Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / California / Abusive Marriage / Prohibition / Farming / Childhood Loves / Mysterious Illnesses)
Publisher/Publication Date: Dutton Adult (2/21/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Did I finish?: Alas, I didn't!
One-sentence summary: During the Prohibition, the wife of a California rye farmer-turned-bootlegger escapes her abusive marriage with her four surviving children in hopes of finding a new life for all of them.
Do I like the cover?: Eh, I'm not wild about it. The painting is very pretty, but I don't think it reflects either lead character. Still, it has a soft, vintage-y feel that's appealing.
I'm reminded of...: Camille Noe Pagán
First line: Clad in the faded apron she had sewn from a cotton feed sack, Rosa sat at the foot of the kitchen table sipping a cup of coffee and planning her day while her husband bolted down his bacon and eggs.
Why did I get this book?: I love books set during the Prohibition and was excited about the West Coast focus.
Review: Sadly, this was a DNF for me. I tried about three times to get in to the story, employing my usual tactic of reading 100 pages in before giving up. In this case, I just didn't resonate with the characters or writing style, despite the book's interesting setting and potentially fun premise.
The book doesn't open with a date, so I had to guess when this is set -- through Rosa's discovery of a tommy gun and liquor casks it's clear the setting is sometime during the Prohibition -- but whether that's 1919 or 1930, I don't know. The heroine, Rosa, has had eight children, four of whom have died of a mysterious illness. Of her four remaining children, two are stricken with the same illness, while two -- born of another father -- are healthy and fine. (I learned this tidbit about the different fathers from the book blurb; it wasn't made very clear to me in the 100 pages I did read.) Rosa is in an abusive marriage to a man who, from what I read, picked on her since she was a child. Despite being in love with another much kinder man, Rosa marries this jerk, and the book opens with him slapping her around.
I don't want to victim blame as the cycle of domestic violence is complex, complicated, and difficult to break out of, but from the first page, I just couldn't stand Rosa. I'm not sure if she was featured in previous Elm Creek Quilts novels and thus the reader already cared for her, but when the story opens with her four dead children, two more dying, and a guy who beats her, I just wanted to toss the book to the wall. What motivates her to leave this time seems flimsy -- certainly no more shocking than the previous times her husband has attacked her -- and so I couldn't become invested in her flight or her fear.
The writing is fine and the setting very unique. From other reviews I've seen, I understand the book goes a bit in to the plight of the California wineries during Prohibition, and explores the way the Catholic Church perpetuated and excused domestic violence. The feel of this novel is cozy drama, if such a thing is possible.
Other reviewers on the tour enjoyed this book, so do check out other opinions to see if this is a book for you.
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