Saturday, 23 July 2016

Book Review: THE STEPMOTHER by Claire Seeber

The Stepmother

 The Stepmother
Author: Claire Seeber
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: July 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The perfect wife. A fairytale family. Don’t believe your eyes…
Jeanie and Matthew are a happily married couple who both have teenage children from previous relationships.

No one said it would be easy to raise a blended family under one roof but Jeanie and Matthew are strong. They will make it work.

And whilst Jeanie’s step-daughter Scarlett rejects her, Jeanie will just have to try harder to win her over.

But Jeanie has a past. A terrible secret she thought she’d buried a long time ago. And now, it’s coming to the surface, threatening to destroy her new marriage.

Someone is playing a terrifying game on Jeanie and she must put a stop to it once and for all.

After all, a fairytale needs a happy ending … doesn’t it?

My thoughts:

When Jeanie marries Matthew and moves into his grand old country mansion, she hopes that he will be her salvation, her chance to give her son Frankie a better life and overcome a traumatic past – a past she has never told Matthew about because the right moment never seems to present itself. But it soon becomes evident that married life brings its own pitfalls. Matthews’s children, especially his daughter Scarlett, seem to be rejecting his new wife, and an anonymous email is threatening not only to rob Jeanie of any chance of getting a job in her new hometown, but also to alert Matthew of secrets in her past she would rather keep hidden. On top of that, strange things are happening in the old house, until Jeanie is worried she is losing her mind. In her desperation, Jeanie turns to her sister Marlena – will she be able to get her out of this latest predicament and help her safe her marriage?

The Stepmother is written partly in the form of a diary-style narration in Jeanie’s voice, and I admit that I found it difficult to get into the story, frustrated about Jeanie’s half-truths and omissions, which in the end form part of the plot and make more sense (but which I initially found very frustrating). As a main protagonist, I found Jeanie somewhat naive and “simple”, her dream of a fairy tale life stopping her from fully engaging in her relationship with Matthew. Matthew, on the other hand, has plenty of his own flaws, treating Jeanie somewhat like his housekeeper and taking his children’s side in any confrontation, which never bodes well for a relationship. To put it mildly, I intensely disliked the guy! However, as the story unfolded, some of the half-stories Jeanie tells became more and more intriguing, and I found myself being drawn into the mystery. Instead of finding her Prince Charming, Jeanie is being caught up in a nightmarish mixture of Cinderalla meets Bluebeard’s Wives. Creepy things are happening in the house, and someone is spreading evil rumours. Who is trying to harm Jeanie and mess with her head?

Marlena, Jeanie’s sister, is a separate, neutral voice, trying to make sense of the events in the story, and I wished that more of the book could have been told by her – I found her character much more intriguing than Jeanie’s, and although never fully developed in the novel, it held a lot of potential. Which is probably the reason I enjoyed the later part of the book more than the beginning. Even though lots of hints and red herrings are being dropped in the earlier part of the book, some strands never fully tied up for me in the end, which was disappointing. Did I miss something here? I also found that the conclusion was revealed in a very sudden fashion, instead of letting the reader discover it gradually, which would have put the book higher on the spectrum of mystery / suspense for me. As it was, I found the story a quick, pleasant read, but it lacked that certain wow-factor that would have put it on my list of great reads.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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