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Re-Read Challenge: “The Return Of Luke McGuire” By Justine Davis

1 Oct

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: September!

Davis, Justine - Return of Luke McGuire
GENRE: Romance / Contemporary
PUBLISHED: Mills & Boon, Silhouette Sensation, 2001

AVAILABILITY: out of print

You always want…

Dark and dangerous Luke McGuire was everything shy Amelia Blair had been fascinated by as a girl but too terrified to go near. And now here she was, the only person in the whole town prepared to give him the time of day, caring enough to stand up for him…brave enough to get close.

What you can’t have

Luke knew that Amelia was off-limits. But, reformed or not, he’d never been able to abide by the rules. He only hoped that the quiet beauty would fall for the man he had become instead of the one he used to be.

Then

The Return of Luke McGuire was the first category novel I ever read. This was back in 2002 and for a long time, this category novel stayed the only one. But I loved it enough and remembered it fondly enough that when I started to read category novels more regularly 1-2 years back, I bought and still buy novels by Davis even though they have a slight romantic suspense bend to it now.

Now

The Return of Luke McGuire is one of those novels where the blurb doesn’t do the story justice. I know, this goes practically for nearly every romance novel, but I always think it especially annoying when 1) it can lead to slightly false assumptions about the story and 2) when the real story is so much more than what you would expect reading the blurb.

Yes, Amelia thinks of herself as quiet and unassuming. A mouse. But she’s determined to be the bravest mouse she could be. And as the story develops, she learns there are different kinds of strength and that perhaps hidden underneath her reserve there is a fire raging that would do her namesake Amelia Earhart justice. And yes, Amelia is drawn to Luke despite herself.

But Luke doesn’t think Amelia off-limits exactly. Sure, it’s present because he’s been the bad boy of the town and Amelia is the goody-goody girl of the town, but it’s not really as important between them as it might seem because of the back blurb. And well, Luke doesn’t see Amelia for the first time and thinks, “wow, but uhm, she’s off-limits.” His attraction is growing slowly and he starts to notice more and more things about her as he gets to know her better. He hesitates, yes, but not because he thinks himself not good enough for her or something like that.

The novel starts when Luke comes back to his home town because he received a letter from his younger brother David asking for help. Before this letter, there wasn’t actually any (real) contact between Luke and David. Luke left his home town the day after he graduated from high school and hasn’t regretted or looked back since then. Now David hopes he can come and live with Luke to escape their controlling and nasty mother, something Luke knows won’t be possible. So he isn’t sure if coming is the right move. Besides, he only has bad memories of the town and is glad he left all the nastiness he faced there behind.

But despite all of this, he does, and that is when he meets Amelia who’s a friend of David and owner of the town’s bookshop. David has acquired a worrisome set of friends trying to set off his mother and live up to his older brother’s bad boy reputation. Amelia and Luke’s concern for David brings them closer together. Without David, Amelia and Luke probably would never have talked to each other, at least not in Luke’s home town where just his being back brings out some of his old reactions to the way people treat him. They assume the worst of him because of his history and he doesn’t bother to show them he’d changed. But there is David. And trying to help David brings Amelia and Luke closer together, makes Amelia discover new things about herself, and makes Luke face his past and deal with it in a way so that he really can leave it all behind.

If there is one thing where this novel falters a bit it’s the way the villains are depicted. David’s nasty friends are up to some very bad things but I thought what they are willing to do in the end, though actually believable, still a bit out of nowhere. But more than that, I thought the people’s antagonism towards Luke slightly overdone. He did some cruel and bad things in his youth, yes, but that was nearly ten years ago. When he comes back, nobody (except Amelia of course) gives him the benefit of the doubt, they just assume the worst. Even more, they go and outright say it to him. I don’t know, I just thought that really rude and intolerant, and that everyone was like that was just a bit hard to believe. (To be fair, there is some change at the end with some people, but still.)

But that is just a very small complaint. The Return of Luke McGuire offers more than enough to make up for it. There’s the believable and slowly developing romance between two people who look like they have nothing in common and only meet because of special circumstances, Amelia and Luke. There’s the relationship between the brothers Luke and David that starts out with Luke as David’s hero for all the wrong reasons and that needs to adjust as the story and characters develop. There’s David’s struggle with growing up and finding his own way. There’s Luke’s struggle with his past and what his mother did to him (IMO the most important thread of the story). And there’s Amelia who makes all this possible and who discovers that maybe she was wrong to think of herself as a mouse.

Verdict: Despite my disbelief about the total rudeness of all people, 5/5.

