Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The Last Garden in England

  The Last Garden in England
Author:  Julia Kelly
Publication Information:  Gallery Books. 2021. 368 pages.
ISBN:  1982107820 / 978-1982107826

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Her steps in sturdy walking boots are steady on the stone path despite the ice that crunches underfoot."

Favorite Quote:  "Over the painful autumn months, she has learned to collect perfect moments of hope and joy to hold close."

Warwickshire, England.

1907:  Venetia Smith comes to Warwickshire to design a garden for Highbury House. She does that and finds joy and loss. Her story is that of the have and the have nots, the upstairs and downstairs, the aristocracy and the peasants and all other such divisions that people in society create. It is about love that crosses those boundaries and the repercussions it has.

1944:  The war brings Beth Pedley as a "land girl" to a farm in Warwickshire. Hers is a story of war. A "land girl" or the Women's Land Army was a civilian organization during World War II, created to meet the need for agricultural workers. She wants a home and a place to belong to. Her work brings her to Highbury House. The house has been requisitioned as a hospital.

Beth's is also the time period that includes the story of Diana Symonds, the lady of the manor and Stella, the cook who dreams of so much more. Given the number of characters and stories and the background of the war, this is the most complex of the time periods. Diana's story is perhaps the most interesting of all as hers is the story of a woman, a wife, a mother, and an individual charting a new path in life. Hers is the story of loss and strength.

Present day:  Emma Lovett lives as a nomad, traveling from job to job. A contract to restore the gardens at Highbury House bring Emma to Warwickshire. Hers is a story of a woman attempting to succeed on her own terms.

This book follows a tried and true approach of telling a story through different timelines and different characters with one unifying theme that carries through. All three stories are interesting and compelling in their own way as each focuses on a different central issue. However, as is often the case in these books, one story usually pulls more than the other. In this case, for me, it is the Beth's story. That time period provides the strongest historical context and incorporates more of the story of other characters, adding substance and depth.

What pulls the three stories and time periods together is the garden or what is really a set of themed gardens surrounding the estate. As someone interested in plants and gardens, I find the descriptions fascinating, and I wish there were illustrations. The changes between the time periods, the reasons behind the design, the choice of plants, and the safe haven people find within the garden all appeal to me. I am not sure if my reaction would be quite so positive if I was not a gardener.

Like this book, the first book I read by Julia Kelly was a book of multiple time periods with one being set during World War II. Is there pattern developing? It is a time period that evidently works for her books. According to her website, her book due out in December 2021 is set in the 1950s but hints are secrets of the past. Will the secrets lead back to the war? I look forward to reading the book to find out.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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