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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 18 November 2010
I'm not normally a big fan of "sweeping family saga" type books, but this was given to me by a trusted book-buddy, so I decided to give it a go - and I have to admit I was totally hooked! To use the old cliché, I literally could not put it down. There's actually more to it than meets the eye. First and foremost, it's a gripping, dramatic, multi-layered storyline that whisks you along, complemented by interesting, believable characters that you really care about. I loved the juxtaposition of the blossoming contemporary romance between Julia and Kit and the love stories/family secrets from the past that are tantalisingly pieced together as the novel unfolds. Without wanting to give too much away, expect some surprising twists! It's beautifully written and conveys a wonderful "sense of place", moving effortlessly between contemporary/wartime England through France and Thailand and back again. The different historical and cultural settings for the various parts of the book are seamlessly interwoven, everything has an authentic ring that lets you lose yourself in these seemingly disparate worlds. I also empathised with the moral dilemmas and divided loyalties that various characters face throughout the book - the conflicting demands of family responsibilities versus personal desires, duty versus free will, are timeless themes that strike a chord with every generation, and are explored here as an integral part of the story. This is top-notch contemporary/historical romantic fiction at its best. Enjoy!
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on 18 January 2011
I pinched this off my girlfriend on holiday last week, having run out of reading matter, so I should start by confessing that it's not the kind of book that I'd normally choose (more of a Frederick Forsyth kinda guy!) and I'm not about to become an avid fan of traditional romantic fiction overnight... hence only three stars. However, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it despite myself. Personally, I found the writing style fluid and easy, the story races along smartly and the historic settings and locations I thought were evoked extremely well and with considerable flair. Let's face it, this book is not designed for those looking for a Nobel-winning masterpiece with a deep meaning in every sentence. There's actually a certain charm in its innocence and straightforwardness - it's not trying to be "clever", there are no gimmicks, no murders, no gratuitous sex and no shopping! It is simply a great old-fashioned story about love, and the sacrifices we make for it. In short an excellent piece of escapism, if you're prepared to lose yourself in the story and not get too hot under the collar that the style isn't on a par with Proust. If you normally like this sort of novel (my girlfriend devours them and really loved this) I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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on 7 July 2016
Not as good as some of her other books. It was a bit slow until three quarters of the way through it and then the end was a bit predictable and, well a touch nauseating to be frank.
There are problems with the writing style too. Firstly people do not use terms of endearment such as 'my love' or 'my dear' at the end of almost every sentence as appears in the text. Usually only once or twice in a whole conversation in my opinion.
Also it could be argued that the author doesn't have much experience of older people. An 87 year old is hardly likely to have a job hairdressing at the local old people's home at that age. Especially as the said 87year old couldn't have a decent length conversation without becoming tired and needing a nap! Perhaps that might seem a bit picky, but it all contributes to the enjoyment of the book.
On the plus side it was cleverly constructed and flowed nicely. Just wish it had been a bit more of a page-turner.
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on 29 August 2012
I normally love historical novels and family sagas, but this was quite disappointing. The parts based in the 1940s were enjoyable, but any parts based in the modern times were just boring, predictable and simply bland. The writing was basic and the excessive use of the word "darling" or "cherie" during dialogues just annoyed me. Do couples really talk like that to each other, either in English or French? And do French people living in Norfolk feel the need to finish all their sentence with a French rhetorical question to demonstrate their origins? I doubt it.
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As Lucinda Edmonds, Lucinda Riley turned out a vast quantity of what looks from Amazon like rather chick-litty books. This is her first novel under her real name, and an attempt - I think - to write some more serious literature. Like the novels of Rachel Hore, 'Hothouse Flower' is set in two periods. There is a present day story in which Julia Forrester, a virtuoso pianist, struggles to come to terms with the loss of her husband and son and conveniently falls in love with Kit Crawford, the heir to Wharton Park (the lovely Norfolk estate where Julia's beloved grandfather once worked). Fascinated suddenly by Wharton Park, Julia becomes caught up in the story of the last peer, Harry Crawford, to whom her grandparents were servants. This is where the historical bit of the novel comes in - the two historical sections, one set in 1939 and one in 1945, tell the story of Harry Crawford, heir to Wharton Park, of his marriage - encouraged by his mama Adrienne - to the attractive young Olivia, of their early marriage problems and of Harry's experiences in Thailand after World War II, where he meets Lidia, a beautiful young Thai girl and the love of his life.

To her credit, Riley can tell a good story. The two stories combine well, and she writes rather engagingly. There are some attractive descriptions of Norfolk and some beautiful ones of Thailand, and her main characters are all fairly attractive. I found myself believing in Harry and Lidia's love story, and being quite moved by Julia and Kit's in the present day.

This being said, I didn't feel really feel that the story quite worked. Some of the incidents seemed quite silly (Harry's wondering if he was gay and then suddenly deciding he was not, Olivia's sudden metamorphosis into a bitter old woman, the whole 'is Kit a bounder or a good man' story). I couldn't believe that World War II was missed out almost altogether, and that Harry wasn't more scarred by his experiences in Changi. The whole story about Julia's husband and how it was wrapped up in the final stage was completely unbelievable - I thought I was in that Bobby episode in 'Dallas'! - and the happy ending, though certainly pleasing, was OTT - I couldn't believe that Lidia had made so much money and that everyone got what they wanted.

