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Monday, December 3, 2012

She Was Their Saving Grace

Today, I'm reprising one of my favorite blogs.  While it's been more than three years since I wrote this for Romance Novel TV, and I've been introduced to many remarkable romance heroines since then, Lady Johanna still remains one of my favorites and her book, Saving Grace, continues to be my all-time favorite comfort read.

Hope you enjoy!

~PJ


She Was Their Saving Grace
I began reading romances more than 40 years ago but Julie Garwood’s wonderful medieval romance,Saving Grace is the first story I can remember reading that featured a heroine who was a victim of domestic abuse.  Wed to an English baron at a young age, Lady Johanna entered her marriage filled with all the hopes and dreams of any young bride, hopes and dreams that were shattered by the words and fists of her handsome, evil-hearted husband and his equally evil priest.  Isolated from her family and friends, Johanna eventually became resigned to her fate.  As she explains later in the book;
“I was much, much younger then.  The beating didn’t start right after we were wed.  He set about destroying my confidence first.  I was naïve, and frightened, too, and when you are called ignorant and unworthy over and over again by someone who is supposed to love and protect you, well, in time a part of you will begin to believe some of the nonsense.”
Even though a part of Johanna withered during her three year marriage to a monster and she was understandably frightened of men, she never completely lost her inner core of strength.  Knowing that to fight back verbally or physically would mean severe beatings and possibly death at her husband’s hands she chose, instead, what the book’s hero describes as “acts of quiet defiance”, such as secretly learning to read and write after being told by her husband that women were not capable of learning such skills.   And, even though she’s sure she’ll go to Hell, she refuses to believe Bishop Hallwick’s hierarchy that says women are “last in God’s love, even below dull-witted oxen.”  There’s that quiet defiance again.
Grace2_GarwoodI asked Julie Garwood about her inspiration for the character of Johanna and she graciously responded;
“I remember at the time I wrote that book there was a great deal in the news about domestic abuse. I had done some work for a local abuse center and saw how frightened abuse victims could be.  They were my inspiration for Johanna.  Since I wanted to set the story in medieval times, I did some research in medieval history.  I already knew that medieval women were often treated as second class citizens, but I vaguely remembered reading or hearing about a medieval church hierarchy where women were placed beneath even the lowest of animals.  I set out to find it.  With the help of a reference librarian at the university I found what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, it was written in Latin.  I knew enough Latin to tell that it was the hierarchy but not enough to translate the entire passage, so I found a Latin teacher who did it for me.  You’ll find a variation of what was translated at the beginning of Saving Grace.”
After the death of her first husband, Johanna is finally freed from her hellish marriage and, understandably, has no desire to wed again but King John orders her to marry another of his favored barons, a man just as despicable as her dead husband.  That inner core of strength again rises to the surface with Johanna using cunning and intelligence to delay the wedding until she can find a way out of the union.  The solution, proposed by her brother, is to marry her to Laird Gabriel MacBain and send her to Scotland where she will be out of the reach of King John and his devious friends.  You can imagine her fear when, after having been a human punching bag for three long years, she first sees the huge warrior to whom she is to be married.
“Her mind raced from one worry to another…Dear God, could she survive purgatory again?  The possibility that she could be marrying another monster made her weep with self-pity.  She was immediately ashamed of herself.  Was she really such a coward after all?  Had Raulf been right to ridicule her?”
“No, no, she was a strong woman.  She could handle anything that came her way.  She would not give in to the fear or allow herself to have such low thoughts about herself.  She had value, damn it…didn’t she?”
This is where her long journey back to a confident, strong, trusting and loving woman begins.  As is often the case with someone who has been abused, there are steps forward and steps back and I was glad Garwood didn’t try to rush the process but I liked that Johanna had the resolve to try to take control of her life, even while dealing with her fear, beginning with her and Gabriel’s wedding ceremony, and continuing to move forward, sometimes one small step at a time, even in the face of inevitable set-backs.
“The ceremony was going along quite nicely until Father MacKechnie asked her to promise to love, honor, and obey her husband.  She considered his request a long minute.  Then she shook her head and turned to the groom.  She motioned for him to lean down and stretched up on tiptoe so that she could whisper in his ear.  “I will try to love you, m’lord, and I’ll certainly honor you because you’ll be my husband, but I don’t believe I’ll obey you much.  I’ve found that total submissiveness doesn’t agree with me.”
“She was wringing the petals off the stems of her flowers while she was explaining her position.  She couldn’t look him in the eye either but stared at his chin while she waited for his reaction.”
I also liked that she hadn’t lost her kindness or her belief that there might be good men in the world – that they weren’t all monsters like her dead husband.  She had learned through hard experience to be cautious but she hadn’t completely closed her heart to the possibility of love.  She hadn’t lost her ability to laugh either and, as she becomes more secure and more confident, her quirky sense of humor becomes more evident in her interactions with Gabriel and the members of his clan.  She’s small, blonde and beautiful, with a bruised spirit, leading her new husband to initially believe that she’s fragile and weak though he never doubts her intelligence or determination.  But, as her heart and spirit gradually heal, her confidence grows and when she’s tested we see that she is strong and courageous, with the heart of a lion.  It’s a pure pleasure to see her come into her own by the end of the book.  She not only wins the heart of her hero but also the hearts of his clan, as well as the heart of this reader.  Gabriel says it best toward the end of the book.
“She was telling Alex the truth.  It was a fact that maidens could rescue mighty, arrogant warriors.  Johanna had certainly rescued him from a bleak, cold existence.  She’d given him a family and a home.  She was his love, his joy, his companion.  She was his saving grace.”
Saving Grace is my go-to comfort read.  I’ve read the book so many times since its 1994 release that I am now on my third paperback copy and this one is starting to look a little ragged around the edges.  I hope that you will enjoy Saving Grace as much as I do each time I read it and that you will like Johanna and be as proud of her as I am.
If you have read Saving Grace, what did you think of Johanna?  Who is your favorite Julie Garwood heroine?  What makes her special?
Who is your favorite romance heroine?  Have you added any new heroines to the list this year?  Tell me about them!  

