I’ve been reading Mary Jo Putney books for over 20 years now (YIKES!!!) I know many readers love the “Fallen Angels” series, but it’s Silk and Shadows that has remained my favorite Putney book all these years. Not Quite a Wife is the latest in the “Lost Lords,” a series about men who became friends as boys at an unusual school.
THE PLOT: Laurel Herbert married James Kirkland when she was 18, he was 21, and they had known each other for about 5 minutes…and after their dreamy year-long honeymoon, they separated. What happened? Innocent, religious Laurel walked in on her spymaster husband killing a man with his bare hands. Whoops. They’ve lived apart for ten years. Now, a feverish James is attacked and robbed on the street and carried unconscious into the clinic run by Laurel and her brother, Daniel (the next Lost Lord, natch). Laurel cares for James’s injuries and fever, but the malaria attack is so bad that he’s not in his right mind. In his dream state, he makes overtures to Laurel, who’s been celibate for 10 years, and…well, you KNOW she winds up pregnant.
This all happens in, like, the first two chapters, so I’m not giving much away. The bulk of the book is really about their reconciliation. This is all setup for trying again for the sake of the child. But how are they going to make two totally separate lives into one marriage? How can Laurel live with her beliefs and her husband at the same time? Oh, and Laurel has helped rescue a Jamaican girl from a slaver, so now the slaver is out for revenge and Laurel is in danger.
MY TWO CENTS: At one point, Laurel describes a gown as being “quietly elegant,” and that describes Mary Jo Putney’s writing as well. The majority of the book is people talking. While they talk, they often “frown thoughtfully” and “smile ruefully.” (Putney uses these terms A LOT in all her writing, not just this book.) There is some action toward the end of the book. On the whole, though, if you’re looking for mystery, constant danger, or humor, this is not the book for you. There are a couple of steamy love scenes.
Super-shout-out to the absolutely fabulous scene of ALL the Lost Lords wives together, discussing Laurel’s problem. There’s almost a throwdown between Cassie of Book 4, No Longer a Gentleman and Sarah of Book 5, Sometimes a Rogue, over the former’s previous relationship with the latter’s husband. Continuity is nice in a series!
Otherwise, there was a lot of predictability here. You know from the summary copy and from the way the couple immediately, “accidentally” fall into bed together that a pregnancy is coming. I think, by the end, the reader can comfortably guess how Laurel will reconcile her issues with violence. The satisfaction readers will get from this book is from the journey, not the destination.
That said, I’m not sure romance readers will sympathize with Laurel. She’s kind of sanctimonious, and readers of the whole series are likely to side with James since they already “know” him. And unfortunately, modern readers are less likely to be shocked by violence. On the other hand, imagine a marriage between someone adamantly for gun control and someone absolutely resolute about the right to bear arms. The debate about the necessity of violence is a timeless issue.
I can’t stress how glad I am that once James finds out about the pregnancy, his immediate reaction isn’t: “Whose baby is it, since I don’t remember having sexual relations with you.” I hate that plot device more than anything else in romance, and if that had happened, I wouldn’t have finished the book. I probably would have thrown it.
SPECIAL COVER NOTE: I have to give a shout-out here for how beautiful and relevant this cover is. Love of music first brought Laurel and James together, and it continues to get them through rough patches. And really, how many romance covers show a piano? A gorgeous piano? And the combination of colors…really, this is just a standout cover. I wish her sleeve weren’t dipping provocatively, but it’s a small gripe.
BOTTOM LINE: Not my favorite book of the series, but a good read for winding down in the evenings. Read it if you’re following the series, but Putney’s Silk and Secrets is a better “spouses who married young, separated for years, and found their way back to each other” book. I think we got introduced to two future Lost Lords in this book. Daniel’s book, publishing in August of next year, is Not Always a Saint. I’m assuming the one after that will be about the steamship captain we’re briefly and mysteriously introduced to.
TEACUP RATING: I give this book about three to three-and-a-half out of five teacups. Sort of an average to slightly above-average read, definitely not bad, but I don’t think this book on its own would hook new readers into the series.
ON SALE DATE: The book will be available in mass market paperback and ebook formats on August 26, 2014.
Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.