Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Review: In Need of a Good Wife

Summary: Richly detailed, vivid, and unforgettable, this is an extraordinary novel about three women challenging the American West—and unpredictable fate—for a future only the most daring can secure…

For Clara Bixby, brokering mail-order brides is a golden business opportunity—and a desperately needed chance to start again. If she can help New York women find husbands in a far-off Nebraska town, she can build an independent new life away from her own loss and grief.

Clara’s ambitions are shared by two other women, who are also willing to take any risk. Quiet immigrant Elsa hopes to escape her life of servitude and at last shape her own destiny. And Rowena, the willful, impoverished heiress, jumps at the chance to marry a humble stranger and repay a heartbreaking debt. All three struggle to find their true place in the world, leaving behind who they were in order to lay claim to the person they want to be. Along the way, each must face unexpected obstacles and dangerous choices, but they also help to forge a nation unlike any that came before.  -- Berkley

One of the main reasons that I decided to read IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE by Kelly O'Connor McNees was the gushing praise that my friends at Aaron's Books gave this novel. While the description of the book did make it sound like one that I'd enjoy, it was both Sam and Grammy's recommendations that pushed me over the edge. I have to say that they were spot on with their praise. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel!

IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE is a very entertaining historical fiction book about three women who head from Manhattan to the wild world of the American West in the mid 1800s. Each woman has had their fair share of troubles and they all desire to get a fresh start in Nebraska -- via a mail-order bride service. Clara is the brain child behind this idea, namely because she wants to get away from the grief she's recently experienced; and she sets out to find women who are willing to move across the country and meet their new husbands. Two of the women who agree to the move are Elsa, an immigrant woman who is hoping for a better life and job, and Rowena, a widowed heiress who is broke and wants a way to make some money to settle an outstanding debt. All three women discover that their journey west is difficult (to say the least), and they are unsure of what awaits them when they get to Nebraska; however, they all face the challenges and are forever changed by this experience.

I've read quite a few historical fiction books set during the Civil War, but not so many that take place in the years following it. Quite honestly, that was one of the appeals of this novel to me. I don't know much about the western expansion or the plight of women during these times, and I thought this aspect of history might be interesting... and it certainly was. I was especially impressed with how these three women were portrayed -- both courageous and smart; and I liked seeing how they adjusted to their very new (and very different) lives.

The book begins in the aftermath of the war when women far outnumbered men, and their prospects for husbands in New York (and the entire East coast) weren't the best. However, in the West, there were towns like Destination, Nebraska, where virtually no women lived. Clara, being the resourceful woman that she was, decided that take the chance that men would be willing to pay money for the chance to find a wife; and she started her own business -- pretty enterprising for a woman during this time period, I'd say. Little did she know how complicated this venture would end up being!

One of my favorite things about IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE were the characters, especially Clara, Elsa and Rowena. I thought the author did a wonderful job of bringing these women to life and making the reader empathize with each of them in very different ways. None of these women were perfect and they definitely all had baggage from their pasts; however, I was intrigued by each of them. I probably most appreciated Clara for both her honestly and determination, as well as the pain she suffered, but I also liked Elsa and even Rowena at times. What I definitely did enjoy about this novel, though, is that each woman's story turned out exactly as it should have!

This might sound corny, but I thought IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE was a feel-good book. Not only was it very entertaining (and even funny at times), but it showed the spirit of those individuals who helped to settle America. My heart was definitely touched by the thought of these three women leaving behind their comfortable lives to "go West" and hopefully find some happiness. Lord knows, I won't even go camping, so to read a story about the brave men and women who helped make America the land of opportunity is kind of heart-warming to me.

I think many book clubs would enjoy discussing IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE. The author has a reading guide posted on her website (it's also in the back of the book) with twelve interesting questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include loss, grief, fresh starts, love, marriage, faith, friendship, honestly, freedom, and hope. I think there is quite a bit to discuss about this novel, and the reading guide should help generate some lively discussion.

In conclusion, I think fans of historical fiction or stories about the empowerment of women will enjoy IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

I love books with happy stories about arranged marriages. Oddly, it seems very romantic to me! (In Fiddler on the Roof, one of the many parts that makes me cry is the song "Do You Love Me?" About feelings after an arranged marriage)

bermudaonion said...

I met Kelly while she was working on this book and I know she did a lot of research for it. I'm glad to see it's so good - I'm looking forward to reading it!

Nise' said...

As a lover of this time period, I want to read this book.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

I like these types of stories and I really enjoyed The Lost Summer by Kelly. I will be putting this book on my wishlist!

Beth F said...

I love the time period too. I'll have to pick up a copy of this.

Gayle Weiswasser said...

This is on my TBR list - glad that you enjoyed it!

Gayle Weiswasser said...

This is on my TBR list.