44 comments:

  1. I read about this and unfortunately at the time I couldn't find a copy, I am going to see if it is in kindle format right now.

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  2. They do have it in Kindle and it now mine, mine, mine.

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    1. Yay! I hope you enjoy it, Dianna. I'd love to hear what you think after you've read it!

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  3. Oh PJ!! Johanna is not only my favorite Julie Garwood heroine, she is my ALL TIME favorite heroine! I've read Saving Grace at least 27 times and have had to replace my hardback copy. Johanna used the things she learned in her first marriage to weave Gabriel's two clans together as one with them hardly realizing she was doing it. Love, love, love that book!!!

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    1. I had a feeling I'd see you here today, Suz! :)

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    2. Of course! You're feeding my addiction! I have a question for you. Don't you think Julie needs to give us the story of Alex and Clare's romance? YOU KNOW there's a hot one waiting to hit the pages!!

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    3. Don't you think Julie needs to give us the story of Alex and Clare's romance? YOU KNOW there's a hot one waiting to hit the pages!!

      I've been begging for it for years!

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  4. I always think of you, PJ, when I come across a reference to Saving Grace or hear someone mention it. Medievals, with few exceptions, are just not my subgenre of choice, but some of Garwood's other books are among my favorites. I love The Gift, Guardian Angel, and Castles, and every few years I have to take my copies of the Clayborne books from the shelf and reread them.

    My three favorite heroines from 2012 are Minerva Highwood from Tessa Dare's A Week to Be Wicked, Millicent Graves from Sherry Thomas's Ravishing the Heiress, and Juliet Shelby from Manda Collins's How to Romance a Rake. I like my heroines smart, strong, and vulnerable with a flaw or few to make them credible and a certain indefinable quality that makes them distinct among the hundreds of heroines I encounter in a year's reading. All three of these qualify on all counts.

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    1. I always think of you, PJ, when I come across a reference to Saving Grace or hear someone mention it.

      I'm not surprised, Janga. I certainly talk about it enough! lol!

      I haven't read the Thomas book yet but Minerva and Juliet are high on my list of 2012 faves!

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  5. I've read several Garwood books and liked her knowledge and story-telling of Medieval times. Believe it or not, I have SAVING GRACE on my TBR pile when I nabbed it a few months ago. Just haven't read it yet. I have enjoyed getting to know a few new heroines in the last few months, but since I am not at home, I can't go to my bookshelf to look up the names.

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    1. Believe it or not, I have SAVING GRACE on my TBR pile

      Oh, I hope you enjoy it, Deb!

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  6. This book is also one of my comfort reads. In fact, several Julie Garwood books are on my keeper shelf!

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    1. I have several of her books on my keeper shelf too, Cheryl but Saving Grace soothes me like no other.

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  7. Isn't Julie Garwood wonderful! My favorite is The Secret but I think that's because that was the first book that I read of hers. I've enjoyed every one that I've read (including Saving Grace). I still need to catch up on some of her older ones and have not read any of her nonhistoricals as yet but am planning on it.

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    1. She is wonderful, catslady! I adore her books. I remember when I emailed her and told her I was writing about Johanna and Saving Grace. I was so excited when she responded!

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  8. PJ, what a lovely post. Believe it or not I haven't read Saving Grace or much at all by Julie Garwood. She's on my "must read" list, but she has so many books that it's tough to know where to start. Perhaps with Saving Grace...

