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  • An engrossing and entertaining read

    Having read and enjoyed Ira Levin's 1972 classic The Stepford Wives a few years ago, I found Chandler Baker's new release The Husbands a fascinating re-imagination of many of the same themes in a 21st century setting. Thirty-six year old Nora Spangler lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband Hayden and pre-school aged daughter Liv. She struggles to balance her successful legal career with managing the family's domestic needs, spending quality time with her daughter, keeping her marriage alive, maintaining friendships and (a distant consideration) looking after her own health and wellbeing. To add to her stresses, she's newly pregnant with the family's second child, in the same year she's being considered for partnership at her firm. Having decided that their expanding family will soon need more space than their bijoux current townhouse in central Austin currently provides, Nora and Hayden inspect a spacious and well-appointed home in Dynasty Ranch, an exclusive estate located in the suburbs. While they're considering whether to make an offer, Nora becomes acquainted with a group of high-flying women, already resident in Dynasty Ranch, all of whom are blessed with unusually supportive and adoring husbands. All, that is, but Penny, whose husband Richard was recently tragically killed in a housefire. Penny's circle of friends in Dynasty Ranch engage Nora to act in a wrongful death lawsuit, allowing her to spend more time getting to know them and at the same time, enabling a tantalising peek beneath their perfect veneer of domestic bliss. It's a crazy ride to the shocking conclusion, but a narrative that will have many professional women nodding their heads with familiarity at Nora's reflections on her home and work life. I imagine author Chandler Baker has drawn substantially on her own lived experience, as in addition to her successful writing career, she also works as a corporate lawyer. As a former commercial lawyer myself, I can attest to the veracity of her depictions of the systemic misogyny that exists within the profession when it comes to work flexibility and career advancement. I found Baker's writing style compelling and her plot well-structured throughout. The pace waxes and wanes, like real life, and she effectively creates an atmosphere of hidden malice. Like Nora, we vacillate between envy of the perfect lifestyle apparently offered by Dynasty Ranch, and growing suspicion, as subtle obstacles interfere with her efforts to uncover the truth behind Richard's death. The Husbands features an intriguing cast of female characters surrounding our heroine, Nora. The male characters are, perhaps necessarily, more stereotyped as either irritatingly obtuse or troublingly compliant. That said, I found Baker's depiction of Nora's marital relationship convincing and reasonably sympathetic to both sides (male readers may disagree!). All in all, a great read with some really important underlying messages about the burdens that working wives and mothers continue to face. I'd highly recommend it to all readers who enjoy twisty domestic thrillers and contemporary women's fiction. My thanks to the author, Chandler Baker, publisher Hachette Australia, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this intriguing and entertaining title.

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