Thursday, August 10, 2017

[Throwback Review]: "The Secret"

Today's Throwback Review is for a romance classic from Garwood. Jen owns the Kindle copy now, but still has her 25-year-old paperback, well worn from years of rereading!

romance novel covers, historical romance, The Secret by Julie Garwood
The Secret by Julie Garwood
Publisher: Berkley (July 5, 2011)     reprint
Series: Highlands' Lairds, 1
Genre: Historical Romance

Judith Hampton was as beautiful as she was proud, as purposeful as she was loyal. The dear Scottish friend of her childhood was about to give birth, and Judith had promised to be at her side. But there was another, private reason for the journey from her bleak English home to the Highlands to meet the father she had never known, the Laird Maclean. Nothing prepared her for the sight of the Scottish barbarian who was to escort her into his land...Iain Maitland, Laird of his clan, a man more powerfully compelling than any she had ever encountered.

In a spirited clash of wills and customs, Judith revelled in the melting bliss of Iain's searching kisses, his passionate caresses. Perplexed by her sprightly defiance, bemused by her tender nature, Iain felt his soul growing into the light and warmth of her love. Surely nothing would wrench her from the affection and trust of Iain and his clan...not even the truth about her father, a devastating secret that could shatter the boldest alliance, and the most glorious of loves.

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Jen's Review:

I probably have read The Secret by Julie Garwood at least a hundred times. How do I know? Because rereading this book, even though I haven’t picked it up in probably 15 years, and I still remember huge swaths of it verbatim. It’s honestly kind of difficult to do a real “throwback” review when I remember the darn thing so vividly. Instead, rereading reminded me of all the great things romance can do outside of the actual love story.

As a quick overview, it’s the Highlands of Scotland around 1200. (I have zero idea if any of this is historically accurate, because kind of like my knowledge of 1800s London, everything I know about that time period comes from reading romance novels.) Judith is English, but her lifelong best friend, Frances Catherine, is Scottish. Frances Catherine is expecting her first baby, and Judith has promised to come and help at the birth. Laird Iain Maitland is sent to pick up Judith and bring her back to the Highlands. She’s totally gorgeous and completely feisty and they are attracted to each other despite the complications of a Scottish Laird falling for an English lady. Iain and Judith fight their way to a happy ending despite all the obstacles and him being your typical medieval male misogynist. Did I mention there is kissing on horses? Like all early Julie Garwood books, it’s an amazing romance. If you haven’t read it, it’s honestly delightful.

There’s definitely some weirdo early 90s stuff happening here. Why did all the heroines have violet eyes? Remember that? I laughed out loud when Iain describes her violet eyes, especially since it says she has blue eyes in the prologue. Of course, compared to now, the sex scenes are pretty tame. There’s sort of an ongoing thing in the book where all the men are super in love with Judith, who is the epitome of skinny, blonde gorgeousness. I honestly wanted her to be a little less delightfully perfect. All the Highlanders are handsome, strong, and surly; maybe at the time, it seemed fresh and innovative, but 25 years later, these characterizations seem cliched. It’s like the trope of every Scottish romance ever written. Maybe Julie Garwood built that trope, but now it feels predictable. It’s impossible for me to tell if it’s a great read because it’s a great read, or because of nostalgia.

One thing I had forgotten was the whole plot about Judith helping Frances Catherine deliver her baby and becoming a midwife. At the time, I didn’t even know what a midwife was! It still strikes me as pretty implausible that virginal Judith was allowed to deliver babies, but whatever. At least this book admits that living in medieval times wouldn’t have been all wine and roses. Women died during childbirth. Sickness and illness happen. The rules of the Church were harsh and unforgiving. Honestly, every time I read a historical romance, I’m completely floored that anyone survived. There’s a real thread of steel through the core of this book, one about how strong women have been and have to be to survive. Reading it reminds me of both of how far we’ve come and also at how little has changed.

Looking back, it’s clear that the real reason this book was my all time favorite is because of the friendship between Judith and Frances Catherine. They’re not even supposed to be friends because of the cultural differences, and yet they stuck together. I’m lucky enough to have a life-long best friend---we met in 6th grade! This book came out in 1992 when we were in college, living a thousand miles away from each other. This was before the internet and cell phones and texting, and keeping in touch with each other was hard. I missed her. Reading about the love, loyalty, and dedication that Judith and Frances Catherine felt for each other reminded me that my BFF and I could make it work, too. Yes, romantic love is important, but I love any romance that shows the vitality and strength of female friendships. The Secret does a great job at both.


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Jen bought this book.

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Thanks for the review, Jen! I read this one just a few years ago, and I liked it. At the time I was reding it, it had been a long time since I read any of the historicals published in the 80s/90s, so it was a bit fun -- and crazy -- to experience all that again.

I am allllll for romances that show strong female friendships -- we need more of that!

What book have you read hundreds of times and can remember passages from, even years later? Do you have an older book that you enjoy revisiting, even if it might be due more to nostalgia than anything else? Let us know below!


Until Next Time,

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