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TOP 500 REVIEWERon March 17, 2008
In 1914, when she was 14, Grace came to Riverton Manor as a housemaid. There she met the Master's grandchildren, David, Hannah, and Emmeline, whose lives would forever be linked with her own. Now at the age of 98, Grace looks back at those early years of duty and service, selflessness and silence, and narrates her story while there is still time.

To give away more of the plot would be to rob other readers of the sublime delight I found in reading this book. It is told through the eyes of an old lady who has known great sorrow and some joys. She paints a vivid picture of life among the idle country rich before and after the first War, how carefree children became conflicted adults, and how passion erupted in gunfire amid the fireworks of a grand summer party.

The author has written such a wonderful story and I loved being a part of it. I sobbed through the last chapters knowing the story had to end, knowing what that end would be. I could identify with young Grace as she stoically tended to her spoiled mistress and felt I was holding old Grace's hand as she lay in her bed at the nursing home. This book MUST be made into a movie - it is powerful, dramatic, and heartbreaking, equal parts of mystery, romance, and history - the best book I've read in years.
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on August 25, 2009
I signed this book out of the library after reading, and thoroughly enjoying, the forgotten Garden. This book far surpassed my expectations and I loved it even more than the forgotten Garden (which has been passed around my family now and is a favourite for everyone). The character development was very well done and almost right to the end I did not suspect what the end would be.

Unlike the other reviewer I enjoyed the time shifting as it really helped to develop the main character in a way that wouldn't have happened otherwise. The decisions she made in the 'past' would not have made sense to me if it did not go along with her current narration.

I highly recommend this book.
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on July 11, 2010
I'm probably the last reader on the planet to pick up The House at Riverton: A Novel, and I don't know why I denied myself the pleasure for so long. This debut novel by Australian Kate Morton was released first in Australia and was already a #1 seller and award-winner in the U.K. before its 2008 release in the U.S. It's a big modern Gothic, ranging over more than eight decades but cleverly contained within the story structure of a first-person narrative.

Grace Bradley, 98 years old and residing in a nursing home, is contacted by a young film-maker producing a film about the 1924 suicide of a young poet. The poet took his life at Riverton, the country manor where Grace was a ladies' maid, and since Grace is the only living person to have known the poet and the family at Riverton, the film-maker wants to interview her.

So begins a retrospective view of Grace's life at Riverton, where she went into service in 1914 at the age of fourteen. The elderly Grace is in the process of recording the details of her life at Riverton for her grandson, a novelist. The book moves back and forth between Grace's first-person accounts and her life in the nursing home as the movie progresses.

The author deftly handles the First World War combat of the poet and his friend, a young man from the Riverton house; she presents as vivid a picture as I've seen in a novel of the fear and isolation in the trenches and the war-torn French countryside. Out of this experience flows the "shell shock" of the young poet, making the wartime scenes a contributing cause of his death. However, there were secrets, and it's clear throughout the book that Grace knows them--Grace alone, now, after all these years.

Fortunately, the book doesn't rest entirely on the secrets of Riverton, because in the end they're not so surprising. But the marvelous "Upstairs, Downstairs" feel of the book is pure delight, and the fact that it's framed with a modern story adds to the feeling that we're looking into a stereoscope at old photos. When the film-maker takes Grace to visit the site of Riverton, where it all happened so long ago, the veil between past and present shifts for her as the old secrets want to be told.

Kate Morton's second novel, The Forgotten Garden: A Novel, was just as beautifully crafted as this debut; and we eagerly await her next offering. If you haven't read "Riverton" and "The Forgotten Garden," it's never too late; they are timeless.

Linda Bulger, 2010
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on June 8, 2010
I read Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden and it was so good, I simply had to read the first book she wrote, The House at Riverton. I was not disappointed. It took me about 100 pages to really feel pulled into the story but that's not uncommon with large tales that span a lifetime. A 90 year old woman's memories just prior to her death, span her servitude from the age of 14 to approximately 28, to the aristocratic family living at the house of Riverton. The story shows the incredible sense of duty and loyalty servants were bred to give their masters/mistresses and their children. It's a tragedy set in a socio-historical period when women weren't encouraged to read, have opinions or be intelligent. Repressed emotion and unfulfilled dreams were the order of the day. One could say this period of history around WWI was the antithesis to self-actualization. What a sad state of affairs. I have to say the most fascinating aspect of this novel was the period in which it was set. Morton paints a picture of what life was like for the servants and the leisure class, revealing both to have unfulfilled lives based on society's rigid expectations. Aristocracy was all about safe-guarding the family name and inheritance, while servants were to act like shadows to those they waited upon, guessing their every need while denying their own. Who can be happy in that picture? You guessed it. The stage is set for tragedy upon tragedy. I found I did not care for the characters the way I wanted to. The hero of the novel, for me, turned out to be Alfred, a soldier returned from war who has the courage to break free from servitude and build a life of his own. The women were sad products of their time, struggling to live true to their needs, desires and dreams, but not quite getting there. I would say Grace moved on solely by virtue of circumstance, not inner resolve. My other criticism is the character of Frederick is most annoying. We never quite understand why he is so silly with his children. Not talking to them because he didn't care for their decisions only rendered him selfish in my eyes. Moping about the grounds day after day almost turned him into a sort of comedic character who I hoped would just go away. It was impossible for me to feel empathy for him. Sure he was in his late brother's shadow and his business failed. I guess the moral of that story is, he who has no freedom to be who he is, cultivates no inner resources?

