REVIEW: The Same Last Name by Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Dear Ms. Seidel,
Your 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.
This book can be purchased at Amazon used as it is out of print. No ebook format.
Oh! Oh! Oh! I remember reading this! (Used, sometime in the first half of the nineties…) I still remember some of the plot… towels were a part of the courtship… he admired that she had muscle tone… and they were hanging paintings in the end…
Now I wanna reread!
Janine, I do appreciate how generous was your spirit when you picked up THE SAME LAST NAME. I love the book because it was my first and I am proud of the setting, but some of the things in it make me cringe. April’s mother setting her up to get pregnant? Please. In early 80s we were very careful to make our heroines as blameless as possible. It made the heroines child-like. At least I put this incident far enough in the past that we could see April growing up.
And as you said, the character of Julia is a cliche. Yes, I did try to justify her bitchiness as a need for control resulting from the fact that her ex-husband had abused her, but I added that scene when I was increasing my word count to fit into the newly announced Harlequin American Romance line. I didn’t go back and layer that element into everything she did.
I know that this book did bring many people great pleasure (and no one more than me), and I’m reassured that it hasn’t dated as much as I thought it had. But, Ms. Bookjunkie, you might be better off remembering the book than rereading it.
All the best,
I love KGS’s books, and I think this may have been the first one I read. I gotta go find my copies and read them all again too.
I didn’t know this was the first! I don’t have all Kathy Seidel’s books, but I have a lot of them. What is the name of the one where she gets an antique brush and comb set and the bristles are replaced? I keep looking for it but with that as a clue, I can’t find the title.
Treva, that’s Mirrors and Mistakes.
It’s a hard title to remember; I appreciate that you remember the book.
I’m not sure what happened with this review. I don’t think it posted on the 16th as it was originally scheduled to and I didn’t get any of the comments emailed to me until the last one. In any case I just updated the date in wordpress since if I’m not mistaken it only posted today.
To reply (belatedly) to comments, I almost always find this author’s (Hi, Ms. Seidel!) books completely absorbing, even when they aren’t perfect. There’s just something deeply satisfying about them, and I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is. But I think it has to do with the way the main characters feel so real and multi-dimensional, and also, the quiet build up to a happy ending. I always feel the characters are gradually evolving before my eyes, maturing and completing their journeys. I love that about the books. So it’s easy to have a generous spirit when reviewing them; even an early effort like this one has those satisfying qualities.
And Treva, Mirrors and Mistakes is a favorite of at least three DA reviewers (myself, Robin/Janet and Jennie).
Ms. Seidel, that’s a good point about April’s mother but you know, some of those 1980s books have enough going for them to make them worth reading despite the dated elements, and I felt that way about this one.
Since you are reading this, I have a couple of questions for you: (A) Any chance that you might return to writing romance? And (B) Ever thought about e-publishing that unpublished circus-set romance that you mentioned in your AAR interview? I know I would buy it!
Not to nitpick, but unless he forced himself on her it’s not true that “Christopher got April pregnant”. Christopher and April got April pregnant. Given that she was 18 and a legal adult I don’t think it’s accurate to hold him solely responsible for the pregnancy.
I got all tingly when I read what you were reviewing. My KGS books are in my bedside cupboard next to my Beverly Sommers’. Not parting with them, ever.
Hmm, LoriK. He didn’t force himself on her but he didn’t give her a lot of time to think about what was happening either. She wasn’t totally comfortable with going to bed with him but she went along with it because she was really in love with him. Since he wasn’t in love with her, and was the older and more experienced one, I felt it was an unequal situation, enough so that I saw it as him getting her pregnant.
Yep, I really love Mirrors and Mistakes. Also the one (something about stars? – I’m blanking on the title) with the rock star hero and the heroine whose is the sister of his bandmate.
Thanks for the intriguing review, Janine – I think I may have to pick this one up.
I read this way back then – I subscribed to the HAM and SD and M+B by post. They would arrive on the same day and I would have to catch a taxi into work. I took them with me “just in case” my evening/night as a computer operator could be made to release a little more time for reading. More often than not, even on those nights I could finish up and be on the last bus (2310), I would stay at work, drinking coffee and reading through the night until 0515 when the first bus for my route started.
