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REVIEW: The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Dear Ms. Donnelly,

171015.jpgWhen I opened the package containing the arc of your latest book “The Winter Rose” I gulped. Reason one: it’s got a very nice cover. Reason two: it’s a hella lot of book. 700+ pages of trade paperback sized book to be exact. It’s the type of book that requires a big time commitment from a reader. Not only because of the length but also because of the plot and intensity of the read. Readers who have longed for a return to the sprawling sagas of days past will rejoice, I think. That is if they really want to read this type book again. As I read it, I unfortunately found that that type of reader is not who I am anymore.

After a trip over to the Big Internet Bookstore to check out reviews of the prequel to this novel, “The Tea Rose,” I found that a lot of readers must want to read this genre again or for the first time. Reviews ran heavily towards five and four stars. However it was the three and under ones I chose to read and I found that they eerily mirrored my thoughts on this book.

For me “The Winter Rose” began as an enthralling trip back to the past. First we get a glimpse of the East London world inhabited by not only the poorest of citizens but also gangsters, crooks, and thieves. It’s a heartless world where only the strong survive and one of it’s strongest men is Sid Malone. Sid’s a leader in the crime world. We see how he’s feared by fellow criminals and the police and how he can be ruthless when anyone invades his turf. But he also inspires unswerving loyalty from those he’s helped and those he leads. Since he’s the hero, he has to have an inner core of goodness and not be beyond redemption so we learn that Sid never wanted to be a criminal. Life forced him into it yet he thinks he’s too far gone to save. But Sid has a past that won’t let go of him. There are people who want to save him and others who want to use him for their own ends.

Then just as quickly the action turns to the other side of the social coin. India Selwyn Jones, daughter of the upperclasses, has just graduated from the London School of Medicine for Women. Mostly cut off from her disapproving family by her career choice, she plans on working with the poor in a Whitechapel clinic. She’s young, idealistic and loaded with morals. I just knew of the compromises she’d have to make and eye opening moments she’d face. India quickly discovers that the poor aren’t poor just because they’re lazy or sick because they don’t know about eating good food. The lessons she learned in medical school run head first into the brick wall that is poverty.

Yet even as I read what I knew was coming, the world you’d created was so intense and well described that I would sit for two hours at a time, churning through a 100 pages a go. Of course Sid and India cross paths, of course they clash, of course they find their common ground of caring for the desperately poor people of East London and of course they eventually fall in love. But as I waited for these two to finally come together, I had to recall that in a saga, this could take a while.

I had to also recall that sagas are generally composed of a large cast of characters, that resolutions often take place over years and action occurs over vast geographic distances. This book is no exception to that. For three hundred pages the story sprawls across London, we get to know people — learning Hallmark ‘meant to tug at your heart’ backstories for most of them — and are filled in on what happened in “The Tea Rose.” In the next one hundred pages the world of the story begins to contract as all these vastly different people start to affect each other a little more than I would think is normal except in this type of story.

Then all hell breaks loose and for one hundred pages we reach what would normally be the climax of a story. Revenge, betrayals, heartbreak and some resolutions. And then it struck me that I was only 500 pages into the book. And that the hero and heroine had just been separated and some close to irreversible things — for the year 1900 — had just taken place. Oh no, I thought. I still have 200 pages to slog through. It was at this point that I finally acknowledged to myself that I’m just not a saga kind of girl anymore.

It was more with a feeling of “gotta get through this” rather than anticipation that I squared my shoulders, picked up the book again and plowed on. Improbable coincidences, lots of heartache, and melodrama fill the rest of the book which picks up six years after the above mentioned “shoulda been the end.” Sid and India meet up again, still thinking the worst of each other though never having stopped loving each other, the villain strikes one last time and just when I think that finally — finally! — these two will get their HEA, you separate them again!

At this point, I was mad. I had had enough. The HEA was okay but I got more of a feeling that Sid and India had finally been deemed to have suffered enough. I also was left with a feeling that certain key points had been shoved down my throat: Poor = noble and rich = slimy bastards. That certain characters were amazingly quick to connect plot points and intuit what needed to be known just when it needed to be. And that this book was just too long. As I said, I’m just not in the mood to watch characters being put through a wringer for 700 pages before being allowed to be happy. Saga lovers will probably devour this book and it is a good example of the breed. But I want my payoff sooner now so it’s a C read for me.

