It might be a stretch to call Once Burned by Maragret Way a vintage book, since it was only published in 1995. However, with its 20 year anniversary fast approaching (and the fact that I found it in a vintage book sore) I’ll include it in this week’s Vintage Book Friday anyway.
Margaret Way was first published by Mills & Boon in 1970 (her novel was titled The Time of the Jacaranda) and she has gone on to publish over a hundred books with them, to date. Looking back through the titles she’s published, it’s clear that Way favours writing about the great Australian Outback and countryside, which provides a vivid backdrop for all manner of romance stories.
Published under both the Harlequin Romance and Mill & Boon Sweet lines, Once Burned is an Australian-set romance featuring a runaway bride and a family with more hidden agendas than a spy movie.
Celine Langton is a runaway bride (well, a runaway fiancée, more accurately) who fled her engagement to Guy Harcourt amid the pressure of growing up in a very rich, very dysfunctional and largely conniving family. At 19 she was naive, vulnerable and sheltered by her domineering grandfather; although she loved Guy she fled to Sydney to become her own person yet still wears his ring around her neck.
Upon her grandfather’s death, Celine returns home to face the people she left behind and to discover a few truths about her family. Her cousin Ashley, the one person she regarded as a confidant and close friend, has actually been feeding lies back to the family about Celine and neglecting to pass on messages and gifts that she’d sent. Much to the chagrin of her uncles, Celine has inherited a substantial amount from her grandfather including a seat at the board and a twenty percent stake in the family business.
What I liked…
There’s a lot of comeuppance in this story, I like that. It’s certainly no Liam Neeson or Chuck Norris-style comeuppance, but hey – this is a romance novel after all and no one needs a roundhouse kick to the head.
Celine manages to overcome a lot of her fears in the book, she learns to stand up for herself and she makes a positive impact on many members in her family, whilst doing it in her own style. As a character she grows, yet she stays mostly true to herself and her own values. She has a fairly ‘soft’ approach, but she becomes increasingly confident as the story moves on and ultimately she puts all of her horrid relatives in their place.
Way did a great job of colourfully portraying Celine’s family and all of their vices, flaws and quirks. I found myself really hoping that Celine would bring them all undone in the end.
What I didn’t like…
A couple of things brought this book down for me. Firstly, there were a lot of characters and the book itself was quite short. That meant lots of names and family connections to remember, I felt that some of the characters were superfluous and the story could have done without them (namely Guy’s mother and grandmother, Helena’s companion etc.) A family tree ala V.C Andrews would have helped
Secondly, although I felt that Celine grew throughout the course of the novel, her stubborn naivety really bugged me. She allows her cousin Ashley so much power and, in the beginning, never once thinks to question her or has any suspicions about what Ashley is trying to achieve. I found the ‘twist’ regarding Ashley’s betrayal all too obvious and it only made me lose connection with Celine as a character. At this point she had started to verge on the dreaded TSTL character (aka too stupid to live, a stereotype found mainly in the romance and horror genres) and even after she redeemed herself and I wanted her to succeed in bringing down her relatives, I couldn’t quite relate to her as a person.
Once Burned – Overall…
I was really torn between the enjoyment of the comeuppance and the dislike of Celine’s all-consuming naivety. I think had the heroine toughened up a bit earlier on, I would have enjoyed Once Burned a little more. However, the story itself was interesting enough to keep me reading.
Rating – ♥♥♥
As I mentioned I found my copy in a vintage book store, but if you’re buying online you could try Amazon.