(DNF) The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen

The Night Garden by Lisa Van Allen
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Ballantine Books!!)
Summary: Nestled in the bucolic town of Green Valley in upstate New York, the Pennywort farm appears ordinary, yet at its center lies something remarkable: a wild maze of colorful gardens that reaches beyond the imagination. Local legend says that a visitor can gain answers to life’s most difficult problems simply by walking through its lush corridors.

Yet the labyrinth has never helped Olivia Pennywort, the garden’s beautiful and enigmatic caretaker. She has spent her entire life on her family’s land, harboring a secret that forces her to keep everyone at arm’s length. But when her childhood best friend, Sam Van Winkle, returns to the valley, Olivia begins to question her safe, isolated world and wonders if she at last has the courage to let someone in. As she and Sam reconnect, Olivia faces a difficult question: Is the garden maze that she has nurtured all of her life a safe haven or a prison?
Genre: Magical Realism, Contemporary
Recommended for: Honestly, unless you’re 1) a DIE-HARD Magical Realism fan or 2) extremely open-minded, I’d have to say give this one a pass.

Earlier this year I discovered Magical Realism and haven’t looked back. When I came across The Night Garden, it sounded like a fun, enchanting read. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of those reads that looks great in theory, but has terrible execution.

Olivia Pennywort is beautiful and, while not exactly cold, certainly standoff-ish. She’s at home in her overalls and unruly hair, spending all day out in the famed Pennywort gardens. These gardens, strangely thriving while the rest of the valley is experiencing a horrible drought, are said to have almost magical properties: simply walking through one will give you advice and the clear head needed to make tough decisions. Unfortunately, Olivia had garnered quite the reputation over the years. The locals write her off as heartless and rude. In reality, she’s cursed: while she’s seemingly immune to all types of poisonous plants, her touch leaves terrible rashes.

Sam Van Winkle, of the heroic Van Winkle clan, left the valley the first chance he got. After suffering an injury that left his skin permanently numb and unable to feel, he’s decided to return home. Home to the police station, home to his father’s legacy, home to Olivia. Although they were inseparable as children, one day shattered their friendship and while Sam never stopped caring for her, could Olivia ever feel the same?

I got about halfway through this one before calling it quits. I simply didn’t care about what was happening and started skimming. There are huge blocks of florid descriptions that would have held me in rapt attention in a better book (oh hello, All the Light We Cannot See!); The Night Garden left me cross-eyed and struggling to stay awake.

Olivia’s touch causes anyone to break out. Sam JUST SO HAPPENS to have had an injury that resulted in nerve damage (I’m assuming – it’s always described as a loss of feeling in his skin). How convenient. These gardens are supposed to be an oracle of sorts, but I was only told of its magic, never shown. Olivia’s dad is either eccentric or is slowly deteriorating – at one point a neighbor claims Olivia’s abusing her father and that he needs to be taken out of her care. None of this mattered to me.

What really sealed the deal was how easily I could see what was coming. I don’t even need to finish reading, I already know what’s going to happen. Olivia’s touch will somehow heal Sam. Sam’s constant talk about his family’s “heroic gene” (seriously – every other member of his family has rescued or resuscitated people that were supposed to be long past the point of help) and his apparent lack of it will come into play. Perhaps he’ll save Olivia’s father from something?

I wish I had something better to say, or at least something more to comment on. Truth be told, nothing about The Night Garden grabbed me. I didn’t care about the setting, I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t care that instead of a bed, Olivia’s sleeps outside in a garden full of poisonous plants. The magical aspect did nothing for me. If you’re new to Magical Realism, please don’t start with this novel. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d still say give this one a pass. Maybe if I was stuck in a waiting room for an hour and had nothing better to read I might be inclined to give this one another shot, but as it stands, I simply didn’t care enough to continue.

weekly wrap-up 10/19 + winners!

