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REVIEW: The Reluctant Nude by Meg Maguire

REVIEW: The Reluctant Nude by Meg Maguire

Readers please note: I found it difficult to discuss what did and didn’t work for me in this book without revealing SPOILERS. While the biggest spoiler is hidden, there are other spoilers visible in the review. — Janine

Dear Ms. Maguire,

Last year, after Jane reviewed it, I read and enjoyed your erotic novella, Willing Victim, written under your Cara McKenna pen name. When your contemporary romance The Reluctant Nude was released recently, I heard good things about it and picked it up, hoping it would have the same freshness and fine characterization of Willing Victim.

reluctant nude	Meg MaguireThe Reluctant Nude opens with Fallon Frost arriving at a studio in Nova Scotia. The studio belongs to M.L. Emery, a famous and reclusive classical sculptor, and Fallon is the model for a commissioned sculpture. Fallon has been coerced into modeling in the nude for Emery by Donald Forrester, the millionaire who commissioned the sculpture, and her reluctance to pose doesn’t help her feel better about the man who will be sculpting her naked body. Fallon quickly discovers that Max Emery is French-born, younger and better looking than she supposed, and that he rubs her the wrong way.

Max is perceptive enough to realize something’s not quite right about Fallon’s presence in his studio when it’s clear she’d rather not be there, but since he’s not aware of the details of her arrangement with Forrester (these aren’t revealed to readers for quite some time, either), he doesn’t know the extent of it. Still, he’s concerned enough that despite the fact that he stands to make $700,000 on the commission from Forrester, Max decides to unsettle and discomfit Fallon to encourage her to leave.

Eventually Max realizes that whatever her motives, Fallon will stick it out in his studio, and at that point he starts to befriend her (Incidentally I wish I’d been shown how he arrived at this epiphany instead of the story skipping forward in time and thus glossing over it). It’s far from the end of Fallon’s trials, though, because Max’s creative process involves getting to know her on a deeper level than Fallon wants to be known by a man who will be sculpting her for someone she despises. But Fallon is drawn to Max and Max to Fallon, and of course, the complications resulting from the way their relationship begins don’t make the course of their romance a smooth road.

You make some daring choices with the hero in this book and I applaud them. It’s not every day you see a French-born sculptor given a central role in a romance (Nardi in Judy Cuevas’ Bliss is the only other one I can think of). It was really interesting to read about Max’s work and the way it had affected his life. And I loved the little nods to his nationality such as his love of red wine, his European sneakers and his soccer shirt.

However… Max was said to speak with a pronounced French accent despite the fact that he left France for England at age thirteeen. Thankfully, you convey his French accent with syntax only, but since I am a non-native speaker of English who didn’t learn to speak it fluently until almost age twelve myself, I still thought Max’s English was far too French-sounding given his background. An explanation for this was given eventually, but I found it only partially convincing, and wished it had been provided sooner because I spent a good chunk of the book irritated by the French syntax in his speech.

The early parts of the book didn’t draw me in that much because initially, Fallon was understandably reluctant to pose for Max, and the nature of Max’s work was such that it seemed to require him to violate her boundaries over and over by asking personal questions and insisting that she allow him to touch her, on top of the fact that she had to remove her clothes.

I don’t know enough about sculpting to have any concept of whether or not these are common practices among members of this profession, but like Fallon, I resented Max’s constant intrusiveness in the beginning. At the same time, I thought Fallon was unfair to Max in making snap judgments about everything from his motives for sculpting scarred people to his sex life. Fallon’s prickliness got on my nerves at first almost as much as Max’s disregard for her need to maintain her personal space.

The middle of the book was much better because this was where trust and understanding developed between them and it was clear that Max was falling hard for Fallon even before Fallon herself recognized it. Max, who began the book by annoying me with his paternalistic attempt to drive Fallon away for her own good revealed himself to be such an endearing, good hearted, lonely soul that all the reservations I’d had about him went out the window.

Max’s past was a painful one, and when he opened up to Fallon despite all his vulnerability, I could see how much he wanted not just sex, but closeness, from her. Also, his lovemaking. Fallon had some issues with sex and being touched and even though I’m not usually a fan of books in which the heroine at almost thirty has never been satisfied in bed before and yet she gets over this problem in one night, it worked for me better in this book than it typically does because Max was such a generous lover as well as because Fallon’s feelings – a mixture of desire and insecurity — were so well portrayed. This section of the book was mesmerizing partly because being able to respond to Max physically was such a personal triumph for Fallon.

Given Fallon’s issues, as well as Max’s good looks and fame, I totally got why Fallon felt out of her league with him in so many ways, and was afraid to give him her heart. Max and Fallon have some things in common in their pasts, but Fallon doesn’t share the events of her childhood with Max until very late in the book. Once I learned about the commonalities between them, I understood even more clearly why Fallon had been so drawn to Max, and why she felt that he was the one man who could break through her shell.

However, it was harder for me to fathom why Max would be so completely enchanted with the closed and rather prickly Fallon. In the absence of knowing about and understanding the events that shaped her, what was it about Fallon that made her the first and only woman Max had ever fallen for? He was such a loving person that it was hard to envision him not making a connection sooner, with someone less difficult to connect with than Fallon.

I found the ending frustrating because while Max makes a wonderfully romantic grand gesture, we weren’t shown how Max and Fallon negotiated their differences with regard to the futures they wanted for themselves.

