The Rose Garden
by Susanna Kearsley
(Sourcebooks, $16.99, PG) ISBN 978-1402258589
****
Readers who miss classic gothic romance authors such as Mary Stewart or Barbara Michaels will appreciate British author Susanna Kearsley’s latest time travel romance. Although it takes a while to get going, it slowly worms its way into the reader’s heart until at the end it is tough to put down.

Eva Ward, devastated by her sister’s death, leaves Los Angeles and returns to her childhood home in Cornwall, England to spread her sister’s ashes, and reconnect with her friends Mark and Susan Hallett. At Trelowarth, the ancient family home, the Halletts continue the family’s rose garden business, and Susan hopes to open up a tea room on the premises. Eva, a successful publicist, decides to stick around for a while and provide professional advice. But after she starts hearing voices and seeing people who aren’t there, she wonders if grief has driven her mad.

One evening, as Eva is reading in the study, she finds herself confronted by a very solid version of her hallucination, a handsome man who promises he will not harm her. After a few similar incidents she realizes she has traveled back in time to the early 18th century, when Trelowarth was inhabited by two brothers involved in the “free trade” smuggling business. Daniel Butler is also, much to his brother Jack’s dismay, caught up in the rebellion against Queen Anne’s successor George I, risking charges of treason to support the exiled James Stewart.

Although Eva has no control over her time traveling, she starts to welcome the journeys as she becomes increasingly attracted to the honorable, kind and brave Daniel. But Daniel has an enemy in the form of a British constable who is looking for an excuse to arrest the Butler brothers, and Eva’s sudden arrivals and departures could put Daniel’s safety even more at risk. Even if they can stay out of trouble, what kind of future is there for a couple who at any given moment may find themselves 300 years apart?

Unlike many of today’s urban fantasy romance novels, with kick-ass heroines and short, choppy paragraphs, The Rose Garden is a throwback to the good old fashioned days when the writing itself was as rewarding as the story and characters. The descriptive passages make the reader feel the wild beauty of Cornwall, which mirrors the melancholy that Eva feels without her sister. At first I was frustrated by the slow pace; almost nothing happens for the first 75 pages besides Eva reacquainting herself with her childhood friends, but eventually I realized that Kearsley was gradually setting the stage for an engaging romance. The plot picks up noticeably in the second half, including a clever twist that caused me to flip back through the pages to find the clues I had missed. Kearsley even makes a noble attempt to provide an explanation for Eva’s time traveling, as well as a solution to her inability to predict when she will appear or disappear. My only complaints were the affected mode of speaking that Kearsley uses for her 18th century characters, and the baffling nonchalance with which Daniel accepts Eva’s presence in his life.

This book won’t appeal to everyone, especially those who need their books to start with a bang. But if you want a well-written, rich romance with a strong, mature heroine, The Rose Garden is strongly recommended.

--Susan Scribner


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