For those who enjoy good old-fashioned romance alongside a heaping helping of history, I highly recommend the fine book I finished reading this weekend, "The Tea Planter's Daughter" by Janet Macleod Trotter, a title I found on NetGalley. (Go here if you'd like to learn more about NetGalley for yourself.)
The book begins in 1904 in the lush tea hills of Assam, with a widowed tea planter named Jock Belhaven and his two daughters, Clarissa ("Clarrie") and Olive. The heartbroken planter seems unable, or perhaps unwilling, to continue living without his beloved wife, the Indian woman he fell in love with and married, and Clarrie finds herself looking for ways to save both her father and the Belhaven tea plantation itself. She even considers a marriage proposal that would be more of a business merger than a love match.
Eventually some sad circumstances send Clarrie and Olive from India to England to live with family, but what at first appears to be their salvation ends up becoming yet another sad and trying set of circumstances for the two sisters, who are basically employed as slave laborers with the "family" they had hoped would embrace them. When an unexpected reprieve comes in the form of a surprise assignment in an upperclass home, the two hope their fortunes are finally improving. Trotter is a master at having us feeling a sense of relief one minute and then fearing for the worst in the next.
In one particularly enjoyable plot twist, Clarrie develops an alliance, you might say, with someone who supports her longtime dream of opening a tearoom for the middle class folks in town. The tearoom workers and Clarrie seem to prosper at first, but against the backdrop of the coming of war, the women — and the country — find themselves suffering much economic hardship as well as the all-too-common fears of all who wonder whether war will mean the loss of a loved one.
Trotter has a lovely writing style that is tender, touching, and period-appropriate without being treacly. She pulls our emotions in a million different directions, very often in ways we did not see coming. Only when the book reaches its surprising and satisfying conclusion do we fully realize the magnificence of the journey that Clarrie has completed. As the first in a trilogy, this excellent book is one I know will appeal to the hearts of many of my fellow tea lovers, and this may well be one of my favorite books of the whole year!