Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Mulberry Tree by Jude Deveraux **

Ahhh... Jude Deveraux - sometimes I love her stories and sometimes... I don't.

I didn't love this one. At all.

The story revolves around Lillian Manville who changes her identity to Bailey after her wealthy husband Jimmie dies and leaves her nothing except a pittance in funds and a run-down farm in Virginia. The billions he leaves to his older brother and sister whom he despised - in fact they get everything, including Bailey's clothes.

The mystery is why - and to be honest, now that I've finished, I don't have a clue why. OK, I know the mystery but I still don't get WHY.

For one thing, when one dies and leaves everything to his/her spouse of 15 or so years, how can anyone contest that and win? Especially when the deceased is a billionaire? So that doesn't seem to be the real reason.

OK set that aside and follow Bailey's journey to discover herself. She was married at 17 to a man some years older than she, somewhere between 9 and 15 years (the years don't all add up in the book...) older, who was on the road to being rich and famous. He plucked her out of a local state or county fair where she was the winner of a jam contest - she was overweight and had an awful crooked, broken nose, but somehow she was the love of his life in the few minutes they spent together before getting married that same day. Go figure.

From the flashbacks and memories Bailey has, we learn that Jimmie did indeed seem to really treasure and love her. But he also had affairs - or seemed to, I guess (same thing in her mind). He was also incredibly, abusively controlling - he kept her fat and ugly and hidden away on purpose, to keep her dependent on him. Then he died and suddenly she was lost. Her mother dead, her only other living relative was her estranged sister; she really had no friends, no one - except Jimmie's lawyer who helped set her up in the farm house.

Then we meet the odd characters of the little town in Virginia. Creepy odd. At first I thought maybe it was going to be a paranormal, since the first 2 women we meet don't seem to think the other one exists. However, it is just a family feud, and they are cousins who don't speak to each other although they are constantly together. They are 2 of the more normal people in town.

Then we spend time with Bailey who is trying to figure out what to do with her life and while doing so, she stumbles over some town secrets. What do the secrets have to do with her? Wellll - maybe there's a connection between this town and her dead husband? Maybe that's the reason he left the billions to his brother and sister and not her?

By the time we get to the turning point in the mystery, I needed a damn scorecard to follow the players. Frankly, I didn't care enough to bother to find paper and write down who was married to whom, who was sleeping with whom, who the parents were of various people. It was a case of a group of small town bullies with a secret that they did everything they could to cover up - and succeeded for years. Where Bailey fits into the story is what you learn when you get to the end. (well, she doesn't really fit in - how's that for a spoiler?)

Since it turns out Jimmie knew the secret all along, why didn't he do something about it while he was alive?? Why did he let his brother and sister get away with so much? Were we supposed to believe he was planning on doing it later or something? And the biggest mystery of all is - why did so many people write positive reviews about this??

There is a (mild) love interest in the story - Matt. Well. I dunno. He's just a local guy, related to but unaware of the town's secret. But it really isn't Matt and Bailey's story - it is more a story of the town, as uncovered by Bailey while she tries to get on her feet after being left destitute by her dead billionaire husband. There was very little romance in this book - I'm not even going to tag it romance. One reviewer mentioned that she feels Deveraux is good at writing about women who have come to crossroads in their lives - maybe that's what I missed about this book, it was about a turning point and not about romance at all. There were several turning points - Bailey's, after Jimmie's death; Jimmie's, when he left the small town and became a billionaire - it seemed every character (and there were a bunch of them) had a major crossroad issue.

I didn't hate it and I finished it, so it gets 2 stars.

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