Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Tea Rose - Jennifer Donnelly

A tale about a strong woman - Fiona Finnegan. She belongs to a tight-knit Irish family that eeks a living in the businesses that hug the Thames River, East London of the 1880's. Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the people of Whitechapel, the dock workers are trying to unionize, schools for the youngsters of the working class are few and far between, the women of the Finnegan family work long hours doing laundry for middle class families or working in a sweatshop warehouse at packing and labelling the tea that comes onto the wharves of the Thames. There is much business going on, but the poor don't seem to be able to drag themselves out of poverty. 

The one big dream Fiona has is to save money with her life-long love, Joe Bristow, so that they can marry and start a shop of their own. They long to be their own bosses and live a secure life tending a shop business. When Joe has the opportunity to move across London to Covent Garden and work at a green grocer's wholesale business, the couple agree that its for the best. But life changes and Joe and Fiona are broken apart by one stupid mistake that Joe makes and lives to regret. Fiona's family falls apart when her father is killed in a sudden accident at the docks. Things get far worse as time passes and Fiona begins to fade until one horrific coincidence rattles her so deeply that her sense of righteous indignation brings her back to fighting form.

Fiona gathers her remaining family and sets off to better herself. With a promise to exact revenge on those who ruined her family and her initial dreams, Fiona carves a new path for herself. The story takes a turn and becomes a tale of two countries ... the gritty world of the docks in London and the rough and tumble world of New York's immigrant neighborhoods. Fiona does make her way, but it's not without constant challenge and her own 'demons in the closet' that haunt her and threaten ruin. 

No spoilers here ... this is a novel packed with characters and situations that keep you reading. At times, it's utterly predictable, but the characters are plentiful and colorful. The action is fast-paced and the villians are just so hateful that one reads on just to make sure they get their reward. Fiona Finnegan is an extremely likeable character. Seeing her shed her poor Cockney identity and escape the horrors of Whitechapel and the grinding poverty of the labor class in Britain was enough to keep me reading.

I do love a good romantic tale and this one satisfies. Jennifer Donnelly doesn't shy away from dropping the names of the famous, placing her characters smack dab in the middle of big historical eras, and weaving her story tightly around famous events. I recently read her novel called Revolution and liked that one as well. The Tea Rose was a nice return to a newly discovered author. I'll be looking for her other books as well.

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