The Tea Rose was supposed to have been my fourth and final book of February. Had that been true I would have enough time to sneak in a bonus book (like the third book in the John Cleaver series) which would have been great. But, thanks to my stubbornness and the story improving greatly, I’m still making my way through Worst Journey.
Genre(s): Historical fiction, Romance, Melodrama
Publication Date and Publisher: 2002, Harper Collins
Format: Ebook for Kindle
Memorable Quote: When something hurt as bad as this, you had to let it hurt. There were not shortcuts.” page 101
Fiona Finnegan was born into a poor but loving Irish family in London’s rundown White Chapel neighbourhood. In the late 1880s while Jack the Ripper terrorizes the district, a 17 year old Fiona scrimps and saves to start her own grocery business with her lifetime love, Joe Bristow. When disaster strikes and Fiona is forced to flee London for America her determination, beauty and luck leads to a successful life far detached from the ways of her childhood. Years later a surprising twist of fate gives her the chance for revenge against the man who took everything and she returns to London for one final, deadly showdown.
The crazy twists, misunderstandings and dirty deeds make The Tea Rose read like a literary soap opera. With an uncaught killer on the loose, forced marriages, sex, meddling family members and corporate intrigue you’d think Donnelly was transcribing a 19th century version of Days of Our Lives. But it works. The twists and turns and ups and downs are what make the story so addictive, so addictive in fact that I sacrificed hours of sleep to find out what happened next.
Donnelly’s writing is well done and it appears she did her research and was able to make not only her characters but, the cities they lived i,n feel real and authentic. In doing this however, she spent a lot of time describing settings and scenery. This is one of my biggest pet peeves and it led to me skimming paragraphs and rolling my eyes fairly often during the second half of the book. This is a long book at almost 700 pages and had she been more succinct Donnelly would have ended up with a shorter but tighter, cleaner novel.
My second and final point of contention is the love scenes. There are so many sex scenes in this book that it’s almost a romance novel. Now, I don’t mind sex in novels (I’m looking at you Outlander) but in almost every case Donnelly’s characters are “making love”. Not only does the term make me throw up a bit but, to my knowledge, sex is rarely as all consuming and passionate as she makes it out to be. Sometimes sex is just sex.
This is a long book and it’d have to be to include the vast story lines and multitude of characters. Not only are there a ton of characters but there are a ton of extremely well developed characters. Fiona’s family and friends in White Chapel are loving, proud and full of humor. They’re not only sympathetic characters but are also well used by Donnelly to develop the atmosphere of community and desperation. Once Fiona arrives in New York the characters she meets are even more developed and I found myself anticipating their reactions to Fiona’s various escapades.
What I really enjoyed about Donnelly’s characters is that she does not allow them to be one dimensional. Will is a particularly good example of this: on the one hand he’s kind, sweet and clearly madly in love with Fiona; on the other hand he is a misogynist, way too concerned about society’s opinions and considers people to be dispensable. It is these flaws that make Donnelly’s characters feel real and true.
3 Random Thoughts
1. Why do the men in this book have such little faith in Fiona after she’s clearly proven she’s tough and determined? Joe assumes Fiona is struggling to get by in America, Will expects her to give up her dreams to be his wife and Michael still doubts her even after she makes his store into a great success.
2. How is it possible Fiona constantly meets such amazing and helpful people? I’m amazed at how willing to help Nick, Mary, Alec, Will, Nate and Maddie are. Is this just to move the story along or is that what 1880s New York was really like?
3. All the meddling and lying in this book made me want to scream! How many well meaning relatives can these people have? Between Roddy, Cathy and Will Jr. I thought I might throw my Kindle across the room in frustration. Seriously, let’s stop trying to spare everyone’s feelings and just do and say what we mean… it’ll save me a lot of grief!
3.7/5 – It may seem from my qualms above that I didn’t enjoy this book but I actually really did. The dramatic plot twists and tragic love story were addictive and I couldn’t put it down. I’ll definitely be checking out The Winter Rose, the next book in the series.
Have you read The Tea Rose? Are you a fan of historical fiction in general?