Tagged: scotland

The Runaway Highlander by R. L. Syme

The Runaway Highlander by R. L. Syme(Cover picture courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.)

Anne de Cheyne has a choice. She can play the dutiful daughter and allow her mother to sell her to a greasy English sheriff, or she can take control of her own life and find her own match. After a frightening run-in with her promised husband reveals a dark secret, she makes a desperate choice. Flight.

Aedan Donne needs easy money and no-questions-asked. When Milene de Cheyne offers him enough to pay all debts, requests complete silence, and pays half up front, just for a simple recovery, he can’t believe his luck… until he meets his mark. Anne’s beauty and passion ignite something Aedan can’t ignore, even as she leaves him in the dust. Suddenly, he finds himself wanting to capture the runaway Highland lady for himself.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paper copy of this book in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

This is actually the second book in the Highland Renegades series, but they can be read as stand-alone novels, luckily for me.

As I’ve said in the past, I know very little about Scottish history.  Still, R. L. Syme managed to suck me into the period and really gave me the feeling that I was there along with the characters.  The dark, unstable atmosphere of the time particularly rang true and you could feel this sense of doom throughout the whole novel.  Scotland is highly unstable and in the middle of it, the main character Anne is being sold off to the highest bidder so her mother can prove her loyalty to the English overlords.

Anne is a decent enough character but I won’t say that she’s one of the most memorable heroines I’ve ever encountered.  She’s feisty, determined and brave but at the same time I just had trouble connecting with her.  It’s not that there wasn’t enough background information about her, but I had a hard time connecting with her emotions.  I didn’t feel what she was feeling, whether she was sad, angry, happy or in love.  But maybe that’s just me.  Aedan I could connect with a little more but like Anne he’s not the most memorable character I’ve ever read about.

However, the plot was fast-paced and quite exciting.  You can’t call The Runaway Highlander anything but a page-turner simply because of R. L. Syme’s talent with suspense.  There are twists and turns everywhere and just when you think you know what’s going to happen everything changes.  It definitely keeps the reader on the edge of their proverbial seat.

This was an essentially good novel.  It will never be one of my favourites but it was good enough that I’d recommend it to romance lovers as well as Scottish history fans.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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Fire and Sword by Louise Turner

Fire and Sword by Louise Turner(Cover picture courtesy of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.)

On the 11th of June in 1488, two armies meet in battle at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. One fights for King James the Third of Scotland, the other is loyal to his eldest son, Prince James, Duke of Rothesay. Soon, James the Third is dead, murdered as he flees the field. His army is routed. Among the dead is Sir Thomas Sempill of Ellestoun, Sheriff of Renfrew, whose son and heir, John, escapes with his life. Once John’s career as knight and courtier seemed assured. But with the death of his king, his situation is fragile. He’s the only surviving son of the Sempill line and he’s unmarried. If he hopes to survive, John must try and win favour with the new king. And deal with the ruthless and powerful Lord Montgomerie. . .

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]

I have to admit that I know pretty much nothing about Scottish history so after reading Fire and Sword I can confidently say that I actually learned something new.  Even better, most of it is accurate and based on the real life of John Sempill in a time of turmoil and civil war.

Although we do get to see a couple of different viewpoints, the main character is undoubtedly John Sempill.  Poor John is not very inclined toward violence but at his father’s behest fights for the King of Scotland against the king’s own son James.  It’s there that he’s defeated and finds his own father’s body after learning that the young rebel James has won the throne.

John is plagued by uncertainty throughout the whole novel as to his fate because he fought for the losing side.  His father even died on the losing side.  Luckily even though he’s not exactly in a position of power, Lord Montgomerie eventually takes him under his wing and the two of them form a rather uneasy alliance.  One of the things that stood out for me the most in Fire and Sword were Louise Turner’s characters.  John was very memorable as he grew from a sort of clueless teenage boy to a slightly more confident, wise young man.  The most memorable was (surprisingly) Lord Montgomerie, who is the sort of man that would be very hard to deal with in real life but is easy to love as a character in fiction.  He’s a law unto himself and isn’t always the most diplomatic but when he forges friendships they last a lifetime.

This is by no means a fast-paced novel.  It is, however, highly detailed and well paced so that the narrative eventually sucks you in and doesn’t let go.  The tension slowly ratchets up not only because of the events of the time but because of how the characters react to them.  John himself creates quite a lot of the events of the novel with his little rebellion so you could say that this novel is both character-driven and plot-driven.  Whatever it is, it works and I couldn’t put my Kindle down.

Since I knew nothing of the period what I really appreciated was Louise Turner’s attention to detail.  She described everything from the food to the clothes to the landscape of Scotland in perfect detail.  It was never boring because the descriptions were well-balanced with dialogue and internal monologue from the characters.  Best of all, she made me feel like I was right there along with the characters.  I felt like I really was back in time watching these events unfold and you really can’t ask for more than that in historical fiction.

Even if you know nothing of Scottish history like I did I’d highly recommend picking up Fire and Sword if you like historical fiction in general.  This is her debut novel and I think we can all look forward to her future works.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Lost in Shadow by Cynthia Luhrs

Lost in Shadow by Cynthia Luhrs(Cover picture courtesy of Nomi’s Paranormal Palace.)

A relaxing vacation to Scotland turns deadly when a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger leads to murder. Shocked when she witnesses a man commit murder before disappearing in front of her eyes, Emily learns she possesses an extraordinary ability allowing her to interact with ghosts.

