Meredith Duran is the author of eight previous novels, including The Duke of Shadows (winner of the Gather.com First Chapters Romance Writing Competition); Wicked Becomes You (included on the Woman’s World List of Best Beach Reads for Summer 2010), and the USA TODAY bestseller Fool Me Twice. She blames Anne Boleyn for sparking her lifelong obsession with British history, and for convincing her that princely love is no prize if it doesn’t come with a happily-ever-after. She enjoys collecting old etiquette manuals, guidebooks to nineteenth-century London, and travelogues by intrepid Victorian women. Visit her at MeredithDuran.com, or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.
Sometimes you get a good romance and it serves its purpose, and that's alright. But sometimes you get a book in your hand and, despite it being marketed as yet another bodice ripper, it goes beyond the genre. This is the case.
Meredith Duran is not content to just write a novel by the numbers, she actually takes questions that other romance writers just usually shove under the rug and tries to answer them. In Written on Your Skin, a strong independant woman, kept captive for years makes her bid for independance. In doing so, she gets tangled with a man she once saved, a man she is attracted to and who is attracted to her.
At first their issues are about trust, but eventually they shift towards their approach to life, their different philosophy and their deepest fears. For that, you have to admire the author who fleshes her protagonists with emotional truth, even when it makes writing the love story harder.
The author has strong personalities for the main character and that drew me in. And while the characters have room to evolve and grow, their point of views and actions remain consistent with the core of those characters.
The book does contain an intrigue and a sort of mystery plot. I have to say it's not the greatest spy story in terms of action and suspense. And I think the mystery and intrigue end up taking a backseat to the emotional conflict. But that's alright, when the relationship between characters is so well written, it doesn't matter if the book can't double as a James Bond novel.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Brilliantly Written and Edgy -- A Fabulous Historical RomanceAug. 2 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Meredith Duran is a relatively new entrant in the historical romance genre, but her remarkable talent seems to grow with every book she writes. "Written on Your Skin" is her third historical romance and is loosely connected to her recent release, "Bound by Your Touch", although the books do not need to be read in sequence.
"Written on Your Skin" is the story of Phin Granville, a cartographer and former British spy, and Mina Masters, the lovely, seemingly spoiled step-daughter of one of Phin's former espionage targets. While the character types are very familiar to historical romance readers (tortured nobleman spy--check, headstrong society beauty--check), Duran's ability to transcend the stereotypes and bring these characters fully alive is what sets this book above others in the romance genre.
The story begins in Hong Kong in 1880, with Phin wrapping up a mission aimed at bringing down Gerald Collins, a wealthy Irish-American businessman, gun-runner and Mina's step-father. Phin views Mina as a reckless, bubble-headed flirt; a "loose end" from his investigation that will not go away or take no for an answer. But when Phin is poisoned during a party at Collin's house, it is Mina who has the presence of mind to save his life and help him to escape, despite the risks to herself and her mother.
Four years later, it is Mina who needs Phin's help when her mother is kidnapped by an escaped Collins during a trip to England. But Phin has recently and unexpectedly come into the title of Earl of Ashmore, and his elevation into the aristocracy has allowed him to finally turn his back on the violence of the past decade and upon his hated spy-master, Ridland. When Ridland tells Phin that Mina is requesting his help, Phin initially believes that it is a plot by Ridland to discredit him or bring him back into the game of spying for England. He agrees to help Mina in the search for her mother, but only if she remains at his house under lock and key. Mina is aware that there was a traitor in the British spy network in Hong Kong four years ago, but since she is not sure of the traitor's identity, she is reluctant to trust anyone, including Ridland. She is desperate to rescue her mother from her abusive step-father, and warily joins forces with Phin to do so, although she chafes at (and revolts against) his attempts to lock her in.
The characterizations in this book are outstanding. Both Phin and Mina carry the emotional and physical scars of their past and are constantly playing roles to hide their true selves. Phin hides his lethal skills and violent past behind the facade of a dissipated, bored nobleman, and Mina pretends to be a brainless, fragile china doll, when in truth she is calculating and rather ruthless. Phin's father was a alcoholic wastrel, and Phin has deep-seated fears that he will end up just like his father. His feelings of dissociation with his more innocent, "wholesome" past are poignant and even disturbing at times. Mina's mother was trapped in an abusive marriage to Collins, and Mina has vowed never to put herself in a man's control due to the horrors that she witnessed in that marriage. She has become a successful businesswoman in the four years since Hong Kong, and is adamant about being in control of herself and her own destiny. The attraction between Phin and Mina is combustible, despite their initial efforts to deny it or minimize it. The issues of trust--trusting one's own instincts, trusting one's self and trusting others--are beautifully explored in the story.
