Monday, April 19, 2010

Roses by Leila Meacham

In the tradition of The Thorn Birds comes a panoramic saga of dreams, power struggles, and forbidden passions in East Texas.

Spanning the twentieth century, Roses is the story of the powerful founding families of Howbutker, Texas, and how their histories remain intertwined over the span of three generations.

Cotton tycoon Mary Toliver and timber magnate Percy Warwick fell in love, but because of their stubborn natures and Mary's devotion to her family's land, they unwisely never wed. Now they must deal with the deceit, secrets, and tragedies that surround them, and the poignant loss of what might have been - not only for themselves, but also for their family legacies.

With expert and unabashed big-canvas storytelling that reads like a Texas Gone With the Wind, Leila Meacham pens an epic of three intriguing generations. A deeply moving love story of struggle and sacrifice as well, Roses is steeped with nostalgia for a time when honor and good manners were always the rule: it is destined to be cherished and read again and again.
I hadn’t heard anything at all about this book, until suddenly it was there were mentions of it all over the blogosphere. As soon as I saw what it was about, and the comparisons to books like Gone with the Wind and The Thornbirds, I wanted, no, had, to read this book! You see, I have a weakness for big juicy sagas, especially cross-generational family sagas, and that is exactly what I got with this book.

The Toliver, Warwick and Dumont families founded the small town of Howbutker in East Texas, and have become the mainstays of the town. The Tolivers are cotton plantation owners, the Warwicks are lumber barons and the Dumonts are merchants. When the town was founded there were strict rules put in place to ensure that each of the families did not become co-dependant on the others which included the use of roses as symbols of forgiveness, or otherwise.

The central character of the novel is Mary Toliver. When the book opens she is an old, and unwell, woman who has only weeks to live. As she reflects on her life, she remembers back to when she was a young lady in the days just before WWI. She loves Somerset, the cotton plantation that her family runs like no one else in her family, except her father. When he dies, she is determined to hold onto Somerset, no matter what it means to her future life, and no matter that her father’s decision pretty much destroys her family life.

The author touches on many of the major events of the last century – World War I, the depression, the commercialization of farming through the 1970s and 1980s amongst other things and does it with a deft touch. It is however Mary and her life that is the core of this novel. Her loves, the choices she makes as she fights to hold on to Somerset, often with great personal cost, and her determination that no other member of her family should suffer from the Toliver curse.

For me though, the character that will stay with me the longest is that of Percy Warwick. He is portrayed as being a dashing, honourable man, who struggles with the social expectations of his time as he tries to be with the woman he loves, despite the fact that he knows that she will always choose her family land rather than what he wants. Through a series of near misses, he and Mary don’t get their happily ever after, and so they have to make the best of the life they have chosen. The thing about Percy is that he is not perfect, he doesn’t always make the right choices, but he knows it and tries to do something about it, even when it appears to be too late to make amends.

When the storyline is focused on Mary and Percy, the author shows an assuredness and confidence that shines through the writing, but when she moves into the last third of the book and the focus shifts to Mary’s grand niece Rachel, the story stumbles a bit. Mary’s decisions about the future of Somerset cause untold grief for her family, and devastation for Rachel who must try to understand the decisions that were made, and that will effect her life dramatically. For example, when the Toliver curse again strikes, I thought it was a bit heavy handed and somewhat unnecessary. With Percy’s grandson, Matt, the reader is shown the parallels between their lives and those of the earlier generation, but it didn’t always work for me.

At 608 pages, this is a chunkster, but the story just flew by for me. I would be more than happy to see more of these saga style books published. In the meantime I will just have to reread my copies of The Thorn Birds, Gone with the Wind, and yes, this book, to satisfy my addiction to these kinds of novels.

I rated this as a 4.5/5 read. This review has been adapted from a review originally posted at Royal Reviews.


  1. I, too, was very excited to read this novel as I also love "sweeping" family sagas. I was kind of disappointed in it, sadly. I just didn't like Percy... so that made the rest of the book fall kind of flat.

  2. I'll have to read this one--it seems to get mixed reviews, but the concept is one I really latch onto. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. I love those saga books too. There aren't enough of them!

    Frustrated that I have to wait forever for this to be published in the UK.

  4. Roses is an absolute triumph of a novel. It is one of those rare novels that have the power to draw you into the story and invoke a spectrum of emotions. It is highly recommended!