TBR Challenge for September

The Theme: Historical                                                                                           

The Book: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

Why it was in my TBR pile: This one is alllllllll SuperWendy’s fault. She read this book last year and reviewed it. My little finger couldn’t help one-clicking and now, here we are. 🙂

The Review:

After two years of work in the gold fields of California, Caleb Hightower has come home to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jessica Willoughby. But when he returns, Caleb learns his refined bride-to-be is now a whore. Enraged by her betrayal, he can’t reconcile this shameless woman with the sweet innocent he once deeply loved–but Caleb knows what to do with a harlot. He’s determined to get everything from her that she’s sold to other men. And he’s prepared to pay for the pleasure of his revenge. 

Left penniless after her father’s death, Jess made a deal with a devil. Now she must face her childhood sweetheart, whose scorn is no match for her regret. To make amends, she’ll let Caleb quench his rage with her body. Their bargain strips them down to searing passion and naked vulnerability, and Jess can still glimpse her loving Caleb buried deep inside this rough cowboy. In the end, an unbearable truth emerges that could push them toward forgiveness…or could destroy their fragile bond forever.

I both loved and hated this book for the first 50% or so. I couldn’t put the cottonpickin’ thing down because the writing and characters were so good. Like so, so good. (The heroine made this book for me.) At the same time, I wanted to shake the hero and smack him upside the head. I’m happy to report, however, that once I got past the halfway mark, the story shifted and I was in love.

Let’s start with Caleb, shall we? He returns home to find his virginal, former sweetheart is now reportedly working as a whore. Caleb is understandably shocked. Jessica came from money (her father was a doctor) and Caleb struggled with a sense of unworthiness during their courtship. He was the poor son of a farmer until his widowed mother remarried a banker providing them a bit of status. Still, Caleb always stuck out. He didn’t go very far in school, preferred to work the land and didn’t have any money of his own. He loved Jessica deeply but didn’t want to get engaged or married to her until he had made his own way in the world. So he packs up and leaves her.

Okay, I’m on board. Except…except when he returns home and finds out she is a whore, he doesn’t ask questions. Hardly one! This worked for me initially because I felt his pain and sense of betrayal deeply. However, as the story wore on, I became extremely frustrated. Her father died – which Caleb learned about in letters – but Jessica’s family had money. Isn’t he curious about what happened to her? I mean, there isn’t much sympathy on Caleb’s part towards her. In fact, he’s pretty harsh and mean. To make matters worse, half of what he assumes about her isn’t even true, which he would have discovered much quicker if he’d just asked!

I know, I know. If he saves her and is so kind and understanding, there wouldn’t be much of a story. I get that. I just wanted to explain why I felt so frustrated by Caleb for the first part of the book. And again, I must point out, the author did an amazing job in gaining my emotional investment. From page one, I wanted to know more about these characters. And even when I was frustrated with Caleb, I kept reading. I couldn’t stop. Seriously, could not stop. (I was on vacation while reading this book and my husband and kids could barely get me to respond. Thank goodness for swimming pools and slides! They played, I read.)

Now, Jessica. I don’t have one bad thing to say about her. She was smart, industrious and a good friend. Life had given her a whole lotta lemons and she was determined to make something out of them. I can’t say too much more without giving spoilers, but the way she loves Caleb made my heart hurt. I just wanted to wrap her up in a big blanket and carry her to a soft place. Which, incidentally, is probably why I was yelling at Caleb in my head. SHE’S A GOOD PERSON, CALEB! DON’T YOU DARE MESS THIS UP!

Thankfully, he doesn’t. By the end of the book, he proved himself worthy of Jessica. I was convinced entirely of their love and HEA.

This one is a keeper for me. If you love historical romances and want something a bit different and out of the ballroom, I would definitely recommend this one.

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    • Lynn

      Yes, I read Angel and loved it! I like Harlot less, but it still kept me glued to the page. I love unconventional romances and western, historicals are a soft spot for me.

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