Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Reluctant Nude by Meg Maguire

TITLE: The Reluctant Nude
AUTHOR: Meg Maguire
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 57k)
GENRE: Contemporary romance
COST: $4.50

In order to save a property that means the world to her, Fallon Frost is forced to make a deal with its current owner – pose for a nude statue by the infamous sculptor M.L. Emery. Fallon isn’t sure what to expect when she arrives at his remote Canadian home, but Frenchman Max certainly isn’t it. He’s too young, too hot, too rude, and too weird. He also doesn’t believe her cover story for a single moment, but she is determined not to let him put her off having the statue done. Their forced contact separates her from her normal life, but slowly opens her up to a new one, one she isn’t sure she understands or even wants…

NOTE: In the matter of full disclosure, I was offered a copy of this book for the purpose of a review.

The art of the sensual is such a subjective matter. What is crass to one is magic to another. That sort of subjectivity prevails in any artistic medium, but sometimes, the labels placed upon these works can’t encompass the individual’s reaction to it. This is certainly true for both myself and the characters of this story. This is sold as a contemporary romance from Samhain, and though there’s lovemaking later on, it’s not as blunt or drawn out as you’d typically find in most erotic romances. Hence, the label, I’m sure. However, I still managed to find this one of the most sensual stories I read this year, even without the more obvious sex.

It opens with Fallon Frost arriving at the remote home of sculptor M.L. Emery. She’s expecting an older, artistic type. She hardly anticipates meeting someone she’d mistaken as a model. Max is tall, dark, lean, and dangerous-looking, with his intense eyes and lack of personal boundaries. He’s rude and abrupt with Fallon, asking questions that make her uncomfortable and making statements that would normally send her running. However, she is determined to see this commission through, since the man who is paying for it is willing to trade her the statue for a property she is desperate to save. Max thinks he will end up scaring Fallon away, since she is clearly uncomfortable in her own skin as well as uncomfortable with any sort of physical connections. He tells her she will have to sit for him for three months, which means Fallon taking an unpaid leave of absence from work and pretty much losing contact with her friends. For Fallon, however, the end result is worth it.

There’s a fascinating dichotomy going on almost from the very start of the book. Fallon is prickly and private, and Max, though in some ways just as private, is all about exposing what’s beneath the skin. He pushes all of her buttons, and her reactions are probably typical of most people’s. She thinks he’s weird, especially when she learns he gave up being a public darling for hiding away in Nova Scotia and sculpting only people with physical deformities. In some ways, she finds his actions cruel, forcing people to face what are often terrible things about their lives, while he fails to understand why she can’t see the beauty in accepting every aspect of who an individual is. They butt heads on this and other topics again and again in their interactions, and for a good part of the first third of the book, really lack any kind of romantic spark.

But then something happens. These two strangers begin to know each other. They begin to trust. And once Fallon’s walls start to come down (though I must admit, I found the correlations with her last name a tad heavy-handed and unnecessary considering the delicacy with which the sensuality is handled), the sparks begin to fly. Instead of being the weird artist, Max becomes this lonely man, desperate to find a sense of true self and normalcy amongst the chaos of his life. His story unfolds almost achingly, and for every layer that’s revealed, I understood him that much more. I also fell in love with him that much more. There’s a certain raw appeal about his refusal to be anything but what he is. Fallon credits it to his French honesty, and while that probably plays a certain role in his characterization, I think it’s just as much about the man himself and the life he’s lived.

Compared to Max, however, Fallon doesn’t feel quite as fully fleshed. Her awkwardness and almost antisocial demeanor in the beginning of the book are sometimes difficult to read. We’re told she has to save this house, but we aren’t told why until later on in the story. There are glimpses of what that story might be, but the real facts don’t come out when I needed them most. I failed to grasp the magnitude of what she was doing at the start of the story, to better accept an attitude I found I didn’t like, because I lacked the whole why to give it any context or depth. By the time I got enough of what was going on, my opinions on her were already well solidified, and they’re weren’t quite as forgiving as they were of Max. It’s not helped that I kept expecting her boundary issues, her anxiety over her body, about being touched, about exposing any part of her, to stem from something truly traumatic. While her history suggests those kinds of reactions could occur, there wasn’t enough time spent on it to convince me that was the case.

The only other aspect of the book that really triggered a less than positive response from me was the ending. I’m not saying it isn’t an HEA, because it most certainly is, with an epilogue that expands a bit more on them. But the ending itself is actually quite abrupt. It went from a problem dividing the two lovers to a resolution in about six hundred words, and then proceeded to leap into an epilogue. After spending so much time with these two, and being privy to the growth of their relationship through these long conversations and sessions together, I needed to see them more after they reconciled and before the events of the epilogue to let that satisfaction sink in. It’s like the ending is a gasp when the entire story has been a long, drawn-out sigh. It didn’t fit, and ultimately cheated me out of what I’m positive could have been a stupendous ending.

I still truly enjoyed this love story, though. Max got under my skin, a feat I’m sure he would have been well proud of, and the joy in seeing them come together was a real treat. It’s sensual and lovely, like a rose unfolding. The thorns might have pricked at first, but the beauty of blossom to bloom was well worth it.


8/10 – Alternating dialogue driven sections with the art/discovery sections made this surprisingly swift to read


9/10 – His antagonistic attitude took some getting used to, but once I knew him better, I fell head over heels


6/10 – While sympathetic, some of her reactions felt over the top considering her history and in general did not feel nearly as fully fleshed as Max

Entertainment value

8/10 – I couldn’t put it down once I started, though the ending felt a tad too abrupt given the care given the rest of the story

World building

7/10 – Max’s world was fantastic, but the lack of the same attention going to Fallon’s was to her detriment



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