This is going to be an interesting review. But that is entirely fitting since this was an interesting bRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
This is going to be an interesting review. But that is entirely fitting since this was an interesting book. I went back and forth on the rating of this as well. It's truly not good enough for more than a 3 star rating and yet, in the end, I sped through it and loved it. This also might end up being a tad bit more spoilery than I usually try to be; I honestly couldn't help it. This was part daytime soap-opera distilled into book form, part historical fiction set in London/New York in 1880s/1890s, The Tea Rose is one hell of a fun, epic melodrama. We've got truly star-crossed lovers, decades-long revenge plots, sham marriages, murder plots, dockworker's union strikes, crooked politicians, Jack the Ripper, falling in love with New York millionaires, famous celebrity cameos, and of course, betrayal and redemption.
There is a LOT of story going on here. I might sound critical, and I should; this book is not without a myriad of faults. Fiona, the main character, though likable, starts out as a bit of a Mary Sue cliche. She can be irritatingly overemotional and jealous in the beginning. Those annoying traits are stamped out quickly, however. Once she loses her father and her innocence, Fiona can finally find her own strength. Her enemy, the ruthless tea merchant behind her father's death, William Burton is chilling, though one dimensional. Regardless of the sheer outrageousness of the plot, shallowness of various characters and all the deux ex machinas, I loved this novel. It does have several things going for it: Donnelly spent numerous years researching her time period and culture of the Whitechapel area of London. Her descriptions of bleak and beautiful London were vivid, well-written and best of all, authentic. There was definitely the feel of 19th century present throughout the book. Ms. Donnelly managed to create an enthralling, absorbing atmosphere I had a hard time pulling myself away from.
Everything in this novel is done on a grand scale. Fiona needs hardship? Check - half her family is murdered (view spoiler)[(all, eventually it turns out at the machinations of Jack the Ripper!) (hide spoiler)]. She needs an epic love that is tested? Check - Joe and Fiona are separated (view spoiler)[ FOR TEN YEARS. With NUMEROUS and frequent near misses. It's comical. (hide spoiler)]. Fiona wants to have a business? Check - (view spoiler)[she has the BIGGEST tea business in the United States (hide spoiler)].
While the over-the-topness can be fun and work for the novel (such as getting Fiona out on her own and develop into a real character instead of a Mary Sue), it can also detract from the essentials. For instance, in this novel our intrepid heroes/heroines meet: Jack the Ripper (and have personal business with), the Crown Prince of Wales of England (Albert Edward), Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and numerous other famous personages frequented Nick's idyllic life in Paris. Fiona's closest friend Nick, in addition to being the heir of the bank controlling Fiona's nemesis's company (though Nick and Fiona are unaware of this the entire time [10 years!!] they're friends) ends up being Viscount Elgin, firstborn son of the Duke of Winchester. That was all a bit much. Fiona has ridiculous luck once she arrives in America (view spoiler)[(Nick gets her on the boat, a famous New York millionaire steps in o help her, falls in love with her, she "invents" iced tea and tea packets, etc) (hide spoiler)]; she has to in order to set her revenge against the men who killed her father. This made the book seem a bit rushed once Fiona and Seamie fled England. Also not helping the narrative were the random jumps of time between the three parts. Part Two to Part Three had an intervening nine years, in which crucial events to the story happen. Instead of showing Fiona build her business, her marriage, her revenge, it is simply "told" away in the beginning of the next part. I couldn't help but feel a bit cheated at that.
Sadly, parts of the novel, though fun and campy, were entirely too predictable. Michael's recovery from alcoholism so rapidly and easily, Will McClane's swooping in to save Fiona's shop and proposing, his crooked son politician plotting against Fiona, the list goes on. I laughed a lot and often at this book. The only problem is that I am not sure I am laughing at the author/book or with them, where intended.
