Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paula Quinn's Guest Blog: Inspiration from the Isle of Skye

Hi Regan, thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you also for including LAIRD OF THE MIST on your top Scottish/Highlander reads. What an honor!

You might be surprised to learn that I didn’t always want to write about Scotland and Highlanders. Let’s face it, writing the perfect man in the perfect setting isn’t easy. (And Scotland and Highlanders are as perfect as perfect gets.) I began my writing career with Norman-French heroes and a Welsh prince. I was perfectly content writing about England and her rich history filled with famous kings…and men who wore leather armor and breeches.
Or so I thought.
Scotland called to me. The Isle of Skye to be exact. I’d never heard of it before, but while I was brainstorming for ideas for another England-set romance, I kept getting pop ups on my computer showing picturesque mountain landscapes and waterfalls with the caption “Come home to Skye.” Really, it started getting a little strange. Every newspaper, magazine, or online article I read had to do with Skye!
At first I resisted the pull. I’ve always felt a heaviness or sorrow whenever I looked at pictures of Scotland’s rugged, isolated landscapes, and don’t get me started on bagpipes and the flood of emotions the sound of them pulls from me. I was afraid to delve into it’s history because I knew it would touch me in a profound way.
I was right.

Eilean a’ Cheò (or, The Misty Isle) is the largest and most northerly island in the inner Hebrides of Scotland. It’s home to the majestic Black and Red Cuillin mountains, the breathtaking and isolated Camasunary Bay, and in my world, it’s home to the most fearsome clan in the Highlands, the MacGregors.

After writing six books about this rebellious clan, it’s safe to say that I’m in love with the MacGregors. From Callum in LAIRD OF THE MIST, to Colin from my latest release, CONQUERED BY A HIGHLANDER, these MacGregor men (and women) all have the same things in common. They’re passionate about what they love. They would give up all for their home, their beliefs, and for the ones who hold their heart. Because of them, Scotland no longer represents sorrow and heaviness to me. Instead, it embodies valor and defiance, romance, and the importance of kin.

Writing about Scotland’s true “Children of the Mist” has taught me much about determination and honor. I have my favorites, each one for different reasons, but I love them all and I plan on writing about the MacGregors for a long time to come.

What is your favorite Highlander book (it doesn’t have to be mine) and why? One commenter will be randomly chosen to win a signed copy of CONQUERED BY A HIGHLANDER.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Review: Paula Quinn’s CONQUERED BY A HIGHLANDER – Superb Storytelling in her latest in the Children of the Mist series

Sixth in Quinn's Highlander romance series that tells the stories of the MacGregors of Skye, this one is truly a worthy installment. Her writing just gets better and better. This story begins in 1688, 3 years after TAMED BY A HIGHLANDER and tells of Colin MacGregor, who was featured in that book as an able young soldier just joining King James II's army. Now Colin is a seasoned warrior, an assassin for the king and a spy sent to Dartmouth Castle to uncover a plot of English nobles to support William of Orange and welcome his invading army.

Quinn has created a wonderful heroine in Lady Gillian Dearly, a single unwed mother and daughter of the Earl of Essex, who because of her son’s birth has been banished to this remote castle governed by her lecherous cousin, Lord Devon. She lives for her 3-year-old son, Edmund, who Colin befriends and teaches games, all the while he is ingratiating himself into the group of Devon’s men disguised as Colin Campbell. Quinn expertly captures the heart of the young single mother.

As always, Quinn's story is true to history and weaves the characters' lives into the events that affected the times. Quinn actually gives you real history, not just a general background setting. That kind of research takes time, but it pays off in a tale that will hold you captive. The plot is intriguing and will keep you turning pages. Her characters are well developed and believable and the romance slowly develops as Colin and Gillian gain admiration for each other.

I recommend this one and all in Quinn's Highlander romance series. The first one, LAIRD OF THE MIST, is a particular favorite of mine (Callum MacGregor is my favorite of her drool worthy heroes) and is reviewed on my blog today.

New Review: Paula Quinn’s LAIRD OF THE MIST: Superb First in the Series, You'll love the MacGregor men!

This is the first in Paula Quinn's Highlander series and I just loved it. It's a worthy Highland romance and introduces us to a fierce and proud clan, the MacGregors, who historically were officially denounced but eventually regained their position among the clans. Those MacGregor men who kept pride in their heritage and kept their name alive would be stronger than most and worthy of a woman's love.

The story begins as Kate Campbell, a very fiesty heroine who is good with a sword, rushes into fight alongside her clan when attacked by their enemies, the MacGregors. She is saved by Callum MacGregor, the man they call the Devil, when he sweeps her onto his stallion.

I loved the authenticity of this tale and the character development and the way Quinn built the attraction and love between Callum and Kate, who would otherwise be enemies. Quinn brings the Highlands to life and paints a beautiful picture of the land of the mists. I did not want to put it down. I highly recommend it.

