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Archive for the ‘Edwardian’ Category

Series: Rose Series #2 

Copyright: 2006

Pages: 736 (hardback edition)

Setting/Type: Edwardian (England), Turn of Century (America)/Straight Romance

Grade: B-

Set in London and Africa in the early days of the twentieth century, “The Winter Rose” introduces some remarkable new characters. India Selwyn-Jones is one of the rare new breed: a lady doctor. Her family, her eligible, ambitious fiance, the male medical establishment all object, but, she insists on defying convention and finds a post in London’s East End. There, she meets a gangland boss called Sid Malone. Criminal, he may be, but, he also has a hidden charm, and a devastatingly attractive personality, and when India is called to treat him after a dockside brawl, their friendship becomes more intense. But, Sid Malone is not his real name: he has a past and enemies by the score, including India’s determined and ruthless fiance whose intention is to marry into the family money as well as becoming a leading political figure. The stormy, noisy, brawling docklands are a natural home to the political fight as the fledgling Labour Party gets underway, and the struggle for the women’s vote becomes more strident. But the East End is also a place for those who have a past to hide, a new beginning to find. And so the complicated strands of betrayal and pretence, of ambition and family, are woven again into a new drama, in a new country.

This is only my second Donnelly book, but I dare say that historical richness, a love for realistic details and strong characterization is a real trademark of this author’s writing. India is, like Fiona in the first book, a heroine that involes the reader completely in the story. Strong and with an unquenchable thirst for life, she vividly portrays the life of a modern, young and independent woman of the Turn of Century time. Through circumstances, she falls in love with the well-known and feared gangster Sid Malone. Despite everything about him screams bad and ruthless, she can’t avoid discovering his soft heart and yearning for love. Sid is in reality Charlie Finnegan, Fiona’s  brother that supposedly drowned after having discovered his mother murdered by Jack the Ripper. After his mother’s death he suffered from amnesia and when he remembered again and searched for his siblings they had disappeared. Hiding as Sid Malone and establishing a reputation as dreaded gangster brought him a measure of financial security, yet his heart withered in the bleak ten years he impersonated Sid Malone.

For the past two days I have mulled over how to continue this review without entering spoiler territory. After much consideration I came to the conclusion that it simply is not possible to do so.  Therefore beware of the following paragraphs.

I think, hadn’t I known the first part of this series, I wouldn’t have judged this book so harshly. But as it is the sequel to The Tea Rose and continues the story of Fiona and Joe and introduces the reader to Charlie’s aka Sid Malone’s and India Jones’s life, I ultimately see those two books intertwined .

My displeasure with The Winter Rose can be summarized as follows. First, I feel deeply insulted and angry that Fiona and Joe, the couple from The Tea Rose, have to cope with a useless and freaky turning point in the plot. Because of certain circumstances, Joe becomes incurably paralyzed. He and Fiona do continue their relationship in a prosperous way, however, I can happily do without that kind of information. I know it’s fiction, historical reality, blablabla … frankly, I don’t care. I do want accuracy, but I don’t want the couple I invest emotions in and grow to love, to have to deal with sh..t like that. Secondly, I simply can’t stand plots where the hero and heroine are separated for a number of years. In this case it lasts six years until Charlie and India find together. This is pure waste, and I try to vehemently avoid such plots. What made me even angrier, was the fact that I never really felt that Charlie has found redemption. India and he really belong together, they are ideal for each other, but the ending reads so hurried and overhasty, that I simply wasn’t convinced of their happiness. Well, maybe the third book in this series will bring a satisfying conclusion for all Finnegan siblings.

I definitely will continue reading Jennifer Donnelly, but I guess it will take some time until I have stomached Joe’s fate and India’s and Charlie’s lacking “happy” end.

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Series: Rose Series #1 

Copyright: 2003

Pages: 782 (paperback edition)

Setting/Type: Edwardian (England), Turn of Century (America)/Straight Romance

Grade: A

I am a hopeless case at summarizing book plots, that’s why I do it the easy way and start by giving you the back cover blurb (minus all the raving comments).

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, a bright and defiant young woman dares to dream of a life beyond tumbledown wharves, gaslit alleys, and the grim and crumbling dwellings of the poor.

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 dreams are shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death at the dark man’s hands, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit-and the ghosts of her past-propel her rise from a modest west side shopfront to the top of Manhattan’s tea trade.

Fiona’s old ghosts do not rest quietly, however, 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.

I should have reviewed this book immediately after finishing it, instead of waiting until the end of the second book. I changed my opinion about it twice and eventually it was the second book that kept me from putting this one on my wishlist (to replace the library copy).

Jennifer Donnelly has an amazing writing style. Her stories are allowed to develop over years and are not pressed into fluffy 375 Avon-ized pages. What captivated me the most and was simultaneously the biggest hurdle to overcome was the realistic and drastic description of the poor’s living condition. The author did her research well, sometimes I felt myself pushed beyond what I felt able to bear. I prefer emotional draining and captivating stories to (most often) shallow romantic comedies, but I discovered that I feel very VERY reluctant reading about the inhuman living circumstances of London’s poor population.  Fortunately for me and my heart, circumstances for the love couple do change for the better :-).

Center of the story is Fiona Finnegan who grows up in a very poor but well-loved surrounding. The parents work hart to make the four children feel save and secure and even though there’s never enough money to escape the poorest part of London, Whitechapel, the Finnegans feel optimism and joy towards life.  Fiona is planning to open a store with her sweetheart Joe Bristow and together they are saving up a fortune of £ 25 to start this venture. 

Fiona’s father is involved in the union which tries to achieve better payment for the working class. When he suddenly dies, circumstances for the Finnegan family change drastically. Life spirals downward and forces the family to move to cheaper lodgings, the youngest child dies of a bad cough, the mother is murdered by Jack the Ripper and Charlie, the eldest son drowns in the river. Fiona is left alone with her baby brother Seamie and a relationship with Joe that seems to deteriorate.

Joe, in drunken stupor, impregnates his boss’s daughter and is forced to marry her. Fiona, adamant in getting some money from her father’s employer Burton Tea overhears that her father was murdered to annihilate the efforts of the union. With £ 500 she accidentally steals from Mr. Burton’s office, she flees to New York to save hers and her brother’s life. On the ship to New York she meets Nicholas Soames, a gay man who escaped his father’s imposing banking world. Nicholas is deathly ill (he has syphilis) but in Fiona he finds a friend and a wife for the next decade. With the £500 of blood money Fiona starts building up her tea emporium TasTea and prepares for the battle against her father’s murder.

The most fascinating part of this book was Donnelly’s ability to create lively, three-dimensional and authentic characters. Fiona, as she is portrayed in her development from a young adult to a grown-up woman with an acute business sense and a loyal heart stronger than Fort Nox. Joe who suffers tremendously because of his drunken slip-up and becomes a formidable self-made business man. Nicholas who is one of the most darling and friendly secondary characters I ever had the pleasure to read about. And  countless other minor characters that fill the story with love, laughter, sorrow and reality.

In some way I wished I had never read the second book of this series, The Winter Rose, because as a stand-alone, The Tea Rose offers a perfect reading time and a heart-warming story about boundless love that survives life’s cruelty’s. As a stand-alone I would have immediately reserved a place for it on my keepershelf, because of the follow-up, alas, I deleted it from my wish list.

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