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Divining Women

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Autumn 1918: Rumors of peace are spreading across America, but spreading even faster are the first cases of Spanish influenza, whispering of the epidemic to come. Maureen Ross, well past a safe childbearing age, is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Her husband, Troop-cold and careless of her condition-is an emotional cripple who has battered her spirit throughout their m Autumn 1918: Rumors of peace are spreading across America, but spreading even faster are the first cases of Spanish influenza, whispering of the epidemic to come. Maureen Ross, well past a safe childbearing age, is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Her husband, Troop-cold and careless of her condition-is an emotional cripple who has battered her spirit throughout their marriage. As Maureen's time grows near, she becomes convinced she will die in childbirth. Into this loveless ménage arrives Mary Oliver, Troop's niece. The sheltered child of a well-to-do, freethinking Washington family, Mary comes to help Maureen in the last weeks of her confinement. Horrified by Troop's bullying, she soon discovers that her true duty is to protect her aunt. As the influenza spreads and the death toll grows, Troop's spiteful behaviors worsen. Tormenting his wife, taunting her for her "low birth," hiding her mother's letters, Troop terrorizes the household. But when Mary fights back, he begins to go over the edge, and Maureen rallies, releasing a stunning thunderstorm of confrontation and, ultimately, finding spiritual renewal.


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Autumn 1918: Rumors of peace are spreading across America, but spreading even faster are the first cases of Spanish influenza, whispering of the epidemic to come. Maureen Ross, well past a safe childbearing age, is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Her husband, Troop-cold and careless of her condition-is an emotional cripple who has battered her spirit throughout their m Autumn 1918: Rumors of peace are spreading across America, but spreading even faster are the first cases of Spanish influenza, whispering of the epidemic to come. Maureen Ross, well past a safe childbearing age, is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Her husband, Troop-cold and careless of her condition-is an emotional cripple who has battered her spirit throughout their marriage. As Maureen's time grows near, she becomes convinced she will die in childbirth. Into this loveless ménage arrives Mary Oliver, Troop's niece. The sheltered child of a well-to-do, freethinking Washington family, Mary comes to help Maureen in the last weeks of her confinement. Horrified by Troop's bullying, she soon discovers that her true duty is to protect her aunt. As the influenza spreads and the death toll grows, Troop's spiteful behaviors worsen. Tormenting his wife, taunting her for her "low birth," hiding her mother's letters, Troop terrorizes the household. But when Mary fights back, he begins to go over the edge, and Maureen rallies, releasing a stunning thunderstorm of confrontation and, ultimately, finding spiritual renewal.

