3 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
This collection of regency-era romances isn’t really as strong as many of her other stories. While they’re both very readable, and each has its own moments, this is of the quickly read/quickly forgot variety. The Temporary Wife in particular feels like the more angsty-rewrite of her novel The Ideal Wife (which I found sweet and charming), and A Promise of Spring was too over-ridden by misunderstandings run amok. I felt that both had pacing issues, and while there were again, romantic moments in both, I don’t think either (separately or combined) justify the purchase price.
The Temporary Wife gave me a serious case of deja vu: a man decides that the best way to get out of the marriage his family has arranged for him is to quickly pick a drab wife of his own choosing. The woman in question has been working as a servant/governess/type, is only pretending to be drab/docile when in fact, is secretly fiesty, has a family she’s struggling to help maintain (younger siblings) all whilst being under the crushing weight of familial debts that only came to light when her father passed.
Thus far, I’ve described the plot of both The Temporary Wife and The Ideal Wife. There, the main similarities end. Where The Ideal Wife is airy lightness, The Temporary Wife is all gloom and angst. Anthony Earheart doesn’t just want to subvert the wishes of his father, he wants to pick a wife that will be an embarrassment to the entire duchy. Despite the fact that he’s 28 and has lived independently for eight years, he wants nothing more than the prove to his domineering father that he’s his own man (there’s something ironic there, I know).
His wife is determined to prove that father and son really love one another, and to mend the rift in the family. It’s a largely thankless task that gets resolved far-too-quickly (it goes from being impossible, impossible, to… accomplished! yay!).
Though the relationship between the two has its moments, Anthony remains largely unlikable for far-too-much of the story to draw me into the main romance, or make me feel as though he’s deserving of a happy ending (of that the heroine should be stuck with such a maybe-reformed character).
A Promise of Spring is really… unfortunate. There are so many great things about it, tropes turned on their heads (the hotter guy is NOT the main lead, instead, our main hero is sensible, sunny, sensitive and sweet), that the HEROINE is experienced, a “fallen” woman, and also, 10 years older than the hero.
But… instead of allowing the romance to really come to life, their slow-boil romance is plagued by misunderstandings (spoiler ahead: Grace tells Perry that her former lover is dead, when he’s very much alive… and even interested in rekindling their past relationship).
Despite the fact that there are parts of their relationship that are very sweet, I have to admit that I got increasingly annoyed with the fact that these two people, who have known each other for five years before marrying, and have been married for a year already before the main drama takes place… can’t figure out how to communicate with one another, and that both start to believe the other is drifting away, etc. It’s unfortunate, because there was enough going on that this could have been very, very good… but the way parts of it drag make it difficult to really recommend (despite some good scenes sprinkled throughout).
Comparison to Other Authors
Mary Balogh is very, very hit or miss for me. Sometimes I find her characters sweet, other times the pacing makes me grit my teeth. Even in her longer works, the sensuality meter is never super-high, and initially it’s almost always more about duty and expectations of the time (that the girl will lay there and not be responsive, that showing passion might somehow be demeaning)… all of which eventually builds to a slightly-more-sensuous outcome that still feels more pastel than purple. It’s more Julia Quinn than Stephanie Laurens, but for the most part, I find her humor to be a strong point (not overdone like some of Quinn’s newer things, but more tongue in cheek like Austen, or vintage Quinn). Also, I find her settings and writing to feel more genuinely regency-era, which is rarer than you would think given the number of best selling authors whose scenes give a nob to the genre, instead of really writing within the time period.