Left at the Altar, by Justine Davis (a joint review)

21 Apr

From the wayback machine, Issek and azteclady bring you…

Left at the Altar, by Justine Davis

An older category romance published by Silhouette’s Intimate Moments line back in 1994, Left at the Altar is still one of my favorites of Ms Davis’ earlier titles. While written under many of the constraints of a category romance (length, language, etc), it features one wonderfully fresh hero.

Physically, Sean is not a perfect man. He is an amputee, having lost his left leg in a car crash that also put finis to his ambitions to play football professionally. But where Ms Davis strikes gold is in depicting Sean’s self awareness and growth, from the events in his past to the events narrated during the novel.

Back cover blurb:

The long way home.

The only woman he’d ever wanted had left him standing at the altar without a backward glance. And there was no way in the world Sean Holt was going to allow her to hurt him again-no matter how much he ached to let her into his shuttered heart…

Aurora Sheridan had let herself be torn away from the man she loved-and she’d had five long years to regret it. And now, with her life in ruins, she had no one left to turn to but him-and nothing left to dream of but another chance at love.

Left at the Altar tells the story of two people who were once engaged to be married. Five years ago, Rory left Sean literally standing at the altar on their wedding day, without more than a cold note for an explanation. After a painful and humiliating confrontation with her father, Sean has spent the intervening years believing her shallow, cruel and deceitful. So when she enters his life again, disrupting his comfortable-if cynical-worldview, he has a difficult time believing her explanations, let alone caring about her fate.

Issek: OK – what made the book for you was Sean and his growth. I agree with that, Sean was the book, not perfect, not at all, either in the present or five years ago. We first see Sean’s strength as a character when we learn what he lost when he lost his leg-a promising sports career, possibly a high-paying contract in the NFL (at least that’s what I imagined he could have had)

Having lost that, he worked hard to make his life “normal” again, and succeeded to the point that people who didn’t know him, knew nothing about his handicap (prosthesis was the first word that came to mind, since Sean never felt handicapped to me; he worked to not let his condition “handicap” him and succeeded).

He had to tell Rory about it-she never suspected. But, I think he fooled himself into thinking that that “normalcy” was something he needed, and thus he had to hide his physical condition from the woman he was in love with.

azteclady: Agreed, there was nothing weak about Sean from the start, but still Ms Davis managed to show his continued growth from the beginning of his relationship with Rory to the last page of the novel. Which brings me to Rory-who is not one of my favorite romance novel heroines, by the way. I feel that all too often she flirts with TSTL-itis and therefore feels more like a plot device than a person in her own right.

Issek: Total agreement about Rory from me. It just strained my ability to suspend my disbelief to see how she seemed not to think about her situation, the causes of it, and how to get out of it. By the way, Sean may not have been weak at the start, but he wasn’t as smart as he would become, later; Rory, however, it felt like you said, she was just a fairly unintelligent plot device

azteclady: As we discussed before, Sean is the only fully realized character in the novel, even though there are a number of secondary characters whose presence, actions and/or behaviour influence the events in the novel–both present and past. For example, Rory’s father. Even though the novel starts after his death, his actions and decisions are the root of the conflict between Rory and Sean. Yet, he is drawn mostly like a caricature-pompous, self important, shallow

Issek: And weak, don’t forget weak.

azteclady: and weak. His gestures of “love” toward his only child are rather absurd.

Issek: YES!!! but his child didn’t interpret them that way, unfortunately. She saw him as her loving father, as if she were still a three year old who couldn’t believe anything bad about her daddy and, when confronted with evidence, still wanted to protect his reputation by doing anything she could, no matter how demeaning/disgusting/fill in your favorite adjective. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

azteclady: Ah, but then she had another motive for maintaining the status quo, didn’t she? Which brings me to another issue: Rory’s motivations, the thing that made her give in to the villain’s machinations? Even though it’s revealed fairly early on to the reader, through Rory’s thought processes, it lacks impact. So much so that when it’s reiterated near the final confrontation with the villain, it seems to be a surprise for the reader (and please note, I’ve read this book several times already).

Issek: It needed to be presented much more dramatically and believably than it was, as well as much earlier. As is, it felt like “oops, this isn’t working, I’d better thrown in something really impressive to explain her TSTL-ness” Rory’s thought processes were hard to swallow (makes ya wonder what Sean thinks he sees in her).

azteclady: And what about the other characters?

Issek: Frank Talbot, the villain of the piece, seems to have been transplanted from a different, much earlier age. I see him twirling his mustaches in an old-fashioned melodrama, telling the poor farmer that, if he wants to keep his land, he’ll have to give up his daughter. Nyaahaahaaa!!! He’s a total cartoon; he could’ve come from a Warner Brothers’ Looneytune!

azteclady: Exactly! Talbot is just like the villain in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop! (and Rory bears more than a slight resemblance to Penelope herself…)

Issek: She does! Although Penelope had more brains than Rory.

azteclady: As for the other secondary characters (Sean’s sister and brother in law, his niece, mother, best friend, etc.) they are all barely developed. They seem to exist solely to provide context to Sean’s growth and development.

Issek: Even Dar, Sean’s best friend, is just barely developed; he’s a super-paraplegic, who is a champion wheelchair basketball player and marathoner. But he did help Sean to see himself as a man, and not a disabled man.

azteclady: Agreed. So tell me, anything else to say about the novel, the story, the characters, the writing? before giving a grade?

Issek: Yes, since I did not read this novel in the time that it was written, and only have more contemporary novels to compare it to (even those that are set further in the past than this one), do you think that that will influence my grade to be more negative than your own?

azteclady: Hmm…perhaps it would, yes. On the other hand, it probably means that your grade will be more objective than mine, because you are not influenced, as I am, by the novelty of Sean as a hero, and therefore you don’t have the same sentimental attachment to the novel that I do.

Issek: All right… compare it to the body of romance novels that I have read, while you are remembering the impact it made on you when you first read it. These experiences are not the same, of course. Ok, then, with that said, my grade is…

*drumroll*

I’m giving it a 6.75 – trying to take into account all the constraints you mentioned, but having a hard time with the almost-TSTL heroine and the Snidely Whiplash villain.    6.75

azteclady: Well, what do you know? It’s not that large a gap-I’m giving it a 7, mostly because Rory annoyed the everloving hell out of me this time around.

Issek: oh…that could have been my constant criticism about her that annoyed you this time

azteclady: partly, perhaps

Issek: 😀

azteclady: but also I had forgotten how annoying the martyr streak can be

Issek: Yeah…stupid martyrs, who needs ‘em? Is this a wrap?

azteclady: that it is!

* * *

2012 update: in the comments to the original post, it was noted that this novel is actually the second in a trilogy. The first one, Stevie’s Chase, tells the story of Sean’s sister and her husband. The following title, The Morning Side of Dawn, tells Dar’s story.

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One Response to “Left at the Altar, by Justine Davis (a joint review)”

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  1. The Return of Luke McGuire, by Justine Davis « Her Hands, My Hands - 02/02/2012

    […] had previously reviewed one other novel by Ms Davis, Left at the Altar (incidentally, the second title in the trilogy that ends with The Morning Side of […]

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