15 September 2008

Review: Jennifer Donnelly - The Tea Rose

~click on cover to buy a copy~

Paperback: 592 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (December 10, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0312378025
ISBN-13: 978-0312378028

East London, 1888 - a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger's son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.But Fiona's life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan's tea trade.

But Fiona's old ghosts do not rest quietly, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future.

Where to start when there is so much to say about The Tea Rose! This dynamic story engages the reader on so many levels that the world of Whitechapel comes alive through the pages in the mind’s eye. First of all it is the opening of this story; the murder of a prostitute by Jack the Ripper wich immediately grabbed my attention and never let it waver. For me, Jennifer Donnelly has given Jack the Ripper a realistic face, dark, almost sadistic and perfectly intertwined within this story, adding depth and true feel to the world of Fiona. This is also something I felt when I was reading this novel; I was there in Whitechapel, England anno 1888, through Fiona’s eyes I was a part of the alley’s, the buildings, houses and the river Thames. With the author’s fantastic painting of scenery it made the district come to life so vividly, but above all it is her outstanding character development that enthralled me to keep on reading.

The family Finnegan are living in changing times, when the low class workers try to unite themselves within the Union it clashes with the owners of the factories. Let me say that the situation will become worse before it remotely even shows signs of getting better. Fiona is a young woman of her class, working 10-12 hours a day for a few sixpence so she can help support her family and finance everyday life. Still she dreams of owning her own store someday and shares these dreams with the love of her life, Joe. Both of them work hard and whatever they can save to make their dream of a store become real they will set it aside. But the moment Fiona’s father decides to become the leader of the Union division in their area he alters the destiny of so many….

This is what the story is about, one man’s choice that puts events in motion for his family and Fiona’s life and dream is at the center of it, her strength, her will, her life force will lure you into a captivating novel that gives you the feeling of an emotional rollercoaster ride as page after page unfolds it all before your eyes and it reverberates through your heart. The way of life was brutal in those days, no job…no money. No money, no food or shelter. Life was hard back then and I guess that is what grabbed me so much, regardless such dire circumstances, Fiona's dreams are as vivid as a rainbow, magically alive within her heart. Yetvrarely do those dreams become more than just that, dremas, and against all the odds she still manages to work hard and full of hope to get those dreams realized, that is what Fiona is all about.

Fiona's journey from England to America speaks of a boldness that I adore to read about. Still it is out of pure necessity that Fiona and her youngest brother travel to New York. It is there that they meet new family and friends, with a different venue Fiona blossoms and this part of the book speaks of new love and triumph. Still the characters from part one aren’t forgotten and all their lives are so interlaced with each other by Jennifer Donnelly that I attached myself to them, needing to know how each character would fare and in the end I got what I wanted. The book is divided in three parts and this is, in my opinion, a great addition to the flow of the story with every time a change that catalyzes a new part in Fiona’s life.

With all that is happening in Fiona’s life, it is her love for Joe and their relationship that makes the romance breathtaking in this tale, what happened between them ripped at my heart and through the story my desire had almost a one-track-mind. Through murder, loss, affairs and misunderstandings they each separately make something of their lives and in the most secret place of their heart they both still hold that bright and never ending love for one another.

Besides the well crafted plot which is filled with darkness, despair and revenge, it is love that is vibrant throughout this story, the love of a mother for her child, the love between siblings, the love between friends and most of all of course the love between a man and a woman. I think Jennifer Donnelly demonstrates the best and the worst what the world had to offer at that time in history. With a deep touching tale, dynamic and engaging characters, an incredible world building and a plot that holds a few twists in the end Donnelly has surprised me. Moreover she has me eager for the second installment in this trilogy!

I started The Tea Rose at night, curled up in bed just wanting to read a few chapters before going to sleep and I did go to sleep…three hours later. The next morning I grabbed the book again and spend a lazy Sunday with a novel perfectly suited for the day. All I can say is if you love a thoroughly set up epic historical and are not thrown off by the 700 pages then this is the novel for you!

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