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Jennifer Donnelly – The Tea Rose

December 16, 2008

155. The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donelly (2002)
The Roses, Book 1

Read my review of the sequel, The Winter Rose.

Length: 544 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Started: 07 December 2008
Finished: 13 December 2008

How long has it been on my TBR pile? I’ve wanted to read it since I read The Winter Rose in December 2007, but I’ve only had the actual book since late May 2008.
Verdict? Keeper

Tea, scandal, murder
and true love in old London.
Perfect brain candy.

Summary: Fiona Finnegan is a poor but spirited young woman living in Whitechapel in the late 1880s, and contributing the few shillings she earns packing tea to her family’s meager income. Despite her humble surroundings, she’s got big dreams: she’s saving money, and one day she’ll open her own shop with her childhood sweetheart, Joe Bristow. However, in the space of a few weeks, all of those dreams come crashing down around her: during a drunken, careless night, Joe betrays her, and is forced into a loveless marriage with his employer’s daughter. She not only loses the love of her life, but she also loses her family – her father to a suspicious accident at the docks, her brother Charlie to an apparent suicide, and her mother to Jack the Ripper, the mysterious psychopath who has been haunting the streets of the East End. Fearing for her own life, Fiona must flee London. She heads for New York with her only remaining sibling (her four-year-old brother Seamus), determined to find their uncle and make a new life for herself. Fiona builds a happy and successful life for herself in America, but she can never quite forget London, for it holds the unavenged ghosts of her parents… and the man she can’t bring herself to stop loving.

Review: Sometimes there’s a serendipitous moment of just the right book at just the right time, and this book absolutely was that for me. Even though it certainly had its flaws, it struck exactly the right note with what I wanted to read, and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Donnelly does a lot of things well: She writes intelligent, strong (perhaps anachronistically so), and interesting women; she creates believable, lovable supporting characters; she paints a vivid world so full of historical detail that it seems to spring to life around the reader; and she spins a plot with enough twists that, despite knowing the ending ahead of time, kept me interested, absorbed, and emotionally invested (and yes, I cried at least once). So what if the romance is predictable, the flowery, Mary-Sue-ish descriptions of Fiona get a little out of control occasionally, and the fortuitous coincidences and plot contrivances make certain aspects of the story rather unrealistic? I was willing to shrug, suspend my disbelief, and keep reading for the sake of getting swept away by the story, and this book did that admirably.

This book and its quasi-sequel, The Winter Rose, each work fine as stand-alone volumes: although Fiona and Joe (among others) reappear in The Winter Rose, they’re relatively minor characters. I read them out of order, which didn’t present a huge problem, although it meant that I knew how the plot of The Tea Rose was more-or-less going to go, how it was going to end, and one of the big surprising reveals at the end of the book was not so surprising at all. The fact that The Tea Rose held my attention despite all this speaks highly for how much I enjoyed it. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: If you’re in the mood for an involving but not-overly-serious historical romance – or are a fan of the Outlander series and are looking for something similar – then The Tea Rose is a perfect choice of brain candy.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Jennifer Donnelly’s website

Other Reviews: A Life in Books, A Book Blogger’s Diary
Did I miss your review? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Polly Nichols, a Whitechapel whore, was profoundly grateful to gin.


  • p. 52: “That left about four shillings to cover everything else: doctor’s bills, boot black, rusks, throat lozenges, matches, needles and cotton, collars, soap, tonic, stamps, and hand salve.” – A light, soft-textured sweetened biscuit.
  • p. 213: “His carriage, a black calèche pulled by a handsome roan, both wedding gifts from his father-in-law, pulled up to the portico at the front of the house.” – a type of calash pulled by a single horse, seating two passengers and having two wheels and a folding top.
  • p. 336: “The cooler was heavy and ornate, covered with repoussé flowers and animals, and sporting two Bacchus heads for handles.” – a design raised in relief by hammering on the reverse side.
  • p. 415: “She wore a charcoal waistcoat with black passementerie closures, a crisp white blouse with a gray-and-black-striped silk cravat tucked into the collar, and a slim black skirt.” – trimming of braid, cord, bead, etc., in any of various forms.
13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2008 5:28 pm

    That sounds like how I feel about the Twilight saga. :) Interesting book – I might have to check it out.

  2. December 16, 2008 7:01 pm

    I haven’t read any of this author’s books before but now I really want to! This one especially sounds good.

  3. December 16, 2008 7:29 pm

    I read A Northern Light by Donnelly a few years ago and really enjoyed it. This sounds like a fun series to try out! Nice review.

  4. December 16, 2008 8:47 pm

    Jessi – It’s the wrong season to call it a beach read, and it’s a little too big to be an ideal airplane book, but it’s good for when you need a brain-break from Serious Literature and just want to read an enjoyable book.

    Jen – I think I liked The Winter Rose a little bit more than this one, but they’re both good, and I’d read them in order, if you can. I bet you’ll like them!

    Darla – I read A Northern Light this spring – thanks for the reminder that I need to link to that review. Personally, I liked the Roses books better than A Northern Light, so if you liked that one, hopefully you’ll love the other two!

  5. December 17, 2008 11:31 pm

    I’ve had The Tea Rose in TBR purgatory for a few years now. One of these days…

  6. December 18, 2008 11:15 pm

    tanabata – I’d keep it in the pile until you hit one of those moods where you want a book that you don’t have to think about too hard, but can just fall into and enjoy.

  7. December 19, 2008 11:37 am

    I like this series, too – perfect escapist reading for me.

  8. December 20, 2008 11:54 am

    I have this one in my TBR, it does sound very good :)

  9. December 21, 2008 9:05 am

    Elizabeth – Agreed! There’s still no official word (I think) on when the third book will be out, but I will definitely be reading it.

    bookworm – I hope you enjoy it!

  10. anng permalink
    April 1, 2009 6:19 pm

    Any idea when the third book will be released.

    I love both books and I an anxious to read the final one.

    Of the two books, I enjoyed The Tea Rose a little bit more.
    I think that is because I am parcial to books written about the streets of london and paris during the 19th century. How did people survive the living conditions. But…in these books the good always do.

    One of my favorits is Forever Amber. Great book, terrible movie.


  11. marina stal permalink
    December 28, 2010 5:55 pm

    I currently read this book and I believe it should be a movie!!!!!!!!!


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