Morning lovelies! How was your week? Mine was definitely eventful! Wednesday night my hometown bookshop, had a signing with Caroline Carlson and she was the sweetest person ever! She talked about her current series, The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, and how the illustrator of the first book’s cover was an animator for Despicable Me! She also briefly mentioned a new series she’s working on – a mystery – which won’t be out yet for a few more years. The best part? When I had a chance to speak to her, we totally fangirled over Jaclyn Moriarty and Diana Wynne Jones! ♥

Magic Marks the Spot & The Terror of the Southlands (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates 1 & 2) by Caroline Carlson
Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman
Every once in a while I go on a non-fic kick. Empty Mansions reads like a mystery novel: when the reclusive heiress Huguette Clark died there was a battle over the $300 million inheritance. A home that had been empty for six decades and Gilded Age opulence certainly have my ears perked!
The Complete Short Stories of Evelyn Waugh by Evelyn Waugh
Y’all know I love me some Waugh! A friend found this one at work and I needed it in my life.
Catherine: The Great Journey (Royals Diaries) by Kristiana Gregory
I’m on a mission to complete my collection of the Dear America novels and its off-shoots! Of course I had to grab the one about Imperial Russia!
The Girl Games (Goddess Girls) by Joan Holub & Suzanne Williams
Another series I’m trying to complete!

Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter
I was ecstatic when this one arrived at my door: two girls whose friendship sounds more like a frenemy relationship. A man who’s been chatting with them on facebook under the guise of a fellow student. The reality and fear that sets in when the three meet in person. I’m positive it’ll send a chill up my spine! Thank you, Farrar, Straus and Giroux!!

In Case You Missed It
Earlier this week, Matt and I celebrated our third anniversary and I shared my instalove story. As much as I gripe about instalove in novels, sometimes it can work out pretty well in real life :)

Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions was a novel I was initially hesitant about: a historical mystery involving Jane Austen and the possibility her words might have been the work of someone else. I know NOTHING about Austen and I’m wondering if that actually might have helped here! Once I started reading I couldn’t stop and I tore through this novel.

AND NOW! Last week I held two giveaways – it’s time to announce the winners!

The winner of Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is…

The winner of Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister AND Necessary Lies is…

Congratulations, ladies!! E-mails have been sent. If I don’t hear back in 48 hours I’ll pick new winners – but trust me, you guys do not want to miss out on these books!

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Pub. Date: October 16, 2014
Source: finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Viking!!)
Summary: Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
Genre: Historical fiction, mystery
Recommended for: open-minded fans of Jane Austen willing to put story ahead of fact, fans of dual narratives

I’ll admit that when the publicist first reached out to me about this novel I was more than a little hesitant: I’ve made it 26 years without reading a Jane Austen novel, though I feel that by now I’m familiar enough with her works (through countless movie adaptations, friends, etc) to get the gist. So despite my worries, I took the plunge: I have extremely good luck with Viking and multiple factors of the novel intrigued me – y’all know I love a good dual narrative!

First Impressions is told through two narratives: Sophie Collingwood in the present, and Miss Jane Austen herself. The novel alternates between these two time periods, though Jane’s chapters are only a page or two to Sophie’s 10+. In the present, Sophie is at a crossroads in her life, unsure of what a post-Oxford career holds. A terrible tragedy sets her on a path of mystery and death threats, through she’s determined to get to the bottom of it – regardless of the consequences the end result holds for the literary world.

While Jane’s family loves hearing her stories, it seems as though they’ll be the only ones to ever enjoy her work; she’s struggling to find a publisher and has all but given up hope of ever achieving her dreams of being a writer. A chance encounter with the kindly Reverend Richard Mansfield leads to an incredible friendship and changes Jane’s life in ways she could have never imagined.

