And that's the most bitter thing about love: you can't understand it, measure it — not all its edges and intricacies — until it's gone and the clear print of its negative self is left behind.
~p. 12 of The Museum of Forgotten Memories (Advance Reader Copy - the final print version may be different)
In The Museum of Forgotten Memories by Anstey Harris, Cate Morris is still grieving the loss of her husband, four years past, and now she's lost her teaching job and her home. But, she has one last option. Her husband Richard was the heir to an estate with a museum full of treasures from around the world, including stuffed animals collected by his grandfather, Col. Lyons-Morris. For reasons he never explained, Richard stopped talking to his grandfather and never returned to their ancestral home; he even dropped part of his double-barreled last name. Although he never returned before his death, their son Leo has the right to take residence in the sprawling mansion.
So, Cate and Leo pack up their flat in Islington and travel to the home that contains Hatter's Museum of the Wide Wide World, which is now run by a steely woman named Araminta Buchan and a handful of employees and volunteers. It's on its last legs. Within 6 weeks, it's likely that the board that oversees the running of the museum will close it. They would benefit from its liquidation and it's unlikely that funds will be found to prop it up. Can the museum be saved?
Leo looks just like his father but he has Down's Syndrome and Cate has clung to her parenting role. Now that Leo has arrived at his ancestral home, he's finding a new strength and determination. Will Cate be able to let go and allow Leo to grow and thrive, even possibly start a new life with someone else?
Richard's best friend, Simon, dated Cate before she saw Richard and felt an immediate spark. He has been a kind presence as Leo's godfather and was a rock during the rough years of Richard's decline but spends most of his time out of the country. When Cate falls for a new man, will it last or will she be drawn back to her dear friend?
Recommended - OK, first . . . you have to know half the reason I accepted this book for review was because of that stunning cover. How could you not want to know what's within its pages? In the preface, the author talks about the real museum in Kent that inspired the story and the kindness of the Major who preserved the animal specimens the museum was known for. I just added a new place to my bucket list. If it's at all like the fictional museum version, it must be worth the visit.
As to the story, I had some minor issues with it that aren't worth mentioning and a problem with Cate's romance. The man she fell for moved on Cate faster than lightning. I was completely creeped out by the speed of his advances, to be honest, and never trusted him. Whether or not I was correct and he turned out to be trustworthy, I won't say. But, there are many surprises in The Museum of Forgotten Memories. It has a lot of plot twists that I never could have anticipated and only a couple that I managed to figure out with few enough hints that they were probably lucky guesses rather than a case of too much foreshadowing.
I will say that I found it challenging to like Cate, at first. She was quick to make assumptions, a little haughty, and so heavily weighed down by her experiences that her inner monologue was a bit dark, sad, and judgmental. But, she was willing to confront her issues and apologized when she was wrong. So, she grew on me. And, while I haven't encountered many Down's Syndrome characters, it felt to me like Leo's character had the ring of truth. I had a friend in high school with a brother who had Down's and he always glowed when he spoke of his brother and how everyone loved him. Leo is like that; he has a temper yet he's also a charmer and everyone adores him.
Obviously, there's a lot to this book. It has a surprising complexity and a gentle wisdom. And, I do love a book set in a sprawling English mansion.
My thanks to Gallery Books for the review copy!
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