Tag Archives: spousal abuse

The Daring Duke (The 1797 Club) by Jess Michaels

Sometimes the beginnings of a Regency Romance series (The 1797 Club) is just a means of introducing the characters where the actual plot is merely a ploy to get our attention. Not so in the Daring Duke by Jess Michaels who draws us into the lives of James, the Duke of Abernathe, and Miss Emma Liston, two individuals with a mutual dislike of their fathers. James, the replacement son, could never win the approval of his abusive father, while Emma’s dad, although absent most of the time, is an embarrassment waiting to happen. Their mothers’ sufferings exhibit themselves in different ways, putting an additional burden on their children.

Emma, a bluestocking, is being pushed to marry well so she can provide for her mother when the money runs out. Her predicament makes her sympathetic to the Duke’s sister Meg, helping her deal with her drunken mom at one of the social events. Meg and Emma instantly hit it off and Meg asks her brother to dance with “the wallflower”, wanting to return the favor. She knows that once Arbernathe dances with one of the debutantes, their stock rises as others want a taste of anyone who garners the duke’s attention, especially since he is stingy with his selections. James is unexpectedly intrigued when he discovers the girl has beautiful eyes and a smile which transforms her normally plain features. His attraction grows as he comes to appreciate her intelligent and straight forward style as contrasted with the fawning, simpering females who normally cater to his whims. Emma just wants to be left alone, but she finds herself succumbing not only to the Duke’s charm, but to the secret hurt he hides beneath the charismatic exterior. Meg begins to invite Emma to various social events, including a two week house party in the country where the two potential lovers are thrown together leading to some interesting turn of events.

Add in some steamy sexual encounters, a villain, and a buffoon, plus several members of the 1797 club and you get a pleasant afternoon read which, by avoiding boring interludes and keeping the plot from meandering into the mundane, is just long enough to get the job done.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Since The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton is a murder mystery of sorts, it’s difficult to summarize without resorting to spoilers. Suffice it to say that daughter Laurel Nicolson witnessed her mother Dorothy murder a man when she was sixteen and now that her elderly mom is on her death bed, the sixty plus year old daughter decides this is her last chance to discover the truth. Her brother Geoffrey, a babe in his mother’s arms, was celebrating his second birthday, so he only has a vague feeling that something untoward happened on that date. Now, fifty years later, Laurel decides it’s finally time to clue him in so they can work together to figure out the details of their mom’s past.

Moving back and forth through time, from the present (2011) to the strife of wartime London (1941) to life as part of a loving family with five children (1961) and various years in between, the plot unfolds giving us bits and pieces of the tale – like a giant jig saw puzzle which has just enough blank spaces so that the big picture remains unrecognizable. Unfortunately, it takes way too many pages to discover the truth, and not until the disconcerting ending does the story finally come together.

While there are some obscure clues at the beginning of the book, by the time their relevance is revealed we’ve forgotten the details. With a slow start which doesn’t pick up until much later in the narration, I feel the main problem is the characterizations. The self absorbed Dolly is just plain unlikeable and at times her actions are despicable. She’s not the only one portrayed in a bad light. Laurel, a famous actress, is not a warm and fuzzy figure, even if the reader is sympathetic to her quest. Her numerous siblings are one dimensional, although the quirky Geoffrey has been fleshed out a bit. While the main focus was developing the convoluted plot (there’s a lot of tragedy along the way providing some sort of logical explanation for the evolving action), I felt more time should have been spent providing some depth to the secondary personalities. In my mind, any book over four hundred pages needs to justify the extra length and despite the surprise ending, this one fell short.

Four stars (just barely and only because of the “twist”) but it could have been so much better with a little tweaking.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

Everybody has a secret, but when someone’s past interfere with the lives of others, it’s no longer a secret, it’s a crime. Then to make it all more interesting, add in a twist of the bizarre – perhaps a freak of nature, perhaps a supernatural phenomena, perhaps a curse perpetuated on all mankind hidden away until the right time to strike.