    Picking a favorite romance heroine is tough. I like so many. Dana Markham, heroine of Jeanne Adams's debut, Dark & Dangerous, would certainly be on the list. She's strong and smart and brave but vulnerable in her quest to protect her son from his mobster father. I could say the same about Scotia, the heroine in Gerri Russell's debut, The Warrior Trainer. And I love Georgette Heyer's Frederica Merriville (Frederica). She and Judith Taverner (Regency Buck) are my favorite Heyer heroines.

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    1. Nancy, Saving Grace is an excellent place to start! It's a stand-alone so you don't have to worry about coming into a series late.

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  9. Unfortunately, I have not read Saving Grace, however, I'm certainly grateful to you for "resurrecting" it today. I think it's terrific when older novels are brought back and readers who missed it the first time around are told about it. It's a great favor to everyone.

    Thank you!

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    1. Connie, I love bringing my favorite books to other readers' attention. I hope you'll give Johanna and Gabriel's story a try!

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  10. I can't say I have a favorite heroine! Its usually the one I am reading at the time.

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    1. LOL! That's the case with me many times too, Quilt Lady but there are some heroines (like Johanna) who continue to stay with me long after I've finished their book.

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  11. I've read lots of Garwood's writings, but I believe I must have missed this one... Am certainly going to hunt for it!

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    1. Oh, I hope you find it! It's such a wonderful book!

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  12. I love Julie Garwood's books. I haven't read Saving Grace, though and this post reminds me how long it's been since I've read her books. The heroine seems like one I'll really like.

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    1. There is so much to like about this book. It's populated with a wonderfully rich cast of characters!

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    1. Me too! But I guess you could tell that from the post, eh? ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by, Jolie!

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  14. Great post, PJ! I've not read any of Garwwod's books, I don't think. (I know!) Johanna sounds like a wonderful heroine. As you know, my favorite is Kate Sheffield from JQ's TVWLM. :)

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    1. Her medievals are wonderful, Andrea. Many are on my keeper shelf!

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  15. One of my fav heroines was Skye O'Malley from the book of the same name By Beatrice Small. She Captianed her own ship and I wanted to be just like her..

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    1. I know I've read that one, Kathleen but I don't remember the story. I may have to hunt down a copy after the holidays.

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  16. Thank you for showcasing Saving Grace today. It hit a spot for me. One of my all time favorites and I'm going to pull it off the keeper shelf to re-read soon. I love her medievals and she was one of the first authors I found when I started reading 20 years ago.

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    1. Dougless Montgomery is one of my favorite heroines from A Knight In Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux. That is my comfort read and I own it in hardback and print. Both are quite worn. :)

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    2. I hope you still enjoy it, Leah.

      Dougless is one of my favorites too.

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  17. Julie Garwood's books hold a very special place in my heart and on my shelves. Her THE PRIZE was the first romance I read and is my favorite for it. All her historicals are enjoyable. Like you, SAVING GRACE was the first book I read dealing with abuse. Johanna is well drawn and gives good insight into the thought process of an abuse victim. I have read it several times and had two cassette versions of it. I donated one to the library and loaned out the other which unfortunately hasn't been returned. It is abridged, but was good for listening to while commuting to work.
    I have like all of Julie Garwood's heroines. It is really hard to pick a favorite. They are all women of strength, intelligence, and compassion.

    Thanks for bringing back good reading memories. I want to run upstairs and reread them all. Wish I had my tape back.

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    1. Sorry your tape went missing. :( Garwood does have a knack for writing memorable heroines...and delicious heroes too!

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  18. Just got the ebook from the library, thanks PJ!

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    1. Oh, yay! Be sure to let me know what you think of it, Flora!

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  19. Thank you, PJ! Just reading your post warmed my heart!!! Excellent novel, and now in my tbr list.

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    1. It's one of those timeless stories that never fails to lift my spirits, Mina. I hope it will do the same for you!

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  20. Johanna will always be one of my all time favorite heroines! I believe this was the first romance I ever read. I grew up reading Julie Garwood and Jude Deveraux. All of their earlier books hold a special place in my heart.

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    1. Cara, I love the early books of both Garwood and Deveraux. They weren't my introduction to romance but they were instrumental in bringing me back to the genre after some years away. Like you, they are all special to me.

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  21. Wow, PJ, time flies. I remember reading this blog the first time you wrote it! LOL

    I could relate because Saving Grace is my favorite Julie Garwood with The Secret and its heroine Judith running a close second!

    I had just discovered romances again and fell in love with the books written by Julie Garwood (and Julie Quinn). I went to the library and picked up a Julie Garwood and a JQ and the rest as they say is history. LOL

    I loved how JG portrayed her heroes and heroines. How at first glance or to all outward appearances the women seemed weak and the men mean. In no time she showed the women's strength and the men's gentleness and honor. Honor was a big thing in her old historicals, even for the women. Every one left me with a smile on my face and a good feeling.

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