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Retro Friday Review: The China Garden by Liz Berry

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post each week.
I'm trying to remember now where I first ran across a reference to this book. It may have been on Meg Cabot's blog a few years ago, come to think of it. She's always dropping good recommendations here and there and I often pick up on them. This one I ran down at my local library, where they fortunately had the gorgeous cover on the right. And not the hideously awkward cover on the left. I adore the cover on the right. It's really perfect for the book itself, evoking all the adjectives that spring to my mind when I think of it: shadowy, romantic, autumnal, and somewhat foreboding. And still it holds some secrets in reserve. In fact I always think of it as a fall read. One for someone in the mood for not having the storyline and the history of the characters totally spelled out for you. For those who like figuring things out along the way and enjoy something slightly different from the standard paranormal fare that is on display so much these days. This was my first experience reading a Liz Berry book. She is an artist and author from London and, from what I can tell, her books are not widely available on this side of the pond. Always a shame.

Clare Meredith is in a bit of a holding pattern as she prepares to go off to university. Finished with her classes, awaiting exam results, she finds herself a little disconcerted to be suddenly uprooted by her mother and unceremoniously moved from London to the remote estate of Ravensmere. Her mother has taken a position as private nurse to the owner of Ravensmere--a Mr. Aylward. Making the best of her new surroundings, Clare strikes out and familiarizes herself with the people and places of nearby Stoke Raven village. It is there she meets Mark, a somewhat rakish young biker boy fetchingly clad in leather, and the two of them strike up a friendship of sorts. At the same time, her new life begins to take on an eerie tone as it appears everyone in Stoke Raven feels like they know her already. One too many people comment on being happy to have her "back" and from there the situation only gets odder as Clare's mother reveals a few pertinent details about her past and her connection with Ravensmere itself. Then Clare discovers the China Garden and she, her mother, Mark, and Mr. Ayward find themselves thrust into a headlong rush to discover the link that binds them across time to this place. 

The China Garden is part mystery, part fantasy, part historical fiction and it kept reminding me on a regular basis of a short Mary Stewart novel. Particularly Touch Not the Cat. The rambly old English estate, the family inextricably tied to the land, the ESP. Add some exploration of ancient pagan rites meets early Christianity and you have The China Garden. I liked that Clare was a little bit older at seventeen and thinking about college and somewhat more mature issues. I liked her offbeat and leisurely developing relationship with dark Mark. I enjoyed her complicated relationship with her mother. I felt like the story never pandered to me and that I never quite knew for sure how it was going to unravel. In fact, it ended up quite more intricate and grand than I was expecting. But Clare and her intent nature grounded it all for me nicely. This one does not move along at a fast clip, but unfolds slowly and on its own time table. But the descriptions of the crumbling old manor and the small village surrounding it are lovely and I, for one, didn't at all mind sliding in alongside the characters and taking it as it came. For fans of Margaret Mahy, Libba Bray, and Mary Stewart. 

Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

Linkage
Leafing Through Life Review
The Lit Connection Review

Comments

  1. I just went back and found my own review of this, and was reminded of how much I disliked Mark--I never got over how he essentially kidnapped Clare the first time he met her...

    But the scenery is lovely!

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  2. The cover on the right is gorgeous while I don't understand what's going on in the cover on the left. This book sounds intriguing especially since you recommend it for fans of Margaret Mahy. I've added it to my wishlist!

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  3. I have never even heard of this book, Angie, but it sounds irresistible!

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  4. Charlotte, interesting. I don't remember being put off by Mark. But the atmosphere really stole the show with this one.

    Chachic, yes, it reminds me of Mahy's stuff. And those two covers really could not be more different, could they?

    Amy, it deserves a wider audience. I just stumbled across it and was happy I did.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, I loved Touch Not the Cat! I'll have to find this one. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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