Book: The Last Camellia
Author: Sarah Jio
Summary: 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 a half 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? -Penguin Group, 2013.
This is another book that I finished almost right away because I was drawn so deeply into it and I wanted to find out what was next. I finished it within 2-3 days. It also is, unfortunately, another example of how the past/present timeline plot tends to rarely, if ever, have a balance in terms of plot. The past plot line is a lot more developed and interesting than the present plot line and as a result the present plot line suffers for it.
This review will keep spoilers to a minimum.
In the past, Flora is blackmailed into going to England to tell the leader of an international flower thief ring where the rare camellia tree is so she can save her family's bakery. To infiltrate the house, she becomes the nanny of the three children of the estate. In the process, she finds love, family, and mystery.
In the present, Addison goes to the manor where Flora had worked as it now is owned by her husband. Initially, she didn't want to go, but figures from her past who threaten her potential happiness prompt her to go. Her curiosity and love of flowers prompt her to find the same clues Flora did and solve the mystery that was open decades before.
There is no confusion as to which timeline you are in. Each chapter is marked with the woman's name, so there is no issue with confusion. The book gave me a Rebecca-esque vibe in terms of Flora's plot line - a mysterious house, a brooding widower, a housekeeper who has an almost unhealthy obsession with the dead wife, etc. In spite of those vibes, they don't quite go in the direction I thought they would.
The past plot line is fleshed out, intriguing, and ends on a climax that is only resolved in the present plot line. The conflict/crisis of the present plot line seemed very rushed and didn't play out very well for me. It almost appeared pointless to me since, in the end, it has no bearing on the past plot line or the main source of conflict in the story - the rare camellia plant.
The suspense and surprise twists were very good and I enjoyed them. I feel as if the plot lines, both of them, would have been even more well-developed in terms of pace had the book not been 304 pages with large font. That being said, both plots still achieve their purpose and they both are resolved very tidily. I also would add that I could see someone saying that Jio doesn't allow her plot to be complicated enough for her readers to figure out the gruesome details on their own. She tends to give them away or tell them to you before you can figure them out yourself.
I still enjoyed it and I want to check out her other books.
Overall, I give The Last Camellia an A-.
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