The Ideal Wife

Mary Balogh
2008 reissue of 1991 release, Regency Romance (Regency England)
Bantam, $6.99, 339 pages, Amazon ASIN 0440244625

Grade: B
Sensuality: Subtle

According to the author's website, the 2008 reissue of her 1991 release is simply a republication, without any changes to the text

When I read a few entries in the author's Simply series about a year or two ago, I was underwhelmed by Mary Balogh and haven’t read anything by her since. However, I very much enjoyed the reprint of this 1991 book and will be giving her backlist another look.

Miles Ripley, Earl of Severn, is sick of managing females. His mother and sisters took good care of him after his father died, but now they want nothing more than to control his life – including pick out the perfect wife for him. Somehow or other, Miles got himself in a tacit agreement with a beautiful, conceited, managing young woman that he wants no part of. So, he declares to his friends that he will propose to the next dull, plain, good-natured woman he meets - someone he can get pregnant and send off to his country estate without complaint and who he will visit twice a year. The very next day, he finds a sedate, plain, good-natured distant cousin in his parlor.

Abigail Gardiner, however, is not exactly as she appears. She can’t keep her mouth shut and as a result was fired from her job without a reference. So she seeks out her very distant cousin to ask for a letter of recommendation. You can imagine her surprise when she gets a marriage proposal instead. She accepts, and two days later, is a countess.

She knows, however, that she is the opposite of what he expected to get as a wife. She can’t control what she says, she’s not docile or shy, and she's not sensible. She also comes from a disreputable family that she’s fighting to keep together. However, when someone from her past tries to destroy the happiness she’s found by threatening to reveal a secret Abby will keep from Miles at all costs, she knows she must do anything she can to keep the people she loves with her.

I really liked Abby and Miles. Abby is funny and endearing, if occasionally cringe-inducing. I loved how the relationship developed between these two, and thought they just fit together and complemented each other perfectly. I loved the tension and chemistry between the two, and the slow growth of love. They just worked together.

On an individual level, however, I had a few issues. I didn’t like that Miles was completely unconcerned when he realized that Abby was not the dull, quiet mouse he expected. One would think he would be at least a little surprised or disconcerted, but he is not; he just takes it all with an amused grin on his face, even as Abby changes completely from the day he met her to the day she is his wife.

I also had a hard time with Abby toward the end. There is a point where she just becomes too stubborn in hiding her past from Miles. She crosses the line where her lies go from understandable to unnecessary.

Side characters were also strong and fully fleshed out – Miles’ and Abby’s respective best friends, her brother, and his family. They all added color and life to the scenes they were in.

I regret staying away from Balogh for so long. This story was a thoroughly enjoyable one and I’m already looking up more of her books.

LLB: I'm so please this book has been reissued! It's one of my favorite Balogh trads, and more of a buried treasure than many of her other, equally fine trads. My grade for The Ideal Wife, which I wrote about when describing my favorite reads from 2004 is a B+.

-- Jane Granville

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