Saturday, March 7, 2009
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.
What a great book! Just the sort of historical fiction I love to sink my teeth into. I marveled at how authentic it all seemed, the details were wonderful bringing the drab and depressing feel of Victorian London and the poverty and squalor of Whitechapel in the late 1880's to life. The author really excelled at conjuring up this time period in London and New York. What seemed like a slow start with the book, turned into a riveting page turner after the first 150 pages. The story kept my interest and I wanted to find out what happens in the story of Fiona Finnegan and what becomes of her and her flight to New York. Her characters were well developed and I cared about them. The book drew me into it's world and I loved every minute of it. It was suspenseful, romantic, historically interesting and just a lot of fun to read!
Fiona and Joe Bristow are sweethearts in Whitechapel, London. A poor part of the city, it is also the backdrop in 1888 of Jack the Ripper, which plays a large part in the story. Fiona and Joe are saving up to open a shop of their own and get married. But, unfortunately, their plans go awry and Fiona loses everything: her family and a future with Joe in London. Plus, she is in mortal danger, and must flee to her Uncle Michael's, who lives in and has a small grocery in New York City. En route to New York with her little brother Seamie, they meet up with Nick, a young aristocrat who is going to New York himself to open an art gallery of impressionist work. Nick has his reasons for leaving London as well, and befriends them and they pose as a married couple with Seamie as their son. Nick is a "toff" and they travel in first class on the ship that takes them to New York. He is also homosexual and becomes Fiona's confidante and best friend.
Once in New York, she finds her uncle, who is suffering from depression after losing his wife to cholera and has become a terrible drunk. But, Fiona makes friends immediately with his neighbors and takes over the floundering grocery. In no time she meets a handsome and wealthy middle aged widower, Will McClane, who falls for her and he asks her to marry him. The New York parts of the book were my favorites. I loved reading how Fiona gets the grocery up and running and is courted by millionaire Will. He takes her to Delmonicos for dinner, Central Park, and his mansion on Fifth Avenue. Fiona likes him, but doesn't love him, he's a good man, but all along her heart is still back in London with Joe, her former love who she unsuccessfully tries to forget. We also see Joe's side of the love story between them and how he is dealing with Fiona running away. Joe and Fiona never stop loving one another, no matter all the ordeals they must go through. Plenty of angst and missed meetings and communications between them that I found very frustrating, but I really felt for both of them, even though they were separated for the majority of the book, which only made their reunion that much sweeter. But, there is so much more to the book than their love story.
Fiona is a born merchant and she has a nose for tea. With Nick and Seamie by her side she is able to rise in power as one of the most successful females in business in New York. She starts her own tea brand and opens tea houses throughout the city. She becomes a phenomonal success. But her ultimate goal is to one day be able to avenge her father's murder and ruin the man that was behind it. It all leads back to London, her past and Joe which culminates in an exciting and suspenseful last 50 pages of the book. The main focus of the book is all about Fiona and how she rises from nothing and succeeds in ruining the man who destroyed her family.
I really enjoyed The Tea Rose and highly recommend it. The descriptions of this period all rang true and the story itself was riveting, although the coincidences and good fortune that comes Fiona's way were a bit reminiscent of a TV miniseries from the 1980's. There is also a surprise at the ending that was left open ended, which I found vague and disappointing, almost as if it was tacked on to leave plenty of room for the sequel, The Winter Rose, which I am now eager to read. It continues the story of Fiona and Joe and their families.