Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Tea Rose (The Tea Rose #1) by Jennifer Donnelly

  • Title: The Tea Rose: A Novel
  • Classification: Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Format: Paperback; 592 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (December 10, 2007)
  • ISBN-10: 0312378025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312378028
  • Author's Website:

Life isn't always easy and it isn't always fair. At times it'll knock us down, but it's how we react to what gets thrown at us that defines us and, at times, strengthens us. Fiona Finnegan had the rug pulled out from under her. One moment she was surrounded by family, engaged to the love of her life, Joe, with a plan to pull themselves out of the poverty they grew up in. The next, her whole world came tumbling down around her as a series of unrelated unfortunate events befell her, one right after the other. Fiona Finnegan, however, was made of sterner stuff than most. She pulled herself together, dusted herself off, and set out for a new life in America. Not an easy task when you're an 18 years old young woman growing up in East London in 1888 and have a younger sibling in tow.

Thinking fast, keeping her wits about her, and using what she knows, she'll reinvent herself and rise from the ashes in a manner that will show her fiery resilience. After all, once you've hit rock bottom there's no where to go but up.
A killer stalks the streets of London and women are being found brutally murdered. People are being cautious because the murderer seems to evade detection. Factories aren't safe and accidents happen frequently. Laborers are forming unions in an effort to get better working conditions and wages. Business owners aren't happy and are fighting back in unconventional ways, sometimes with deadly consequences. Most people never dig themselves out of poverty as there aren't many opportunities. To do so takes a little luck, a lot of determination, and a good head on your shoulders. Being a woman, makes the possibility next to impossible as they have few rights and are not highly regarded by the majority of the male population. When Fiona and her brother go to collect money owed them from their father's former employer, they overhear a conversation they shouldn't have about their father's death and are discovered. They find themselves fleeing for their lives to New York in a hasty departure telling no one where they are going. That was probably one of the best things that could have happened to Fiona. For there she'll redefine herself and build a new life. A life not unlike the one she'd imagined in London, only without Joe, her former fiance, by her side.

Joe's life is also tracked by the book. He brings about a little controversy to the story. ***BEGINNING OF A SPOILER*** Some might not get past that he cheats on Fiona. While I have never like it when a main male character cheats, I found the whole situation rather intriguing and very questionable. Fiona warns Joe that Millie, her arch enemy, is after him. He doesn't believe it until it's too late. This seemed the type of situation usually reserved for a female character where a guy takes advantage of the female. In this scene, Millie gets Joe drunk, asks him if he'd like a quiet place to rest and sober up, he realizes too late she's led him into her bedroom where she proceeds to take off her clothes. My grandmother and I once had a whole debate over a similar circumstance in a soap opera. Could you forgive a person when they were so obviously trapped? Especially when under normal conditions the man would never have given the woman a second glance? Also, it brings up an interesting question--Could this be a form of date rape? After all he initially tried to get away and he wasn't in his right mind being that he was drunk. It makes one wonder.***END OF SPOILER***

My favorite part of the story is when Fiona rebuilds her life. I love how she's smart and unafraid to try something new. She listens to those who are knowledgeable and learns from them. She uses what she learns combined with her intuition and know how to build her own business. I love how she never gives up her hopes or dreams even when life looks bleak. I adore stories that are inspirational and this is definitely one of them.

Why is the book entitled The Tea Rose?  Well, I believe it's because of this quote, "Funny things, roses. Folks tend to think they're delicate, fragile. But some of them are right tough little bastards. Give them bad soil, bad conditions, they still grow. Insects, spots, drought--doesn't stop them. Prune them down and they'll come back at you twice as hard. Some roses are real fighters. Roses like that ought to be encouraged, I'd say." I felt this describes Fiona to a tea, er, I mean tee. lol I love it when an author subtly hints at something with a description from a seemingly unrelated item and you think, "Wow! That totally describes one of the characters."  Also, Fiona creates a company based on what she knows--tea. So the name is doubly befitting.

Some of my favorite lines:
- "Why?...You had it all--everything you could ever want."
     Joe turned and gave him a sad, bitter smile. "Everything, Tommy, and nothing at all."

- “God didn't have to punish him; he'd created his own hell. By himself and for himself.”

- “Men are the weak ones, luv. Didn't you know? Oh, you make a lot of noise, but its the women who are strong. Where it counts. In 'ere.” 

- "We're not punished for our sins, lad. "We're punished by them."

Now, I have to admit this is a long book and if you're looking for a lighthearted read you're out of luck with this one. However, every so often a book comes a long that makes you laugh, cry, smile, and sigh while engaging all your emotions. This is one of those books. Be prepared for an emotional roller coaster of a ride when you read this one and keep a box of tissues handy just in case. Luckily, all the sad and bad stuff hits you like a freight train at the beginning and had me wondering from one chapter to the next if we'd finally hit rock bottom. Overall, I gave this one 4 1/2 out of 5 roses. I'm forgoing the romance rating scale not because there aren't any romantic scenes, but rather because I feel this book is less about the romance and more about the story.

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