Highland Awakening- Jennifer Haymore (The Highland Knights series, Book 2)
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Synopsis: As the secret author of racy romances, Lady Esme Hawkins goes to great lengths to protect her family’s honor. Which is why she carefully disguises herself before entering a notorious bordello to do research. But when Esme comes face-to-face with a brooding Highland bodyguard, she can’t easily refuse a harmless kiss . . . a kiss that inflames desires ripped from the pages of her novels. Acting on them, however, would risk revealing Esme’s identity—and the fact that she’s engaged to another man.
As a Highland Knight sworn to protect the crown, Camden McLeod never expected to follow his client into a bordello—nor could he anticipate meeting a bright, innocent lass with lush lips and eyes the color of the sea. Instantly, Cam knows he must possess her. But to do so, he’ll need to give up his rakish ways, embrace his role as heir to his despised father, and snuff out a deadly threat to his brothers in arms. By comparison, winning Esme away from her insipid fiancé will be pure pleasure.
Highlander Awakening is a book with lots of promise: Highland warriors in London, Waterloo veterans haunted by what they've seen and done in war. A shy duke's daughter who also writes romance novels and does research at night in bordellos and gambling dens. A mysterious and nebulous threat and the surprising and very real murderer stalking the Highland Knights. The main hero, Cam McLeod's, conflict with his father and everything he stands for. All of these could lead to deep and layered plots and character development and a very good book. Sadly they are all touched on, but not explored to the depths that would make a truly memorable book or characters.
The heroine, Lady Esme, is the best written character, with interesting and conflicting layers to her. A shy woman who is painfully self-conscious around strangers and suffers from awkwardness and anxiety attacks, she is different from the average society woman. Esme focuses on researching and writing romance novels that often take her to rather unusual places- like bordellos. How the shy and anxious woman even knows where to do her research, let alone has the courage to go to such places alone is never really explained, but the importance to her of having this secret life, where she is in control, is clear. As is her desire to protect her family from the scandal that would come from anyone finding out. The idea that she is willing to walk up to a man's door at night, give her real name, and ignore the scandal that would cause to hunt down Cam after he betrays her (the first time of many) goes rather against the grain. Is this Esme becoming confident and standing up for herself or being stupid? The reader can decide. Cam McLeod is a man who hates society, and has seen his father take advantage of his position to harm his family in every way possible. He doesn't want to marry or fall in love for fear of turning out like his father. And then pretty much from the minute he sees Esme he is right to worry about that. He ignores what might be best for her and instead of being patient goes about betraying her secrets in order to get what he wants in the fastest way he can. Unlike Connie Brockway's hero in Highlander Undone, Cam excuses all his actions, sure that he knows best and everything is forgivable. There are things about him that are what you look for in a hero- his unswerving loyalty to his sister and fellow Knights, his being able to see Esme and admire her for who she is, instead of what society thinks she should be. But there are often times the reader forgets these positive traits as Cam continually manipulates Esme and events to his advantage. By the end it is not only Esme he has to convince of his love and ability to change, but the reader as well. Is love strong enough to overlook faults and change people for the better?
The mystery in the story is disappointingly thin. It starts off as possible threats against a lord, bringing the Knights in to guard him 24/7. Nothing actually happens in the book that would suggest the threats are credible and anything other than a waste of time. The epilogue suggests that the next book might change that. Wether anyone would care about the man being threatened is highly doubtful, but if, as hinted, the threat extends to his daughter, it might be worth figuring out. The other threat, of someone hunting down and murdering (or trying to) the Knights is more of the catalyst for this book. There are well written moments where we see the effects of loss on Cam and his fellow Knights. But then almost no clues about the villain until the end when Esme figures out who it is. And then no clue about the why until the villain himself explains it. In some ways it works very well, in others its a bit of a letdown.
That is probably my thought on the book as a whole: it works well some of the time, then lets us down. More depth of character or more mystery would have probably made this a more interesting read and made it stand out more in my mind. Overall, not terrible, but sadly not the best I've read in awhile.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.