This month’s TBR Challenge theme was Contemporary and I continued my tradition of reading a contemporary romance…from 20 years ago. Hey, it least it isn’t from 40 years ago! I’ve done that too!
Married by Mistake! by Renee Roszel (in ebook! but I read a paperback) is a Harlequin Romance from 1998. It’s a fake relationship/fake marriage/stepbrother romance. I spotted it in a thrift store several years ago when stepbrother romances were all the rage. It made me laugh because stepbrothers were suddenly the new hotness and here was this book from 1998. And then the stepbrother craze died and it sat on my shelf with all the other several hundred old category romances, waiting for TBR Challenge to roll around. I wish I hadn’t let it languish so long though. Because Married by Mistake! is a great read.
First, do you get the sense that I’m amused by the title? I am. And I am going to use the full title of this book at every possible opportunity because Married by Mistake! (with an exclamation point) might be the best Harlequin title ever. As the kids say, don’t @ me.
Next, we’ll go over what people might not like about this book. There’s a hint of “the hero was already a little bit in love with the heroine when she was 11 and he was 18 and she and her sister used to crawl into bed with him when there were thunderstorms because they were scared”. It’s not a big part of the story. It doesn’t give the sense of “grooming”. But that’s just gonna be a no-go area for some readers and this book doesn’t shy away from it when it probably should have. Another potential problem is the heroine herself. She does not have a strong personality. In other words, if you only want books with “strong heroines” she’s not it. Finally, the plot is preposterous. Personally, I found it preposterous in the absolutely best way, but it’s the kind of thing you might have to be in the mood for.
Okay! Here are the things that people might love about this book. Some of the appeal of the stepbrother thing is the slightest hint of a taboo relationship. Some stepbrother books play into that by making the characters go, “Oh, but we shouldn’t. But we want to. But we shouldn’t.” Not this one. The reasons these two aren’t together have more to do with their own insecurities and bad timing and yet there is still the slight and delicious flavor of a vaguely inappropriate relationship just because they know each other so very well.
I thought the characters were both terrific. Normally this sort of heroine isn’t really my thing. She has an ex-fiance who walked all over her, then returns to walk all over her some more when he brings his new fiancee to visit. I just kinda wanted her to kick him in the balls, set him on fire and have it be done with. Except then there would be no reason for a fake engagement, fake marriage and the subsequent drama that should have turned into wacky hijinks and yet somehow managed to stay under that threshhold while still being entertaining. But while the heroine wouldn’t normally be my kind of character, she works because the story works for her. And because she has two sisters (who also seem to get books) who are entirely unlike her. So there’s a diversity of female personalities, not just an author who likes to write doormats. Plus the hero is a really good guy. He gets caught up in stuff he can’t control as well as he thought he could because he has been pining for the heroine for so damn long that he can’t even think straight, but ultimately, he’s a good guy who makes some bad decisions. And he pursues her avidly throughout the book which was just so swoony.
Finally, this is a fade-to-black style book, which again is not ordinarily my kind of thing, but the chemistry between these two characters was so so fiery that I didn’t even mind the lack of on page sex. Besides, there are two very hot scenes in it before they get to the “gentle lovemaking” on the second-to-last page of the book. I mean, he SUCKS HER TOES. And then they have a naked collision in the shower when the heroine thinks the hero is out of their hotel room.
The whole book is just so skillfully done, with enough foundation for all the unlikely elements that despite the nonsense implied by that delightful exclamation point, it totally worked for me. Frankly, Marriage by Mistake! was just a really excellent example of a category romance taking a few different tropes, smashing them together and making brilliance out of them. Thanks TBR Challenge for ensuring that I will now go buy all the Renee Roszel I can find, thereby rendering the entire point of the exercise of reading books off my TBR entirely moot.
And there’s my review. Can you call off Professor Snape, now Wendy? He’s scary.