Review: The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (Spoiler Free)

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Read: September 11 – September 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover (library book), 546 pages

Publisher: Thomas Dunne, 2002

Book Club selection. (Historical Fiction genre)

Book Blurb: 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.

My Opinion: The Tea Rose was kind of like a historically inaccurate soap opera set in 19th century London and New York. I love the historical fiction genre, something I discovered quite by surprise after reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. But the big difference here was that Jennifer Donnelly didn’t seem to care much for the historical aspect of her writing. When writing about the past, it is true that certain liberties can be taken, but they shouldn’t be taken at every turn.

Case and point. Fiona (our main protagonist) becomes a self-made millionaire over a span of ten years in New York. The first self-made female millionaire in America didn’t happen until around 1920. The Tea Rose is set in the late 1800s.

There is a fair bit of romance that happens in the book. It was nice at first, but it quickly became very soap opera-esque. There were secret trysts, gay husbands and so many near hits/misses with Fiona and Joe that I wanted to tear my hair out. Multiple times. And I don’t look good bald.

The characters were very one-dimensional, and Fiona is a Mary Sue in the truest sense. She is a character set up just to be torn down, and there is only so much of that a reader can take. Bad things happen to good characters, it is part of writing. But piling up the bad and then pulling something good out of thin air to atone for it is weak. Your story should be able to rest on more than just bad things happening to the characters, and this one didn’t.

Writing and language wise, I found The Tea Rose very enjoyable. I liked that the accents were spelled out, I liked the backdrop for the story. The prose was very descriptive, and the details were succulent. I just didn’t care overly much for the story itself. Some things didn’t make sense to me, like how Fiona only met other foreigners in New York, and never any Americans. As a millionaire, you would think she would have business dealings with all sorts of people.

The Bottom Line: A story with a lot of promise that failed to deliver. The main characters get themselves into stupid situations, and then the author writes fantastical compensation for them. I might read the second book, depending on the description, but it is not high on my list priority-wise.

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Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer (Spoiler Free)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Read: August 8 – August 21, 2012
Other Information: Owned book, hardcover, 387 pages, Book club selection

Book Blurb: Cinder wouldn’t fit in at a formal ball, anyway. Even if she did find dress gloves and slippers that could hide her metal monstrosities, her mousy hair would never hold a curl, and she didn’t know the first thing about makeup. She would end up sitting just off the dance floor and making fun of the girls who swooned to get Prince Kai’s attention, pretending she wasn’t jealous. Pretending it didn’t bother her.

Although she was curious about the food.

And the prince did know her now, sort of. He had been kind to her at the market. Perhaps he would ask her to dance. Out of politeness, Out of chivalry, when he saw her standing alone.

The precarious fantasy crashed down around her as quickly as it had begun. It was impossible. Not worth thinking about.

She was a cyborg, and she would never go to the ball.

My Opinion: Cinder is quite a romp through various different fandoms. It has influences of Sailor Moon, a dash of Twilight-esque teenage romance, and of course the weaving of the classic fairytale of Cinderella. Overlay it all with some spaceships and voila! Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Even at almost 400 pages, I think I would have devoured it in almost one sitting if I wasn’t held back by the book club stopping points. The story moves quickly and is engaging, even if it is entirely too predictable. I made several predictions in the discussions for book club, and every single one of them turned out to be right. It was nice to be right, but it was also somewhat disappointing. There was one page that kind of ruined the entire plot for me, because the foreshadowing was so heavy-handed.

The characters were fairly one-dimensional. Cinder is very average, she has no motivating factors other than to get away from New Beijing. Queen Levana is one of those villains who is just singularly evil. She has no motivation that is clearly defined, she has no redeeming factors, not even remotely. The surprise for me was in Prince Kai. He didn’t conform (not in this book, there is still time in the series) to the stereotype of leading male. He had some depth, and instead of just being a teenaged boy, he took on the mantle of responsibility as an adult and did what was best for his country, even though it didn’t agree with his personal wishes. Iko was hands down the best character ever. I loved her.

The prose was really light on descriptives. It made the story flow faster, since there wasn’t a lot of time spent on the minutiae of what people looked like, but I find myself craving more information about Cinder, Peony and Kai. In the city of New Beijing, are most of the inhabitants Asian, or are there a fair amount of Caucasians as well?

The story itself was interesting. I don’t really see how it gained anything from being interwoven with Cinderella, though. I think Marissa Meyer probably just really enjoyed Cinderella, and decided to weave it in. Cinder would have done just as well without it. Though it likely would have been called something else. It also felt like there were a lot of things that happened for no other reason than to bring Cinder and Prince Kai together. The things I wished had been expanded on like the history of the world, the Lunar colony and the lost Lunar princess were all kind of skipped over. Instead we had Cinder and Kai, and then some letumosis (read: modern plague) thrown in for good measure.

Bottom Line: A quick read that, in spite of its shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed. Very much a YA read lacking in depth, but that also works for it.

Review: Redshirts by John Scalzi (Spoiler Free)

Redshirts by John Scalzi
Read: July 24 – August 6, 2012
Other Information: Owned book, e-book, 211 pages, Book Club selection

Book Blurb: Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

My Opinion: This was the first book of Scalzi’s that I have read. And even though I wasn’t really a huge fan of Star Trek when I was younger (nor am I now, for that matter) I still enjoyed the book. I think the key is to not take it too seriously. This might be easier said than done if you are a Scalzi fan, as I understand his work can be quite deep. But aside from some existential questions, this book is all fun and spoof.

Scalzi is light on the descriptive prose, which makes the book very lightweight and streamlined, but it also makes it hard to follow at times. I lost track of which person was which at times, and had to go back and remind myself. We don’t really get a sense of what any of the characters look like, nor what the environment looks like. It is a little unnerving, coming from a high fantasy background where everything is descriptions and backstory heavy to something so slick and streamlined.

The narrative has a great voice, and there are a lot of tongue-in-cheek moments. The humor is relatable and at no time did it feel like it was being pushed too hard.

Plot-wise, I know the very last chapter upset a lot of people, but honestly I thought it was great. The thing that made me the most upset was that Scalzi never seemed to take the time to get invested in his characters or his plot. Was this a product of the subject matter? Was it because the characters were supposed to be “expendable”? I don’t know. But it lessened the reading experience. And I hate that nothing was really explained in the end.

Scalzi is a good writer. This is illustrated exceptionally well in the second of the three codas, which are essentially epilogues. The second coda is written in second person. It is still an awkward way of writing, but it is the least awkward second-person prose I have ever read. Bravo, Mr. Scalzi.

Bottom Line: A fun and fast read that is not to be taken too seriously. Very meta, and highly recommended for the Trekkies out there.

30 Day Book Challenge, Day 3

An update from yesterday. My efforts were valiant, but with getting new glasses my poor eyes just couldn’t handle reading the book that absolutely had to go back today. I am on page 245 of 385. What is a girl to do? Eat some late fees, of course. There is no way I am taking this book back now, things just got WAY too good!

Day Three: A Book That Makes You Laugh Out Loud?

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