When would such an evil manifest itself? Just look at the hidden endangerments of our past, such as out in the wilderness of the California Trail from 1946-47 where travel was already fraught with jeopardy from the varieties of both human nature and the elements. Take a true story such as, The Donner Party, which already has a tendency to make the reader squeamish, then come up with an alternate explanation for the tragedy which took the lives of half the pioneers heading west through the treacherous Hastings Cutoff and the Sierra Nevada, made even more deadly by the brutal winter, and add in an evil lurking along the trail.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu intertwines historical facts with a fictional explanation to create an aberrant account depicting the lives of a group of travelers heading to California. Put ninety people (young and old, haves and have nots, families and loners) together and there’s bound to be trouble, even without a danger lurking in the background. Warning: don’t get too attached to any of the individual members of this trip, even the ones who sense what is happening, because their chances of survival are minimal.

At first I thought this was just another take on the Donner Party catastrophe, but then I began to realize this particular quirky tale was perhaps a bit more. The breezy style of the author rounded out the personalities of the numerous characters, adding extra details and motivations via letters or backstories from an earlier time. Although I knew the foregone conclusion, the author was able to put a different slant on the saga to keep me guessing right up to the end. My major complaint was the difficulty I had keeping track of all the names and identities of everyone in the story, which could have been easily solved by a brief annotated list or family tree of all the participants in the caravan. It need not be stated that the unanticipated shortage of supplies, along with an enemy with a voracious appetite, leant itself to a title indicating the need for food.

Four stars and a thank you to Edelweiss and Putnam Sons for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende explores three individuals whose lives inexplicably intersect via a freak winter storm, a sick cat, and a run to the market for diapers. There’s 60 year old Richard Bowmaster who is living in a fog after tragically losing his Brazilian wife and child. His coworker and tenant, 62 year old Lucia Maraz, has survived her own life of upheavals in Chili, escaping the danger by moving to Canada and emigrating to the United States. Finally there’s 23 year old Evelyn Ortega, an undocumented refugee from Guatemala assisting a disabled boy whose father is involved in questionable business practices.

When Evelyn “borrows” her boss’s Lexus for a quick run to the supermarket, she’s caught in the “wrong place at the wrong time” when Richard’s car skids into the rear of the vehicle. Panicking, she ends up at his home, terrified of the consequences when her temporarily out of town employer returns home. Somehow Louisa and Evelyn end up with Richard in his apartment huddling together through the night while a freak blizzard rages across Brooklyn and into the surrounding regions. It’s not just the minor fender bender, but what’s inside the trunk that has them all in a sweat despite the cold.

Thus begins a bizarre road trip to an isolated location far away from the boundaries of the “incident” to get rid of the evidence. Close quarters and fear create the perfect environment for confidences as the three tell their personal stories and develop an unbreakable bond through this illicit deed. Back in Brooklyn is the “rest of the story” providing closure long after the threesome have resolved their accidental dilemma.

I’d like to highlight Lucia’s tale involving the Military coup d’etat in Chili in 1973 where President Salvador Allende was overthrown by armed forces and the national police. It is not a coincidence that the author’s last name is also Allende since this leader was Isabel’s “uncle” which endangered not only her life, but those of loved ones. I’m sure this particular tale invoked some strong emotions from Isabel’s past when she was actively involved in helping those on the “wanted” list find safe passage, which is inherently reflected in the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in this novel.

There was a lot to take in (almost too much to absorb) as the atrocities in Lucia’s and Evelyn’s childhoods are revealed. It is almost impossible to imagine living a life of terror, waiting for someone you love to be killed, or worse, not knowing whether or not the missing are still alive – not to mention your own dangers in an unstable country. Intertwined is the scenarios of those loved ones who influenced the decisions of the trio.

Without maintaining a specific focus on the immigration issue which is currently stalled in Congress, the reader is still left to ponder the attitude of American society towards undocumented workers who have fled their beloved homeland in order to stay safe, as well as the belligerence towards their children who were brought up in this country and know no other home.