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Meredith Duran – “Bound By Your Touch”

27 Sep

Duran, Meredith - Bound by Your Touch
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Pocket Books, 2009

SERIES: related to: Written On Your Skin

WHY THIS NOVEL: Duran’s The Duke of Shadows was one of my favorite reads last year.

Silver-tongued Viscount Sanburne is London’s favorite scapegrace. Alas, Lydia Boyce has no interest in being charmed. When his latest escapade exposes a plot to ruin her family, she vows to handle it herself, as she always has done. Certainly she requires no help from a too-handsome dilettante whose main achievement is being scandalous. But Sanburne’s golden charisma masks a sharper mind and darker history than she realizes. He shocks Lydia by breaking past her prim facade to the woman beneath…and the hidden fire no man has ever recognized. But as she follows him into a world of intrigue, she will learn that the greatest danger lies within — in the shadowy, secret motives of his heart.

LOVED. IT.

There, I’m done.



Okay, let’s see. I think this novel incredibly rich so it’s hard to summarize what I liked.

Duran takes two of the most often used characters in romance novels, the bluestocking spinster and the wastrel, and makes them come so alive and new that at the end of the novel, the reader knows why these two people are exactly right for each other. The reader sees them – and their attraction and love – evolve throughout the story. At the end, both Lydia and James are different (and better) people because they have met each other. Or as James says:

[…] I rise to meet your expectations, and you …” His smile turned devilish. “You sink to my level most beautifully.” (345)

The prologue sets the major themes of the novel – having faith in others or making a fool of oneself because that faith is unjustified. These two themes (together with some more) entwine with the characters and the plot and together with Duran’s skill with language, detailing emotions and feelings, capturing the small moments and creating memorable scenes, they made Bound By Your Touch a most enjoyable and satisfying read for me.

In particular, I enjoyed the look at what society does to the individual (more pronounced in the beginning) and at the changes in society. And I have so many sentences, paragraphs, and scenes lingering in my head that I could do a whole post with quotes and still would have more quotes left than used. Like the conversation on the roof, for example.

Believable characters, believable romance, believable motivations, wit, intelligence, themes, symbolism, balance and structure – Bound By Your Touch has it all IMO.

[I realize this doesn’t tell you much, but I really find it difficult to write about this novel and why it appeals to meĀ  so much.]

Verdict: 5/5

Re-Read Challenge: “Beyond Sunrise” By Candice Proctor

31 Aug

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: August!

Proctor, Candice - Beyond Sunrise
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Bellantine Books, 2003

AVAILABILITY: still available

Can life ever be a real adventure without falling in love?

Ever since she can remember, India McKnight has craved adventure, dreaming of lands past the horizon. Following her calling, she becomes a travel writer, a vocation that takes her far and wide. All the while, she vows never to risk her freedom by falling in love. But when she sails to the exotic and unknown regions of the South Pacific, a rugged man brave enough to be her guide just may be the one who can lay claim to her heart.

Having turned his back on the “civilized” world long ago, Jack Ryder has been living in seclusion, hiding from the pain and betrayal buried in his past. When the beautiful, hotheaded Scotswoman arrives at his hut looking for a guide, he agrees to take her to the island of Takaku–despite the challenge–just to prove that her stubborn theories about native life are wrong. But when their journey turns dangerous, their fates become forever entwined. Forced to rely on each other for their very survival, they soon discover that passion and even deeper peril await them . . . just beyond the sunrise.

Then

Beyond Sunrise was my first novel by Candice Proctor and I loved it. To this day, I’m still a bit miffed that I didn’t glom all her books back then when they all were still available. I have two others by her, but sadly, I don’t have Whispers of Heaven.

Now

Calling Beyond Sunrise a historical romance is a bit misleading in that it’s far from what you’re used from a historical romance. No England, no regency, no drawing rooms, no balls. Beyond Sunrise takes place in the South Pacific and it reads like an adventure novel. Think African Queen or Romancing the Stone (without Michael Douglas trying to trick Kathleen Turner). There’s even a dance scene!

India McKnight might be a somewhat unusual woman for her time. Single, traveling alone, working as a travel writer. But she’s also a proper lady to the nth degree, with exact ideas about behavior. For example, she wears several petticoats despite the oppressing heat because that is what ladies do. She’s practical, no-nonsense, and she’s used to getting her way which means for the first chapters, she has a tendency to do things even though she’s told they would be dangerous. What saves her from being an annoying spunky heroine IMO then is a) she’s so used to do things her way; b) she doesn’t trust Jack very much; c) Candice Proctor is a good writer.

