Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234902-6
Historical Romance, 2015
After the hideous Say Yes to the Marquess, it is quite reassuring to read When a Scot Ties the Knot and realize that the author hasn’t completely gone off the tracks. This one is back in familiar territory, and it’s a nice balance of humor and pathos. It is also doused in contemporary phraseology with an extra helping of present day pop psychology, so readers who would prefer a degree of historical authenticity in their stories may want to proceed with caution.
An extreme introvert with social anxiety disorder, Madeline Gracechurch would freeze in fear at the thought of attending any event with many people in attendance. As you can imagine, she’s not looking forward to the ballrooms of London and what not. To avoid being pushed forward to Society in her debut, she concocted a story about having fallen for a soldier, one Captain Logan MacKenzie, who alas has to head off to war. Her family, believe it or not, buy her story. To continue her deception – it’s an excuse to remain in the country to study and sketch nature, just the way she wants her life to be – she writes letters to this non-existent guy over the next few years, before finally killing him off in the war. Of course, since she knows there is no one who would receive these letters, she uses them as a diary of sorts, to vent about things she would never dare say out loud.
Cut to today, when Maddie has an unexpected visitor after having inherited a castle from her late godfather: Captain Logan MacKenzie has come back, to claim his darling! What happens is that Maddie should have chosen a fake beau with a less common name, as it just happens that there is a Logan MacKenzie in the army, and the letters all ended up in his possession. The men under his command believe that he has a sweetheart waiting for him back home, and today, Logan wants to claim what Maddie has unwittingly handed him: the land surrounding the castle. You see, he is currently with those men who fought under him, some of whom with some psychological damage sustained from the war, and these men came home to find that there was nothing waiting for them. Their homes had been claimed by the English whom they fought for, some had sweethearts who had since moved on, and Logan wants to give these men a new start – a new land to farm and start a new family on. If he has to blackmail Maddie into marriage in order to give these men what they deserve, so be it.
As it turns out, married life turns out to be far more pleasant – even exciting – than any of them could ever imagine.
This story actually has many things that normally get on my nerves – especially the use of missing or wounded animals to drive the climax, which I hope would not be a pattern for future books because I despise such manipulative nonsense – but somehow, everything works beautifully together. The overly cutesy elements, the so obviously calculated attempts at making me sigh, all of these things usually make me grit my teeth and want to stab someone with a syringe filled with insulin, but here, they all come together like beautifully fitted jigsaw puzzles. Really, this story has a wonderful “fairy tales can come true” vibe, and I fall for everything like a starving kid in a buffet.
Logan starts out a typical “Oh, I have no heart, because my sad past made me a guy who doesn’t trust mushy feelings!” kind of fellow, but the fun here is seeing how he ends up being the perfect gallant and noble husband despite his constant bluster. The best and funniest thing is that he doesn’t even realize what he is doing – the fellow gets so muddled up by his mushy feelings for Maddie, he’s hilarious and sweet all at once. He is also capable of accepting and appreciating Maddie’s virtues, so this fellow is a complete 180 from the donkey rear end that was the hero of the previous book.
Maddie, despite being an introvert who gets panicky at the thoughts of socializing, is no meek doormat. Initially, she plots to retrieve the letters he is blackmailing her with while postponing the consummation part for as along as possible, but she soon discovers that the husband has a soft and sweet core underneath his bluster, and marrying him may not be so bad after all. Given that he’s not exactly a social butterfly himself, she may have scored a perfect hubby for herself without realizing it.
Their relationship is fun to follow, with a nice balance of humorous and emotional moments. The secondary characters are a nice touch too, with Maddie’s friendship with the guy whose memory is impaired after the war being pretty sweet. Mind you, the author’s approach to PTSD can be dangerously naïve – apparently a dose of kindness will do the trick – but this story deals with all psychological stuff in the same manner. Love overcomes trust issues just like that, that kind of thing. The fact that the author makes all this stuff so easy for me to swallow and enjoy can be a disconcerting testament to how much sway she can hold over me, hmm. The most terrifying thing here is that, I know this story is absurd and silly, and yet, I find the romance real enough to believe that these two would be perfect together.
When a Scot Ties the Knot is dipped in sugar and sprinkled with simplistic pop psychology elements, so it’s not for everyone. But the author’s style is a subversive kind of guilty pleasure, so much so that I find myself enjoying this story when normally – such as when such a story is written by a different author – I’d be cringing from the cloying saccharine overtones of the story. So yes, even if you normally dislike such stories, you may be surprised by how much you like this one should you pick this up. Think of this book as a sweet confectionery made from artificial sweeteners – it may still not be ideal for “diabetic” readers who can’t normally stand all that sugar, but eating it is such a fine experience that it’s hard to remember why it is supposed to be a bad thing.