The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain

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I think I may have to change the layout of my posts, or stop using goodreads to get the “blurbs” as reading the one for The Stolen Marriage, you might as well not read the book because it gives so much away.  So, like with Cold Blood a few weeks ago, I am putting the summary at the bottom of the post – read it if you would like but, for me there, was too much included and too much given away for a plot that had be hanging to the edge of the page all the way through the book.

It’s why I love Diane Chamberlain books so much – she tells tales that are complex and complicated and that I can’t put down.  And, yet again, she hasn’t disappointed me.  In fact, this – for me – was one of the best books of hers I feel like I’ve read in a while and, as I’ve liked everything of hers I’ve ever read, that is saying something.

Why did I enjoy it so much?  First off, the characters.  Central to the story are Tess – a young woman of Italian heritage who has grown up sheltered and certain of the path her life would take – and Henry, the man Tess marries – who is an enigma through most of the book.  He has secrets he can’t share that could mean he’s very good at pretending to be good or is just plain bad.  I decided early on that he wasn’t bad and prayed for the rest of the book I was proved right (you’ll have to read The Stolen Marriage to find out if I was!).

Both Tess and Henry as so well written and so detailed and complex, I believed in them totally, and in all the characters that surrounded them, including Tess’ former fiancé and Henry’s family.  Set in 1944, their behaviours weren’t always one I understood but they felt right for the time and showed just how difficult it is to be yourself in a world and in a society where social mores ruled how everyone (or nearly everyone) behaved.

Then there is the setting – Hickory, a small town in the south, where Baltimore born Tess struggles to fit in, not only for her Italian roots which make her stand out but also because she is one of “those” women, one who wants to be independent – to have her own opinions and (dare I say it) work.  I found out after reading the book Hickory was a real place which Chamberlain had visited and it shows in the way she describes the town, it’s people and it’s places.

The polio outbreak, which is central to the story, is also a real event – one that took place in Hickory – and this is the third reason I loved this book.  It was something I knew nothing about and not only was it interesting for the history buff in me, it also made for an interesting story, one that allowed Tess and Henry’s relationship to change as the book progressed and created a catalyst for what happened to them.

For me, it made for a compelling read, one – as I said at the beginning – I couldn’t put down.  I really can’t find a thing bad to say about it.  I loved it from the first page to the last and can’t recommend it enough.

Now here’s the promised blurb:

In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle her husband’s mysterious behaviour and save her own life?

Enjoy!

Emma x

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Source: Netgalley
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Format: ebook
Published: 3rd October, 2017
Pages: 384
Find on: Amazon UK / Amazon US / Goodreads

 

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own

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Month in review: August, 2017

Month in reviewSo it’s here – September – the time of year in my neck of the woods where the weather turns (or not, the last couple of years we’ve had indian summers), the nights draw in, and the sweaters come out of hiding.  I quite like it to be honest.  It makes the world a little snugglier (if that’s a word) and I’m sure I get more reading done as I’m not taking time off to enjoy the sun (well, when there is sun!).

Saying that, I didn’t do too bad in August with some great reads.  In fact, there wasn’t one duff book amongst them.  Here’s what I read, and how I felt about it…Read More »

The Ballroom by Anna Hope

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart

by high walls and barred windows,

there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.

For one bright evening every week

they come together

and dance.

When John and Ella meet

It is a dance that will change

two lives forever.

After recently writing about how I don’t read either historical fiction or romance novels and asking for suggestions, The Ballroom turned up in my mailbox as part of a reading round robin I am taking part in (organised by Sarah at Sarah Withers Blog).

Set in 1911 and focusing on the relationship between John and Ella, two residents of an asylum who only meet on scheduled Friday dances, this book couldn’t have been further from my regular reads. Yet, I really enjoyed it, showing me just how important it is I step outside my comfort zone once in a while.Read More »

Winter In Madrid by C J Sansom

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Part thriller, part love story, this tale follows the fortunes of three young men, navigating the tumultous world of 1940s Spain. As the Second World war begins, one is sent to spy on another and the ramifications of a tragic love story will haunt them all.

After being injured in Dunkirk and unable to return to the army, Harry Brett is asked to support the British war effort in another way, spying on his old school friend Sandy. Sandy is living in Madrid and his business ventures may provide Spain with the resources to enter the war on the side of Germany. Reluctantly, Harry agrees.

Life for Harry is black and white and he believes it is the right thing to do, which is why he agrees. Once in Madrid, though, everything takes on a shade of grey. The city is still recovering from the effects of the civil war and life for it’s citizens under Franco is harsh.