Unwittingly drawn into shadow when she intervenes to help Colin, igniting the ancient warrior’s long-buried desires, she unleashes a terrible curse. Now with only a week to break the curse, time is running out as they are locked in a deadly fight with forces that will stop at nothing to destroy them before they succeed. Intensely romantic and thrilling, Lost in Shadow portrays the struggle between redemption, retribution and the desire to find a love that transcends time.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

The whole unavenged ghost thing was really starting to wear on me before I read Lost in Shadow.  Not because I had read many books about it, but because it seemed in pop culture there were no really new, unique takes on it.  Pretty much every story sounded the same.  That was until I read Lost in Shadow, of course.

Colin is now one of my new favourite love interests, not only because of that Scottish accent I seem so attracted to, but because he actually has a believable backstory for becoming a Shadow Walker.  Despite his terrible past he’s also never that typical bad boy who needs to be shown the fun side of life by the heroine.  It’s actually quite a refreshing change, especially when you consider how easily Cynthia Luhrs could have fallen into the cliché trap with the whole Scottish warrior/modern American girl dynamic.

At first Emily seems like a typical romance heroine in that she’s gone to Scotland to recover from a failed relationship and stumbles onto a great guy with a mysterious past.  But what I loved about Lost in Shadow is that Emily is allowed to grow out of this two dimensional role and becomes a strong heroine in her own right.  She doesn’t always just stand by waiting to be saved but at the same time she’s not one of these instant action girls that kicks butt constantly.  Her past combined with Colin’s makes for an interesting relationship dynamic to be sure, but that added layer of the Shadow Walker curse makes it even more interesting.

I love how Cynthia Luhrs could have written a typical romance novel with very little world-building but didn’t.  The Shadow Walker and Day Walker conflict is fascinating and we even get to see how the two types of ‘ghosts’ came into being.  Throw in a mysterious way for Shadow Walkers to break their curse/gift and you’ve got the makings of a great fantasy novel as well.  The romance between Colin and Emily is obviously still the main focus but despite my general distaste for romance novels, it didn’t bother me at all.  In fact, the romance in this novel actually contributed to both the plot and the character development.  It was a refreshing change.

I saw the ending coming a mile away, but I guess every once in a while you have to have endings like the one in Lost in Shadow, right?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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*Not available

Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country by Kathryn Lasky

Mary Queen of Scots(Cover picture courtesy of Open Library.)

July 12, 1554

I think hawking is one of the things that Francis and I do so well together.  Our instincts combined with those of the birds seem to fit perfectly when we are in the field.  We speak very little to one another but silently give the calls to the birds and perform our hand signals.  This afternoon the two of us went out with only Robin McClean as our guard.  And I thought as I took a rest on the ridge of a hill that there was something of perfect harmony amongst the three of us and the birds we had brought to fly.  If only all of life could be kept in the company of such good souls…

Mary Queen of Scots was a fascinating historical figure and I think that in some ways, Queen Without a Country does her justice.  On the other hand, objectively speaking, it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read.  I’ll talk about the latter first.

Throughout the whole book, Kathryn Lasky seemed to be trying to get at something, hinting at some greater meaning.  Yet at the end of everything, all we see is a stereotypical, predictable ‘ending’ that shows Mary’s ingenuity but doesn’t leave the reader with that message.  It feels incomplete, partly because Kathryn Lasky was hinting at Mary reconciling with Queen Catherine, but she never really did.  Of course, being a diary of a woman who continued to live for many years afterward, you can’t expect it to be a perfectly wrapped up ending.  But there was still something…lacking.

Mary herself was an interesting character, but not exactly memorable.  Still, Kathryn Lasky did do Mary the historical figure justice with her portrayal of a headstrong, resourceful, intelligent young woman.  One thing I found odd, however, was the lack of mention about Mary’s religion.  Mary was relatively pious, spending the last few hours before her execution praying, but religion seems not to be a big feature in Queen Without a Country.  I’m not complaining, but it does seem a bit strange considering religion played such a big role in everyone’s daily lives in the 16th century.

Overall, Kathryn Lasky’s portrayal of Mary Queen of Scots was decent and her writing was okay, but nothing more.  There was really nothing to distinguish her book from the many others in The Royal Diaries.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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*Only available as a used book.

An Earthly Knight by Janet McNaughton

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

The year is 1162.  Sixteen-year-old Lady Jeanette Avenel has always enjoyed her freedom as second daughter of a minor Norman nobleman in Teviotdale, Scotland.  But after her sister, Isabel, disgraces the family, Jenny is suddenly thrust into the role of eldest daughter.  Now Jenny has been chosen as a potential bride to the heir of the king of Scotland.  While learning the customs of the royal court, Jenny is drawn to a mysterious young man rumoured to have been kidnapped by fairies, not knowing his past holds a secret that threatens everyone close to him—including Jenny.

An Earthly Knight is one of those books that stays with you, even years later.  I decided to re-read it a few weeks ago and it was just as good as I remember.

Based off the ballads Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight and Tam Lin, it is both a mixture of historical fiction and fantasy.  Since I have never read either of these ballads, I will not comment on how close An Earthly Knight sticks to them because I have no idea.  However, I do recognize many fairy tale elements, like evil fairies and false love, so readers who love fairy tales will also enjoy this book.

Lady Jeanette, usually called Jenny, is the wonderful main character of this novel.  She is three dimensional, strong for a woman of her time and does not fall instantly in love with Tam Lin.  Her sister Isabel is actually my favourite character because although she is only a secondary character, Janet McNaughton did not neglect her character development.  Or the character development of any other secondary characters, for that matter.

An Earthly Knight may be a bit slow-paced for some readers because of the descriptive writing style, but I still enjoyed it.  Janet McNaughton draws her readers into a world where history and myth collide, where love and loyalty are put to the test and traditions are challenged.  If you like fairy tale re-tellings, fantasy, and/or historical fiction, this is the book for you.  As long as you don’t mind a little cliché, that is.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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