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REVIEW: The Secret by Julie Garwood

Dear Jayne:

My dear blogging partner, you may not be aware of this, since you are not a Garwood lover like me, but her first historical in approximately 7 years is to be released in just a couple of months. It has prompted me to do a bit of re-reading of some older Garwood releases.

Book CoverI started with The Secret and I tried to look at it with a critical eye. I know that the complaint some level toward her books is that they lack a certain historical realism. It reads authentically to me. They wear plaids which I didn’t realize until lately wasn’t recorded as Highlander attire until about 1560. This book is set in 1181. But I swear that there isn’t any faux Highlander dialect. Okay, maybe a lass or five here and there, but no dinnae’s and couldnae’s.

Fortunately for me, though, I can overlook the historical missteps and appreciate “The Secret” for the story.

Lady Judith Hampton, an English girl, and Frances Catherine Kirkcaldy, a Lowlander Scottish girl, met when they were four and began a lifelong friendship that withstood separation and racial emnity. As the very first sentence begins “They became friends before they were old enough to understand they were supposed to hate each other.”

Frances Catherine’s mother and her grandmother both died during birthing. When it came time for Frances Catherine to give birth, she calls in the promise her husband made to her when they wed – to fetch Judith from England. Patrick, her husband, must petition the Council for permission to bring an Englishwoman into their midst.

His brother, Iain, is the clan’s Laird, but he serves in an advisory position to the Council and must use advocacy to sway the five members to his side. The clan’s ruling structure is a source of infinite frustration for Iain. He wants power to act, rather than to have to use pretty language to convince each Council member to give approval. In the end, though, it is determined that Patrick’s word must be kept, because “Only the English break their pledges . . .not the Scots.”

Iain and four warriors travel to England to fetch Judith Hampton, ready to take her by force because they don’t believe she is willingly going to come to Frances Catherine’s aid.

Not only is Judith willing to go, “She was waiting on her doorstep.” Since Frances got married, Judith has scoured the English countryside for information about mid-wifery to save her best friend and awaits the opportunity to assist Frances. Ironically, when Judith is given the chance to assist another clanswoman, she is horribly frightened. She admits that the most she planned to do was pat Frances Catherine’s back, let the midwives do the work and give suggestions. “Oh God, how arrogant I am,” she admits.

Iain is one of those tremendously rigid Garwood heroes who doesn’t know what to do around women, having been used to ordering men around, proceeds to order Judith around. Of course, Judith never obeys. It isn’t that Iain is being intentionally high handed, he simply doesn’t know any other way to interact. In response to Judith’s dismay over having to be a midwife, Iain responds:

“No matter how horrible this birthing was, in time you’ll get over it.” She looked up at him with the most astonished expression on her face. He nodded to let her know he meant what he’d just said. “That’s an order, Judith, and you will obey it.”

Judith, of course, won’t obey him because she thinks his demands are a bit unreasonable.

You told me I’d be under Patrick’s protection,” she reminded him. “Therefore, he would be responsible for me, Iain, not you.”

“Yes,” he agreed. “But I’m laird and Patrick therefore answers to me. Now do you understand?”

She pulled her hand away. “I understand you think that both you and Patrick can give me orders,” she replied. “That’s what I understand.”
. . .

“Judith, I won’t allow insolence.”

His voice was soft and without a hint of anger in it. He’d simply made a statement of fact. She responded in kind. “I wasn’t being insolent,” she said. “At least not on purpose.”

Her sincerity was very apparent. He nodded, satisfied. Then he tried to explain her position again. “While you’re on my land, you will obey my orders, because ultimately I’m responsible for you. Do you understand?”

“I understand you’re sinfully possessive,” she replied. “And Lord, I am weary of this conversation.”

and she’s not above twitting his unreasonable demands.

“Iain, may I please speak to you in private for just a moment?” Judith asked.


Judith wasn’t daunted. There was more than one way to flay a fish. “Patrick?”

“Yes, Judith?”

“I have need to speak to your laird in private. Would you arrange it please?”