30 review for Divining Women

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    Less said the better. Strange book filled with nasty, quirky mores. Stereotyped bad guy husband with a depressive answered ending. Mary didn't bridge the pieces in her own character to make the novel a whole. Some continuity became totally loss at least twice. Loved some of hers but this was definitely not one. Less said the better. Strange book filled with nasty, quirky mores. Stereotyped bad guy husband with a depressive answered ending. Mary didn't bridge the pieces in her own character to make the novel a whole. Some continuity became totally loss at least twice. Loved some of hers but this was definitely not one.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Audiobook read by the author. 3.5*** In 1918 Mary Oliver, the child of well-to-do and somewhat liberal parents and raised in Washington DC, goes to spend time with her uncle Troop Ross, and his wife Maureen, who is expecting her first child. They live in small town in North Carolina, on a property a little out of town. Mary quickly learns that Troop is a bully, keeping his wife isolated, belittling her concerns, and threatening to put her in an asylum if she doesn’t shape up. The Spanish influen Audiobook read by the author. 3.5*** In 1918 Mary Oliver, the child of well-to-do and somewhat liberal parents and raised in Washington DC, goes to spend time with her uncle Troop Ross, and his wife Maureen, who is expecting her first child. They live in small town in North Carolina, on a property a little out of town. Mary quickly learns that Troop is a bully, keeping his wife isolated, belittling her concerns, and threatening to put her in an asylum if she doesn’t shape up. The Spanish influenza epidemic further isolates the women, but also strengthens their resolve. I have been a fan of Gibbons’ writing since the 1990s. For a time, I was devouring every one of her books; and I’ve read several of them more than once. But somehow, I missed this book until now. I like the way Gibbons writes her characters. There are some very unpleasant goings on, and much of it makes me in turns uncomfortable, despairing, and angry. I was rather irritated with Mary for a time, feeling that she was butting in where she had no business. But as it became clear how much control Troop exerted over Maureen, I began to cheer for Mary’s involvement. This is at a time when women had few rights on their own, and yet Mary refused to be cowed by her uncle. And her strength empowered Maureen to fight for the freedom and respect she was due. Brava, ladies! Gibbons narrates the audiobook herself. I really did not like her performance at all. She showed little emotion and it seemed like a student reading aloud because she was required to do so. Only 1 star for her performance on the audio. I think I’ll pick this up again at a later date and read it in text format.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    It just goes to show that some things speak to one person while others are turned off. I was turned off by this book and would not even have finished reading it had it not been a book club read. My first issue was that I didn't like the characters. They were so black and white. I didn't think it was believable that a woman who was strong would end up so weakened and inept because of a man she married. I didn't find the beginning setting of the book had any relation to the whole of the book, it w It just goes to show that some things speak to one person while others are turned off. I was turned off by this book and would not even have finished reading it had it not been a book club read. My first issue was that I didn't like the characters. They were so black and white. I didn't think it was believable that a woman who was strong would end up so weakened and inept because of a man she married. I didn't find the beginning setting of the book had any relation to the whole of the book, it was merely an attention getter. I found the language of the book was confusing and unclear. Some of the words that were used to convey things were nebulous and awkward. I am interested to hear what my book club members thought of the book, as I am sure my dislike helped me miss many deeper meanings or observations. I must admit that I read "Ellen Foster" years ago and cannot remember one thing about it. I do remember thinking it was mysterious why the book received such glowing reviews.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Erin WV

    This did not work for me. The period detail was, as far as I know, accurate. The lifestyle of the main character’s family was vividly rendered. In fact, I liked the idea of the plot all around, and it could have been done very well. The concept was solid, but the execution was flawed. To say that the male character who is the villain of this work was set up as a straw man is a staggering piece of understatement. This man’s capacity for inflicting humiliation and abuse, his intense narcissism—it w This did not work for me. The period detail was, as far as I know, accurate. The lifestyle of the main character’s family was vividly rendered. In fact, I liked the idea of the plot all around, and it could have been done very well. The concept was solid, but the execution was flawed. To say that the male character who is the villain of this work was set up as a straw man is a staggering piece of understatement. This man’s capacity for inflicting humiliation and abuse, his intense narcissism—it was all so heavy-handed as to draw me out of the book entirely. When Maureen, the wife, began to stand up to him, it became even worse. She would give him these retorts, which for some reason always left him speechless; yet, they were not strong. They were not eloquent. They sounded like the feminist fan-fiction rantings of a fourteen-year-old, who creates a male character who spouts offensive things so that she can deliver these self-righteous diatribes in the voice of her lady protagonist. I’m all for tearing down patriarchal idols, rewriting history to foreground the woman’s story, and so on. When women have been oppressed and beaten down (figuratively and literally, politically, socially, bodily) for centuries and continue to be so to this day, yes, I want to continue to hear their stories. In fact, I want to witness their redemptive, “screw you” moment when they tell their oppressor that he just won’t get to be one any more. But it has to feel like reality; it has to not strategically disarm the oppressor at that moment so that her victory feels unearned. Disappointing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marleen

    The few Kaye Gibbons books I’ve read so far have been enchanting and I looked forward to enjoying this book as much as I had her previous works. This author has an exceptionally gifted pen. She masters the English language skilfully as she takes the reader back in time and have us experience what it was like to be a woman in an era gone by. The author almost always presents us such female characters (e.g. Charms of the Easy Life) that are extraordinary, eccentric, freethinking and powerful, even The few Kaye Gibbons books I’ve read so far have been enchanting and I looked forward to enjoying this book as much as I had her previous works. This author has an exceptionally gifted pen. She masters the English language skilfully as she takes the reader back in time and have us experience what it was like to be a woman in an era gone by. The author almost always presents us such female characters (e.g. Charms of the Easy Life) that are extraordinary, eccentric, freethinking and powerful, even magical. However here, as hard as I tried, I couldn’t connect with the characters. I found the overall story to be disappointing. It felt somewhat choppy; as though there were 2 books; one about Mary the narrator and times gone by; the second about her abused aunt. What is sure though is that this story shows us that abuse is not always physical, but that emotional and verbal damage can be equally as destructive.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Methanie

