Title: The Last Camellia
Author: Sarah Jio
Yet another fantastic Jio novel, this time with a bit of a serial killer mystery thrown in. It was worth staying up late to read. There’s always coffee for the morning after a good book.
The Last Camellia takes place at a manor house in England as World War II encroaches on their doorstep as well as more than half a century later. In the ’40s, it is Flora’s story we are following as she works as a nanny, all the while being blackmailed into searching for a rare, one-of-a-kind camellia tree. She doesn’t expect to love the children she’s taking care of, or to fall in love while at the manor house, but she can’t help it. More than half a century later, Addison and her husband take up residence for the summer as Addison tries to escape her past without letting it ruin her future.
The murder mystery is fantastic. I had my suspicions, but the reveal was dramatic and wonderful. It was amazing to see all these clues fall together in one pivotal moment. And the parallels between the past and the present lined up, leaving me on the edge of my seat and forgoing sleep just to finish. I cared so much for what happened to Flora and Addison that I couldn’t put the book down, even as my eyes fought to close.
Flora wants so much to be the good, helpful daughter who solves her parents’ problems. Her desires are played on and she is sent to England to pose as a nanny while working for a flower thief ring. She’s only supposed to gain the family’s trust, find the camellia, and report back. She soon finds herself enjoying taking care of the children and seeing them come alive. She makes friends in the house staff. She falls in love with the eldest son. But the con man she’s working for is always looming in the background, threatening her family if she doesn’t cooperate. On top of that, her appearance falls right in the middle of a serial killer’s rein, when girls are disappearing and no one knows who is behind it, even though they all have their suspicions.
Addison has been trying to escape what happened 15 years ago ever since the night it happened. She’s burdened by what happened in one night and someone won’t let her forget. She tries escaping to England, thinking getting away from the scene of the crime will give her a reprieve and a chance to come clean to her husband. The opportunity rarely presents itself, however, and she’s left feeling more confused than ever. She’s helping her husband write his novel, feeling inspired by the manor house they are living in. Even as everything looks like it’s falling into place, the truth starts to pop up and she can’t escape it this time.
I think at this point it’s safe to say Jio is one of my favorite authors. She has such a way with words, of blending the past and the present. Her novels show that everything is connected, even through time. What affects one person years ago can still have the power to affect people today. The stories are never easily confused, with each story having clear characters and plot, but as the novel carries on, the weaves and braids start to show themselves and it’s wonderful every time.
The Last Camellia is a superb story spanning decades that will have your heart in your throat, hands clutching the pages, needing to read just one more page. It grabs you right away and doesn’t let go until long after you’ve read the last word. This is a must read book.