If you’re a bit impatient with India, I would say stick with her. Especially because this novel has several scenes where India is faced with the decision of what to do: leave Jack or stay with him? And every time this happens, it’s also a decision between danger and safety. Each of India’s decisions chronicles the progression of her relationship with Jack right up to the last decision when Jack asks her to marry him. Of course, India’s baggage about relationships and marriage (thanks to her parents) makes this question a question of safety and danger, too, and the way this eventually is resolved is very fitting and satisfying.

Jack Ryder is a man with quite a dubious reputation and quite often, he’s drunk. He’s also a wanted man. He’s thought responsible for a ship wreck several years ago that cost the lives of nearly all the ship’s crew. India’s first impression of Jack is that he’s gone “troppo,” meaning a white man who had “abandoned the trappings of Western civilization and assumed the clothing and lifestyle of the natives” (34).

Over the course of the story, Jack’s reasons why he is the way he is, why he lives the way he does, and the question of his guilt is revealed. Jack has some decisions to make, too, and some things to face, and it’s just beautiful that India helps him as he does help her.

India goes from being a woman who craves freedom and adventure above all else and who looks like this:

It was a bloody missionary, all right, Jack decided, frowning at the woman who sat ramrod straight at the prow of the longboat, her gloved hands gripping the handle of an austere parasol, the collar of her ugly, drab-colored gown buttoned up so high around her neck he wondered it didn’t choke her. (13/14)

to a woman who lets go of her rigid control and rules of behavior along with some layers of her clothes. Not because she’s gone troppo, but because she has discovered life:

Over her shoulder, her gaze met his again. She saw the flash of his smile in the flaring of the torchlight, felt the warmth of his breath against her cheek. The beat of the drums mingled with the crash of the surf and the haunting, unearthly wail of the conch shell, And she thought, This is life. This is life as in the past I might have recorded it, written about it. But never lived it. Not until now. (330)

India discovers life thanks to Jack’s help, and Jack regains his life, which he put on hold because of what happened in his past, thanks to India’s help (I actually think it’s more Jack’s story than India’s story). Despite all outward appearances, they have something in common and watching India and Jack discover the person underneath the other’s appearance and finding someone they could love was beautifully done. Jack is carefree in many things but once he’s made up his mind about India, he’s steadfast in his devotion and intentions to India.

Beside the lovely romance, the most captivating element of this story for me was the look it takes at the notion of civilization. It’s no wonder the word was mentioned in the blurb. The theme of civilization is present in nearly every element of the story. Its importance is underscored by a secondary plot concerning Jack’s former friend Simon, the Captain tasked with bringing Jack in, and Simon’s First Lieutenant Alex Preston.

Like India, Preston is rigid and proper, with a clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. For him, there are no grays. He also has to prove himself because he’s got his position only because the Captain of the ship Jack is thought responsible for sinking was related to him. So Preston has a very keen interest in apprehending Jack. And like India, he has to learn a thing or two about life.

And although this comment is already long, I have to mention the evocative scene descriptions in this novel. The humidity, the smells, the flora–I could see it all. The same way I could see how such two opposite characters like India and Jack could fall in love with each other thanks to the adventure they find themselves in. It gave them the chance to look beneath the surface and discover a new life together.

Verdict: I was undecided about the grade for this novel. But while writing this post, I discovered that there is no way I could give it 4,5/5. It’s such a beautifully written novel, IMO. 5/5

Re-Read Challenge: “The Viscount Who Loved Me” By Julia Quinn

31 May

re-read-challenge-2009

Info:Re-Read Challenge 2009
This month:Re-Read Challenge: May!

Quinn, Julia - The Viscount Who Loved Me
GENRE: Romance / Historical
PUBLISHED: Avon Books, 2000

SERIES: “Bridgerton” series, #2

AVAILABILITY: still available


The back blurb:
1814 promises to be another eventful season, but not, this Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton. London’s most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to marry.
And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the consummate rake, nobody does it better…

–Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1814

But this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton hasn’t just decided to marry–he’s even chosen a wife! The only obstacle is his intended’s older sister, Kate Sheffield–the most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he closes his eyes at night, Kate’s the woman haunting his increasingly erotic dreams…

Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes do not make the best husbands–and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of them all. Kate’s determined to protect her sister–but she fears her own heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony’s lips touch hers, she’s suddenly afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake herself…”


Then

The Viscount Who Loved Me was my first novel by Julia Quinn (Feb. 2001). I know I thought the way it was written refreshing: it was fun and humorous and I didn’t mind its “modern” tone. I loved this novel. That is, the first part. I lost some of my interest during the second part (last third of the novel) though I still liked it. The story got darker and I think I hadn’t a lot of patience for why the two didn’t just admit their love already. And yet, I still call The Viscount Who Loved Me one of my favorite Bridgerton novels.

