Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29867-9
Historical Romance, 2016
No, there is no mistake in the title – every word is spelled correctly. This is a mail-order bride story, naturally. It opens with John Bench, who runs the convenience store-cum-post office in Stockton, California, marrying the woman who answered his ad for a wife, Selina Montgomery. However, Selina has a secret. Don’t look at me, but this woman believes that it is a great idea to marry a man in order to find security and financial stability, while hiding the fact that (a) she is not a virgin and (b) she has a son stashed away back home. That’s basically all there is to this story. As Selina flails with increasing desperation as she comes up with increasingly bound-to-fail plans to send money to her son while hiding his existence from John (bound to fail because girlfriend here is a terrible liar and her planning skills are on the epic fail side), John starts thinking of her as the biggest whore of them all.
Lots of painful internal screeching follows, mostly because both characters are spectacularly crappy at communication. Instead, they are experts in overanalyzing everything the other person says and does to come up with horrible conclusions that only make things worse. John rants to Selina that he hates mothers who abandon their children (because his mother dumped him, you see), so Selina spends the entire story just knowing that he will hate her and divorce her if he knows that she has left her child behind to come here and marry John. So she will never let him know – something that anyone with clear head will know is impossible to do. Meanwhile, John sees her panic as signs that she is rejecting him, and since he loves to see the world in black and white (either they are with him or they are against him), that means she is mean and he will treat her badly.
As he becomes increasingly mean and brutish in his interactions with her – the author tries to pass him off as an awkward guy who is bad with words, but I can’t help thinking that maybe his mother dumped him all those years ago because she saw some sign of the Antichrist on him – she becomes increasingly desperate and hysterical. She will not be poor again! But… but… she loves him! Her son! Money! Love him! He hates her now! AAAAH! Selina starts acting like a chicken with its head cut off, and I feel like cutting off some heads myself.
Of course, late in the story when John finally finds out about the plot device brat, he immediately thinks the worst of her, and I can’t help thinking that he has to right to that. Not that I like him or anything – he can be on fire and I still won’t pee on him. But Selina has been a horrible human being – it is one thing to be selfish and petty, but Selina is worse: she is a well-meaning braindead turd who ends up doing all kinds of nonsense that achieve exactly the opposite of what she is hoping to gain.
Want Ad Wife is basically a competition between Selina and John to determine who is the bigger waste of flesh, and by the last page, I think it’s a draw and the both of them can go drown in a river for all I care. This book is well-written, hence an extra oogie in its final score, but my goodness, this is one story that simply wears me down as a result of all the rampant communication breakdown and stupid antics taking place between the pages. I don’t buy the saccharine epilogue: these two have been so stupid for so long, the only way they can suddenly become sweet and lovey-dovey is if aliens kidnapped them and replaced them with pod people. At any rate, I’ve rarely been this happy to see a book end.