This story stuck in my mind enough, that I bought it at a second-hand bookshop in Dublin, half a world away and a decade later. I think that it is because April truly had grown, no longer that over-awed girl and she didn’t just let Christopher straight back into her life, nor was she a shrew.
Thank you, Kathleen and Janine!
Oh, I really like this one. It’s not my favorite Seidel, that would be Till the Stars Fall, but it’s kind of a comfort read for me. I’ve read it maybe 3 times?
You’re thinking of Till the Stars Fall.
One thing about The Same Last Name that I remember is the class issue. Christopher’s family was the small town’s elite, and that’s why April’s mother thought the best thing for her was to marry him.
by LoriK September 27th, 2009 at 9:44 pm
Not to nitpick, but unless he forced himself on her it's not true that â€œChristopher got April pregnantâ€. Christopher and April got April pregnant. Given that she was 18 and a legal adult I don't think it's accurate to hold him solely responsible for the pregnancy.
Amen and hallelujah!
And I don’t buy the *excuse* that she didn’t want to sleep with him but because she was in love with him, she did it anyway. Therefore, she is in no way accountable for what happened. Actually, that makes her equally culpable. IMNSHO.
@M E 2: The way it was written, I got the sense that April was in bed before she knew what was happening, that her going along with it because she loved him was more of an afterthought than a clear and conscious thought that took place before penetration. I could see where one could say that April’s mother was equally culpable, but not April herself. But perhaps you would like to read the book to determine whether or not you agree with me?
Here’s the scene. I hope Ms. Seidel won’t mind my transcribing and posting it. This skips a lot of stuff about how April’s mother set this up to happen. It’s from a flashback in which 25 year old April remembers and analyzes something that happened when she was 18:
@wendy: It is always great to meet another reader who appreciates these books. I think they deserve to be more well-known.
@Jennie: Yes, as Susan Reader says, you are thinking of Till the Stars Fall. I liked that one a lot too, though my favorites so far are Again and Mirrors and Mistakes.
You’re welcome, mistry89. I’m glad you like the book, and I enjoyed your trip down memory lane.
@AAR Rachel: I’m happy to hear you liked this one too. I read Mirrors and Mistakes thanks to your AAR review so I will always be grateful for your efforts to let people know about KGS’s books.
Good point about class being an issue in the relationship. You don’t often see this in contemporary romance, and I thought it added depth to the conflict.
I have this one and several other of her categories. Her books are truly buried treasures. A wonderful writer. Let’s see my favorite of hers has to be Don’t Forget To Smile followed closely by Till The Stars Fall.
I’m currently going through my categories as well. There are some great gems hidden in my library that I’d like to read and share with other readers.
I agree completely. And thanks for reminding me of Don’t Forget to Smile. That’s another one I have held on to, and I’m grateful to you for encouraging me to read it!
I don’t read categories as often as Jane and Jayne do but sometimes I’m in the mood for a short, tightly paced book and then they are perfect. Actually it was a mention from Jane that she likes this book that got me to read it.
Love Don’t Forget to Smile but I also thought Summer’s End was lovely. Kathleen Gilles Seidel was one of the first authors who I felt really conveyed the challenge of being a business woman in the changing economic environment. She has an enormous sensitivity. There was one category featuring a country music singer who got addicted to pills that I thought broke ground as well. It was definitely the first romance I had read with a former drug addicted heroine. (She wasn’t even all that former given that she was at the recovery stage during the story).
I’m also a reader hodling out for that circus book.
Again and Mirrors and Mistakes are my favorites. I love the period soap and the writing contortions that occur to get the storyline out of the jam, and also how it reflects the heroine’s life at the same time.
What I love about all of Seidel’s work, though, are the little “unimportant” details that stick out from each book, such as how the skater in Summer’s End had her music performed and recorded by the orchestra at her father’s school. While it’s a detail that could have been left out, it tells just how seriously her family took her career, even if they were all academic, booky people.
@Jane: I think the one with the country singer is A Risk Worth Taking. I have both it and Summer’s End TBR, as well as a couple others (When Love Isn’t Enough and Maybe This Time). I will be sad when I’ve run out of Seidels to read, and I hope very much that her backlist will be digitized someday.
Good point about Seidel’s heroines. I love that they are such capable and competent women. Her heroes were also ahead of their time IMO — thoughtful and bright men who don’t fit the standard mold.
