Judith D Collins
The Stolen Marriage
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: 10/3/2017
My Rating: 5 Stars + Top Books of 2017 From perennial bestseller Diane Chamberlain, a compelling new novel. In 1944, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly ends her engagement to the love of her life when she marries a mysterious stranger and moves to Hickory, North Carolina, a small town struggling with racial tension and the hardships imposed by World War II.
Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows no interest in making love. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry and see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain, especially after one of the town’s prominent citizens dies in a terrible accident and Tess is blamed. Tess suspects people are talking about her, plotting behind her back, and following her as she walks around town. What does everyone know about Henry that she does not? Feeling alone and adrift, Tess turns to the one person who seems to understand her, a local medium who gives her hope but seems to know more than he’s letting on.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes the town, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess, who has a nursing degree, bucks Henry’s wishes and begins to work at the hospital, finding meaning in nursing the young victims. 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 her husband’s mysterious behavior and save her own life?
International Bestselling author and one of my all-time favorites, master storyteller, Diane Chamberlain returns following Pretending to Dance, landing on my Top Books of 2015 with her latest multi-layered compelling drama: THE STOLEN MARRIAGE — Profound and moving, a complex novel of deeply buried secrets. Well-researched, a perfect blending of fact and fiction.
Rich in history, mystery, suspense, intrigue and the finest of southern fiction. Emotionally driven, infused with richly layered characters—with highly-charged and compelling “true to life topics” of the era.
Movie-worthy: From racial tensions to the stresses and emotions of World War II — tragedy, loss, love, trust, betrayal, compassion, forgiveness, and the toll of secrets from a rural small Southern town.
A poignant and engrossing tale.
From dark secrets, infidelity, sex outside of marriage, same-sex, abortion, prejudice, interracial marriages and relations, war rationing, family obligations, gripping moral dilemmas, religion, polio epidemic, and a little magical sprinkle of the supernatural.
Set in 1943, Theresa “Tess” DeMello, a 23-year-old nurse-in-training resides in Little Italy, Baltimore, Maryland. A happy Italian Catholic family, they have lived next door to the Russos forever. They are celebrating her twenty-third birthday and the completion of Vincent’s hospital residency at John Hopkins.
She has been in love with Vincent Russo since she was a child. They have planned their lives and even their children. In a few months, Tess would be graduating from nursing school and taking her licensing exam and finally be able to call herself a registered nurse. A career she had longed for since she was ten years old. They even fantasized that someday Vincent would have his own pediatric practice and she would be his nurse.
The two families are planning their upcoming wedding. They had been dating for seven years. She is still a virgin and since Vincent had grown up expecting to be a priest, he had never pressured her. They would wait until their wedding night.
Her best friend Gina, on the other hand, was a different story. She did not think it was a sin, and really— she did not find too much of anything a sin.
Tess was worried that he would be called off to war but he did have a minor heart problem. However, she was not prepared for a change in their well-laid plans. Vincent was called to Chicago. There was an infantile paralysis epidemic there and they needed doctors to volunteer. A subject true to his heart due to members of his family with polio.
This is just one of the reasons Tess loved him so. He was devoted and selfless. He had hoped to be away for only a few weeks. However, the few weeks turned into longer. He was so busy, he seldom had time to write or phone in a shared boardinghouse with eight men. She worried he would fall in love with Chicago and forget about her —their plans and their life. She fears what is there is someone else? She is feeling insecure. Self-doubt sets in.
As time moved on Vincent was still away and her friend Gina was feeling a little down since her man was away fighting for his country. Gina begs her to accompany her to Washington, DC. A weekend getaway. They deserved it.
Only an hour train ride from Baltimore and they could stay at her aunt’s house near Capitol Hill. She runs a tourist home. Tess does not want to go, but Gina finally persuades her.
However, when they arrive, their aunt had to leave unexpectedly and leaves them a note and key. There are also two businessmen who will be staying overnight in the house. They meet the men and they take them out for dinner and martinis.
The two men seemed nice enough, Robert Talbot and Henry Kraft. Henry was from the South, and appeared to be well dressed, in his late twenties and rather quiet. Gina was flirting with Robert and left her to talk with Henry.
Henry’s family owns a fine furniture factory (Kraft Furniture) in Hickory, NC and now they are producing material for the war effort. She did notice Henry had only seven fingers. Their maid Adora saved his life. He looked sad.
