I was given a copy of this book from NetGalley and SparkPress in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. The Lives of Diamond Bessie (Amazon) will be released April 5, 2022.
“Pregnant out of wedlock, sixteen-year-old Annie Moore is sent to live at a convent for fallen women. When the nuns take her baby, Annie escapes, determined to find a way to be reunited with her daughter. But few rights or opportunities are available to a woman in the 1860s, and after failing to find a respectable job, she resorts to prostitution in order to survive.
As a highly sought-after demi-mondaine, Annie—now Bessie—garners many expensive gifts from her admirers and eventually meets and marries the son of a wealthy jeweler, a traveling salesman with a gambling problem. With her marriage, she believes her dream of returning to proper society has finally come true. She’s proven wrong when she suffers the ultimate betrayal at the hands of the man she thought would be her salvation. But Bessie doesn’t let her story end there.
Set against the backdrop of the burgeoning women’s rights movement, The Lives of Diamond Bessie is a captivating tale of betrayal and redemption that explores whether seeking revenge is worth the price you might pay.”
Several of my Goodreads friends marked this book as one they wanted to read, or entered the current giveaway going on. So I read the synopsis and decided to try and get the book through NetGalley, which I did.
Annie/Bessie is a sympathetic character. Pregnant out of wedlock in a small town, she’s sent to a convent in New York where she gives birth to a baby that is immediately taken away from her. She vows to get her back, and in fact escapes the convent, but because she’s not yet recovered from giving birth, she falls ill and is taken to a boardinghouse that’s really a brothel. There aren’t too many opportunities for single women in the 1860’s America to make a living, so the inevitable happens: Annie becomes a prostitute in order to survive and takes the name of Bessie.
Bessie works hard to better herself and try to get back to the orphanage to collect her daughter. She also dreams of becoming married and becoming respectable to society and giving up her profession, despite the fact that she’s making a decent living. She eventually returns to the orphanage to find out her daughter died, and she’s bitter that one of her Johns didn’t put her up in a house so she could raise her daughter.
Soon Bessie makes her way west to Chicago and gets a job in a high-class brothel, and her clothes get better and slowly she accumulates some precious gems as jewelry. She winters in New Orleans at another brothel and meets many interesting people. But she still dreams of the day when some man will take her away from her current life. She really just wants to get married and have a normal life.
Bessie thinks she’s found the man in Abe Rothschild, who comes from money but doesn’t want anything to do with his father or his money. Abe wants to make it on his own. He also has a nasty habit of gambling away all his money and getting drunk. Yet Bessie, with all her common sense, falls for Abe and thinks he’s the one who can lead her away from her life of prostitution. And that’s just what Abe does.
But that’s only half the story. Quite literally, halfway through the book there’s a major plot twist that I’m not going to reveal, but let’s just say it’s a doozy. I almost didn’t continue reading it was such a jolt. But knowing this book was based on true events, I kept with it to find out how it turned out.
There’s a point where there are some legal proceedings which were interesting enough, but then a little while later there are more legal proceedings and I thought that section was repetitive and skimmed that part. I’d already been through that once, no need to read about it again.
This is the type of book where you’re either going to love the plot twist, or hate the plot twist. It grew on me, but it wasn’t my favorite. I’d still recommend this book if only to read the afterward to find out more about the real Diamond Bessie.
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