[spoiler]Max really wanted a child, and Fallon wasn’t sure she wanted children. Instead of showing how this was worked out, the book simply skipped some years into the future to an epilogue in which they had a child. I felt this gave short shrift to how huge a choice starting a family can be. It isn’t for everyone, and Fallon’s resistance felt so real to me that I needed more than a grand gesture to explain her turnaround.
[/spoiler]

You made the characters in this book feel so real, their attraction palpable and the challenges their relationship faced felt substantial. I loved that about it, and I especially grew to adore Max. I also loved the specificity of details in your writing. Things like the quiet Nova Scotia setting, Max’s studio with its diversity of windows, Fallon’s co-ownership of a house with her best friend, served to make the story distinct. When Max and Fallon went on a date, I didn’t feel that I was reading what could be any couple’s date. When they made love, I felt that I was reading about something truly intimate between these two distinct, specific people.

Which is why, despite the stumbling blocks that kept me from loving this book, I’m not sorry I read it.
C/C+.

Sincerely,

Janine

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REVIEW: The Same Last Name by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

REVIEW: The Same Last Name by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

Dear Ms. Seidel,

th_037316002XYour 1983 category, The Same Last Name, begins when three cars arrive at New York State’s Frank Lake State Park. One of the park’s forest rangers, twenty-five year old April Ramsey, greets the man who registers this group of six visitors. April directs the tourist to the best campsites for a group that size, and he gives her a list of the six visitors’ names and the telephone number of the law firm where all six work.

After the man leaves, April passes the list to a co-worker, Faith, and Faith calls April’s attention to the fact that one of the other lawyers shares April’s last name. April freezes in her tracks, because she and Christopher D. Ramsey III have more than their last name in common. The two used to be married.

At age eighteen, April was a bubbly, popular cheerleader from a small Virginia town. But she had never held a job, cooked, cleaned, or kept abreast of the news. April’s mother wanted her daughter to be popular and happy, and she did not prepare her daughter to cope with hardship.

When April began dating twenty-two year old Christopher Ramsey, the town’s most eligible young bachelor, her mother abruptly stopped supervising her. An infatuated April slept with Christopher one night when her mother was out of town and became pregnant, as her mother had hoped, and Christopher did the honorable thing and married her.

But although April was in love with Christopher, Christopher did not return her feelings. He was polite and reserved, gentlemanly, but outside of the marriage bed there was no real closeness between them. April had a difficult delivery and her baby girl was stillborn. While recovering, she overheard Christopher’s father speaking to a friend about the possibility of having Christopher’s marriage to April annulled.

Since she did not want to keep Christopher tied to her when he didn’t love her, April took off without telling him where she was going, leaving a note which said that she could be contacted through her minister. She took a bus to Buffalo, got a waitressing job and enrolled in a community college. She majored in forestry, and later became a ranger.

During the years she was in school, letters from Christopher arrived, but April returned them unopened and refused to take his money. She did sign the divorce papers he eventually sent. April learned to support herself and acquired the self-sufficiency she had not had when she married Christopher.

Seven years after their first meeting, Christopher has arrived at the park with his coworkers for a two-week stay, and April realizes she will run into him sooner or later, so she goes to his campsite to say hello. Christopher is shocked to see April, and at first he views her as the same young girl he once married.

April eventually realizes that Christopher is carrying a lot of guilt for the way he caused her life to change course. As they gradually begin to get to know each other again, it becomes clear that Christopher has worried for April all these years, and he still worries for her. He wants to help her find a better situation. But for April, it is important that Christopher recognize that she has matured and changed, and that she is capable of taking care of herself.

The Same Last Name is a story of how two people learn to make peace with their past, let go of old mistakes, and rediscover each other as mature adults.

At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like Christopher, mainly because he got April pregnant when she was only eighteen and unsure of herself. But as the story progressed, and it became clear that he was tortured with guilt over what April had suffered, I did start liking him. He was a responsible man who would not allow himself to be happy, and had even left Virginia because of what had happened there. I came to want him to find a way to let the sadness of the past go.

Christopher’s lawyer friends were an interesting bunch. My favorite was probably Josh, an empathetic man with a card or two up his sleeve. My least favorite was Julia, who played the role of the scheming “other woman,” and tried to maneuver things so that she would appear in a good light and April in a less flattering one. I liked that toward the end of the book we saw another side to Julia, but I wish that her complexity had been hinted at sooner.

But the star of the book was April. One of the things I love about your heroines is that they are so capable and self-reliant. April was younger and more vulnerable than some of them, but I loved the way it was important to her to prove her competence. She had worked hard to become her own person, and I admired the way that, despite her feelings for Christopher, she held on to her sense of self.

My biggest complaint about The Same Last Name is that it is written largely from April’s viewpoint. Although April has a lot of insights into Christopher’s feelings, I would have liked to know when and how he fell in love with April, and that did not come across to me.

But despite this, and although it is not as complex as some of your single titles or your category Mirrors and Mistakes, The Same Last Name is a wholly absorbing book. Considering that it is twenty-six years old, the book holds up remarkably well. The main characters are sympathetic and multidimensional, the natural park setting comes alive, and nearly everything feels real. I almost always close your books feeling that I have consumed something nourishing and satisfying, and that was very much the case with this one. B.

Sincerely,

Janine

This book can be purchased at Amazon used as it is out of print. No ebook format.