Sunday, January 14, 2018

Book Review: The English Wife

The English Wife: A Novel by [Willig, Lauren]Author: Lauren Willig
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

From New York Times bestselling author, Lauren Willig, comes this scandalous novel set in the Gilded Age, full of family secrets, affairs, and even murder.

Annabelle and Bayard Van Duyvil live a charmed life in New York: he's the scion of an old Knickerbocker family, she grew up in a Tudor manor in England, they had a whirlwind romance in London, they have three year old twins on whom they dote, and he's recreated her family home on the banks of the Hudson and renamed it Illyria. Yes, there are rumors that she's having an affair with the architect, but rumors are rumors and people will gossip. But then Bayard is found dead with a knife in his chest on the night of their Twelfth Night Ball, Annabelle goes missing, presumed drowned, and the papers go mad. Bay's sister, Janie, forms an unlikely alliance with a reporter to uncover the truth, convinced that Bay would never have killed his wife, that it must be a third party, but the more she learns about her brother and his wife, the more everything she thought she knew about them starts to unravel. Who were her brother and his wife, really? And why did her brother die with the name George on his lips?

“What a very odd thing,' said Janie, 'to live and leave no mark.” 

“It was very hard to rant while accepting a cup of tea.”

“It hurt to kill a dream, like tearing petals off a rose in full bloom.” 

“It wasn't the big decisions that set the course of one's life; it was the slow accretion of all the little ones.” 
I went into this book thinking it was going to be a slow burn, and at times it was, but more than not, the plot, action, and alternating points of view were invigorating and made it very hard to put this book down. We start with the murder of a rich, influential man in New York society and the disappearance of his wife, Annabelle, and are then wrapped in a world filled with intrigue and more secrets than we can count. I greatly enjoyed the time period and setting – New York in the Gilded Age. Money bought you power and place in society. The theme of class and wealth play heavily into the telling of this deeply intriguing and riveting tale. As I mentioned previously, the story is told through two lenses – Janie, the deceased’s sister, in present day only weeks after the murder/suicide and then the other point of view is from the deceased himself many years before. It was highly entertaining, the chapters flew by quickly, and there were characters I loved and others I despised.

Janie and Annabelle were two of my favorite things about this book, being that I am a character driven reader. Annabelle is missing, presumed dead for most of the novel, but readers will learn a lot about her life through past recollections. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like her, but she grew on me quickly once I learned about her life and hardships. Then there is Janie. Janie started as a meek, easily overtaken young woman who was under the complete control and manipulation of her hateful mother, but by the end of the novel she blossomed into a lady willing to do whatever it took to bring the right people to justice. This is the first Lauren Willig book that I have read since the Pink Carnation series, and I must say I love this standalone novel and will read whatever she publishes next.

***A free copy of this book was provided to me by the publishers at St. Martin’s Press in exchange for my honest review***

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