Monday, September 9, 2013

Digital Review: Those Wacky Highlanders

Readers often talk about how digital has changed the way they read.  For me?  The only noticeable difference I see is the way I read short stories and novellas.  I've always enjoyed anthologies - being a quick, easy, and cost effective way to try multiple authors in one scoop.  But with digital?  It's just easier to read (and buy!) one short story or one novella by one author.  What Harlequin has done with Highlanders is give readers the traditional anthology format in digital by spotlighting three of their authors currently working in Scottish settings.

The Warrior And The Rose by Brenda Joyce is a story that I suspect will please her fans, but me?  Yeah, not so much.

Lady Juliana MacDougall is going to her family's chapel to pray for her brother's safe return (he's off fighting against Robert Bruce).  She thought she was far away from the war, until the war shows up to murder her bishop and burn down her chapel.  Alasdair Og came to exact vengeance after he discovers that Juliana's brother sent the bishop to spy on them.  Sworn enemies, that doesn't stop from Alasdair from admiring Juliana's spirited nature or from Juliana from noticing the hot and hunky highlander.

This is an I Hate You, I Hate You, We Are Sworn Enemies, Let's Have Sex, Now I Lurve You books.  Honestly, it's a story that probably could have worked in a full-length novel, where the author would have had more time to really develop the emotional complexities a relationship like this would entail.  But here?  It's rushed.  And sadly the sex is written in a vague sort of way, so you can't really chalk up the hate one minute, love the next stuff to some sizzling bedroom play.  If you're a fan of the author, or a big Scottish history nut (Juliana and Alasdair were apparently a real life couple) - then this maybe worth a whirl.  For me?  It was pretty unsatisfying.

Grade = D

The Forbidden Highlander by Terri Brisbin didn't light my world on fire, but it gets better the further along you read and the author does well with the short format.

James Murray is in love with Elizabeth MacLerie.  The fly in the ointment?  It's been arranged for James to marry Elizabeth's BFF.  So he convinces Elizabeth to run away with him, to find an old priest in a nearby area, so they can elope.  Sure, people will be pissed, but by then the deed will be done.  Except bad weather stalls their travel long enough for Elizabeth's disgruntled brother (who thinks his sister has been kidnapped) to give chase.

Part of this story reminded me of Romeo and Juliet in respect that James and Elizabeth strike me as dumb kids.  But the further the story rolls along, plus the introduction of Elizabeth's Big Secret spices things up a bit.  I liked that Elizabeth's past does effect James and he does react to it, and I also liked that he comes around ("Gee, I was kind of an asshat to her....") on his own and a third party doesn't need to point out the error of his ways.  It wasn't a super-spectacular read for me, but it was enjoyable.

Grade = B-

Rescued By The Highland Warrior by Michelle Willingham has a pretty unsavory premise, but I ended up loving the journey the author took me on.

Celeste de Laurent's husband is dead and having provided no heir (let alone a spare!), her brother-in-law and wife are set to inherit big.  But Wifey isn't willing to chance it.  I mean, Celeste could still be pregnant and just not know it yet.  So when she's not trying to poison her with herbs to make her miscarry, she's openly threatening her.  Celeste's entire life has been built on protecting and providing for herself and her younger sister.  She knows she's not preggers and she's so scared of going back to desolate poverty that she concocts a scheme to get pregnant by....oh anyone will do.  But she decides to find Dougal MacKinloch, the guy she tossed over to marry her dead husband.  Why?  Because while she was madly in love with Dougal, love don't pay the rent.  Needless to say, Dougal is still smarting over that rejection.

So yeah, the heroine sounds like a total bitch, right?  But as a woman, you can understand it.  It's medieval Scotland.  As a woman if you don't marry well you're pretty much screwed (and not in a good way).  Having grown up in poverty, then throwing herself on the kindness of strangers to make a good match for her after her parents die -  it's not like she had a ton of options of throwing that all away just because she happened to be in love.  I suspect a lot of readers won't "like" her.  I'm not sure I always liked her - but I did understand her.

There's great emotional stuff here, and I loved that when Dougal thinks Celeste deceives him (again!) - his entire family rallies around him.  This was definitely my favorite story in the bunch.  Willingham packs a lot of angst in a short word count.

Grade = B

Yep, pretty much a standard anthology.  A story I didn't like, a story that I liked OK, and a story I liked quite a bit.  If you're a fan of Scottish historicals and looking for some new-to-you authors, this anthology isn't a bad way to go.


S. said...

Brenda Joyce is one of the authors I won't ever read again. I've tried two books from different genres and one was awful and the other stupid. Not for me either.

The others I haven't tried.

Wendy said...

S: Yeah, it was definitely the least successful of the stories for me - and I was glad when I finally got through it. I mostly read this one for the Willingham entry. I tend to like her stories and you can usually count on her medievals for some angst (and I love me some angst!)

Kate Rothwell said...

hey, so I came over to see if you'd read The Double Cross, by Carla Kelly. Talk about different historicals -- I haven't read it yet (and I sort of burned out on Kelly lately but I can come around)whenever I see a slightly different historical, I think of you. Here's the first line of the description:"The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragon is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico."

I'm reading an f/f vampire hard-boiled private eye sort of a book that is really fun.

Wendy said...

Kate: You know, I keep forgetting about that one! I keep seeing it mentioned places (AAR most notably) and it keeps flying under my radar. Thanks!

Kate Rothwell said...

After I asked you, I got it and started reading and, eh, not my favorite. I like the hero all right. The cartoony uncle, the winsome priests and other details don't seem up to Kelly's best. Or maybe I needed to take a longer break?