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.