Wednesday, July 21, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: The Secret Wife

The Book: The Secret Wife by Carrie Weaver

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Book 1 in duet, Harlequin SuperRomance #1274, 2005, out of print, available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a SuperRomance (I loved that line before Harlequin killed it) and the back cover blurb intrigued.  Other than that, I got nothing. While I have autobuy authors in my Harlequin TBR it's also chock-full of impulse grabs from conferences, used bookstores etc.

The Review: So it turns out that I read the second book in this duet for the 2012 TBR Challenge, a little factoid I had completely forgotten about until GoodReads reminded me. How time flies...and the memory fades.  Both books were published in 2005 - so it's only taken me 16 years to complete the series. Go Team Wendy!

Maggie McGuire is desperate. Her religious family disowned her when she moved in with Eric and even though they're married, they put the cart before the horse when son David was born. Eric is a race car driver working the circuit and Maggie is pinching pennies to raise their son and stay in school (to become a mortician - she has ambition to be a funeral home director some day....).  Worse still, Eric has been incommunicado. So Maggie does something rash - she packs her close-to-death Toyota and drives from Arizona to Arkansas with little David in tow. She's going to confront (OK, reunite) with Eric at a planned family reunion.

This book is honestly worth reading for the moment when Maggie charges into the family reunion.  Of course Eric isn't there (he's at the race track).  Instead it's his grandmother Edna, his half-brother, J.D. and....wait for it....Eric's wife, Nancy.  Yeah.  Turns out Eric is a bigamist.

J.D. is a fixer. He's not a McGuire by blood. His father died young and his mother ended up marrying Edna's son.  Eric was a product of that union.  For complicated reasons J.D. has been cleaning up after Eric since the kid was old enough to cause trouble.  Maggie isn't the first Other Woman to show up.  But she's so not Eric's usual type and she seems so....honest.  All J.D. knows is he has to defuse the situation until they can bring Eric to heel and sort out the mess.  Too bad Eric is found murdered before he can be confronted with his crimes.  Naturally Maggie is a prime suspect.

While there is a suspense thread moving the story forward, I wouldn't necessarily categorize this as  romantic suspense.  The focus on the crime isn't as dominant as the focus on the internal character baggage and the fallout of Eric's bigamy.  While Maggie was definitely na├»ve, falling for a silver-tongued devil, you can understand how it happened given her upbringing and past.  Nancy kind of gets the shaft early on in the story, but eventually the author brings her on page a bit more during the second half to pave the way for her future romance.

This story features a lot of things that can annoy me in contemporary romance, but somehow Weaver makes it work.  It's definitely a Biology Above All story - with J.D. feeling "less than" because he's "not a true McGuire."  Edna helped raise him, but she never reassures him, nor does she allow him to forget that Eric is the golden boy - never mind he's a colossal screw-up.  Honestly where Weaver dropped the ball a bit for me was the lack of scorched Earth on the part of J.D., Nancy and Maggie when it comes to Eric.  I get that being murdered is pretty final and the ultimate punishment but they were still way too forgiving in my opinion.  I'd be digging up his body to murder him all over again - but that's me.

Also, David is, of course, a miracle baby.  The question of paternity comes into play because it was believed Eric could not, medically speaking, father a child. As the reader, of course, we know Eric is the Daddy. Like, it's never a question. Maggie doesn't have it in her to lie about something like that!  Certainly it's a different spin on the typical Miracle Baby nonsense (it doesn't involve the perceived inability of the hero or heroine) but it's still a frackin' Miracle Baby.

The suspense thread is pretty decent until Weaver makes the mistake of tipping her hand too early.  As the reader we know Maggie and J.D. are innocent - so that leaves the list of suspects to about 3 people, or a random jilted lover / irate husband/boyfriend to do the deed.  But once that hand is tipped?  It's all over.  It was up to the romance to keep me invested - which, for the most part, it does.  Maggie grows a lot during this story, having had the wool pulled from her eyes, and having to reluctantly accept charity from J.D. with her pride in tatters. She's hung-up on making everyone see she's a good mother stemming from a niece who landed in the social services system and a troubled older sister who committed suicide.  This aspect of her past definitely could have been fleshed out more and feels more like a prop to explain Maggie's reaction to drama that comes into play later in the story than anything else.  J.D. has a White Knight Complex, but he's a good guy at heart who wants to do the right thing, and is conflicted over his attraction to Maggie.

It's been a while since I've unearthed a SuperRomance from my stash and while this one wasn't great, it was a good, solid read that kept me entertained.  I'm even half-tempted to go back and reread Nancy's story....

Final Grade = B-


eurohackie said...

I've never had much luck with SuperRomances, which sucks because they usually have good blurbs! The ones I've read I think have been too long for the amount of story they were trying to tell. I've picked up a Janice Kay Johnson SR based on your reviews of her work, but otherwise I've pretty much given up on that line. If I find these books in a secondhand store, I just pass them over.

My book this month (Claiming His Brother's Baby by Helen Lacey, a Harlequin SE from 2015)was similar to yours, in that it's one brother cleaning up another's messes, which includes leaving a baby behind after death. I LOVED the hero - we're talking Ideal Book Boyfriend material - but the heroine was an idiot who wasn't really worth his time or effort. Of all the lies she chose to believe, its sort of the least worst of the bunch and was just completely unbelievable at that point in the story. Sigh. GR reminded me that I'd DNFed a previous book by this author, so on the one hand, at least I got through this book, but on the other - sheesh she can't write a heroine to save her life!!

azteclady said...

One of the hallmarks of genre romance (and even more so in categories), is the insta-forgiveness. I hate, hate, HATE it with the heat of a million novas.

It's not 'unduly severe punishment' nor 'unChristian' to not forgive people who've screwed your life royally, it's human, and it's the thing that helps us avoid being fucked over the exact same way as soon as we meet another silver-tongued asshole.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Bigamy and murder, they weren't kidding with "Super". I'm not a big fan of the easy forgiveness either, I don't know, it feels refreshing(?) when characters have some righteousness or even pettiness to them.

taken me 16 years to complete the series

I'll be on my death bed trying to finish the Black Dagger Brotherhood

Wendy said...

Eurohackie: I feel like you've just challenged me to read more of the Supers languishing in my TBR LOL. JKJ was really one of the gold standards in that line as she writes dynamite conflict. Molly O'Keefe also wrote some great Supers. Ugh, and that's always the worst: when one character is dynamite and the other half of the couple leaves you wondering "Why?! Why are you attracted to this person?! You can do so much better awesome character!"

AL: Yeah, I definitely wanted a lot more (OK, any) scorched Earth and anger on the part of the characters left behind to clean up Eric's mess. Sigh. But despite that it was a fairly pleasant read that kept me engaged.

Whiskey: LOL! Oh the romance series I've left half-read. Too many to count.