Ruth Axtell Morren
April 2008, Series Romance (1890s England and Scotland)
Steeple Hill Love Insp Hist #6, $5.50, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373827865
Steeple Hill is comprised of Inspirational Romance lines published by Harlequin
If Hearts in the Highlands is anything to go by, Steeple Hill's new historical line may be one to watch. This book gives readers a tender romance with an interesting setting and characters, and the author also manages the difficult task of presenting an inspirational message without talking down to her readers. The characters, particularly the heroine, could have been drawn with a little more depth, but I still found the story pleasant enough to recommend.
Maddie Norton makes her living as a paid companion to a fussy elderly lady in London, and as she nears thirty, she realizes that the world will soon see her as forever on the shelf. From the opening of the story, the reader quickly realizes two things: Maddie has been blessed with an uncommonly graceful spirit, and she desperately needs it. Her life as a paid companion seems filled with trivial errands and the many petty humiliations caused by her spoiled employer's casual lack of consideration for others.
It seems that Maddie's life will continue in this drab fashion indefinitely until she meets Reid Gallagher, her employer's nephew. An archaeologist in Egypt, he has returned briefly to London and hopes to make it back into the field soon. However, his plans change when his aunt requests that he catalog his late uncle's vast collection of artifacts.
After seeing Maddie at work, Reid is impressed by her intelligence. In addition, Maddie is interested in the artifacts and the region from which they come given that she spent her childhood in the Middle East as the child of missionaries. Reid invites her to work as his assistant, and Maddie agrees. As the two work closely together, Maddie finds herself falling in love.
The relationship between these characters is fraught with plenty of real conflict. The difference in their social positions would have made a difference in that time and it does play an important role in this story. Likewise, these characters are a little older, and their pasts bring up issues that they need to deal with as well. Their story begins quietly with the slow growth of a friendship and unspoken longing on both sides. I would have liked more insight into the character's emotions and Maddie seems a little too passive for Reid at times, but they are still likable characters.
The quiet nature of the story can be quite moving in places, and in the first part of the book, the slow pace makes a lot of sense. However, when matters begin to reach a climax, Morren picks things up a little too quickly, making the latter part of the book slightly jarring at times. Circumstances change too quickly, and the reader gets too little insight into how these events occur.
Even with the pacing issues, Hearts in the Highlands is a gentle, touching read. It has a slightly old-fashioned feel about it, but in a good way. Maddie could have used a touch more backbone, but this is more a personal preference than a failing of the book. Given Maddie's situation in life, I can see why the author draws her as she does. Anyone looking for a sweet romance with an inspirational touch to it may want to try this one out.
-- Lynn Spencer
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