Review: The Secret Wife, by Gill Paul

The Secret WifeThe Secret Wife by Gill Paul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘The Secret Wife’ was a nice, enjoyable historical fiction/romance. Although it lacked the “wow” factor, I found it to be a good story overall. It was interesting and I enjoyed the details related to the time period. However, given the subject matter, the book lacked the suspense that I would have expected.

The story alternates timeframes, as well as locations. In 2016, Kitty Fisher discovers that her husband is having an affair. She has recently inherited a cabin in the United States from a great-grandfather that she never knew existed. Given the recent revelations about her marriage, she packs her bags and leaves her home in London, setting out for the cabin at Lake Akanabee.

Soon after her arrival, Kitty discovers some old writings in the cabin. She becomes consumed with uncovering the story of her great-grandfather, Dmitri Malama. The more she unearths, the more apparent it becomes that Dmitri’s life was anything but unremarkable.

Through the writings, a new look at Russia in 1914 and the downfall of the Romanov family is offered. Unlike many other stories centered on the Romanov family, which tend to speculate about Anastasia’s fate, this book focuses on Tatiana Romanov. I found this part of the story to be fascinating and highly entertaining. I lavished in every detail of this era in Russian history.

Dmitri was a cavalry officer who meets Tatiana when he is injured. Tatiana volunteers at the hospital where he is sent for treatment. The two fall in love, only to be separated thereafter by the overthrow of the Russian Tsar and the subsequent restrictions placed on the Romanov family.

Even after the reported murder of the Romanovs, Dmitri holds out hope that Tatiana is alive. Eventually, he gives up hope. He goes on to start a family of his own and relocates to America.

However, things aren’t always what they seem. When fate thrusts Tatiana back into his life, Dmitri is forced to make some very hard choices. Can he reconcile his love for Tatiana with the new life that he has made for himself and the wife that has stuck by his side throughout the years?

All things considered, I expected this to be a much more emotional read. Instead, it felt sweet and maybe even a little sad. Even with Tatiana’s reappearance, the story failed to elicit the tremendous emotional highs and lows that I expected. Things just fell together too perfectly.

Dmitri’s wife was just too accepting and almost complacent. I even felt the same way about how things worked out for Kitty and her husband. It was like these characters had been given a heavy dose of a sedative. Where was the anger and sense of betrayal?

Overall, it ended up being a good but not great type of story for me. It had a lot of unrealized potential. I needed more emotion and a stronger connection to the characters. It felt kind of “flat” to me, for lack of a better descriptor.

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Review: Evelyn, After, by Victoria Helen Stone

Evelyn, AfterEvelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not exactly sure that I’d categorize this story as a Psychological Thriller, but ‘Evelyn, After’ definitely had a few twists and turns along the way. It managed to hold my attention somewhat, but I never felt a strong connection to any of the characters. I listened to the Audible version, and while it was very well-narrated, I couldn’t help but feel that it was missing something.

This is the story of Evelyn, a woman that has traded the better part of her life to do “what’s expected” of her. She’s the wife of a prominent psychiatrist and the mother of their teenage son. Somewhere along the way, she lost her own identity. Her entire being is defined by the interests of her husband and son. She does everything a dutiful wife should do, volunteering at the school and helping with PTA fundraisers. She is living a cliché.

To the surprise of no one except Evelyn, her husband is having an affair. Gary, the prestigious psychiatrist, is involved in an accident one night…but he isn’t alone. It seems that Evelyn’s douchebag husband has been sleeping with one of his patients.

To make matters worse, Gary has the audacity to call his wife out to help him on the side of the road while he has his patient/mistress with him! Then, when Evelyn confronts him about it, he has the nerve to get indignant with her like she’s imagining things. To say the least, Gary was easy to hate right from the start.

Eventually, Evelyn gets pieces of the truth from Gary. It doesn’t take long for Evelyn to discover that the “accident” was far more than it seemed at first glance. Gary’s actions have thrown her entire world into chaos. Evelyn is faced with a huge ethical dilemma as she weighs the risk of losing her comfortable lifestyle against the merits of telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Evelyn becomes obsessed with the pretty blonde patient that warmed her husband’s bed. What begins as a little online stalking, quickly gets out of hand. Before long, Evelyn has interjected herself into the life of Juliette Whitman.

