Stand-In Wife, by Karina Bliss

>> Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TITLE: Stand-In Wife
AUTHOR: Karina Bliss

PAGES: 288
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary New Zealand
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Follows Here Comes the Groom

Playing with dynamite, a girl could get burned...

What does he know about love and marriage? And exactly how did he, Ross Coltrane—a special forces elite soldier and demolitions expert—end up playing middleman to his kid brother and the estranged wife? And most important, why is he suddenly noticing how beautiful his sister-in-law is? He's never thought about his brother's wife... that way... before.

Then he figures it out and everything makes sense. This tantalizing woman is the other twin! The identical sisters have pulled a swap and duped everyone around them. Furious much? Oh, yeah. Poised to bring down their plan, Ross hesitates. Something about Vivienne Jansen's courage and zest for life gets to him. Except, he's not a man who has feelings. Everyone calls him the Iceman. He doesn't know how to be anything else...
Viv Jansen has always felt claustrophobic about being a twin. While her sister Meredith was always comfortable dressing and looking the same and sharing friends, Viv wanted to be more individual and stand out. She changed her hair and dress style as soon as she could, and for the last few years she has been living in New York.

Merry's marriage has broken up recently, and when Viv arrives back in New Zealand after her sister's urgent call, it's to find Merry in a bit of a pickle. She was at a job interview in another city when she broke a leg, and Viv gets there just in time to help her hide that from her estranged husband. Merry, you see, fears that the possibility of her moving away might provoke him into challenging her custody of their children.

Living so far away from home has helped Viv become more comfortable with who she is. So much so, in fact, that she's gone back to her natural hair. This means that when she goes to pick up Merry's kids and runs into Merry's brother-in-law Ross, he thinks Viv's Merry. Viv doesn't correct him because of... well... reasons, and as they're forced to interact after further tragedy, Ross starts to find himself strangely attracted to his strangely different sister-in-law.

I had a bit of a problem with this one in that the reasons why Viv decides, on the spur of the moment, to pretend she's Merry, are pretty silly. The threat of a custody fight never rang true, and after the accident that happened next, I didn't buy that anyone with two braincells to rub together would think doing a twin swap in those circumstances made any sense. It's a situation where the upside of getting away with the swap is pretty tiny, and the potential downside huge. I tried to overlook this and go onto the rest of the story, but part of me kept coming back to it and going "you bloody idiot!".The thing is, Bliss tried to sell it as a sensible/necessary thing to do, which made things worse. If it had been portrayed as Viv doing something obviously stupid and then feeling caught, then this might have worked a bit better, but that's not the plot we got. Ross does catch on relatively quickly, but by then, the damage was done.

There were some well-done elements there, especially the relationship between the twins. It's a relationship that has been built around labels: Viv is the wild one, while Merry is the good, reliable one. And now good, reliable Merry has screwed up, and Viv feels she must take on the characteristics that are supposed to be her sister's, which feels weird.

I also liked the portrayal of Meredith's troubled marriage, particularly the way Viv and Ross used it to explore what makes a relationship work, through their conversations about their respective siblings struggling one. Other than that, however, the romance was a bit of a dud. There wasn't a lot of chemistry there, and I found it hard to really care.

MY GRADE: A pretty meh book. C+.


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