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3.8 out of 5 stars574
3.8 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 15 November 2010
What on earth went wrong with this book? Was there no editor involved? It is at least 100 pages too long, there is endless overlapping of plot and descriptions of rain and thunderstorms. Chapter after chapter underlining the terrible fate of the lost love of Juniper, and then this huge build-up towards the final revelation of what actually happened... and.... it all seems a bit of a damp squib. After all sorts of dark references to the Father and his power over the 3 sisters, any suspense just fizzles away into the muddy moat.

Yes, there is some lovely descriptive language along the way, but SO much repetition, and so many allusions to other classics - Great Expectations, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle, and of course, the author's own first two books.

In the end, after days of struggling to reach the end of this heavyweight tome, I felt like throwing it across the room. So many words for such a small outcome.
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on 6 February 2011
Too repetitive, too long, too much build-up and altogether too much of everything.

I kept thinking 'hurry up and get to the point'. Yes, we know it's raining, or autumn or whatever. Too much descriptive text that it overwhelms you and detracts from the story.

I read this one on Kindle and didn't even have the satisfaction of throwing the book at the cat. (Sorry, wouldn't really do that).

Having said all that, as I enjoyed her first two books so much, if she writes another - I will definitely still try it.
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on 15 November 2010
Having really enjoyed The House at Riverton and quite enjoying The Forgotten Garden I was so disappointed with The Distant Hours. Running at least two hundred pages too long, this book was flabby, laboured and self indulgent. At times it was like wading through treacle with the purple prose that seemed to take up two thirds of the book. As for the story, it just all felt too familiar and meandered along quite predictably. I do love a good family saga set in a crumbling country pile but the author needs to bring some kind of freshness and originality to this well worn genre.

Everything was just so overwrought, I quite liked some of the characters, but didn't care enough about any of them to really care what happened to any of them. Except maybe Saffy, I quite liked Saffy.

I was expecting to tear through this book but in the end it took me about 6 weeks, periods of which involved putting this book down and reading several others. I really hope that is just a road bump in Kate Morton's career. Here's hoping that she returns to form with her next offering.
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on 21 June 2011
It was a dark and stormy night in the mysterious castle as a terrible crime was committed - an author bored her readers to death with over 600 pages of tedious prose ...
Three elderly sisters wander about in the dark (along with the plot), muttering about the awful events of the past but never quite revealing what they actually were. The rain keeps falling, some people are bad, sad or mad (and possibly all three), and everyone's terribly worried. Thunder crashes, and - wait for it - lives are ruined forever. But whatever happens, they must NEVER discuss it amongst themselves. This doesn't stop them boring us poor readers with it, however. Page after page of internal monologue and unconvincing descriptions of England during the war are occasionally interrupted by scenes set in an equally unrealistic present, in which a dull girl tries to solve the mystery of what inspired an unpleasant sounding but apparently famous book.
Hands up all those who guessed at all the so-called dark secrets long before they were eventually revealed? And by then, did anyone actually care?
This book is crying out for an editor with a hatchet. That is, if a story so drowning in cliches could ever be saved.
Whatever Kate Morton was trying to achieve, and at times you can almost see what it was, I'm afraid it hasn't come off. She has obviously been heavily influenced by classics like Jane Eyre, I Capture the Castle, Great Expectations, and Rebecca: maybe she should read them again, this time paying more attention to how it should be done. And while she's at it, she could try reading Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger, too.
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I've been blissfully absorbed in this haunting, Gothic tale for the past four days. The dual timeframe/buried secrets style is a bit of cliché now, but when it's done well (like this), I'm hooked.

The story follows publisher Edie Burchill's quest to find out exactly what happened when her mother Meredith was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during WW2. By co-incidence (or is it?), Edie's favourite childhood book, the dark, mystical True History of the Mud Man, was written by the owner of Milderhurst, Raymond Blythe, and Edie's journey brings her into contact with Raymond's daughters; twins Persephone and Seraphina and their younger sister Juniper.

The twins - dour, practical Percy and meek, kind-hearted Saffy - are wonderfully eccentric in both the wartime and contemporary (1992) threads. The ethereal, damaged Juniper doesn't make much of an impression until about halfway through the book when her tragic story is revealed. Along the way Edie unravels tales of lost love, frustrated amibition, madness and murder. The pace really builds up in the second half of the book, leading to a stormy, rain-soaked denouement in which all the loose ends are tied up very neatly.

This wonderfully atmospheric story has all the right Gothic ingredients for me - books, twins, lost letters, family secrets/betrayal and a dilapidated country house with secret passageways and batty relatives in the attic. I've loved all three of Kate Morton's books now, can't wait to see what she comes up with next. I'd recommend this one to fans of The Thirteenth Tale as I think it fills the gap very nicely while we wait (and wait) for Diane Setterfield's next book.
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on 5 May 2011
I was really looking forward to this book, as I enjoyed Kate Morton's first two novels, House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. I got the hardback for Christmas and as I was laid up after an operation, I thought it would be ideal - however, here we are in May and I actually only finished it last week! To be fair, if you put a book aside for a long time you do lose the plot a bit, but I found it so tedious I could only read a bit at a time, and once I was up and about again I had better things to do. It was much too long, and as someone else has said, could have done with some good editing and at least 100 pages chopped.

