Saturday, July 15, 2017

THE FORBIDDEN GARDEN by Ellen Herrick (Review & Dessert Pairing)




Ellen Herrick

Published by William Morrow on April 4th 2017
Paperback, 400 pages
Magical Realism, Mystery, Chick Lit


At the nursery she runs with her sisters on the New England coast, Sorrel Sparrow has honed her rare gift for nurturing plants and flowers. Now that reputation, and a stroke of good timing, lands Sorrel an unexpected opportunity: reviving a long-dormant Shakespearean garden on an English country estate.

Arriving at Kirkwood Hall, ancestral home of Sir Graham Kirkwood and his wife Stella, Sorrel is shocked by the desolate state of the walled garden. Generations have tried—and failed—to bring it back to glory. Sorrel senses heartbreak and betrayal here, perhaps even enchantment. Intrigued by the house’s history—especially the haunting tapestries that grace its walls—and increasingly drawn to Stella’s enigmatic brother, Sorrel sets to work. And though she knows her true home is across the sea with her sisters, instinct tells her that the English garden’s destiny is entwined with her own, if she can only unravel its secrets…


In her second novel, The Forbidden Garden, Ellen Herrick makes a welcome return to the quaint coastal town of Granite Point and gets us reacquainted with the quirky Sparrow sisters and their magical healing powers (read my review of The Sparrow Sisters).

Just as Patience read the people..., searching for the troubled bits in their bodies and hearts, and Nettie collected the harvest and composed meals that sustained the very same parts, Sorrel wove her plants and flowers into a tapestry of her own.

After some brief introductions, the author quickly shifts the action to an equally scenic countryside estate on the other side of the Atlantic –an enchanting English  mansion and its “cursed” Shakespearean garden serve as new center of gravity for a novel that is  handsomely written and rich in Gothic vibes.

Part landscaper, part sorceress, Sorrel Sparrow is hired by the illustrious Sir Graham Kirkwood to restore a six-century old garden to its former glory. With the help of six panels of fine tapestry depicting its original splendor, Sorrel will painstakingly resurrect the vibrancy and variety of its meanders once standing on the grounds of a Benedictine monastery, but in the process she will unearth a sinister chapter of the Kirkwood family history, and for this reason her quest to save the cursed garden will prove daunting and ultimately dangerous.

Kirkwood Hall, the ancestral estate built by Graham's predecessors during the reign of Queen Anne Stuart, is lovingly depicted in all its bucolic beauty. The author paints it with the languid and atmospheric strokes  of her artful prose and clever is also the way she concocts a mysterious (and supernatural) source of tension to tear down the veil of the apparent idyll: a garden brimming with illness and decay, and a gruesome past at its roots.

While Herrick features all those pleasures inherent to Gothic narratives (the uncanny element, the enigmas, the windswept landscapes, an eerie atmosphere), there is also great luminosity and cozy warmth in the description of culinary pleasures and romantic tension between Sorrel and her love interest (the brooding as much as attractive Andrew). Although not as taut as her previous book, Ellen’s narrative pulls together in a satisfactory way. 4 out of 5 stars



If I could pull one character out of Ellen Herrick’s latest novel and invite him in my kitchen, it would certainly be Andrew, Kirkwood Hall’s young and dashing pastor. Brooding he may be, but also seductively proficient behind the stove! The author indulges in the description of scrumptious dishes time and again throughout the book: my favorite is a dessert, of course. Jaffa Cakes are my pick for this ‘book & dessert pairing’. In bite size or, better yet, layer cake. Enjoy!



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