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REVIEW: Stand In Wife by Karina Bliss

Dear Ms. Bliss:

Sometimes I think a reader connects to a writer in ways that can’t quite be articulated.  I’ve felt that way about your work for a while so I don’t know how reliable of a recommender of your books that I am.  What I connect with is the authenticity of the characters, the fresh take on people not only falling in love but figuring out how they fit together.

This is a story about opposites: vivacious Vivienne Jansen and taciturn, wounded soldier Ross Coltrane.

Stand In Wife Karina BlissVivienne Jansen is an identical twin but she and her sister, Merry, have never been close.  Merry has always fit in and Vivienne was just a bit too colorful for the rural New Zealand farming community where she grew up.  In fact, Vivienne hated being a twin.  She sought out her own group of friends and pursued very different activities than her sister.  In her family of three children, she was the least responsible and the most flighty.  Vivienne moved away and became a very well known costumer designer for movies.  Because she’s disconnected with her family, she rarely comes home.  But when Merry calls on her for help, Vivienne flies from New York to New Zealand.  Merry has broken her leg while interviewing for a job in a city an hour south and she is afraid that if Charlie finds out she’s thinking about moving away, he’ll sue for full custody.  Thus begins the twin swap.  Vivienne pretends to be Merry only the swap is only supposed to be for a few days.  Through a set of circumstances, Vivienne is forced to pretend to be Merry for much longer of a period of time, negotiating a reconciliation with Charlie and trying to handle the tasks of being a parent to two kids (the older daughter sussing out the fraud right away).

The only thing that matters in Ross Coltrane’s life is getting back into active service with the SAS, an elite branch of the Australian military and his brother Charlie.  Unintentionally, perhaps, Ross played a big role in Charlie and Merry’s breakup.  After Merry confessed that a man at her work had kissed her, Charlie went straight to Ross who asked him whether the two were in love in anymore and perhaps subtly encouraged Charlie to leave Merry.  You can’t blame Ross.  His father remarried a bitch of a woman who absolutely treated Ross like dirt.  Ross’ view of marriage is a dim one.

Ross susses out the twin swap in fairly short order after experiencing an erotic dream about his supposed sister in law.  He’d never felt that way about Merry before but he had been attracted to her twin.  In fact, they struck sparks off each other eight years ago at Merry and Charlie’s wedding but Ross turned Vivienne’s invitation down.

Throughout the story, Ross and Merry navigate Charlie and Merry’s problems, talking about what makes a marriage work.  They’ve picked sides, of course, but because they are outsiders, they aren’t as defensive as Charlie and Merry would be.  When Ross points out that Merry didn’t allow for any mistakes, Vivienne jumps to Merry’s defense but inwardly agrees. Vivienne, herself, has always felt that Merry has impossibly high standards.  When Vivienne says that Charlie stopped paying attention to Merry, Ross disagreed but also wondered if Charlie shouldn’t try to exert himself more.

As Vivienne and Ross take up the parts of a fueding married couple, the subtext is their mutual fear of commitment.  Ross, in particular, is driven to get revenge for the loss of two of his fellow SAS brothers who died when an IED  exploded under a Dumvee he was driving.

“How do you do it, Ross? How do you make peace with death?”

“I don’t. Grief is fuel to get me where I need to be.”

“Which is Afghanistan?”

The same accident injured Ross’ leg to the point that no one but Ross believes he can ever achieve active duty status again.  Vivienne has always had a hankering for Ross but, in general, Vivienne doesn’t commit.  Primarily because no one has ever expected Vivienne to stick but the twin swap puts Vivienne through a fiery trial of responsibility and commitment.  There is a HEA in this book but it’s not a traditional one.  But it fit the characters.   Plus, these two talk to each other.  They argue.  They disagree.  The way in which they converse is proof to me that their problems won’t be brushed under the carpet.  One  will always call bullshit on the other.

Ross took off the whistle. “Tell Til I’m sorry. Take over. I thought I could put a lid on this, but I can’t. I can’t.”

“Don’t walk away,” she said. “Only you can fix this with Tilly.”

“I can’t even fix myself,” he said harshly.

Viv took a deep breath. “You know your pity party is getting really old.”

“What?”

“Life’s chosen another path for you, so suck it up and quit blaming my brother and the unit for not letting you play out your revenge fantasies,” she said brutally. “Steve’s and Lee’s deaths were tragic, but using anger to fill the void left by their passing won’t solve anything. Deal with your grief, Ross.”

His gaze met hers. “Who am I if I’m not a soldier?”

She had to dig her hands in the pockets of her sweatpants not to touch him. “You’re still a soldier,” she said crisply. “It’s only your mission that’s changed. Quit serving the Iceman’s ego and serve where you’re needed. And right now, that’s here.”