~Jayne

Can be purchased in hardback or ebook format

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.

26 Comments

  1. Katie
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 15:19:04

    I felt EXACTLY the same after finishing this book. I read The Tea Rose, part 1 in the series, in two or three days. LOVED it, ADORED it. I immediately went to my library and requested the sequel … and then that. First those two separations between India and Sid, and then this … this … this ARGGGGGG fate for Joe and Fiona (sorry, can’t name it any differently). I love the writing, setting, richness, flair and overall feeling of Donnelly’s books, but The Winter Rose’s ending deeply disappointed me and left me emotionally drained.

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  2. (Jān)
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 15:33:28

    Phew, thanks for the review. I’ll be skipping that.

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  3. Meriam
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 15:55:41

    Yeah, I’m not a saga kind of girl, either (and I’m English! We’re supposed to love sagas). The Tea Rose was initially interesting: I don’t usually read about poor Londoners from the East End in such detail and rather enjoyed it. But the book was too damn long and the trials and tribulations of the heroine ultimately became tedious. I Felt the same way about The Winter Rose – great beginning (love the medical stuff) but then my eyes glazed over and I skipped a whole load to get through it.

    However, I have a colleague who loves these books. Different strokes and all of that.

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  4. Leah
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 16:42:19

    Would you compare it to The Crimson Petal and the White? That one sucked me in with a beautiful cover and the promise of a rich historical saga, but I found I didn’t really care after the first few chapters and never finished it.

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  5. Marg
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 16:55:13

    I LOVED this book, and know plenty of other people who do too! I enjoyed it better than The Tea Rose because where The Tea Rose relied heavily on near misses and coincidences this book didn’t! I can’t wait to read the third book in the trilogy…whenever it finally came out!

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  6. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:23:26

    Leah, I’ve never read THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE so can’t offer any comparison.

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  7. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:26:30

    Marg, you didn’t think there were any improbable coincidences? I felt that the middle part of the book was full of them. People who knew others in the story which just happened to then allow them to figure out things. Another thing I felt was odd was that India wanders around at least twice through the roughest part of town to go see Sid and nothing happens to her (especially when she was trying to return his monetary gift) yet Fia, who was born and raised in the area and who ought to have been able to ‘blend’ gets attacked when she tried it.

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  8. Meriam
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:27:13

    I’m currently reading The Crimson Petal and the White. I’m at page 230 and although I love it it’s taking me a looong time to finish. The only way I can explain this is to compare it to really rich food: I can only have it in small quantities although it’s fantastic (imo).

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  9. Marg
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:33:05

    Jayne, I didn’t say that there weren’t any coincidences, just less heavily reliant on them!

    It’s been ages since I read it because it actually came out here a couple of years ago, but I think that part of the reason for her being able to get away with that was that Sid had given orders to ensure she wasn’t harmed. Fiona had been out of that world for a really long time so her ability to blend won’t have been as natural as it used to be!

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  10. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:33:46

    Katie when I got to the last separation after the Africa sequence I was pissed. Six years of heartache for India and Charlotte, six years of poor Sid on his own, then a reunion! Happiness! But no! We get another year of watching India and Charlotte wait…and wait…and wait…

    And poor Joe. What did he do to deserve that? But then I also felt that Joe and Fiona’s life was then just too icky sweet an ending.

    And why stick in the whole Antarctica/mountain climbing sequences that I didn’t even mention in the review?

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  11. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:38:27

    I Felt the same way about The Winter Rose – great beginning (love the medical stuff) but then my eyes glazed over and I skipped a whole load to get through it.

    However, I have a colleague who loves these books. Different strokes and all of that.

    Yes Meriam. I loved the medical aspects even though a lot of it horrified me, especially India’s first boss. What an ass! I’ve never tried any of the Catherine Cookson books and don’t think I will after having read the descriptions of movies based on them. I’m just not into reading about lifelong trials and tribulations anymore.

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  12. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:39:39

    Gah Marg, you mean The Tea Rose has even more coincidences? Shesh, no way would I want to read those.

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  13. Marg
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:46:54

    Most of the Africa and mountain climbing stuff is setting the scene for the third book I think.

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  14. Jayne
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 19:53:17

    Most of the Africa and mountain climbing stuff is setting the scene for the third book I think.

    Ah-ha. Is this the kind of set-up Donnelly did in The Tea Rose? Got to admit that I love the titles of these books.

