Saturday, February 4, 2012

REVIEW: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

 Synopsis (from Amazon): 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.

My thoughts: In the beginning of the novel we meet Julia who is living a despondent existence due to some as yet unnamed tragedy that she suffered.  Her sister tries to pull Julia back into the land of living and finally succeeds when she gets Julia to accompany her back to an estate sale at Wharton Park where the family grew up.  While there Julia runs into Kit Crawford, heir to the Wharton Park estate and current resident of the cottage that used to belong to her grandparents.  During renovations Kit finds a diary he returns to Julia and it piques her curiosity enough to seek out her grandmother to learn of the history behind it.  What follows is a trip back in time to the 1930's where Julia's grandmother Elsie is a young woman serving as ladies maid to Olivia, a beautiful young lady who visits Wharton Park while debuting in London and catches the attention of Harry Crawford, heir to Wharton Park.

I was intrigued by the set up of the plot line in this story with the discovery of the old diary.  I tend to enjoy family sagas and also books that have both past and present day story lines.  While the story was entertaining enough, I found myself constantly questioning the direction it was going.  I didn't really connect with the whole present day story with Julia the overcoming of her tragedy but the parts set in the past pulled me in starting with Olivia and her coming out in society while Britain is on the brink of war.  I liked learning the background of the Crawford family and exploring the connection of the Crawford's to Julia's family through Elsie and her beau Bill who worked in the greenhouses on the estate tending the beautiful orchids grown there.  When Harry and Bill go to war and end up being jailed together in Thailand it has lasting consequences for both families (this is where the big family secret originates from but I won't give it away).  The actions of the character who the past story centered on were disagreeable enough where I found it hard to have any sympathy.  I did feel plenty of sympathy for those impacted by this person's actions though. The present day story with Julia though seemed to drag the whole rest of it down for me.  Instead of diving right into the mystery upon the discovery of the diary which was the most interesting part of the book, the reader has to wade through Julia dealing with her issues and insecurities about a budding romance.  Because of this I felt like I was constantly being pulled out of the story and it made it seem like it took forever to get back to the mysterious portions set in the past.

Also as I mentioned earlier about not being sure of the direction the book was taking, that is because the further along the story continued the more it felt like I was reading through a soap opera instead of a historical fiction novel.  The story line (and especially the ending concerning Julia) became too far out of the realm of what would happen to a normal person to be believable.  The book was a decent enough read.  I was entertained by it but I think I would have enjoyed it much more if it would have stayed on more solid ground in terms of plausibility.

 I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley.  These are my honest thoughts on the book.

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