Book Review: The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne
I got this ARC from Simon and Schuster and was really looking forward to it. The plot sounded like something I’d enjoy, and all in all, I did, but for some clunky writing now and then. (Where were the editors? At one stage the same thought is paraphrased about 5 times in the space of about 5 pages.)
I must admit I didn’t realise Winter Garden was the second part of a trilogy, and I have to wonder if I would have enjoyed it more had I read the first book (Black Roses).
Our heroine, Clara Vine, is an actress with an English Nazi sympathiser for a father and a now-deceased (I presume) German mother. She’s living in Berlin in 1937, starring in films, whilst secretly working as a spy for the British.
There are a slew of real life characters in the book — Hitler, Goebells, Goering, Ernst Udet, the Mitford sisters, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson to name a few — and I thought this was an ambitious idea which Thynne mostly pulled off. (Some of these people I knew a little of and some I googled whilst reading and found their stories quite fascinating/horrifying.)
The mystery part of the book is not very satisfying. It involves the murder of a young girl at a Nazi bride school which a friend of Clara’s (Mary, an American journalist) is investigating (for her newspaper). I don’t think there was enough of this investigation to make me care. It was almost a B-plot and I thought there could have been more focus on its details. Mary’s character seems to just turn up and I was supposed to instantly love her. The POV even changes to hers for a few chapters, and I was mystified by this and her presence in the book at all at times. (This might be where reading the first book could have come in handy, as I assume her character was introduced in it.)
Another character who just turns up and we’re supposed to love is Clara’s godson whom she’s adopted. Clara thinks over and over how much she loves him, and I suppose we’re supposed to too, just from Clara’s say-so that he’s a wonderful boy. I saw no evidence of his appeal, however.
If the book isn’t a mystery, it should then be a romance, and this is really where I have to lower the rating. I hated the ‘romance’ of the book. (I’ll readily admit this is why I read books, the romance, so when I don’t enjoy it, it’s disappointing.) There are two potential suitors for Clara in the book. I enjoyed the one character very much (a scarred Lutwaffe pilot who may or may not be trustworthy). The other (a fellow Englishman), not so much. In fact, I got the sense the latter character wasn’t even part of the original draft and some editor forced Thynne to add him to ensure the readers’ romantic buttons were pushed. Sorry, guys, but he just left me cold. He really seemed to be tossed in haphazardly. I don’t understand why Clara trusted him; I don’t understand why she was attracted to him; I don’t understand why I was supposed to want Clara to be with him. The entire plot with Strauss is much more thought out and interesting. Thynne should have just settled for him only.
I guess it is a good book in the sense that I am now curious as to what happened in the first/will happen in the 3rd. But it’s a disappointment given how spectacular it could have been with just a few minor changes.
3 1/2 out of 5
(Reviewed in March 2014 and originally posted to Goodreads only.)