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Julie-Garwood

REVIEW: The Bride by Julie Garwood

REVIEW: The Bride by Julie Garwood

Dear Ms. Garwood:

Back in 2006, Jayne and I wrote a few reviews of our all time favorite books.  We primarily read and review “new to us” books whether those are new publications or recently republished backlist titles.  Because of that, our archives are thin as it pertains to the books which might considered modern romance classics.  The holidays are a perfect time to remedy that.

the bride by julie garwood 1989 cover“The Bride” is one of my most often read books.  I purchased it new in 1989 and proceeded to read it so many times that the spine fell apart.  When Penguin (who apparently must have bought Garwood’s digital backlist titles after they reverted from her original publisher, Pocket) began rolling out the release of new titles, I snapped up my copy.  At $5.99, I felt like I was getting a real bargain.

 

Jamie is the youngest daughter of Baron Jamison who owes the crown money. To pay his debt he offers two of his daughters to marry two Scottish Lairds to help cement a peace between Scotland and England.

In many ways, this is a twist on the Cinderella story. Jamie’s mother came to Baron Jamison with Jamie quickening in the belly. Jamison treats Jamie as his own. But Jamie pays for her place in the family by working.  When her mother died, Jamie slowly but steadily took over the mistress duties and her father let her. Jamie’s hands are calloused and her step-sisters are not. She runs the keep, manages the finances, and ensures that the family has a home over their head. What saves Jamie from coming off as a pained martyr is she is portrayed as not only embracing her role as doyenne of the keep, but welcoming it. She doesn’t see herself as being used or abused by her family. When she is taken to Scotland and instructed to rest, she believes that her new husband isn’t valuing her.

The fairy godmother might be the stablemaster, Beak, a Scot himself who views the Scottish Lairds appearance at Baron Jamison’s keep as a way to give Jamie a new and better life.  He confronts the two Scottish Lairds, Alec Kincaid and Daniel Ferguson, and tells them that the Baron Jamison treats his daughters like his horses:

Baron Jamison treats his daughters just like his horses and that’s a fact. Only have a look around you and you’ll get my meaning soon enough. The pretty little ladies in these three stalls are for the baron’s daughters, right there for anyone to see. But if you’ll walk down this long corridor and turn the bend, you’ll see another stall hidden away in the far corner by the side door. It’s separated from the others. That’s where the baron keeps his beauty, a magnificent white pretty just waiting for a proper mating.

Jamie is beautiful, a wonder at healing, capable of managing a huge keep, able to tame the wildest of horses.  Yet, for all her perfection, she is somehow relatable.  She doesn’t view herself as beautiful and every other skill she has she deems without much value.  She acts as if she is ordinary even if those around her view her otherwise.

Alec Kincaid is a fierce warrior who is only taking an English Bride to appease his King.  His first wife killed herself and The Kincaid, as they call him, views a wife with as much interest as he has for his horse.  Despite Jamie’s beauty, her strong defense of her family, and her winsome manner, Alec still is intent on placing Jamie firmly in the wife category, much to Jamie’s dismay.

Jamie doesn’t allow Alec to walk over her. Her strong personality and the rightness she feels in her own beliefs impel her to challenge him: “Alec, if I’m not any good at kissing, it’s your fault, not mine. Maybe you aren’t any good, either. What think you of that possibility?”

Neither Jamie nor Alec change much in the story.  Their character arcs are subtle.  Jamie begins to see her self worth shouldn’t be tied up in how much work she does for others.  Alec’s insistence on holding himself emotionally apart softens when he falls in love with Jamie.  In a true melding of the best of both worlds, Jamie’s deliberate refusal to understand the intricacies of clan feuds highlights the ridiculous nature of some of them but she also comes to understand the fierce loyalty the clan system invoked.  Robin once said that the key to a captivity narrative is that the captive changes the captor and his people in some measurable fashion.  “The Bride” exemplifies this.  Jamie is taken from her home, a forced Bride, and changes Alec and his people by adopting the best of their culture and melding in her own sensibilities to create a more harmonious life for everyone.

“The Bride” features classic Garwood tropes. The inept but beautiful heroine (usually English). The stoic, long suffering Scottish Laird who must marry to protect his people but has no intention of caring for the lass. The reluctant clan that is won over by the heroine’s dogged attempts to fit in. Humorous gags that repeat themselves throughout the book. In “The Bride,” it is Jamie’s poor sense of direction and her name.

“I’ve been in England too long,” he admitted, “else I’d find your arguments overbearing, wife.”

“Will you quit calling me ‘wife’? I have a name. Can you not call me Jamie?”

“It’s a man’s name.”

She wanted to throttle him. “It’s my name.”

“We’ll find another.”

“We will not.”

and

“It isn’t decent to touch like this in front of others, Alec.”

“It isn’t?”

She ignored the amusement in his voice. “No, it isn’t,” she repeated. “And my name is Jamie. You’ve still to say it, Alec.”

“It’s a man’s name.”

“Are we back to that?”

“Aye, we are.”

and

“Did you say your name was Jane?”

“No, it’s Jamie,” she instructed.

She nodded when Gavin continued to look confused.

The soldier turned to Alec and blurted out, “But that’s a man’s name.”

Throughout the text, “that’s a man’s name” is a repeated refrain, always interjected at just the right moment to provide comedic relief.  The use of repetitive phrases and motifs are not limited to humor. In the first sex scene between Jamie and Alec, the phrase “Not yet” is traded back and forth between the two, first used by Alec to signal that he isn’t ready to put an end to their activities and her introduction to intimacy and then by Jamie to inform Alec that she isn’t ready to stop.

