Tag Archives: England

Review: The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten GardenThe Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Forgotten Garden is a contemporary attempt to blend fairy tales with rich realistic backgrounds–and so struggles to do either well.

The writing in this behemoth of a book is so good–the descriptions are vivid and thoughtful, the flavor of the words changes with the location, and there is a tapestry of (female) characters (more on that in a moment)–but the plot is so clunky as it strives to wind together a history over four generations of women while also incorporating fairy tale elements that it overbalances itself and becomes pedantic and predictable.

The Forgotten Garden is about the search for heritage spanning generations and time. Cassandra is the main character, the modern incarnation of a streak of women with tragedy lacing their lives. Struggling to find a sense of meaning in her own life after her sudden tragedy, Cassandra takes up the quest begun by her grandmother 30 years prior to find her grandmother, Nell’s, lost family. How was a small child left alone on a ship to Australia? Who would abandon a sweet child with just a book of fairy tales and a white suitcase on a voyage across half the earth?

But the mystery traces back even further, as Morton shows us the delicate familial situation of Nell’s mother and cousin, and the tragedy that pulled Nell’s grandmother from her place of wealth and power.

Got that?
1860s-Woman leaves rich family, has kids
– Woman is dead, daughter Eliza is rescued by wealthy uncle
1913-Child is found all alone in ship that berths in Australia
1975-Child, now grown and known as Nell, seeks to find out her past; gets interrupted by her own family struggles
2012-Granddaughter of Nell, after her grandmother’s death, seeks to understand all of the prior mysterious history

When I realized that there were no major male characters in this book, that it was literally a rare bird of a story that highlighted women, I desperately wanted to like it. It is almost certain the author pulled her concepts from sweet-but-tragic children’s stories like A Little Princess and The Secret Garden. I love those stories, so I loved those aspects I recognized in The Forgotten Garden, but it’s just too much and the story feels forced.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of the overlapping nature of this story, which flits between women and over eras as the tale unfolds, but the “mysteries” turned out to be pretty predictable–I knew the ending by the halfway point, but still had to slog through the rest of the story–and it was frustrating that, in a non-Gothic modern story, “circumstances” would frequently pop up to answer long-dormant questions. Oh, you happen to enjoy art? Well I happen to have these totally rare sketches on hand, today only! And two pages later, BOOM, you’re related to the artist.

And that kind of thing happened ALL THE TIME.

It’s just too contrived. That kind of magical circumstance would have been great if this story had just embraced itself as a fairy tale, but it insisted on remaining mundane and realistic. You can’t have both frequent miraculous occurrences and realism without both falling short.

This was also a stupidly tragic book. I recommend most of the characters get counseling; does everyone seriously need a deep and painful tragedy to haunt them their whole life? Maybe it’s the genre, I don’t know, but I found it unnecessary. Even in the end, I’m not convinced of anyone’s happiness.

I also have a beef with two of the main “villain” characters. To be fair, the author did try to contextualize and rationalize at least some of their personalities, but it just wasn’t enough. These two were chronic bitches. They were poisonous to all around them–even at the sake of their own happiness. It was so frustrating, and also so shallow. It made the Victorian Aunt, in particular, a one-dimensional meanie. I hoped, the whole time, that someone would push her out a high window (and then, when her “comeuppance” DID come, it was so trite and otherwordly that I just rolled my eyes).

I was hopeful for this book, but ultimately it was a disappointment.

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Review: Sharpe’s Tiger

Sharpe's Tiger (Sharpe, #1)Sharpe’s Tiger by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was not the right book for me. I read it out of family loyalty, honestly. It wasn’t poorly written–in fact, it’s a great example of really detailed historical fiction, and that’s impressive–but I just did not care. I tried, I really did, but this book was a very strong “meh” for me.

Private Richard “Dick” Sharpe is in the British army in 1799, fighting a war he doesn’t really understand or have any genuine interest in at all. In fact, he’s considering deserting, because the army is “boring.”
It quickly becomes less boring as he’s set up for assaulting an officer (who really really deserved that punch) and nearly dies thanks to the British “correctional” plan of flogging a man for any crime under the sun. But Sharpe is snatched from the jaws of horrible death by happenstance and a problem that needs a regular man with a bit of wit about him–sneaking in to the enemy Indian city to rescue, or at least take a message from, the captured officer inside.
I won’t give much more away, but of course Sharpe becomes the day’s hero and all is concluded with everyone but the enemy better off than he was before.
You’ll need an interest in military maneuvers for this book to work for you. I thought it was enough to like history, but no, this is a military history book above all else. It comes close to giving Sharpe the daring-do of Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, but falls short, and though he’s clever, Sharpe is also common, so he’s no James Bond either. It’s refreshing, in a way, that the hero is far more average than most action books, but…for me, that also left him rather boring. He doesn’t so much as act as react to his surroundings, and though he does it remarkably well, I struggled to stay interested in this one.

