Sunday, January 22, 2023

The China Garden by Liz Berry


When I was living in the UK, I remember watching this really bad TV mini series called Children of the Stones, a horror/gothic about a town being held in thrall to a stone circle of megaliths. It was cheesy, but also kind of endearing as well, because on our weekend day trips, we saw so many small towns that had these megaliths and standing stones, and even though they were years and years in the past, the people in these towns still had so much respect for them.

THE CHINA GARDEN brought back all of those memories. It's a story about a girl named Clare and her mother, Frances. Frances is a nurse but it turns out that she lied a lot about her past. She came from a place called Stoke Raven, with a beautiful and ancient property called Ravensmere, where she was descended from one of the two great families who live there: they Aylwards and then Kenwards. Now that her grandfather is dying, she wants to go back and make things right, but she's reluctant to bring Clare for some reason. Clare, being a teenager, insists on going and is enchanted and disturbed by the mysterious old town and its secretive people.

I don't want to say too much about this book because less is definitely more going in. You don't see too many books being written like this these days: it opens up very slowly and takes its time setting the scenery and introducing you to all the townspeople. I don't think the heroine even really speaks to the love interest until about 30-40% into the book. That kind of slow-burn pacing is basically unheard of these days, with the love interests often kissing well into the first five chapters. Despite that, THE CHINA GARDEN ended up being a surprisingly spicy and steamy read for a YA. I was kind of surprised but also not because Liz Berry also wrote EASY CONNECTIONS and its sequel, which were basically bodice-rippers for teens (replete with dub-con). It just seems to be her style.

THE CHINA GARDEN is beautifully written, subtly magical, and has so many of my favorite tropes: dangerous and slightly unpredictable love interest, a headstrong and difficult-to-deal-with heroine, a small town with big gothic secrets, and a little whisper of magic. Not going to lie, I actually had chills at the end. It was that good. If you enjoy love stories with themes of redemption and inheritance, I think you'll love this book. It's even more magical if you've actually been to one of those small towns with standing stones and mazes. The only reason this isn't five stars is because it took a while to get moving, even for me, and ended up feeling quite front-heavy as a result.

4 to 4.5 stars

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