The Unexpected Wife, by Jess Michaels

17 Jan
Cover for The Unexpected Wife; a white heterosexual couple dressed in British Regency-ish clothes, standing together, looking into each other's eyes.

I blame Miz Wendy’s Unusual Historical blogposts for this one (the one for March 2021, specifically.) No sooner had I read the premise, that I had bought the book: three women unknowingly married to the same man, one murdered scoundrel, now what?; then set it in Regency England for good measure, and here I am, ready to go on a ride.

Sadly, life ::cough reading slump cough:: got in the way, and the book languished in the TBR digital cordillera of doom, until now, when I thought it would be an excellent January entry for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge.

Alas, nothing in the execution worked for me, making this a DNF review.

Note: the author warns of a “Very. Just very, very, very” heat level; I can’t speak about this, as I quit after two kisses that left me very much cold.

The Unexpected Wife, by Jess Michaels

We start the trilogy with the most recent wife–also, apparently, the one treated most shabbily by the late and unlamented Mr Montgomery–as she is presented with the facts: the man she thought she married was already married, twice, and also, he has been murdered just a few days prior.

Here’s the blurb:

Although Celeste Montgomery was forced into a marriage a year ago, her husband is more often gone than home and she is living a quiet life. Until investigator Owen Gregory shows up at her home to tell her some outrageous news: Her husband has been murdered…and he was also a bigamist, making her the third of three wives.

Owen Gregory was hired to investigate Celeste’s husband, but he never thought it would lead him here, to this beautiful woman whose life he just shattered. Once he determines she couldn’t be the murderer, he asks her to join him in London, in the hopes she can help him solve the crime.

Now they must navigate two other wives, a broken-hearted brother and a duke who keeps poking his nose in as they work to determine who killed Erasmus Montgomery. Not to mention the intense feelings and passionate desires growing between them. But will secrets long held endanger them in ways they never imagined? And will they find a way to save each other before it’s too late?

It is immediately clear that while the late and unlamented was a right bastard to Celeste, so were her parents. Her mother is a narcissistic social climber, her father is an ineffectual pawn in her mother’s schemes, and when Owen offers her a way to remove herself from her current circumstances, Celeste takes it on the spot.

Hieing off to London won’t solve anything, obviously; Celeste is still no longer a virgin, yet she’s not married either; whatever money she might have counted on (say, her small dowry), is long gone. However, in London she’s at least removed from the immediate censure of everyone who knows her and, most importantly, free from her mother’s further manipulations.

Owen’s reasons to invite her to come along are also fairly sensible; he’s feeling more than a little guilty about bringing such ill-tidings to an unsuspecting and innocent woman; plus having her in the same location as the other two ‘wives’ should help them all figure out both Erasmus moves and his secrets, and perhaps clarify the motives of those around him.

But that’s where their behavior stops making any sense, because while Owen knows she’s never actually been married, he also knows Celeste thought of herself as such until he met her. It would behoove a decent man to draw boundaries and stick to them, so devoting so much of his mental processes to how attracted he is to her, rather than the case (or even how to actually help her, regardless of whatever happens in relation to the murder), feels…off.

As for Celeste…

Look, it’s no necessarily unrealistic for Celeste to be friendly and informal with her maid, in lieu of a companion, or perhaps if this were the loving nursemaid who compensated for her parents’ emotionally abusive neglect (she’s not). Having the maid participate as an equal in a conversation with a third person who is both a man and a stranger, and who while probably not gentry or ‘society’, is certainly higher in the hierarchy than a maid, by far? The three of them talking about the museums Celeste and the maid want to visit in London? Both Celeste and Owen expecting said maid to join them for dinner?

I’m just.

What?

Her ‘fall’ aside, Celeste is the daughter of a baronet. No matter how ‘democratic’ her views, *Owen* should not expect her maid to join them for dinner at the main room of the inn.

But this is not even the worst bit here, no: that same night, Celeste up and kisses Owen.

At this point, they’ve known each other just over a full day.

Let me repeat:

  • Celeste, who would’ve rather remain a spinster and had to be physically forced by her parents to marry Erasmus
  • Celeste, who very much did not enjoy her wedding night, and who saw (euphemism for had obligatory sex with) her husband just three other times during the year of her ‘marriage’
  • Celeste, who considered herself married–to a right bastard, but still married–just until the afternoon the day before

That Celeste, initiates a kiss with the man who a) gave her the news and b) is investigating the murder, c) while they are staying, unchaperoned but for her maid, in an inn on the road to London.

Seriously?

I’m feeling very critical of the writing here. There are bits of a good story and good characters here, but there’s also a feeling of “this was scheduled to happen at 20%, so lets put it in there”, even though it rings false to the character from every angle.

