Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Saving Grace by Julie Garwood *****

Hallelujah! Yes indeedy, faithful romance readers, I have seen the light, and I'm here to tell you - every author's work is different, and at last, praise the lawd, I have seen Julie Garwood's light and it is Saving Grace, my first 5 start read for this author!

I knew there were a ton of romance readers out there who just love love love this author, and I'm always disappointed when I read a well-loved book or author and wonder what the fuss is about. After reading the AAR Top 100 books by this author Ransom, The Secret and The Bride, I was just not feeling the love.

But I'm here to tell you today, Saving Grace has made me a believer.

OK, enough ranting and raving. I shouldn't in all fairness overstate my case. This is no To Die For (Linda Howard) or True Confessions (Rachel Gibson) or A Season To Be Sinful (Jo Goodman) which are 3 of my very favorite books ever. But, hey, I had almost given up on my ever liking Julie Garwood's writing and lo and behold, I have found one I love.

Saving Grace is another medieval - for all I know, all she's written is medieval romance (actually, I just read her interviews on AAR and she even writes contemporaries). It takes place around 1200, when England is being ruled by King John, the one who (probably) killed his nephew Arthur who should have been king after Richard the Lion Hearted. It involves an Englishwoman Johanna who is the widow of the alledgedly dead Baron Raulf, one of King John's cohorts. After his death, John wants to have her wed again for various political reasons, and her brother Nicholas makes a deal with John for her to wed a Scottish laird, Gabriel MacBain.

Gabriel weds Johanna only to get her lands, but also finds he is attracted to her as well. What he doesn't know about her is that Raulf was a batterer - he just figures she's timid and probably doesn't have the constitution needed to survive in the Highlands. She also thinks she's barren since she didn't conceive while wed to Raulf for 3 years, but he has an illegitimate son already and figures he's covered on the heir issue anyway - her lands are sufficient reason to wed.

OK - what we have here is a story of a truly courageous and very young girl, really - she was wed at age 14 to Raulf, so she is perhaps only just 18 or so at the beginning of the story. While she had a good family life, she is sequestered away in the Baron's castle where he truly is the typical batterer, keeping her distanced from family, not allowing her to even have the same servants for more than a month so that she has no confidants - and beating her mainly where the bruises are hidden under clothing.

This book, while having some humor in it, does not have the traits that drove me to distraction in the other 3 Garwoods I read, that Keystone Cop thing of people racing about and talking over each other and interrupting to create misunderstandings and plot contrivances. Well, there is a teensy touch of it, but it isn't distracting. Instead we get a more realistic picture of people living according to their traditions but being forced to open their eyes and their minds to other ways of living through necessity. Macbain is laird of 2 clans trying to live together but staying separate - forcing Johanna to switch her plaid from one to the other every day, for instance, to avoid insulting one or the other. We have the Scots clans ways and we have her English ways to consider as well. She is prejudiced against them but outnumbered, so she tries to make it work, but the Scots aren't as open minded to her or to each other.

The growth of Johanna as a character and her love for Gabriel were developed slowly and realistically, and it was fun and touching and heartwarming and all things I like in a romance novel. She was determined and somewhat headstrong, she did things that were uncommon for women of the time, but she wasn't an unrealistic major aberration that made you think, "oh as if..." every 20 pages.

And lo and behold it's another AAR Top 100 under my belt, and I liked it too. 5 stars.

However, I did visit AAR to see what their reviewers had to say - one of them needed to consult her book before writing (it's MacBain not McBain) and the other gushed somewhat too much for my tastes, even though I agreed with many of her sentiments. Well, everyone's different and that is what makes the world interesting, if somewhat frustrating and often annoying. I'm sure they would hate my Garwood opinions, so maybe we're even.

1 comment:

Cindy W said...

I am so glad you liked this one!!!! I am trying to get through the AAR 100 too, maybe I should make a new reading challenge. ANYWAYS, this is one of my favorites. If you enjoyed this one, I think you'll enjoy Honor's Splendour and The Prize, other favorites by her. For her contemps, In order its:
Heartbreaker (pretty good to start w/)
Mercy (My Favorite)
Killjoy (Second Favorite)
Slowburn (Good)
Murderlist (My least favorite)
Shadow Dance (Good)
Fire and Ice (12/09)

Some are better than others, you may just have to see how you like them.

So glad to hear you liked them. Can you add a label section on your blog so I can sort through your older posts by author?