Overall, this was pretty decent. Some areas were great (the father/daughter angle), some were good (decent writing, evocative), but some were decidedl...moreOverall, this was pretty decent. Some areas were great (the father/daughter angle), some were good (decent writing, evocative), but some were decidedly weak (the flashbacks!). A mixed bag but one that is so worth a read. (less)
Ah, Ann, you wonderful girl you. No review because a. I'm sickly b. behind on reviews I have to write and c. I just finished this and am still basking...moreAh, Ann, you wonderful girl you. No review because a. I'm sickly b. behind on reviews I have to write and c. I just finished this and am still basking in the awesomeness of it. 45 Pounds tackles so many things head on -family, body image, friendship - and carries them off with aplomb. It's a short, sweet, sad, funny book that more people should read.(less)
A deft, intricate novel that encompasses two storylines of two similar women, The Last Camellia is a charming, mysterious, and fresh novel. This was my first Sarah Jio novel, and it definitely was a good first impression. A novel that reads both easily and well, it's remarkably easy to get caught up in the atmospheric feel of The Last Camellia from the very first page. With the twinned, compelling stories of Flora in the 1940s and Addison in the early 2000s, the similarities and parallels between the two women add another meaningful layer to the themes and ideas subtly woven into the narrative. With a story comprising murder, betrayal, affairs, and con men, there's clearly a lot going on in this shorter novel, but Jio pulls it off with finesse and aplomb.
I hadn't read anything from this author before, though I have seen her work more and more in friends' reviews and book buys during the last year. If any of them had though to tell me how reminiscent of Kate Morton Jio's novels were, I might've gotten around to reading them before now. Both Morton and Jio like to parallel two different women in different time zones, often with a secret or a mystery. I say Sarah Jio is Kate Morton-esque, because she is far more direct and forthright with her plotting. There may be mysteries afoot for nearly all the characters, but it takes Jio far less time to wind up her story and tie everything together. Morton remains one of my favorite authors, but the favorable comparison and similarities to this prevalent and productive author were an unexpected boon.
The enveloping atmosphere evident in The Last Camellia is one of its many strong points. From the moors of Clivebrook, to the orchards of Livingston Manor itself, the feel of the novel is omnipresent and lends well to the suspense that is introduced later in the novel. The fact that Jio takes the time to show the same location in different periods of its history (the 1940s with Flora and 2000 with Addison) create a vibrant sense of place. The intrigue and suspense that begin to built early on only add to the engrossing nature of the novel; as the pages race by, the reader is caught up in the world this author took such time and care to cultivate. The gardens, orchards and camellias come to life the most and had me googling to learn more about these gorgeous but under-appreciated blooms.
Both Flora and Addison tell their tales in first person, with alternating chapters. From the different fonts used, it's immediately obvious who is narrating, but the diverse, independent voices created for each does much more to distinguish between the two characters. Including a 60-year mystery connecting the two protagonists, the threads that tie the two women to each other are numerous and subtly shown as the stories progress. Their perspectives are used to show the theme of how the past can affect the future, often literally. Both the near past and the distant have direct impact on Addison's storyline in particular.
Mysteries and secrets are another key facet of the multiple stories being woven through The Last Camellia's pages. Nearly everyone - past or present - that lives at Livingston Manor has a secret that defines their life and their actions during the novel. The central mysteries that propel the plot - what happened to Lady Anna? How and why did she die? What did Addison do that haunts her so? What is happening to all the missing girls from the village? - are bigger pieces of the story, but from Mrs. Dilloway to Desmond, there is more going on with these people than what is immediately apparent. The reveals, while some could be predicted ahead of time, almost all made for pivotal moments in the story's main plot.
There is a lot to be said about The Last Camellia. It can be suspenseful, charming, and always enjoyable. There may be a bit of a formulaic aspect to the plot, but that doesn't lessen the entertainment I felt while reading. With a tidy conclusion that wraps up nearly every plot thread, while leaving a key few open to reader interpretation, I thoroughly appreciated how ably the novel was ended. I don't know why I waited so long to read a Sarah Jio novel, but I do know it won't be so long before I read another.(less)
Gated is a pretty good, fairly solid and easy to read novel. It's not your typical YA book, though it does contain some of the tropes found in that age group (love triangles, love at first sight, etc.). It's got more than its fare share of action, especially as it nears the final few chapters but Parker relies on introspection, psychological thrills, and a slow build rather than a nonstop action-packed adventure to see her story through. Lyla is caught between the home she has known for ten years and increasing evidence that not all is as it seems in Mandrodage Meadows, which add up to a intense and exciting story
Parker has a simple style, which fits both Lyla's narration and the kind of secluded life she leads in the Doomsday cult. It's easy to get caught up in the first person perspective, and the subtle hints and allusions of wrongness build up naturally as Lyla learns more about her own community. The beginning is a bit dry and slow-moving, but Parker shows enough potential that reader will be engaged enough to keep reading until it gets good. The story really hits its stride just after the halfway mark, when Lyla is exposed to life outside of the Compound and begins to truly think for herself.
Breakdown by percentage:
1% - 50% - not enough going on 50% - 90% - just enough going on 90% - 100% - too much going on
I could have done without the romances. I could have done without the love triangle between the boy Pioneer picks for her and the mysterious boy on the outside. Honestly, if the story had been solely about Lyla breaking free from the severe "us vs. them" mentality ingrained over 10 years, it would've been a tighter, more engrossing read. It also would have been far more original. All of the love stuff feels so unnecessary, and so reminiscent of other YA novels.
Pioneer is both a benefit and a detriment to how Gated's story is caarried. In the beginning, his mystery, allure, and power over the group is unexplained and unquestioned. The way he approached Lyla's family when they were weak, scared, and isolated is a perfect example of what kind of man he is - opportunistic, cunning, and without morals. He camouflages his hunger for power for years under a facade of geniality, until Lyla begins to act differently than he would wish. His break down from pillar of the community to unhinged antagonist is authentic, but could use some polish. I main issue is that the story went on, and his control started to slip, he never really became more than a one-note villain. Parker never really shows why he is the way he is, or why he created Mandrodage Meadows -- whether it was for pure control, to swindle the families, etc. I don't know what led to his creation of the cult, and that felt like an oversight.
All in all, Gated had a few flashes of brilliance, but the one-note villain, the slow start, and the insane last few chapters took away from the overall impression. The story had been building neatly over the course of the novel, but I think the ending got away from Parker. There just way too much going on, much too fast. Simplifying the climax would render the whole more believable and fit with the rest of the novel better. That said, Gated makes for a complete diversion. It's a fast-reading, engaging story unlike most other YA novels out there.(less)