Harry’s feelings are further muddled by the mercenary attitude of his seniors and his blossoming relationship with a woman he meets called Sophia. There is also the added complication of Barbara, former girlfriend of his best friend Bernie and now wife of Sandy. Bernie was a volunteer in the Spanish civil war and is missing believed dead.

Winter in Madrid follows Harry’s attempts to do the right thing at the same time as his naivety is stripped away and Barbara’s search for Bernie. Both stories are intertwined and compelling. Neither tale is clear cut and the endings aren’t ones I expected.

I bought this book because it was on sale on amazon even though I’m not the biggest fan of historical fiction – I just can’t resist a bargain – and I’m really glad I did. As mentioned, the story is compelling, it carries you forward, and the characters are ones I cared about (for the most part). There are also some unexpected twists and turns. Finally, whilst I know very little about the Spanish civil war, I felt it was well researched and the setting believable. I will definitely be reading more by Sansom in the future and can recommend this book.

Emma

The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

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At 15, Jane was babysitting when her charge, 5 year old Lily went missing on a day out.  At 34, Jane finds herself forced to confront her past when Lily’s father, William, is booked to make a speech at the museum she is working at as an archivist.

Already stressed because the museum is closing and she has no job to go to when it does, Jane is on a knife edge by the day of William’s speech.  She imagines it in her minds eye, seeing herself coming across the shell of a man.  One who, like her, has been unable to let go of that fateful day.  One who thinks of Lily and wonders what happened to her almost constantly.  What she comes across instead is a man who has moved on, who has a new daughter and a beautiful wife.  And a man who doesn’t recognise her when they come face to face.

The realisation that he has moved on in a way she hasn’t been able to sends Jane into a tailspin.  Unsure what to do, she flees the museum, running to the only place she really thinks about, the grounds of Inglewood and the former Whitmore Asylum where Lily disappeared and where Jane had focused her dissertation.

It was whilst writing her dissertation that she came across and became obsessed with the disappearance of another young girl 100 years before.  N___ had gone missing after a walk in the woods with some inpatients and seems to have been removed from the records.  Jane becomes determined to find out why and the connection the disappearance might have to the nearby Inglewood stately home.

All of this feels quite complicated to explain and it felt the same to read, especially as it was written in both third and first person plural through the mixed voices of ghosts who have attached themselves to Jane (and were former residents of Inglewood and Whitmore). The back and forth between the two voices didn’t seem to have much of a rhythm and it took me a while to figure out just who was speaking and why the ghosts were there.

The why was to fill in the gaps from Jane’s research but I never really got used to the style of writing throughout the book and would have much preferred Aislinn Hunter to choose one voice or the other.  I felt it was too distracting and took away from Jane and what was happening to her, which was actually quite interesting.  This is because this book, despite the blurb focusing on the missing girls was actually about Jane finding herself.

It took a while for me to realise this as well and I wonder if the author was sure what she wanted to achieve because the focus seemed to keep shifting.  Sometimes it felt like a mystery, sometimes a ghost story, sometimes a journey of discovery.  I just wanted one of these (I’m not sure I would have minded which as I think Aislinn Hunter has a way with words and there are some great descriptive passages).  In the end, I didn’t feel like I got anything and was left feeling disappointed and maybe a little cheated.  Meaning that, sadly and despite high hopes when I started, this isn’t one for me. Sorry!

Emma

This book was a review copy received in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts are my own. 

What I’m Reading This Week: 27th April, 2015

Belated happy Monday all.  Hope you had a good weekend – ours was lovely, with lots of sun on Sunday and St. George’s Day celebrations at Kenilworth Castle with medieval knights and battling dragons.  Unfortunately, it’s now back to reality and work and a slightly grey day (still better to be grey while I’m working vs. the other way round).

Blog-wise I managed to get two reviews posted (I’m always so far behind on these I’ve decided to stop beating myself up – I will end up black and blue otherwise). They were:

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cummings – a memoir that I didn’t enjoy as much as I thought I would, possibly because it was an audio book but also possibly because my expectations were too high

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro – short stories disguised as a novel telling the story of a girl growing into a woman in Ontario in the 1940s – loved it!

Book-wise this week, I am starting with some non-fiction – The People: The Rise & Fall of the Working Class by Selina Todd which I’ve heard great things about.  With the election less than two weeks away and the rhetoric about hard working people that has been thrown about it feels appropriate to be reading it.