The prose in this story is lovely, reminiscent of the best in the genre. For historical romance readers who has been missing the writing style of Judith Ivory and Laura Kinsale, this book is for you.
VERY HIGHLY recommended for historical romance readers who like complex, flawed characters and beautiful prose.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Lyrical, but Excessively Dark and Slow to BuildSept. 12 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
There is no denying the fact that Meredith Duran is a talented writer and a truly original voice in the very crowded historical romance market. Her descriptions of things as mundane as haystacks are so vivid that they'll stay with you long after you close the novel. And her depth of characterization is memorable as well.
This story concerns two characters you may have difficulty warming up to, though, even though they are expertly drawn. Phin is a deeply miserable person for a good portion of the book, and although we get an explanation for that misery throughout (he resents the fact that he was forced to become an agent when he really just wanted to be an ordinary map maker), Duran takes until almost the end of the novel to explain how he was forced into doing something he hated. Without that explanation, Phin just looks like an overly cynical, whiny, brutish opium addict. Speaking of the opium, we see Phin both in this novel and its predecessor "Bound by your Touch" that he uses the stuff fairly regularly, and we all know it was/is highly addictive. But somehow Phin escapes the perils of addiction without anyone really commenting on it, and that didn't really ring true to me.
And with his best friend, James, he's a jerk. Usually in romance novels, scenes between friends are a great way for us to see why someone would love the hero, even if the heroine is skeptical. But here, the scenes are painful and hard to read because both characters are jaded, hostile, and unlikeable.
I liked Mina a lot, and found her unique among romance heroines. She's smart, capable, and hardened against men after seeing the abusive relationship between her mother and stepfather. Her hesitance to not trust Phin made sense, yet unlike Phin, she comes across as essentially a happy person, so she was more endearing.
Phin and Mina meet in China, where both are essentially under cover. They're attracted to each other, but due to circumstances, it doesn't go anywhere. When they meet again years later, they still don't trust each other, and although that's understandable considering their backgrounds, their mistrust and Phin's grouchiness towards her grow tiresome very quickly.
Overall, I thought this romance could have used a little more, well, romance. An extra does of tenderness would have been ice as well. There are love scenes, and they're well done, but the story would have benefitted from a few more sweet exchanges or moments to cancel out the effect of all the darkness. It's hard to enjoy the beauty of the writing when you're not sure the characters are ready, willing, or deserving of love with each other. For instance, I would have liked a scene where Phin and let down their guards and simply laughed together over something mundane--just something so they appeared more human and in love with each other.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Masterfull Historical (A Grade)July 28 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Written on Your Skin is a beautiful, all encompassing experience. Meredith makes sure to bring forth every emotion. And those who wish to write their own historical romance, take note. Meredith Duran is becoming a master writer of this genre. Learn from her.
The year is 1880, the setting is Hong Kong, Tokyo. Phin Granville is working undercover as a British spy. He needs to take down a Mr. Gerard Collins who will soon be arrested for crimes against the British government. Phin hates this life. He doesn't want to be a spy. It eats away at him where the stress gets to him so much that he has horrible headaches. But Phin doesn't really have a plan or the desire to figure out what he wants in life. He does enjoy making maps, that's for certain, and longs for the sweet release of his torments through smoking Opium. Phin is close to having a breakdown at any moment. But then Collins' step-daughter waltzes into his life and the suffering he experiences will not compare to the run around Mina gives him. Mina is a young, brash American who flaunts herself in front of society and taunts Phin wherever he goes. When Phin first meets Mina he thinks of her as a featherbrain, a very fragile young woman who looks like a porcelain doll. Mina is full of energy and enjoys speaking what's on her mind. Mina wants Phin and even though Phin thinks he can handle Mina, he can't. He treats her with disdain and near loathing, but underneath this façade, he wants her desperately. He hates feeling this way for a woman and can't decide if he wants to wring her neck or screw her into oblivion.
