A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

The Italian’s Rags-to-Riches Wife by Julia James

on May 31, 2022

James now has the unfortunate distinction of having written two of the most unpleasant romances I’ve ever read. The other is Purchased for Revenge, and they actually fail in pretty much the same way: I think James was trying for a positive message in each, but massively screws up the journey. (I’m reminded of Frost in May by Antonia White, in which a devout young girl is expelled from a convent school after writing a lurid story full of sinfulness; she’s devastated, because she had not yet written the redemptive ending in which everyone repents, which surely would have made it all okay.)

The story is that Laura’s mother was completely abandoned by her Italian lover when she became pregnant. Laura was brought up to absolutely loath her father, and when her grandfather discovers her existence after his son’s death and wants to meet her, she has to be bribed by Allesandro, who in turn was bribed into collecting her from England. (His company, board of directors, yadda yadda, the usual Harlequin Presents sort of thing.) Allesandro finds Laura pretty revolting, in both looks and manners. (Somehow not noticing that his own reactions to someone living all alone in poverty are rude, callous and cruel.) When the grandfather spreads a rumor that Allesandro will be marrying Laura, Allesandro panics and forces a makeover on her, with the expected results.

Makeover stories are almost inevitably a little iffy (a rather charming counter-example is The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie) and this is one of the iffiest ever. Allesandro barely sees Laura as a human being before she’s made into a societally acceptable beauty — not just reasonably attractive but completely fitting into the elevated ranks he moves in. I guess we’re expected to believe this could happen in a few hours, because, really it was all about her attitude. But nothing could dispel the miasma of Allesandro’s utter disgust that pervades the first part of the story, making this a complete romance fail. I actually invented a new book tag inspired by him: “with heroes like these…”

Everything else aside, the book is pretty dull. The prose is not just purple, and written as if the author was using an extremely unreliable thesaurus, but highly repetitive, with the same wangsty monologues over and over for both characters. I confess to having a reluctant fascination for Purchased for Revenge, which is somewhat compellingly over the top despite how gross it is — and come to think of it, Baby of Shame is terrible in many of the same ways as this, but I sort of love it for its angst factor. But nothing saves this one.

2 responses to “The Italian’s Rags-to-Riches Wife by Julia James

  1. azteclady says:

    Good heavens, this sounds positively horrid; especially the male lead, but really, the whole “she’s raised to loathe her father”, that’s very traumatizing.

    • azteclady says:

      Re: The Moving Finger, the makeover works, I think, because he’s always been kind to her, and by the time it happens, well in love with her. Christie does not hit the reader over the head with a piano about it, but it’s clear enough that when one gets there, it’s just this warm feeling and not a shocking revelation.

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