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The Tea House on Mulberry Street
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"It was like a magical shop in a children's book; ordinary-looking from the outside but magical within," though the only thing magical about the Belfast tea shop is that it is patronized by people who are about to be transformed. In Owens's first novel-which is already a best seller in her native Ireland-the patrons include an edgy "Goth" artist, an elegant magazine publisher, a frustrated gardener, and two spinsters hoping to meet the queen. Each character is jolted out of his/her rut into unfamiliar territory. A fire, a letter, a house addition, a Greek vacation, and a name on a birth certificate all prove to be catalysts for growth and happy endings. This is a wonderful Irish novel, to be savored by fans of Maeve Binchy.-Carol J. Bissett, New Braunfels P.L., TX Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

A dilapidated tea house in Belfast, Ireland, is second home to a handful of down-in-the-dumps locals in this flat-footed debut, a bestseller in Owens's native Ireland. Brought together by a common fondness for Muldoon's Tea Rooms-and the establishment's luscious cherry cheesecake-the members of the motley cast have little else in common. Occupying center stage are the shop owners, Daniel and Penny Stanley, whose very different dreams threaten their 17-year marriage. Penny longs for beautiful things and exotic vacations, but Daniel pinches pennies and worries over a long-held secret. Then there are the regulars-starving artist Brenda Brown, who believes her boring name is holding her back in the art world and spends her time penning love letters to Nicolas Cage; wealthy bookshop owner Henry Blackstaff, who escapes his imperious Bront?-loving wife to spy on Rose, the florist across from the tea house; and magazine editor Clare Fitzgerald, who returns from New York periodically to search for her lost childhood love. Owens strives to craft rounded characters with weaknesses and flaws-Daniel is revealed to be a former petty thief; Brenda makes an unexpected decision about her blossoming career-but manages only to create disjointed figures whose motives are hard to credit. Even Belfast is a pallid presence, little more than a stagy backdrop for this unsatisfying medley of tales. Agent, Helenka Fuglewicz at Edwards Fuglewicz. (Feb. 3) Forecast: A 100,000-copy first printing, a hefty $100,000 marketing budget and a very nice price will get this out the door, but readers in search of the next Maeve Binchy may be less than satisfied. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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