It's all about facades between these two. The world sees Phin one way. The same goes for Mina. Her step father beats her poor mother who is like a butterfly, fluttering against a window pane and trying to find a way to escape, but knows she can't because she is stuck in the hell of her own making. Mina won't be like her mother, even though she loves her dearly. Mina wants to break away and will help her mother also but running back to New York City and away from Collins. But there is a problem, and it is Phin. He is poisoned by one of Collins' lackeys. Mina nurses him back to health and helps him get away. And because Mina does help, the horrors her mother has gone through will not compare to what Mina will endure under Collins' hands.
Because Mina is a resourceful young woman she and her mother are able to make their way back to New York. Mina has started a very profitable hair tonic business. But Mina is now in London, four years later, searching for her missing mother. I am not sure why and how Mina's mother is in England and again at the hands of Collins, but Mina must find her mother before she is hurt or found dead. Collins is not one you want to cross and he will take out his anger on Mina's mama before Mina can save her. Mina is only one small woman after all. She may be resourceful but needs someone who is more skillful at the deceit and spy game. And that is Phin.
Phin never thought he would see Miss Masters again and does not want Mina in his life because she affects him in ways he cannot understand. Mina is very vulnerable even though she hides it so well. She is so good at putting on an act, one that even Phin misses at first. But he knows what game she is playing. Mina may drive him batty, but he sees her as a woman who cares for her mother and wants to save her from a horrible man before it is too late. Phin is now a rich Baron and has no choice but to help Mina. They will search across the English countryside looking for Mina's missing mother. During this time they will come to learn and understand who each other really is and why they act the way they do towards one another. Their desire and lust will grow and grow until it can no longer be contained.
Written on Your Skin is one of the most wonderfully sophisticated books I have read this year. In the mood for a road romance? This is your book. What some hotter than hot sex scenes? The passion and heat between this duo is very intense. There is one scene where my mouth dropped because Phin is so very naughty when he expresses his desire to bed Mina. And when these two do the deed, the crude language Phin uses with Mina will shock, but in a good way. The sex between Phin and Mina is a very powerful thing because this is where they accept each other, faults and all. Phin is too pushy and acts cold and superior to Mina because the idea that she can break through his defenses he has built around himself scares him. Mina may act mature and worldly but she lashes out in ways that are very immature. It is a mechanism to protect herself. Meredith has also given Mina an adorable childhood addiction she can't give up that equals to one sucking their thumb.
Written on Your Skin is an incredible feat of writing, one where you will read late into the night so you can soak up every detail on the page. Dark, poignant and all consuming, this book will have you awestruck because the words that Meredith Duran has written reaches deep into your soul.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
90% of the book felt like filler - ponderings, and descriptions. Plot developments not shown. Weak vague dialogue.Feb. 4 2012
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
STORY BRIEF: Mina's stepfather Collins was doing something illegal in Hong Kong. Phin was working undercover to catch Collins. Someone poisoned Phin's drink and he collapsed. Mina took him to a room to recover and helped him escape. Phin worked for Ridland at that time. Four years later Collins escaped British authorities. Ridland imprisons Mina in a locked hotel room thinking she can help him catch Collins. She escapes Ridland and wants Phin to help her find her mother. Mina believes Collins kidnapped her mother.
REVIEWER'S OPINION: This is the kind of book that makes me think I am not a good reader. I had a terrible time concentrating. It was hard to read, hard to pay attention, hard to know what was going on. Maybe a different kind of mind can handle this writing style. I cannot. So many things were vague. I don't know what happened to Collins, Mina, or her mother during the four years. Who arrested Collins and for what. How did he escape and from where and why. Mina says she liked Phin, but we never saw how they met or why she liked him. There were not enough events and actions to develop the plot. For example, Phin and Mina are on a train. Just before they get off, they suspect a man is following them because he is well dressed. So Phin presses a nerve causing the man to fall unconscious just as he and Mina leave the train. Nothing else happens regarding that man. He was never in the story before or after the train. We are never told if he was working for someone, was following them, or anything else the man did afterwards. It felt like an unrelated and isolated event to show that Phin knew how to make a man unconscious. Another example, Mina is imprisoned in a hotel room. We are told Ridland imprisoned her, but we never saw the conversation or action that put her there. The next thing you know she is out of the room. We don't see her leaving the room. The next scene has her talking with Phin saying her servant is missing. She believes Phin may know something about it. I don't know how she found Phin, or got to him, or if he was the one who came to her. The events are choppy, no flow.