Back at the house, with too much to drink, things get out of hand. Intoxicated. They had sex. Tess was horrified. How could she have done such a thing when she loves Vincent? She is determined never to see or speak to him again. Was it rape? One night changes the course of her life.
Upon return, she is guilt-ridden and goes to the priest for confession. A mortal sin to have sexual relations outside of marriage and betraying her fiancé he says. She must tell Vincent. However, he needs to remain eight more weeks but assures he will be back months before the wedding.
Then her worst fear. She is pregnant. What was she going to do? A smart girl with a brilliant career and future will dishonor her entire family. Could she pass the baby off as Vincent’s? She could not marry him. She must leave. She cannot face him. She does not trust in their love. Gina says she must have an abortion. None of these options are looking good. Gina knows someone who will take care of it.
Scared and alone, she arrives and cannot go through with it. She must move away. A place where she would not be the object of scorn or shame or worry about bumping into Vincent or his family. She decides she will travel to Hickory, NC and tell Henry. She would do whatever she could to protect her baby.
However, things go differently than she planned. She was not quite expecting Henry to propose. She did not love him or know anything about him nor his family. She was stunned. Could this be a sign from God? She decides to marry him. She has no clue what she is getting into. A loveless marriage with a stranger? This is not the life she planned.
Henry was a take charge man with money, power, and prestige. Plus, a sophisticated family. She knew she was not part of his life. She could not forget her nursing and immediately wanted to look into the requirements for licensing in NC. He does not think she needs a career.
He wants to build them a house; however, while the house is being built, they have to move in with his overbearing mother and sister Lucy. His sister was about the same age as Tess and she thought this could be her new best friend. Wrong, on all accounts.
Tess soon learns there is no lovemaking (which is a good thing), and Henry goes back to his busy life, leaving her stuck with mother and sister. Also, Violet Dare, Hank’s fiancée most of her life. Everyone knew they would marry. They came from the right families. No one can understand why he married this girl no one had met and from Baltimore.
Something secretive is going on with Henry (Hank). Lucy tells Tess there are things she does not know about Henry. (it is definitely not what you expect).
Now everyone blames her. Plus, her mom and others cannot comprehend why she would give up her life for some man in NC? Her mother and father (in heaven) will disown her. How could she do this to Mimi, Pop, and Vincent? A man who left to do volunteer work and she cheated on him.
She decides to write Vincent a letter. She cannot be honest and she cannot tell him about the baby or her marriage. She tells him not to find her and find someone worthy. A letter full of lies and omissions. Heartbroken, she is the talk of the town. Alienated from everyone. Then her mother passes away. She blames herself once again.
Violet is the district attorney’s daughter. She will not be Henry’s wife. Tess feels her only friend is the maid, Hattie. Bryon Dare (her dad) is prosecuting Henry’s friend Gaston. His friend who married a Loretta (black), and wants to return to NC to reside.
Tess knows she must take the RN exam and it would be held only a few hours away in Winston-Salem via train. She has to figure out a way to get there. Of course, the mother-in-law and Henry think all this is nonsense since she will be too busy with the women’s organizations, now that she is Henry’s wife. Of course, being in the South, this is Baptist Bible belt territory and she is Catholic.
What else would she have to give up?
With heartfelt letters from Tess to Gina back home she talks about the town, her husband, a nanny, and child on the way. She knows she is fortunate to have his support but she misses her life and Vincent. So many things she wishes she could undo.
However, if you have read any of Diane Chamberlain’s books, you know there is a complex story coming. Paths will intersect, lives will be tested, love and hope will be restored.
Fun part: Hattie tells her about Reverend Sam (love him). He talks to the spirits. She is sad and wants clarity. However, he lives in Ridgeview (colored town), and how will she get there? She needs to make peace with her mom, Maria. A book. She loves visiting him and feels freer.
She soon suspects she is being followed. Henry does not come home sometimes. Zeke the colored janitor is always at the factory. A cop following her. What was she missing? A mystery. Then she stumbles upon an armoire filled two-thirds with bills. Banded and in stacks. More than two thousand dollars.
Another tragedy. Another loss. She was trapped and miserable. How foolish she had been about Vincent going away for a few months to Chicago for work, and then allowing Gina to talk her into the stupid Washington trip and sleeping with Henry. Then the baby. She must find a way out of this trap.
Then polio strikes. Infantile paralysis. Ruth (Henry’s mom) says it only happens to poor people, which was not true since she points out FDR was not poor. Maybe she could help out since she is a nurse.
