Strangely, just as I completed reading my first novel by Sarah Jio, I received a notice from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program that I was selected to receive a copy of Jio’s upcoming The Last Camellia. This story is set in a very different place than The Violets of March, but there are some strong similarities between the books.
The Last Camellia takes place mainly in rural Great Britain. It toggles in time between 1940 and the present. The protagonist in both stories is a young American woman. In 1940, we meet Flora, a budding (no pun intended) botanist. Flora lives in the Bronx, and helps out at her parents’ bakery. After hours, Flora volunteers at the New York Botanical Garden. One day at the bakery, Flora is approached by a man who offers her a large sum of money to take on an undisclosed task relating to her knowledge of plants. The job is in England, and Flora will have to leave home for an unspecified amount of time. She agrees to the terms and it is only on board the ship bound for England that Flora learns that she is working for a ring of flower thieves. Her task is to locate the last surviving “Middlebury Pink” camellia. It is believed to be in the orchard at Livingston Manor, an English country estate.
In the present time, we meet Addison. Addison is a garden designer living in New York City. Her wealthy in-laws have just purchased Livingston Manor. Unbeknownst to her husband, Addison is being stalked by someone from her past. Hoping to escape, she suggests to Rex that they summer at his parents’ new home. Within a day, they have arrived at Livingston Manor, greeted by Mrs. Dilloway, the housekeeper who has worked at the Manor for 70 years. Boy-does she have some secrets!
Jio does a good job of going back and forth between the present and the past. There is enough suspense in Flora’s story to make up for the lack of it in Addison’s. Addison just seems silly and hysterical, while Flora seems more of a real person with real problems.But this was an engaging, quick read; probably best for a plane ride or beach.
Softcover edition-Penguin-to be published May 2013