    Kaye Gibbons is one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. It's a lovely story about women finding their independence, women supporting each other, and women finding their own inner strength. It's also a story about the men who love and support those women, or tear them down. There is something about the quiet subtlety in Kaye's writing that I really enjoy. This book both moved me and amused me. I thought it was great. Kaye Gibbons is one of my favorite authors, and this book did not disappoint. It's a lovely story about women finding their independence, women supporting each other, and women finding their own inner strength. It's also a story about the men who love and support those women, or tear them down. There is something about the quiet subtlety in Kaye's writing that I really enjoy. This book both moved me and amused me. I thought it was great.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

    Ehhh. This book was weird--I JUST finished reading "Charms for The Easy Life" yesterday, and finished this one today. "Charms For The Easy Life" was amazing--couldn't put it down, beautifully written. This one felt awkward, and the long monologues from Maureen ranting at Troop were stilted at best and obnoxious at worst. Ehhh. This book was weird--I JUST finished reading "Charms for The Easy Life" yesterday, and finished this one today. "Charms For The Easy Life" was amazing--couldn't put it down, beautifully written. This one felt awkward, and the long monologues from Maureen ranting at Troop were stilted at best and obnoxious at worst.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Rosinski

    If you read the description of this book, you have the entirety of the plot. Thankfully, I did not read the summary or I would have been bored. This book was fine.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Judy

    This book is set in the autumn of 1918 with the end of World War I and the outbreak of the Spanish influenza. Twenty-two year old Mary Oliver, from a very wealthy and eccentric Washington, D.C. family, is sent by her mother to Elm City, North Carolina to assist her Aunt Maureen in the last weeks of her pregnancy. Maureen is married to Troop, the half-brother of Mary's mother, and he is an emotionally sadistic man who is ruling his wife and his house by fear and intimidation. Mary comes to feel t This book is set in the autumn of 1918 with the end of World War I and the outbreak of the Spanish influenza. Twenty-two year old Mary Oliver, from a very wealthy and eccentric Washington, D.C. family, is sent by her mother to Elm City, North Carolina to assist her Aunt Maureen in the last weeks of her pregnancy. Maureen is married to Troop, the half-brother of Mary's mother, and he is an emotionally sadistic man who is ruling his wife and his house by fear and intimidation. Mary comes to feel that her duty is to protect her aunt and the continuing confrontations with Troop turn the domestic situation into a battleground. Gibbons is able to bring the settings of Washington, D.C. during World War I and Elm City, North Carolina to life by artfully drawing the social conventions and obligations of both. She is also very successful in her use of class as a theme of the book She is less successful in creating Troop, an emotional cripple, who controls his world by destroying others. But as an examination of the strength and resiliance that women find in each other, it is a good read.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne

    What a joy to find another Kaye Gibbons novel! While her first book was a funny comming of age book, this is a gothic romance. Yes, a gothic romance set in Washington DC and North Carolina during the influenza epidemic in 1918. She nails both the place and time, while crating a nice bit of suspense and a Heathcliff you can hate with impunity.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Aileen

