25 August 2009

ARC Review: Judith James - Highland Rebel

~click on cover to buy a copy~

Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1402224338
ISBN-13: 978-1402224331


Amidst the upheaval of Cromwell's Britain, Jamie Sinclair's wit and military prowess have served him well. Leading a troop in Scotland, he impetuously marries a captured maiden, saving her from a grim fate.

A Highlands heiress to title and fortune, Catherine Drummond is not the woman Jamie believes her to be. When her people effect her rescue, and he cannot annul the marriage, Jamie goes to recapture his hellcat of a new wife...

In a world where family and creed cannot be trusted, where faith fuels intolerance and war, Catherine and Jamie test the bounds of loyalty, friendship, and trust...

To live by the temperament of a king is a very delicate dance. In his favor you are bestowed titles and wealth but fallen out of grace you will lose it all, perhaps even burned a traitor or worse, exiled from king and country. No one knows the court and its politics better than Jamie Sinclair and his journey is an unusual one to say the least.

The mind versus the heart. This is my dilemma as I start my review of Highland Rebel. Because my mind recognizes the moving and beautiful prose the author is using and the formidable, well researched historical setting she has created. And yet, I hardly could get a connection with Jamie Sinclair and Catherine Drummond as a romance couple. Friends, yes, partners in crime, most definitely, but the romance didn’t ignite for me until I was approximately ninety pages away from the ending. With a 449 page long story to unfold that is a long way to go.

There is no traditional romance found in Highland Rebel, but then, Jamie and Cat are extraordinary characters all together. While I do believe they genuinely care for each other I could not feel the blossoming of love as Judith James probably intended for me to feel. I felt their camaraderie and curiosity for life itself between them rather than a burning passion. Throughout most of the story Judith James emphasizes on the friendship they feel rather than the emotional connecting of man and woman. As I couldn’t connect with them the distance gradually grew more, even up to a point where I had to use my will to keep on reading. This is never a good thing for me as it diminishes the overall joy in reading the story.

Is it bad characterization? Most definitely not! Once again my mind acknowledged the time Judith James took for setting up both Jamie and Cat’s characters. Their personalities layered and their past is elaborated throughout the overall story, not dumping vast amounts of info on me but when necessary background information is provided or revealed at the right time. Hence, I got time to truly get to know them as certain choices become understandable and I wondered how problems would be solved.

Jamie Sinclair is a courtier, a soldier and a mercenary. Blowing in which way the political wind comes from. As his courtier persona he is slightly jaded and bored but his past made him a jack of all trade’s with many faces. He beds the women at court, he gambles away, trades valuable information and he has a roguish attitude that makes him popular among many women. Underneath all these faces there is another man to be found, another man to get to know and understand.

Catherine Drummond is intelligent, opinionated, independent. She was raised by a father who taught her a strong sense of clan and he hired various teachers to feed her thirst for knowledge. She has many leader qualities, yet she still remains a woman and it is like a brick wall she collides onto when it comes to clan matters. After her father dies she is left with wealth and land, and her brother and uncle try to use her as a pawn to gain powerful allies. Try is the operative word here because Cat is a spitfire who will not be subdued by a man.

Cat and Jamie meet and marry under out of the ordinary circumstances and it signals the beginning of an extraordinary relationship. They are equals in many ways, up to a point where Cat dresses as a man and is taken by Jamie to brothels, clubs and various other meeting places in London. Cat keeps visiting these places, she is in search for independence and seeks opportunity to display her intelligence. What was a let-down for me was the down-to-earth behavior they sometimes displayed to one another. If a divorce contract was discussed it was done amicably, when Jamie talked about actively searching for a new mistress it is initially accepted by Cat. I suddenly questioned the budding feelings Jamie had in his heart for Cat. When passion flares and stopped for numerous reasons they do not discuss their feelings and just leave it be. Their interactions are at times matter-of-fact and distant and at other times display such passion that I instantly hungered for more of those discussions. More of them willing to go for each other, willing to put up a fight and the better part of Highland Rebel I did not receive that.

Jamie, as a courtier, and the tumultuous times he finds himself in, are described with such keen eye for historical detail that it was easy for me to envision the historical settings. Yet I could not find myself agreeable to his courtier ways as realistic and true-to-his-character as they might have been. The flirting he does with the women, the ex-mistresses who try to seduce him, the sometimes not so ethical choices he has to make. It fleshes out his character but it didn’t make him more appealing to me.

