by Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: St. Martin's
Page Count: 384
Release Date: Oct 3, 2017
Format: ARC Trade Paperback
How got: GoodReads Giveaway
First attention getter: that gorgeous cover!!!
One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.
It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. 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 the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?
Star Rating - 4
Note: Book received for free in exchange for an honest review via GoodReads giveaway.
At first I found Stolen Marriage hard to get through. The first third seemed to slog through stereotypical scenarios from a standard gothic mystery novel and a main character that only rarely did anything proactive. However, once the story really hit its stride, I found myself engrossed more and more with Tess. She finally finds her feet in her new life, finding her spine and not letting society or anyone stand in the way of her dreams.
I adored where the story went. From the back description and how the book started, I thought I’d be getting a gothic mystery full of suspenseful twists and chills, with a background and some tidbits on the polio epidemic and hospital. Yet, those parts actually became the main focus, much to my delight. I loved exploring how this small southern town pulled together to create this polio hospital practically overnight, donating time, energy, material support, and medical logistics to the task.
Polio was such a big scare in the mid-20th century. Most people nowadays don’t even think about it. It was fascinating to see that explored in this small town setting, where rumors about the condition spread like wildfire and everyone knows the victims. Where another story could be a bleak portrayal of a small town in crisis, held in the hands of an epidemic, Stolen Marriage gives us a town who pulls it all together to get over this tragedy. I loved how the author portrayed this town.
The polio epidemic also seems to give Tess the kick in the pants to find her own path in life. She starts out trying to please everyone in Hickory, her new husband’s family especially. Quickly, she finds out this is impossible, given she’s the outsider who has stolen the life expected for a local gal. I loved how she shook off this mindset when faced with a bigger crisis. She seems to find herself and mature fast, coming out the other side stronger and with an iron will.
Besides Tess, the reader also gets a great grasp on Chamberlain's secondary characters as well. I grew to love most everyone, even the grumpy mother-in-law. Even her, I came to know why her attitudes were such and why she acted how she did. After I learned of Henry’s story, my sympathy for him rose fast. He’s faced with an impossible situation given the societal mores of the time.
Despite the rocky start with Tess being a bit of a doormat, I learned to love this book as it explored a seldom used historical story and combined it with well-rounded characters. As Tess progressed on her journey, the reader can’t help but be sucked in by her struggles and triumphs. If you’re looking for a great read, give this one a look. The book only gets better the longer you read.