While these timely issues make this a must read book (please note the President mentioned the violent M-13 in his 2018 State of the Union Address), I did have difficulty with the choppiness of the story as the plot flipped back and forth between the three main characters revealing their backgrounds piecemeal. I actually cheated and skipped ahead to read each biography in full (one at a time) which gave me a better understanding of their motivations. Oops, sorry Isabel. Allende had the difficult task of condensing their lives into a relatively brief narrative when each of the characters could have easily filled the pages of their own book (including some of the minor players). The conclusion neatly wraps up the details with a bit of poetic justice and a touch of romance thrown into the mix.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for proving an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

When we talk today about women’s rights we fail to remember that it wasn’t until 1920 that women were allowed to vote in the United States and it has only been in the last forty or so years that women could get their own credit cards or purchase property without a male consigner. Consider that the ERA has never been ratified into law and our country has been unsuccessful in voting a woman into office as President, but still wives have a lot more rights today than they did in the late 1940s and 1950s.

The role of women in 1947 is an underlying theme throughout The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve. Grace Holland is a dutiful wife whose life evolves around her husband Gene and her two young children. She doesn’t work or drive, relying on Gene to provide for the family. His will dominates their lives, but their amiable chatter in the evenings plus her friends in the community, especially her next door neighbor Rosie, are enough to keep Grace content with her lot in life. At twenty three she’s a little confused about their lackluster sex life, wondering why she must lie face down in an uncomfortable position, but the act is over quickly and her husband’s needs must be met (a part of her wifely duty). After an especially rough session, Grace is unsure if she should be grateful for his sudden indifference, but the less he touches her, the less he communicates. Then when one night, after he fails to “perform” despite her assuming the preferred position, Gene becomes taciturn and aloof, withdrawing any of the little bit of affection previously expressed.

When “The Fire” begins in their area, after a summer of drought, the community hopes it won’t come so close to the ocean, but despite their preparations, when the alarm is given they barely have time to escape. Rosie and Grace grab their children and head for the ocean, taking refuge in the water protecting the little ones under their bodies. Rosie is rescued first, but by the time help comes for Grace she is suffering from hypothermia. Kindhearted strangers provide assistance as Grave recuperates at the hospital. Her husband, out fighting the fire, does not return, so Grace finds herself relying on others until she can find a way to take up the mantle as provider. Deciding to move into her deceased mother-in-law’s vacant home (well almost vacant) and with the help of her mother, she restarts her life. The squatter, a brilliant pianist, stays for awhile to help out, and Grace discovers a new identity along with a true sense of contentment which was formerly missing in her life. Taking advantage of some of the conveniences of the large Victorian House, a home where she was never made to feel welcome, Grace finds a way to survive after losing everything. Of course, when things start to go wrong, she has some serious decisions to make, weighing a sense of duty against the loss of any semblance of her new found liberty.

The author creates a story based on a true disaster, an October fire which wiped out parts of Maine from Bar Harbor to Kittery. Grace’s tale also reflects the era prior to the bra burning days where women demanded equal rights. Gene reflects the attitude men had towards their wives who were considered more like domestic servants (with benefits) than spouses. Since Gene was a laudable provider who did not beat his wife and even helped out a bit around the house, he would have been considered a commendable husband (despite his lack of ardor in the bedroom). When I hear people lament about the good old days, meaning the 1950s, they often don’t realize it was a time of inequality, not just for minorities, but for women. (Or maybe they do!). I liked the fact that Grace was able to reinvent herself after that terrible experience. As a mother of four I empathized with her frantic actions and as a grandmother I rejoiced that her mother was right there for her, providing the support she needed. Almost a child herself, Grace certainly had a full plate.

Well written, fast paced, with just enough action to keep our interest, and a starring role for the crazy weather, I particularly enjoyed the culmination (even though I was secretly anticipating these very actions) with everybody getting exactly what they deserved.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Too Wicked to Kiss (Scoundrels and Secrets, Book 1) by Erica Ridley

Miss Evangeline Pemberton has a gift or perhaps it’s better to describe it as a curse. The daughter of a gypsy, she has inherited the ability to see “visions”, whether from the past, present, or future, just by touching another. Her mother, forced to marry in the face of disgrace, has died at the hands of her sadistic husband, forcing Evangeline to run away or face the cruelty of a stepfather that feels he owns her and her power. Unfortunately the woman she has turned to in desperation is also quite despicable and she finds herself at a house party in a creepy mansion owned by Gavin Lioncroft, a known killer, with the task of helping compromise her friend Susan, Lady Stanton’s daughter, into matrimony to that very owner of Blackberry Manor. Little does Evangeline expect to develop feeling for the handsome, gruff man who has a tendency to react with his fists, nor does Gavin know how to combat the instant attraction they feel towards one another.

