This book was lent to me by my sister in law as, although not really her type of book, she thought that I would enjoy it. She was completely right - I loved it.
Julia Forrester was brought up around the large country house and estate of Wharton Park where her grandfather was the gardener who took a special interest in the orchids in the large greenhouse, looking after them with tender care. When we first meet Julia she has been brought home from France by her sister, Alicia, to try and come to terms with a family tragedy. She is drawn to Wharton Park where she had spent many happy days as a child and meets the new owner - Kit Crawford. When Kit looks after Julia during a bout of flu they form a deep friendship. During renovation work at Wharton Park a diary is discovered and Kit encourages Julia to ask her grandmother about it. As Julia's grandmother relays the story of the diary to her, Julia is transported back to the world of Olivia and Harry Crawford who married at the beginning the Second World War, just before Harry was posted to East Asia with his regiment. Harry's story continues through his time as a prisoner of war and later his release at the end of the war. As the story unfolds it is clear that there are parallels between Harry & Olivia's story and Julia and Kit's and that Harry's actions have had an effect on Julia and other members of her family.
I loved all the characters, they were brilliantly brought to life by the author and each one was believable and likeable. I could empathise with all the main characters as Lucinda Riley made it so easy to understand their feelings about the situations they found themselves in. For example; Julia comes over as a bit hard and very mixed up at first but as her story unfolds it becomes very clear why she is like this and I liked and admired her very much as the book progressed. Harry made me irritated with him at times but he finds himself in such a difficult situation that I had to sympathise with him. Every character is rounded so that the reader gets to see both sides of each of their stories.
I loved the historical side of the book. I always enjoy books that are set around the 2 World Wars and like the fact that history can be learned whilst enjoying a novel. I didn't know much about how the war affected Thailand and so found this part of the book especially interesting.
I liked the way that the book switches between the future and the past and Lucinda Riley does this so well that it passes from one to the other seamlessly. She writes the book in such a way that the mystery running through it unfolds gradually with bits of information becoming apparent fairly early on and then making the reader wait eagerly for more. It kept the suspense going throughout the book and made me want to keep reading right up to the end. However, when I got to the end I felt sad that I had lost friends made through the book and I will probably read this story again in the future. This, I feel, must be the sign of a good book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes a bit of romance entwined with a bit of mystery and some historical facts thrown in for good measure.