Enter more ostacles. Between Gina and Lucy, these two get Tess in all sorts of trouble. A car accident on the wrong side of town. Lucy is gone. Everyone blames her. She needs her mom and Lucy’s forgiveness. War and polio. People dying. She could not sit still. She could do some good.
“We need to remember that polio knows no socioeconomic or racial lines. It affects all our community and it will take all of us to fight it.”
With the weight on her shoulders, Tess must dig her way out of the muck and get her life back. Disliked by a town, her own household, and her secretive money-hiding husband, and unable to do the work she loved, and still longed for a man she could not have. A husband and mother in law telling her what she could and couldn’t do.
Is she being played for a fool? Will she find a way to get the power back?
She needs her spiritual guide named Walter. She must help at the polio hospital. She has to save herself and get her life back. In the process she may even save others, seeking redemption. Someone’s tragedy could be someone else’s salvation.
What will happen when she meets face to face with Vincent? Has she lost her chance at real happiness?
Could tragedy bring out the best of people and possibly the judgemental friends may turn out to be more generous and compassionate than she thought possible? Could she win back her dignity with the town and those she loves? She arrived broken and hopefully. Will Tess possess the strength to help make it whole?
The author grabs you from the intriguing and suspenseful prologue to the satisfying conclusion. Loved the Epilogue and the author’s notes about Hickory and the actual polio hospital which was staffed in fifty-four hours!
A gripping, powerful and compelling page-turner!
No one can tell a story like Diane Chamberlain. The author has never been afraid to tackle the hot highly-charged topics and a pro at family drama and riveting suspense. She is at the top of her game. Of course, everything she writes is solid gold (have read all her books and anxiously await the next).
Loved Tess’ character and her enduring power. What a journey; from self-doubt and fear — with one crisis after another, to a stronger woman through her adversity. An ideal choice for book clubs and further discussions.
Highly Recommend! THE STOLEN MARRIAGE is a Top Books for 2017 and read in one sitting. Suspenseful as well as informative, insightful and compelling.
For fans of Jodi Picoult, Heather Gudenkauf, Karen White, Lisa Wingate, and Amy Hatvany.
Once again, her meticulous researched topics and well-developed characters remind me strongly of one of my other favorites: Necessary Lies and the novella The First Lie. If you enjoyed THE STOLEN MARRIAGE, you will devour these two. PS Another oldie but goodie favorite: The Bay at Midnight.
The Stolen Marriage and Necessary Lies are my top favorites out of all her books. Possibly being an NC native, I enjoy revising my roots and its rich Southern history. I always learn a new bit of history after reading one of her books.
If you have not already, please visit Diane’s website and her blog. You will appreciate the story even more and further enhance your overall reading experience when you read her personal account.
Thank you, for having the courage and determination to express. An inspiration to many. Rape, Race and Writing Historical Fiction
She includes more extensive research on her website and books about polio in 1944 in this town. Another article.
A special thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for an early reading copy. Also pre-ordered the audiobook narrated by Susan Bennett. Look forward to listening.
Adore both covers. The rain and the train (strong).
On a personal note: Was delighted to see the author chose the southern setting of Hickory, NC and could not wait to read. Exceeded all expectations. A native of Statesville, only 20 minutes east of Hickory, spent a great deal of time there growing up. In addition, have the Lenior Rhyne College connection for many years, as well as was in the fine furniture interior design business in NC —spending a great deal of time at the Furniture Mart in Hickory as well as High Point. Also, always enjoy the Winston-Salem references where my sons now reside.
The rich history of Hickory, NC has shaped it into the up and rising city that has earned it the title of an All-American city three times. . . As outlined in the book, "Historically, Hickory is most known for its huge polio epidemic, also known as the Miracle of Hickory. Following World War II, polio epidemics severely hit the US’ population. Hickory had the largest polio outbreak in all of NC.
I enjoy how the author takes multiple historic topics and weaves a compelling story which is both heartwarming and tragic.
“Chamberlain conveys a strong sense of daily life in the American South during WWII, and the concurrent devastation of the polio epidemic, in this well-crafted crime-tinged tale of a marriage of convenience.”
