In Loving the Highlander, the sequel to Charming the Highlander, the men of the MacKeage clan from 12th Century Scotland continue to adapt to life in the 21st century. Morgan MacKeage is a modern-day warrior who still wears his sword and roams the backwoods of Maine completely adrift in his new world.
Into his world comes Sadie Quill, who invades his privacy and threatens his magical valley. Sadie is determined to find a lost goldmine and build a park in memory of her deceased father and sister. They first clash, and then unite against a common enemy who threatens both their lives and the land.
Linda: Blythe, this month's column is a joy for me to do - it's always fun when one discovers a great new author and particularly when you find her on her first couple of books. I read Charming the Highlander based on AAR's great review and I enjoyed Loving the Highlander even more. Somehow Morgan just grabbed me and I found him believable as a 12th century man adrift in a world he doesn't understand.
Blythe: I felt somewhat at a disadvantage, because I haven't read the first book (though as usual, I'm pretty sure I have it tbr somewhere). I wouldn't say that this book doesn't stand on its own; I think it does. But I'm sure the first book had a lot of detailed explanation about how the hero and his comrades came forward through time, and what their reaction to it was. In Loving the Highlander, time travel is already a fait accompli. The hero has been in the future (well, his future, our present) for a few years, and has long since adjusted to the fact. In that sense, I felt like I was coming in midstream. I wouldn't say I disliked this book, but I had some trouble getting into it and my reaction is not as quite as enthusiastic as yours.
Linda: While I think this book does stand on it's own, I would definitely say it was enhanced by having read the first one. In the first book we discovered early that all but one of the enemy soldiers had killed themselves by running out into lightening storms trying to get back to their time. I liked the element that the men had been here for four years in the first book and six in this one. And I read the prologue to the next one and it takes place 10 years after this one. I also liked the fact that when the books open the men are already here, having established themselves and adapted to their new world. None of the oft done (and no longer funny) blowing up of the microwave or learning modern language from the TV. These books are fresh, with interesting heroes and strong heroines and I enjoyed them both.
Blythe: I find it very interesting that the men had been in the present for awhile before the first book even started. In almost every time travel I have ever read, the action begins right as the time traveling character goes forward/backward in time, and the hero/ine is the first person he bumps into. There are several scenes that seem almost obligatory - like remarks about strange clothes, and as you mention, blowing up the TV or frying the hair dryer. Many times we wait forever for the non-traveling character to accept the truth about time travel, something that tends to wear on me after awhile. Strangely enough, I actually thought Sadie accepted Morgan's time travel a little too easily this time.
What I did like about this was that while Morgan had clearly adjusted in some ways to modern times (he knew how to put his jeans on, etc) some of his attitudes were pure Medieval. His almost caveman-esque attitude really worked here, as he all but clubs the heroine and drags her back to his cave after they first have sex. In this way, the author takes full advantage of the time travel sub-genre. Some alpha heroes in contemps get on my nerves, because while they are modern men, they act like throw backs to another time - in a bad way. Morgan actually is a throwback to another time, so his overly possessive behavior makes sense. It's even kind of cute.
Linda: Yes, Morgan is very believable as an alpha male who is trying to adapt to the modern women. At the same time, it's nice that he respected Sadie's independence and admired her strength. It was also easy to believe Sadie's acceptance of who Morgan was, because she had already seen the wizard Daar's magic in action. Plus, she was already thinking that Morgan seemed like some kind of throw back to the Middle Ages long before he revealed the truth. I liked Sadie a lot and her guilt over her sister and father's death was beautifully told - I really felt for her. I also liked the secondary romance between her mother and Callum.
Blythe: I probably would have liked to see even more of Sadie's mom and Callum. There were some loose ends there that didn't quite get tied up. And actually, I can't talk about another one of my favorite features of the book, as it's a major spoiler. Suffice it to say that I thought the author did a good job handling some of the ramifications of Sadie's accident.
What didn't work as well for me was the "getting to know you" portion of the story. Sadie and Morgan seemed to fall in love more quickly than was believable, when they still knew little about each other. That part of the book felt a little forced to me. I also felt that some of the secondary characters were overly simplistic, including the villain, who I thought was obvious from his first appearance. I also thought Sadie's competitors for the gold (a pair of brothers) were a little tiresome with their "dumb but earnest" schtick.
