Charming the Highlands

Loving the Highlander
by Janet Chapman
(Pocket Books, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7434-5307-7
Morgan McKeage (the brother of the hero in Charming the Highlander) discovers surveyor-style markers in the Maine valley where his family resides after having time-traveled from twelfth century Scotland. Some are on his own land; he is mystified as to their purpose and who has left them.

Sadie Quill is scouting land to be converted to an outdoor preserve complete with campsites, trails, and roads. Tall and scarred from the fire that took her fatherís and her sisterís lives, a fire for which she blames herself, Sadie believes herself unattractive to men. She believes that this park will be a memorial to her father who taught her to love these woods. The company that has hired Sadie hopes that she will find evidence that will lead to a discovery of a lost treasure in order to fund development of the park.

Sadie has a confrontation with a stunningly gorgeous, naked man when she takes his photograph. She believes sheís been unobserved but is proven wrong when he pursues her, strips her camera of film and destroys some of her equipment.

Sheís soon to meet up with Morgan again when her mother Charlotte and her lover, Callum McKeage, arrange a blind date. Charlotte has her own problems - sheís pregnant and doesnít want a second marriage solely because of the pregnancy.

A new clue to the location of the gold will lead to Morgan and Sadie uniting in their search.

This is one of those sequels that does not stand well on its own. Readers who are unfamiliar with the characters and their history from Charming the Highlander may find some of the action in this second book puzzling. They may also notice a change in the authorís writing and in the level of fantasy.

Loving the Highlander has a more smoothly written narrative than its predecessor, but it also lacks its vitality. Charming the Highlander suffered from some unevenly pacing and awkwardly phrased passages, but it had a fully developed plot and an infectious enthusiasm. This second book, however, has a thin story spread with some uncomfortable logic gaps. The same ground is covered repeatedly: he doesnít want his land converted to public use; sheís sensitive about her scars; heís uncomfortable with his transition to modern times; sheís riddled with guilt over the deaths of her father and her sister.

And when things get dicey, magicís there to save the day. Deus ex machine is a time-honored method of getting a hero and heroine out of seemingly impossible situations, but it loses its effectiveness quickly. Sadie and Morgan are saved repeatedly by Daar (another time-traveler) and his magic stick as well as by a mysterious wolf. I wanted them to do something on their own instead of needing the supernatural to solve their problems.

Furthermore, Sadieís guilt is way overdone. Itís not that I doubt that someone in her position would be grief-stricken over the deaths of her family members - itís that developing pristine wilderness into a park to memorialize her naturalist father makes no sense. How is this supposed to ease her grief and guilt? Itís more likely to have her scientist father rolling in his grave. She also seems remarkably dense. Morgan says repeatedly he will not sell his section of land, but she marches along with her plans as though this refusal doesnít faze her one bit.

Thereís no strong connection between the hero and heroine that leads to the certainty that they belong together. Admiration of physique and hot sex alone donít translate into happily ever after. A necessary emotional connection between Sadie and Morgan never materializes. The feeling that destiny is bringing the hero and heroine of Charming the Highlander together is missing in this sequel.

The love affair between Charlotte and Callum is the more compelling romance. With the tender bond between the two lovers, it seems more genuine than the one between Sadie and Morgan. Charlotte has suffered her own losses but has not lost her perspective or her caring heart. The lively scene where Sadie discovers the naked Callum in her motherís kitchen is probably the best one in the book.

Readers who were charmed by Charming the Highlander and have been eagerly waiting for this sequel may be disappointed with this second effort. Readers who havenít read the first are best off searching it out before looking into this one. This is a planned trilogy. The hope is that the final book combines the energy of the first with the more polished writing style of the second.

--Lesley Dunlap

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