Here's the series:

The MacGregors:

Laird of the Mist (Callum MacGregor and Kate Campbell)
A Highlander Never Surrenders (Graham Grant and Claire Stuart)

The Children of the Mist (connected to and follows the MacGregors):

Ravished by a Highlander (Robert MacGregor and Davina Montgomery)
Seduced by a Highlander (Tristan MacGregor and Isobel Fergusson)
Tamed by a Highlander (Mairi MacGregor, Connor Grant) - reviewed in today's blog
Conquered by a Highlander (Colin MacGregor and Gillian Dearly)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Favorite Author: Paula Quinn – Bringing the Highlands to Life!

Note: Paula will be a guest on my blog this Wednesday and Thursday, so return for some of her secrets she’ll be sharing for the inspiration for her wonderful Highland romances.

Paula lives in Manhattan in New York with her childhood sweetheart, now husband and their three children and assorted pets. She is an avid reader of romance and science fiction, and has been writing since she was eleven. She loves all things medieval (she has a great trilogy set in the time of the Conqueror), and has a special affinity for the Highlands of Scotland.

Few authors of Scottish or Highlander historicals do the research to make a great story come to life. Paula is one of them. First, I enjoyed her medievals about the Risande Family, and then I discovered her wonderful Highlander series about the MacGregors. Since the Walkers in Scotland were affiliated with the MacGregors, I read these with great interest.

Paula is a great storyteller and her romance novels just keep getting better and better. She has been nominated many times for Romantic Times best historical awards and has garnered many starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly. All her romances are wonderful and I highly recommend them.

The Risande Family Series (medieval trilogy):

Lord of Desire
Lord of Temptation
Lord of Seduction

The MacGregor Series:

Laird of the Mist (Callum MacGregor and Kate Campbell)
A Highlander Never Surrenders (Graham Grant and Claire Stuart)

Children of the Mist Series (connected to and follows the MacGregors):

Ravished by a Highlander (Robert MacGregor and Davina Montgomery)
Seduced by a Highlander (Tristan MacGregor and Isobel Fergusson)
Tamed by a Highlander (Mairi MacGregor, Connor Grant) – reviewed in today’s blog
Conquered by a Highlander (Colin MacGregor and Gillian Dearly)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Highlands in Autumn...

“Autumn in the Highlands would be brief—a glorious riot of color blazing red across the moors and gleaming every shade of gold in the forests of sheltered glens. Those achingly beautiful images would be painted again and again across the hills and in the shivering waters of the mountain tarns until the harsh winds of winter sent the last quaking leaf to its death on the frozen ground.”

--thoughts of Anne MacKinnon, the heroine from Elizabeth Stuart's HEARTSTORM

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Guest Blogger: Laurin Wittig on Braving the Research for Highland Historical Romances

Many thanks to Regan for inviting me here today! She's a wonderful supporter of historical romance and a gracious host.

When I started writing romances my heart was in historical romances but since I hadn't taken a single history course in college I feared the research necessary to do justice to the subgenre and went with the old adage "write what you know." So my first novel was a short contemporary. I set it in my home town, used my first apartment there as my heroine's home, gave her my husband's job, and my mother, all so I wouldn't have to do any research.
But I loved historicals, especially Scottish historicals, so eventually, after that first book was finished and was doing well on the contest circuit, I decided to jump into the deep end and write what I really wanted to write even though I still had that fear of historical research, particularly of getting it wrong.

So here's what I did:

I immersed myself in the history of Scotland, from the general to the specific for what turned out to be about a year. I focused on the Highlands around the time of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and yes, my choice was influenced by Braveheart which came out during that year of research. Mostly I used books, often getting obscure tomes via inter-library loans, but also watching every travel video of Scotland and every map I could get my hands on to get a sense of the place, and every show on the History channel that had anything to do with Scotland. I roamed the Internet - Electric Scotland became my go-to website. I took workshops when I could find them, which wasn't often.

I learned a lot about the history of Scotland. I learned almost nothing about the people of medieval Scotland.

What I yearned for were those little details of everyday life, especially the everyday life of women. Men were at least part of the historical record as soldiers, land and business owners, politicians and kings. Women were rarely found in the records of my time period.

But there were some obstacles I hadn't been aware of when I chose my period and place. The Highlands were primarily a non-literate culture in the medieval period. What that means is most of them couldn't read or write. It does not mean they didn't have stories and histories that were "recorded;" they were just recorded as oral histories. Some of those still exist today as traditional songs and poems that were eventually written down, or through family stories that lasted in the oral tradition long enough to get written down. But even so, I had found little specific information in the historical record about the daily life of medieval Highlanders.

And then a couple of things happened. I attended a Scottish Historical Romance day-long workshop and heard Susan King speak on this problem of getting the history right when there weren't necessarily good sources. Her solution? She finds the holes in the historical record, those places and times that aren't documented, and she sets her stories there.

I thought this was brilliant! I immediately targeted a specific location and year that fascinated me, even though I had found almost no specific historical information about it, and set my story there.

I also learned that day, probably from Susan, but I can't be sure because there were a lot of great presenters, that art could be used to get an idea of clothing, food, instruments, furnishings, and pretty much anything else that was depicted in the art. But again, not a lot of art depicting medieval Highlanders exists, and especially not the regular people of the period.

