Book Review: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Title: The Rose Garden
Author: Susanna Kearsley
Pages: 428
Genre: Romance, Contemporary Fiction
Release Date: October 4th, 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Source: First Reads win sponsored by

When The Rose Garden arrived in my mailbox, I was thrilled.  Who doesn’t love getting free books?  I immediately added the novel to my TBR pile beside my reading chair and eagerly anticipated the turn of the first page.  Then I discovered the book was classified as romance (this time with a little ‘r’) and my fear instincts took over.  So let me just preface this review with a disclaimer:

I hate mushy, gushy romance novels with a fiery passion.  Also, I have no clue how to even review a romance novel since I never read them.  Please forgive my rambling, ranting, and complete ignorance on the subject.

But before I get into all that, how about a little synopsis?  Eva Ward has been living in Los Angeles with her famous actress sister for years.  The story begins when Eva is faced with her sister’s death and given the task of scattering her ashes in the ‘perfect spot’.  She journeys back to the Cornish coast in England where she and her sister spent their childhood summers.  She gets a bit more than she bargained for, however, when she begins slipping between not only the memories of her own past in Cornwall, but also the all too real past of the 18th century – yes, there is time travel!  In 1715, she meets the only man she has ever truly loved and must decide in which century she really belongs.

Kearsley does setting and place well.  I could really picture the Cornish coast, the rose gardens, the old house, and endless forest paths through the cliffs of the coast perfectly.  She does a stupendous job of adding atmospheric depth to the overall mood of the story.  Her characters are described adequately enough; all were reasonably likeable, but lacking on the character development and the kind of depth that makes you care about where they end up.  Eva herself seems to be an ‘every woman’ character so that the reader can put herself as the heroine – established by the first-person narrator and lack of Eva’s physical description which we are never privy to.  The plotting moves quickly enough, although the middle does drag a bit.  Plus, the ending has a nice little twist that you may or may not see coming, but will put a small smile on your face regardless.

You feel a ‘but’ coming, don’t you?  When Eva first begins hearing voices and seeing parts of the past she believes she is seriously mentally ill.  She scours the internet for information on delusions and the side effects of the medication she is taking.  Her actions are believable and utterly human until she figures out that she’s merely been time traveling.  Apparently delusions caused by medications are something to be worried about, but actually time traveling back 300 years is completely sane and normal.  Who knew?  I’m all for a little suspension of belief, but Kearsley asks far too much in that department.

That aside, the romance storyline was awful.  Since you’ve been warned about my prejudices in this department, please take what I say with a grain of salt if you happen to be a fan of self-described love stories.  As soon as she sees Daniel she is in love – don’t get me started on this cliché love at first sight crap.  I just don’t live in a world where anyone would decide to stay 300 years in the past to be with someone they’ve known for a week or two – at least not anyone with a brain.  Nothing about that is relatable.  Daniel’s character is the least fleshed out and he has no discernable personality.  Why do women enjoy reading about other women willing to give up their lives for a man they don’t know at all?  Is this truly the kind of fantasy women wished their lives could resemble?  Someone needs to explain this phenomenon to me ASAP.

Despite my emotional rant above, I suppose I would recommend The Rose Garden to anyone who loves a good time traveling romance.  You probably know far better than I what constitutes a good fictional love story.  On Goodreads and Amazon, Kearsley’s novels all get smashing reviews by people in the know so forgive me my ignorance on the subject – these kinds of stories just don’t float my boat.  Not that I don’t love a great love story intermixed in fictional novel – I just prefer a bit more subtlety and broader foundation.  I own another of Kearsley’s novels, The Winter Sea, which I’ll still read so be on the look out!  It’ll be interesting to see if I end up a Kearsley convert!

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