“Combines the issue-driven style of Jodi Picoult, the romantic tension of Nora Roberts, and the lifedefining-mistake motif of Amy Hatvany’s It Happens All the Time.” —Booklist
“Secrets, intrigue, mystery, love, forgiveness, and drama—it’s all here. And it is riveting. Chamberlain’s latest novel demands the reader to race, yet savor, the journey to the finale.” —Library Journal
“Chamberlain pulls readers into the life of Tess DeMello, showing how one careless mistake drastically alters the course of her life. The characters are carefully constructed and fully engaging. Every emotion is deeply felt and the chapters move swiftly, building suspense and anticipation to see how Tess’ life unfolds. The research on the polio epidemic and Hickory, North Carolina, provides great insight into the time period, which is also tempered with racial tensions, family obligations and class divides. This totally engrossing novel provides a rich, complex story with a satisfying conclusion.” —RT Reviews
“This will be a good choice for book clubs, with the issues of women’s rights and roles in their marriages, interracial marriage, medical ethics (as an epidemic breaks out among people of all races and religions), honesty and trust. It is an easy read, but has a lot of depth.” —Littoral Librarian
“I found this novel engaging, terribly sad, hopeful and unique. A love story and yet an un-love story too. You have to read it to understand.” —Bookstalker Blog
“The Stolen Marriage is a fast paced story with the backbone of a real life polio epidemic in Hickory, North Carolina . . . It’s a story of secrets, betrayals, prejudices and the power of forgiveness. I highly recommend.” —Observations from a Simple Life
“This novel is a definite page turner. Chamberlain fans will surely not be disappointed with her truly engaging way of bringing emotion and intensity to the story. . . There is a dynamic story line, in true Chamberlain fashion, but this novel touches on the most basic human emotions in a way that is fresh and new to her repertoire.” —Celtic Ladys Reviews
“The Stolen Marriage is a captivating novel crafted with complex characters, compelling plot and realistic dialogue.” —Write-Escape
“Just a great look at 1944 and the time that followed and the way things used to be.” —Red Carpet Crash
“A fantastic page turner full of love, heartbreak, tragic losses, and happiness. . . A great read for a historical fiction lover.” —Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore
“Chamberlain is one of those authors who makes you feel like she really put in the effort on research in order to provide an in-depth experience.” —Artistic Bent
“This was quite a compelling historical fiction that you will have to pick up and see for yourself how well this author brings it all out to the reader.” —Arlena Dean
“Another five star read by Diane Chamberlain. A solid, interesting story with three-dimensional characters. . . Chamberlain has a way of making you feel part of instead of simply reading a book.” —Just a Book Blog
The Stolen Marriage Reading Guide
About the Author
I was an insatiable reader as a child, and that fact, combined with a vivid imagination, inspired me to write. I penned a few truly terrible “novellas” at age twelve, then put fiction aside for many years as I pursued my education.
I grew up in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent my summers at the Jersey Shore, two settings that have found their way into my novels. In high school, my favorite authors were the unlikely combination of Victoria Holt and Sinclair Lewis. I loved Holt’s flair for gothic suspense and Lewis’s character studies as well as his exploration of social values, and both those authors influenced the writer I am today.
I attended Glassboro State College in New Jersey before moving to San Diego, where I received both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from San Diego State University. After graduating, I worked in a couple of youth counseling agencies and then focused on medical social work, which I adored. I worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in adolescents. I reluctantly closed my practice when I realized that I could no longer split my time between two careers and be effective at both of them.
It was while I was working in San Diego that I started writing. I’d had a story in my mind since I was a young adolescent about a group of people living together at the Jersey Shore. While waiting for a doctor’s appointment one day, I pulled out a pen and pad and began putting that story on paper. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. I took a class in fiction writing, but for the most part, I “learned by doing.” That story, PRIVATE RELATIONS, took me four years to complete. I sold it in 1986, but it wasn’t published until 1989 (three very long years!), when it earned me the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel. Except for a brief stint writing for daytime TV (One Life to Live) and a few miscellaneous articles for newspapers and magazines, I’ve focused my efforts on book-length fiction and have written twenty-four novels.
My stories are often filled with twists and surprises and–I hope–they also tug at the emotions. Relationships — between men and women, parents and children, sisters and brothers – are always the primary focus of my books. I can’t think of anything more fascinating than the way people struggle with life’s trials and tribulations, both together and alone.
I now live and write in North Carolina, the state which has become my true home and has also spawned many settings for my stories. I live with my significant other, John, a photographer, and my sweet Shetland Sheepdog, Cole. I have three grown stepdaughters, a couple of sons-in-law and four grandbabies.
For me, the real joy of writing is having the opportunity to touch readers with my words. I hope that my stories move you in some way and give you hours of enjoyable reading. Read More