Straining credulity, and poetic license aside (William Burton, Fiona's own personal foe was really Jack the Ripper? Really? That's where you went with that superfluous plotline?), I enjoyed this novel. It is not perfect, not even close. It's a melodramatic, over-the-top, romance-novelish tome of crazy. It's also a lot of fun. And the cover is pretty. ...more
As before with my previous Jennifer Donnelly novel, this one was an interesting read, and I might get a wee bit spoilery. And looooooong. After finishAs before with my previous Jennifer Donnelly novel, this one was an interesting read, and I might get a wee bit spoilery. And looooooong. After finishing the first, the question inquiring minds [me] want to know was if the author could top the sheer spectacle of The Tea Rose? That answer was a resounding YES, yes she can. We've got illegal drug trades, unwitting use of said drugs by innocent persons, women's suffrage, the emergence of female doctors in the workplace, dirty cops and politicians, a modern-day [1900's] Robin Hood, Africa, amputations, TWO escapes from jail, a serial killer, more star-crossed lovers (two couples this time! 100% increase in Angst Opportunity over last time!), women being hunted by lions and hyenas AND the most repellant antagonist I've read this year.
If I liked The Tea Rose and enjoyed its amount of sheer ridiculousness, then I lovedThe Winter Rose. This second story focuses on a female doctor, India, the quietly fierce, determined and oh yeah, disowned heir to the Selwyn Jones fortune, and the brother of the protagonist from the first, Fiona Finnegan's brother Charlie/Sid Malone. Instead of a Fiona-like righteous revenge driven plot like the first, this story focuses on the redemption of morally deficient, damaged Sid Malone.
The story blends the action and melodrama together much better than its predecessor. There is a believable mix of the outrageous (Joe Bristow personally knew Jacob Riis the American muckraking photojournalist?), and the touching (view spoiler)[when Sid and India are reunited for the [FINAL] time in the epilogue (hide spoiler)]. But where Donnelly truly excels is the same as before: in creating a believable, gripping, and rich atmosphere for her characters. (I may or may not have walked around using a 'orrible Cockey accent after finishing each book. I admit nothing.) Whitechapel is such a huge part of both these novels and the characters within them: the poverty and deprivation each suffered here marked them for life, in ways they're constantly discovering. Fiona, Charlie, Seamie, and Joe might have left Whitechapel behind, but they will never escape it.
I enjoyed the wit in this novel immensely. For instance when a crooked politician tells Sid that "crime doesn't pay", Sid's aside: "Not like politics does, that's for sure". In fact, I laughed a lot in this novel, during the lighter moments that were few and far between. Fiona, tea magnate extraordinaire, names her two dogs "Twinning" and "Lipton" because "they are forever at her heels." The humor was a nice and apropos touch against such a bleak backdrop for the characters.
One of the less-well executed elements in this novel was the constant and loquacious recapping of the first book. This happened nearly every other chapter and it got old, fast. It were heavy-handed when a light touch was need. For instance it was, "Fiona remembered back to that dark day when she learned her father died, and then had to flee to America, save her friend from ruin with a 10 year sham marriage, all the while creating the biggest tea empire in the world and pining away for her true love," instead of "Fiona remembered." Also, the foreshadowing was awful at creating suspense. The author would just ominously state something like: "Fiona thought she'd be safe. She was wrong" or "The past will always come back to bury you". If you're going to go that route, you might as well type DUN DUN DUNNNNN after "you".
I honestly believe the Charlie/Sid story arc from the first novel was superbly and tragically done. It continued to be the best element of this story; India and Sid's struggles to make a life for themselves anew held me attention far more than the Seamie/Willa story. It was sad, and oddly riveting to watch a promising and caring young man get sucked so far deep into London's underbelly that he became someone else entirely: Sid Malone. It's quite telling that until (view spoiler)[a serious threat is levelled to Fiona in Charlie's domain without Charlie helping her (hide spoiler)], Fiona refuses to call her brother Sid, referring him to constantly by his given name. Besides India, there was only one person who truly believed in Charlie and that was his sister Fiona. Fiona also seems to work best as a secondary character. MAybe I'd just read another 500+ page tome focusing on Fiona Finnegan Soames Elgin Bristow and a I needed a POV break. Either way, she was much less abrasive in this.
