The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

Title: The Last Camellia
Author:  Sarah Jio
Publisher:  Plume
Release Date:  May 28, 2013
Pages:  320
The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio
About the Book:  On the eve of the Second World War, the last surviving specimen of a camellia plant known as the Middlebury Pink lies secreted away on an English country estate. Flora, an amateur American botanist, is contracted by an international ring of flower thieves to infiltrate the household and acquire the coveted bloom. Her search is at once brightened by new love and threatened by her discovery of a series of ghastly crimes.

More than half a century later, garden designer Addison takes up residence at the manor, now owned by the family of her husband, Rex. The couple’s shared passion for mysteries is fueled by the enchanting camellia orchard and an old gardener’s notebook. Yet its pages hint at dark acts ingeniously concealed. If the danger that Flora once faced remains very much alive, will Addison share her fate?


Wanda's Review:  This is a story of loyalty, sacrifice, and love with an added element of mystery. It is a tale layered with dark secrets that is intriguing and slightly eerie. 

The story takes place - past and present - at an English country estate, Livingston Manor in Clivebrook. The historic mansion was grand with its ivy covered stone facade and ornate cornices. It was like looking at a page in a history book. 

2000 - New York City - Addison, a garden designer, married to Rex Sinclair, was being threatened by her dark past. She harbors some deep scars of fifteen years ago. Filled with anxiety, Addison convinces Rex to take a trip to England to get away from someone who is threatening her. Addison and Rex arrive at the Livingston Manor, a house laced with secrets, now owned by his wealthy parents. Rex is a writer, whose novel-in-progress was set in a manor in the English countryside, and he thought it might be a perfect place for research. Addison soon becomes involved with the mysteries surrounding the mansion.

1940 - New York City - Flora Lewis, a wonderfully portrayed character, and her parents have a bakery in the city. They are having financial difficulties. Flora is contracted to commit a crime - to identify the rare camellia and report back to a ring of flower thieves. If she succeeds, she will be able to pay off her parents debts. She arrives at the country estate and is hired as a nanny to the Livingston children. She was in for a real challenge. The children had gone through three nannies in a few months. Their mother, Lady Livingston had died a year earlier and Flora soon becomes involved with the mystery involving her death and the disappearances of several local women. The story continues as England is preparing for the atrocities of war and the Germans are advancing. 

Other favorite characters:

Mrs Dilloway captured my interest with her mystique and rather icy personality. She is working at Livingston Manor in the 1940's and is still there a half century later. 
Mr Beardsley - the distinguished butler with a regal looking face, and very likable.
Mr Humphrey - The intriguing chauffeur with a rather cryptic personality.
Lord and Lady Livingston - seemed to have a lot of turbulence in their marriage.

It took me awhile before I became fully engaged in this book. The story just didn't have a good flow and I felt some parts of the storyline were forced. But, the individual stories were beautifully woven together with a crescendo of suspense at the end. Because of the perfect ending, which I absolutely loved, I rated this book 4 stars. 
About the Author:  Sarah Jio is the author of THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, a Library Journal Best Book of 2011, and THE BUNGALOW, both published in 2011 by Penguin (Plume). Her third novel, BLACKBERRY WINTER, will be published on September 25, 2012, and her fourth, THE LAST CAMELLIA, is out in June of 2013. Sarah is hard at work on her fifth novel. Based in Seattle, she's the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com and has contributed to major magazines, including Real Simple, Redbook, O, The Oprah Magazine, Cooking Light, Glamour, SELF, Health, American Baby and many others. She has also appeared as a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition. To learn more about Sarah, visit www.sarahjio.com.