Let’s cut right to the chase: I liked First Impressions. Really liked it…as in an Any-Time-I-Wasn’t-Reading-It-Was-On-My-Mind, Rush-Home-From-Work-To-Read kind of deal. That said, I’m wondering if I enjoyed it so much because I haven’t read Jane Austen. Mr. Lovett took several liberties here and entertained some ideas that Janeites definitely wouldn’t find amusing. Can you imagine the mass hysteria that would erupt if evidence was shown that Jane Austen didn’t write her novels? Or worse, that she blatantly stole the ideas and characters? You’re looking at the start of World War III. So I’m wondering if my ambivalence toward Jane actually worked in my favor. A few months ago I read Mrs. Poe and while I understood it was a work of fiction, the characterization still rubbed me the wrong way. Virginia, a scheming, conniving, heartless woman who acts more like a child? Contemporaries of Poe have described him as a soft-spoken, charming man. In Mrs. Poe he was a suave sex god, leaving a trail of housewives in his wake. I absolutely understand why First Impressions might not be the novel for die-hard Austen fans.

Honestly, I love a good mystery (particularly at this time of the year!), and a literary mystery is even better! There were some twists and turns I wasn’t expecting and I’m happy to admit that some of my assumptions weren’t correct (I love it when I can’t see the end coming and a novel completely takes me by surprise). I’m not sure if it was because Sophie’s chapters were much longer than Jane’s and therefore I got to know her better, but I found myself enjoying the present day chapters far more – though I have a soft spot for the sweet Reverend Mansfield! Sophie’s sleuthing starts when she takes a position at an antiquarian bookstore. One day a customer comes into the shop with a rather odd request: he’s looking for a second edition of Reverend Mansfield’s book of allegorical tales. The following day a second man comes looking for the very same collection. Sophie’s Spidey senses are tingling and it’s not just because of Winston’s good looks. There’s something going on and could it have anything to do with her beloved uncle’s strange death?

I did have one problem with the novel. Since she was a child, Sophie has loved books and reading. With her Uncle Bertram’s help, she began collecting volumes and one passage had my eyebrows raised:

One girl in her tutorial had complained of the moldy smell wafting off Sophie’s copy of Little Dorrit, and Sophie had retorted, “This is the first book edition. Without the mold it would have cost me twice as much.”

-pg. 94

Sophie’s right – without the mold it would have cost much more, but this book is now damaged beyond repair. Mold is a living organism. It spreads, it grows. I deal with this every single day at work. It could be the rarest book in the world, but if mold has reached it, there’s nothing I can do. The same with broken books. In First Impressions, there’s talk of collecting broken and torn novels because they’re cheaper. I’ll never forget the day I had to throw out a first edition of Hemingway because it was literally split in two. Not just a cracked spine, but I could hold one half of the book in my left hand and the other half in my right. A small marking can be forgiven, but there’s some damage that’s too great. As a book lover Sophie ought to know this – especially once she becomes a bookseller herself!

Despite that minor annoyance, I had a fantastic time with First Impressions, but it’s a novel I’d recommend cautiously. Readers who live and breathe Austen might want to pass on this one unless you’re willing to go into it with a very open mind. However, if you’re a total Austen newbie like me and want a thrilling mystery, First Impressions is great! Short chapters, fast-paced, with an exciting premise. Definitely my kind of book!

Notable Quote

“That’s the beauty of rare books,” he had said one evening when he was reading a first edition of Cecelia. “If you mail a rare stamp it becomes worthless. If you drink a rare bottle of wine, you’re left with some recycling. But if you read a rare book it’s still there, it’s still valuable, and it’s achieved the full measure of its being. A book is to read, whether it’s worth five pounds or five thousand pounds.”

my instalove story.

When I walked into a hardware store October 7, 2011, I had no idea my life would be changed. See, earlier in the year I had left that hardware store to become a bookseller, but I would still go back every so often to visit old coworkers/friends. Because that night was the anniversary of Poe’s death, I went all-out with my outfit (to this day I still remember what I was wearing), and after work that day I stopped by the store.

I was up near the registers, chatting with my friends and meeting a new cashier, when this boy came up and asked if I needed help. I said no, that I was well aware where everything was, and instead of wondering who this crazy person in the skull dress was, he struck up a conversation with me. In the few minutes we spoke, we discovered we had a ton in common and when the store was closing for the night, he asked for my number – very smooth, Matt!

