Grace Under Fire
It feels so unnatural to say I found the latest Julie Garwood novel to be just meh… three-stars on a scale of five, just okay … because Julie Garwood is the author who solidified my love of the whole romance genre. But the latest installment of her Buchanan-Renard series, Grace Under Fire, just didn’t have any punch for me.
Grace Under Fire is, at its core, a family drama. Wealthy inheritances make people do crazy, irrational things, and when Grace MacKenna inherits her family’s historical Scottish property from her estranged great-Uncle Compton, everything in her careful, planned life goes haywire.
Grace is a quiet, cautious woman who has planned her life based on a deathbed promise she gave her mother, Leah, when she was eighteen — to not pursue her dreams of being a songwriter and performer. Grace was young and sorting through her grief, and rather than reflecting on the request in the constructive manner Leah intended – which was to save her sensitive, youngest child the struggle and heartbreak of life in the spotlight – Grace internalized it as a lack of confidence in her talent on her mother’s part. It’s a heavy burden, for sure, and one that zapped Grace’s overall self-confidence. That shyness stayed her through college and now that she’s graduated and ready to move on, she finds herself at a crossroads with no clear trajectory while contemplating her new Scottish estate.
When the story opens and Grace is strolling through downtown Boston on a weeklong layover before heading overseas to claim her inheritance, letting her mind wander and enjoying her walk, an undercover police officer stumbles into her. She uses his gun to kill the man who follows the detective -outside, and is – weirdly – a crack shot. Chaos ensues and Grace is taken to the police station, where Michael Buchanan — ex-Navy SEAL, attorney extraordinaire, probable future FBI agent, and her brother-in-law’s brother — comes to pick her up. These are two big families who have extensive backstories, all with hugely successful careers, nosy natures, and a penchant for interjecting themselves into everybody’s lives. But of all the Buchanan men who could swoop in and save the day, Grace is the most distressed to find Michael as her protector. She doesn’t like him and believes the feeling to be mutual … but it’s not. Turns out she’s just much younger than him, and Michael has held her at arm’s length during family functions to remind himself she’s off limits. But she’s not a teenager anymore, and they’re stuck together while he keeps her safe, so all bets are off.
There’s a LOT going on in this story, and Garwood falls into the trap that most often affects my enjoyment of long-running series: rather than focusing on the conflict and action between Grace and Michael, we instead spend time and page count catching up with all the McKennas and all the Buchanans. It’s too much. And despite the notion that Grace is basically the John McClane of the McKennas because ALL THE STUFF happens to her, I kept getting stuck on the naïveté of her character and the strangely outdated attitudes of the detectives working the case, who find it incredulous that Grace would be walking alone in Boston. Or how they couldn’t grasp that she could zone out and lose track of how far she’d walked. They actually don’t even seem to know what ‘zoned out’ means. I’m rolling my eyes.
Garwood’s Scottish historicals are some of my favorite romances, and I find that I could re-read Honor’s Splendour and The Prize once a month, every month, for the rest of my life – and I don’t even like historicals. I expect innocent, naïve women in those stories because they’re, hello, historicals and the world was a whole lot less worldly back in the times in which they’re set. But in 2022, Grace’s reactions and the reactions of the men around her make her seem ignorant and weak. It also made the book difficult to read. People zone out for mental breaks. Women walk on their own. Maybe it’s the curse of too many stories in the same series, with the same characters? Maybe it’s bad characterization? Whatever the reason, I just could not connect with the characters or the plot, and really struggled to get past the introductions to the meat of the story.