Patrick looked as though she’d lost her senses. Judith let out a sigh. She tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “I’m following the chain of command around here. I’m supposed to ask you and you’re supposed to ask the laird.”

The title suggests that the story is about secrets and it does have something to do with those. Judith and Frances Catherine know each other’s secrets, even ones that could cause the other terrible harm. Their absolute trust in each other allows these secrets to be shared. Iain wants that same trust from Judith but recognizes overtime, that some things can’t be ordered.

The Secret is classic Garwood. The narrative portions are sometimes flat, but her humor and wit show through in nearly every dialogue exchange. I marked so many passages in my re-reading that if I quoted them all in this letter, it would take you days to read. In fact, you should probably just read the book. Oh, I know you won’t. Garwood is just not to your taste. I don’t mind that but I also hope you don’t mind that I waxed rhapsodic about an old favorite.

Chat with you soon,


This 1992 book is still in print and can be purchased at

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Sally
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 15:38:23

    After reading this review, I want to reread all of Garwood.

  2. Jill Myles
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 15:47:20

    I freakin’ love Garwood. THE SECRET is one of her best. And I don’t know how inaccurate the ‘plaid’ thing is. The tartan/kilt actually didn’t come in to play until about 1500-1600 or so, but the research I’ve done shows that men wrapped themselves in an earlier version of some sort of plaid. Now, if this precedes 1300 or so, I’d be surprised. But I’m giving Julie a bit of leeway because I FREAKIN’ LOVE HER.

    She’s the only author I go total gaga fangirl over.

  3. Donna
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 15:49:30

    I love Julie Garwood’s historicals!!! I am so happy she has written a new one. I’ve read all the historicals over and over again; I’ve only read her contemporaries once.

    I don't know why but the contemporaries aren't as fun as the historicals.

  4. Donna
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 15:52:52

    Oh, read The Prize… it was the BEST!!!

  5. Holly
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 16:48:11

    Aww, you made me want to do a re-read, too. I love JG’s historicals. Too bad I can’t say the same for her contemps. Blech.

  6. Collette
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 17:17:48

    Hey Jane–you’ve made this sound very tempting. And, as I am an immediate gratification girl, I was searching for the ebook with no success. Do you know where I might find it?

  7. Jane
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 17:22:00

    Collette – You know I meant to research that issue before this posted and forgot. I looked it up though and it appear only her contemps are in ebook form. Weirdness.

  8. Collette
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 17:26:10

    Thanks for the info–at least I’m not missing something right in front of my face which, frankly, has been the case all day.

  9. Sarah McCarty
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 17:26:53

    There is nothing as good as a Garwood historical. Sigh!

  10. Jayne
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 18:31:17

    Oh Jane, you write these reviews that tempt me to see if maybe, just maybe, I might find a Garwood to like. And then I remember my responses to the one I finished and the one I tried. Blech, shudder, gah.

    But wax rhapsodicly away. I know you love her.

  11. Stacy S
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 18:49:23

    When I first started reading romance, The Secret and The Gift were really the first ones I read and liked ( and have been hooked ever since). I’m one of those people that even like her contemps.

  12. Charlene Teglia
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 19:01:49

    I love her historicals. I can’t wait for the new one!

  13. Angela James
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 19:33:11

    Oh God, I swear I’ve read this book at least thirty times, no lie. It’s my favorite Garwood but I do love me some Garwood (err…historical Garwood, not contemporary Garwood). I also love Saving Grace nearly as much. *sigh* Now I must re-read The Secret

  14. Nalini Singh
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 21:14:43

    I’m another one who loves Julie Garwood’s historicals! Do you have any more info on the new historical? There’s info about Shadow Music on her website but it sounds like a contemp from the description.

