Mary Balogh is a prolific writer whose most recent series, the "Slightly" series, are very popular. However, some of her older books are a treasure - if you can find them - and this is one of them.
Strangely, the flyleaf for the hardback edition of this book had the heading "The Ideal Wife" and then gave blurb about a different book, Balogh's "The Secret Pearl", so the story of this book was entirely unknown to me when starting it.
The Earl of Severn has to get married (a common theme in Balogh's books) and there is a very beautiful woman who his family think will do admirably. In fact, everyone thinks this woman would make him the ideal wife - but he can't face it. He says, jokingly, to a friend that he wants to marry a quiet, dull, plain woman who will bear him an heir and live retired at his country estate. He comes home to find an indigent relative waiting for him in his house with a request that he write her a letter of recommendation so that she can find a job. He offers her a job - the position of wife - as she is the solution to his problems. Two days later they are married.
As the book progresses the Earl discovers that his wife isn't exactly the person he thought she was. She isn't quiet (she's talkative, friendly, impulsive) and she isn't the type to live retired - she seems to be managing his life. However he also finds he rather likes this. But Abigail finds that some of her deep dark secrets are slipping out, some of the embarrassing skeletons in her family closets are turning up at dances and demanding blackmail money... can she manage to pay them off without her husband knowing and wanting to divorce her.
Despite the sometimes serious subject matter of this book it's light, an easy read and there is a very sweet romance. The hero is rather marvellous and Abigail is endearing in her clumsy attempts to sort her own life out. It's a book to read and enjoy.
UPDATED REVIEW FOLLOWING THE REPUBLISHING OF THIS BOOK IN 2008
"The Ideal Wife" was first published in 1991 and the new edition, published in 2008, is very welcome as this is an enjoyable romance with an appealing hero. The story is paired with "A Precious Jewel", another wonderfully touching tale, although they can both be read on their own. In this story we follow Miles Ripley, Lord Severn, as he attempts to avoid a bride chosen for him by his mother. This is a common theme in Mary Balogh's books but in this one, rather than having a 'fake' engagement as in "A Summer To Remember" or "Slightly Scandalous", Severn decides to actually marry someone else. He knows he has to get married and thinks that a quiet, mousy wife would be ideal - he can get her with child and then deposit her at his country seat without too much bother. When a distant relative arrives at his door asking for a reference for a job he instead offers her a job - as his wife.
Abigail Gardiner isn't exactly what she seems, however. She prepared for her meeting with the Earl of Severn, who she presumed was a doddery old man, by trying to look nondescript and by behaving demurely and quietly. Once they are married she finds it impossible to hold back her natural liveliness, talkativeness and impetuosity. Abby is worried that Severn will be disappointed in her - she knows he must have reasons for marrying her but when she discovers them, and when she fears that secrets from her past might cause him to dislike her, she fears that he will find her too much trouble. Can they come to understand each other? Can Abby sort out her brother's happiness as well as her own? Can she really be success as a Countess?
Mary Balogh is one of the outstanding writers of Regencies today and this book is very successful. There is perhaps less character depth than in some of her more recent works, the Earl of Severn was about perfect as a hero (which is rather unrealistic!), and I was occasionally irritated by Abby's obtuseness and propensity to lie to get out of trouble rather than trusting Miles, but it was good to read a 'rags to riches' story and Abby's warmhearted and generous nature was charmingly written. There are some scenes shared with "A Precious Jewel" and it is interesting to read Miles's take on the events taking place between Sir Gerald Stapleton and Prissy, with Sir Gerald coming across as rather less simpleminded in this book than in his own.
Those who love Mary Balogh's books and who have been unable to find a copy of this previously will be pleased that it has been re-released and will not be disappointed. Unlike many Regency authors whose older books have been republished, Mary Balogh's stories still read well and don't seem outdated. This is an excellent read and stands out among many similar books in this genre.
Originally published for Curled Up With A Good Book © Helen Hancox 2008