That night we chatted on facebook for hours and made a plan to hang out the next night. A week later on October 14, Matt was all mine and a month after that we were living together. For as much as I complain about instalove in my books, it seems to work out pretty well in real life. :) ♥

How did you meet YOUR significant other?? Was it love at first sight too? Did you hate each other for years beforehand?? TELL ME YOUR LOVE STORY!

weekly wrap-up 10/12

This past week has been lovely: I went on a Modcloth shopping spree and, after coupons + birthday gifts, only paid a whole $8 for my $100+ order. My mom taught me well! I also have a house full of Yankee Candles and oh my goodness it smells like heaven (assuming heaven smells like Farmer’s Market & Kitchen Spice – my current favs!)

Last week I mentioned receiving a copy of Charlie Lovett’s First Impressions, a novel with Jane Austen at the heart of a modern day murder mystery. Admittedly I know NOTHING about Jane nor her works and was a little hesitant to try it. I picked it up a few days ago and will be finishing it tonight – guys, this is good. I actually think it helps that I’m coming into it blind as far as Jane Austen goes. I’ve discussed this book on twitter with Hannah. This was one a DNF for her and part of it dealt with how Jane was portrayed, particularly in regards to some of her stories. I’ll discuss this more in my own review, but it reminded me of Mrs. Poe. Although I enjoyed the novel, the way Poe was characterized was definitely off-putting (he was basically cast as a sex god, loving & leaving the ladies up and down the coast). I can totally see how someone who enjoys Jane Austen would be disappointed in this book.

Speaking of! Earlier this week was the 165th anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s passing. Over the years I’ve discussed my love of Poe quite a bit, but this year I wasn’t able to get around to posting. If you haven’t read his work since high school or if you’re completely new to Poe, take a few minutes and read some of his poetry. I especially love his short stories and they can easily be read in a few minutes too!

Guys, I legit shrieked when The Mime Order showed up at my door!! I LOVED The Bone Season, but this year+ wait in-between books is a total killer. Thankfully there will be a goodreads-hosted read-along later this month. Yeah, I’m definitely going to need a refresher! If you haven’t started this series yet, now is the perfect time to get in on it! This was hyped as the next Harry Potter and while I wouldn’t exactly say that, it’s certainly able to stand on its own as a phenomenal series. I am SO looking forward to getting back into this world (especially if it means more Warden ♥)! (A big thank you to Bloomsbury!!)

In Case You Missed It
Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is a gorgeous, sprawling, deliciously-detailed trip back to France at the height of King Louis XIV’s reign and the true origins of the Rapunzel tale. Told in three voices, Bitter Greens had everything I could want from a book: magic, numerous narrators, a court scandal or two. Better yet – I have a copy up for grabs! Head on over to the post to enter. Ends 10/19

Diane Chamberlain’s The Silent Sister was my intro to her work and it will NOT be the last (I’ve got a copy of Necessary Lies that’s practically screaming my name now!). Upon moving back to her childhood home, Riley uncovers the shock of a lifetime: the older sister she had always thought committed suicide might actually be alive and well. As Riley works to discover just what happened that night 23 year ago, there are chapters sprinkled throughout the novel told from Lisa’s perspective. What could have possibly been so bad that she faked her own death? The Silent Sister is a PERFECT cold-weather read – I was so hooked on this story I didn’t move for hours on end! – and I’m thrilled to have a giveaway copy for this one as well! Ends 10/19

Louise Millar knows how to do a thriller. Her latest, The Hidden Girl had it all: family drama, an old farmhouse, a centuries-old mystery, not-so-friendly neighbors, and even a donkey! You’ll want to think twice the next time you head next door to say hello!