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What was it really like to live through the 20th century? In 1910 three-quarters of the population were working class, but their story has been ignored until now. Based on the first-person accounts of servants, factory workers, miners and housewives, award-winning historian Selina Todd reveals an unexpected Britain where cinema audiences shook their fists at footage of Winston Churchill, communities supported strikers, and where pools winners (like Viv Nicholson) refused to become respectable. Charting the rise of the working class, through two world wars to their fall in Thatcher’s Britain and today, Todd tells their story for the first time, in their own words.

I’m (hopefully) going to follow it up with The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter which, again, gets good reviews although I know little about it as it’s a review copy that caught my eye.

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Deep in the woods of northern England, somewhere between a dilapidated estate and an abandoned Victorian asylum, fifteen-year-old Jane Standen lived through a nightmare. She was babysitting a sweet young girl named Lily, and in one fleeting moment, lost her. The little girl was never found, leaving her family and Jane devastated.

Twenty years later, Jane is an archivist at a small London museum that is about to close for lack of funding. As a final research project–an endeavor inspired in part by her painful past–Jane surveys the archives for information related to another missing person: a woman who disappeared more than one hundred years ago in the same woods where Lily was lost. As Jane pieces moments in history together, a portrait of a fascinating group of people starts to unfurl. Inexplicably tied to the mysterious disappearance of long ago, Jane finds tender details of their lives at the country estate and in the asylum that are linked to her own heartbroken world, and their story from all those years ago may now help Jane find a way to move on.

And that’s it for this week – as The People is over 500 pages long I’m not sure I dare consider reading more than two books and that might be pushing it – what about you, what are you reading?

Have a good week!

Emma

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Title: Frog Music

Author: Emma Donoghue

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Source: Purchased

Rating: Liked it (3 out of 5)

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In the middle of a San Francisco heat wave, Blanche Beunon is rushing home when she is knocked over by a bicyclist, Jenny Bonnet.  Bruised but otherwise o.k., Jenny takes Blanche for dinner to apologise before admitting she has nowhere to live and ending up sleeping on Blanche’s couch. Jenny is like no one Blanche has ever met.  She dresses in men’s clothes for a start and carries a gun, the complete opposite of Blanche whose entire life revolves around how she looks.

Blanche is a Dove, a burlesque dancer and a prostitute (though no one would use such a vulgar word).  She moved to San Francisco with her lover, Arthur and friend Ernest from France. Both men live off Blanche’s wages, gambling most of it away at the Faro table.  With Arthur since she was 15, Blanche doesn’t see anything wrong with this.  That is until Jenny starts asking her questions, questions she hasn’t ever asked herself.  Including why Blanche sent her and Arthur’s son to a baby farm.

It’s this question that sets the events of the book in motion because Blanche decides to bring her son home.  And stop working. Neither sits well with Arthur or Ernest, who feel their hold slipping away and try to take back control.  Unsure where to turn, Blanche looks to Jenny and the pair leave the city, only for Jenny to end up dead and Blanche searching for the killer.

Based on a true story, Frog Music opens with Jenny’s murder and it’s a great opener, one that really drew me in. The next 100 or so pages then left me wondering if this was all I was going to get. I found them incredibly slow as the story went back and forth over the previous month and how Blanche and Jenny ended up on the run before moving into the present and Blanche trying to solve the murder and get her son back. At this point, it picked up the pace, rushing at times towards the big reveal (or not as this was an unsolved murder) and I started to enjoy myself.

I did also have to wonder about the characters. I am not sure one had a redeeming characteristic…maybe Blanche with her late-found maternal instinct. Normally, that would put me off. I find it hard to like a book when I don’t like the characters. In this case, though, I felt ambiguous towards them vs. outright dislike. Jenny and Blanche are survivors and, and such, I found myself forgiving them, especially given how lawless San Fransisco was at this time (Emma Donohugue does a great job painting a picture of the city as seedy, dirty, sweaty and dangerous).

This meant that, in the end, I am sorry to say I didn’t care too much who-did-it or whether they were brought to justice or about the book overall.  It was well written and I liked it but didn’t love it.  Not for me.

The Heros’ Welcome by Louisa Young

Title: The Heros’ Welcome Author: Louisa Young Genre: Historical Fiction Source: Library Rating: 5 out of 5 The Hero’s Welcome opens in 1919 with the wedding of Riley and Nadine, childhood friends and sweethearts. In attendance is Riley’s best friend and captain during the war, Peter, and Peter’s son Tom. Afterwards, Riley and Nadine go to tell their […]