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  15. vanessa jaye
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 21:08:47

    “And then it struck on me that I was only ##00 pages into the book. … Oh no, I thought. I still have ##00 pages to slog through.
    It was more with a feeling of “gotta get through this” rather than anticipation that I squared my shoulders, picked up the book again and plowed on.”

    I had to highlight this bit. I haven’t read The Winter Rose, so no opinion to offer there. But, in general, this is the *exact* way I feel about all lengthy books, even if they are rocking my world. At some point, I always start getting resentful of the time commitment and just want the damn story to be ovah!

    I know, I know. I’m a heathen. :P

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  16. vanessa jaye
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 21:15:03

    btw, Jane, the Catherine Cookson books aren’t bad. I did a glom of them several years ago, and enjoyed them. Plus they’re only about 300 pages. ;)

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  17. vanessa jaye
    Jan 25, 2008 @ 21:15:40

    er, ‘Jayne’. Sorry.

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  18. Keishon
    Jan 26, 2008 @ 00:49:54

    I have this one, too. Will read it. May take me awhile but I will read it. Heard that the pages fly and I have one other Connelly book in my stacks. Thanks for the review.

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  19. Marg
    Jan 26, 2008 @ 03:09:51

    Ah-ha. Is this the kind of set-up Donnelly did in The Tea Rose? Got to admit that I love the titles of these books.

    You know, I got the impression that Donnelly didn’t really intend for the Tea Rose to morph into a trilogy and so whilst there was a little bit about Sid and his past, it didn’t feel like set up to me. It might have been though.

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  20. Meriam
    Jan 26, 2008 @ 06:44:36

    Yes Meriam. I loved the medical aspects even though a lot of it horrified me, especially India's first boss.

    Then don’t read The Crimson Petal and the White! There’s a doctor in it who almost turned my stomach. It’s appalling what the ‘medicine’ men back then could get away with, simply using general ignorance about women and misogynistic diagnoses to abuse their patients. Shudder!

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  21. Jayne
    Jan 26, 2008 @ 07:32:15

    It's appalling what the ‘medicine' men back then could get away with, simply using general ignorance about women and misogynistic diagnoses to abuse their patients. Shudder!

    I was a little surprised to still see this attitude in a 1900 doctor. I mean, I know it was considered women’s burden to bear for Eve shoving the apple at Adam and leading us all into a world of sin but after the discovery of anesthetics early in the 19th century, I would have thought those beliefs would have died out.

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  22. Lynda Collins
    Mar 14, 2010 @ 05:29:17

    All I can say here is I totally adore these books and cannot wait for the third which is meant to be 2011. Just wish I could find someone who writes like her, and I do mean like her! Any ideas?

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  23. Chenebe
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 03:03:04

    “Saga”, that’s it! *coin drops*

    I was recommended ‘The Tea Rose’, the first in the series, by my children’s 19 year old babysitter who told me she (and all her friends) wept buckets when they read this. I am always game to try a book that is highly recommended (for whatever reason, by anyone).

    I have to say, I found it entertaining enough, but it was incredibly predictable. At one point when I was halfway through the book, I talked to my babysitter about it and predicted what I thought would happen, and she was very surprised at how accurate my guesses were.

    Anyway, we got to talking about the genre the book fitted in, and I told her they reminded me of some books I read in the 80s. These would be books my aunt was reading that I picked up when I was 15. Lots of melodrama, rags to riches, thwarted affairs, colourful characters, long-winded plot, improbable coincidences. I said these kind of books had gone out of fashion, but obviously they are coming into fashion again, considering the success of the series. But I couldn’t give a name to the genre. But you have: “Saga”. Thank you.

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  24. Jayne
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 04:28:48

    @Chenebe: You know, I think I would have liked this and wept buckets if I’d read it in my teens. Now, obviously not so much. Now I’ve seen enough pain and heartaches in real life that I don’t want 700+ pages of imagined suffering and characters forced, IMO, to endure every trial in the book (no pun intended) before they’re finally granted happiness.

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  25. Chenebe
    Sep 30, 2010 @ 05:10:20

    Heheh, maybe you should poll the age of those who loved it!

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  26. Nikki
    Feb 25, 2011 @ 10:04:54

    can’t believe this!
    I hated the tea rose but adored the winter rose!
    there wasnt enough pages for me!
    shows how different we are

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