Do give it a shot if you like reading detailed explanations of old fights, though.

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Verbal Migration: UK English and its American Cousin

I had the excellent fortune a few years ago to make a friend in England (the marvels of the internet!) who, after listening to me whine about wanting to go abroad long enough, invited me over.

And wonder of wonders, he actually meant it.

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I went. Yes, I spent 12 days in a foreign country with a stranger I met online. And it was the best thing I’ve ever done.

I hadn’t been able to study abroad in college because of time (and money) restrictions, but, having spoken to a lot of people who have, I think my experience was even better, because I was able to hang out with people just going about their daily lives, giving me a very real and personal welcome to their country. (Okay, those lucky folks who can spend months abroad maybe have it better, but still!)

I kept a journal of my trip (I highly recommend it!), and one day while on the Tube to London I made a list of all the English-y words I was learning that I would never get to use at home in Texas.

This week I found this lovely Wikipedia page—List of American Words not Widely Used in the United Kingdom—and was reminded of my little list of British Words Not Widely Used in the United States. (Maybe it’ll be of some use to Doctor Who, Downton Abby, and Harry Potter fans.)

Englishisms (and my understanding of their meanings**)

  • biscuit > cookie
  • black pudding > not pudding, best not to ask; doesn’t taste bad, though
  • blimey > an exclamation, mostly of surprise
  • Bubble & squeak > dish made with leftovers, potato, cabbage, and onion (also peas and carrots); like a hash brown potato
  • cashpoint > ATM
  • chips > fries (but thicker)
  • chuffed > pleased, thrilled, excited
  • city > a populated place that has a cathedral
  • cream tea > hot tea served with scones, butter, jam and clotted cream
  • crisps > chips
  • cuppa > a cup of (hot) tea (correct use: “do-ya wanna cuppa?”)
  • curry > all Indian food
  • downs > hills, an old English deriviation
  • dual/single carriageway > highway
  • feck (Irish) > shockingly not a curse word, but used for mild frustration…used liberally
  • fings > Welsh accent for “things”
  • footpath > trail/path
  • hamlet > a small village without a church
  • half-seven (ie. time) > “half” and a number indicates it is half-PAST the following number; ex. Half-seven = 7:30 (note: they’ll also tell time in either 12-hour or 24-hour increments without any trouble at all)
  • holiday  > vacation
  • HP sauce > A-1 steak sauce, served with a full English breakfast
  • innit/indidn’t > “isn’t it,” particularly heard in the West London accent
  • knackered > tired/tuckered out
  • Lockets > a brand of lozenge, only available at a candy store (rather than at a pharmacy as in America)
  • mate > friend/pal/chum
  • mental (gone mental) > crazy
  • moor > upland hilly area with acidic soil
  • myself (Irish) > dropped frequently instead of I or me or my
  • pavement > sidewalk
  • petrol > gasoline
  • (feeling) poorly > to be sick, ill
  • posh > fancy
  • queue > line you wait in
  • quid > pound (like “buck” for dollar) whether in paper notes or coins
  • Rock > hard stick candy found in Brighton; has words inside
  • roundabout > circular road switch point in which is recommended you pray for the right exit
  • scone/scon > deliciousness in breaded form, eaten with butter, jam, and clotted cream
  • spend a penny > to go potty/use the restroom. Comes from penny-pay public bathrooms
  • Sunday roast > roasted meat (beef, lamb, chicken, or pork) served with peas, carrots, broccoli/cabbage, roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, and gravy
  • scrumping > old word for stealing apples
  • tat > cheap crap
  • tings > Irish accent for “things”
  • toilet/loo > restroom/bathroom
  • Tube/Underground > subway
  • twee > over-the-top whimsy, so overdone and fake it loses any real charm
  • village > populated place that has a church
  • weald > a certain flat plain in the middle of hills
  • Yorkshire pudding > not at all like pudding, actually; resembles a bread bowl
**Any mistakes are either my own doing…or because my host willfully misled me. But they’re probably right. He’s a good bloke.
Yes, it’s true; I mostly ate my way through South England. Can you tell?

What words have you picked up in your travels?

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