Tempting the Highlander
As the title indicates, Tempting the Highlander is the latest installment in Janet Chapman’s series about a group of time-traveling Scotsmen and their offspring. This is the first book in the series that I’ve tried, and while it is a warm, sweet story, I suspect it will work better for readers who’ve been following these characters from the beginning.
Robbie MacBain is a foster parent in charge of four rowdy teenage boys who need a second chance. Watching over others is a task Robbie is used to. Not only does he run a logging company, but he is also the magical guardian duty-bound to protect his clan. This includes his father and the other Highlanders who came to modern-day Maine decades earlier from medieval Scotland, thanks to a spell from a wizard named Daar.
As the story opens, Daar informs Robbie that the spell was only supposed to last thirty-five years. If they don’t act soon, Robbie’s father and the others will soon return to their own time, leaving their families here. Daar needs Robbie to travel back to 12th Century Scotland himself and retrieve a book of spells so that the wizard can recast the original spell. Robbie doesn’t really trust the wizard who has wreaked havoc on all their lives, but he will do anything to protect his family.
Meanwhile, Robbie has another problem to deal with. A thief has been sneaking into his chicken coop at night and stealing the eggs that were supposed to be breakfast for his boys. When Robbie confronts the thief, he doesn’t know what surprises him more: the fact that the thief is a woman, or that she manages to outrun him when he tries to chase her down. The thief is Catherine Daniels, on the run with her two young children, hiding from her abusive ex-husband who was recently released from prison. When Robbie finally does meet her, he sees a solution to at least one of his problems. He needs a new housekeeper to watch over the household while he travels back to the past. Catherine needs a job and money. It’s a perfect arrangement.
This is the second book I’ve read recently that seems like two different stories jammed together. The first half of the book introduces Robbie, Catherine and her children and here, I found the paranormal element distracting since it’s not very well explained. Also there were plenty of little things I had questions about (which is why those who’ve read the previous books may be better off than newcomers).
Still, when the book focuses on Robbie, Catherine, her children and his wards, it’s really charming, as we see the bonds slowly begin to form between everyone involved. The author writes with much warmth, really drawing the reader into these people’s lives. There are some really nice moments, including some adorable ones courtesy of Catherine’s little daughter Nora. It’s so sweet and affecting that it’s almost guaranteed to put a smile on the reader’s face. I liked reading about the characters so much that the paranormal element, when it would occasionally turn up and then quickly disappear again, became an annoyance.
But later, the book does a one-eighty. The paranormal element takes over and the sweet character-driven aspects fade into the background. It really was like a different story had kicked in. Chapman can definitely write, so it’s still pretty engaging, even if it’s all grounded in the background material that wasn’t explained particularly well.
The characters are the strongest part of the book. They are all very likable and sympathetic people, the kind of characters who are worth spending a few hours with. Still, they could have been developed a little more and there were times I wanted more insight into what was going on in their heads. Catherine and Robbie are more two-dimensional characters than full-bodied, three-dimensional ones.
Ultimately, Tempting the Highlander is a fun read, if not entirely filling. The author’s style is smooth and engaging, and the characters are likeable. I just wish it had stood on its own more (even in the end, it seems as though some loose ends are being left for the next book). If you’ve read the other books, you can probably kick the grade up a notch. You’ll probably find it a solidly entertaining read. Those who haven’t may want to go back to the beginning instead of starting here.