Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The China Garden - Liz Berry


 When Clare moves with her mother from London to Ravensmere, an historic English estate, she can't shake the feeling that the residents already know her, especially Mark, a maddeningly attractive biker. Clare also feels compelled to take midnight walks in Ravensmere's abandoned China Garden. Then her mother reveals that their own past is tragically linked to the estate. But when Clare discovers that Ravensmere is in grave danger, will she risk her future-and Mark's-to save it?


Back in my early teens, I read this book and it instantly earned a spot on my "special" bookshelf.  Having reread it for the first time, I'll have to chalk that up to inexperience and an over romanticized ideal of love and fantasy.

Although the novel attempts to give a dark, gothic atmosphere, it just comes off as cheesy and unrealistic.  So many aspects of this story really could have made the novel excellent if they had just been developed a little further.  For example, many characters are too flat and stereotyped!  Clare is probably the most well developed, but that is because she is the main character.  Her attraction to Mark is somewhat understandable as he is a "bad boy", but once again this is something that just isn't developed enough.  The author takes the hates-but-secretly-loves route - but rather than a gradual change of heart, Clare is suddenly okay with this attraction...with no explanation whatsoever.  Mark is even worse!  He has no reason to be attracted to her whatsoever - he just is!  Although this attraction could be , and probably is, attributed to the Benison, it just isn't explored.  Mark has no problem with his lineage whatsoever and he isn't worried about why he likes Clare.  He is sickeningly close to the romance novel stereotypical bad boy.  Tough outside, soft inside.  Again - this angle COULD work - but he comes off closer to bipolar!  But the worst fault of all in characters is the villain - whose name currently escapes me.  He is a completely black villain.  He is going to destroy the beautiful landscape of Ravensmere, but there is no motive! Money?  Why does he want money?  Or what twisted him to value money over all else?  Or is there a reason other than money? Did something in his past happen? There is absolutely no character development here.  Apparently he was just born evil.  I also wish that the owner had a little more mystique, but I suppose it makes it more realistic that in then end, he really is just a whiny old man.

The love triangle of the past was pretty interesting. Considering how soap-operaish the plot was, the relationships were much more genuine and developed than those expressed in the main story line.  I also liked that there wasn't a quick fix - it just implied they were headed in that direction (I won't give away anymore or I'll have told you everything about the novel!)

I did enjoy the more sci-fi/fantasy (probably closer to fantasy) aspect of this novel. It was an interesting concept.  I would have preferred for the "power" to have been explained a little more in depth, but I feel that the author consciously made the decision to leave things a little broad so the reader can interpret as they please.

After all this ragging I have on the story - it was actually a decent read.  Don't let this review deter you from checking it out (granted it's not even really sold in print anymore so I really mean check it out - from the library haha).  Unfortunately for this novel, I read it directly after Alice Hoffman's Here on Earth, a story that dealt with similar topics (inexplicable attraction and a very dark mood).  Hoffman's book was adult - and extremely dark, so in contrast, Berry's book seemed juvenile - which in a sense it is meant to be.  It also very difficult to follow a book with the quality of writing Hoffman usually displays.  I am also a lot harsher on novels that are so, so close - but just miss being an excellent read by a few points. 


I found many thing irritating about this novel, but overall it had a very engaging plot line.  I am glad I reread it, but probably will not do so again.


Readers chick lit, young adult, fantasy, and romance.  This novel has a heavy emphasis on environmental issues, so if you consider greeen reading crap, you might not enjoy this.

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