    I have read this book twice. The first time, I did not enjoy reading the story. Maybe I was just being a hopeless romantic that time, expecting the story to have a happy ending like romantic novels do, where a bad mannered-rich man fell in love with a poor but pure and strong woman and they lived happily ever after, of which none can be found in this story. So after a few years, I gave this book a second chance. I wanted to know how I would react to the story now that I have become more matured. I have read this book twice. The first time, I did not enjoy reading the story. Maybe I was just being a hopeless romantic that time, expecting the story to have a happy ending like romantic novels do, where a bad mannered-rich man fell in love with a poor but pure and strong woman and they lived happily ever after, of which none can be found in this story. So after a few years, I gave this book a second chance. I wanted to know how I would react to the story now that I have become more matured. On the first chapter, I was still disappointed to the point that I am not sure if I would finish reading it. Later though, there are some parts in the story that I find relatable. Still the whole story does not really reflect the good reviews seen in the book cover. It is disappointing to note that it seems too unrealistic that Troop is illustrated as a bad person, so much that he seems to be a dangerous person to be with and yet Maureen has lived together with him for five years. Troop is characterized as a villain to give justice into divining Maureen and Mary in a manner that is unrealistic. Anyhow, I wish to read another novel of the author. She must be a wonderful author, only that this particular novel is probably not her best.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    The book called out to me from a library shelf because of it's title and the women on the cover were wearing clothing that told me the basic time frame of the book. Right away I thought, "Yellow Wallpaper" because of a pregnant woman and an psychologically distant husband but it went further than that and had more intriguing characters and wasn't as dark AND I definitely felt the quiet nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman within the pages. I also appreciated the women who were adversarial and downrigh The book called out to me from a library shelf because of it's title and the women on the cover were wearing clothing that told me the basic time frame of the book. Right away I thought, "Yellow Wallpaper" because of a pregnant woman and an psychologically distant husband but it went further than that and had more intriguing characters and wasn't as dark AND I definitely felt the quiet nod to Charlotte Perkins Gilman within the pages. I also appreciated the women who were adversarial and downright harmful to other women, which is true to life as well. Race played a role and there were hints of two of the characters being lesbians. The Spanish Flu epidemic began and there were deaths on the rise which were shared via a city bell tolling - a tradition one reads about in books and also ticked my curiosity bug to find out more about the tradition. One of the more quiet, nuanced aspects of the book was Gibbons writing tone being very much like the books I have read that were written in this time. Well done.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Teresa Biggie

    This was one first book by Kaye Gibbons and by reading some of the reviews, it is not her best. So I will give her another try. I had a hard time getting into this book. It was like she was introducing all the characters at once. She does a great job giving you details of the history of what is going on. It is about women so she really places the women and what they can or can not do according to law or societal rules. Once I figured out what was going on.. I enjoyed the book... UNTIL the end... This was one first book by Kaye Gibbons and by reading some of the reviews, it is not her best. So I will give her another try. I had a hard time getting into this book. It was like she was introducing all the characters at once. She does a great job giving you details of the history of what is going on. It is about women so she really places the women and what they can or can not do according to law or societal rules. Once I figured out what was going on.. I enjoyed the book... UNTIL the end... I did not like the end.... so the meat of the book was really good, the beginning and the end not so good.. would I recommend it.. NO but I will give her another try.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I flew through this book! I liked the oddness of Mary’s family, and that Maureen found courage, but both of these items felt too contemporary. Mary seems bizarrely progressive for 1918;I think she treats Mamie and Zollie with an equality that simply would not have existed in NC in 1918; and Troop would not have relinquished control of a wife, just like that, in 1918. This book is set 100 years ago, but the characters seem to have 21st century sensibilities. Strange.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jen

    pretty good, not her best. her stories are always about ladies, usually set about 1930-1950 or so. this one was very focused on a pregnant lady trapped with a whack job husband, and a niece who comes in and sets things straight (eventually). I'm not very interested in pregnant ladies. the back story on the nieces family and the hired helps life was good. pretty good, not her best. her stories are always about ladies, usually set about 1930-1950 or so. this one was very focused on a pregnant lady trapped with a whack job husband, and a niece who comes in and sets things straight (eventually). I'm not very interested in pregnant ladies. the back story on the nieces family and the hired helps life was good.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eshal

    A great read. It is the story of Mary Oliver and Maureen Ross. The writing style of Kaye Gibbon makes this book great, it truly depicts the pain of Maureen from her cold and cruel husband Troop. Mary, Troop's niece realizes that she has the duty to protect Maureen from her bullying husband. my fav pages ;147,155,183 to188,195. A great read. It is the story of Mary Oliver and Maureen Ross. The writing style of Kaye Gibbon makes this book great, it truly depicts the pain of Maureen from her cold and cruel husband Troop. Mary, Troop's niece realizes that she has the duty to protect Maureen from her bullying husband. my fav pages ;147,155,183 to188,195.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marianne Hetzer Hawn

    I was impressed by this short novel (could possibly have been even better in short story form) anchored by one misogynistic racist bully and several extraordinarily clever, bold women. Maybe not the deepest dive into nuances of human nature, but I always enjoy a story told by Kaye Gibbons.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marti

