Second Wives | LJ Reviews, September 1, 2016

Jefferies's atmospheric and suspenseful novel will enthrall fans of gothic romances; Rivers's solid historical novel is a good choice for book clubs and will yield great discussions

redstarJefferies, Dinah. The Tea Planter’s Wife. Crown. Sept. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780451495976. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780451495990. F

teaplanterswife-jpg9716A best seller in Britain and set in 1920s ­Ceylon (Sri Lanka today), ­Jefferies’s (The Separation) novel is the spellbinding tale of a young bride who travels to an exotic land and winds up completely lost in the unfamiliar. Nineteen-year-old Gwen married Laurence in England and has followed him to his tea plantation. Though mesmerized by the beauty of the country, she soon struggles with the unaccustomed isolation. Her new husband is strangely distant, spending most of his time at work, and his relationship with a beautiful American businesswoman makes Gwen insecure. Verity, Laurence’s spoiled younger sister, is jealous of Gwen’s place as mistress of the house and will do anything to drive a wedge between the couple. The plantation itself holds undercurrents of danger with unrest brewing among the native workers. Most mysterious and troubling is that no one is willing to talk about ­Laurence’s first wife and the circumstances of her death. Soon, Gwen is questioning her own choices and will have to make a devastating decision to save her marriage and maybe her life. VERDICT This atmospheric and suspenseful novel is reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca and will enthrall fans of gothic romances. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/16; September LibraryReads Pick.]—Catherine Coyne, ­Mansfield P.L., MA

Rivers, Susan. The Second Mrs. Hockaday. Algonquin. Jan. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9781616205812. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616206512. F

Placidia (Dia) Fincher Hockaday shares two days with her new husband, Maj. Gryffth Hockaday, before he leaves to fight in the Civil War. During the second year of his absence, Dia gives birth to a child. The baby’s father, and the infant’s subsequent fate, are at the center of the scandal that opens this first novel. Largely told through letters and diary entries, the narration, initially slow paced, accelerates as the story evolves and the protagonists’ roles in the scandal unfold. Most of the story line is set against the stark realities of wartime survival, except for an awkward middle section that jumps to a future generation of characters trying to unravel the mystery of Dia. Once reoriented to the past, readers will find that, as with all wartime tales, brutality toward women and slaves occurs with depressing frequency. VERDICT Fans of Geraldine Brooks’s Year of Wonders and Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress will enjoy this solid historical novel, which is also a good choice for book clubs, as Dia’s motivations for her actions will yield great discussions.—Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT

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