Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Wanted: Wife, by Gwen Jones - Review

Title: Wanted: Wife
Author: Gwen Jones
Publisher:  HarperCollins
Imprint: Avon Impulse 
Release Date: June 4, 2013 (ebook available now, paperback will be out July 2nd)
Reviewing: advanced eARC
Reason for reading: I caught some buzz on Twitter, and the title was available to me on Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review.

The Short Answer 
If you can suspend a bit of disbelief in the beginning, makes for sweet fantasy.

The Premise
A modern-day marriage of convenience: the hero wants all the perks of marriage, but without risking his heart.  The intrepid heroine finds herself in a difficult spot, and Andy's unconventional proposal offers her not only a way out, but possibly a break-out book deal.

W:W has a lot of charm, but it also has some flaws.  Andy posts an ad for a wife like something out of an old western, on the telephone pole of a small town.  Julie is a television reporter who specializes in off-beat human interest stories: "Julie Knott's Random Access."  OK, fair enough.  Andy claims that he wants to keep his heart and emotions out of the deal, yet he passes by eminently qualified candidates for Julie.
"Look, I don't want you to take this personally, but--"

"I won't," he said. "In fact, I've gone out of my way to make sure personalities have nothing to do with it.  I need a wife to help run the farm and have our children.  And if she does, she'll share equally in all the rewards and benefits.  All I ask is that she's healthy, able to have children, and be willing to work hard. You, Ms. Knott..." he looked me over. "... appear to meet all the criteria."
I don't know, this just didn't convince me.  He's basically denying that he's attracted to her, or that attraction even matters, and yet there is no other reason why he'd choose her over 200 other qualified women. It's nowhere on the page.

Julie's reasons for taking him up on it were a bit more believable, if somewhat wincingly mercenary: her fiance has left her high and dry, emotionally gut-punched, without a job, a home, or access to their frozen bank account.  Up front, she negotiates a book deal from the experience with him and with a publishing agent.  I liked that she was straight with him about that.

I can't decide if the down-home farm schtick is kind of wonderful, a bit over the top, or... just silly.  At times it struck me all three ways.  I mentioned in a review of a post-apocalyptic novel awhile back that I do think there's a certain visceral appeal to getting off the grid.  Andy's farm just happens to have "no bars" for cell service; no electricity when they first move in (the generator is busted), and certainly no internet service.  In the middle of summer, they go all Little House on the Prairie for a couple of weeks until the generator is fixed and the tumbledown farmhouse is sufficiently repaired to a liveable state. To me this was equal parts charming and not very believable.

The Chemistry
Part of Andy's deal is that they actually get married and actually try for a baby.  This is no "in name only" marriage. After 90 days, if there's no baby, they have an opt-out clause with an annulment.  (So why get married in the first place? Kinda silly, if you ask me.)

So the reason this book actually does work is that, once you get past the somewhat preposterous beginning, the chemistry between these two is electric.  The love scenes are searing and believable... and it does help if you read a little French.  (I mean, it is the language of love.)  Once they make this connection, the book held together much better for me.  There were some enjoyable getting-to-know you chapters; some space lent to how they worked together on the farm, and nested up their ramshackle farmhouse together.

I don't know if it was the French or the raw feel of his kiss, soft and cabernet-warmed, but when his tongue laced hungrily into mine it was like some crazy bomb went off in my head.  For all of Andy's previously stand-offish ways, he was suddenly all over me, covering me with kisses and enveloping me like a huge, hungry lion.  The icon from afar evaporated before my eyes, and all at once he became real-- a living, breating testament of his desire for me.

I have dwelled a little more on what doesn't work than on what does, but this connection gets made fairly early in the book and is enough to draw you through a classic build-up/black-moment/resolution arc and to make you cheer for them getting together in the end. So if you're a fan of the marriage of convenience trope, love the idea of whispered sweet nothings in French, and secretly want The Pioneer Woman's life, you'll enjoy this book very much.

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