The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar
Pub. Date: August 26, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (Thank you, Atria!!)
Summary: Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the countryside will provide a fresh start. Hannah is desperate for a baby, and she hopes that this new life will allow her to realize her dream of adopting a child . . . and revitalize her marriage. Yet when the worst snowstorm in years comes to Suffolk, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village, obsessively scrambling to turn the tumbledown manor into the perfect refuge for a child. Life in Tornley proves to be far from idyllic, however. Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. As she starts to uncover a terrible crime, she realizes she can no longer do that without putting everything she’s ever wanted at risk. But if Hannah does nothing, the next victim could be her . .
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Recommended For: cold Autumn nights, fans of psychological thrillers

Louise Millar is still a relatively new-to-me author, only having discovered her last year. I fell hard for Accidents Happen and knew I’d be reading more. I came across a cheap copy of The Playdate and have been saving it for a day when I need a pick-me-up (and I’m well aware that phrasing sounds odd when Millar’s books read like Law & Order episodes!). When I heard about a third novel, The Hidden Girl, you bet my ears perked up and when I sat down with it I didn’t move until it was over.

When Hannah announced she wanted to leave London for the country, Will wasn’t exactly thrilled, but went along with it. They had recently been passed over for an adoption and the rejection hit Hannah hard. She immediately walked out on a career she loved (the other couple had a stay-at-home parent) and started a search for a home (their cramped apartment couldn’t compete with the other family’s spacey yard). The house she found was certainly in need of some serious TLC, but now there’s a scheduled visit with their social worker and Hannah’s fears have taken over. Every little detail needs to be perfect. Barbara will surely pass on them again if she sees the dingy cupboards with the chipped paint. A loose floorboard? There’s no way they’d be trusted with a child!

Unsurprisingly, Hannah’s fretting has started taking a toll on Will. The commute to and from London isn’t helping matters and when he makes the decision to stay the weekend at his studio, he has no idea the effect it will have. The night he leaves the worst snowstorm in years hits the town and Hannah is all but cut off from everyone. When the heat goes out, Hannah enlists the help of a neighbor, but she soon comes to realize people in Tornley are not as friendship as they seem. People keep their secrets close in this community and these newcomers aren’t welcome one bit.

The Hidden Girl had all the drama of a tv movie and I was hooked. All alone in the middle of nowhere, Hannah struggles to ready the house as well as deal with the odd people around her. While cleaning out the attic, she discovers paintings and those, along with an old photo album, led to a delicious historical mystery and was just this side of creepy! Absolutely perfect now that Autumn has hit – I think this is the perfect time of year to curl up with a mystery, don’t you? Millar dishes out the drama in spades: family secrets are not a new phenomenon in this tiny little town!

There was also a side plot involving Hannah and Will’s marriage. Or, rather, the deterioration of it. In the beginning they were a picturesque couple; Will had once been a hard-partier, binging on booze and girls until Hannah came along. Initially she wanted nothing to do with any sort of relationship with him, his lifestyle wasn’t what she was looking for. She traveled often for her job and on one of her trips Will realized Hannah meant more to him than a bottle of beer and some nameless girl he’d never see again. He cleaned up his act and the two couldn’t have been more in love. After multiple failed attempts at starting a family, a test result delivered a shocking blow: Hannah was unable to have children. That started her talk of adoption and Will was on board. Since then, however, Hannah’s worries over every little thing have done nothing but grate on Will’s nerves. Did she really think the social worker would look at their kitchen and immediately announce them unfit for raising a child? To Hannah, a coat of paint could mean everything and Will can’t take it anymore.

I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but Will came off as a huge jerk. While I understand his frustrations, there was nothing likable about this man. He holes himself up in his studio in London, turning off his phone & honestly not caring about the loss of power at their house. On the rare occasions Hannah is able to get in contact with him, he’s curt and short, and doesn’t seem concerned that his wife is noticing odd things. Objects are in different places than where she left them, doors left unopened, there was even an afternoon when she walked in an a living, breathing human sleeping on her floor. Instead, Will is back to his old ways, spending more time inside the local bar than out of it and when a coworker offered an extra bed for him to sleep him, he didn’t hesitate to accept her offer.

