The Wedding – Nicholas Sparks

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Synopsis

After thirty years of marriage, Wilson Lewis, son-in-law of Allie and Noah Calhoun (of The Notebook), is forced to admit that the romance has gone out of his marriage. Desperate to win back his wife, Jane’s, heart, he must figure out how to make her fall in love with him… again. Despite the shining example of Allie and Noah’s marriage, Wilson is himself a man unable to easily express his emotions. A successful estate attorney, he has provided well for his family, but now, with his daughter’s upcoming wedding, he is forced to face the fact that he and Jane have grown apart and he wonders if she even loves him anymore. Wilson is sure of one thing–his love for his wife has only deepened and intensified over the years. Now, with the memories of his in-laws’ magnificent fifty-year love affair as his guide, Wilson struggles to find his way back into the heart of the woman he adores.

My review

Working to maintain the spark in a relationship? Isn’t that reality? We go from madly in love to losing a little of the spark, to madly in love again and hopefully for the majority of the time feel that beautiful content feeling that we are happy in the lives we lead. Relationships all have ups and downs.

I started reading The Wedding a few years back and didn’t read more than a few pages. Why? I had no idea of the connection between this story and The Notebook. I since picked it up again and am very glad that I did.

I was expecting a typical romance novel, but ended up pleasantly surprised by the way in which the story evolved. The novel centres around Wilson and Jane, son-in-law and daughter of Noah and Allie from The Notebook. The couple have been married for years with grown up children of their own. When Wilson forgets their 29th wedding anniversary he is concerned that his wife has fallend out of love with him. The ways in which Wilson attempts to show the love he has for his wife and make her fall in love with him again is truly beautiful. He ensures that their 30th wedding anniversary will not be forgotten.

The characters in the novel are warm hearted and I enjoyed reading about them and their family. Sparks has again portrayed two characters who dedicate their lives to their love and family in a delightful way. I love that the novel wasn’t about new love, rather a hint of true life and the effort relationships require. Saying I love you is important, but truly showing it in our actions and words is of course, what helps us to keep the spark and feel true love in the extraordinary and ordinary moments. An easy and enjoyable read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

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Synopsis
A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author 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.
My Review

The Forgotten Garden was an intriguing tale that I couldn’t put down! This novel was recommended to me when I posted an image of an attractively bound edition of The Secret Garden on my Instagram account. Immediately, I set out to find a copy of it. There is certainly the same sense of wonder and a bond between the two novels. The Forgotten Garden is beautifully written and tells the tale of a family mystery spanning generations.

Nell, an elderly lady who passes away in 2005, was in search of her birthmother, the knowledge of where she came from and how she ended up on a ship all alone at the age of four years old, bound for Australia. ‘Her past was like a Russian doll, question inside question, inside question.’ Cassandra, Nell’s Granddaughter and only soul in which she would entrust her lifelong secret, sets out on a journey to England to discovery the truth. The past and present are well linked and considering the structure of the novel, it was not confusing at all. Instead, I was excited to learn more from each character in the following chapters and to be one step closer to the answers they sought.

Hidden between the chapters of discovery are mystical fairy stories written by the woman referred to in the novel as the authoress, Eliza Makepeace. I loved the magical quality of the stories and the intended insight into the characters as they continued to unfold the mystery. The childlike wonder took me back to a time of my childhood and thus, reminisce of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden.

The imagery of the garden at the cottage Cassandra inherits is beyond anything I had imagined. I was instantly transported to the glorious walled garden of Cliff Cottage. Each morning, my son and I take time to smell the flowers and like the family in this novel, the garden has great significance, however, in much more dramatic ways than mine. At times I found Eliza’s character implausible, but, this did not cause me to dislike her as a character. Rather, I admired her talent as an authoress despite the burdens she had to bear. In fact, I loved the portrayal of each character and this quote rings true in every instance: ‘That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.’

Would I recommend this novel? Absolutely! I loved it. I enjoyed Kate Morton’s writing style and am looking forward to reading more of her novels. Most of all, I loved how The Forgotten Garden took me to England, a place that I would love to be more often. For someone whose own paternal Grandparents lived in England and father grew up there, I was beaming as I read this beautiful story.

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A Spark of Light – Jodi Picoult

Synopsis

Lives will change forever…

Set in a women’s reproductive health centre in Mississipi, A Spark of Light follows a horrific shooting and hostage situation.

Each person visiting The Centre has their own personal reason for being there and in an instant they are all in fear of their lives. Wren, a fifteen year old girl in the process of discovering herself as a woman, visits The Centre with her aunt, Bex. Joy is at The Centre for termination of her pregnancy and Janine, pro-life protestor, is hoping to uncover incriminating evidence against the abortion practices at The Centre. Olive is an older woman dealing with health issues visiting her Dr. Heath is an on duty Police Officer and Wren’s father, unaware of his daughter’s whereabouts. Dr Louie is going about his business, treating patients.