Let's talk about Charlie Finnegan/Sid Malone. I love him. LOVE. HIM. Donnelly made him so compelling, I couldn't help but love his character the most and genuinely care what happened in his life. He is funny, and obviously a rogue with a tender side. He falls for India, a do-good brand-new doctor who dreams to open a free clinic in Whitechapel.
India was also likable, a nice change from the immediate fierce, in-your-face attitude of Fiona. She is much more quiet and unassuming, but she posses a hidden fire and an unflinching will that was remarkable. She begins as a brash know-it-all, and sweeps into Whitechapel assuming broccoli and porridge are going to cure all the slum's ills. Once Sid shows her how deep the problems are within Whitechapel and its people, India becomes driven to do good in her city. She falls in love with Sid, with this "bad man trying to do a good thing" and decides to leave her life for a new one with him in America.
India begins the novel freshly graduated from med school and engaged to childhood friend, Freddie. Freddie is a slug that slowly reveals his slimy nature each time he appears within the pages. He does not love India since she dared to love someone else (before she knew of his feelings), and is using India to try and divert her inheritance towards a political campaign. He is a turncoat both politically and personally. He is shown as having a difficult childhood with his noble and abusive father. Accidentally killing his father when he was just 12, Freddie beings a dark slope that becomes truly despicable. (view spoiler)[He manipulates India's first love into prison and death, he out-right murders India's cousin Wish when he attempts to help her with the clinic and he murders Sid's former girlfriend when Sid falls in love with India. Then the places the blame on Sid so Sid cannot runaway with the now-unbeknownest-to-him pregnant India. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, this was just as crazy as book one. I just cared way way more about the characters. I got a little teary when Sid and India were separated in London (view spoiler)[and Africa, and then Africa again and then America (hide spoiler)]. Perhaps because Sid was more complicated and damaged than Fiona, he wasn't perfect. Perhaps because India seemed more relatable to me. I don't know what it was exactly, but I was hooked by these two characters and their story.
Really a 4.5 but I'm rounding down. You'll see why probably tomorrow, whenever I get my review finished.
A great, sprawling epic of a novel, The WildReally a 4.5 but I'm rounding down. You'll see why probably tomorrow, whenever I get my review finished.
A great, sprawling epic of a novel, The Wild Rose concluded the fantastic (and fantastically outrageous) Tea Rose series exactly as it began: outlandish, touching and utterly compelling to read. In this series, I started out just merely liking the introductory novel The Tea Rose, and absolutely loving the second The Winter Rose; the middle of those two emotions is how I feel about the finishing tale of the Finnegans and their extended, varied family. There were parts I utterly loved, as well as parts I wanted to kill every character upon the page. In this woeful tale of Seamus Finnegan and Willa Alden, there are: German spies and spy networks, Lawrence of Arabia, women's suffrage in England, extramarital affairs aplenty, World War I, the Spanish flu, Turkish prisons and torture, and the hardly-worth-mentioning now, star-crossed lovers.
This novel had a slower start than the previous two. In the other novels, the plot shot out like a rocket from the first chapter. In this installment, there is a lot more buildup, more tension added to the atmosphere of the story. Told expertly in third person omniscient, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to get into the mind of whatever POV character (and there were quite a few!) was narrating. It almost feels like the author took the first hundred and fifty pages to simply set up the scenario, and the characters in minute detail. However, once the war starts, the book really begins to move along and becomes an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel. While it was nice reading all the back story of Sid, Fiona, etc. of the intervening years between the books, I found myself impatient for the outlandishness to begin. The narrative once again jumps many years in between parts. I for one, find these time lapses occasionally jarring; I'd much rather prefer a more linear story.
As Fiona's tale was told in The Tea Rose, and Sid's was in The Winter Rose, The Wild Rose tells the long-winded and often tragic story of Seamie Finnegan, the last of the Finnegan children met in the first book... To read the rest of the review, click here....more
Darker Still was a lot of fun for me to read, from beginning to end. Witty, charming and full of magicRead This Review & More Like It On My Blog!