Half way the book I took a break from the story wondering if it was perhaps me, was I in some kind of weird mood that prevented me from getting a feel for the characters? Now when I take a break from a book it isn’t a good sign for my level of reading pleasure. Many things I find valuable in a story; like well fleshed out characters, thorough world building and a flowing writing style were undoubtedly there but the characters seemed beyond my reach. It all boils down for me to how I felt about Jamie and Cat. They are the story, would it pertain a secondary character it would not nearly make such an impact as it did with the main couple.

I received a real good dose of how life was back then and the author portrayed it very vividly and realistically. Jamie and Cat’s journey was all about how they would want to live their lives in that world, in that regard Judith James did an incredible job. Still it had me pondering on the fact how much historical detail and reality I can handle in a historical romance. Was it simply because I never encountered a male protagonist who was mainly portrayed as a courtier that kept Jamie from being less then appealing to me? Was it Cat in her tomboy and peculiar ways for independence that made me feel less connected with her as the heroine?

I picked up the book and started reading again and after a few chapters I still wasn’t able to get enamored by the romance. Their individualities created a chemistry that I did not understand, not in a romantic sense of the word. In the adventurous way - for the choice of expressing oneself - leading a life according to your own rules, in that, most definitely, but in matters of the heart there was a gap that could not be bridged. Cat and Jamie were partners in their adventures, not willing to let the other one go when decisions need to be made. So with a plethora of supporting characters and warring countries the setting was quickly picking me up, and the King and his court were up to no good for Cat and Jamie. They had to go to Ireland and that is where I felt romance and passion spring to life, by then I was around page 340. Every shred of emotion and desire between them was devoured by me. A passionate outburst from Cat near the end had my eyes stuck to the pages. A sliver of what Judith James could do to me with her story was sampled and I wanted more. Was this couple finally evolving from friends to actual lovers in every sense of the word? Yes they were, and the ending was very true to their nature and I left them with a hopeful feeling for their future.

From friendship love can be born, that is what I feel Highland Rebel is trying to say. For two very unlikely characters to find a kindred spirit under the most unlikely circumstances. My heart unfortunately did not feel that for the better part of the story as my mind acknowledged the incredible potential Judith James has as an author of fabulous and enthralling stories. For the above mentioned reasons this book will not be easily forgotten and I will keep my eye out what Judith James will concoct next.

I am about to do something I have not done before. To honor the good things in Highland Rebel but also allow my feelings to be regarding this book I have decided not to give a star rating. When I look at my own blog star rating or that of ROOB it does not fit any of the descriptions. The writing of Judith James just holds too much quality and is at odds with my overall feelings for me to give it an adequate star rating.

Quote Jamie:
He loved to see the excitement shinning in her eyes. When he was in her company, many things seemed fresh and new. The world throbbed with color and everything pulsed with life. In three short months, she’s become so much a part of his life it seemed she’s always been there, and it was almost impossible to imagine her gone. He watched as she returned, bearing gifts of chocolate, eyes bright with exhilaration, and felt a stab of sadness that he’d never been that young.

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  1. I can't wait to read this one!! Great review! Thanks girl

  2. Great review on good choice about not giving it a star. I am sure she has excellent writing, but if you felt like that about the characters. I would have to read it to find out

  3. Hi Book Junkie, You're welcome and I look forward to your thoughts on this book :)

    Hi Blodeuedd, I have pondered on it for a few days but found a no star rating to be the best decision. Jamie and Cat did not work for me in the romance department but that doesn't have to say it isn't going to work for someone else. You should give her a go. I also have Broken Wing on my shelves, read the first few chapters and was completely intrigued by Gabriel St. Croix :)

  4. Fantastic Review Leontine. Wow, I really felt your frustration/confusion with this novel. It's funny cause I'm going through something similar with the book I'm reading now. I like the characters and I like the plot and the romance is there but for some reason I'm just not connecting. It makes writing a review difficult.

    Barbara sent me 'Broken Wing' months ago to read saying that this author is fabulous and I completely believe her. It'll be interesting to read her review of this one, which should be soon. I wonder if you both had the same general feelings toward the novel.