Like, I appreciate that Celeste tries to take hold of the reins of her own destiny by going to London, rather than just being a victim of people and circumstances, but trying to jump Owen when they’ve known each other for barely 30 hours…yeah, I’m finding it difficult to go with the flow here, not because “gah, a woman with sexual agency!” but because this action goes against everything we’ve learned about Celeste so far, it’s forced by the narrative, and not remotely in character.

Then, the other two pairings in the trilogy are not hinted at as much as painted on the wall with foot-tall letters, and I don’t mean that as in, “anyone reading romance with any frequency would have guessed them” (even without the two other titles being marketed together, released within a month of each other, etc). I mean, both Owen and Celeste find time to ponder the reactions and relationships between the other four, while lusting over each other, and not thinking about the murder or the scandal surrounding them all.

On top of everything else, the language choices are making me twitch. “(Erasmus Montgomery) was a scoundrel, and not in the romantic sense”, is supposed to be something someone said in 1813; Owen’s pupils dilate very noticeably almost every time Celeste talks to him; her breath catches, her hands tremble, and half what she says to him has a damn ellipse in the middle, and so on.

Meanwhile, by page 72 of a 230 pages book, our crack investigator has not thought about any investigative paths other than, “let’s meet with the ladies again”, being too busy lusting after Celeste; and the three women in question have worried more about whether the men in the story are handsome than about how they’ll deal with the scandal that’s about to wreak havoc on their lives, let alone finding out who murdered the bastard who caused their collective ruin.

Oh, and Mabel the maid, at whom Celeste looked forlornly when she was led away to the servants quarters at the London hose of the original Mrs Montgomery, is not mentioned again since.

At which point, I realize that nothing here is working for me–not the writing voice, not the characterizations, not the plot–, so that I’m hate-reading, and I throw in the towel.

I’m saddened, because I’ve heard really good things about Ms Michaels’ books, and the premise for this trilogy is pretty much my catnip; but when you are getting angry at the characters–not annoyed, but angry–it’s time to face facts.

The Unexpected Wife is a DNF for me. I hope that this is a fluke, and to try something else by Ms Michaels in the future.

Now, to find something else for SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge…

9 Responses to “The Unexpected Wife, by Jess Michaels”

  1. willaful 19/01/2022 at 4:09 PM #

    A (probably) better book with a similar set-up. _I Do I Do I Do_ by Maggie Osborne.

    How cool is it that we’re blogging again!

    • azteclady 19/01/2022 at 4:10 PM #

      YES, I really like that one–should re-read and review it.

      And that’s why I wanted, so much, to like this one, because I have such fond memories of the Osborne novel.

    • azteclady 21/01/2022 at 11:55 PM #

      oh, I just now noticed the rest of your comment!

      I am enjoying blogging again, and I’m hoping to keep it going. I hope some of the people who are spending less time on twitter, or who’ve left it entirely, find their way to blogging too, as I miss them dearly (even as I understand why they avoid social media)

  2. SuperWendy 21/01/2022 at 11:42 PM #

    So. Much. Ugh. The friendly relations with “the help” and Celeste jumping in for a kiss 24 hours after her world implodes would drive me bonkers as well. Also, I get that I’m in the Romancelandia minority on this one – but if there’s a mystery or investigation of some sort to have it shunted off to side for mental lusting would make me nuts. But I’m also the reader who is OK with romantic suspense novels that lean heavier on suspense. (Oh, and DNFs totally count for the TBR Challenge. The only reason I didn’t DNF my read was because there was JUST enough of a mystery to keep me curious).

    OMG – and I loved I Do, I Do, I Do by Maggie Osborne. It was my first ever read by her back in the day (I reviewed as a new release, still being with TRR at the time).

    • azteclady 21/01/2022 at 11:58 PM #

      See, I could have done with some mental lusting, but I couldn’t do with abandoning the “very urgent” investigation into the murder, or how everyone seems to forget the scandal that’s about to ruin their lives, for hours at a time.

      I have ‘heard’ you talking about I Do, I Do, I Do before, Wendy, and that’s why I read it myself, on your recommendation. I know better than to hope for that level of excellence in the execution, but this was. Just. Not it.

      • willaful 22/01/2022 at 3:54 PM #

        My tag for this is “you got mystery in my romance!”

      • azteclady 22/01/2022 at 4:01 PM #

        ::snerk::

        I like romantic suspense myself, a lot, but it’s a tricky balance to write, that depends a lot on the characters and the gravity of the mystery/danger.

        Like, if you have a couple investigating a mystery because they’ve been hired, by all means, flirt. But if you are basically trying to find who’s trying to kill you, the relationship-building has to be a lot more subtle, you can’t have pages of internal mooning over his hands or his butt or what have you.

      • willaful 22/01/2022 at 8:45 PM #

        I just today decided against an Amazon freebie because two reviews said that it was very suspenseful and then when the FMC is rescued by the MMC, it was all about her lusting after him and trying to be cute and witty while they’re still on the freaking run

      • azteclady 22/01/2022 at 9:35 PM #

        …and that’s how not to do it.

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