Book Tour Review: The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

Saturday, July 6, 2013
Title: The Last Camellia
Author: Sarah Jio
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Published: May 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours for review
Rating: 4/5

"Terrific … compelling … an intoxicating blend of mystery, history and romance, this book is hard to put down." --Real Simple

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?

A deft, intricate novel that encompasses two storylines of two similar women, The Last Camellia is a charming, mysterious, and fresh novel.  This was my first Sarah Jio novel, and it definitely was a good first impression. A novel that reads both easily and well, it's remarkably easy to get caught up in the atmospheric feel of The Last Camellia from the very first page. With the twinned, compelling stories of Flora in the 1940s and Addison in the early 2000s, the similarities and parallels between the two women add another meaningful layer to the themes and ideas subtly woven into the narrative. With a story comprising murder, betrayal, affairs, and con men, there's clearly a lot going on in this shorter novel, but Jio pulls it off with finesse and aplomb.

I hadn't read anything from this author before, though I have seen her work more and more in friends' reviews and book buys during the last year. If any of them had though to tell me how reminiscent of Kate Morton Jio's novels were, I might've gotten around to reading them before now. Both Morton and Jio like to parallel two diferent women in different time zones, often with a secret or a mystery. I say Sarah Jio is Kate Morton-esque, because she is far more direct and forthright with her plotting. There may be mysteries afoot for nearly all the characters, but it takes Jio far less time to wind up her story and tie everything together. Morton remains one of my favorite authors, but the favorable comparison and similarities to this prevalent and productive author were an unexpected boon.

The enveloping atmosphere evident in The Last Camellia is one of its many strong points. From the moors of Clivebrook, to the orchards of Livingston Manor itself, the feel of the novel is omnipresent and lends well to the suspense that is introduced later in the novel. The fact that Jio takes the time to show the same location in different periods of its history (the 1940s with Flora and 2000 with Addison) create a vibrant sense of place. The intrigue and suspense that begin to built early on only add to the engrossing nature of the novel; as the pages race by, the reader is caught up in the world this author took such time and care to cultivate. The gardens, orchards and camellias come to life the most and had me googling to learn more about these gorgeous but under-appreciated blooms.

Both Flora and Addison tell their tales in first person, with alternating chapters. From the different fonts used, it's immediately obvious who is narrating, but the diverse, independent voices created for each does much more to distinguish between the two characters. Including a 60-year mystery connecting the two protagonists, the threads that tie the two women to each other are numerous and subtly shown as the stories progress. Their perspectives are used to show the theme of how the past can affect the future, often literally. Both the near past and the distant have direct impact on Addison's storyline in particular.

Mysteries and secrets are another key facet of the multiple stories being woven through The Last Camellia's pages. Nearly everyone - past or present - that lives at Livingston Manor has a secret that defines their life and their actions during the novel. The central mysteries that propel the plot - what happened to Lady Anna? How and why did she die? What did Addison do that haunts her so? What is happening to all the missing girls from the village? - are bigger pieces of the story, but from Mrs. Dilloway to Desmond, there is more going on with these people than what is immediately apparent. The reveals, while some could be predicted ahead of time, almost all made for pivotal moments in the story's main plot.

There is a lot to be said about The Last Camellia. It can be suspenseful, charming, and always enjoyable. There may be a bit of a formulaic aspect to the plot, but that doesn't lessen the entertainment I felt while reading. With a tidy conclusion that wraps up nearly every plot thread, while leaving a key few open to reader interpretation, I thoroughly appreciated how ably the novel was ended. I don't know why I waited so long to read a Sarah Jio novel, but I do know it won't be so long before I read another.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one overall. Thanks for being on the tour!


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