Monday, September 01, 2008

50. The Tea Rose

by Jennifer Donnelly

This was a selection of one of my online book clubs, and I would classify it as a historical romance, in that the romance was the main part of the story, while period details give it the historical aspect. The book begins in 1888 in the Whitechapel area of London with one of Jack the Ripper’s murders, and ends 10 years later in the same area.

In between, main character Fiona Finnegan goes from a 17-year-old packing tea to a millionaire owner of her own tea company. Fiona is a feisty character, perhaps a bit too much so for the era, and she also benefits from some amazing coincidences and good luck. She’s in love with neighbor Joe Bristow, a produce seller. He gets drunk at a party and gets his boss’ daughter pregnant and has to marry her – meanwhile Fiona overhears her boss and his henchman discussing her union-organizing father’s death (turns out it wasn’t an accident), and she flees to New York. She meets two men, one who gets her on the boat to New York and the other the financing to reopen her drunken uncle’s shop once there, which she makes a success (along with a line of teas and tea houses). Her plan is to revenge the deaths of her father (and mother, by the Ripper, when the family must move to a sleazier part of town after her father’s accident) by buying 52% of the stocks of her former boss’ company. Meanwhile, of course, she and Joe can’t forget each other...

There were enough surprises in the book to keep me reading despite the predictability of the main romance. I enjoyed learning more about the tea and produce industries and other details of the late Victorian era in England and America. The characters were well developed (well, the good guys were – the bad guys were a bit one-dimensional) and I cared about what happened to them. I read the 544-page novel over Labor Day weekend; it had me that engaged. Recommended for a holiday/beach read.

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