Prolixity Julien’s #CBR4 Review #1: Saving Grace by Julie Garwood
About a week ago, I woke up and all I wanted to do was read a romance novel. I am not proud, but I am trying to own my shame. I blasted through the two books I had in the guest room closet and have moved on to both the library and the bookstore for more. If you have never read “historical romance fiction”, I can fill you in:
All the lead characters exist on a kind of mix’n’match continuum as follows:
A. Reformed Rakes Make the Best Husbands (gorgeous cynical bastard)
B. Laconic Warrior (gorgeous gruff protector)
C. Ordinary Guy (If you want him go find LaVyrle Spencer)
There’s also a whole cowboy thing, but the Old West is too dusty.
The Reformed Rake will have lean muscle mass and feline grace. He is a charming companion and an excellent dancer. His cynical bastardism may be a result of a feminine betrayal in his back story.
The Laconic Warrior will be heavily-muscled and rip doors of their hinges: Giant oak doors with giant iron hinges. There is an excellent chance he will also be a Highland Laird. He will sleep out of doors and bathe in the lake, even in the dead of winter. He will be intimidating and often frighten women, but not the heroine, no, she will take one look and see the handsome man no one else has been able to see underneath all the tartan and the scowling.
These men are overwhelmed by the protective impulse they feel for the enchanting bit of fluff they’ve just met. These are Men of Action and are not distracted by such trifles as feelings.
The following elements will usually appear in some form:
1. Clenched jaw with visible muscle twitch to show anger
2. Clenched teeth as he clings to restraint in the face of the lust she has innocently aroused in him, and he is holding back lest he overwhelm or harm the woman with the strength of his passion
3. No matter where he lives, he will be tanned from head to toe. This bronzed glow will be surprising, and pleasing, to the heroine.
A. Victim of Circumstance (beautiful abused shut in)
B. Sacrificial Lamb (beautiful pawn)
C. Ordinary Girl (If you want her, go find LaVyrle Spencer?)
They are slim, but curvy goddesses as a rule. They always have more book learnin’ than is historically accurate, but I appreciate this token feminism. The Victim of Circumstance is likely rich and exploited. The Sacrificial Lamb is being married off to pay a debt or for the financial gain of her awful family.
The following elements will appear in some form:
1. Cascading hair
2. A naturally tiny waist not really requiring a corset.
3. She holds herself like a queen, or
4. She is accident prone.
5. The Reformed Rake will require a lot of forgiveness.
6. The Laconic Warrior will require her to recognize he loves her before he is able to give in to this vulnerability and tell her.
Things You Have to Overlook
Blatantly anachronistic elements mostly with regard to social and sexual mores. If I wanted historical accuracy, I’d read Jane Austen. Incidentally, the things the hero and heroine do during their intimate moments have gotten much more adventurous since I started reading these books in the 1980s. I find it distracting. I blame the mainstreaming of porn.
No one can get out of that period clothing so quickly. Just once, I wish the heroine would be inwardly cursing all the damn layers that are taking so long to remove.
The age difference of at least 10 years, specifically the youth of the women.
Consistent Narrative Elements
Blazes of sensuality
Synonyms for heat
Oblique references to male body parts
Even more oblique references to female body parts
There is a lot of arching
Someone will be “vexed”
Something will be “sinewed”
Many things will be sensual
Being a pirate is cool
I think you should be up to speed now, but before I start, I must tell you that the book included a bonus chapter from another of the author’s novels. It was set in present day Boston and our hero (read: Kennedy) meets his prospective partner at a charity event when he THROWS UP ALL OVER HER as he has appendicitis. Then, because she is a doctor visiting from out of town, she performs the appendectomy. That’s right: she performs a random minor surgery at a local hospital at which she has no privileges. This is why I stick to historical romance novels.
And now to the business at hand:
God’s truth, I can’t even remember the heroine’s name. Let’s see if it comes back to me. The setting is England in 1206. Something exciting has happened with King John and his barons. Johana (!) is recently widowed after years of torment at the hands of her verbally and physically abusive husband, and the family priest. Childless despite her years of marriage (That’s right! She’s not a virgin and she never knew it could be like this!), she is a valuable pawn as she has land holdings in Scotland that have been in dispute. Having avoided remarriage as long as she can, she ventures with her loving brother, Nicholas, to make a political match by marrying Laird Gabriel MacBain, a gruff and gorgeous warrior. By marrying her, he gains full title to his clan lands, and she is safely removed from the proximity of those who would exploit her for her wealth (I know). Although he now has the land, he is cash poor and that’s where the whisky subplot comes in. There is also some stuff about clan infighting and which plaid she is wearing.
