The Wife He Always Wanted
I didn’t have any real expectations for this book when I picked it up. The author, and her previous books in the series, were totally unknown to me. What I ended up with was a really middle of the road book. The story seems to skim the surface of what Regency romances are without ever delving into deeper emotion or any original territory.
Sarah Palmer has been left destitute by the death of her father and brother. She is struggling just to put food in her own belly. So, when a man claiming to be a friend of her brother’s shows up declaring that they are engaged, she thinks that his offer can’t possibly be worse than her current situation. Gabriel Harrington was friends with Sarah’s late brother but he lied about her brother asking him to marry her. I never actually understood why Gabriel decided to lie about this. Sarah’s brother asked him to look after her until he could find her a husband. Then Gabriel shows up and just up and decides to marry her himself. What was odd was that, even after he decides he should wed Sarah, he acts nervous and reluctant about the marriage. His lack of conviction about the marriage carried over to me and made it to where I could not really believe the scenario. This ended up feeling like a very forced way of squeezing these characters into the plot whether it made sense or not. At least from Sarah’s side, there was some justification for her decision. She has been on the verge of starvation and had already been avoiding undesirable marriage offers.
Of course, lucky for Sarah, Gabriel comes from a wealthy family. They hightail it to London to live with his family – who welcome Sarah with open arms. Once they arrived, this book started to feel like it was checking off a list of what a Regency romance should be. There were makeovers, fancy balls, masquerades, jealousy, and the main character making female friends. Even Sarah and Gabriel’s gradual romance did not appear as anything original. Although none of this is all that bad, it made for a forgettable book. I actually enjoyed some parts of the story, but the character names could have been changed out with only a few minor changes in the details and this book could’ve taken the place of any other less than remarkable historical romance I’ve read and forgotten about.
The romance between Gabriel and Sarah lacked any genuine chemistry. However, I did like Sarah’s attempts to build their relationship. I think that, in the end, they were a sweet couple. By the end of the book, there was some genuine affection between the pair. I was happy that I enjoyed their interactions because it saved the book from being overly dull.
Sarah’s friendship with her new sister-in-law was also nice enough. The friend attempts to teach Sarah how to seduce her own husband and help cement their relationship. I think that, without this friendship, Sarah’s transformation from a frightened virgin to the woman who is seducing her own husband would have been totally unrealistic.
The historical setting of this book was a lot less lush and captivating than most historical romances I have read lately. I never got a firm idea of what Sarah and Gabriel’s world was like. I think that Smith attempted to force more period language onto the book in order to create atmosphere. Sadly, this caused the narration to feel a little stilted and the dialogue lost some of its natural flow. The book never mentions, that I can recall, exactly what year this was intended to be, however, I would like to know that information. The characters made several references to things happening in Texas and, as a native Texan who grew up with Texas history, this set off some bells in my head. Given that Texas didn’t claim independence from Mexico, let alone become a state, until after the Regency period ended, I have to wonder whether a poor girl from rural England would have known anything about Texas. It was such a little detail but, the first time Gabriel mentioned having been to Texas, it pulled me totally out of the story and sent me hunting for information about when Texas really became Texas.
The Wife He Always Wanted does contain a little bit of a mystery storyline revolving around the death of Sarah’s father. I can’t really say much about this except that it didn’t work for me. The mystery element takes the majority of the book to really appear and was not particularly memorable or exciting. I understood the attempt to add a fuller plot to the book but it just didn’t do it for me.
All in all, this book was just… nice. There were times that were sweet and some that were borderline sexy, however, it didn’t evoke any real emotion in me. I think that Smith may be trying a little too hard to imitate other romances she has read and it made for a stuffy read. That said, there does seem to be some potential in her storytelling method and I hope that she can find her own niche where she is comfortable writing.