What better way than this challenge to find out if that is still true?

Now (somewhat spoilerish maybe)

The Viscount Who Loved Me follows well-known story paths. Or perhaps it’s better to say: the story paths in this novel are well-known because many stories after this novel used them?

Anyway, we have Kate Sheffield, aging spinster sister to the belle of the season, Edwina Sheffield; Kate Sheffield who nevertheless still loves her sister; Kate Sheffield who says this about Anthony Bridgerton, well-known rake, on the lookout for a wife and settling on Edwina Sheffield because she’s regarded as the belle of the season:

Don’t be silly. I don’t even know the man. And if I did, I would probably run in the opposite direction. He is exactly the sort of man the two of us should avoid at all costs. He could probably seduce an iceberg.” (12)

“You are not to have anything to do with Viscount Bridgerton. Everyone knows he is the worst sort of rake. In fact, he’s the worst rake, period. In all London. In the entire country!” (19)

We all know how that is going to turn out.

And we have Anthony who has a handy list of requirements for what his wife should be like:

First, she ought to be reasonable attractive.
Second, she couldn’t be stupid
Third–and this was the most important–she couldn’t be anyone with whom he might actually fall in love.

We all know how that–especially #3– is going to turn out. (#3 is also the stumbling block on the road to HEA and turns the last third of the novel into something more serious than what came before.)

Kate and Anthony meet for the first time:

Anthony belatedly realized that Miss Sheffield had held her hand to him, as was only polite. He took it and brushed a light kiss across her gloved knuckles. “Miss Sheffield,” he murmured unthinkingly, “you are as lovely as your sister.”
If she had seemed uncomfortable before, her bearing now turned downright hostile. And Anthony realized with a mental slap that he’d said exactly the wrong thing. Of course he should not have compared her to her sister. It was the one compliment she could never have believed.
“And you, Lord Bridgerton,” she replied in a tone that could have frozen champagne, “are almost as handsome as your brother.” (39/40)

Kate and Anthony seem to be at odds every time they are in close company. Early in their acquaintance Anthony admits to Kate the he can’t seem to help himself where she is concerned: he just has to bait her.

And so, from their first meeting, the baiting and fun just goes on: the walk with Kate’s dog Newton that has Anthony running in a park and ending with him wet, Kate hiding in Anthony’s study to avoid him only to be discovered by him, the Pall Mall game and the mallet of Death, the bee sting,… There are lots of scenes and funny lines worth quoting in this novel.

But amidst all the hilarity – The Viscount Who Loved Me is often laugh-out-loud fun – there is room for unsettling and poignant realizations:

Anthony felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. He fought the most ridiculous impulse to leap forward and grab the key from the carpet, to get down on one knee and hand it to her, to apologize for his conduct and beg her forgiveness.
But he would do none of those things. He did not want to mend this breach; he did not want her favorable opinion.
Because that elusive spark–the one so noticeably absent wit her sister, whom he intended to marry–crackled and burned so strongly it seemed the room ought to be as light as day. (116)

He might have been a rake and a rogue–he might still be a rake and a rouge–but clearly his behavior to those ends did not define the man. And the only objection Kate had to his marrying Edwina was…
She swallowed painfully. There was a lump the size of a cannonball in her throat.
Because deep in her heart, she wanted him for herself. (202)

and quite and connecting moments, like when Anthony finds Kate terrified and paralyzed by fear because of a thunderstorm.

And then, in a twist of fate, Kate finds herself married to Anthony, and it’s time for the last third of the novel, the part I so far thought less enjoyable.

The story now concentrates on Anthony’s reason why he doesn’t want to fall in love with his wife (rule #3). This fact of their married life – that there never will be love between them – is something Anthony tells Kate in no uncertain terms in a conversation before the wedding. Only, against her better judgement and fear of always being second in her life to someone else, Kate finds herself falling more and more in love with her husband. The novel, while keeping up the fun turn of phrases, turns rather dark and serious underneath while Anthony battles his demons and learns about the nature of love.

This time around, I really appreciated what was done in the last third of the novel though I still find it different. What begins as a light, fun, and hilarious story of two people finding themselves attracted to each other against their will and battling against it for all they are worth, is now a story of two people trying to find their way in a marriage that is supposed to be based on friendship, only to learn that love can’t be governed by the mind. Love will find a way and knows no rules. And for that other look at love and romance, I now love the second part of this novel as well.

Verdict: Reading The Viscount Who Loved Me for this challenge made this novel “whole” for me. (5/5)