While I wanted to feel a connection with Evelyn, it never happened. Mostly, I just pitied her. Here was a woman that was stuck in a trap of her own making, more concerned with her country club image than doing anything to change her circumstances. She was perfectly content to play the victim, all while turning a blind eye to everything going on around her. As a heroine, she came off as weak and rather pathetic.

In the end, there was a twist or two that I didn’t see coming. That being said, they weren’t particularly shocking or exciting. This ended up being an “okay” story for me. It wasn’t terrible, but it lacked that special something that makes a story stand out.

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Review: “It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass, by Joanne Hanks and Steve Cano

“It’s Not About the Sex” My Ass by Joanne Hanks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The 19th Wife’, I wanted to know more about polygamy in religious cults like the FLDS. I ran across this book when searching for other books on the topic. Given the often disturbing and emotional nature of the topic, I was glad to see a book that seemed to approach the topic with humor. In that regard, this book really stood out from the rest.

I listened to the Audible version of this book and my biggest complaint is that it was too short to really explore the topic as in-depth as I wanted to. The author did a fantastic job of pointing out the downright laughable “prophecies” that were a part of her day-to-day life in the polygamist community that she lived in. Written after leaving the polygamist community and breaking away from the cult, she does a good job of pointing fun at her blind obedience and outright idiocy. I just wanted more.

This autobiographical account tells the story of Ms. Hanks, who entered into the polygamist cult as an adult, along with her husband. At that time, she was the only wife and she later helped her husband to “recruit” additional wives later on. Of course, they believed at the time that this was the will of God. Looking back, she recognizes it was really the will of horny guys that were able to craft “prophecies” to their liking.

I really liked the fact that the author did not try to portray herself as a victim, while painting her husband as the monster. Yes, he certainly “reaped the rewards” of plural marriage. However, they made a decision to enter into the polygamist lifestyle together, as consenting adults. Fools they may have been, but victims…no.

On the other hand, there were several things that I really struggled with while reading this book. First of all, I had trouble grasping that two well-educated adults raised outside of a polygamist community would ever be so naive. (He was a Chiropractor and she had a degree in Interior Design. Both had lived in “modern” cities and were exposed to “modern” ideas, as well as the condemnation of polygamist cults by the mainstream Mormon Church.)

Maybe I’m just too skeptical, but I call bullshit. My personal theory is that for whatever reason this woman felt compelled to humor her husband’s desire to have multiple wives. Maybe she was insecure. Maybe they were both closet perverts. I don’t know, but I don’t believe that these two adults actually bought into the religious cult BS.

That being said, I did appreciate the honesty of the author with regards to the ridiculous cult teachings. She also was forthcoming about the emotional toll that plural marriage takes on the wives and the disharmony it creates in a household. In my humble opinion, any woman that says that she is “okay” with hearing her husband have sex with his new, younger bride down the hall is either lying…or glad to be relieved of the chore because secretly she hates his guts. The author didn’t try to paint a rosy “I just love my sister wives” picture for readers and I was thankful for that.

The other thing that really bothered me about this book was that I was pretty appalled by the actions of the author and her husband. On some level, I wanted to relate to the woman and even feel bad for her as her husband took on more wives. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

After all, she had been an integral part of the decision making process every step of the way. She even helped her husband select his second wife, who was a teenager at the time. While she griped about having to “raise” his second wife like she was another child in her home, I kept thinking “because she is, you sicko!”.

As far as I was concerned, she was as culpable as her husband. They preyed upon this young girl. Her husband may have been the dirty old guy that wanted to sleep with the teenager, but she facilitated it. She may have been 18 by the time the marriage was consummated, but it was sick. Just yuck!

