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In 1916 East Texas, young Mary Toliver inherits Somerset, the
family cotton plantation, when her father dies --- to the dismay of
her mother and brother, Miles, even though everyone knows it is
Mary who loves the land. Mother is so furious that she takes a
crowbar to their rose garden, which is a significant statement. In
the Toliver family, a red rose is given as an apology; a white rose
in return is an acceptance of that apology. In her action,
Mary’s mother is declaring that she will never forgive this
turn of events. Brother Miles, also very angry, determines that
Mary should go away to boarding school for a year. Since Miles
holds the power of attorney over Somerset, and Mary cannot take
control until she is 21, she is temporarily powerless.

As a reluctant student at a posh boarding school, Mary yearns
constantly for Somerset. Her roommate is Lucy, well-known for her
adoration of Miles’s friend, Percy. When Mary is at last
released from boarding school to return home, Percy declares his
love to Mary. While Mary feels an answering passion toward the
handsome young man, she knows their romance must end. They are both
aware that if they were to marry, Percy’s family’s
lumber company would plant Somerset with trees to harvest. In
addition, Percy wants a wife who will be present for him and for
future children, not a wife who will put a commitment to a
plantation over family. So when Percy insists they will marry, she
adamantly declares they will never wed.

All the while, World War I --- or, at that time, the Great War
--- is raging. Miles, Percy, and their good-natured friend, Ollie,
enlist. When they head off to fight for their country, Mary
realizes that Ollie is also in love with her. He knows he has no
chance of her returning his adoration, though, and promises to take
care of Percy for Mary. Ollie fulfills his promise on the
battlefield --- with dire results.

While the men are at war, Mary works 18-hour days on Somerset
alongside her overseer. The plantation under Miles had not only
slid into terrible disrepair but was also deeply in debt. It is
difficult physically, mentally and emotionally to undo the damage.
Her many sacrifices make Mary even more determined than ever to
keep Somerset at all costs. And when the young men return from the
war, she knows that even though she loves him, she must inform
Percy that their marriage continues to be impossible.

But Mary’s love life is the least of her problems as she
struggles to keep from losing her plantation to the predatory Bank
of Boston. Driven by her love of the land, Mary’s life is
shaped over the years as she struggles with thwarted love, a
possible curse, heartbreak…and an unusual gift to her
great-niece, Rachel, whose devotion to Somerset mirrors
Mary’s own.

Although readers know much about Mary’s life --- who she
marries and how successful she is with Somerset --- from the
outset, we certainly don’t know the how and why. These
uncertainties make for an absorbing read as the mysteries ---
related across time through the point of view of the main
characters --- are unraveled throughout the book. Author Leila
Meacham tells a fine story, which steps right along at a lively
pace, making ROSES, even at a hefty 600-plus pages, a surprisingly
speedy read. Although the drama sometimes seems a bit over the top
and the plot lags a bit at the end when various people are told one
set of facts, this is indeed a very enjoyable page-turner.

Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon ( on January 23, 2011

by Leila Meacham

  • Publication Date: January 3, 2011
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 0446549991
  • ISBN-13: 9780446549998