I was stumped about how to get more information about my beloved Highlanders until I began to give up my fear about the historical research - after all, I had done due diligence there for someone with no training - and turned to what I knew - culture. I may have never studied history but I have a degree in Cultural Anthropology.

It was clear from what I had learned about the Highland clans that this was a classic tribal culture and much of the conflict documented fit what I had learned about tribal cultures all over the world. Extrapolating from those other cultures using the history of Scotland and what tidbits I had gleaned of the Highland culture as a guide I finally found a way into at least imagining what life for the Highlanders might have been like.

And then I went to Scotland with another writer.

We focused our adventure mostly on the medieval period in the Highlands, particularly in Argyll where I was setting my story, and because castles were the most romantic of the artifacts left from the medieval period, we focused on those. We visited ten castles in five days (Doune was my favorite!). We also visited the stone circles, standing stones and burial cairns in the Kilmartin Glen (the setting of my story) because I was fascinated by those, too. Their presence is what had drawn me to set my story there in the first place. Besides, they are really cool.

My friend and I visited Linlithgow Palace, not medieval exactly, but it turned out to be illuminating. We were looking at a portion of an interior wall that had clearly been closed up and the guide information told us that the current opening a bit further down that wall had been made about the same time. Suddenly I could hear a woman's voice: "Honey, this doorway just isn't in the right place. I know it's where your parents wanted it, but I'd really rather it be over there."
Obviously I wasn't hearing a real voice, not even a ghostly voice, but nevertheless the people who had lived in that castle suddenly came alive for me. Someone had remodeled the castle. We learned that several people had remodeled the castle over several generations. People lived in these places. Living, breathing people. And sometimes they didn't like the way their home worked. Just like me.

And that's when I began to understand that archeology was another valuable way into understanding the Highlanders of the medieval period. The homes, clothing, and things they left behind, artifacts, revealed far more to my imagination than the recounting of battles and political maneuverings had. My friend and I became a bit obsessed with privies on that trip. We laughed at ourselves for it, but understanding that these people who lived centuries before us had to figure out all the daily things we do - like how to cope with the toilet needs of an entire castle - brought them alive for us.

I think I doubled my research library on that trip, buying every castle guide and archeology book I could find.

The last hurdle I had to leap was how to make my characters sound like they lived in medieval Scotland even though I write for a modern, non-Gaelic speaking, audience. Fortunately another writer friend kept suggesting dictionaries to me. I am the proud owner of more than a few Scotland related dictionaries and other useful word sources: Scottish Gaelic/English, English/Doric (not technically a Highland dialect but is clearly Scottish), a Scots dictionary, the Dictionary of Scots Words & Phrases in Current Use, Scotland’s Place-names, plus some Scottish quotation books, old song lyrics and poems when I can find them, a host of archeological books, and often just poking around historical web sites will put me on the trail of a great word. When I find a word I want to use I’ll look it up in an etymology dictionary to see if it was possibly in use in the time period. Since the time and place I write in was primarily a non-literate culture I assume the word could have been in use if it’s plus/minus a hundred years or so, or if it was in use in France during my period since there was a lot of contact between Scotland and France, likewise if it was in use in England, though I try to steer clear of those words unless they sound Scottish to me. Often the words I decide to use aren’t really all that old (at least not that I can determine), but they sound old and give the flavor of the language so I’ll use them.

Now I'm working on a new trilogy of Scottish historicals, again set right around 1300 in Argyll, not too far from the Kilmartin glen. I'm doing my due diligence to get the history as correct as I can, but I'm also drawing on what I continue to learn about the culture. This time I've found another hole in the history, and pulled from the tradition of mystical, dare I say, paranormal gifts commonly found in the lore of the Highlanders right up to modern times. I'm using the Picts, that culture that was in place before the Scots came over from Ireland, or the Vikings surged in from the north, as the ancestors of a line of women who each have a unique ability that, when combined, will allow them to protect not just their clan but the entire Highlands from English invasion.

Am I using history? Certainly. But I'm filling in the gaps with educated guesses based on the culture of the Highlands, the geography of the land, the artifact remains of the Highlanders and the Picts, plus the nuances of the languages and music of Scotland, the oral traditions, myths and superstitions, and my own vivid imagination.

Comment on this post to enter to win my two MacLeod novels, CHARMING THE SHREW and DARING THE HIGHLANDER!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Review: Laurin Wittig’s CHARMING THE SHREW – Unusual Highland Hero and Feisty Heroine Make for Endearing Tale

Wittig has crafted a charming, though somewhat fanciful, historical set in Scotland in the early 14th century. She has masterfully captured the voice of the Highland folks; her dialog is quite witty; and her storytelling clever.

The story tells of Catriona, the headstrong daughter of the MacLeod laird, who rebels at the betrothed her father and older brother have in mind for her—Duff (“dog faced”) MacDonnell—so she runs away. In a snowstorm, she encounters Tayg Munro, heir to the Munro clan, who has just come from the MacDonnell clan and is traveling disguised as a bard while on an errand for King Robert Bruce. Though Tayg knows who Catriona is, and that she is fleeing an unwanted betrothal, she doesn’t know who Tayg is, nor that he considers her his hostage for her brother’s plot against the king.