Darker Still was a lot of fun for me to read, from beginning to end. Witty, charming and full of magic most foul, this is a young-adult foray into the supernatural that succeeds on many levels. Charming, real, fleshed out characters commingle with an intriguing plotline and an original hook to make for a read that is nearly impossible to set down. This is a novel to be devoured in as few sittings as possible; I raced through every chapter, eager for more. Though clearly an homage to famous works and characters (The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the best comparisons, and I honestly don't think the Pride and Prejudice comparison is warranted at all), Ms. Hieber's Darker Still can stand firmly on its own two feet as a charming and clever novel with oodles of promise for the same in its incumbent sequels.
Set with the backdrop of alluring 1880's New York City, Darker Still is the vehicle of Natalie Stewart. Natalie is known as an "unfortunate" of the times, known better today as a mute. This middle-class ball of spunk is an auburn-haired and smart young woman: headstrong but not foolhardy. She's just as a young-woman of the times should be: scheming, determined and dramatic. I had a lot of fun with Natalie, though obvious from the "mute" label, she is not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill protagonist. Natalie possesses a hidden steel to her character that I hadn't expected and thoroughly enjoyed. She's also pretty handy with a weapon, and I love a main character that can defend herself ably, without degenerating into the unbelievable "Waif Fu" of Vin in Mistborn, or Lisbeth Salander. I also enjoyed that the novel itself was written as a personal recollection of Miss Stewart's. As a mute, it was a subtle reminder of how limited the narrator's communications were: only Natalie's thoughts are shown and examined. It was a nice period-appropriate touch, with contributions from letters/notes/etc. pertinent to the case added in for extra clarity, reference or emphasis. What also helps the atmosphere of Miss Stewart's first-person tale are the mixed-in touches of period-appropriate terms ("histrionic ward" "not all the lamps were on in my attic") to keep the reader firmly in the mindset of gentler, more refined time in history.
Jonathan Whitby, Lord Denbury, the man caught inside the painting, takes longer than Natalie to coalesce into a three-dimensional character (I made a pun! Go me!) Jonathon is also an interesting character because, as hinted both by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Picture of Dorian Gray in the synopsis blurb, there are two Denbury's operating upon the pages of Darker Still: the one imprisoned (the "soul" of the man if you will), and the one corporeal and mobile (the body, possessed by another). The "demon Denbury" is dark, murderous and quite adept at ratcheting up the tension of the novel. But for all his dark allure, it is the painting of the man that catches the attention of the reader, not his evil counterpart wreaking murder and misery through New York. I loved Denbury: from the outset of his appearance in the novel, he is charming and tormented, caring and compassionate. I quite honestly loved Denbury with Natalie: theirs is a relationship that brings out the best in the other, while managing to be completely cute and age-appropriate.
I for one totally bought into the odd but charming romance between the painting and the mute teenager. Natalie, like Lord Denbury inside his painted prison, has sat and watched her life be decided for her, with no input or decision-making power in her own hands.Once she makes the decision to help Denbury, a real change is present in the character - Natalie breaks free of her own self-induced apathy and takes charge for the first time. I do think "love" may have been introduced premature as part of their relationship's natural arc, but they two grow into it and I accepted their commitment before too long. (This was probably helped by my largely fangirl favorable impression of Jonathon himself...) I liked the more background characters of the novel as well, but though they suffered from a slight lack of personalization. Evelyn Northe is an intelligent, wily older society lady of New York and I wish more had been provided for her character: she seems to pop up when most needed and recede to the background until a drastic measure must be taken. Mrs. Northe's niece Margaret has the same issue, except that she's trotted out to cause possessive and romantic issues about the painting and later, Denbury himself. I wish these two ladies had more flair of their own, and were less dependent on Natalie to carry the novel.
