Sunday, May 31, 2009

The China Garden by Liz Berry

Wow. What a month. I think I'm through being a vagrant for at least the next few minutes. My car is littered with old MapQuest directions, my odometer is cruising toward the 200,000 mile mark with unprecedented speed, and I am a happy camper. A happy camper with a growing pile of books to review, but a happy camper nonetheless. I knew this month was going to be crazy, and it has been. Perhaps even crazier than I had anticipated. The end of the month has been littered with a slew of weddings and holiday barbecues and other such social occasions that have had me driving all over the state. Ever crazier is that June, which was supposed to be a slower month has already filled up, too. I might not have to be away from home as much, but that doesn't mean that I haven't booked up every free minute. Anywho, I'm having good times, have extremely few regrets (except for maybe going slightly overboard on wedding gift purchasing...perhaps buying *both* exorbitantly priced throw pillows was a bit over the top), so I'm going to try to avoid making apologies for my persistent absence from here lately. Next month, people are moving (and I'll help!), used books are being sold from a variety of libraries (and I'll buy!), fathers are having their day (must find pretty fishing lure!), and I'm trying to cobble together a getaway to Baltimore's Inner Harbor (but will those vacation days be approved?), so next month isn't looking all too promising for my increased presence here.

But, in good news, I have been reading books at about the same slow rate as I always do, even despite my packed schedule, which means, of course, when I do manage to drop by here, I will have books to tell you about.

So on today's episode of "Books I Read a Long Time Ago" I'll be featuring Liz Berry's The China Garden.

Clare has just finished with her exams and is finally preparing to go to college when her mother drops the bombshell that she's planning to leave her London nursing job to be a private nurse for the Earl of Ravensmere, an English country estate veiled in even more layers of mystery than Clare could hope to imagine. Though she could spend the summer in London with friends, Clare feels an irresistable pull to accompany her mother to Ravensmere, where, it turns out, things are more than a little strange. For one thing, everyone in the neighboring village seems to know her and all seem unusually happy to have her "back" at Ravensmere. Then the hallucinations of the would-be future start, and did I mention that irresistably handsome guy in motorcycle leathers that keeps turning up when Clare least expects him?

It doesn't take long for Clare to realize that she is already more wrapped up in Ravensemere's story than she can imagine and so, it happens, is that guy, Mark. As the summer unfolds, Clare learns that her mother has some deep, dark secrets in her past, and that the mystical powers of Ravensmere may well have claim on her own future.

And that's all I'll say in the way of plot summary, lest I give away one of The China Garden's many mysteries.

I found The China Garden to be an enjoyable, if not particularly memorable, read. Berry easily paces her novel with just the right amount of suspense to keep readers hungry for the answer to the next question. She also captures the darkly mysterious nature of what, on the surface, seems to be a beautiful but otherwise unremarkable estate. The back story and the current story are skillfully woven together, but older readers will probably catch on to much of the mystery before it's been revealed, which, I suppose is half the fun anyway. The only complaint I have has to do with the relationship between Clare and Mark, which, to me, always seemed a bit hollow and shallow for all the forces pushing them together and their own mutual attraction. Their relationship is an important premise for the story, and that it never seemed to go much deeper than lust had a bit of a negative effect on the story. But, then, this book's intended audience might not read into it is much as I'm doing which would make this all a moot point. All in all, a good read and one I would recommend to somebody looking for a good pageturner for the summer months.


  1. I'm reading the book too, but because I have to for school. After the first day I've already gotten to page 80. It's pretty descriptive and even though I think it's kinda boring, it's also keeping me interested somehow, perhaps the great amount of description. I'm really only 12 in an advanced English class and when I was just flipping through the pages I encountered a very mature love scene in which I think is a bit much for 12 and 13 year olds, even if their in advanced language arts classes!!!

  2. This book was sort of tossed onto a trolly in our library for the end of the year and could be taken by any student free of charge, it wasnt in the best of conditions but never-the-less I took it and began reading it, I am only 14 but the story was very compelling (I am facinated by books about history) I liked it very well indead and am glad that it now sits upon my work desk along with my other favourites. :)