Blurb: Brought up in the savage captivity of her unstable grandmother’s rural Pennsylvania home, Mari Calder once yearned for rescue. Now she struggles every day to function as an adult in the confines of normal society. Left with only a foggy recollection of her childhood, she’s consumed with being a dutiful wife to her husband, Ryan, and mother to their two children.
But an unexpected twist of events returns her to that long-forgotten house in the woods. Soon, Mari is greeted with reminders of a past life, the clarified memories only inviting a new level of strangeness into her fragile world. To protect her family, she must find the beautiful, powerful strength hidden in her inner chaos. Because someone is bent on exploiting Mari’s trauma, and as normal and wild begin to blend, a string of devastating truths force Mari to question all she thought she knew.
Mandi: Although Megan Hart writes some of the best erotic romances I’ve read (see here and here), she also writes other books – crazy, right? *wink* Lovely Wild is an ‘other’ book, a fiction book. This is not a traditional romance book with a HEA, nor is there erotic sex. It’s a look at a family, more specifically, a woman who was starved and neglected as a child by her grandmother. After her grandmother dies, Mari, under the age of ten, is finally discovered hiding under a sink. She doesn’t have verbal skills – she growls, uses hand signals and is emancipated – and feral. She is taken under the wing by a regarded psychiatrist who nurses her to health – both physically and mentally. She is eventually adopted by this man, which ethically is frowned upon but no abuse takes place. He becomes a father to her and after a time, Mari falls in love with her adopted father’s son, Ryan.
Ryan is an adult in medical school when his father adopts the teenage Mari. When Mari is seventeen, his father dies suddenly, and a few months later Mari and Ryan get married. Ryan knows of Mari, and what the basic premise of what she has gone through. Or so he thinks. She is a pretty famous case. They marry, have two kids and live what everyone would consider a normal life. But obviously, the trauma Mari incurs as a child makes her adult life different. Let’s get into her first.
Pamela’s thoughts: One thing that I like to do is read a book without reading the blurb, and going in to it completely blind. With an author like Megan Hart, this can make for a wild ride. From the get-go, I felt connected to Mari and was interested in her story. I wanted to know more about what caused her to have these little compulsions she had, such as obsessively counting the food in her pantry. I wanted to know more about her relationships with her children, and her husband.
Mandi’s thoughts: Mari is such a complex character. A person who no one ever expected to become a functioning adult. A woman who has overcome so much tragedy and built a meaningful life. She is a wonderful mother. A caring wife (or is she?) and while she doesn’t always pick up on social clues, she is smart enough to know how to research or where to look to fit in. I don’t think any of her friends would ever guess the torment she went through as a child.
I found it very interesting that she marries the son of her adoptive father, at quite a young age. Was she truly in love with him, or is he the first adult to awaken her sexuality? I don’t think we ever get the answer but I like that twist in this book. It was so frowned upon that an older, respected doctor adopts Mari, ending his marriage, that the fact she marries his son makes it all more….scandalous.
Although Mari is pretty well adjusted, she still has moments of hoarding food or hiding under the kitchen table. I found the author to take such great care with Mari’s personality and telling her story. I was really impressed.
Ryan (the husband)
Pamela’s thoughts: Blech. Ryan isn’t a hero. Ryan isn’t even an anti-hero. In fact, Mari is the hero and heroine here. And as long as you are comfortable knowing you probably are not ever going to actually like him, you’ll like the story just fine. The thing is, there were some parts where I was convinced he was the villain, and in some ways he is. He is such a non-what-you’d-expect character, much like the story in general, he doesn’t fit in to a nice specific defined role (other than jackhole) and that really added a great element to the overall suspenseful feeling of the story.
Mandi’s thoughts: I have to agree with Pamela 100% . Where Mari is this strong, fierce woman who has fought from the absolute pit of despair, Ryan is a booger. He is like a wet noodle. He cheats on her. He faces a malpractice suit. While he may act like a good father, he is extremely selfish. I’m not convinced he ever truly fell in love with Mari. I think he fell in love with the idea falling in love with her. Of being the sweeping gentleman who falls for the healed heroine. Instead he is whiney and I wanted to slap him. But as Pamela says, he has moments in this book where I didn’t know what to do with him or what to think. He takes the entire family for the summer to the house where Mari grew up – the house where she was starved and treated like an animal. WHY? Because he is super evil deep down, or because he is selfish and wanted to exploit her memories? Both? You’ll have to discover for yourself.