Many current issues are explored within the novel and the reader is encouraged to consider their stance. How will you feel after reading this novel? Will your views change? Will you feel more aware of what is happening in the world?

My Review

Jodi Picoult has again encouraged me to delve deeper into my personal views surrounding issues that are important and current. I love this about her writing and A Spark of Light was no exception.

The development of the characters was strong, especially Janine who faces her demons of the past throughout the time she is in the Centre and Wren, a young girl in a situation that forces her to be more adult than ever. From the beginning, I felt my heart pounding, as Wren is at gunpoint and her father is attempting to save her. The love between parent and child is evident and as a mum of a toddler, I felt a lump in my throat considering what Hugh must be going through. I particularly loved Dr Louie, who put aside his original views, working daily for his patients he considers to be ‘warriors’ and having the utmost respect for their decisions.

I was expecting a powerful novel, after reading Reverend Dr. Martin Luthur King Jr.’s quote ‘The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for love or hate?’ This quote cleverly sets the scene and is linked to the issues presented throughout the novel, encouraging understanding in society. Each person entering the Centre is approached by protestors; some of who simply want to try to help and have a strong view on the preciousness of life. Others are violent in their speech, actions and written documents. I was surprised by the lack of consideration and the difference compared with my hometown when someone visits a hospital or gynecologist. The violence of some is a true example of extremists of hate; hate for women trying to make a life changing decision. Will your eyes be opened as mine were?

The way in which the novel is structured is interesting. It works back in time, from 5pm to the beginning of the day, until the last chapter, which deals with the present. In the middle of the novel I was frustrated and found myself wishing it would be structured from beginning to end. By the end, I again had appreciation for this type of structure. The Author’s Note at the back of the novel gave me further reason to appreciate Picoult’s themes in the novel. This is an author who watched abortions being performed in order to write a novel in which was heartfelt and filled with emotion. I couldn’t believe the extent gone to for an author’s understanding and an ability to portray the truth.

If you’re a Jodi Picoult fan, you won’t be disappointed. Will you have a thought provoking experience like I did?

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Synopsis

‘This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see or hear or experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others.’

Homegoing is an intricate web winding through history, following the personal experiences of generations of people from 1700s to modern day. Each chapter presents a new character and builds upon the characters and experiences of the prior chapters.

Yaa Gyasi takes the reader on a journey from Ghana to the United States, witnessing the horrors of the slave trade, the Civil War, chain gangs, Harlem’s drug trade in 1960s, the struggles of racial prejudices and the way in which we are moving forward today, whilst bearing witness to the atrocities of the past.

My review

This novel is a profound piece of art. It’s bold and beautiful in its form and within the masterpiece are hidden messages found in its careful narration. This intricate web that winds through history is that masterpiece; written with precison and depth of understanding. It is hard to believe that this novel is Yaa Gyasi’s first. Her writing is clever, intense and heartfelt. There are quotes that will stay with me and passages that are unforgettable. ‘No one forgets that they were once captive, even if they are now free. But, still, Yaw, you have to let yourself be free.’

Each chapter revolves around a new character and each character is memorable and uniquely portrayed. The story begins with Esi and Effia, two sisters from the same world originally, whose futures are vastly different. The chapters evolve, layer upon layer and I looked forward with anticipation what the next chapter would hold.

Homegoing is a must read novel and I will certainly be re reading this one. I have gained more than I could have ever imagined from it. I hope to see this novel on the HSC English reading list. The powerful themes would impact upon students and the discussions would be worthwhile. If you’re looking for a novel you won’t want to put down, read this one.

I am excited to read more of Yaa Gyasi’s work! What a novel, what an insight into history.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Every Breath – Nicholas Sparks

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Synopsis

Kindred Spirit is a mailbox in North Carolina with the ability to connect people in unimaginable ways. It is not an ordinary mailbox in which bills and the like pass to the recipient, instead, this mailbox is a gateway to stories of love, loss and happily ever afters. The mailbox sits isolated with the view of the beach for anyone to place personal letters in, for passersby to read. It plays a significant role in the novel.

Every Breath is set in the 90s following the lives of two characters from different worlds; Hope and Tru. Tru, a father and National Park guide in Zimbabwe, flys to Sunset beach to meet the father he has never met. Hope, a woman in a six year relationship at a stand still comes to her family’s cottage on Sunset Beach to relax and consider her life. Tru and Hope meet by chance, worlds apart, yet the five days they spend at the beach together will change their lives forever.

My review
Sweet, passionate and charming! In a similar tradition to The Notebook, Every Breath is an epic love story.

Hope and Tru’s chance encounter is a whirlwind, passionate romance and I would have liked to read more of their time together. I felt that theirs was a pleasant rendezvous, yet flew by in an instant. The backstory of the characters gave more insight into their worlds, especially in comparison to At first sight, which I have recently reviewed. Tru’s love for his son and their relationship was heartfelt and emphasised his true character. Hope’s personality was likeable and she put her family first, especially when her father was diagnosed with ALS.