The hero is unusual for a future laird—more the charmer than an alpha male leader. He is only going to be laird because his older brother was killed in battle, so perhaps that explains it. In any event, we have a strong, feisty heroine and a beta male hero who’s a bit of an entertainer. Neither initially sees the other as a life’s mate though both are searching for just that. There are lots of twists and turns on the way to romance here. If you like the unusual and more lighthearted Scottish historicals, you’ll love this one!

The sequel is DARING THE HIGHLANDER, the story of Cat's brother, Ailig MacLeod.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Scottish Historical Romances of Laurin Wittig

On Thursday and Friday, Laurin Wittig will be a guest on my blog telling us about her unique approach to the daunting task of researching Scottish historical romances!

Laurin Wittig comes from a long line of natural storytellers. She was indoctrinated into her Scottish heritage at birth when her parents chose her oddly spelled name from a plethora of Scottish family names. At ten, Laurin attended her first American Clan Gregor gathering with her grandparents, and her first ceilidh (kay-lee), a Scottish party, where she danced to the bagpipes with the hereditary chieftain of the clan, Sir Gregor MacGregor. At eleven, she visited Scotland for the first time and it has been in her heart and imagination ever since.

Laurin’s first published book, The Devil of Kilmartin, won the National Readers’ Choice Award for short historical romance, and was a finalist for best first book in that contest and in the Holt Medallion. Her books have appeared in the top ten on the Amazon Kindle Top 100, Amazon Top 100 Historical Romance, and Amazon Top 100 Historical Fiction lists.

She is currently working on a new Highlander trilogy, the working title for the first book is Highlander Revealed.

Single Novel:

The Devil of Kilmartin (2002)

The Legacy of MacLeod series:

Charming the Shrew (2004)
Daring the Highlander (2005)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Best Scottish/Highlander Historical Romances List!

As Geddes MacGregor once said, “No one in Scotland can escape from the past. It is everywhere, haunting like a ghost." Scotland’s past is the subject of my list below, romance novels I have come to love that feature Scotland and the Highlands—or a Scottish hunk to love. I have rated them all at least 4 stars, and many 4 ½ or 5 stars.

The Pride of Lions, The Blood of Roses and Midnight Honor by Marsha Canham
On a Highland Shore and Rivals for the Crown by Kathleen Givens
Kilgannon and The Wild Rose of Kilgannon by Kathleen Givens
The Legend and The Destiny by Kathleen Givens
The Magnificent Rogue by Iris Johansen
If You Dare, If You Desire and If You Deceive (the MacCarrick Brothers trilogy) by Kresley Cole
Beloved Rogue by Penelope Williamson
Without Honor by Elizabeth Stuart
Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart
A Year and a Day by Virginia Henley
Tempted and The Border Hostage, duology by Virginia Henley
The Bedeviled Heart by Carmen Caine
My Wicked Enchantress by Meagan McKinney
Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn (and all six in her MacGregor/Children of the Mist Series)
A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught
The Passionate One, The Reckless One and The Ravishing One (the McClairen’s Isle trilogy) by Connie Brockway
Outlander (and others in the series, and though there is a Highland hero, not all take place in Scotland) by Diana Gabaldon
Come The Morning, Conquer the Night, Seize the Dawn, Knight Triumphant, The Lion in Glory, When We Touch and The Queen’s Lady (the Graham series) by Heather Graham Pozzessere
Knight of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Lord of Fire by Emma Merritt
Highland Rebel by Judith James
Devil of Kilmartin by Laurin Wittig
Charming the Shrew and Daring the Highlander (MacLeod duology) by Laurin Wittig
Desiring the Highlander by Michele Sinclair
Highland Warrior, Highland Outlaw and Highland Scoundrel (the Campbell trilogy) by Monica McCarty
A Gentle Feuding by Johanna Lindsey
White Knight by Jaclyn Reding
A Dangerous Love, The Border Lord's Bride, The Captive Heart, The Border Lord And The Lady, The Border Vixen and Bond Of Passion (from The Border Chronicles) by Bertrice Small
To Conquer a Highlander, Highland Hellcat and Highland Heat by Mary Wine
To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt (one of the Four Soldiers series)
Thirty Nights with a Highland Husband (the only fantasy on my list, but this and the others in the Daughters of the Glen series are good) by Melissa Mayhue
A Hunger Like No Other (the only paranormal on the list, but it’s a superb story and features a Highland hunk to die for) by Kresley Cole

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mary Wine Highlander Romance Contest!

For anyone commenting on my blog posts during May, my Scottish/Highlander month, your name will go into a drawing for one of two Mary Wine Highlander romances that Ms. Wine has graciously donated. So let me know your thoughts! I’ll be posting the winners at the end of the month!

New Review: Mary Wine’s HIGHLAND HEAT – Superb Steamy Scottish Romance!

This is the third in Wine's 15th century Highlander series (TO CONQUER A HIGHLANDER, HIGHLAND HELLCAT and HIGHLAND HEAT), and though all are good, I believe it is the best. To me it stands out from the other two and finishes the trilogy perfectly. I will definitely read it again.