Darker Still's magic was also creative and interesting. Incorporating many and vaired themes and items from various cultures across the world, the forces of Darker Still are seemingly quite powerful - and often awful in nature. From the nasty Crenfall (which is a name reminiscent of Dracula's Renfield, no?) to Mrs. Northe herself, the reader is never sure who possess what powers and the intentions for them. I liked the varied and intermingled aspects of the curse/spell/power that imprisoned Denbury particularly: the severing of the soul from the body is a visceral and cringe-inducing act, illustrating the cutthroat nature of the supernatural in Ms. Hieber's alternate history. In addition to the magic most foul, the writing and style of the novel itself do much to present a dark, mysteriously magical facade. "The plot has thickened and how. Lives, sanities, and the very fabric of reality remain on the line..." is just one of many possible examples of Natalie's harried and excited style of narration.
My few complaints include the rather rushed ending to a finely drawn out story. I adored the connecting threads of religion, power and magic, but felt that they were thrown too hastily together for a tidy, easy conclusion. Still, I enjoyed Darker Still enough that though I read a free ARC from the publishers, I still want my very own copy to have and love. (Who could resist that cover, anyway?) I look eagerly forward to the continued escapades of Natalie and Jonathan and hope the sequels meet the high bar set by the series impressive and lively introduction. This novel, in the most simple terms, is just fun, enjoyable and completely individual. Pick it up when you spy a copy, you won't regret the purchase....more
Next to Love is a powerful novel, thankfully not in an obvious, over done and melodramatic way. No, Next to Love is a novel that manages to be sneakilNext to Love is a powerful novel, thankfully not in an obvious, over done and melodramatic way. No, Next to Love is a novel that manages to be sneakily insidious, grasping hold of your emotions almost before one realizes just how invested they are in the compelling story and just how powerful a writer Ellen Feldman proves herself to be in this WWII novel. I found it to be entirely emotional without being overwrought and constantly compelling. With three strong, though not always likeable, women main characters, author Ellen Feldman creates an enveloping tale of three best friends, dealing with life, love, and loss in one of the most desperate times in modern history. Their long story spans decades and is as complicated and humanly messy as it is poignant to read - with multiple points of view from various characters serving to create a rounded cast of characters with depth and personality.
Bernadette "Babe" was the closest I got to favorite character. I wish I could say that I loved and identified closely individually with the women of Next to Love but that is not the case. I was invest and compelled by their stories certainly, but there is a certain distance from all the characters of this story. Like with Babe, I wanted to love Grace and Millie but the removed third person perspective did me no favors with these three determined women. I certainly felt sympathy for each character at differing times (the scene at the pond stands out particularly in memory as very affecting) but I was never truly invested wholly. The present tense is used primarily and used effectively - everything that happens feels immediate and taut with emotions. I also enjoyed the authentic period details skillfully enmeshed into the larger narrative. Ms. Feldman is a smooth writer, with skill for depth and intimacy with resonating themes. I was impressed that the domestic life shown is just as compelling and riveting as the fighting - had it been written in the novel - would have been. This is an author that is remarkably adept, even with transitions in chronology others might stumble over. Ms. Feldman will occasionally flashback to a previous scene but it is always replayed from another perspective, always shedding more light about the plot.
Though Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton, better remembered as "Lavinia/Vinnie Warren" or "Mrs. Tom Thumb", was a diminutive woman, she had a huge peThough Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton, better remembered as "Lavinia/Vinnie Warren" or "Mrs. Tom Thumb", was a diminutive woman, she had a huge personality and dreams that could not be contained in her thirty-two inches of height. Though not always likable or even particularly kind, Vinnie refused to be defined by her height ("My size may have been the first thing people noticed about me but never, I vowed at that moment, would it be the last.") With far more determination and strength-of-will than many believed her capable of, Mrs. Tom Thumb defied society's expectations and rules in a time of rigidity and routine in order to live the life she wanted. Melanie Benjamin's version of a real-life woman is captivating and hard to put down; I was never bored with Vinnie or her life back in the 1800s. In fact, when I reached the last page (40 years before the titular character's death) I wanted more about this interesting performer.