Overall, this was a 3 star read for me. I would have liked more of an in-depth expose, but realize that this was just the account of one woman that lived in a polygamist community for several years. While this book was actually pretty humorous, I had trouble believing that these adults could have been so gullible. I couldn’t help but questions their true motivations for entering into such a taboo lifestyle. Nonetheless, I appreciate that the author points out many of the lies that seem readily apparent to most of us already. It goes to show that even intelligent individuals can be duped when it suits them.

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Review: The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham

The Painted VeilThe Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It had been a long time since I read one of the classics. When I saw ‘The Painted Veil’ on sale at Audible.com, I thought it would be a nice change of pace. I wasn’t wrong. This book proved to be far better than I expected.

‘The Painted Veil’ is set in England and China, taking place in the 1920’s. It is a story of love, betrayal, revenge and redemption. I definitely wasn’t prepared for some of the twists and turns that this story took, but I enjoyed every minute.

Kitty Fane moved to Hong Kong with her husband, Walter. An incredibly intelligent man, Walter is also socially awkward. He loves Kitty, but is rather unapproachable and aloof. Eventually, Walter grew on me, but he isn’t the type of “warm-fuzzy” character that you bond with immediately. From the start, it is made very clear that he is head-over-heels in love with his wife.

Likewise, it is immediately evident that Kitty does not return the sentiment. Kitty is beautiful, vain and shallower than a kiddie pool. While Walter married for love, she makes not ifs, ands, or buts about the fact that she did not. It is clear that she married Walter solely so that she would not be one-upped by her younger sister’s upcoming nuptials. In fact, Kitty seems to loathe Walter…at least, initially.

So, it was no big surprise that Kitty spent her days in the arms of the charming, and also married, Charles Townsend, while Walter was busy at work. No doubt, the dumb twit was just the most recent in what was bound to be a long line of extramarital conquests for Charles. Stupid Kitty believed that he was as in love with her as she was with him. Poor fool.

Unlike his wife, Walter has no illusions. He knew that Kitty didn’t love him the way he loved her, but he wanted her so badly that he was willing to marry her anyway. He may have known that she didn’t love him, but he did expect for her to be faithful.

When he discovers her adultery, he gives Kitty an option. He will grant her a divorce, if Charles will agree in writing to divorce his wife and marry Kitty immediately thereafter. Or, Kitty can accompany Walter into rural China where he has accepted a job assisting with the medical management of the cholera epidemic. Of course, Walter already knows exactly how this will work out. Kitty seems to be the only one surprised by Charles’ duplicity.

I have to say that Walter had a special place in my heart. I love stories with darker themes and am drawn to anti-heroes. There was something so sinister and calculating about Walter that really drew me to him. Kitty was right to be afraid of her husband, even as she knew that he loved her. Walter was kind of a scary guy.

Arriving in the small village, it is immediately apparent that Kitty is being punished for her transgressions. Walter keeps her at a distance and is cold, at best. It becomes clear to Kitty that Walter is seeking revenge, using cholera to commit a passive murder/suicide. It was sick. It was twisted. It was goddamn brilliant!

The more time she spent in the village, the more Kitty came to see the error of her ways. For the first time, Kitty grew to appreciate her husband and even admire him. Though she never really fell in love with him, she finally felt shame and remorse for her actions.

As much as I disliked Kitty at the onset of this book, she grew on me. I came to see her as an imperfect human, a product of her privileged upbringing and societal expectations. Similarly, I came to see some of Walter’s flaws. He wasn’t entirely a victim as I believed, early on.

I can’t say that there is one “moral of the story” that really stands out to me with the book. There were many. This book was a beautiful, albeit heartbreaking, account of the human experience.

Although this isn’t my usual type of story, I enjoyed it immensely. There were plenty of twists and turns along the way that I didn’t see coming. Early on, I thought I had it all worked out in my head, but I was sooo wrong. This story did not pan out the way I had envisioned, but it was strangely fitting for this couple.

Overall, I thought that this was a wonderful book. It isn’t a particularly happy or uplifting read, but it was great in and of it’s own accord. This is one that will definitely hang with me for a while. I highly recommend it.

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