I genuinely enjoyed reading about Ross and Vivienne.  Vivienne was colorful and fun, but she had a big heart and was willing to make herself vulnerable time and again.  Ross was dedicated but he also had  a wicked and perverse sense of humor.   My biggest complaint is that I think there was a little too much going on in this short space.  Like Here Comes the Groom, I felt like the story could have used another 10,000 or so words to give us a little more private Ross and Vivienne time.   Still, maybe that is because I like the characters so much that I am loathe to let them go.  B

Best regards,

Jane

P.S. Harlequin, you have some of the most godawful titles, covers and blurbs in this line.  If there is ever a line that is SCREAMING for a makeover, it is this line.  It really needs some help.  Plus, I wouldn’t be adverse to a little more sexiness to the stories.  After all, these are all adults.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Brie
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 14:18:28

    I have no idea how Harlequin manages to disguise books, I mean they are so misleading, just based on title, cover and blurb one would think that the book is all sugary sweet and light, but then you get authors like Karina Bliss (Second-Chance Family is a very touching story but I wouldn’t have read it based on the description alone), the same thing happens with Sarah Mayberry, Sarah Morgan and lots of other great authors, the book sells something on the outside, but you get so much more. This is why I have a love-hate relationship with this particular line, you get fantastic books but the package sucks.

    I’m reading this book as soon as I have time, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I read somewhere (I think it was a reviewer on Amazon) that this one was a sequel, do you know if that’s true? I couldn’t find the first book and I think I’ve read everything by this author, but I might be missing something.

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  2. Evelyn
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 14:43:49

    Don’t judge a book by its cover ;-)

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  3. Carolyn
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 16:06:30

    Ross was in the same unit as Dan in “Here Comes the Groom”. He’s the one who connived with Jo to set up that very different ending, lol.

    I have this book on my Kindle; it sort of got lost. I’ll have to move it up. I love anything by Karina Bliss.

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  4. Brie
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 18:10:20

    @Carolyn: Ah yes! Now I remember. Thanks!

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  5. SHZ
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 20:40:28

    Except for the ‘dumb blonde’ comments in the last book (I lost a lot of respect for the hero after that!), I’d have to agree. I connect so much with her characters. This book sounds so contrived in the blurb, but is actually really great.

    The cover is beyond frightening. I think it’s one of the worst covers I’ve ever seen. Sure, there’s a scene on the beach, but it’s about as far away from the one in the picture as you can get. Most of Harlequin’s best writers are doing Supers, and yet I’m willing to bet many people don’t know that. The packaging is so nasty I’d never have picked up this line if it hadn’t been recommended by others.

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  6. SHZ
    Aug 05, 2011 @ 20:56:51

    Oh, and as an Australian I find it funny, but you might have insulted a few New Zealanders there.
    The SAS is both in Australia and New Zealand, but I’m pretty sure the Kiwi hero was in the Kiwi branch of it, not the Australian one!

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  7. Ridley
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 00:23:41

    I liked the last book a lot until the completely retarded ending. If you pinky swear that this one doesn’t go all wackadoo on me like that, I’d add it to the list.

    Also: +1 on the marketing for this line. It has my favorite stories and authors of all their lines, but the covers just make me ill. They all look like Hallmark Channel movie actors and the colors seem unnaturally washed out. Barf.

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  8. Jane
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 10:32:59

    @SHZ New Zealand! of course. Gah. In my goodreads summary, I think I referred to Ross as Russ and Vivienne as Vivian. Details. Shmetails.

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  9. Jane
    Aug 06, 2011 @ 10:33:41

    @Ridley Did you not read my prefatory disclaimer? I must be the only reader that enjoyed the whackadoo ending. This story is a lot of hijinks. I liked it but who knows?

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  10. Lil
    Aug 07, 2011 @ 11:49:00

    I haven’t read this one, so I can’t comment on it, but I am noticing that in many of the reviews of Harlequins, the complaint is that the book was too short, that more space was needed to develop the characters or explain the change of heart or whatever. Is this a chronic problem with series books? Is it perhaps something that ebooks could solve? (I assume that an extra 10,000 words in an ebook isn’t going to cost the publisher much—if any—more.)

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  11. Sharon
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 00:38:48

    This one has my interest.

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  12. Jessica
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 18:50:30

    Can we talk about the covers? I’m embarrassed to say I’ve bought a few HPs and Superromances based upon your recs, but every time I pass the awful covers on the bookshelf, I pass because they make me want to shoot myself. For a while during the late 1990s, I think Harlequin did some updating, but it’s all looking a bit dated again. Lately, I’ve been reading more single title, just because the covers are more appealing. It’s like eating a meal that tastes good, but looks bad.

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  13. Jane
    Aug 08, 2011 @ 18:57:31

    @Jessica I think HSR and harlequin american romances have some of the very worst covers. It’s ironic because I feel like HSRs are pretty progressive and modern and deserve updated covers.

    ReplyReply

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