From the desk of Katie Patchell:
One crumbling manor house. Three estranged sisters. And a garden full of roses. All of these and more are ingredients in The Rose Girls, the latest novel by Victoria Connolly, author of the currently six-book Austen Addicts series. While not a book connected to Jane Austen’s novels or the Regency period, The Rose Girls is a story that shares timeless themes from Austen’s own masterpieces: the importance of family, forgiveness, healing, nature, and love.
After the news that her mother recently died of cancer, Celeste Hamilton is called back home to Little Eleigh Manor and Hamilton Roses, the family rose business, to support her two sisters. Still recovering from a divorce and memories of a painful childhood, Celeste plans only on spending a few weeks at her old home to sort through things and comfort her sisters, before escaping with her dog, Frinton, to somewhere much better and (hopefully) memory-free. On arriving back at her family home, Celeste realizes her responsibilities are much more than she bargained for. Little Eleigh Manor desperately needs repairs, and she’s the only sister willing to sell possessions to keep the house from (quite literally) falling down around them.
Supported by her sister Gertie, resented by her other sister Evie, and hearing the echoes of her mother’s past verbal abuse in her ears as she wanders Little Eleigh Manor’s halls, Celeste is surprisingly comforted by the forgotten beauty of the roses her family has grown and sold for years. With her beloved sisters distant and hiding their own secrets, and a friendly, perceptive, and surprisingly young art auctioneer interested in more than just family paintings, Celeste finds reasons to put off her escape for a few more weeks—and with her two sisters, a few roses, and a lot of love, forgive the past and change the future.
As with Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, each sister in The Rose Garden was unique, with her own personality, relationships, and problems to work through. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between Celeste’s relationship with her mother and Anne Elliot’s relationship with her father and sister in Persuasion—both heroines had a vain parent who seems to have disliked them, and sisters unused to helping the “stable sister.” With every point of view shift between Celeste’s, Gertie’s, and Evie’s perspectives, Victoria Connolly skillfully gives the reader more insight into each heroine’s life and past relationship with her mom, who struggled with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (a topic written about with both delicacy and honesty).
One problem I did have with The Rose Girls was Evie. While Celeste and Gertie were understandable and likeable characters, reminiscent of Jane Austen’s heroines (and despite—or because of—their faults, were easy to empathize with), Evie seemed like a mix between Lydia Bennet and Marianne Dashwood (in the Willoughby Period). Her irrational anger towards Celeste, personal issues, immaturity, and odd romance all made it difficult for me to sympathize with her character. This could be because I’m an only child (and can’t for the life of me understand younger sibling/older sibling rivalry) or because I dislike drama for drama’s sake—whatever the reason is, despite not ever truly liking her character, I was glad that she reconciled with her sisters and was included in the happy ending.
Roses don’t play the biggest part in The Rose Girls (as in: “A million pounds are hidden beneath the rose garden!” or as something strongly symbolic to the heroines, like birds are for the heroine in Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson), but they do feature as a beautiful background to the events of the novel. Without drowning the reader in a textbook’s worth of information about roses, Connolly does a wonderful job describing the different textures, colors, smells, and overall picture of many different rose breeds. I know next to nothing about roses, but the author’s information, descriptions, and historical anecdotes made me want to Google the nearest rose garden to pay a visit for picture taking and rose smelling!
Perhaps the entire theme of The Rose Girls is love—love between sisters, between mother and daughter, and between man and woman. The highlight of this novel for me is that Connelly gives an accurate view of love in all stages—first love, disappointed love, true love, failed love, love that needs strengthened, pruned, and watered (to use a rose analogy!), broken love between family members, and the bond of love between sisters. Like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, The Rose Girls shows an honest view of sisterhood (with all of its imperfections, squabbles, laughter, and beauty) and the value of family. With these themes of hope, love, family, and growth, the three different heroines and their own life journeys, and beautiful descriptions of roses, this is a great choice for July’s next read.
4 out of 5 Stars
The Rose Girls, by Victoria Connelly
Lake Union Publishing (2015)
Trade paperback, eBook & audio (320) pages
Cover image courtesy of Lake Union Publishing © 2015; text Katie Patchell © 2015, Austenprose.com
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