Review: The Last Garden in England by Julia Kelly

My goodness, January has been a hell of a decade. Since I spent the first weeks of the month being absorbed in the news and ridiculous behavior of so many of my fellow Americans, my reading was not what it usually is. But I’m getting back in the swing of things with some great books, like The Last Garden—just the sort of historical fiction escapism I needed.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

My thoughts

I love historical fiction with multiple timelines. It’s kind of my jam. This book has not one, not two, but three timelines, with not three, not four, but five different women all connected to a single mysterious winter garden at Highbury House in Scotland. One of those timelines is WWII, and all of those women are fascinating in their own distinct way, so this book was a perfect read for me.

The writing is very good, and it’s clear that a lot of research about requisitioned homes in WWII (and English gardens, of course) went in to the process. Each of the characters has a clear voice and their own unique story, from the ‘spinster’ gentleman’s daughter-turned-garden designer in 1907, to the widow, orphan, and cook in 1944, to the modern-day entrepreneur restoring the gardens. The addition of little romance to the drama in each timeline was welcome and well done, too.

The rich descriptions of the gardens, as they are first planned, then in their glory, and later restored, really transported me into the story. I especially loved Venetia and Diana’s stories, but all of these strong female characters were delightful to follow.

I highly recommend this book to fans of WWII-era and historical fiction in general, and I thank NetGalley, the author, and the publisher for my free copy in exchange for this honest review.


Review: Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

This is one of those books that I’m probably going to be recommending to many people… you should read this book!

What it’s about

From the Goodreads blurb:

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

My thoughts

This was my first book by Rebecca Roanhorse (definitely planning to read her earlier work soon), but I still feel it’s safe to say she’s a fantasy genius. 😉

Black Sun is book one in a planned trilogy, so a lot of it is world-building and introduction of the many primary characters. The writing is very good and I had a difficult time setting the book aside for even a moment—I was glad to have both the ebook and audiobook so I didn’t have to for long. The characters are very diverse and incredibly fascinating. I want to know more about Xiala, Serapio, Naranpa, and Okoa, all of whom are complex and rich in backstory already.

This is excellent fantasy, full of prophecy and legend, gods, priests, and giant creatures. It’s brutal and bloody, sexy and enticing, and endlessly entertaining. The only complaint I can make is that it ended too soon, and with an abrupt cliffhanger that’s going to have me eagerly awaiting the second book.

I also highly recommend the audiobook, which is read by a great cast of narrators. The pronunciation of some of the names and terms was a welcome addition to my reading!

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy in exchange for this honest review.