Thursday, June 20, 2013

Book Review: The Last Camellia

The Last Camellia
Published By: Plume
Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Page Count: 320
Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Audience: Adult - Historical Fiction, Mystery

It's no secret that Sarah Jio is one of my favorite writers. I love experiencing one of her novels; they are gorgeously written, laced with history, include intriguing mysteries, and always have a contemporary heroine I adore. The Last Camellia offers all the things I've come to expect from a Jio novel, but this is the first one that does not have a connection to my beloved Seattle. I was slightly bummed about that. Since I have moved back east, I long for the Emerald City and Jio's books help me take mental vacations whenever the pangs of longing become too insistent. I needn't have worried. The setting in The Last Camellia is just as lovely and captivating as the settings in the previous novels.

One thing I really love about Jio's work is that she seamlessly blends contemporary and historical fiction. The contemporary strand of this novel follows Addison, a young garden designer living in New York City. Addison is married to a seemingly perfect man, Rex - he's British, intelligent, and romantic. Rex would do anything to make Addison happy, but she's convinced that if he knew about her deep dark past, her entire world would crumble. Keeping her past hidden wasn't difficult until a menace she thought was long gone returns and begins to blackmail her. When Rex's parents buy a country estate in England, Addison jumps at the chance to spend the summer there and leave her secrets in the States. Upon arriving at Livingston Manor, Addison finds an old novel belonging to a woman named Flora. Her curiosity is sparked leading her down a dark path filled with murder, mystery, and heartbreak.

The historical strand of the novel follows Flora, a twenty something American, who boards a ship for England on the brink of WWII. She has been hired by a notorious flower thief to locate a rare specimen of camellia known as the Middlebury Pink. In order to locate the prized tree, Flora goes under cover as a nanny. As always, you can expect the past and present to collide when reading Jio. I enjoyed the way Addison and Flora were connected; it also intrigued me that both girls were running away from men who held power over them. 

One other element that I always love about Jio's novels is the symbolism of plants. In each novel, plants have graced the covers and they often play a significant role in the story itself. The Last Camellia is no exception and the orchard that houses the trees becomes like an additional character. Like Addison, Flora, and Lady Anna, I grew to love the orchard and couldn't help dreaming of having one of my own someday. I've never truly considered camellias as something beautiful that I would want to grace my home, but this story makes them seem special and alluring. In addition, the Victorian language of flowers states that the meaning of the camellia flower is "my destiny in your hands". This meaning perfectly matches one of the dominant themes of the novel.

I will say that this novel was a lot darker than Jio's previous works. It also gave me the creeps on multiple occasions. The mysteries have always been compelling, but this one added an additional layer of fear. It was unexpected, but highly entertaining. I honestly didn't see the twist coming.

If you're a fan of Jio's previous work, this will be another favorite. If you haven't read Jio yet - what the heck are you waiting for? My only complaint at this point (as I have stated previously) is that she just can't write fast enough. I'm already counting down the days until I can lose myself in Morning Glory.

One Last Gripe: I still have some unanswered questions about Flora.

My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the strong role the camellias played throughout the novel.

First Sentence: The old woman's hand trembled as she clutched her teacup.

Favorite Character: Addison

Least Favorite Character: Sean

A romantic and suspenseful tale about two women whose destiny is bound across the years

On the eve of World War II, 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?


  1. I've read Violets and the Bungalow and loved them both. I do love how she mixes contemp with historical. This one will go on my list!

    1. I've read all of her stuff and love it all. You should also check out Blackberry Winter. I also snagged an ARC of Morning Glory which comes out in the fall. I can't wait to dive into that one.

  2. I have got to try one of her novels!


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