Her Dear & Loving Husband, by Meredith Allard, is the first in her Loving Husband trilogy. After a recent divorce, Sarah Alexander has moved to Salem, Massachusetts. If she thought the quaint seaside town with all its historic charm would quiet her recurring dreams and night terrors, however, she was very much mistaken - moving to Salem seems to have had the opposite effect, in fact.
Through a colleague at the library, Sarah meets James Wentworth, a professor at the college, and her resemblance to his late wife causes him to feel drawn to her. James is hiding a secret which keeps him disconnected from engaging in any kind of a real social life and has kept him from being settled in any one place for very long. His attachment to Sarah is powerful enough to potentially disrupt the quiet life he's built for himself, but there are questions which need to be answered: is James attracted to Sarah, or is it her resemblance to his beloved wife which attracts him to her? And if it IS Sarah he is attracted to, will his secret threaten any romance between them?
With a meddling reporter buzzing around asking questions about James, his secret might come out whether he's ready for Sarah to know it or not - but if exposed to the whole world, James fears a new mass hysteria and hunt will ensue.
Another paranormal/metaphysical topic of great interest to me which this book touches on as a plot point is past lives/reincarnation. Is it mere genetic coincidence that Sarah so strongly resembles James's late wife, or are there other possibilities which might explain the resemblance - is she his wife reincarnated, or is she a descendant? A reincarnation aspect to a romance certainly has a bonus factor for me in lessening the distaste I tend to have for Insta-Love, and it's also an intriguing tool for a "time travel" aspect that turns out to work quite well in the way Allard utilizes it.
Sarah may be one of the main characters in this book, and the first character we are introduced to, but I felt pretty neutral about her throughout the entire thing. She doesn't seem to go anywhere emotionally, unless you count panic attacks from her night terrors, or the dilemma she ultimately faces as an apparent skeptic (although when her skepticism is tested, she doesn't seem to really struggle with it that much, as she gives in to belief fairly quickly). My opinion of Sarah was pretty much set when I realized that Her Dear & Loving Husband read to me like another adult version of Twilight (or at least Twilight-inspired) - with the difference between Fifty Shades and this being that Allard is capable of writing an engaging (albeit mildly predictable) story, whereas Fifty Shades is glorified fanfic with no real substance whatsoever. As far as the Twilight comparison goes, though, don't let it put you off if that would be the only reason you might lose interest: it's not a thinly-veiled rewrite like Fifty Shades. It can absolutely stand on its own, and if you've never read or seen anything of the Twilight saga, it's possible you might not really draw the same parallels that I did.
Characters I did enjoy were Jennifer and James. Jennifer, Sarah's colleague at the library, is a wtich and practicing Wiccan in a small coven which includes Jennifer's mother. I know it seems trite to include actual witches or Wiccans in a book that is set in Salem and also discusses the witch trials, but it also makes sense in this universe: witches and witchy things are a huge tourist draw for Salem these days, so it is probably halfway expected and not as looked-down-upon to be a practicing witch or Wiccan in Salem as it is in many other places; the tourist aspect makes Salem a smart place to own a witchy shop. Anyway, James and Jennifer have a fun brother-sister feel to their relationship which was nice to read, and he has a long history with her family which I would be interested in reading more about. If this is not touched on in the rest of the Loving Husband trilogy, I hope there might be a future spin-off book or series which goes into more detail.
Series info: What came before this book? What's next?
* Her Dear & Loving Husband (Book 1)
- Her Loving Husband's Curse (Book 2)
- Her Loving Husband's Return (Book 3)