A Most Inconvenient Marriage by Regina Jennings is one of the most enjoyable historical fiction romances of Ms. Jennings books I have ever read. It is filled to brimming with action, suspense, mystery, laughs, and warm-hearted family drama. I read this book twice before writing this review, and the second reading was even better than the first.
The setting is Civil War Missouri, first in the prison in St. Louis, and finally on a farm in the Ozarks. Abigail Stuart has spent the past two years as a nurse to the weak and dying in that prison, regardless of which side of the war they served. One particularly charming soldier was beyond hope, yet he talked of his lovely Juliet as if he were Romeo. But then, when he finally realized he would not heal, he pleaded with Abigail to live with his mother and sister, to take care of them and his horse farm–as his wife. Abigail’s first response was to refuse his suit. She eventually relented and married him and laid him to rest in a St. Louis cemetary. Since she had no other future, she headed for the farm. He had provided her specific directions and descriptions. Her heart was warmed when she was welcomed by the Ozark family as Mrs. Jeremiah Calhoun.
Jeremiah’s sister, Rachel, suffered from rheumatic fever and needed Abigail’s nursing skills. Her heart was weak. Abigail grew up on a horse farm and knew how to work hard and care for the horses. She and Ma Calhoun got along well, so Abby put thoughts of her childhood home behind her and poured herself in making her new home prosperous once again. Then one day, the real Captain Jeremiah Calhoun returned home. He had never seen this woman who claimed to be his wife/widow before and Abigail wondered who she had married; yet had a paper saying she was married to Jeremiah. She had never seen this man before.
Jeremiah Calhoun wanted to throw this usurper out on her head, but his mother wouldn’t let him. Right from the beginning he was suspicious of Abby’s presence on his farm. Was she trying to swindle it out from under his family? And how was he to court Laurel Wallace, his sweetheart from before the war, while others believed him married already? Even Laurel had her doubts and a new man in her life, Dr. Newton Hopkins. However, Jeremiah was willing to fight for her.
Besides the contention between the major characters, there is great historical strife among the factions within the state, represented by the diversity of folks living in the hill farms that make up the setting for this book. The story is not overly political, but the divisiveness offers more dimension to flesh out the story nicely. And I learned some new things about the civil war era. Because of the distrust local families had for each other, the presence of riff-raff wandering the hills stealing horses and livestock, plundering homes and shooting people, Abigail was forced to stay close to the Calhoun’s farm whether Jeremiah wanted her there or not. The author has skillfully built tension on top of existing tension.
The second thing I really appreciate about the author’s writing style is how she provides comic relief in the form of two very mischievous children, Josiah and Betsy Huckabee. Those two were determined to pester Abigail, but she kept besting them at their own games. The pranks played back and forth kept me laughing all throughout the book. My favorite come-back was the dough face episode. You’ll just have to read that to discover what that was all about.
Thirdly, the characterization of Jeremiah and Abigail is done well. Abigail had been annoyed by Jeremiah’s overbearing demanding personality the moment she met him. Jeremiah himself had to hide his attraction to her, doubting himself and burying it under gruff behavior. He also didn’t feel right about his involvement in the war, how his injury forced him to be hidden by Quakers in their cellar while his wounds healed, had doubts about his future with Laurel and frustrated over his confrontations with Abigail. He kept it all hidden behind the stiff, uncaring demeanor of a Captain. How he worked through all the mess is one element that makes this book worth reading repeatedly.
Finally, the romances developed in this story (all four of them) are satisfying to read. The issues all these characters faced were realistic and plausible. The author writes the personality dynamics so well that I easily got lost in the tug-of-war even the second time when I knew what to expect. Very good writing. I highly recommend this book to those who enjoy historical fiction and romances blended together.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Netgalley on behalf of Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”