    (((hugs))) VFG

  5. Very nice honest review. This does seem a bit frustrating. You did a nice job expressing yourself though. Just like in life, sometimes romance can't be forced!

  6. Great review Leotine! I have to say when I was writing my review I was having trouble writing it and getting my thoughts together.

  7. Great review. I like when reviewers honestly let me know, meah it wasn't for me in a positive format. I'm not a huge fan of book bashing, so I think you handled the pros and cons beautifully. Love the quote you picked!

  8. Great review, Leontine! I still have 'Broken Wing' on my TBR shelf but I haven't gotten round to reading it yet.

    Sometimes it's so hard to accurately express your feeling on a book through a grade. There are so many variables and reasons why I might give a book a certain grade. I try to aim for overall impression, obviously taking elements such as writing, characterization, plotting, pacing, etc., into account.

  9. I have this one for review and though I liked Broken Wing I'm not all that excited to read this book. Your review showed me a little of what I'm in for.

    Thanks for the honest review!

  10. Great review Leontine! I have heard a few other's who really liked this one too. I have to put it on my to buy list! LOVE that cover as well! Keep up the great reviewing my dear!!!

  11. Well, I love what you say about partners, and love coming out of friendship. What a cool theme!

    Isn't it so frustrating when you recognize the beauty and work of a book, but it doesn't have the right chemistry with you? I think it shows something in that James evokes so much history and setting, and that you want to like it. Sometimes that is enough for me - to WANT to like a book I'm reading. But sometimes, it's just not. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful review!

  12. I am glad that the review is coming across the way I intended to. I believe that other readers who are completely in sync or feel a connection with Jamie and Cat will absolutely fall for this novel. I did not feel it but Highland Rebel did become an incentive to want to read Broken Wing relatively soon.

  13. Some books are just this way, you can't grade them.

    Hmmm, what I find with Ms James is that she likes to challenge her readers with her characters being extremely real and accurate to the time period. Thing is, their actions are not always those the readers would like to read.

    Great review Leontine :D

  14. I'm about half-way through this one so far (she's just traveled to England) and I'm not sure how I'm going to do a review.
    As with Broken Wing, I think this is a romance plus or and/or. While it may not work totally as a romance, as you say, the writing is beautiful and the story itself is fascinating. When I first started reading romance, back in the older days, I learned a lot about history I didn't know because the authors paid a great deal of attention to that aspect of the book. But then for years, it was just token pieces of history. Judith James hearkens back to the older days where not only do we have a fascinating story, but we also learn.
    And I just may have to quote myself from here when I do a review *g*.

  15. I have broken wing to read and then I'm onto THIS one! Really looking forward to them!!!

    Great review!

  16. Quote KristieJ: As with Broken Wing, I think this is a romance plus or and/or. While it may not work totally as a romance, as you say, the writing is beautiful and the story itself is fascinating.

    You go stright to the heart of the matter what took me doc. pages to write ppffff You're right, it didn't work completely for me in the romance department while the story is incredibly well written and intriguing.

    Hi Nath, the accuracy and true to time period is something defintely an asset for Judith james as an author. I have read the first few chapter of Broken Wing and Gabriel really got to me. like I said in comment, Broken Wing will be read very soon!

    Hi Zeek, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts on both books!

  17. Girl, I am getting my butt in high gear (hopefully) next shopping trip to get me highlander books... I have to add some to my collection!!!
    You are rocking the highlanders that is for sure!!!!

  18. I have broken wings on my shelf and really want to read that one, but this one does not give me that vibe, I don't know if I will pick this one up. Great review.

  19. What a great review-sometimes it's hard to rate a book for the reasons you've given. I've had a few romances where I've had this problem-sometimes it just takes an author a few books to get me liking them for good. (Did that make sense?)
    I have an award for you here:

  20. This sounds like a really interesting book. I love reading about Highlanders.

  21. Hi Stephanie, welcome here :) I must warn you that the hero is no highlander and the book takes mostly place in London!!

  22. I misunderstood the title - I will still be checking out the book though.

  23. Hi Stephanie, enjoy reading Highland Rebel when you pick it up :) At first I thought it would have a highlander for a hero too but Highland Rebel refers to their personalities more than anything else :D


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