The conversations are too drawn out with too much pondering between comments. For example on page 221 Phin tells Mina they must stay the night at the inn. She then ponders for TWO PAGES thinking about the following before she says anything. She thinks about the size of the bed, Phin's appearance and qualities, a former guy she knew and had sex with, suffragettes, free love, contraception, sex outside of marriage, divorce is a sin, fallen women, and what Phin might teach her about sex. Then she says "Well, I suppose we are here for the night, then." Soon after this book I was reading a John Grisham book and a Lisa Kleypas book. Their styles are enjoyable and easy to read. Neither one of them drew out conversations this way. Their style is the following: A says something. B "thinks" (maybe 1 or 2 sentences of thought, if any) and then B "says" ... These authors do not use TWO PAGES of pondering before B responds to A. Not all conversations in "Written On Your Skin" are interrupted as badly as this. But far too many of them have paragraphs of ponderings that distract from the conversation. I lose interest.
During the entire book, nothing was interesting. I kept reading or trying to read hoping something good would come. It didn't. The dialogue between Mina and Phin was vague. She was either playing mind games or just sounding illogical. The sex scenes did nothing for me. I felt the need to skim.
DATA: Story length: 357 pages. Swearing language: moderate, including religious swear words. Sexual language: strong. Number of sex scenes: 3. Estimated number of sex scene pages: 23. Setting: 1880 Hong Kong and 1884 England. Copyright: 2009. Genre: historical romance.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Satisfying Victorian Romace for the Intellectual!Aug. 8 2011
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I have read the few who have given this novel low ratings and believe they are just not justified. Duran has now written five wonderful historic romances that consistently deliver some of the best and most sophisticated prose and dialog in the most well told romances out there. She sets her stories well in the times (particularly her first one, THE DUKE OF SHADOWS, set in a tumultuous time in India's history) and delivers an emotionally complex tale that will keep you turning pages. But they are not the superficial, insipid stories so often offered up to readers of romance these days. They are meatier, emotionally complex and the heroes and heroines multi-dimensional, truly interesting people. Her heroines are some of the strongest and most interesting heroines in romance. I can't say enough about how much I am loving her work and her characters.
WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN follows closely the story in BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH. I recommend you read them together. The hero in the latter, Viscount Sanburne, is featured in this one and Phin, his friend the cartographer with the mysterious government job, is the hero in WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN. Dear Author ranks this book as one of the Top 100 Romances of All Time; it was also a nominee for the Romantic Times award for Best Historical Romance Adventure. In other words, you won't be disappointed.
Phineas Granville, Earl of Ashmore, did not begin his life expecting to become a peer. His father died a failure and his grandfather, the earl, while educating Phin, wouldn't allow him in his home except rarely and then to lecture him on his father's faults. At Eaton, Phin met the colorful Viscount Sanburne (from BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH), and they have remained lifelong friends. Thrown out of Eaton, Phin became a cartographer and then a hardened British spy. While in Hong Kong in 1880, pretending to be an American, he is betrayed and poisoned. He is rescued by a young American debutante he thought was only an airhead, Miss Mina Masters, a beautiful blue-eyed blonde. But Mina is no airhead; that is just her act for men, including Phin, who fail to see her intelligence and cunning. Four years later, Mina (now a successful American businesswoman) has been taken captive by British authorities in London, who intend to use her as bait to capture a traitor linked to her stepfather, a horrible man who has apparently been a part of dealings that have resulted in the deaths of many as well as the theft of information the government wants badly. Phin owes Mina a favor, and though he's now a peer and no longer a spy, he comes to her aid when she uses his name with the British.
Both Phin and Mina hide behind masks. Phin can't seem to leave his days of death behind him (losing himself in opium), and Mina will show no man her real self. What happens when they are forced to work together is most intriguing. This romance has some of the most witty, funniest and most compelling dialog I have ever read. It had me laughing out loud as Mina played the dumb blonde for Phin and then had me nearly in tears as Phin's past threatened to destroy his future.
Here are some lines I particularly enjoyed:
"Miss Masters seemed oblivious to the complexities of the moment, including the progressive stiffening of her new acquaintances as the doorway remained empty. No surprise there--she had, after all, been raised among wolves, or in America; he was not sure there was a difference."
"Most of his countrymen favored a stiff-legged, chest-pouting stride, but Phineas Granville was all slink and prowl, as if his muscles had reached some special accord that other men's had not, excusing him from the limitations of gravity and tight tailoring. Like a giant cat, she thought--and about as disagreeable as one, too."