HIGHLAND HEAT tells the story of Quinton Cameron (Earl of Liddell, laird of the Camerons and a friend of Conner Lindsey), and Deirdre Chattan, ruined sister of Conner's wife, Brina--all who appeared in book #2.

The year is 1439, two years after Deirdre (who was betrothed to Conner) was seduced by Melor Douglas in his plan to undo the Lindsey alliance with the Chattans. Deirdre, now shamed and her dowry given to the church, is living at the abbey where her sister Kaie serves, a contented nun. Though she works hard, Deirdre is not content. One night, the Queen of Scotland and mother of young James II, Joan Beaufort, comes to the abbey seeking sanctuary. She asks Deirdre, who resembles the Queen in appearance, to pretend to be her so that she might escape to marry again. Deirdre, a woman of courage, who longs to earn a place of honor, agrees. Meanwhile, Quinton Cameron, a man who has kissed Deirdre and stirred her blood like no other, has been searching for the Queen. His men kidnap Deirdre, dressed in the Queen's clothes, believing they have captured Queen Joan. They take her to Quentin's castle where the passion rages hot and heavy between Quinton and Deirdre. They are two stubborn souls; each has been betrayed by someone they loved. Quinton vows never to give his heart again though he will take a mistress, but being a mistress is not a place of honor and Deirdre will not have it after what she's been through.

Wine has delivered a superb historic tale and a sizzling romance with two strong, attractive characters. As always, her writing is excellent, the dialog well done, the period in time well described, the characters richly developed and the story woven like the most detailed tapestry. In this one, I can find no faults, no misses, no inconsistencies. I highly recommend Highland Heat—and Wine’s hot Highland trilogy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Origin of Bagpipes

How could I have a Highlander month on my blog without talking about bagpipes? Well, here's the article you've been waiting for! Most people associate bagpipes with the Highlands of Scotland (though the fellow pictured at right is Angus Mackay, piper to Queen Victoria), but in fact bagpipes were introduced to Scotland by the Romans. The early Romans used them as outdoor instruments during the building of roads or gathering of the harvest. Pipers would march through the village to announce the beginning of the workday. They also used them during religious ceremonies for the sacrifices to the gods and for funerals.

Early Roman soldiers, and later Scottish soldiers, used the bagpipe as an instrument of war, hence they are still viewed that way by some today. The resonating sound of the pipes could be heard up to 10 miles away. Unfortunately, after the Battle of Culloden in 1745, the English outlawed the use of bagpipes for many years.

What are Bagpipes?

Bagpipes are musical instruments classified as aerophones, reed instruments that utilize an air reservoir. The reservoir allows an uninterrupted stream of air to be directed through the reeds. The bagpipe arose from the desire to make reed instruments easier to play, especially for lengthy spells. An early version of the bagpipes was constructed using animal skin. The hollow leg bones of small animals were attached to the instrument with holes drilled into them. These holes gave the player the ability to play various pitches and tones

Ancient Origins

While there several theories about the first bagpipes, many scholars believe they originated somewhere in the in the Middle East before the time of Christ, in Mesopotamia, Sumeria, or perhaps even India or Persia – in the form of a crude instrument comprised of reeds stuck into a goatskin bag.

Various forms of bagpipes appear in ancient records in many parts of the western world, including a textual reference from 425 BC, in the play The Acharnians by the Greek playwright Aristophanes. The Oxford History of Music claims that a sculpture of bagpipes was found on a Hittite slab at Eyuk in the Middle East, dated to 1000 B.C.

While there is strong evidence that the Romans and Greeks had early versions of bagpipes, the exact form isn’t well documented. The instruments themselves were made entirely or almost entirely of organic materials (wood and skins) and not durable in the long-term. They tended to be instruments of the "common" people, and were likely used outdoors and without concern for their preservation. Being an instrument of the common people, bagpipes didn’t get much “press” since few wrote about the peasants.

Regardless, the Romans are credited by most for bringing the bagpipes to Scotland and other parts of the world they conquered. Another thing to think of when you hear the music of the Highlands.

Monday, May 14, 2012

New Review: John MacLeod’s HIGHLANDERS: A HISTORY OF THE GAELS - Absorbing History of the Scots

For all those fans of Highlander and Scottish historical romance, who would like to dive into the history behind the stories, here’s a book for you. In my own case, I wanted a history of the Highlanders for background--and to understand my Scottish heritage better. I was prepared to slog through a dull history just to gain the knowledge. I was not prepared for an entertaining and fascinating look into the past of the Highlanders. This is well worth a read no matter your motivation. It's great history made relevant to us today. As an aside, I think this book should be a companion for Scottish historical romance books. It's that good.

Kudos to the author who makes the history interesting and relevant...and shows us why there is sometimes sadness when we view today's Scotland. I've traveled to Scotland more than once and felt that sadness. If the proud Scots had been allowed to develop on their own and govern themselves, and the English had not destroyed a way of life, we might have an even richer Scotland today. Certainly we would have more of the castles left. I have both Scottish and English blood so I'm not speaking only as a Scot. But I do regret what might have been for Scotland. And for the romance readers, perhaps if so many English had not intermarried with the Scots, we'd have taller, more rugged Scottish men today…no?

