Falling For His Practical Wife
Like so many Romancelandia gentlemen, Leo Ashburton, hero of Laura Martin’s Falling for His Practical Wife, has an elderly relative who is a) dying, b) marriage obsessed, and c) willing to write an absurd will. Therefore, Leo finds himself searching for a bride, but not one whom he can love. Enter Lady Annabelle Hummingford, whose sister married Leo’s brother in the previous book in The Ashburton Reunion series.. Lady Annabelle’s mother has pressured Annabelle into reclusiveness by harping on her facial scars. A marriage between Annabelle and Leo will secure Leo’s inheritance and free Annabelle from endless griping and verbal abuse, so it seems like a good plan – unless, of course, they fall into the love that Leo abjures. Gee, I wonder if they will!
Leo once loved an older woman trapped in an abusive marriage, which is an original and interesting backstory, and his parents died when he was young, leading to his separation from his brother. Yes, that’s right, we have an ‘I can’t love because loss hurts too much’ hero. Annabelle’s character is largely limited to feeling unworthy because of her scars and dealing with the mother who instilled crippling self-consciousness about them, and while that could have been interesting, it’s superficial instead. Annabelle’s mother is a one-note villainess, constantly haranguing her daughter and never displaying neutrality, let alone kindness. Consequently, there isn’t any push-pull of ‘I love her but she hurts me’, there’s just ‘she’s a heinous bitch’.
I’m not a fan of the prose. The author uses the old characters-trip-and-land-on-each-other device at least three times. Each chapter is prefaced with a letter to Annabelle or Leo’s respective siblings, who have traveled to India, and… let’s just say there are emotions and events which do not need to be reflected on in letters to one’s siblings. The characters use modern-sounding psychological language, such as when Annabelle finds her mother’s wedding night advice “disempowering”,and when Leo thinks “It wouldn’t do to let Annabelle think that he would be more emotionally available if he could deal with his grief.”
And there’s another clichéd device, the ‘character overhears something and gets upset’ one. Interestingly, the getting-upset is justified, not because somebody said anything horrible, but because the intent is misconstrued. Unfortunately, the character’s reaction – to run off and leave no address rather than have a brief conversation – is obnoxiously immature.
Ultimately, this book is a pile of clichés and tropes. It does take a couple of risks but they don’t pay off. Harlequin Historical has been on a roll lately, but Falling for his Practical Wife is sadly not one of its winners.