Review: An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser

 

 

Title:  An Infamous Marriage

Author: Susanna Fraser

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Northumberland, 1815

At long last, Britain is at peace, and General Jack Armstrong is coming home to the wife he barely knows. Wed for mutual convenience, their union unconsummated, the couple has exchanged only cold, dutiful letters. With no more wars to fight, Jack is ready to attempt a peace treaty of his own.

Elizabeth Armstrong is on the warpath. She never expected fidelity from the husband she knew for only a week, but his scandalous exploits have made her the object of pity for years. Now that he’s back, she has no intention of sharing her bed with him—or providing him with an heir—unless he can earn her forgiveness. No matter what feelings he ignites within her…

Jack is not expecting a spirited, confident woman in place of the meek girl he left behind. As his desire intensifies, he wants much more than a marriage in name only. But winning his wife’s love may be the greatest battle he’s faced yet.


Review:

I enjoyed An Infamous Marriage quite a bit, due to the strength of the protagonists.  The first quarter of the book was wonderful, and the couple wasn’t even on the same continent!  With the emphasis on the war against Bonaparte at the end of the story, I thought that the book covered new ground, too.  I liked that we were given a first hand account of both Jack and Elizabeth’s wartime experience, fretting with them both as they struggled to maintain a sense of calm amidst the chaos surrounding them.  Elizabeth had an especially difficult time, as she waited for word from the front that Jack was kept from harm’s way.  Their parting before he rode into battle was heartbreaking; having caught her husband in a dreadful lie, Elizabeth’s hurt frothed to the surface, making her unable to see him off with anything but bitterness.  While his behavior was unbecoming of the man of honor he claimed to be, it was Elizabeth who suffered most from their harsh parting.  I felt so bad for her, too.  Jack really had behaved like a cad, and his window of opportunity to confess his crimes had long closed.

After her husband of a week falls tragically and terminally ill, he forces a promise from his best friend to marry Elizabeth and keep her safe.  Unable to refuse his deathbed request, both Elizabeth and Jack find themselves married shortly after Giles’ funeral.  Their neighbors are aghast, but Jack has to return to Canada, where he serves in the army, so there is no time for mourning.  He’s gone for five long years, and at first, Elizabeth finds herself falling for the man she married.  His letters are a delight to her, and she cherishes each piece of Jack that he shares through his missives.  Then a meddlesome neighbor shares some gossip from Canada with her; Jack has made quite a reputation for himself, and it’s not a good one.  He’s a rake and, despite being newly wed, he is engaging in one affair after another, without even bothering to be discrete about his activities.  Elizabeth’s world is shattered.  How could he be so cruel, and humiliate her without even a shred of remorse?

Jack does behave like an idiot.  I don’t know why he thought word of his indiscretions would never reach his wife.  It’s not like he was in Canada all by himself, and there was nobody around to notice him flaunting his mistresses about.  When Elizabeth confronts his behavior when he returns home after a five year absence, she is angry that he’s caused her so much grief.  She gives him the opportunity to come clean and confess all of his sins.  When he insists that he’s a man of his word and he isn’t a liar, he only cleans half of the slate.  Keeping one secret from her, one that embarrasses him, he leaves the door open for  future heartbreak for both of them.  I could not believe that an army man, a man who had faced death on the battlefield, would chicken out when given the opportunity to clear the air between himself and his wife.  Elizabeth would have been furious, rightfully so, but she also would have forgiven him, in time.  By lying to her – oh, dear, I knew that wasn’t going to end well.

Even though I wanted to dislike Jack, I couldn’t.  He sincerely felt awful about what he did, and he lacked the courage to confess.  I was in an agony of suspense as I wondered how Elizabeth would find out what a cad he had been.  The pacing of this story is leisurely, as both Jack and Elizabeth’s point of view is explored.  I enjoyed glimpses of both of their lives, both in peacetime and war.  At the start of the book, I was unsure if I would buy into their HEA, but by the time I reached the last page, I was convinced that, while both characters had  flaws and lapses of common sense (epically, on Jack’s part), they believed enough in each other and their future together to put those painful memories in the past.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy provided by author

Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

 

Title: The Song of Achilles

Author: Madeline Miller

Publisher: Ecco

ISBN: 978-0062060617

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing. As they grow into young men their bond blossoms into something far deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned.

Review:

February was an exciting month for me, book-wise.  Why, you ask? Because I discovered three Holy Crap This is a Good Book books.  Yes, this coveted designation, so carefully thought out, was awarded to three different reads.  Deadly by Julie Chibbaro, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, and the last book I started in the month of love, The Song of Achilles.  It’s appropriate that I stumbled on this title in February, because it is all about love – love for friends, love for self, love for that one, true soul mate.  How love changes, and how it brings out the best, and the worst, in two extremely different men.