Kendra (the teenage daughter)
Pamela’s thoughts: Maaaaan, Kendra took me BACK. Back to being a pre-teen dealing with puberty and becoming interested in boys, (it also was a nice stressful reminder of what I will likely be dealing with my own daughter *groan*). The hormonal angst, the betrayal of other girlfriends, the boy who likes your friend and not you. Paranoia that everyone is ignoring you. Oy. But her relationship with her mom is so beautifully done. Here is an example of a successful story where the children are not just “there”, they are wonderfully fleshed out and real characters that 100% add to the story.
Mandi’s thoughts: I thought Kendra was so well written. We get her point of view in this book and I could really connect with her. As she starts to learn about her mom’’s past or notice certain things of her mom’s behavior, the way she processes this information stayed true to being a teenager. Her mom is her MOM – one nasty rumor or weird reaction to something isn’t going to take away her feelings for her mom. Her troubles with boys and just her overall attitude was so well done. I’m glad the author included her POV.
Pamela’s thoughts: I looooooooove unreliable narration! Love it. And I do feel that this could be categorized as such. Between glimpses of Mari’s past that form how she sees events now, to contrasting perspectives from her teen daughter, we know that likely reality was somewhere in between. One example is that creepy freaking house in the woods! The way it was described from the kids’ point of view, that was straight up nightmare things-that-go-boo-in-the-night territory. Contrast that with how it’s described when Mari stumbles upon it, totally different.
I really thought this was a horror book at first. I remember direct messaging Mandi kind of panicking over the fact that I went in to this blind because I just assumed it was a romance, but it became very clear that it was not. And the setting and tone were just so freaky, and creepy! At one point I was convinced Megan Hart was trying her hand at horror, it truly had this Stephen King spooky feel to it for a good part of the first half! The house and the woods become their own characters. Once they move back to the house Mari grew up in, I really couldn’t figure out how Hart was going to tie the events that kept happening in the current, to her past. BUT BOY, DID SHE.
Mandi’s thoughts: I truly freaked out at a certain point in this book. This author writes the suspense so well. It’s quiet and it creeps up on you. You know something big is going on but you don’t know what it is. And seeing it out of the eyes of Mari, Ryan and Kendra all give us a different perspective. And at the end, I was very satisfied with the suspense result. Totally agree with everything Pamela said. It was the kind of book where I DM’d Pamela in all capital letters several times. Super fun to read with a friend.
The end of the book:
Pamela’s thoughts: I just….. wow. I went BACK to thinking this book is a romance somewhere around 75% in, once a new character is introduced, and then things unravel and are revealed and my “YES! it IS a romance!” proclamation (In true romance-fan style, holding out for that tiny chance it could still be a romance) was drop kicked down the highway. Out of all the things I thought might happen, I did not, did not, did NOT see this twist coming. It was so spectacular, that I caught myself almost wanting to laugh out loud. But not in a bad way, just in a total expression of shock.
Mandi’s thoughts: The end was kind of crazy but it wraps up the big mystery. As in most Megan Hart books, the very end is always a little iffy. What I mean is, there is never a solid HEA or conclusion to the books I’ve read by her. There is always room for doubt. But – as this isn’t really a romance book, and as complex as this book is, I think this ending worked out very well. It made sense to me.
Pamela: I think this book is FREAKING AWESOME. I usually desire more romance or erotica and was expecting that in this book, but what I got left no disappointments. I was hooked really from the first page, and there are so many unconventional elements to this overall story, that I wish everything I read kept me this engaged and guessing. I think the ending is somewhat controversial and will spark debates. I think people will either love it as much as I did, or really hate it. Despite there not being a true romantic HEA by definition, I do feel as though Hart does a fantastic job at keeping the characters true to themselves with the decisions that are made at the end. I was satisfied, and left wanting more of THIS kind of story from the author.
Mandi: When this book first arrived, I assumed it was an erotic romance book so what it turns out to be surprised me but in the best way possible. The imperfect characters, the creepy suspense, the ending. I was captivated by it the whole time. I love some erotic Megan Hart, but now I can say I love some fiction Megan Hart.