Friday, May 11, 2012

New Review: Virginia Henley’s A YEAR AND A DAY – Superbly Told Tale of an English Nobleman Knight and an Innocent Scottish Lass—Wonderful!

This book won the Maggie Award from the Georgia Romance Authors for Excellence in Writing, and I'm not surprised. It is meticulous, fast-paced and tells an endearing story set in Scotland in the 13th century.

It's the story of Lynx de Warenne, English knight, heir to the Earl of Surrey and Edward Plantagenet's most prized warrior, and Jane Leslie, a Scottish lass with a kind heart and special healing powers. When Lynx became Edward's Governor of Dumfries castle, he decided it was a perfect time to sire an heir, and asked his castle steward, Jock Leslie, to allow him to handfast with the steward's youngest daughter. While Jane wanted no man, when her father told her he had agreed to handfast her to the new lord she had no choice.

This is a superbly crafted tale of two people who married for the creation of a child, but discover both passion and an enduring love. Lynx was a hardened warrior who didn't trust women; Jane was an innocent young woman afraid of men. Henley weaves a wonderful story of these two coming to love and trust each other as the winds of war between Scotland and England swirl about them. Once again, Henley crafts a romance with well-researched history and a full menu of characters, both real and fictional, woven in seamlessly as only a master storyteller can do it. I highly recommend this one!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

New Review: Meagan McKinney’s MY WICKED ENCHANTRESS – Scottish Heroine, Alpha Male Hero and Another Superb Love Story from McKinney!

Another great page-turner from McKinney, this was her second book, first published in 1988. It was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s Gold Medallion award (now called the RITA).

Set in 18th century Scotland, New Orleans and Georgia, it tells the story of Kayleigh Kerr, who was raised in Mhor Castle near Inverness until the day tragedy struck and her life of affluent nobility was ripped from her. Escaping to America and the slums of New Orleans, she dresses in rags and, to survive, becomes a cutpurse named "Kestral". Her only dream is of returning to Scotland and having revenge on her evil cousin who took her life from her. But when she tries to steal from the darkly handsome St. Bride Ferringer, who has just arrived on a ship from France, she finds a man to be reckoned with. St. Bride is really the Duke of Lansdowne in disguise, secretly plotting his own revenge, not coincidentally against the same cousin who has followed Kayleigh to America.

I love a heroine who is beaten down by life but never gives in and holds her head high as she sticks to her principles and her virtue, even if the whole world assumes she’s a whore. And who doesn’t love a hero who recognizes a diamond in the rough…or rather, a diamond sullied by misfortune? The wild and beautiful Kayleigh becomes St. Bride’s obsession and his constant distraction.

This is suspenseful storytelling at its best; and I recommend it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Review: Marsha Canham’s Scottish Trilogy - A Sweeping Scottish Saga and a drool-worthy Highlander Hero!

From 5-star master of historical romance, Marsha Canham, comes a sweeping saga of old Scotland, one that will tear at your heart. You won't regret buying any in Canham’s Scottish trilogy set in 18th century England and Scotland (PRIDE OF LIONS, BLOOD OF ROSES and MIDNIGHT HONOR)!

The first one tells the story of pampered English beauty Catherine Ashbrooke and Alexander Cameron, the Scottish Highlander who wins her in a duel. He carries his reluctant bride off to the Highlands where clan feuds and fomenting rebellion will sweep them into historic events and where their courage, as well as their love, will be tested.

Canham's superb storytelling evidences great and careful research. Her writing reminds me of Kathleen Givens in the sweeping panorama portrayed. It's not just a well-told love story set in the Highlands, but an epic saga you won't want to put down. Canham crafts believable characters, many of whom are the real historical figures. You will feel like you're living it.

The second, BLOOD OF ROSES, continues Catherine and Alex's love story as the Jacobites rise in 1745 and the rebellion ends in the bloody battle at Culloden, possibly the best treatment in a romance of that historic event I have ever read. I warn you that you will not think much of the way England treated a defeated Scotland, but the time will become real as the people you care about live through it.

The last in the trilogy, MIDNIGHT HONOR, is more loosely related than the other two, and tells of a lass who is a Highland patriot and her husband who sides with the English. Angus Moy, chief of Clan Chattan, was everything Lady Anne could desire in a husband and a lover, but that was before the winds of war tore through her homeland. Though Angus was pledged to fight for the English, Anne defied him by raising the clans to follow the Jacobite cause, even leading her own clan in battle, with the dangerously attractive Captain John MacGillivray at her side.

Angus had a secret that cloaked his midnight honor, a secret he was bound to keep from Anne at all costs. This last one tore my heart out with two heroes equally worthy vying for the love of a Scottish heroine you’ll love.

This is a must read for any serious Scottish historical romance reader!

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Review: Carmen Caine’s THE BEDEVILED HEART – Superb Love Story from 15th century Scotland!