Linda: Yes, I spotted him from first appearance too. But, lately I have discovered that since I read so much, I often spot things that seem obvious to me and are not obvious to other readers. I am just back from the Celebrate Romance convention and several authors commented on the fact that on-line readers are very discerning and often pick up on things that others don't. Since I have also been chastised for giving away a "spoiler" in a chat group - when it was obvious to me that the hero of a romance novel written recently wouldn't be a murderer - I have learned that what is "obvious" to me is not necessarily 'obvious' to someone else <g>.
Blythe: I've had that happen too, Linda. Once or twice I've been taken to task for revealing a spoiler that I figured everyone already knew. I can usually spot a villain from a mile away, but that's mostly because a lot of authors don't take the time to create other viable options. When there aren't enough characters to speculate about, it makes the guesswork pretty easy. And I should add that I always appreciate when an author takes the time to develop a good villain; I love to be surprised.
Linda: I also love to be surprised, but it doesn't happen very often. Although Robards did it recently in Whispers at Midnight; she's an author that often has some nice twists and turns.
I'm so glad that I took the lead from our reviewer and read Charming the Highlander - I really like Chapman's writing style - it isn't in the least purple and there were no slow or dragging spots in either book. She also did an excellent job on the heroines she selected for these Highlanders. The men were also likable; I was amused that they sold their weapons in order to finance their land acquisitions. And it made perfect sense that they should settle in the rugged hills of Maine where the weather is similar to the Highlands and the people as rugged as the mountains. It wouldn't have made sense for these men to settle in the big city, although somehow I think they were smart enough to survive almost anywhere.
Blythe: I don't think I realized that they had sold off their weapons to finance their land purchases. That is clever.
While this wasn't a book I went wild over, I appreciated the author's attention to detail and her ambition in creating a series like this. I enjoy time travel romances, but don't often find good ones, and this one clearly had more thought behind it than a lot of the time travels I've tried recently. Some of the aspects of the plot are quite unique (like the aforementioned time lag between the heroes landing in the present and the heroes meeting their heroines).
I can't help but wonder if I might have liked this book more if I'd read its predecessor first. But I also have something to come clean about: I've had a fairly lackluster reading year so far, and picked up this book after finally reading a book that I absolutely loved and adored. It was bound to suffer a bit in comparison, because few books would have measured up at right at that moment. So even though this book seemed just above average to me, I'm willing to give the series another shot when I'm in a different frame of mind.
Linda: I think you should definitely read the first one. I loved the premise of the first book and thought that the reaction of the heroine's sister was especially realistic - she fled when her lover told her he was a time traveler, thinking him insane. These books do stand alone, but the cohesion between them and the development of the relationships is enhanced by reading them in order. I can hardly wait for the third one to come out, as the hero is the one surviving McKeage enemy (and the man whose lover fled in the first book). His son is now 12 and apparently has an active role in bringing the heroine into the story. I think Chapman has a bright future in romance based on the first two books in this series.
What was the book that blew you away, Blythe?
Blythe: I can't quite reveal that just yet, but I will tell all in a few months. I am intrigued by heroes who were former villains/enemies of the hero, so the next book, Wedding the Highlander, sounds promising to me, too.
Have you read anything else you loved in the last month or so? Aside from the book-that-cannot-be-named, I enjoyed the sexy and fun Nerd in Shining Armor by Vicki Lewis Thompson.
Linda: I enjoyed it too, but wasn't surprised; I've liked Thompson's series titles and it's nice to see her succeed with a longer book. Calder's Rose - it was bright, fresh, and funny - I will never look at Jelly Bellies without thinking of the fun flavors the heroine fed to the hero.
What are we doing next month?
Blythe: We're scheduled for a month off, although I understand the ATBF columnists are working on something quite special for their June 1st column that Pandora readers should adore. We'll be back in July, though, to discuss the long-awaited Gone Too Far by Suzanne Brockmann. It's not only her debut hard cover; it's Sam and Alyssa's story. Pandora's Box will be posted a little later in the month to coincide with the book's release date.
Linda: Hopefully, by the time we come back, I will have sold my house in Texas and be ensconced in one in Reno - one can always dream.
Blythe: I will send good house-selling thoughts your way. Until then, happy reading!
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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