Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hazel Gaynor - A Memory of Violets

1876. Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden's flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by each other's presence. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.
1912. Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London to become assistant housemother at one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the homes have cared for London's orphaned and crippled flower girls, getting them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start, a chance to leave her troubled past behind.
Soon after she arrives at the home, Tilly finds a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora's entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her lost sister. Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie—but the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.

Comment: This is a book I've gotten interested in and recommended to a friend and then we decided to read it as a buddy read, meaning we both read it around the same time and now we will chat about it to compare thoughts. I liked the book and I know, from the grade used, that my friend also enjoyed it a lot. This was a wonderful surprise!
In this book we follow two women through their lives and their feelings. In 1976 Florrie is a young Irish girl who sells flowers with her younger sister, Rosie. After their parents die, Florrie tries her best to help and protect Rosie but one day she is taken from her in a busy market day and blind Rosie can't get back to her sister. For decades, Florrie looks for Rosie but doesn't find her and dies not knowing what happened to her.
In 1912, Tilly Harper is young woman starting to work at Violet House, one of several houses taking in crippled or orphaned girls who used to sell flowers and now work in factories that make beautifully done fake flowers. Tilly doesn't want to think about her past and she quickly sees herself part of Violet House and the girls she takes care of. But a diary found in her new room and the time spent with people who care for her will make her want to uncover a mystery and give closure. Can she do it?
I liked this book a lot. I confess I begin to read dreading the awful sad and unfair parts where the girls who sold the flowers would be mistreated and abused somehow but thankfully the story isn't a study on the disgraces of the world, it's a story more centered around the key characters, their lives and the people they know. We do have a realistic idea of how difficult and poor life was for people who didn't have money or any means to survive with decency, but the focus is on Florrie's desire to find Rosie and then on Tilly's life and her wish to help Florrie's spirit or soul by finding Rosie and letting her know she was loved and looked for until Florrie couldn't go on anymore.
This was a very emotional read but I can say it's not as depressing as I feared and in the end it's actually sweet and slightly uplifting.
Florrie's part of the story is mostly told from her diary, that Tilly finds. It's emotional, heartbreaking because she loved Rosie and dies without knowing and how that sometimes it's the hardest part, not knowing where our loved ones are, if they are well... I wish Florrie's life had been kinder and that she could have found more happiness other than the flower houses and the girls, but maybe the fascination is precisely that, a love that doesn't let anything else get in the way...but I wish Florrie could have found her sister sooner. 
The last scene made me cry, despite the happy ending.
As for Tilly's parts, obviously they are bigger, more developed, for she's the main character after all. Tilly is young but she lives with guilt and fear and some other feelings from her childhood she can't exactly process. Closer to the end, she also finds closure, a very needed one, and some situations are explained. I think some things were dramatized in an unnecessary way, but since the majority of the novel is well done, well executed and I had such a pleasure reading and unwillingness to put it down I just put aside any little things I didn't find as amazing.
Tilly arrives in London, where everything is different, but she's wise, she learn to cherish her friendships and she even grows to respect and like Edward, a young man who will understand her back.
I liked Tilly, I could accept her actions based on what she thought was the way things really happened in her past, I understand her decision to move and how she couldn't avoid developing feelings for the girls, Edward and mr Albert Shaw, the person who made it all possible.
I wanted to keep reading, I wanted to see Tilly find out about what was right or not and I had a good time seeing how Tilly grew up to be an amazing woman and how she tried to help Florrie's spirit.
I think the author thought well about the story, about how to tell it. At some moments, certain parts seemed to lose speed, but that isn't a bad thing in my opinion. The author did a good research, I was convinced I was reading things about real situations, about possible real actions and moves in history. The fiction part was lovely, emotional but not depressing and there's a happy end, despite some sadness that one can't avoid.
I was really impressed and very glad I decided to risk on reading this book. I like historical fiction but it's not the thing I look for the most. I think that, for a buddy read, my friend and I did pretty well. I recommend this one.
Grade: 8/10

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