The China Garden by Liz Berry

After finishing her exams, there is nothing more Clare wants to do than have a relaxing, fun summer in London before beginning her studies at Sussex University in a few months. Then, out of the blue, her mother Frances, a nurse, declares that they are moving to the rural countryside estate of Ravensmere in order to care for the elderly and ailing Mr. Aylward. Once she arrives at Ravensmere, Clare slowly realizes that there is something achingly familiar about the grand old estate and the quaint little village that abuts it, even though she has never been to or even set eyes on the region before.

As she quickly gets to know the residents of the village at the staff at the estate, Clare is confused and a little disturbed by the fact that everyone seems to know who she is. She even begins to doubt her own sanity after experiencing odd visions and is unable to resist visiting the derelict, abandoned China Garden  during the night. When she meets the cocky and volatile Mark Winters (called Mark the Bastard by his biker friends), an intense attraction follows and Clare not only begins falling in love with Mark, but with Ravensmere itself. After her mother reveals the fact that their own past is tragically linked to the estate, Clare begins to unravel a great puzzle involving a maze, the China Garden, the noble families of Ravensmere, and a legend dating back to the stone age and beyond.

This was a re-read for me; I think I first read it in grade school, and I remembered enjoying it very much so I decided to pick it up again since I didn’t remember completely what it was about. It was just as good as the first time. I’m not usually into mysteries but Berry did a great job of weaving it together with a sort of dark, romantic, ghostly emotion. There’s a lot of foreshadowing and tragic hints thrown about in the beginning, and by the middle of the book you’ve basically got it figured out. However that didn’t detract from Berry’s haunting story and very delicious romance.

I thought the premise of The China Garden was actually very clever and just mysterious (and a tiny bit scary!) enough to really keep you interested. It’s also plotted quite well–the tension begins to pick up slowly, and then faster as Clare (and the reader) realizes that there is very little time left to crack the mystery and figure out how to save Ravensmere and the people whose lives are so inextricably tied to it. It’s very exciting and tense. I don’t want to give anything away but I thought the climax and the revelation was suitably epic and interesting; again, a very hm… intelligent and ancient idea?

And look at that cover! I think this is the Avon edition, and it perfectly evokes the mysterious and romantic tone. Yeesss.

I really enjoyed this one, and after a bit of searching on the internet it doesn’t seem to be extremely popular or well-known. Too bad, it was a great read. You can buy it on Amazon, and I also found it at my library.

Where did I get this book? I now own it!
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Speculative Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Author Website: http://lizberrybooks.com, where you can also read the first 3 chapters of The China Garden online.

In for a Penny by Rose Lerner

Nev’s father, the “honorable” Lord Bedlow, has died as a result of a drunken duel. Left completely penniless, Nev (the newest Lord Bedlow) has sold their house in London and numerous other valuable in order to try to pay off the mountain of debt his father left behind from a life of gambling, drinking, and spending money the family did not possess. Still, it’s not enough, and there is the matter of his mother and his young unmarried sister who are now completely dependent on him for their livelihood. Rather than dooming his sixteen-year-old sister by marrying her off to a rich man over twenty years her senior, Nev realizes that it is he who must make the sacrifice by finding a rich heiress and somehow convincing her to marry him and pull his family out of debt.

Penelope Brown is a “cit,” or someone in London society whose family has become rich through business rather than being born into old money and nobility. Her father owns a successful brewery, making Penelope one of the richest young single women in London. After accepting Nev’s proposal, Penelope becomes Lady Bedlow, and discovers that she has made the worst (and possibly best?) decision of her life.

I typically stay away from regency-style historical romances, mostly because once you’ve read one shallow, brainless romance novel about the lords and ladies of 18th and 19th century London, you’ve read them all. Anyway I heard good things about In for a Penny from Angie, so I thought I would give this one a chance.

And I did end up enjoying it, mostly because of Lerner’s skill as a writer I think. She made it all very believable and her characters had actual personalities as opposed to the usual stock romance characters (Handsome Brooding Hero and Strong Yet Feminine Heroine). And even though the basic plot is sounds really contrived and formulaic (Couple in marriage of convenience eventually fall in love), Lerner really fleshed out the story and actually included the “history” in the “historical romance”.

Short, enjoyable read.

How did I get this book? My local library

The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

COVER the winter rose by jennifer donnellyRating: 8 out of 10
Summary: The Winter Rose begins in London in the summer of 1900. Reformers, moved by the plight of the poor, work to better their conditions. Among them is an idealistic young woman named India Selwyn-Jones. Newly graduated from medical school, India joins a practice in Whitechapel and tends to its people. With the help of her influential fiance Freddie Lytton, an up-and-coming Liberal MP she works to shut down the area’s opium dens that destroy both body and soul. Her selfless activities better her patients’ lives and bring her immense gratification, but unfortunately, they also bring her into direct conflict with East London’s ruling crime lord Sid Malone.

It is on these grim streets where India meets – and saves the life of – London’s most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. Hard, violent, devastatingly attractive, Malone is the opposite of India’s cool, aristocratic fiancé, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him – enticed by his charm, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.

My Thoughts: I believe this is the second novel, the sequel to The Tea Rose, the first novel that Donnelly wrote. I haven’t read the first one, and I had no problem just jumping into the story with the second book. 

While at times the novel could get a little preachy and cliche (especially with India’s idealism), the overall effect was very epic and sweeping and really immersed you in the story. The narration follows the characters throughout their lives, and it could easily have ended at several points but Donnelly twisted the story unexpectedly, and boom, you are off on another adventure. 

I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t very affected by the chemistry between India and Sid–I was rather sidetracked and more enamored with the plight between a pair of younger characters, Sid’s brother and another heroine who I suspect might be the stars of Donnelly’s next book. Overall a good, long read.