Falling for the Highland Rogue by Ann Lethbridge

March 27, 2014
Ok, so I'm a Romanceland Snob

I've been reading romance for a l-o-n-g time and I have to admit that I have a prejudice against certain publishing houses. You see, when I was a wee baby I started reading what I considered romance books. They were books like Forever Amber, My Cousin Rachel, and Rebecca - not technically romance and none of them had too much of a HEA. I've never considered Mr. DeWinter someone a sane woman would want to spend the rest of her life with. Then one day I stumbled across a whole row of books at the library from an author by the name of Heyer and there was no turning back.

Now, I'm sure it was just coincidence and not some wish-fulfillment but around the time of my search for more book similar to Ms. Heyer's there was an explosion of paperback books. We now call those books traditional regency. I had a particular fondness for Fawcett and Signet books. I found many of my favorite authors among those.
It was wonderful! But the best was yet to come because lurking in the wings was The Flame and the Flower. When that book burst onto the scene Romanceland was changed forever. Now, things have changed since then; we've seen many an author come and go. The style of writing has changed. I don't think I could make it through the pages of The Flame and the Flower without cringing now; however, I'm awfully glad it appeared on the scene.

So, where is this going, you ask. I'll tell you. Somewhere in all this joyous book reading I became a
snob. For some reason, I never became too fond of Harlequin books. I don't know if it was the strict guidelines they put on their authors or the fast pace at which they published. Sure, I know some of our high profile authors got their start there, but for me these books always seemed to be more formula than other romance novels. I know, I know, romance books are all formulas… pet peeve coming on… I’m always offended when someone says all Romance books have the same format, and before I get sidetracked, really - don't all popular genres have formulas? A HEA does not necessarily mean formula. Anyway, back to Harlequin. Never read many of their books. Which leads me to Falling for the Highland Rogue, by Ann Lethbridge.

I've never read any of Ms. Lethbridge's books, so I'm new to this series - maybe I should have read the others, but I was able to grasp the plot-line without too much trouble. As I said before, I've read romance a long time, so I'm pretty familiar with the
"formula." Right at the beginning, I had to double check to see if I was reading a Harlequin because I was presented with a totally unexpected hero and heroine. The hero, Logan Gilvry, is uncommonly handsome, ultra smart and extremely cagey... and young. That age was one of the things that would later irritate me. He's 21, however he must be some kind of savant because he seems to have almost super-hero abilities to read people and know just what their next move is going to be. Because of these abilities, I had a hard time remembering that he's just a babe in the woods. However, for most of the book he is a wonderful hero, even though through most of it he is manipulating those around him. Maybe he's so worldly wise because he's never had sex. Yep...he's white...ur...pure as the driven snow. He's never ventured into the valley of whankee-woo. Oh sure, he kissed a girl and somehow that kiss damaged him forever and ever - which isn't saying a lot since he's only 21 - not a very long forever.

So, then we have the other side of the coin - our heroine Charity - not so white. In fact, she was at one time employed in a brothel but she was such an awful strumpet she was purchased by a really nasty gangster, our villain, Jack. I have to say that Jack is a really impressive bad guy - there isn't any possibility that this guy is going to show up as a good guy in a later book. He is spine-chillingly creepy. The scenes that take place in the dark underworld that Charity inhabits are wonderfully vivid. There is a great sense of danger and for Charity there is a sense of hopelessness. The money she is squirreling away to get away from her sordid life is poignant, especially because we as the reader know she is never going to be able to leave her dark world behind. At least not in the manner she dreams of.

I would imagine that a number of readers will not find either Charity or Logan to be very likeable. There is a continual dance between these two as they try to outmaneuver each other. In fact, Charity is such a dark character I kept wondering how Ms. Lethbridge was going to rehabilitate her. And, this is where this book lost some of its punch. The first portion of the book was well-developed, with some exciting (even if they were unlikeable) characters. Then, in the last five or so chapters, things started to fall apart and I was face to face with my old Harlequin prejudice... except in this case it wasn't just a prejudice. The ending was weak - people who hated each other suddenly were dancing with the butterflies. There was just a very unsatisfying rush to a happy ending and no good explanation as to Charity's past and Logan turned from a
super-know-it-all to a jump-to-the-wrong-conclusion guy. Bottom-line, I thought the first part of the book was a well-developed and exciting book. It just didn't hold up so well in the last part.

Time/Place: 1820s Edinburgh Scotland

Sensuality: Hot


Anonymous said...

Haven't read Ms. Lethbridge's book, so can't comment. But, I want to give a boost to Harlequin.
All the things you mention about the publishing house are probably valid criticisms. They publish too quickly; they exert a lot of control; they often publish yuck.
However, one of those--the control--it seems to me benefits present authors and benefitted past authors. The books many of the authors who are now considered majors wrote for them, are, IMO, better books than the authors wrote after leaving them, and I think that is due to that control. A case in point: Nora Roberts. The books she wrote for Harlequin are far and away better books, again IMO, than the books she wrote after leaving them. The space constraints that Harlequin places on its authors often tighten the plots and reduce "filler" effectively, making for more readable books.
Of course, editors have changed in the meantime, but even so, some of the Harlequin writers of the present produce better books, IMO once more, than many of the bestsellers in the present market.

SidneyKay said...

anon: When I started reading romance books, Harlequin was one of the houses that was viewed as "light" reading and if you admitted to reading one or any type of romance book in the 70s you were viewed as an illiterate boob. Romance books were viewed as "smut" books and there was a stigma attached to them and anyone who read them. So, yes I did develop a bias against H. I realize that there are some fine authors there now and I believe Ms. Lethbridge could be one of them. But I still remember vividly how some people would react to what I was reading. Here is how it would go: Them: "What are you reading?" Me: "I'm reading a romance book." Them: "Oh, a smut book." Me: "No a romance." Them (in a snotty voice): "Oh, one of those Harlequin books." Me walking away.

I always appreciate good writing regardless of how it's printed.