As Johana settles into her new life with the imposing Laird, his love and gentleness, honestly, he really is a teddy bear, help her to heal and find her own identity and role as his partner. Along the way, she kills a group of wolves with her bow and arrow, she learns golf, and she gets over her fear of his wolf hound. I have to go back to the wolves for a second. She kills 4 wolves and her husband sets the bodies on fire rather than making a blanket out of the wolf pelts. I’d want a wolf pelt blanket myself.
I chose this book because I was familiar with the writer. It’s dangerous to take a chance on these novels because they often used include a sexual assault in which the heroine’s “body betrays her” and she gives in and enjoys it, OR, or the hero starts raping her, realises she is a virgin and then, AND ONLY THEN, feels guilty for the assault. You can see how I’d want to avoid that. The entire genre is very repetitious in plotting (obviously) and Garwood love a nice, obvious subplot involving court intrigue. Generally, I skip ahead to get back to the romance. It’s really what I’m looking for and she does a good job with it. I’m actually not a big fan of the Laird/Highlander genre. I prefer the cynical bastards; they are generally witty, charming and fiercely intelligent, and I like that in a sexually-objectified man.
I’ve already started reading my next book Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught. I loved it when I was 20 and expect I will love it again now. It features a gambling roué named Ian Thornton, rumoured to be the illegitimate grandson of the Duke of Stanhope.
If you want an actual realistic “it takes ages to get out of the layers and layers of clothing” historical romance, read Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase, where she makes a point at detailing just how many items of clothing ladies wore. It’s by no means one of Chase’s best novels, but I love it because of that one scene.
Ooooh, thank you!
I’ve always loved that Reformed Rake fellow. I haven’t read a romance novel in quite some time, but there was a period in high school where that was just about all I read. And you’re right, they’re all the same! But that’s why we like them. We know exactly what we’re going to get.
My mom had all of Johanna Lindsey’s books, so of course I read them, too. She does Reformed Rake really well just FYI.
I had to come back and say I tried a a Lindsey on the weekend. It was, even by the remarkably low standards I have for these things, awful. And tepid. And high school-ish. So much for her being too much for me.
I’m familiar with Joanna Lindsey from my high school reading days, but she was a little to rough for my delicate sensibilities. I have read a lot of Julie Garwood and Judith McNaught, and most Kathleen Woodiwiss back in the day; in fact, I went back and read A Rose in Winter (Woodiwiss) last week, and although it mondered on too long as those books do, the male lead (Reformed Rake) was still delicious, as is the hero of the book I am inhaling now. It seems my tastes haven’t changed.
Mr. Julien is having a field day asking things like “and how is the Laird today?”. My retort yesterday was that I’d moved on to a charming cynical bastard and he is spectacular.
I’ve read all the Woodiwiss books as well. Actually, since most of the books I read were my mother’s, I’m way more familiar with 80s and 90s romance authors than I am with contemporary ones.
Then we are on the same page. I have no idea who the current writers are. The challenge with Woodiwiss is making sure you avoid the rapey ones.
I’ve read about 8 romance novels in the past two weeks. That’s more than I’ve read in the last 10 years combined. I was even going to bring the current one to work today to read at lunch. I never do that and I am so disappointed with myself for leaving it on the dining room table.
This just had me laughing out loud at my desk. I think my favorite is the clenched jaw.
There’s also a lot of “leashed” things as a rule: passion, anger, tempers.
EXCELLENT review. You hit all the points that bug me when I read a romance novel. And yet I still read them. The problem is that the good ones are SO much fun that I keep hunting for another good one. Even though most are so terrible they give me douche chills.
I love me some angry Scottish laird – if you haven’t read them the MacCarrick trilogy (Kresley Cole) are a lot of fun. Clenching jaw, flashing eyes, hot tan bodies (how do they get so tan? when exactly do noble men get outside to maintain their hot tans? sunbathing in the garden perchance?). Loretta Chase is fun (and the covers have retained some excellent 80s cheese). Jean Ross Ewing is also good (she likes the reformed rake/tortured hero types).
Anybody else have some good recommendations?
I’m going to stick with cynical bastards for a while. I’m going to have a Judith McNaught review up tomorrow.
I’m a huge fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Lots of angry Scots in it!
“The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting ‘Scrooge McDuck’ comics.”—Salon.com