Lavinia Warren was a complicated woman. By turns inspiring, infuriating and confusing, Vinnie never fails to command attention on the page. One thing you could never call this strong, ferocious woman is boring (though apparently her real notes for an autobiography were quite dry). In a time when women were either married or a burden on their families, Vinnie chased her dream down the wild Mississippi River before the outbreak of the Civil War. Benjamin does a fine job of balancing Vinnie's desires for freedom with the traditional beliefs and ideas that tie her to home; the bond between Vinnie and her sister Minnie is particularly well-developed and one of the more compelling relationships of the novel. Vinnie's upbringing in rural Massachusetts is difficult and casts the girl in a sympathetic light from the beginning; between the not-so-hidden shame of her family and the pressure to conform to society's whims, Vinnie emerges as a forward-thinking and acting young woman. I wish I could say I liked Vinnie all the time; by the latter part of the novel (probably in the last one hundred pages) Vinnie's hard edges and unforgiving attitude lost some of the glow her earlier self had gained. It seems the more Vinnie traveled, the more she lost herself near the end. Her disdainful attitude and high opinion of herself took her from my favorite character in the novel (the first 300 pages) to my third favorite, after Minnie and P.T. Barnum. She's a complex woman, certainly. It seemed interesting to me that Vinnie was so determined to live her own life on HER terms, but she regards any other "dwarf person" almost as children (her sister, her husband Charles, Commander Nutt, etc.) almost as if Vinnie herself has forgotten she is just the same.
On the note of the side players, a few really stood out from the multitude in Vinnie's life. Sylvia, a performer from Vinnie's earliest days, serves as a cautionary tale for Ms. Warren. She demonstrates that life in showbiz is not all it's cracked up to be. Minnie, her younger sister from back home, is a nice contrast to Vinnie's steadily increasing ego. Kinder, simpler and much less jaded than her sibling, Minnie simply stole the show whenever she appeared. The relationship between Minnie and her husband was also one of the few genuinely caring relationships presented in the novel. Every other relationship was shown as troubled or unhappy: even Vinnie's eventual marriage to the famous General Tom Thumb would be devoid of genuine love or affection. P.T. Barnum, the infamous American huckster was an important figure in the real Vinnie's life and no less so here in the fictionalized tale. I really enjoyed the dynamic Benjamin created between Barnum and Vinnie: he was the only character who could/would challenge her intelligence and he was the only nonfamily she loved. Their whole relationship was one of intellectual soulmates; each seemed to find in the other a kindred spirit of the mind found nowhere else on their travels. Vinnie even states of the circus entrepreneur: "[It was] as if he were the sharpening stone and I the edge of the knife." An affair of the brain, if you will, is what I would call the chemistry and feeling between the two. There's certainly more pop with Barnum and Vinnie than with Vinnie and her actual husband Charles. The main antagonist, Colonel Wood, seems largely a cat without claws, though he does liven up the segments of the novel which take place up and down the river.
The style of the novel is fairly simple and very easy to read. Told in a direct tone, with Vinnie occasionally breaking the fourth wall to address the reader directly (".... Reader ..."), The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb covers the most salient and interesting exploits of Vinnie's long-lived life. Interspersed with this fictional tale of a real-life woman, are newspaper "notices" such as the ones Vinnie would collect about herself. These snippets of news and notes adds an air of atmosphere to the novel that the narrative itself lacks. My complaints are small: I wished the end had been closer to Vinnie's real end - 40 years uncovered seems like quite a bit missed. I also noticed a few "key" phrases that were repeated a bit too often ( variations along the lines of: "tiny/small/delicate/manicured/hands") and disrupted my reading flow. I also wish Charles had been a more rounded character, rather than being presented as just a simple imitator with no real opinions of his own. He was the character I felt for the most - his rough and uncaring treatment from his wife was one of my least favorite aspects of Vinnie. This is an easily readable, avidly interesting novel that manages to remain (mostly) historically accurate without sacrificing interest, humor or wit. Melanie Benjamin is a clearly gifted storyteller and writer: there is absolutely no denying her Vinnie was alive and almost tangible, even if not wholly likable.
This was won in a goodreads firstreads drawing. This in no way affected my review....more