Ever wonder what a 5 star historical romance looks like with no love scenes? Well, this is it! Oh there’s lots of kissing and wooing but we’re not shown into the bedroom when the action happens. And though I might have liked to see those scenes, I truly did not feel deprived. I just loved this story from old Scotland…a true historical romance superbly told with wonderful characters, the history of the time and many layered like a rich tapestry. I highly recommend this one.

Set in Scotland in 1479, it’s the second of Caine’s Scottish Medieval series and tells the story of Cameron Malcolm Stewart, Earl of Lennox. Cameron, a handsome Scottish noble, has been married and made a widower 7 times, never consummating the marriages before his brides died. So, he reasonably believes his marrying any woman condemns her to an early death. On one spring day near Stirling Castle, Cameron encounters a young woman, Kate Ferguson, who is selling charmed stones in one of Stirling's alehouses. He tosses Kate a shilling in exchange for a kiss. He is charmed by her winsome ways. Later he ends up helping her ailing father and finds he can’t stay away from the lass. She thinks he’s an outlaw, and against her better judgment, falls in love with him. Meanwhile, Kate and Cameron are caught up in the intrigue swirling around King James III’s court. As the king falls prey to his indulgence in the black arts, accusations of witchcraft and treachery abound. The fate of Scotland hangs in the balance, and Cameron attempts to unravel the plots while trying to hold together the country he loves.

The fast paced story will have you reading late into the night. A quality story very well done. I can’t wait to read the rest in her Highland Heather and Hearts (Scottish Medieval) Series:

The Kindling Heart
The Bedeviled Heart
The Daring Heart
The Loyal Heart

Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Review: Sue-Ellen Welfonder’s DEVIL IN A KILT - Entertaining 1st in the Series

Set in 1325, at the time when Robert the Bruce ruled Scotland, this is Welfonder’s first book and the first in the Highland Warrior series. It tells the story of Laird Duncan MacKenzie of Kintail who is bitter, angry and surly because his first wife cheated on him with his half brother, a man who looks like his twin. The rumor is that Duncan murdered his first wife. He wants to know if his 6 year old son, Robbie, is his own or his half brother’s, so he decides to wed Linnet MacDonnell who he hears has the gift of “sight” that will reveal the truth about his son. Linnet’s father, a selfish drunkard who cares little for his last unmarried daughter, gives her to Duncan to redeem his own men captured in a raid on MacKenzie cattle.

Duncan wanted a docile, plain bride; instead Linnet is a feisty beauty with spectacular red hair. The night before they marry, the first time she meets Duncan, he tells her he wants only two things from their marriage: her gift and her care for Robbie—he has no intention to consummate the marriage. Linnet knows instantly Robbie is Duncan’s son, but she keeps it to herself, hoping her new husband can come to love the boy even without that knowledge.

For the most part it is well written, capturing the feel of the time and drawing you in from the first chapter. And there is lots of action even if it takes place in one castle. But there are negatives that kept me from giving it full marks: the improbability of Linnet having no idea if her husband consummated their marriage on their wedding night (please; at least he was drunk); and the introspection that at times went on far too long, even pages, which slowed the story. Still it’s a good tale and sets the stage for her MacKenzie series, so I can recommend it.

Welfonder said the story was inspired by her visit to the Eilean Donon castle (pictured on my blog). It’s my favorite Scottish castle so I had no trouble imagining the scenes almost all of which took place there.

Here are the books in the McKenzie Series, should you want to read more:

Devil In A Kilt (2001)
Bride Of The Beast (2003)
Only For A Knight (2005)
Until The Knight Comes (2006)
Bride for a Knight (2007)
Seducing a Scottish Bride (2009)
A Highlander’s Temptation (2009)

Scotland’s Beautiful Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle (the one pictured on my blog) is one of the most recognized castles in Scotland. It is a Scottish icon and certainly one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Highlands. When you first set eyes on it, it is easy to understand why so many people flock to its stout doors year after year. Strategically located on its own little island, overlooking the Isle of Skye, at the point where three great sea-lochs meet, and surrounded by the majestic splendor of the forested mountains of Kintail, Eilean Donan’s setting is truly breath-taking.

Crossing the bridge to the castle, which is the fourth version of the original, you can understand why Bishop Donan chose the tranquil spot back in 634AD to settle a monastic cell. The first castle was established in the 13th century by Alexander II in an effort to help protect the area from Viking incursions. At that time, the original castle encompassed the entire island and is believed to have been constructed with seven towers connected by a massive curtain wall. Over the centuries, the castle contracted and expanded for reasons that still remain a mystery, until 1719 when it was involved in one of the lesser known Jacobite uprisings. When the British Government learned that the castle was occupied by Jacobite leaders along with a garrison of Spanish soldiers, three Royal Navy frigates were sent to deal with them. On May 10, 1719, the three heavily armed warships moored a short distance off the castle and bombarded it with cannon. With walls of up to 5 meters thick, these cannon had little impact, but eventually the castle was overwhelmed by force. Discovering 343 barrels of gunpowder inside, the commanding officer gave orders to blow the castle up. After that, Eilean Donan lay in silent ruin for the best part of two hundred years.

The castle as it is today was reconstructed as a family home between 1912 and 1932 by Lt Col John MacRae-Gilstrap, and incorporated much of the ruins from the 1719 destruction. The bridge was added at that time which is now as much a part of the classic image as the castle itself.

