The Right Wife by Beverly Barton

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In a sweeping and vibrant novel set in the post-war South, New York Times bestselling author Beverly Barton follows one young woman’s journey to love and independence. . .

1885. All of Margaret Campbell’s hopes for the future lie in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Since the death of her sharecropper father, eighteen-year-old Maggie has no resources and few allies, aside from the relatives who’ve agreed to take her in. With luck, she might yet make an upright gentleman of her brother, and a real lady of her rebellious little sister. And perhaps, once her siblings are settled, she’ll find a decent, hardworking man to marry. But those plans are jeopardized the moment she meets Aaron Stone.

Effortlessly charming, Aaron is building an empire in the South. Maggie knows he wants the right kind of wife to overcome the shadows surrounding his birth–someone like the well-connected widow he’s been courting. Someone a million miles from a penniless, outspoken sharecropper’s daughter. But neither jealousy, family secrets, nor long-held prejudices will keep Maggie from following her heart.

Publisher and Release Date:  Kensington Publishing, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting:  Post Civil War, Antebellum South
Genre:  Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Susan

The contradictory nature inherent in people’s personalities is put under a microscope in Beverly Barton’s post-civil war romance The Right Wife, exposing characters who are thought beyond reproach to be villains while reprobates are discovered to be sensitive and kind.  Symbols of the Antebellum South are peppered throughout the novel in the grandeur of plantation homes, the treatment of slaves, and the loyalty of families bound by Christian values.  The story enlightens readers about the many fences people put up to protect themselves from public scrutiny and to live within the image they create for themselves.

At the center of this story are the parentless and homeless siblings, Margaret, Micah, and Judith Campbell who are invited to live with their Uncle Chester and his wife Mathilda in Tuscumbria, Alabama.  Mathilda’s son Wesley Peterson who is not sired by Chester, is a respected reverend who also lives in Tuscumbria.

The Campbell’s storyline merges with that of the privileged wastrels, Aaron Stone and Thayer Coleman, who have money and influence in Tuscumbria along with a reputation for frequenting brothels and gambling halls.  Aaron and Thayer meet the Campbells on the train to Tuscumbria where there is an instant attraction formed between the two parties.  Unfortunately, in the Antebellum South, it’s forbidden for God-fearing people such as the Campbells to fraternize with sinners like Aaron and Thayer, and hence commences the conflict.

As the story progresses, the author adds depth to Aaron’s character, establishing a solid backstory for him. Aaron is the illegitimate son of a wealthy landowner, Richard Leander Stone, who loved Aaron’s mother but had to marry a more respectable woman in order to earn society’s approval.  Aaron is doomed to fall into the same trap, setting his sights on marrying the independently wealthy Eunice Arnold, although he can’t quell his attraction to Margaret.  On the outside, Aaron is a reprobate, after money and fun, while on the inside he’s kind and sensitive to all groups of people.  His friendship with Thayer is genuine and far deeper than what’s suggested in the first chapter.  Aaron comes to a crossroads when he compromises Margaret’s reputation and must decide whether to forsake her or abandon his plan to marry Eunice.

Subtly, the author works Wesley’s treachery into the story, misleading readers at the beginning to trust him as much as Margaret does. The dialogue has a natural feel, distinguishing each character based on their individual traits. Margaret is prone to being cautious while her sister Judith displays impulsive leanings and Micah is eager to take on the responsibilities of a man though he isn’t yet in his teens. I do, however have to express reservations over one area of the storytelling, which is in Ms Barton’s use of what we today regard as racist terms. While I’m sure the author is no doubt being true to the language of the time, I found it distracting and it took me out of the story.

The characters are each identifiable and Ms Barton’s flair for storytelling is engaging, making the tale plausible as though the Campbell family could have existed in Alabama during the years after the Civil War.

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