However, overall, the story is magnificently told, and if you read The Forgotten Garden, you will see in both books, Kate Morton is a fabulous writer. Nuances dot her story lines as she mirrors Grace's motivations and choices to that of Hannah's, and the house at Riverton's deterioration and later false portrayal through tourism, to society's desolation and then drunken gaiety after WWI. I couldn't put the book down. And I thought about it afterwards. That's always a very good sign. I also hope this becomes a movie. More than once, I felt very thankful for being a woman in 2010 !!
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I purchased this book as it was recommended to me by Amazon, due to the fact I had purchased, "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. I would say it was a wonderful recommendation! I was hooked immediately. Although I am not a huge fan of story lines that switch back and forth between the present and the past, Kate Morton did a really great job of doing this and I found I didn't mind it at all. The story flowed well. I enjoyed this book so much, I am planning on buying the next book Kate Morton has recently released...I just have to wait until the price goes down a bit!
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Kate Morton did her research before writing this book, and it shows. She succinctly portrays aristocratic English life during WWI and the twenties. An underlying theme is the emergence of increasing courage by women to break the shackles of subservience to their station as defined by the patriarchy and social convention. Perhaps being reined by such a strong female, Queen Victoria, for the latter half of the nineteenth century did have leave an imprint on the twentieth as to what women could accomplish. But after her death, although women continued to admire the Queen's strength, society had grown weary of the staid, repressive, conservative mores and kow-towing to the establishment.

The main characters in the book form a soul triptych: Hannah, an intelligent, pensive, reflective adventurer; her sister Emmerline, a free-spirited, rebellious non-conformist; and Grace, the narrator, a shy, servile girl loyal to her masters, an observer forever yearning for acceptance by others. Robbie, a poet, being burdened by emotional wreckage from the war, inserts himself indelibly into these characters' lives.

This work may be one of a few novels from the first decade of the 21st century that will still be read a hundred years from now. It has a classical style and powerful conclusion, but it can't quite measure up to du Maurier. Morton has a wonderful skill with phrases and her characterizations are intriguing. The narrative by Grace, towards the end of her life, alternates with her descriptive memories from the past, which she tapes for Marcus, her grandson. I did find the jumping back and forth somewhat annoying, especially when the two scenarios occur within one paragraph. All readers are familiar with the literary device of foreshadowing. Morton goes beyond that and uses teasers or spoilers that clearly state what will be occurring later in the book. Whenever this occurs it is somewhat disconcerting for readers but the suspense then revolves around "how does it get to that point?" The climax is reached at the very end (do not peek) and will no doubt establish the book to become a contender for deserved recognition in the mystery/suspense genre.

This book is not riveting from the start so it takes patience to get to its second half. There is romance and passion in this book but not the types that will endear romantics. Really, this story is rather joyless, so it shouldn't be pursued to explore emotions of felicity and gladness.
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on October 22, 2012
Kate Morton weaves an atmospheric WW1 tale of the secrets of a former housemaid and the secrets of those who employed her, and the price paid for keeping those secrets. The story is told in flashback, as the woman is now old and close to dying. I love these glimpses into what life was like living in a very structured class system. I only wish that the narrator would have questioned certain circumstances and events that happened to her, and that she have been a little more assertive overall..............but then that would have been a completely different novel.

This book follows a similar storyline to the BBC miniseries Downton Abbey (I saw the series before I read this novel). Characters in the novel will remind you of characters in the tv series.

I read The Forgotten Garden, Kate Morton's second book, prior to reading this. Ususally second books are weaker than the first, but I found The Forgotten Garden to be a much stronger book. Having said that, I did enjoy this book and I will definitely read more of Kate Morton's work in the future.
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on May 17, 2012
This is Ms. Morton's second book I read and even though it took me a long time to get "hooked" by it, as I did in Forgotten Garden, by the end I was truly hooked on her stories.

This one made me feel sad at the end and the end was a surprise to me. Beyond that it was once again a riveting story. A young girl works as a house maid in the house at Riverton and the story spans years of her memories from that time. The reader learns the old unspoken rule that in all houses of wealth, whatever is seen or heard is never ever spoken of to anyone. She has the privilege of working in the house with the owners, so through the years family experiences become secrets to be kept to oneself. Those are the rules of the house and for us as modern readers this can be frustrating to read about, but I knew why she kept secrets that should have been told.

Through the teenaged years, years of war, experiences that become secrets, the author moves the reader through to an ending that surprised me. I didn't see it coming.

I guess I have to read this one again... good thing I own all three of her books, Forgotten Garden, House at Riverton, and the Distant Hours.

I am now her biggest fan!
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on December 3, 2011
I really enjoyed reading this book. It was not quite as enthralling as The Forgotten Garden, but it was still a page-turner and Kate Morton did a great job of developing her characters. I enjoy how her stories take the reader back in time and really make you feel for the characters and want to know more about what has happened/is happening to them. Great story!
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on April 27, 2014
Kate Morton is a master of gothic Edwardian mysteries. Her evocation of life between the two world wars: the manor houses, the culture of a privileged society of a dying aristocracy will keep the reader riveted to her novels. While her stories are character driven, her descriptions of the British upper classes are sure to keep followers of Downton Abbey and Brideshead Revisited mesmerized. These are books to curl up to with a warm fire and a cup of tea.
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