  15. Anne
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 21:27:51

    I recently discovered Garwood’s historicals and while I like the highlanders, I don’t care much for the regencies. And now that I’ve read all her highlanders and loved them all, I’m moving on to highlanders from other authors. if anyone has any recommendations, feel free to drop me an email. :-)

  16. sula
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 21:54:07

    When I started to seriously get into romance novels whilst in college, Julie Garwood was my go-to gal. I think I read every single historical she had written. Multiple times. And this book was one of my favorites. I recently reread some of her stuff and found that the regencies did not hold up very well (at least for me). But I still have a soft spot in my heart for the highland tales, even though if you read them all in a rush, you’ll spot the cliches. The heroine is always a little ditzy and with some sort of endearing quirk, the hero strong and “rational”, the clan suspicious of the outsider, there’s usually one good girlfriend, and of course a sidekick for the hero who gets the next book, etc. BUT despite that, they’re still highly readable and enjoyable. I’m looking forward to Ms. Garwood’s return to historicals. :)

  17. Jill Myles
    Oct 22, 2007 @ 21:56:05

    Jayne, I found that her early historicals (Gentle Warrior, Honour’s Splendour) weren’t as well written as her later ones. Her medievals are indeed her best ones – THE BRIDE, THE WEDDING (I almost wrote that as the ‘weeding’), THE SECRET, and RANSOM.

    Julie Garwood is one of my yearly re-reads – I’ve probably read all of hers at least a dozen or more times. They stand up better to the test of time than Judith McNaught’s books do for me (though I still love me some Judith McNaught with some crazee love too).

    Sigh. I could go on forever about the greatness of Julie Garwood.

  18. Jayne
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 06:34:10

    Alas Jill, THE BRIDE is the one Garwood I managed to get through. And I hated it. I tried one of her westerns and couldn’t even finish it.

  19. Casee
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 10:04:42

    Jane, that is so funny b/c I just finished re-reading The Secret last night then started Ransom. LOL.

    I love JG’s historicals. Like you, I tended to be a little more critical this time around, but I still loved it. I just hope the upcoming historical will be up to par with her past historicals.

  20. drbs_tweeti
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 10:55:58

    I love JG….I remember reading them a long time ago, when I first started reading romance. Now, I’m making it a practice to buy them all at the local used book store…and I’ve fallen in love with her work again!!

  21. Susan/DC
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 11:53:30

    I’m sort of in between on Garwood: she’s one of the first romance authors I read and I liked her medievals at the time, although I never much cared for the Regencies (the heroines were a bit too perfect). “The Secret” was in fact one of my favorites, with “Honor’s Splendor” another. However, over time I liked the Garwoods less and less, and they all began to blend into one another. What I can’t understand is why the same phenomenon in Amanda Quick forms the basis of comfort read but in Garwood spells boredom. Of course, as my family and friends will attest, totally irrational and contradictory reactions are not entirely unknown in my personality.

  22. raspberry swyrl
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 12:24:12

    I tihnk Garwood is like a warm fuzzy blanket sort of like JAK. You can re-read them over and over again and it’s all very comfortable….

  23. Shannon C.
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 14:30:24

    I’ll be over here with you in the does not get Garwood corner. I know that her books sound very much like books I *should* like, so it makes me sad that I’ve never quite made it through any of them.

  24. Keishon
    Oct 23, 2007 @ 15:14:55

    Well, Jayne is not alone. I don’t get the appeal of Garwood and I’ve tried reading her several times as well. However, I did read and like Saving Grace but her humor and her appeal continues to elude me.

  25. Karen P
    Oct 24, 2007 @ 16:29:46

    Great book! Don’t forget Ransom, it’s the follow up (but not really a sequal, can be read in any order) to this book. It too is great. My other fav’s by Garwood is Honors Splendor and The Gift. I haven’t read a bad Garwood historical yet, but some hit the spot a bit more than others. I too am looking foward to her new historical. I hear it is based on characters we meet in Secret and Ransom.

  26. Pam
    Nov 01, 2007 @ 12:55:16

    I think my all time favorite book of hers is The Wedding. I’ve also read and reread all of her books. Does anyone know of another author who has her highland style? I’ve read several books by different authors but haven’t found one who can compare to JG. Any suggestions?

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