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REVIEW: All the Tea in China by Jane Orcutt

Dear Readers,

Book CoverI’ll admit that it was the gorgeous cover of this book that enticed me to buy it. The back cover blurb promised me a “fast-paced, witty, and lighthearted tale of adventure, romance, and the pursuit of impossible dreams” plus some action set in the Orient in 1814 so despite my dislike of historical novels which feature sword wielding maidens, I headed to the counter with it. There were a couple of things I didn’t realize at the time namely 1) that Revell Books is a Christian themed publisher and 2) that Jane Orcutt wrote Christian themed books. Now, I’m not going to bash these books as being mean to fellow readers is not something I like to do, but this isn’t a genre I usually pick though I did enjoy one previous book published by Bethany House. When I closed this book, I felt I had been preached too just a teensy tiny bit but as with the Cathy Marie Hake book, since the setting was a historical, I could go with it. I also felt saddened to learn that Mrs. Orcutt died a few months ago at an early age and that I wouldn’t get a chance to read any new books from her.

“All the Tea in China” does pretty much live up to the “A Rollicking Regency” description though it’s not quite the romp I was expecting. The heroine, Isabella Goodrich, has a fine sense of the absurd, a nice sense of humor and can laugh at herself. She knows that learning to fence is an affectation and does try to keep it under wraps but she’s also a young woman – albeit coming close to being on the shelf — who wants a husband, a home and a family. She likes pretty clothes and is delighted with the new dancing slippers to go with her new dress that she plans to wear to the local baronet’s dinner party. Sir David’s slightly condescending wife has promised Isabella an eligible man will be there but to her disappointment, the man turns out to be Phineas Snowe. At first glance Snowe is a poorly dressed missionary home from China to drum up funds for his work who obviously finds Isabella beneath his intelligence and hardly worthy of his time. This despite the fact that the uncle who raised her is the dean of Christ Church college at Oxford and he’s let her be tutored by some of the best there. But she decides to play along and spends the evening being vapid for his benefit. She also learns just how firmly “on the shelf” the people there think her.

When she learns her uncle has invited this odious man to dinner, she throws off all pretense and lets him see her true self. Snowe surprises her by asking her to accompany him the next day on some missionary work in the poorer parts of Oxford and she is surprises herself to learn just how much she enjoys helping others. With no prospects for a husband in sight, Isabella muses on her future and to the obvious consternation of her uncle and companion, she decides her true calling is missionary work. After all, God has let her be taught above the usual station for a woman, she is truly religious, it doesn’t look like anyone will ever offer for her and to just sit at home embroidering pillows her whole life would be a waste. It seems so right to her that she’s shocked when Snowe turns down her request to accompany him back to China along with 3 other missionaries. Not one to make a decision then abandon it quickly, Isabella sets off to London to convince Snowe to take her along, then when that doesn’t work, she decides to stowaway on the East India ship bound for China.

Okay, usually at this point in a story, I’d be rolling my eyes and muttering “TSTL” idiot under my breath. But somehow Orcutt makes me believe this tripe. Maybe it’s Isabella’s humorous acceptance of the absurdity of it or just my wish to cheer her on in her determination not to let anyone or anything stand in the way of what she knows is her true calling in life. Whatever it is, I want her to succeed and am delighted when she gets her way, mainly because she managed to hide out in the cow stalls for three days and there’s no where to put her off. Snowe grudgingly accepts what he can’t change and she’s on board at least until Cape Town. During the voyage, she and we begin to realize that not everything is as it seems, people are not who they’ve been presented to be and there is an underlying agenda going on. As promised on the back blurb, Isabella discovers a world beyond the narrow confines she’s known in England, people with whom she’d not normally associate and someone to love and be loved by.

Yes, the book is full of Christian references and Isabella is determined to bring her religion to the people of China. But she’s also made to think about things in the reverse: what if a Chinese Buddhist traveled to England to spread the word of his gospel there? She gets a chance to see China beyond the narrow confines of the trade areas allowed by the Chinese government. She sees some wonderful and some horrible things and learns just what the East India Company is doing to the Chinese people with what is traded for tea. In other words, she really grows up.

I felt that the hidden agenda ended up being pushed aside too easily and wondered just how much missionary work Isabella would end up doing. I was delighted to read a book that, while not red hot or even steaming, more than adequately conveyed the growing love Isabella finds. And, gosh darn it, I still love the cover. B-

~Jayne

This book can be purchased in trade paperback.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

9 Comments

  1. Marg
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 04:15:09

    The cover IS lovely!

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  2. Jayne
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 05:48:16

    Isn’t it? I’ll say one thing, these inspirational books get some lovely covers.

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  3. Caro Kinkead
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 08:02:39

    The cover is what made me buy it as well — and I didn’t realize it was an inspirational until I got it home, either. I’ve always had a weakness for those bad swashbuckling movies where the heroine is the daughter of D’artagan/Robin Hood/King Arthur/etc. and much swashbuckling abound. (Maureen O’Hara did several back in the 1950s.)

    I felt much the same as you — felt a bit preached at, but generally enjoyed the book and was sad to learn the author had passed and I wouldn”t have a chance to read another in the series.

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  4. heather (errantdreams)
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 10:43:42

    I have to admit, while it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, it IS a gorgeous cover.

    ReplyReply

  5. Robin
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 10:55:46

    Okay, this is sort of a side question, but am I the only one who can’t see the book cover and gets a ‘server not found’ message when I try to go to Amazon?

    ReplyReply

  6. kristenmary
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 11:05:11

    Sorry, Robin. I believe its just you. I can see the book cover and it is quite lovely.

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  7. vanessa jaye
    Oct 18, 2007 @ 12:04:30

    I can see it just fine. And, I’ll agree that Bethany House has some of the most eyecatching covers out there. There’s been more than a few times I’ve picked up one of their books read the back blurb then the the little church house logo caught my eye….

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  8. Elizabeth
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 01:26:03

    really? jane died a few months ago? i just got done reading this book like about 2-3 weeks ago and i went online to her webpage to post a comment of this book, because i liked it so much, and now it’s just said to know that she won’t beable to reply. i was also hoping that there will be a sequel to it, like one that tells if isabella has kids or not with phineas. and if phineas does put the east india trading company out of business, what happened to little sister, what about mother? all these questions that i was hoping to get answered, won’t.
    this book was great, and same here, i don’t really enjoy reading christian books, but i didn’t know that when i got this book, the cover was really attracting. but it turns out that this is probably one of my favorite books.

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  9. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2008 @ 09:03:56

    I know Orcutt wrote a lot of other books before her untimely death so you might want to check into some of them. I agree, I’d love to know what happened to his sister. It’s just one of those stories you’ll have to imagine for yourself.

    ReplyReply

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