Also at the gathering is Lioncroft’s sister, Rose, with her husband, Lord Hetherton, and their children, as well as Rose’s brother-in-law, Benedict Rutherford and his wife Francine, plus their cousin Edmund. An elderly, doddering gentleman, Mr Teasdale has also been invited (targeted) as a prospective husband for Rose’s eldest daughter Nancy. Hetherton turns out to be a real piece of work so when he turns up dead nobody, except perhaps his children, seem upset. His insulting behavior gives everyone a motive, but the prime candidate is the host who publicly threatened to kill his brother-in-law after witnessing the results of his spousal abuse. Somehow Evangeline’s gift has been revealed, although she claims her insight is because she hears messages from God, and she sets out to discover the truth, hopefully proving Gavin’s innocence. Mayhem ensues. While everyone wants to leave ASAP, it is Jane’s thirteenth birthday and she has been promised a party so they all stay to celebrate resulting in the best day of her life (despite her recent father’s murder), giving Evangeline time to discover the identity of the true murderer.

While this started out as an enticing read Too Wicked to Kiss by Erica Ridley turned out to be long winded with internal repetitive narratives which distracted from the whole. Disguised as a Gothic story, instead of being mysterious, much of this Regency Romance is nonsensical. While there were some potentially interesting characters, none of the secondary cast of players was fully developed. The reason Miss Susan Stanton (one of the better defined individuals) was banned from society and thus reduced to entrapping a husband, was lame and the reader is at a loss for the irrational behaviors of her mother. Edmund was constantly drunk which was perhaps a reason for his inappropriate crudeness which would never have been tolerated at a house party, and the other guests were just as one sided in their descriptions. The children, however, were a delight, and injected some light heartedness into a dark theme. I also couldn’t understand why the Lioncrofts blackballed their brother after their parents death since it was all obviously an accident. Under all the handwringing there was a decent plot, but you had to search to find it. This is Book 1 of the Scoundrels and Secrets series.

Three stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on my blog, Gotta Read.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Celie’s life has been full of abuse since she was a small child. When her mother becomes too ill to satisfy her husband’s needs he turns to his preteen daughter, fathering then getting rid of her two newborns, and eventually farming her out to be the wife of another man so she can take care of HIS house and children. Once again, Celie becomes a receptacle, this time for her husband. Despite the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse, she works hard and quietly accepts her fate, obediently doing what she is told. Her one moment of rebellion involves her sister Nettie whom she harbors from the leacherous attentions of their father. Nettie is sent on her way when she refuses the advances of Mister, Celie’s husband, but vows to write (unless she is dead). When after years of waiting and no letter is received, Celine assumes the worst, another blow in her lackluster life. Yet there are women who refuse to be dominated by men. Shug Avery, Mister’s mistress, becomes an ally of Celie, teaching her the joys of intimacy. Then there is Sophia, step son Harpo’s wife, who refuses to be bullied by any man, physically reciprocating the violence. This, of course, gets ugly when Sophia accosts the mayor after “sassing” his wife for assuming she would jump at the chance to be a maid for a white family.

As we follow the life of Celie we slowly watch as she finds her voice with the help of Shug, Sophia, and even Squeak (Harpo’s mistress). With her newfound independence many truths are revealed, changing her outlook on life. The story is told in “letters” at first beginning Dear God, then switching to Dear Nettie when Celie looses her faith in the Almighty.

Now what I’ve neglected to mention about the book The Color Purple by Alice Walker is that Celie is black, living in rural Georgia during the depression, so not only does this story deal with misogyny, but also the racism still prevalent in the south sixty to seventy years after the Enancipation Proclamation.

There are so many facets to this story, I can see why it won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for Fiction. It’s raw language and unabashed references to sexuality has also earned it a consistent place on the banned book list.

While the depressing aspects of Celie’s life should leave us in a morbid funk, this is a story about the strength of family and friends, full of the promise that people’s attitudes and behaviors can change in a positive manner providing hope for a brighter future. It helps that I listened to the tape narrated by Alice Walker who brilliantly brought the characters to life. Little wonder The Color Purple provided a plot perfect for the stage and screen.

A must read. Five stars.