislike for Dolly, who seems narcissistic and lacking in conscience. I kept wondering how she was going to develop into the beloved mother of five children. But the novel goes on to unearth secrets. With Morton’s gift for storytelling and excellent writing, I think this novel is as good or better than The Forgotten Garden.

Day 169: The Distant Hours

Cover for The Distant HoursKate Morton has been one my favorite authors ever since I read The Forgotten Garden, which is still my favorite of her books. The Distant Hours is another of Morton’s atmospheric novels about family secrets.

When a letter posted in 1941 finally reaches its destination in 1992, Edie Burchill is surprised at the emotional reaction of her usually cool mother. She finds out for the first time that her mother was an evacuee during World War II at the home of Raymond Blythe, the author of Edie’s favorite childhood book, The True History of the Mud Man.

Later, after Edie has been asked to write an introduction for a reprint of Blythe’s classic, she gets lost meeting a potential author and accidentally finds Milderhurst Castle, the once stately but now crumbling home of the Blythes. Living there are the Blythe sisters, Percy, Saffy, and the invalid Juniper. In a way, too, the house is still occupied by the memory of their overbearing father.

The novel alternates between the present time and 1941, as we discover what happened during one night in 1941 that has haunted the family ever since. Morton is deft at creating a compelling atmosphere in the moldering castle and in keeping her readers in suspense.

Morton’s latest book, The Secret Keeper, is due out in October. I can’t wait to get my copy!

Day 96: The Forgotten Garden

Cover for The Forgotten GardenKate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden was one of my big discoveries two years ago. I absolutely love this book.

A four-year-old girl walks off a ship in Australia in 1913 with a little white suitcase. No one meets her. She won’t say who she is or where she came from. The harbor master takes her home, calls her Nell, and adopts her, and she forgets her previous life. When she is 21 and on the verge of marriage, he tells her about it. This information is so shocking to Nell that she breaks with her fiancé and her family and isolates herself, feeling that she has been living a lie.

In 1975, Nell’s irresponsible daughter drops her own teenage daughter, Cassandra, at Nell’s house and drives away, never to return. Nell has other plans, but puts them aside to take care of her granddaughter.

In 2005, Cassandra is mourning Nell’s death. She has inherited Nell’s property but is only vaguely aware of her history. When she looks through Nell’s things, she finds a white suitcase with a book of fairy tales in it. She also finds that Nell never stopped looking for her real family. Continuing Nell’s search, Cassandra ends up in a small Cornish village where she learns she has inherited a small cottage on the Mountrachet estate.

Cassandra finds an entrance into a walled garden, and another one from there to the estate. Eventually, she also discovers the history of her grandmother’s parentage.

The book traces Nell’s history by alternating among these times. The modern story is one of investigating one’s roots, but the older tale is more gothic. Ultimately, it is the story of two cousins, the wealthy Rose Mountrachet and the slum-born Eliza Makepeace, who comes to live with her and be her companion.

A mystery about family secrets, the story is complex and enthralling. Some readers may be daunted by its length, but once you begin reading, you will not be able to stop.