I thought it was repetitive, and very confusing, jumping around as it did between present and past. I am also not keen on books written in the first person, but perhaps that's just me. I carried on reading because I thought it would get better, and something would happen, but sadly, it just seemed to fizzle out. I nearly abandoned it but as it was a Christmas present from my daughter, and the expensive hardback version, I felt I should persevere, but oh, what a relief when I finally finished it! I guess it will now go into the next charity bag.
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on 30 July 2012
I really enjoyed this story, I've read that some other reviewers felt the book was too long and laborious, but I didn't want it to end. I lost myself completely in it while reading, cups of tea went un-drunk and the bath water went cold around me!

The story of the three Blythe sisters, Percy, Saffy & Juniper & Meredith, their war-time evacuee, & Edie, Meredith's daughter held my attention thoroughly throughout the novel. There were several twists to the tale, some I had guessed, others were a suprise. I know some people found the end unsatisfactory but for me it was the only possible ending.

Sometimes stories that jump backwards and forwards in time can feel a little disconnected but I felt the story flowed very well.

The reason I am giving it a 4 star review not 5 is because I felt that a book based on the castle having "talking walls" & "caretakers", had the promise of being darker, more eery and I didn't feel that it explored that side of things enough.

I will definitely be looking out for Kate Morton's next novel.
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on 4 December 2011
I was really excited when I picked this up. The blurb was interesting and the thickness of the book promised a really satisfyingly good read. Oh dear.

Firstly, by the end of page one I knew why the book was so long. Ms Morton uses twelve words to say what most people would say in six. Far too much description, flowery prose and adjectives. I found I skim read nearly the entire book - except the end which I didn't even read - more on that in a minute.

The twins at the centre of the novel and their poor mad sister are not attractive characters. I don't mind characters that are flawed but you just can't bring yourself to care about this trio. Percy is vile and Saffy is a wimp.

The key twists in the plot I had guessed by a quarter of a way through. There was a slight twist that I didn't see coming but it was delivered in such a flat manner that I gained no enjoyment from it.

At that point I gave up. The book should have stopped around there anyway, but I figured as I had learnt the great 'mystery' there was little point in torturing myself anymore.

I agree with the other reviewers - what was the editor thinking? Nice setting, good premise but awful characterisation, unfulfilling plot and meandering amateurish writing. Sorry Ms Morton - but this goes in the Send Direct To Charity Shop pile.
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VINE VOICEon 22 November 2011
Edie's favourite book is The Mud Man by Raymond Blythe and she devoured it as a child, but as adult she did not think she would revisit it, and certainly not in the way it actually affected her life and her mothers. When a letter turns up after fifty years, Edie finds out that her mother was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during the Second World War and stayed with the Blythe family. The father, the author Raymond hardly seen by Edie's mother during his stay and his three daughters Percy, Saffy and Juniper. But there is something about these three sisters which when Edie suddenly gets the chance to meet, years later the whole story starts to tumble out and it is not what it seems to be. Secrets eating everyone up from outsiders of the castle to the sisters themselves, Edie becomes part of their story just like her mother did.

This is Kate Morton's third novel, and in my opinion not as good as the previous two. She seems to have lost something with this book and I am not sure what it has lost. I did not connect with any of the characters in particular, I found Edie rather ineffectual and weak not standing up to anything past or present, dealing with a split from her boyfriend was testament of this. Her mother was merely a vehicle to tell the story and that was a shame, because I think she was the stronger of the two. The three Blythe sisters were characterised well and it was clear where their strengths and weaknesses were. The rest were and are quite forgettable.

Structurally I felt the novel worked, it flowed quite easily between the time periods, late nineties and the Second World War but it was ultimately too long, at least 200 pages too long. Too much was made of something and nothing through prose. It just seemed to take a long time to get going then when it did it came to a halt and we were back to a meandering too slow pace. There was not enough about the Second World War for me, the research that she might have done and mentioned at the back of the novel, not enough of this content within the book. What was there was perhaps boring and been done before.

A gothic dark novel which was neither and it was disappointing when I was expecting so much from this novel and author. I would still be interested to see what else comes from the pen of this author but if you are new to her, then do not start with this book.
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on 4 July 2011
I have loved the novels by Kate Morton so far (The House at Riverton &The Forgotten Garden)...but find it hard to believe this one is her latest. Why? Here goes:

#1 - too long
#2 - too many words (not the same thing as #1)
#3 - undeveloped characters/stereotypical characters
#4 - sadly lacking in editorial help
#5 - really boring, a word I only allow myself to use in a review if I can say why...

I really think this has the feel of a first novel - the one from the writer's drawer that maybe should have stayed there. I say this because the previous two novels were so polished, so narrative-led and well-crafted. This seems to be a problem with modern publishing...some way down the line in an author's output either the editors stop thinking they need to edit or they believe it OK to drop an earlier piece of work on an unsuspecting readership who naively expect new books to be better books. So longest is not necessarily best.

For Kate Morton I do feel very sad to have written this review. But I really tried to get 'into' your book, Kate. I considered it might be a title to leave on the bookshelf for another time, maybe an autumnal read. But then I just lazily read the ending, some parts in the middle and felt the whole author-reader relationship just did not mature in this book.

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