I have loved The Iliad and The Odyssey since I was in elementary school.  Learning about Ancient Greece started a lifelong fascination for cultures, both ancient and modern, and opened up a whole new world for me: I discovered how much fun independent study can be.  I spent hours in the library, reading about the Greek gods and goddesses, about ancient Greek heroes, and how they lived, and about how they died.  Reading a re-imagined siege of Troy now that I’m an adult gave me a sense of awe – Homer’s stories survived thousands of years after his death, and have entertained generations of people.  These characters are truly immortal, and because of their strengths and flaws, they have become the definition of heroes.  What a legacy Homer created for himself.

The Song of Achilles is the story of Patroclus and Achilles, rendered in beautiful prose that enchants and engages.  It was hard to step away from the story, as both characters grew in depth and complexity.  I came to love Patroclus, and to see him for what he was destined to be.  As one adventure rolled into another, he gained wisdom and compassion. As his love for Achilles swelled out of control, too much for him to keep contained and hidden within his heart, he became more dear to me.  How could he dare to love this prince, destined to be the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known, and not be destroyed by the turmoil threatening their relationship?  Just knowing that Achilles’ mother was so disapproving of him  should have ended the relationship before it ever began, but nothing could come between them.  This is a love story for the ages.  Nothing could drive them apart; not gods or war or those ugly, bitter flaws that lie hidden in all of us.

I was afraid, as I read this book, and as the tide of fate marched Achilles and Patroclus closer and closer to Troy, that there would be no sense of suspense.  That it would get boring.  That the war would fail to engage my interest.    I have read The Iliad many times, and I was fearful that knowing the story, I would not be as interested in the ending.  That proved to be a groundless fear, because as Achilles and Patroclus starting making decisions that I knew would have huge and disastrous outcomes, I was even more wrapped up in the plot.  OMG! I kept thinking.  Don’t do that!  Stop! Stop! Stop!!  By knowing the story, it made the final moments of the war, the tragedy of Achilles’ pride and Patroculs’ love for his fellow soldiers, even more upsetting. 

I loved this book.  It’s exciting, larger than life, and features a love story that will not die.   It’s also the story of rage and ego, and how an inflated sense of self-worth can tear the world apart.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A

Review copy provided by publisher

 

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Review: My Brother’s Shadow by Monika Schroder

 

Title: My Brother’s Shadow

Author: Monika Schroder

Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux

ISBN: 978-0374351229

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

As World War I draws to a close in 1918, German citizens are starving and suffering under a repressive regime. Sixteen-year-old Moritz is torn. His father died in the war and his older brother still risks his life in the trenches, but his mother does not support the patriotic cause and attends subversive socialist meetings. While his mother participates in the revolution to sweep away the monarchy, Moritz falls in love with a Jewish girl who also is a socialist. When Moritz’s brother returns home a bitter, maimed war veteran, ready to blame Germany’s defeat on everything but the old order, Moritz must choose between his allegiance to his dangerously radicalized brother and those who usher in the new democracy.

Review:

I usually try to avoid books set during either world war.  I find them depressing, and they leave me with so many questions far beyond the scope of a fictional novel.  When I was asked to review My Brother’s Shadow, I hesitated.  Would I be able to make my way through a setting that I find unpleasant?  Bleak?  Hopeless?

The answer is a resounding yes.  I even found myself using the Google-fuu to do some on the spot research into the background of some of the events that take place during the story.  After struggling to get through the first chapter, I powered through this book.  I had to know what happened to Moritz and his family.  I had to know that he, at least, found some happiness and hope in the dreary world he was forced to live in.  Moritz is forced to grow up much faster than is fair to a boy his age, and as he struggled to keep the remnants of his family safe and fed, he is also forced to let go of his childish illusions that his life can go back to the way it was before the war.

In this bleak setting, Moritz is a bright, relatable character.  His father has been killed in the fighting, his brother has proudly marched off to the frontlines to do his duty for his fatherland, and his mother, like most of the women in Berlin, has been pressed into service, too.  She works in a factory making ammunition, making arms for the soldiers weary after four years of brutal warfare.  Moritz works at in a print shop running a press, his dreams of attending school and becoming a journalist dissolving with the mind-numbing hunger and stifling poverty that plagues most of the Germany citizenry.  When he discovers that his mother is attending illegal gatherings that rally against the Kaiser, he is beyond dismayed.  How can his mother be a traitor?

I enjoyed this book so much because I liked Moritz.  He strives to help his family in every way he can, and he makes some huge blunders in judgment along the way.  I liked that he learned from his mistakes, and as he began to truly open his eyes to the political conditions in Germany, his own opinions of the war and the Kaiser begin to slowly change.  He no longer blindly believes in the current governing system, and more importantly, the war,  and he sees that it is people like himself who are suffering the most. 

I am so happy that I overcame my reluctance about the setting of My Brother’s Shadow and read the book despite my misgivings.  It’s a compelling read about a brave boy who is forced to become a man before his time. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by the author