Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
Copyright 2010
Ballantine Books - Historical Fiction
347 pages
Johanna Moran's website

When Henry Oades accepts a job in New Zealand, his wife Margaret is not happy. She and the children will have to leave her parents, her home country and everything they know behind. But, it's an opportunity Henry can't pass up. Despite her misgivings, the family packs up and leaves London for Wellington, New Zealand, where Margaret works hard at enduring and patiently awaits the day her family will return to the home she loves.

Things are going well until a single night of tragedy changes their lives, forever. While Henry is away, the Maori raid their home, leaving their house in cinders, the family gone -- possibly abducted, maybe dead. The single body inside their house could be Margaret or her best friend. Nobody knows. When Henry is unable to find his family, he acknowledges that they must have been killed and moves to Berkeley, California, where he marries a young widow with a brand new baby. He is happy for the first time since his family disappeared . . . then Margaret and the children show up on his doorstep.

I'm going to steal one sentence from the cover blurb: "Narrated primarily by the two Mrs. Oadeses, Johanna Moran's powerful imagining of what happens when Henry and his two wives face prosecution for bigamy explores the intricacies of marriage, the construction of family, and the courage of two remarkable women."

I'm going to let the kitten interview me about this book. Take it away, Fiona.

Fiona: Why did you choose this book, slave -- I mean -- Bookfool?

BF: I'm shallow enough to have chosen it purely based upon the 19th-century New Zealand setting.

Fiona: Did that setting satisfy you? And, what did you do with my jingly ball?

BF: The New Zealand description was somewhat less evocative than expected, but I still liked the general historical feel. Last time I saw your jingly ball, you'd knocked it under the piano bench.

Fiona: Thank you. Were you aware that this book is based on a true bigamy case?

BF: Not till I had the book in my hands. That made it doubly interesting to me.

Fiona: What did you think of the characters?

BF: I thought Henry was a great guy, but maybe a little too much like my husband -- so determined to get ahead in his career that he gave almost no thought to his family's discomfort at being moved to a place where they never ceased to feel like foreigners. Margaret seemed a little angsty at first, but then she had no choice but to toughen up. I think she was my favorite character. Nancy, the second wife, really got on my nerves.

Fiona: What did you think of the storyline?

BF: Fascinating. In fact, I found the story so utterly mesmerizing that I read it in a single day (very unusual for me).

Fiona: Was there anything you disliked about the book?

BF: I was a little bemused by Henry's decision-making. I wanted him to make a different choice of wives -- when the time came for him to decide which woman he still considered his legal and moral wife, that is. That's just dickering about the storyline, though. It is what it is. One thing I disliked about the book was that it was sometimes heinously graphic. There were some bits I wish the author had tiptoed around a bit because they were gory or disgusting.

And, I recall wishing the author would just give poor Margaret a break. Her life was one endless stream of awful. It would have also been nice if Margaret had given Henry a butt-kicking, a time or two. I suppose one could say the bits of angst on the sides of both women may have been more authentic to the times than a lot of the current "tough heroine" attitudes we're accustomed to, but sometimes the women were really tiresome.

Fiona: Pardon me while I wash my ears.

BF: Awwww. That's so cute!

Fiona: Thank you. I feel so much cleaner. How would you rate this book?

BF: 4/5 - Excellent reading, lovely writing, well-paced and gripping. There were some minor things I disliked about the The Wives of Henry Oades (particularly the yucky bits), although I thought there were times it needed to be graphic to show the horror of each situation. In general, I was so captured by the story that I would feel wrong giving it anything less than a 4/5 or a "B" rating.

And, you get an "A" for those pink toes. Thank you, Fiona, for taking the time out of your busy napping and laser-chasing schedule to interview me.

Fiona: LASERRRR!!!!!

BF: Must go play with the kitty. Many wahoos to all!

Other reviews:

My Friend Amy

Lost in Books

Tales of a Capricious Reader

My copy of The Wives of Henry Oades is an ARC that I received from the publisher. Many thanks to Ballantine Books for the review copy, which will be passed on to a friend in Iowa, where the corn grows tall in the summer and the winters are long and harsh (which apparently leads to some wonderful reading time by the fire).


