I didn’t think I’d have time to squeeze in a TBR Challenge book this month, but that’s what fast, fun Harlequin romance is for. The February theme is Backlist Glom, an author who has more than one book in your TBR pile. I had an embarrassment (quite literally) of riches to choose from and I went for Kelly Hunter’s What the Bride Didn’t Know (see fast and fun above–I’ve read a number of her books and always enjoyed them).
This is the third book in Hunter’s West family series, and I’d enjoyed the previous two. It was published in Harlequin’s late lamented Kiss line, though the others are all Presents. The mysteries of publishing.
This book, indeed this series, is overstuffed with plot. The West siblings are all hackers or spies and there’s a vague spy plot running through them all relating to oldest brother Jared’s disappearance, which may be related to trying to find out who was behind the incident in which his sister Lena was shot. They spy stuff is almost all offstage so far, which is probably good because what we do see is pretty implausible. Hunter knows her strengths. And yet, it’s kind of annoying: oh, the bad guy was taken down between books?
Our heroine here is the aforesaid Lena; 19 months after being wounded, she knows she won’t ever be back to her old physical self, and she’s feeling lost. All her life she’s worked to keep up with her brother Jared and his best friend Adrian, aka Trig. She became part of their team. If she can’t keep chasing them, what is she worth?
As the book opens, Lena is headed to Turkey to try to find out where Jared is; Trig tags along to watch over her. He’s been in unspoken love with her for years. When Lena is knocked over by pickpockets and concussed, Trig passes himself off as her husband at the hospital. But Lena has amnesia (yes, this book is a romance trope bonanza!!) and thinks they’re really married.
Trig angsts, Lena tries to seduce him, he tries to resist. It’s all pretty silly, but because it’s fast and fun and Kelly writes good banter, I just rolled with it. At one point, they stay at a hotel whose decor is a mish-mash of odd things. Turkish rugs, a Tinkerbell mirror (or lamp?), a player piano–its goofy, playful mishmash seemed like a good emblem of the book.
There are more serious themes: can Lena find a sense of self-worth, not see herself as broken? Can Trig take the risk of confessing his feelings? Can they learn to be a team in a way that requires shared vulnerability, not just shared strength? These are lightly touched and I didn’t find it a very emotional read (though the epilogue got me).
There were some niggles beyond the sketchy plot. Turkey is nothing but an exotic backdrop peopled by pickpockets, touts, and rug salesmen. These people seem to be made of money (I know that’s part of the fantasy). Lena can’t get pregnant because of her injury, and she thinks this is one reason Trig can’t want her–as if he’d only love her if she could breed. That’s pretty throwaway, thankfully, and they talk about adopting, but why even go there. She had been well established as self-doubting without that.
I finished this faster than I expected on the train to work, and promptly downloaded Jared’s book so I’d have something to read on the way home (The Spy Who Tamed Me, how could I resist–plus it was already in my TBR). That tells you pretty much all you need to know about how I felt about What the Bride Didn’t Know.