BLURB: “As a child, concert pianist Julia Forrester spent many idyllic hours in the hothouse of Wharton Park, the grand estate where her grandfather tended exotic orchids. Years later, while struggling with overwhelming grief over the death of her husband and young child, she returns to this tranquil place. There she reunites with Kit Crawford, heir to the estate and her possible salvation. When they discover an old diary, Julia seeks out her grandmother to learn the truth behind a love affair that almost destroyed the estate. Their search takes them back to the 1940s when Harry, a former heir to Wharton Park, married his young society bride, Olivia, on the eve of World War II. When the two lovers are cruelly separated, the impact will be felt for generations to come”.
REVIEW: This is one of those types of book that I find it very hard to review without giving anything away! I have always enjoyed novels in this style, introduced to me by my Nan, which combine historical events, settings and atmospheres with modern protagonists intrigued to discover more about their pasts. The plot-lines from 1940s Wharton Park and Thailand combine wonderfully with the present-day settings, ensuring that a great degree of mystery and intrigue is developed. Riley captures cleverly the true essence of family, and what impact the skeletons in the closet can have on the inner workings of a family unit. Although the dialogue can sometimes seem stilted or even cliched, the characters are developed in such a way that the majority of them are likeable, and all of them manage to gain some degree of the readers’ sympathy. The only character I found myself scathing of was that of the main 1940s protagonist, Harry Crawford, whose confusion over his sexuality is dealt with in a somewhat unsatisfactorily dismissive manner. After this episode I found it difficult to trust him and therefore difficult to like him anywhere near so much as I liked some of the other more minor characters, such as Elsie and Bill. Overall, however, Riley’s story is entertaining and engaging, with a twist in the last 100 pages that will have you completely stumped as to how the ending will turn out. Well worth a read for both historical and modern realism fans.