Another writerly technique that is employed very effectively is the cliffhanger chapter endings matched by startling chapter beginnings.  Chapter One starts with “They said he killed his first wife” and ends with “Still? it would make the kill so much sweeter.  Chapter Three ends with:

“It will be a frigid day in heaven before I marry you, milord, a frigid day indeed.”

“You’ve just described the Highlands in winter, lass. And you will marry me.”

“Never.”

Exactly one hour later, Lady Jamison was wed to Alec Kincaid.

and Chapter Five begins with “She wore black to her wedding.”  There are no wasted scenes in this book.  Every word that is stated by the characters is important in either building the characters or advancing the plot.  The use of repetition is done with obvious intent and not because of a writerly tic.

Probably nothing in this book is historically accurate, but I care not.  As Jayne famously recited in her review of “The Raven Prince” by Elizabeth Hoyt: “I so believed in the romance and the world you’d created between these two that if you’d told me they got into a Range Rover and drove off into the sunset on the M25 I would have nodded and said “of course, that’s the perfect vehicle for Jock to fit into”. That is how I feel about “The Bride” and a whole series of historicals written by you.  A

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW: The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood

REVIEW: The Ideal Man by Julie Garwood

Dear Ms. Garwood:

This review of Lion’s Lady posted at Smart Bitches is fomenting a desire to reread your backlist (I liked Guardian Angel a bit more than Lion’s Lady). However your latest release is a contemporary. The Ideal Man is a solid entry into the Garwood bibliography but I still long for the magic that resonated in the historicals.

The Ideal Man by Julie GarwoodEllie Sullivan is finishing a surgery fellowship at St. Vincent’s Hospital in St. Louis. Like all Garwood heroines, she’s well beloved, a prodigy, and beautiful. (This is actually as rare as a unicorn. I was told by one beautiful woman, a bit bitterly, that it is better to be pretty because few women want to be friends with a truly beautiful woman because she’s just too much temptation. I don’t know if that is true, but she was so beautiful that even I couldn’t take my eyes off her the entire dinner!) But as much as Ellie loves her position and her work, her life isn’t all rainbows and Care Bears.

Ellie’s sister, Ava, is marrying Ellie’s former fiance soon. A man who had abducted her as a twelve year old is rumored to be in town and then Ellie inadvertently becomes entangled in an FBI sting in a park while running and sees an FBI agent shot. Ellie may have seen the faces of the Landrys, a couple that the FBI have been tracking.

Agent Max Daniels is investigating the Landrys. While he shouldn’t be romancing a witness, that doesn’t prevent him from taking her out. Believability is a biggest problem in this book but seriously who reads Garwood books for believability and accuracy? We read them (and enjoy them) because of the characters. The strength lies in the rapport between Max and Ellie. It’s classic Garwood relationship conflict. Max, shaken by his attraction toward Ellie, treats her brusquely much to the amusement of everyone around him. Regardless, he is going to pursue Ellie:

Max started to pull the door closed but stopped abruptly. He stood for a second as though weighing his thoughts before saying, “Are there any good restaurants around here?”

“If you like Italian, you should go to The Hill. There’s a great restaurant called The Trellis. You’ll love it. It’s casual dress. You’ll see everything from suits to shorts.”

“Okay. I’ll pick you up at seven tomorrow night.”

He shut the door before she had time to react.

“Wait…what?”

I also found that Ellie was a sharper, sassier heroine that I’ve read in the past in Garwood books and a little arrogant (as Ellie points out she has to be confident in her abilities to be a successful surgeon):

She crossed one leg over the other and noticed he was noticing. They were at a stop sign, but he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to move on.

“When you’re finished checking out my legs, turn left.”

And there is some good humor. After Max spends the entire time discussing the case with Ellie over dinner and scaring her (two witnesses have gone missing and one was killed in a hit and run), he realizes that it might not have been the best dinner date conversation:

Determined to change her mood, he said, “Tell me something.”

“Yes?”

“On a scale of one to ten, how’s the date going so far?”

But all the good dialogue and good characterization fades when we read scenes from the bad guys point of view because it swings the focus back onto the weak parts of the story: the unbelieveable mystery/suspense, a bad court scene, and Ellie’s personal conflict with her family. Too much time was spent away from Max and Ellie.

It wasn’t enough that Ellie’s life was put in danger by one crazy set of people (the Landrys), but she had to be in danger from the former abductor. Further, Ellie’s amazing capacity to forgive her family for slights was a little incredible. She figured that because she had been abducted and because she had been a prodigy, she had caused her family enough pain. Further, she even was separated from her family because of the abduction. I already liked Ellie as the smart-brained and smart-mouth competent surgeon. I didn’t need her to be totally isolated, treated like shit by her sister (the same sister who slept with Ellie’s fiance after the 2 days of acquaintance), and in constant danger for her to be sympathetic.

There were very few scenes from Max’s point of view, leaving me feeling like I barely knew him. I knew he was an FBI agent and that he came from a big loving family. I knew he lived in Honolulu and that he enjoyed his job. But what made Max an individual remained a mystery at the end of the book.

I almost felt like this book would have worked better as a straight up contemporary versus a romantic suspense. We would have gotten more of the relationship scenes and more of Max’s point of view – all of the good stuff. C

Best regards,

Jane

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