Highland Lovesong by Penelope Neri
(Leisure, $5.99, R) ISBN 0-8439-4724-1
***
There were parts of Highland Lovesong that were very compelling, such as the historical time period Penelope Neri uses as the backdrop to tell her tale. Overall, however, the majority of this book was a rehashing of some very old and much overused plots and clichés.

At age sixteen, Graham MacKenzie -- or Gray as he's often called -- fell head over heels in love the first time he happened upon ten-year-old Skyla MacLeod. Unfortunately for Graham, Skyla also happened to be the eldest daughter of Laird MacLeod, the Lord of the Isle of Skye and his clans' chief rival. Despite their differences, the twosome declare that they shall remain friends forevermore, then seal their pledge with a sweet, Wally-and-the-Beaver-esque blood vow.

Flash forward ten years: Gray is now twenty-six and laird to the MacKenzies. It's a turbulent time in Scotland, as the English king Edward Longshanks' troops occupy the land. Realizing that wars are inevitable, Gray's uncles press him to take a bride and get her with an heir. Gray, of course, wants no other bride than the bonny Skyla MacLeod. Skyla, who he's been courting in secret for the past year, feels the same way about Gray. The major problem the couple faces is figuring out how they will get Skyla's father to consent to their marriage.

Gray sets out for the Isle of Skye determined to bring an end to the two clans' long-standing feud, which would thereby allow him to claim Skyla as his bride. Little does Gray know, a disgruntled woman whose affection he'd scorned ten years ago has stolen his dirk and driven it into the heart of Skyla's uncle, making it look as though the MacLeod clansman died at Gray's hands. Skyla, who feels bitterly betrayed by the man she loves, vows never to marry Gray. Gray, still determined to have his beautiful Skyla, steals her away and takes her to his keep.

Highland Lovesong contained way too many clichés and overdone storylines, which may make it difficult for seasoned romance readers to appreciate it. First, there is the "scorned woman who tries to separate the hero and heroine" cliché. Then we have the "childish heroine who treats the hero like dirt but he forgives her time and again because she's oh so beautiful" cliché. Mingled in with that one, is the hot/cold cliché of "heroine loves hero one minute and despises him the next." Sadly, I couldn't find anything original in this story that hasn't been told over and over again by a legion of different romance authors.

Highland Lovesong had its good moments, especially in the beginning and then again toward the end. And Neri's storytelling abilities are, without a doubt, to be commended. The picture of innocent love between the hero and heroine that she wove into the first few chapters was reminiscent of the endearing courtship scenes between Mel Gibson's rendition of William Wallace and his wife Marron in the movie Braveheart. Nevertheless, the entire huge middle portion of this book was exasperating and redundant in the extreme. The heroine's hot/cold routine was dragged out several chapters too long and the hero remained way too tolerant of the heroine's childish theatrics, making him come off as somewhat weak-kneed.

If you don't object to these types of scenarios you might just get more out of Highland Lovesong than I did. Otherwise, keep browsing.

--Tina Engler


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