Anyone who knows me is aware I don’t read romance. I need something extra–like the sci-fi aspect of J.D. Robb’s Death In… series or Janet Evanovich’s snarky humor. I get frustrated by the predictability and the lack of realistic relationships in the formulaic romance novel. For me to read a romance novel, not to mention like it, means the author has done a good–no, not just a good job. An excellent one.
A Man of Character is the debut novel of romance writer Margaret Locke. It’s available as both a paperback ($12.99) and an ebook ($2.99) at Amazon, and I’ll acknowledge here that I know the author and have actually read a beta version of the novel. However, for the purpose of this review, I purchased a copy, and the author did not ask me to review the book.
Having read a much earlier version of the manuscript, I could easily see the improvements and the great attention to editing. A Man of Character flips the usual boy-meets-girl/girl-meets-another-boy/much-angst-ensues/girl-decides-on-which-boy formula on its head. It’s a fresh approach by an author who is fiercely dedicated not only to craft but to telling a good story as well.
The main protagonist, Cat, runs the book store she inherited from her father who died some time before. Six years before the book opens, her fiancé left her, literally, at the altar, and she’s been shy of relationships ever since–as in she’s had none. Enter a medieval-era book her father intended to give her, which is only supposed to go to the women in the family, and odd things start to happen.
As in Cat suddenly has a bunch of men interested in her, seemingly out of the blue, even if many of them appear vaguely familiar to her. Cat and her best friend, a doctoral student, Eliza, who loves all things regency romance, ponder Cat’s current good romance fortune: the former star quarterback, a stunningly handsome and intelligent grad student, a very (very) rich businessman, and a good-looking nerd who works with computers. Eliza is delighted at Cat’s largess, but Cat isn’t sure. None of her new suitors seem to be the “man of character” she’s looking for.
Eventually, Cat and Eliza work out the connection between the medieval manuscript and Cat’s plethora of men, and they test their hypothesis, with unbelievable success. Cat accepts that she has a pretty amazing power at her fingertips–not gonna tell ya because I want ya to buy the book–a power that allows her to give her best friend her fondest wish. And Cat does find her man of character. The journey, though, makes the book well worth it, and the book sets up quite deftly the next book in Ms. Locke’s series.
A couple of minor quibbles. Cat is described in the book as being in her mid-30s; Eliza 30-ish. Their dialogue sometimes sounds very high-schoolish, even middle-schoolish. In places I found it hard to believe one was a businesswoman and the other a doctoral student. That was only on occasion, however, and not throughout the book.
And the sex. There’s not much of it, and it’s very mild; and that’s a niche market in romance. I understand that. This was never intended to be erotica, but the sex is too perfect, one of my objections to romance novels. Everyone’s first time with anyone results in stuck zippers, stubborn buttons, mashed noses, dropped condoms, and a certain amount of, well, fumbling before the, erm, connection is made. Yes, I understand the purpose of romance novels is to show the ideal, but I can still hear my sister-in-law wondering why my brother couldn’t be more like a Danielle Steele hero and his reply, “That’s fiction.” I mean, I’m a writer, and I understand suspending belief; but I just think the sex should have been a bit more messy. However, that’s just me.
Ms. Locke has given us characters we can relate to–we care about what happens to them, and that’s what it’s all about. As well, she’s given us a story we want to finish, and then regret when we have because it’s over. What more could a debut author ask for?
To read an interview I conducted with Ms. Locke, click here.