I feel like humming John Lennon here: “You may say that I’m a dreamer / But I’m not the only one…” I would so love to read a Kathleen Gilles Seidel book set in a circus. Thanks for backing me up on this!
Sounds like we have the same tastes in her books.
Yes! I loved the way her scripts mirrored her personal life — so clever! Must reread and review that book someday.
Yes there is great attention to detail in all her books.
This may make me superficial, but when I think of this book, I think of the shadows on the tent. I love KGS’s books too and think a lot of them take class into consideration. The ones I remember most vividly are Again and Don’t Forget to Smile.
Heh! I like this coincidence. I listed Seidel’s After All These Years – in an editorial I wrote for Victoria Janssen’s blog a couple of days ago – as one of category romances that left an impact on me during my formative years as a romance reader. I’m feeling a need to re-read all her books ASAP. :D
About The Same Last Name, I remember thinking I liked this a lot more than LaVyrle Spencer’s Separate Beds. Similar premise – hero and heroine are from different worlds, heroine gets pregnant, heroine’s socially ambitious parent forces them to marry, and that is where the similarity ends. I liked how April learnt to be independent while – I felt – Catherine hadn’t, not in a way I’d like. In fairness, April and Catherine have different personalities and outlooks and unlike April, Catherine has a tough upbringing. Likewise for heroes – different personalities and approaches, but either way, both books are awesome.
I still have this book! It’s one of my favorites.
@Michelle: I don’t think it’s superficial. I think it shows that detail was memorable. Again and Don’t Forget to Smile are both such enjoyable books.
@Maili: I’ll have to look for your editorial.
Interesting that you should mention Separate Beds. I thought of it as well. I liked that book very much too, maybe more than you did. I think the focus there was Catherine’s response to having an abusive, alcoholic father (Or was it stepfather? I can’t recall). That does make it a very different book. It has some dated elements but I still enjoyed it the last time I read it, which was a number of years ago.
I wish there were more authors writing in a similar vein to Seidel and Spencer today — serious, well-researched single title contemporaries rather than humorous ones. Realistic contemporaries are my favorite kind, and I miss them.
@Jennifer Leeland: Glad to hear this book stands the test of time for you as well!
I read Mirrors and Mistakes based on the “3 reviewers at DA loved it” comment in this thread. It was a really great book. I’m crazy busy at the moment and I had family visit this weekend and I still managed to read it in one day. Patrick turned into a bit of an asshat at the end and his grovel wasn’t long enough, but other than that I loved it. I really, really loved it. :)
I think I’ll try The Same Last Name or one of these others next…
Moth, I am so glad you enjoyed Mirrors and Mistakes! I love that book, though I agree about the ending. Re. other Seidels, I’m a huge fan of Again, and I also loved Till the Stars Fall and Don’t Forget to Smile. I reviewed the latter here. The Same Last Name is good, but not quite as good as some of the others IMO.
@Janine: I bought myself a copy of Again last night. Coming in two days! Yay! I used to act and I read a lot of regencies so I couldn’t resist that one once I read what it was about! :)
@Moth: I hope you enjoy Again as much as I did.
@Janine: Oh. My. God. I just (literally) finished “Again.” I started sometime around 5pm tonight and I couldn’t put it down. I laughed out loud. I crowed with delight. I LOVED it. It is one of the best books I’ve read all year… a REGENCY SOAP OPERA! Oh and she did it all so well and Alec was SO wonderful. All the fabulous out-there Regency tropes popping up, the Georgette Heyer reference, the fabulous clothing!!!
And Seidel is just so brilliant, and her writing is so beautiful- like the part where Alec is thinking how he’ll take the lash for Jenny. Lyrical. Moving. Oh, I can’t gush about this book enough. Everyone should read this book so I have more people to squee with!
p.s. This is why I shall eternally love sites like DA and the Bitches. I would NEVER have found this book on my own, and what a loss that would have been.
@Moth: That’s wonderful to hear! I love that book (Again) so much. It was the first Seidel I read so I’m doubly attached to it. One of the things I most appreciate about her writing is the way intelligence shines though it. I really should reread and review Again sometime… it is such a good book.
I just finished reading Again today. It holds up really well and I laughed out loud in a few places even tho I have read this book a few times. I have all of KGS books and I love them for different reasons. My faves are Don’t forget to smile and After all these years and the beige book. Please release the Circus book in some format. I’ll buy it.