Author: Sarah Jio
320 pages, Published by Plume
Buy The Book: Amazon
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? (Summary provided by Plume.)
I read The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio in one sitting. I rarely have time to read a book in one sitting anymore, but I made time for The Last Camellia. Picture me cooking, folding clothes, and having sex with The Last Camellia in hand reading the entire time. Okay, I’m joking about the sex part, but the other two examples are absolutely true! However, the cooking involved a microwave.
The book has two protagonists. Flora, a young woman living in New York in the 1940s, reluctantly takes a job working with a con man to find the last specimen of a rare breed of Camellia, the Middlebury Pink, believed to be in existence at an English estate. She accepts the job because she desperately wants to help her parents get out of debt. She takes up residence at Lord Livingston’s estate as a nanny, and soon realizes she isn’t up to the task of deceiving one family in order to help her own. On the journey from New York to England she met a handsome man named Desmond. Desmond’s appearance at the estate and the mysterious death of Lady Anna, the Lord’s wife intrigue Flora. Soon Flora begins investigating what happened to Lady Anna while slowly coming to love her job as nanny for the children and fending off the con man for whom she’s supposed to be working.
The other protagonist Addison’s storyline takes place in the year 2000 (FYI: I can only say “in the year 2000” in Andy Richter’s voice with a flashlight shining on my face). When a person from the past Addison’s kept secret from her husband Rex begins trying to blackmail her, she talks Rex into vacationing at his parents newly acquired English estate which is the manor once owned by Lord Livingston. A garden designer by trade, Addison immediately becomes fascinated with the gardens and spooky history of the estate while trying to come to terms with her past.
This is more summary than I normally give in a review, but there is a lot of awesome going on in this book. I didn’t even mention Mrs. Dilloway, the creepy housekeeper or the string of mysterious disappearances from the 1940s that Addison tries to solve. When I finished the book, I was a bit misty-eyed with a smile on my face. Nate asked me what it was about. I spent ten minutes trying to explain it to him. I finally said, “It’s like Downton Abbey with more murders and not in the same time period.” We love Downton Abbey.
The Last Camellia was actually not in my TBR pile. I received it recently, and planned on waiting until the end of summer to read it. I picked it up absentmindedly today and started thumbing through it. Before I knew it the novel had me hooked. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, because I enjoyed The Violets of March and The Bungalow by Sarah Jio as well.
No author mixes the past with modern day like Sarah Jio. She has the gift of making characters from a bygone time period seem real as though the era she’s writing about occurred just the day before and not years ago. Readers who enjoy a compelling mystery and finely crafted characters will love The Last Camellia.
FTC Disclosure: The publisher provided me with a copy of the book mentioned, and I receive a small commission on all purchases made through using the Amazon links on this site.