Friday, May 24, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

There are a few authors that I will automatically read whenever they have a new book published.  Sarah Jio is one of those authors.  I've read all of her books, and love her mix of history and mystery.  

The Last Camellia is Sarah's latest, and it involves a rare camellia, the Middlebury Pink.  It was long thought extinct, but one does exist; on the Livingston estate in England.  Here's where the past and the present come together and the story of Flora and Addison blend.

Flora's story begins in 1940.  She's a young American with an interest in botany; she works in her parent's bakery in New York City.  She is contacted by a ring of botany thieves to travel to England and find the mysterious Middlebury Pink on the Livingston estate.  Plans are to remove it and sell it to a Nazi officer for his girlfriend.  Flora hates to do it, but the lure of money to help her parents in their struggle to survive leads her to accept the job.  She finds herself on a ship to England, and the nasty Mr. Price is also on the ship, making sure she doesn't slip up and change her mind.

Once in England, Flora finds out she's been hired as the new nanny to the four Livingston children.  Their mother, Lady Anna, has died and the kids are uncontrollable.  Lady Anna was an American who love camellia trees and started an orchard of the trees on the estate.  Somewhere in that orchard is the Middlebury Pink that Flora has to find.  But how will she do it?  And as she gets to know and love the children, will she be able to betray the family and steal?

Addison Sinclair is our present day gardener.  She lives in New York City with her husband Rex and is a budding garden designer.  She has a secret past that is rearing it's ugly head:  a horrible man is released from prison and is calling her, threatening to tell her husband everything if she doesn't give him money.  Afraid for her life, she convinces Rex to travel to England for the summer to live at--you guessed it--Livingston estate.  Rex's parents have just purchased the estate, are traveling abroad, and are happy to have Addison and Rex stay all summer.  

Addison is there only a short time before she begins to feel there is a mystery surrounding the estate.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Dilloway, has been in charge of the house for 70 years; she knows every secret and won't tell much.  As Addison explores, she soon finds Lady Anna's secret:  a large conservatory built in the middle of the house, where she grew orchids, flowering vines, and lemon trees.  And she discovers a book Lady Anna put together about the camellia orchard, along with newspaper clippings about the disappearances of local women during the late 1930's.  Did Lady Anna discover something that lead to her death?

The story moves back and forth between Flora in 1940 and Addison in contemporary times.  Both are beginning to piece together the puzzle of Lady Anna's death, while still trying to find a solution to the sticky situations they find themselves in with no seemingly easy way out.  Will Flora confess to why she was sent to Livingston?  Can Addison escape Sean, the horrible criminal from her past?  The stories of the two women do tie together neatly, with an ending that will make you anxious for Flora and hopeful for Addison.  

If you're looking for a quick summer read full of floral information, a little bit of history, and a little bit of mystery, this is one to put in your tote for the vacation.  I always recommend Sarah Jio to people who want a good, solid story that keeps moving along and keeps the reader engaged and caring about the characters.  

Rating:  7/10 for characters, setting, and the information about camellias.  A solid read!  

Available in paperback, e-book, and audio.

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