Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The House at Riverton - Kate Morton (audio)


This is one of those audios I'd had on my iPod forever. I'd become intrigued with the general premise (gothic mansion, family secrets, plot twists) from Jackie @ Farm Lane Books. Still, I'd been putting it off because it was 17 discs long. I'd worked my way through the shorter ones, though, and plunged in.

Grace is a 98-year-old woman who has led a full life. At the age of 14, she became a maid for the Ashbury and Hartford families at Riverton Manor in the early 1900's, and worked for the families in various roles until 1924. She went on to break free of her subservient beginnings by marrying, having a child, and receiving a doctorate in archeology. Her life is turned upside-down, however, when a movie director approaches her to provide input for a movie being made about Riverton. Specifically, the movie revolves around a famous incident that occurred in 1924, when a young poet shot himself on the shores of the manor's lake. Grace just happens to be the last living witness to the event.

Grace agrees, and allows herself to be engulfed in memories. Through flashbacks, she remembers how the family was torn apart by family members' deaths in WWI, and her close relationship with sisters Hannah and Emmeline, who were near in age to Grace. Her love affair with another servant that became strained and confusing after he returned from the war damaged. Jealousy and competition between the sisters. Her questionable parentage. Her loyalty and devotion to Hannah, which came at a high cost. Hannah's loveless marriage. The handsome Robbie Hunter, the poet in question, whose presence threatens everything. And of course, the biggest memory of them all...what really happened on that fateful night.

The story is entirely too long. I'll just get that out on the table. Beyond that, however, I was entertained. There was a significant effort put into the development of the characters, particularly Grace, Hannah and Emmeline. I loved Grace, with her secret obsession with books, her manners and her dedication to her job. Hannah? I could have taken her or left her. I could make no investment in her. I really didn't like Emmeline AT ALL. Got my dander up every time she spoke. She was spoiled, self-centered and annoying. I mark that up to good writing and good narrating.

There were numerous plot twists, and while none of them were too difficult to predict, they were satisfying. Morton slowly and carefully built the story and created an ever-mounting tension that was carried through to the very end. I was so pleased. I think I even might have uttered a huge sigh at the end saying "Ahhhhh! Yes!".

Overall, a lovely, intriguing Edwardian tale of a changing society, war, love, loyalty family and tragedy.

4 out of 5 stars


23 comments:

Melody said...

Sounds like a great character and plot driven story to me! Thanks for the review, Sandy!

Alice Teh said...

I admire the fact that you can finish listening to so many pieces of CDs. I'm glad your effort is well worth it!

farmlanebooks said...

I imagine that this book was better on audio than on paper, but I agree that it was far too long. I think this would have been fantastic if it was 200 pages shorter. Congratulations on making it to the end!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Melody - it is pretty character-driven, but the real energy behind the book are the secrets revealed!

Alice - yeah, well, remember I've read over 200 audios in total of the Outlander series, so this was just a drop in the bucket. Still, it does take some time!

Jackie - ooh, I get to see your new avatar. Nice! You are right, the audio worked in this case. Audios, in the hands of a good narrator, can bring flat characters to life sometimes. Not necessarily for Hannah however.

JoAnn said...

This has been on my wish list forever! I love all those elements you mentioned - gothic mansion, secrets, plot twists - and will surely get to this eventually. Morton has another book out. Will you be adding that one to your wish list?

Molly said...

I recently found this book for a $1 at a local thrift store and simply couldn't pass it up. Not sure when I will have the time to read it, but I am intrigued by any gothic style novel. GREAT concise review!

Beth F said...

I've had my eye on this one, I'll take the warning that it could have been shorter! I'm almost done with Echo in the Bone -- I haven't had a lot of listening time lately.

bermudaonion said...

17 discs?! That's crazy - there's no way I could keep up with the story line that long. I imagine the story is too long for me too.

S. Krishna said...

I read this awhile ago (in print) so I don't remember if I thought it was too long, but I do remember enjoying it immensely. Thanks for the review.

Sandy Nawrot said...

JoAnn - I'm not sure. I haven't heard too much about it to be able to tell whether it is a good bet or not.

Molly - not a bad price for a rather sizeable chunkster!

Beth - this is a worthwhile audio, definitely. However, after the typical Gabaldon audio (which is what? 46 discs?)you might want to take a break before you dive into this one!

Kathy - I seem to have hit a nest of long audios here lately. Actually, the one I'm listening to right now is only 4! Such a nice reprieve! This audio seemed to go pretty quickly though, considering. I think it took about a week to listen to.

Krishna - right, well the redeeming factor was that it was highly entertaining, despite the fact that it probably would have been just as good with a couple hundred less pages.

carolsnotebook said...

Sounds like a good one, but too long for me.

Jen - devourer of books said...

Okay, I'm going to go and see if my library has this on audio, sounds great!

The Bumbles said...

I like how the story is delivered - by looking back through an interview as opposed to blow by blow as it occurred. That gives different layers to the events. I think Bermudaonion brings up a good point - how do you keep track of stories when they have a lot of characters? I always have to flip back through the book to remember who was who. But you can't do that with an audio. Do they give you a cheat sheet on the disk cover or something?

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I though this one was a good one too until I discussed it with my books club. It seems we discovered all the gaps on the story.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Carol - I do tend to get intimidated by really big books. On audio, though, it doesn't seem to bother me as much. I have more time to listen to audios than I do to sit and read, so perhaps that is why.

Jen - I hope they have it...I think it is the way to go with this one!

Bumbles - I like that technique too. Like a slow reveal; it creates alot of suspense. As far as keeping track of characters, I'm not sure I have a good answer. This story didn't have that many, so it was pretty easy to keep track. In others, like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I just don't let myself get bogged down. I always feel confident I will remember the important ones. I try to keep my reviews fairly top level anyway, so I figure I only need to talk about the most important ones anyway.

Nicole - amazing how that happens! There definitely are holes...the story is not perfect. But it really didn't spoil the overall entertainment value for me.

Alyce said...

I've been wanting to find a reason to give this book a second chance, not because there was anything wrong with it, but I just wasn't in the mood to read it the first time around so I gave up after the first chapter or two.

Maybe I will give this one a try as an audio book. Sometimes if I listen to a book for a while it gives me enough of an interest in it to pick it up and read the rest.

Amy Reads Good Books said...

Whow! 17 discs! I be put off too. Sounds like there was a lot there to keep you entertained, though. I do like the premise.

caite said...

yes, I am afraid you lost me at 17 disks...my eyes fogged over and I had to lay my head down..lol

Amy said...

The premise of this story sounds interesting , Sandy, but it would probably be better if more of the characters were more likable. To dislike one and not care about another makes the story less enjoyable I'd think. But Grace sounds delightful.
17 discs is a lot! I am glad you generally enjoyed this story!

Nymeth said...

I wonder if the mood I was in influenced my reaction to The Forgotten Garden...because there was definitely a lot there to be entertained with, and it sounds like the same was the case here. The too long thing was also true, though :P

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Carrie K. said...

I read this one in print - and enjoyed it very much. Great review!

Dar said...

I've wanted to read this one forever. I'd listen to it but that's a whole lot of discs to get through.