Friday, May 4, 2012

New Review: Elizabeth Stuart’s HEARTSTORM – Another Scottish Keeper from Stuart!

The first book of Stuart’s I read, WITHOUT HONOR (also a Scottish historical), so captivated me I bought all her novels. HEARTSTORM is another 5 star read. I highly recommend it.

Set in late 17th century Scotland, during the reign of King James II, it tells the story of Anne Randall, the beautiful daughter of Robert Randall, the evil earl of Glenkennon and representative of King James’ government in Scotland. Lord Randall has come to the Highlands to subdue the clans, and particularly Sir Francis MacLean, laird of the MacLean clan. When Randall uses treachery to imprison friends of the MacLean, the Scottish laird captures Randall’s daughter to hold her for exchange of the prisoners. Francis sweeps Anne away to his home, Camereigh Castle, on the coast of Western Scotland, where they find themselves drawn to each other and Anne experiences the joy of a warm family for the first time.

This is superb historical romance and storytelling at its finest. Stuart captivates from the first page as she weaves an intriguing tale of love and treachery in the Highlands. The historic details evidence considerable research, the dialog draws you in and the characters are richly drawn. The hero is drool-worthy. I promise, this one will keep you turning pages.

As far as I can tell, Stuart only wrote five books before setting aside her writing career to raise her family. But what she has given us is worth holding dear. Here they are:

RECKLESS ANGEL (1988, under the pen name Elizabeth Awbrey)
WHERE LOVE DWELLS (1990, RITA award winner for Best Historical, 1991)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Wearing of the Kilt---oh, yes!

What Scottish or Highlander historical romance would be complete without men wearing plaid? But did you know that many of the tartans we recognize today were the creations of tailors during the reign of Queen Victoria? Nevertheless, the basic concept of the plaid and the wearing of the kilt have their origin in the early Scottish and Irish clans or families, so we can take heart.

The kilt, or philabeg (the older Gaelic name) that is now standard Highlander dress, has its origin in the older garment called the belted plaid. The patters, or setts, of multicolored stripes and checks identify the clan or regiment. Although the kilt is the most recognizable of the tartans, it also takes the form of trews (trousers), shawls and skirts.

According to Wikipedia, the kilt first appeared as the great kilt, the breacan or belted plaid, during the 16th century and is Highland Gaelic in origin, a full-length garment whose upper half could be worn as a cloak draped over the shoulder, or brought up over the head.

The first tartans were the result of individual weavers’ designs, which were slowly adopted to identify individual districts and finally clans and families. The first recognizable effort to enforce uniformity through an entire clan was 1618 when Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun, wrote to Murry of Pulrossie requesting that he bring the plaids worn by his men into “harmony with that of his other septs.”

After 1688, with the fall of the Stuart clan and rise in the spread of Jacobism, the English government took a more active role in the Highlands. In 1707, The Act of Union succeeded in temporarily uniting the political factions and clans that were opposed to the Act. The tartan came into its own as a symbol of active nationalism. The wearing of the tartan spread from the Highlands to the Lowlands, which were previously not known for the wearing of the tartan.

After the rising of 1715, the English government raised regiments to curtail lawlessness. A large number of Highland men enlisted serving in the private ranks. From the time they were first raised, these independent regiments became known as the Black Watch, a reference to the darkly colored tartans they wore. In 1725, six independent Black Watch companies were formed: three from Clan Campbell, one from Clan Fraser, one from Clan Munro and one from Clan Grant. Taking advantage of the partisan nature and warrior instincts of the highlanders, these men were authorized to wear the kilt and to bear arms, thus it was not difficult to find recruits. In 1740, the independent companies became a formal regiment and a new tartan was developed that has ever since been known as the Black Watch Tartan.

During the 1800s, the wearing of the belted plaid began to be replaced by the kilt, a plaid that had the traditional pleats permanently sewn in place and separated the lower form the upper half. By 1746, the English government enacted a law making it illegal for Highlander to own or possess arms. A year later, the Dress Act restricted the wearing of Highland clothes. Any form of plaid, philbeag, belted plaid, trews, shoulder belt or kilt were not allowed in public. By the time the Dress Act was repealed in 1783, the fabric of Celtic life had been forever altered. Old traditions and customs were lost forever and the wearing of the plaid was no longer a way of life for Highlanders.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Welcome to Scottish/Highlander Romance Month on my Blog!

Ah, Scotland…land of my heritage, land of my heart. There is no place on earth that calls to me more than Scotland, so it is no wonder that among my very favorite historical romances are the stories set in this land that has drawn so much passion over the centuries (and has been the scene of so much treachery as well!).

For all you Scottish historical romance lovers out there, this month I’ll feature reviews of great Scottish and Highlander romance novels, some fascinating articles about the wearing of the kilt and the origin of bagpipes, two wonderful guest bloggers who are authors of Scottish historical romances—and my Best Scottish/Highlander Historical Romances List!

So sign up to receive posts and I’ll keep you enthralled with tales of Scotland and those Highlander hunks!