Monday, November 2, 2015

ARC Review: Harlot by Victoria Dahl

by Victoria Dahl

About the Book:

He came home to marry an angel... 
After working in the gold fields of California for two years, 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. 

But all he found was sin. 

Left penniless after her father’s death, Jess made a deal with a devil. Now she must face her first love, 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.

Caleb Hightower
Jessica Willoughby

I am used to reading Victoria Dahl’s contemporary works. I love them for their fun and flirty tone. So, even though I read the book summary, I was unprepared at how angry I got over the subject matter. 

Caleb and Jessica live in 19th Century Colorado. Having grown up together, they both knew they were destined to be a couple. Caleb ventures to California to stake him claim during the Gold Rush so that he can secure a future for the two of them leaving Jess back in Colorado. In the two years he is gone, Jessica’s father dies and she is left destitute. She writes to Caleb through his parents asking him to come home only to be told that he has found another woman and is settling down in California. Alone and without means, she enters into an “indecent proposal.” 

Caleb comes back to Colorado seeking to marry his sweetheart to find that she has been labeled a harlot and whore by the townspeople. Feeling betrayed, Caleb buys time with Jessica. He intents on taking revenge on her for his lost dreams, but things do not necessarily go as he plans. 

This story takes place in the “Wild West” where the area is populated by people from all social and economic classes looking for opportunities and a new life. However, many bring their old Puritanical attitudes about sex. Although Jessica has to compromise and sacrifice much to survive, it’s noted that men can have sex seemingly without censure. Women continue to bear the burden of being both a sexual object and the scorn of using sex for money. The hypocrisy is pronounced and the guilt Jessica feels is oppressive. She is left to feel dirty and unworthy. Jessica’s story breaks my heart. She continues live a shadow life, punishing herself for making difficult decisions. The double standard set between men and women makes me so frustrated. And although Caleb is disillusioned and angry, It’s only through her painful interaction with him does she begin to feel worthy. I applauded when this happened. 

I give a lot of credit to Victoria Dahl for taking a very difficult story and telling it with a sense of compassion and class.  In the end, it is simply a beautiful story about forgiveness and redemption. 

As short as this book is, it is full of strife, heartache, and ultimately, hope. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to the author, publisher and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions are my own and I was not paid for this review. 

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