I love Julie Garwood. She was one of the first romance writers that I read and after reading Saving Grace, I went out and stocked up on Garwoods because that book was beautiful. Unfortunately, she was branching out into her contemporary market by then and they just aren’t as strong, and honestly, they’ve been getting worse with each one, culminating with this.
Her heroines are always perilously close to Mary Sue territory, and her heroes are usually the same–gruff teddy bears whose barks are worse than their bite. But the plots are good and she’s a meticulous researcher. When she tackles a historical period (for the most part) the details are good and her one saving grace (heh) is that there are elements to this novel that kept from outright putridness.
Ellie is too perfect for my tastes — she’s absolutely gorgeous, incredibly smart, and the perennial victim. She had a bad stalker from the age of eleven and then becomes the target of a criminal duo, who aim to eliminate her as a witness. It’s exhausting to read Ellie. Garwood makes her absolutely perfect and then makes her sisters vastly one-dimensional. Annie is sweet and Ava is mean. (Seriously mean and selfish, she makes my sister look like Mother Teresa) Ava has no redeeming quality for most of the book and then out of nowhere, for one brief page, she helps Ellie out with her wardrobe and but the entire novel, she insists Ellie be in the wedding when Ava is marrying Ellie’s former fiance. Holy crap. Like said — EVERYTHING happens to Ellie and it’s just too much.
So before I’m even out of the starting gate, I don’t identify with this absolutely incredibly gorgeous heroine, who by the way is so smart and is the best trauma surgeon EVER. Oh my goodness.
And then you meet Max, the alleged hero.
I think Garwood is going for the gruff teddy bear. She achieves asshole whose entire redeeming quality is his knack for showing up to save the day.
He’s uncommunicative to the point that he takes an entire plane flight between SC and MO without explaining to Ellie that he’s not going to be able to contact her for a while because he’s going undercover. He just drops her off after the flight and heads to HI. And it might be because he wasn’t sure he loved her. In fact, he’s denying it until the last pages and then tells Ellie they’re getting married after this absolute asshole-ness.
I didn’t buy they were in love, but I could see where Max’s alpha male-ness could be hot, so yeah, physically I get it. I just don’t see the love. My biggest pet peeve in romance is an author trying to sell me forever after when all I see is physical attraction and then telling me in they’re in love. Show me. Don’t tell me.
So what saves this book? The stalker story is engaging. I mostly like Ellie’s parents, there’s some depth there. Garwood’s attention to detail is, as usual, impeccable. I’m just left feeling…slightly unsatisfied. I hope Garwood returns to historical novels and allows for some variations in her female and male characters. It’s just too much of the same and it breaks my heart, because Saving Grace is an absolute sentimental memory for me and the book still holds up on a reread. (Ransom and The Bride are also wonderful).
I love you, Julie Garwood, but you’re testing that devotion.