Ketchum throws you down into the muck that is the worst of humanity, pins you there and rubs your face in it. If you haven’t read him before you should know this before jumping in. Stranglehold takes an unflinching look at the kind of real life horror that occurs every day. The kind of horror that trickles down, creating a legacy of pain and torment.
Lydia meets Arthur and falls in love. He’s decent and kind and a respectable business owner. But Arthur is a good actor. He’s a sociopath who believes he’s been put on earth to make people realize the world is an ugly pain-filled place. He has done some terrible things in his past and though he fools Lydia for a while, he can’t hide his true self forever. After they have a baby they name Robert, the cracks begin to show and Arthur’s behavior becomes increasingly abusive towards Lydia. Lydia sticks it out until he crosses a line and she realizes she’s been living with a madman and files for divorce. She allows him visitation for Robert’s sake. He loves Robert after all and even after her own abuse at his hands, she believes he is a good father who would never hurt their son . . .
What happens next is just grueling but it wouldn’t be a Ketchum book if it was all unicorns and rainbows. The book follows Lydia through the injustices of the legal system. Lydia assumes she is doing the right thing by following all the rules but playing by the rules isn’t enough. A nasty, ugly and unfair trial begins. It’s infuriating and sad and the innocents, unfortunately, are the ones who suffer the most. It really makes you understand why some people take their kids and run.
I really felt for Lydia and Robert. Lydia’s own past was one filled with abuse and that was the last thing she wanted for her child. She feels guilty and bravely stands up to Arthur once she realizes what a deranged beast he truly was beneath the respectable façade. But sadly she was helpless once she entered the courtroom and had to depend on other people to do right by her.
This book was suspenseful but it will more than likely make you angry. It was horribly grim and unpleasant but it’s one of those books that you have to see through to the end regardless of the fact that you know you’ll probably be sorry.
Narration Notes: Chet Williamson reads with an intense, serious tone well suited to the bleak material. I think he would do an amazing job with a gumshoe noir type of hero because he has that type of voice. He brings Arthur to life; his voice is menacing, mean and calculated and just what this piece demands. Much of this story is told from Lydia’s point of view, however, and I always think it strange when a male is chosen to read a female character Williamson does a decent enough job with Lydia, forgoing the silly cringe-worthy falsetto that some male narrators use, but I would’ve preferred a woman to voice her thoughts, if I’m being completely honest. He’s not bad by any means, but a woman (at least for Lydia’s parts), would’ve been a better choice. When it comes to Robert I have no complaints. He sounded like the confused, scared kid that he was supposed to be and the other male character were easily discernible from one another.
4 1/2 but closer to a 5 than a 4 so I'm rounding up.
The Montgomery and Armstrong clans have been at odds for so long they don’t even remember how the feud began but they despise each other all the same. The king needs them allied and forces a marriage between the chieftain of the Montgomery clan and the fiercely protected daughter of the Armstrong clan. There’s nothing like a forced marriage to make peace, right?
Graeme is not pleased. Not only is he being forced to marry, he’s being forced to marry his enemy’s spawn who is rumored to be “touched” but he doesn’t let it show. Even when Eveline’s mother attempts to discourage the match he reacts with humor.
“She doesn’t speak. Hasn’t since she awakened from a deep slumber of over a fortnight.”
“Tis all? She doesn’t speak?” Some husband would be grateful for such a gift.
He doesn’t want to declare war against his king and resigns himself to the fact that his wife is one he’ll have to “take care of” rather than love. But from the moment he meets Eveline he realizes the rumors may not be entirely fair. She appears to understand him and she listens to him with her entire focus despite the fact that everyone believes she’s daft. She is lovely and sweet and determined to be a real wife and soon he is very conflicted about his longing for her.
This was a refreshingly old style historical Scottish romance that was incredibly charming. Eveline is not daft but she is deaf and we get to know her very intimately through her thoughts in the early scenes. From very beginning she is amenable to marrying Graeme because the timbre of his voice registers with her and breaks up the deafening silence that fills her days. The story is almost completely character focused until the last quarter or so which is probably why I enjoyed it so very much. It tells of Eveline’s struggle to fit in, her sweet and tender romance with Graeme who may be a rough and tough clan leader but is also one of the kindest, compassionate heroes around. Rounding out the characterization is Eveline’s friendship with Rorie and her attempts at becoming an accepted member of the clan.
I loved the romance development between Graeme and Eveline. They have an immediate connection and were able to communicate non-verbally. I was wondering how the author was going to handle that bit but she did it well. Eveline is very likable and intelligent and Graeme realizes it right away. He was understanding, patient and surprisingly tender towards her even in the very beginning. He wasn’t a typical man slut or a-hole warrior type. The two were very well matched and I enjoyed reading about them.
Eveline and Graeme’s younger sister Rorie’s relationship was, for me anyway, almost as engaging as the main romance. Rorie is tough and mischievous and lonely. She is a great ally for Eveline who really needed one. It was sweet watching them become so close and work through the language barrier quite amusingly.
“You did manage to tell me, although let me say this is the most one-sided conversation I've ever had in my life. I'm quite worn out now.”
“I was prepared to dislike you.”
Eveline flinched. Dislike was nothing new to her and yet it still managed to make her feel inferior.
“But I find that for whatever reason I’m unable to. You have a certain charm, I suppose. And now since I like you, it means I’m going to have to protect you from the rest of the clan, which also means they aren’t going to be happy with me.”
Rorie shrugged as she made the statement.
“They don’t much like me either, just so you know. The women think I’m hopeless and the men think I’m too focused on matters that shouldn’t concern a lass my age. They mostly ignore me, but if my brother weren’t the laird, I would be treated with higher disdain.”
I definitely recommend this book if you’re a fan of character driven romances. The plot wasn’t anything new if you’ve read a few of these “feuding clan and arranged marriage” plots but I didn’t care because the characters were so engaging. There are no big battles and political crap taking over the story. I hate it when that happens. The pace isn’t fast and furious but I never once found my mind drifting while listening.
Narration Notes: In a word? Fabulous. The accents were beautifully done and I didn’t want to stop listening. The narrative was pleasant but those accents, oh my! The narrator really brought the characters to life and I couldn’t get enough.
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