  1. You have a very intelligent kitty!

  2. Chris,

    She's wise beyond her months, although it's a little harder to tell when she's having a crazy cat fit (right now, for example).

  3. lol I miss having a cat. But now I want a sheltie. :) Oh, well eventually. :)

    The book sounds good too! What do you mean by graphic? If need be, email me.

  4. I have this book that I received.. and I have yet to read it but I have wanted to. I am glad it got a pretty good rating.. makes me want to pick it up even sooner! :)

  5. Great interview, Fiona! I'm still reading this book, but it is great so far.

  6. Krista,

    I'm not familiar with shelties. I take it that's a dog breed? It's great having a kitty, again, but she needs a buddy in a big way. Sometimes we get really tired of doing the laser thing.

    By graphic I mean things like a woman having a miscarriage described in a little too much detail and, when the family is kidnapped, being driven to keep walking without even stopping to go to the bathroom (and it's not like you don't go, anyway). I don't think the sex was graphic, but I honestly don't remember. It might have been.


    I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You just reminded me I forgot to add the FTC bit, again. My copy's an ARC.


    I'll tell Fiona you enjoyed the interview. She's a little busy attacking a ball. Happy reading!

  7. Ah, that kind of graphic. I have to say, this is the first time I felt like picking up that book, due to Fiona's fabulous interviewing skills. Wait. It may have had to do with your answers.

    Or her ear washing. Adorable.

  8. Carrie,

    Yes, that kind of graphic. I could do without yuckiness, but I liked the story. I'll tell Fiona you think she's good at interviewing and ear-washing. I'm pretty sure she wore herself out chasing jingly balls and fishing. I haven't heard any whuppita-whuppita-whuppita noises, lately. You would love her personality, I'm sure.

  9. Cute! I am so glad that you have a cat again!

  10. Kailana,

    Thanks! We're thrilled to have a kitty in the house, again. It was too, too quiet. I love the sound of crunching cereal, scampering paws and purring. :)

  11. Fiona is beautiful! And a great interviewer. :-) I am glad you enjoyed this one so much, Nancy. It does sound interesting.

  12. Wendy,

    Thank you! We are just crazy about our little Fiona. She's crashed, right now. She plays hard and wipes herself out. :) I really enjoyed this book. It's flawed in some ways, but I felt invested in the characters' lives, for some reason, and cared what happened to them.

  13. Wonderful review! Give Fiona a scratch behind her ears for me. She is such a cutie and I'm so happy you have a kitty in your life again. Any plans for a companion for her?

  14. Two of my favorite things - Fiona and an Interview with Bookfool style review!!!

    Fiona is a great interviewer and yes, I really want to read this book.

    ps. Tell Fiona that Howie says hi!

  15. Les,

    Oh, Fiona will love that. She's into ear-scratching. Thanks, we think she's adorable, too (and she has a great personality). I do hope to find her a companion. Winter is apparently not the best time to look for kitties, but I'm hoping to visit a no-kill shelter in the Jackson area, next week. This week we're cleaning for a visit from son and future DIL, but I don't want to wait too long!


    Why, thank you. :) I really enjoyed this book. I've noticed it's gotten mixed reviews. It's not without its flaws, but I found the book rather gripping; it worked for me.

    I'll go tell Fiona that Howie said hi. She's in the window, again, watching the robins.

  16. Well isn't Fiona a lovely interviewer. She's beautiful and I'm so glad she made her way into your home. And yes, the laser is always a fun diversion in our home, too. Not sure who is more entertained, though--the cat or us.

    Not going to comment on every Fiona post (although I am tempted!) but I do have to say I LOVE the Fiona Friday picture. What a gorgeous kitty.

  17. Trish,

    Thank you! We all do love our laser. Fiona's an active, active girl, so she has two light balls, about 10 jingly balls, two ribbons, a kitty tree and her laser. Crazy, but she really needs them all.

    You'd go nuts if you tried to comment on all the posts you've missed recently. One comment is fine. There will be another Fiona Friday pic, tomorrow. She's loads of fun to photograph because she's such a nut (and so cute -- growing ridiculously fast)! LOL


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