Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew doesn't jibe particularly well with our modern sensibility. Bending a woman to a man's will because it is right and expected and the way of the world makes most readers bristle with antagonism and throw out words like mysogynistic, especially female readers. So it was a calculated risk for Christy English to take this somewhat out of favor play and rework it in an historical romance, a genre whose readers are overwhelmingly women. How to Tame a Willful Wife is very clearly a retelling though and is handled very interestingly.
The hidebound, stiff-rumped Anthony Carrington, Earl of Ravensbrook has promised his old friend Baron Montague that he will marry the Baron's daughter and only child, Caroline, and discharge the Baron's debts as a way of thanking the old battlefield friend who saved his life not once but twice. Caroline is very cognizant and accepting of her duty to marry well and to the man of her father's choosing. But aside from this, she is not exactly a typical lady of her time. Her father was gone for so much of her childhood that she was allowed to run free and act in ways that properly bred young ladies were not. She wears breeches, rides astride, speaks her mind, trains in military arts, and just generally isn't easily led.
Anthony is powerful, arrogant, and domineering. He expects absolute obedience out of his wife and intends to break Caroline of her unladylike, unacceptable behaviour, turning her into just another milque toast society matron. He is very much a man of his time and their marriage will be no partnership. He is the head of the family and the one who wears the pants (at least as far as he knows). But Caroline is not ready to cede her freedom and all decision making to Anthony no matter how incredibly gorgeous he is or how much he makes her burn physically. She goes toe to toe with him to maintain at least some of her control and to let him know that she won't be bulldozed but Anthony is rigidly unwilling to bend even though it is clear that his attraction to her includes her strength. Their different views of the way that their relationship will run leads them to major conflicts and to acting behind each others' backs which could cost them their love.
The sexual attraction between the characters is sizzling and constant which is definitely a plus in a romance. Caroline as a character is appealing in her drive to retain her individuality and ability to direct her own life. She makes the best of her new position as the Countess of Ravensbrook and provides a caring touch that has been missing from the estate and the tenants. Anthony is a far less appealing character in his role of the dominant, controlling, and suspicious husband. He is a complete despot and his change of heart in the end is a bit too abrupt to be believable. Still, this is a very interesting way to take a Regency-set historical and most likely far closer to the truth of the majority of marriages of the time than the usual romances.