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The Hired Wife by Cari Hislop

April 20, 2010

It will probably become apparent before too long that I’m a huge romance fan with a weakness a good pairing. If you give me a blurb with a pairing that intrigues and the writing has any sort of competence, I’m probably going to have to read and find out how these two crazy kids are going to make it work.

And so it was browsing Smashwords the other night when I came across the blurb for Cari Hislop’s The Hired Wife. Purchased wives (like mail-order brides) is a concept I’ve found intriguing since the first time I watched Rachel and the Stranger. Within the first few pages of the sample I was hooked by another favorite romance motif: beauty in the eye of the beholder, that story wherein a character who starts out plain (or perhaps even unattractive) becomes more and more beautiful to the one who grows to love them. (See The Enchanted Cottage if this is a favorite of yours.)

Well, as the writing went on just fine, I knew I’d have to buy the book long before I had finished what was available for free. Not only that, but I really didn’t want to put it down. I really just wanted these two to realize they were meant to be together.  MFEO, if you will.

The story is about a nearly deaf Viscount who has the guardianship of his two sisters who are husband-shopping. Unable to find himself a wife who will stand at his ear and repeat all that is said at social engagements, Marshall advertises for an assistant to whom he proposes marriage for the term of one year. The marriage is to be annulled at the end of the year with the promise of substantial financial reward at the end of that period. To Mary, an impoverished, recently orphaned, and soon to be homeless vicar’s daughter who hasn’t had a decent meal in who knows how long, the plan of agreeing to a name-only marriage to an abrupt, rude, and sometimes frightening man of consequence seems at least better than starving in the street.

The story moves in the intrigue portion of the program when couple must accompany the sisters to a country houseparty also hosted by the suitor of one of the sisters, Marshall’s only friend, and the 5 unreasonably attractive sons of an old enemy, all of whom he feels might be more appealing to his new bride than himself. In fact, Marshall’s vulnerability, and his emergence as a desperately unhappy, frustrated, romantic poet trapped in the body of a person most people see as borish and brutish due to his handicap was the most appealing part of this story for me.

Some of the characters, obviously put there for comic relief, skirt the boundaries of absurdity at times, but some of it is downright amusing, and Hislop does manage to reign herself in and keep the story in balance. And I say this as someone who admits to having a lack of tolerance for comic relief. Still, possibly one of my few complaints about this story was that 5 brothers seems like a bit many and at times I wished they would stop bickering amongst themselves so we could get on with it. My other complaint was all the quoted poetry. It’s not the first romance novel to force me to read Shakespeare and it won’t be the last, but that doesn’t make it right. While I get that quoting poetry is a big part of our hero’s character, I just don’t enjoy slogging through it. A personal peeve of mine.

Still, those minor complaints were outweighed by an enjoyable story that pushed a lot of buttons for me, and really wouldn’t let me put it down until the last page.  So I’m going to give it a solid Three Cookie Rating. This is a full-length novel of 80K words, and I don’t think you’ll need any warnings for your prude filter on this one.  I got mine at Smashwords where it’s available in several popular formats and purchasing is quick and easy.

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