‘The destiny that matters most in life is the one concerning love.’ Hope’s words ring true for herself and Tru. Both characters live their lives in this manner. The messages in the novel are lovely. Life has its challenges and the characters encounter their own, however, if love is behind each intention, as it is in this story, I think we can say we have lived a meaningful life.

I loved Kindred Spirit and the idea of sending thoughts, feelings and stories to random people who visit the mailbox at the beach. It has great significance in this novel. I hope to oneday visit the beach, read a meaningful letter and send my own letter out into the world. Maybe we will set one up in our own community… In this digital age, Nicholas Sparks encourages us to embrace the art of letter writing, not forgetting its power.

I would recommend this novel to anyone who likes reading a good romance novel. Every Breath was an easy, enjoyable and heartfelt read.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

At First Sight – Nicholas Sparks

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Synopsis

A relationship of compromise? A relationship of love? Jeremy, a New York columnist, moves to Boone Creek, North Carolina to marry Lexie, the woman he is falling fast in love with and is pregnant with his baby. Prior to the move, Jeremy had no intention of leaving New York, marrying again or any hope of fathering a child.

He finds himself in a small southern town with some quirky townspeople; Lexie’s psychic grandmother Doris, her best friend Rachel, Rachel’s boyfriend Rodney, the Mayor of the town and Jed the creepy taxidermist. The couple are faced with issues of living in a small town, trusting one another, Jeremy’s writer’s block, health concerns and learning how to create a life together. Some disturbing emails sent to Jeremy bring to the surface further reasons to question his trust in his fiance.

Were the couple doomed from the start? Or was it love at first sight?

My Review
I was excited to sit down to read one of Nicholas Sparks’ novels. I expected a novel that wrenched at my heart like that of The Notebook. Although it was an easy read, I felt that the emotional depth of At First Sight was lacking in comparison.

With stronger characters and further insight into the first time the couple met, I may have found it easier to connect with them. Lexie ‘s character was quite selfish in the beginning, expecting Jeremy to uproot his life and live in a shack in the woods to appease the expectations of the townspeople. I found her unlikeable in the first instance. At times, the drama between characters did not seem to relate to their age and experiences, seeming petty and immature.

As the book progressed, Lexie’s pregnancy and the increasing bond between the couple gave me reason to keep reading. I enjoyed reading about their life together; purchasing and renovating a home, preparing for their baby and all that comes with pregnancy. The prologue and epilogue were well written and linked beautifully.

Not one of my favourite Sparks’ novels, however, At First Sight did have enjoyable elements.

⭐⭐⭐

Wabi sabi – Beth Kempton

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Synopsis

Wabi sabi is a powerful Japanese concept that guides us to the deeper meaning of life, whilst simplifying and appreciating what is readily available to us.

Beth Kempton, Japanologist and award winning entrepreneur, links this concept with the answer to life’s biggest questions. Discussions with numerous Japanese people; including a Zen monk, architectural historian, ikebana teacher, kimono designer, a descendant from a famous samurai warrior, all emphasise the way in which wabi sabi is felt, rather than physically viewed. These conversations provide raw and true teachings from Japanese society. Deep exploration of Japanese culture, use of proverbs, personal experiences, Japanese language, historical research and daily lessons further reveal the tools for contentment in a ‘perfectly imperfect life’.

My review

I laughed, I cried, I felt my heart soften. This book truly spoke to me.

Beth Kempton delves into the Japanese way of thinking in a manner that translates to the western world, through the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. I found the book beautifully written, humble and thought provoking. It is not merely a motivational book; it provides insight into the Japanese culture from the perspective of a woman who has lived and breathed the Japanese way of life. Cultural elements are gently touched upon via personal experiences of the author, linking each moment with the idea of living a ‘perfectly imperfect life’. This wisdom is refreshing, as is the comment that ‘we are all works in progress.’ I let out a sigh of relief as I read these words.

The summaries and questions at the end of each chapter offer meditations and statements to focus on. I loved that there were ideas to get back to nature and a wide range of topics to inspire everyday living; simplifying and beautifying the home, cherishing relationships, taking notice of the seasons and encouraging the creative mind.  Reading this book for a second time, I began to diarise, meditate and in course, include these teachings in my everyday life. The book can be helpful read cover to cover or by turning to a random page and learning something new.

Have I learnt something? Yes. Am I inspired? Yes. This book encouraged me to come home to myself… relaxing into what is and what will be. As a Japanese teacher, I adored the exploration of Japanese language and culture. I hope to read more of Beth Kempton’s time in Japan. I would recommend this book for people from all walks of life. I think that there is a life lesson in here for all of us. Thank you Beth Kempton for your wisdom and transporting me to Japan in an instant. This is truly one of my favourite books and if you have the opportunity to read Wabi sabi, treasure the moment, sit with a cup of tea and embrace the teachings.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