RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley


Title: The Rose Garden
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Publication Info: Sourcebooks 2011
ISBN: 978-1402258589
Genre: Time Travel

The Rose Garden This review was written by SonomaLass. This story was nominated in the Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

The summary:     

When Eva’s film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs.

But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived – and died – long before she herself was born.

Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.

And here is SonomaLass's review:

As an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, as well as romance, I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of time travel in fiction. But I’ll admit, I steer clear of it most of the time in romance. The romance tends to involve an alpha male from the past and a feisty modern heroine, and much of the conflict is about the clash between his attitudes about women and hers. That on its own could be interesting, but in my experience it’s usually used to excuse the hero’s sexist attitudes and behavior. Add to that the tendency of these time-traveling heroines to be omniscient Mary Sues because of their knowledge of things like hygiene, basic first aid and history, and you get one reader (me) wary of the whole genre.

Susanna Kearsley, though, is an author I trust when it comes to history and romance, based on her amazing earlier novel, The Winter Sea. That fell into another genre I’m wary of, Scottish history, but I took a chance on it and just loved it. So based on that and the RITA nomination, I signed on to read and review The Rose Garden. And I’m glad I did!

First, I loved the setting. This is a love story, and it’s clear that the author knows and loves Cornwall, where the book takes place. When Eva decides that the location of their happy childhood summers is the best place to scatter Kat’s ashes, it’s clear that Eva herself feels in need of the comfort of a beloved place. Eva hasn’t really felt a strong attachment to place as an adult; she was home wherever Kat was, and without Kat, she is adrift and “all but dead.” (Chapter 2) Returning to Cornwall starts Eva’s process of really recovering and moving on from Kat’s death.

Kearsley develops the sense of place really well, and she makes it very believable that Eva finds Trelowarth and the countryside around it welcoming and comforting. But she also takes that idea of a special place and turns it on its head in the resolution of the story in a way I found incredibly romantic and special.

Eva is staying with old friends at Trelowarth, whom she hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years. (The family business is growing roses.) She is quickly caught up in their lives, particularly in a plan to open a tea room on the property to provide extra income. Her work is in public relations, so she is able to help with things like a web site and an advertising campaign; with no real reason to leave, she decides to stay for the summer to help with the opening. While walking alone, she begins to have strange moments where she encounters a man with anachronistic clothes, speech and manners; she thinks she’s having hallucinations, until one of their encounters last several days and forces her to believe that she is really at Trelowarth, with real people, almost three centuries ago.

Daniel, the man Eva meets in the past and with whom she falls in love, is also mourning a loss and in need of comfort and healing. His wife Ann, whom he loved dearly, died (much as Eva’s sister) of a lingering illness. In addition to owning Trelowarth in 1715, he is a smuggler and a member of the Jacobite rebellion. He is decidedly not an alpha hero; although he is physically strong, he is gentle, intelligent and thoughtful. He welcomes Eva into his life when she starts appearing periodically, accepting her explanation of time travel and quietly getting to know her. He and his friend Fergus pass Eva off as Fergus’ sister (incapable of speech, in order to cover up her accent), and they cover for her when she travels back to her own time.

Eva and Daniel fall in love very gently, over a series of encounters where she sometimes spends several days in his company. They clearly fill each other’s emptiness, although there doesn’t seem to be much future for them in this situation. It’s a sweet romance, without much internal conflict — but given the forces they face externally, that doesn’t mean the story lacks conflict or excitement. It’s obvious that Eva and Daniel belong together, but how that can happen is a question that it takes the entire novel to answer.

The time travel aspect is handled well; the issue of whether the future can be changed is considered but not belaboured, and there’s no real attempt to explain how or why it happens. Rather the focus is on Eva and Daniel (and Fergus) learning to deal with the fact that it happens and that Eva can’t control it. The stories both past and present are engaging; while each shift back to the present was an interruption of sorts to the love story, there were secondary romance plots that I also wanted to see work out, so I was always eager to read what came next in both time frames.

Above all, the book is beautifully written. I fell into it and didn’t want to get out. In fact, just picking it up to write this review, I got caught up in reading a chapter here and there and ended up re-reading the entire book. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending, and I really think this is a book best read the first time without knowing what happens. But it’s a sign of how good it is that I enjoyed re-reading it just as much.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Kim in Hawaii says:

    I spent my childhood summers visiting my English granny in Devon – across the river from the magical Cornwall.  I enjoyed THE ROSE GARDEN as it brought back fond memories of my time in Southwest England.

  2. 2
    SonomaLass says:

    Kim, I was just in Devon in early July. It was lovely to go back. I love the southwest.

  3. 3

    Great review! This book has been in my TBR collection for months, and I may have to push it to the top. I’ve loved books set in Cornwall since I read Rebecca.

  4. 4
    PeggyP says:

    Susanna’s audiobooks are fabulous, great stories and wonderful narration. Roslyn Landor did The Winter Sea and it was wonderful, Nicola Barber narrated The Rose Garden and I had not heard her before but she nailed it. If you haven’t tried her books – I highly recommend the audio versions.

  5. 5
    ToppysMom says:

    Ooooh … good to know, PeggyP! I read the review and immediately wondered: “Are they on audiobooks??” Now I know and now I will track them down. Thanks!

  6. 6
    SonomaLass says:

    Thanks for adding that; I don’t listen to many audiobooks, but this is good to know.

  7. 7
    SonomaLass says:

    This is set in the less desolate part of Cornwall; the landscape is old and mystical, but not forbidding. I hope you enjoy it!

  8. 8
    GhengisMom says:

    I loved this book and I am NOT a fan of time travel. It was so well written that it wasn’t like it was a Time Travel Book, it was a gorgeous book that happened to have time travel in it, if that makes sense.

  9. 9
    Marg Bates says:

    When I read this book I literally gasped out loud when I got to the twist! So fabulous. Just reading this review has made me contemplate ditching the books that I should be reading and giving this one and The Winter Sea a reread.

  10. 10
    Sveta says:

    Although I hadn’t read the novel, but it sounds like an incredibly beautiful story. Reading this review, makes me want to read it very badly.


  11. 11
    SonomaLass says:

    Yes, well put!

  12. 12
    SonomaLass says:

    Marg, my first impulse after finishing this review and the attendant re-read was to go back and read Thr Winter Sea again, too. Such lovely ebooks, even when you know the twists..

  13. 13
    kkw says:

    I didn’t find any twists particularly twisty, and I’m not especially a fan of time travel romances, but I still enjoyed reading both The Rose Garden and The Winter Sea.  I don’t know how to articulate what I like about Kearsley’s style, but whatever it is, I really like it.

  14. 14
    Emily says:

    i absolutely agree with this review.  I wanted to dive into this book and live within it. 

  15. 15
    xenu01 says:

    I am late to this party, but I just want to say that I adore Kearsley, and have been reading her religiously since I discovered Mariana in high school in the paperbacks section of my local library.  It is still one of my favorite books.

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