Back in Tornley, Hannah’s dealing with an..eclectic cast of characters. A nasty farmer, a sorta kinda sleezy handyman, a sweet but mentally stunted woman. There’s even a donkey. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting some of the twists and turns, but they were definitely fun! Admittedly the ending felt a little overwhelming and rushed, as though Millar had a deadline she needed to reach and tried to cram another hundred pages into thirty. A few outcomes weren’t what I was hoping for (certain characters needed put in their place and I didn’t get the satisfaction of seeing justice served here) and even felt a little sitcom-y, but overall The Hidden Girl was an exciting, fast-paced ride and I enjoyed it! It wasn’t as great as Accidents Happen and could have benefited from a little tightening, but I’d definitely recommend it to readers looking for something a little darker this season.

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain + GIVEAWAY!

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain
Pub. Date: October 7, 2014
Source: ARC via publisher (Thank you, St. Martin’s!!)
Summary: Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the trust, she must decide what the past means for her present.
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Recommended for: Curious readers who love their drama in spades!

Is it just me or is Autumn the best time to curl up with a good mystery? There’s something about the red and orange leaves, the chill in the air, and early nights that leaves me craving fuzzy blankets, hot cups of tea, and a Who-Dun-It. When I first heard about The Silent Sister I immediately perked up: a sister long-thought to have committed suicide is actually alive and well? Oh, that I needed to read! And read I did.

Twenty-five-year-old Riley has just returned to her childhood home. Her homecoming, unfortunately, was brought about by an unhappy circumstance: her father unexpectedly passed away. With her mother already gone and her brother less-than-helpful, it falls to Riley to empty the house and sort through his belongings. It’s while she’s going through his personal items that Riley first begins to wonder about a truth she believed for the past twenty-three years: her older sister took her own life. Growing up, Riley and Danny were never allowed to bring up Lisa, never allowed to discuss their sister. Suddenly Riley’s not so sure – could it be possible her sister is still out there? Is it possible her father knew all these years?

This is a difficult review to write. There’s so. much. to talk about and discuss, but it’s all one gigantic spoiler and it’s killing me to keep quiet! Throughout the novel there are scenes from twenty years ago. Little glimpses into Lisa’s life as a child prodigy. Her time spent at recitals. The dreadful night when her life changed forever. Once Lisa leaves home, The Silent Sister essentially breaks off into two stories: Riley’s in the present and Lisa’s two decades earlier. A dye job, a new name, and a one-way ticket to California. I found Lisa’s perspective absolutely fascinating – I wanted to know more! I needed answers! What really went on that night? Eventually I had my suspicions and turned out to be correct, but even though I guessed at the Big Reveal, it was still one hell of a ride and I loved every minute.

Back in the present, Riley’s quickly discovering that people know far more than they’re letting on. Little old ladies aren’t nearly as sweet as you’d expect and why was her father paying a man $500 a month with no explanations? As the reader I saw the answers before Riley and the ones I didn’t I easily guessed at. Still, nothing prepared me for the tail end of the novel. In those final few moments, Ms. Chamberlain pulled all the stops. Nothing was sacred, nothing was off-limits. Toward the end, The Silent Sister read like a Lifetime Movie – in the best of ways! Drama galore, one thing right after another, anything – anything – that could happen did.

In keeping this review spoiler-free, I feel like I’m leaving out so many talking points. Trust me, though, you’ll be glad I did! The Silent Sister reads like a movie, has all the ups and downs of a soap opera, and the thriller at the heart of it all left me breathless. This is one you definitely do NOT want to miss!


The release of the Necessary Lies paperback coincides with the The Silent Sister release in Hardcover and to celebrate, St. Martin’s is going to give one lucky winner BOTH BOOKS!
All you need to do is fill out this form – easy peasy!
US Residents only and I’ll announce the winner 10/19! Good Luck!