- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 808 KB
- Print Length: 352 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Sky Warrior Book Publishing, LLC. (31 July 2011)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005FG1CJW
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,654,332 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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2012: Midnight at Spanish Gardens Kindle Edition
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Top customer reviews
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The premise is a simple one. Five friends from university days hold a reunion twenty years later on the eve of the predicted Mayan calendar apocalypse. During the evening, all five of them are mysteriously shown an alternate life and get to choose which one to stay in: the current life or the alternate. The five alternate histories are, in certain ways, like short stories, but they are all compelling and they fit perfectly into the overall story arc without feeling forced. There are some odd pacing choices - the earlier episodes are noticeably longer than the later ones, which puts them right on the edge of starting to drag. Quincey's alternate history in particular was both slow and overly schmaltzy, and I really wanted to hurry things along to find out how she would choose. Fortunately, the author's elegant writing style stops things from tipping over into overt sentimentality.
As the five step into their alternate existences, and decide which of the two lives they will choose, we learn a great deal about each of them, their personalities, the influences for good or bad on them, and their relationships. The choices are never easy, and in at least one case heart-wrenchingly difficult, but there are no right or wrong answers here, and this is not about correcting past mistakes. Rather, it's about who you want to be, who you are and about being true to yourself, even if that means giving up something else along the way. These are profound questions, and I'm sure everyone who reads this will find themselves in contemplative mood afterwards.
The ending is deeply poignant, and yet perfectly fitting. This is a beautiful book, elegantly written, with wonderful and memorable characters, and a thought-provoking subtext. It is barely-there fantasy, and would fit comfortably into mainstream literature. If the author hadn't suggested I try it, I would probably have passed over it as being `not my thing', and I would have missed a treat. The only minor criticism is that some of the alternate lives are slightly idealised, but I enjoyed it so much I can overlook that. Five stars.
There are two important things you should know about this book before you start. One, it is a decent chunk of bookness - this is not a slim volume that someone wrote while on holiday, you are getting serious bang for your buck here, this is a proper book-length book. I mention this because some e-books are just really short.
Secondly, this was written by someone who is an internationally successful author, who has been published in dozens of languages and countries around the world, who has been writing and publishing successfully for many years. I mention this for the same reason - buying an e-Book is risky because there are zillions of wannabe amateurs out there, so sometimes you end up with a book that is not quite up to scratch, written by someone who has no idea, but this is most certainly, definitely not one of those.
Oh, and if you are looking for an adrenaline-fuelled ride with some wisecracking action hero and lots of car chases, then you have come to the wrong place. Please leave. Now. This is not the book you are looking for.
"Midnight at Spanish Gardens" starts with an enigma. You are drawn in to a group of likeable friends who are simply having a pleasant evening meal together at their local bistro, the "Spanish Gardens".
Yep, everything looks fine, then something happens - (I can't say exactly what it is without spoilering, so I won't). This leads to each character travelling different paths into alternate lives. If you saw and liked the movie "Sliding doors" this will resonate with you, only there were only two paths in that movie while this book has more depth.
The strength of the book is in the characters and the writing, and in enjoying the lives that unfold so deliciously under Alma's deft keyboard.
My favourite character was easily Olivia. I liked her directness when she said things like: "... I can handle occasional bouts of the two of you locking horns. I can just retreat to the kitchen and make copious amounts of lasagna- it's comfort food and I hear psychological warfare can leave one hungry in the aftermath of battle." She says this while she is dealing with the stuffy Cabot parents, not the first young woman having to deal with difficult in-laws.
It's a sign of a good book if you are drawn in to the character's lives and start to care about them. Olivia is the first person we meet, and she hooked me in right away: "In fact, it was a little disconcerting to allow herself to realize that the single thing that had changed the most from the way things used to be twenty years ago was...herself." These are only the smallest crumbs from the book and can't begin to give a good feel of what it's about - the best thing you can do, is go to the Amazon page, choose the "look inside" option, and start reading. Once you've done that, it's a short trip to the yellow button, and one you won't regret.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Prior to skyping, our discussion concerned the genre of the book. It is a fantasy but it is not Epic,High, or Urban. The writing is good and reads like literary fiction. There are no elves but there is a character named "Ariel" who may be a barista, a rebellious angel, a metaphor for change, or the guy who won't get that toilet fixed. Someone suggested the book is religious fantasy but spiritual fantasy may be more like it. It might be fantasy for people who don't want to think they are reading fantasy (thoughtful but non-dogmatic C.S. Lewis.)
This novel is written with multiple points of view and four (five?) of the characters experiencealternative versions of themselves. These alternative lives are the best part of the book. They represent the choices that everyone has to make during the course of our lives but in the heightened way of story. I would mark it as a literary success that you may not always agree with the choices the characters make - the writing is that strong.
Several of our members complained that the book was initially slow. I think that is because the author is nostalgic for the time and place and lovingly wants to recreate that for the reader. Our group talked about places that were special for us.
I found several of the characters to be underwritten. The Ellen/Alan section in particular is too short. It is thematically so large (how gender affects choice) that it could easily be a whole novel. However, the author does a good job showing how the family environment can change due to gender - and how that environment changes you.
A great book to stimulate discussion. I think it might be enjoyed by people who have read and liked "Replay" by Kenneth Grimwood Replay or "Glimpses" by Lewis Shiner Glimpses I bought another book by this author but haven't read it yet: The Secrets of Jin-shei
Or not - it could all be me presuming too much on shared experiences for making sense of what is a VERY interesting book, on a number of levels!
I really liked the premise: using an "end of the world" restaurant rendezvous of a bunch of old friends / lovers / adversaries, to explore alternative life possibilities for each of them, by agency of a - what? Angel? Sprite? Alien? Who cares; Ariel is a fascinating and enigmatic character, and an improvement on the greasy-haired original in the REAL restaurant. Which really did offer the finest range of alcoholic coffees in the known universe. But I digress: her version is as good as the original, if Americanised for a wider audience, and she has been very deft indeed in weaving together a handful of threads that very easily could have got out of control - and bringing it all to a a well-crafted ending.
Alma is an author at the height of her powers, who has taken on a task of serious proportions, and written it well. I look forward to meeting the Spanish Gardens again, somewhere - in this universe, or another.
One by one the friends are invited to step through the door of the wrong bathroom...to live the life they might have lived if they had made a different choice all those years ago.
The concept is brilliant and the writing is superb. You will love this one.