For me, the real problem of the book, however, was the clunky style, particularly in the dialogue. The French characters all dropped into French every other sentence (sometimes grammatically incorrectly - when was the last time you heard someone say 'Pour tu' rather than 'Pour toi'?) Like a conscientious schoolgirl, Riley was clearly keen to avoid using 'he said'/'she said' and so kept coming up with other phrases: 'he sighed' was a favourite; also 'he chuckled', 'he mused', and others, sometimes not used quite correctly one felt. The 1930s and 40s speech was full of anachronisms, so many that I felt I'd walked into an episode of 'You Rang M'Lord' at times (lots of 'bally', 'ripping' etc). I don't THINK anyone said 'Tinkety Tonk' a la Bertie Wooster but may have missed it. And there were the inevitable melodramatic phrases: Xavier had 'fallen off his pedestal', people 'collapsing and weeping like a baby' etc. And the change in Olivia from sweet and intelligent young woman to arch villain did not work at all. Although I enjoyed the book as a switch-off in the evenings, it wasn't one that stood up to careful thought. Also, Riley should have done more research into the lives of concert pianists - Julia would have been MUCH more worried about having to take a year off work and probably a lot more driven and obsessive than she seemed.

Certainly a pleasant read - hence three stars - but not one that goes much beyond that. Riley says that she intended to write a version of the 'Madama Butterfly' story, but this version is a bit too sugary for my tastes. There's definitely some good things - particularly some of the material about Lidia - but this is not a book that's made a huge impression on me.

Three stars, and recommended for a light 'down-time' or 'beach' read.
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on 4 May 2016
HOTHOUSE FLOWER This was one of the very best books that I have read for a long time. So many twists and twirls even up to the last few pages I would recommend it absolutely! Lucinda Riley is a new authoress to me, and I also loved the Seven Sisters and their individual stories so far - you won't be disappointed.
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on 19 May 2011
I picked up this book expecting an epic family saga which, according to the publisher, was designed to "wring emotion from even the toughest reader's heart". Well, it kind of did wring some emotions, but none of them positive.

The plot is so contrived that in order to work it had to be crammed choke-full of improbable coincidences until it was completely unbelievable. The dialogues are stilted, wooden and unnatural, with lines like "Don't tell me that was actually a furtive vocal admission of the fact you might reciprocate my feelings?" turning up every other sentence (that was a contemporary character speaking, BTW, not a person from the 1930s). A lot of scenes that are supposed to be moving come across just as awkward and ridiculous as the dialogues - like a grown man throwing himself to the ground, weeping, beating the ground with his fists and crying his lover's name out loud, because he misses her. No, I'm not making this up.

Most of the characters are flat and unpleasant, while Lydia the sweet demure Thai girl and her family are painted as walking stereotypes, to the point of being offensive. The main male character, Harry Crawford, is a horrid, selfish egoist who treats his wife like so much dirt, and yet we're supposed to sympathise with his plight, because he's unhappy in his marriage. The book has some horribly misogynist undertones. The female characters all walk on eggshells around their partners, always bending over backwards to accommodate them. For instance,

Harry Crawford tends to be ruthless in bed, taking his wife by force and leaving her with bruises, while thinking about another woman all the way (the family gardener confirms that this is, in fact, OK), yet she doesn't dare to speak a word, because she finds his touch comforting, and doesn't want him to stop bedding her altogether. The physical and emotional abuse are all a trifle - it is only when she finds out about his war-time affair that she become all cold and distant towards him (which is not consistent with her characterisation so far, and has "The plot made me do it" written all over). Despite being ostensibly painted as a suffragette and a modern woman, she doesn't even consider either divorcing her husband or patching up things between them, but instead spends all her life living in his estate as a celibate, mean and bitter divorcee-in-all-but-a-name. Julia, Harry Crawford's granddaughter, certainly lives up to the family standard. When her husband, who presumably died in a car accident along with their little son, suddenly turns up a year later, claiming that he'd been in such a shock that he had to hide away for a year, she immediately buys this explanation, no questions asked.

I tried to find some positive qualities to this book, but, unfortunately, there were none. For me, it was worth neither the money, nor the time, nor the effort.
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on 14 May 2011
The author wants to create mystery and surprise the reader. But you know what is going to happen at every step, so predictable. The characters are weak and obnoxious, even more the ones that are meant to be nice. Also their reactions are not logical at all. The book should be around 200 pages, but she insists on repeating conversations between characters, she could easily have used 'and she told him what she had discussed with so and so'. Could go on and on. Just an example of its lacking: there is an old lady, to 'remind' the (stupid) reader of this she makes the woman say 'love' in every phrase. We chose this book for our fist boook club reading, nobody liked it, they HATED it, a group of 5 women between 21 and 36, from school leavers to highly educated, we hated it. Richard and Judy must have received a very good commission to recommend it, absolutely certain they couldn't have read it and liked it. Worst book buy, will destroy my copy.
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on 7 March 2016
There is something about the book which is addictive, although the ending is predictable and some of the twists and turns go a bit too far, I loved this book and found myself sneaking short reading snaps as I wanted to see what happened next. Highly recommended and enjoy.
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on 12 April 2011
Bought this book last week and read it over the weekend.

Suffice to say, I enjoyed it immensely. I felt the time-switching (which others have noted as being a little distracting) worked well, and put me in mind of "Waterland", where Jeremy Irons takes his class through his own childhood. I don't want to spoil the book for anyone, but I thought the ending was highly appropriate given what had come before.

Overall, I would say to anyone interested in historical romantic fiction to give this a go. It may be a little slow-paced for some, but bear with it. It is certainly a worthwhile read.
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