    Nudity, ghosts, bullying. I always have a bad taste in my mouth when authors give two characters names that start with the same letter. This was over the top! Did we really need Martha, Mary, Maureen and Mamie?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    I have loved all of Kaye Gibbons’ books, but not this one. The story was very choppy. Characters we brought into the story without any foreground, often in incomplete sentences, with poorly designed allusions to the spiritual divines of the day.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Well written and captured the feeling of times with war, influenza and social struggles. I enjoyed it but it hit one note and stayed there through to the end. There was one enemy and I would like to have heard from him more.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Simone Dorcas

    Beautifully written and thoughtfully seen through the eyes of the author. Speaks to the power of the human spirit!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    I had a hard time finding interest this book. The writing in this story is good, so I must take responsibility for it not speaking to me.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Neher

    This is a very depressing, slow read kind of book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Nally

    Don’t bother reading this book. It took me a long time to finish it, I just didn’t “get it”. As far as I can tell there’s not a moral to the story, just an ending. Pointless.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nick Jordan

    Lovely, lovely, lovely prose and great characterizations and story too. I’ll admit I read it because the 1918 influenza epidemic is an essential piece of the story.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Francie

    This is, so far, my least favorite Kaye Gibbons book. Just a very odd story.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Grainger

    Not my favorite, is not seamless and the characters don't seem very flushed out. Not my favorite, is not seamless and the characters don't seem very flushed out.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    4.75 stars Content Warnings: Pregnancy, Classism, Misogyny, Racism, Sexism, Domestic abuse, Death, Child death, Gaslighting, and Emotional abuse

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    I listened to this book on CD. I wasn't that impressed. I listened to this book on CD. I wasn't that impressed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Talk about incohesive & improbable. In the same vein as Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall or Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Divining Women is the story of a woman's victory over her emotionally sadistic husband. Maureen, an expectant mother, is all but a reclusive and seeming hysteric after years of emotional battery and isolation, but awareness of her options enters when her young niece comes to be a companion to her in her last trimester. First, what this book gets right. The setting with Talk about incohesive & improbable. In the same vein as Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall or Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Divining Women is the story of a woman's victory over her emotionally sadistic husband. Maureen, an expectant mother, is all but a reclusive and seeming hysteric after years of emotional battery and isolation, but awareness of her options enters when her young niece comes to be a companion to her in her last trimester. First, what this book gets right. The setting with the backdrop of returning WWI vets and the Spanish flu epidemic is well done. Mary, the niece is a spunky character, but a bit hard to believe in. The story is told through Mary's narration, but at times it goes off into preachy rambles about what a woman needs. This would have an excellent place for showing, not telling. In fact, the author had already done that through letters from self-realized women. But even those were on the preachy side and felt false. Here is where my incohesive verdict comes in. As for improbable, Mary's free-thinking Washington family with their ghost hostel was a real stretch. All four of her grandparents live together, which of course reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unlike Charlie's ancients though, Mary's are rich, but thrifty, a trait which incenses her brother who eventually kills himself because he can't have his every wish and first class tickets. The point of including this brother mystfies me. Is he there as a shadow for the abusive Troop Ross, indication of a family evil streak? But framed in Troop's study is a school report card which shows him as having more in common with his father than his mother, at least before is mother leaves his father because of his free-wheeling ways, free love and nudist retreats included. Throughout the author paints Troop as a man emotionally crippled by his mother's hatefulness and control, so what is the point of the brother? And, come on, people do not kill themselves because they aren't granted every luxury. Okay, maybe they do, but really? Really? The snarky side of me says he is there to garner extra Southern gothic points. The last two books I have read by Kaye Gibbons have been huge disappointments. She has an undeniable talent for telling the stories of women and girls who endure, and then overcome difficult situations, usually situations caused by a sadistic father or husband. In Ellen Foster and A Virtuous Woman she shows remarkable adeptness in establishing an enduring and authentic narrative voice. Sights Unseen is a powerful account as seen through the eyes of a daughter of the effect of a mother's bipolar disorder on her loving, but suffering family. However, Divining Women and The Life All Around Me by Ellen Foster have such reaches into the unlikely and so many womens studies rambles that they lose their narrative power.

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