TBR Challenge: Once a Ferrara Wife by Sarah Morgan

May’s TBR Challenge theme is “backlist glom (author with more than one book in your TBR).” Wondering how I would fit a TBR read amid my demanding library pile, I chose Sarah Morgan’s Once a Ferrara Wife, a Harlequin Presents set in Sicily. I have read and enjoyed plenty of Morgan’s books in the past, and have plenty more TBR.

I’m going to start with something personal that affected my reading of the book. For a lot of people, romance reading is a comfort in hard times. For me right now, that is not the case. I have been dealing (or let’s be honest, not dealing) with depression for a long time now, and am finally recognizing that that’s part of why I went off romance novels. Emotional response is a big part of the romance-reading experience and I’m not having much. I read a book and think, “I see what you did there; whatever.” Then I feel worse because of my lack of feeling. [I’m not asking for sympathy or advice! I’ve made tackling my depression a priority for this summer and I’ve taken the first step.] I can’t do romance justice right now. I haven’t figured out whether I’ll take a break from this challenge, read non-romance from my TBR, or keep trying. But I’ve reached the point where I feel I can’t write any kind of romance review without acknowledging how my mental health is coloring my response. In general I am less able to/willing to pretend everything is fine. So there you go.

Once a Ferrara Wife–or any Harlequin Presents–was not a good choice for my current reading mood. Presents are all about big emotions and OTT tropes. Part of the fun of reading is seeing how the authors use these to explore real emotional conflicts in a highly dramatized way. But if you’re not going to be swept away by the feelings, the experience isn’t as rewarding.

Good Stuff: This is as second-chance-at-love story. Laurel and Cristiano are on the brink of divorce. They’ve been separated for two years; each is angry and blames the other for the break-up. (I don’t think it’s too spoilery to say that this revolved around how each responded to a miscarriage, though there turn out to be several extra layers that I won’t reveal). Now Laurel in back in Sicily for best friend/Cristiano’s sister Dani’s wedding, and sparks of all kinds fly.

The events that precipitate their break-up are a Harlequin staple, but Morgan puts a modern spin on them. Laurel, abandoned as a baby, is the emotionally closed off one who doesn’t want to trust or be vulnerable. Cristiano thinks he’s emotionally open and “progressive for a Sicilian male,” but he’s a workaholic who treats relationship issues as something to fix with a generic gift of jewelry. He takes his marriage for granted. Both have to learn to understand each other better and really listen to each other. It’s a good example of how everyday relationship issues are at the heart of the (melo)drama. I could see why some friends love this book.

Not so Good: The obscene wealth of Presents heroes–helicoptering around Sicily, showering your wife with diamonds, building luxury resorts in an impoverished and troubled region–is a fantasy I find less and less appealing these days. While the message was not that money would fix everything, it did enable a lot of the reparative gestures. I don’t blame Morgan for writing in the vein of this line, but maybe I’m done reading it. Same goes for the “Sicilian males are X” essentialism.

I had mixed feelings about the resolution of the fertility plot, which I won’t spoil but am happy to discuss in the comments. There were aspects of it I liked and ways it fell into the worst conventions of the genre.

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6 Responses to TBR Challenge: Once a Ferrara Wife by Sarah Morgan

  1. Sunita says:

    I liked this story a lot when I read it, being the Sarah Morgan fangirl that I am. But I totally understand having little patience these days for billionaires and their ostentatious displays of wealth.

    I have no advice but I cannot help but have sympathy. 🙂 One of the interesting things about depression is how individual the experience is. If you break an arm, the healing process is pretty much the same for most people with the same break. But depression isn’t like that. I often read romance during my more intense depressive periods, but not always. And usually the romances that worked for me were the less explicit types, like Neels and Burchell. I also read a lot of mysteries, mostly procedurals and spy novels.

    One of the great things about the TBR Challenge is that any TBR book is welcome. Not just romance!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I feel like this is even different from other times I have been depressed! (Not my first rodeo). I have gone back to mystery and have also been doing more audio lately because I struggle to concentrate when reading.

  2. willaful says:

    I’m having a lot of trouble with category romance these days. It’s a form of escapism that falls down when there’s really things that need escape.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I probably picked the exact wrong type of romance for my current reading mood. Romantic suspense or something less fantasy might work better.

      • Ros says:

        Yes, but it’s so hard to know until you start whether it’s going to hit the spot or not. I always mix this one up with an earlier one by Morgan which also has an Italian marriage-in-trouble thing happening, but is much lighter and funnier, and maybe would have worked better for you. But it’s also fine just to choose something that isn’t so emotional at the moment.

  3. SuperWendy says:

    Chiming in to say that reading non-romance for the TBR Challenge is totally “allowed” if you need to spin off in that direction.

    I find a lot of comfort in the short category format (the hyper-aware focus on the romance with little to no outside distractions just works for me) – but I’ve had a difficult time with the last few Presents I’ve read. It’s a brand of fantasy and hyper-escapism that just isn’t working for me right now – I suspect because I’m full-up on overbearing men 😉

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