Rating: 3.5 stars
Date begun: January 25th, 2012
Date finished: January 30th, 2012
When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves her PR job in California and goes to Cornwall, where they used to spend their happy childhood summers, to scatter the ashes. Emotionally vulnerable and grieving, she stays with old family friends in the house she remembers so well, and tries to make up for the room and board she's receiving by helping her friends, siblings Mark and Susan, to keep from losing their property. The house has beautiful rose gardens adjoining it, and while they used to have lots of visitors, interest has waned. Susan wants to open a tea room to bring in more tourists, and Eva agrees to help use her PR skills to assist her.
While staying in Cornwall, Eva at first thinks she's hallucinating from grief, as she hears strange voices in the house that no one else can hear. She sees an unfamiliar man, even talks to him a few times, and it's only when she finds herself in her bedroom, wearing his silk robe, that she is forced to admit that she's not going crazy, she just seems to be able to slip back in time to the 18th Century on occasion, and interact with the inhabitants of the house then. While sometimes days can pass on her visits to the past, no time seems to pass in the present while she's gone. Soon Eva is falling in love with Daniel Butler, a Cornish smuggler loosely involved in the Jacobite rebellion, who died centuries before she was born. How can she help her friends in the present, when she's pining for the past, and how can she possibly sustain a viable relationship with a man when she keeps popping back to her own present?
Susanna Kearsley's last book, The Winter Sea, was also a combination of contemporary and historical fiction, woven together. In that book, both the narratives were gripping and kept me turning the pages. The Rose Garden, unfortunately, was much better when Eva was in the past. Her interactions with Daniel, his brother Jack and their friend and fellow smuggler Fergal (who pretends Eva is his sister to explain her sudden presence) were so much more interesting and compelling than her present day endeavours to get to grips with the loss of her sister, and helping the Hallett siblings get their business in order. I kept wanting her to spend less time focusing on the present and go back to the past. To be fair, Eva keeps wanting to return to the past too, so perhaps this is just a clever ploy of Kearsley's, to emphasise how much more awesome Eva's life is there, but I doubt it. Still, a perfectly enjoyable read, and the historical bits are excellent.