Series: Highlands Lairds

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie Garwood

Posted February 22, 2017 by Holly in Discussions, Reviews | 15 Comments

Retro Review: Shadow Music by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Shadow Music by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #3
Also in this series: Ransom, The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1), Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2)
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: 2008
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 438
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

Throughout her acclaimed writing career, Julie Garwood has captivated readers with characters who are compelling, daring, and bursting with life. Now one of the most popular novelists of our time proudly returns to her beloved historical romance roots–in a thrilling tale of love, murder, adventure, and mystery set against the haunting landscape of medieval Scotland.
For Princess Gabrielle of St. Biel, Scotland is a land of stunning vistas, wild chieftains, treacherous glens, and steep shadows–skullduggery, betrayal, and now murder. Prized for her exquisite beauty, the daughter of one of England’s most influential barons, Gabrielle is also a perfect bargaining chip for a king who needs peace in the Highlands: King John has arranged Gabrielle’s marriage to a good and gentle laird. But this marriage will never take place.
For Gabrielle, everything changes in one last burst of freedom–when she and her guards come upon a scene of unimaginable cruelty. With one shot from her bow and arrow, Gabrielle takes a life, saves a life, and begins a war.
Within days, the Highlands are aflame with passions as a battle royal flares between enemies old and new. Having come to Scotland to be married, Gabrielle is instead entangled in Highland intrigue. For two sadistic noblemen, underestimating Gabrielle’s bravery and prowess may prove fatal. But thanks to a secret Gabrielle possesses, Colm MacHugh, the most feared man in Scotland, finds a new cause for courage. Under his penetrating gaze, neither Gabrielle’s body nor heart is safe.
A gripping novel that delves into the heart of emotions–unyielding passions of love, hate, revenge, and raw desire–Shadow Music is magnificent gift from Julie Garwood and a crowning achievement in her amazing career.
From the Hardcover edition.

******As part of our 10 year anniversary celebration, we’ll be re-posting old reviews that make us cringe, laugh or sigh all over again.

Man, I love me some early Julie Garwood historicals. She lost me with her romantic suspense. I remember being so excited when she announced she was releasing a new historical. I’m still pretty disappointed it didn’t live up to my expectations. I wonder what would happen if I read it now? I might need to reread it and see if I still feel the same. 

This review was originally published January 8, 2008

This is less a review about this particular book and more my thoughts on the writing of Julie Garwood. Casee reviewed the book here. You can check that out for a plot summary and her thoughts, for they mostly mirrored mine.

Throughout her career, JG has remained a favorite of mine. Well, let me clarify. Prior to Killjoy she was a favorite of mine. Her historicals still call to me on occasion and I find myself picking them up at random, anxious to sink into an old, comfortable story, similar to how I might slip on my favorite sweats after a long day at work, or pop in a favorite DVD if I’ve had a particularly bad day.

But after Killjoy, not only did I think contemps were not her thing, I decided her writing itself deteriorated. The last novel I read by her was Slow Burn. While I enjoyed the basic premise behind it, I was sadly disappointed in the actual writing. Sentences were choppy, paragraphs seemed to bleed together, or go in odd directions that made no sense to me, dialogue was stilted, characters were half formed or one dimensional. I thought the plot was an awesome one, and had it been better fleshed out it had the potential to become her best written novel yet. But instead it fell far short.

After that, I decided not to read another of her contemps. I told myself, and others, that I’d buy her again if she went back to historicals, but otherwise I was done with her. I removed her from my auto-buy list and comforted myself with her old historicals, the ones that got me hooked on romance to begin with.

Then the announcement came. That yes, Julie Garwood, historical legend, would be returning to her roots. Love her older historicals or hate them, you can’t deny she’s a basic staple in romance. I was happy to hear she’d be returning, but somewhat apprehensive. Because although the moment I’d been waiting for had finally come, I was concerned about her actual writing style. The way she wove a story back when was unconventional perhaps, but still engaging. I didn’t think she’d be able to return to that, not after seeing evidence of her decline in her more recent novels.

I’m sad to say I was correct. She may have done quite a bit of head-hopping in her previous novels, but the focus remained on the two main protagonists. In this novel, however, she chose to write in a more narrative style than from one POV or another. So I was constantly pulled out of the story by her glossing over things, or seeming to sum things up. Very frustrating.

I’m also extremely unclear about how they H/H came to fall in love. There was hardly any interaction between the two, and what there was was disjointed and…once again, glossed over. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to her writing. A chapter would start out from one POV or another, and then half-way through she’d jump into a narrative style, summing things up rather than allowing us as readers to follow the progress.

I suppose it would be like me starting a story, in which I use rich, colorful detail and much humor only to say, once you’re engaged and intrigued, “Blah blah, yada, yada, you get what I mean” and then just leave it at that. Frustrating, no?

There were some good parts. When the POV was written from either the hero or heroine, I was drawn into the story. Unfortunately, those parts were few and far between, and when they did happen, they didn’t last long. The basic premise was also a good one, and classic Garwood. Sadly, the point of the plot was lost somewhere in the muddle of switching from one writing style to another, the jumping between characters and places (i.e., from the Barons in England to the clans in the Highlands to the heroine to the hero to the guards of the heroine to her father back to the barons to the king of England, etc, etc) and the mass amount of inconsistencies presented.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read for this book said the Priests provided a lot of comic relief, but I didn’t really see that. Sure, there were some amusing parts, but I think I assumed they played a bigger part in the overall story (with actual read time, I mean) and that just didn’t seem to be the case.

I’m sure I’ll end up buying her next book (assuming she continues to write historicals), just to see if she somehow improves…hmm, or perhaps that’s not the right word. Regresses into her old writing habits? Goes back to being the Garwood I knew and loved? I’m not sure. I have a feeling I’m going to be sorely disappointed when (if) that time comes, however.

On a related note: Ange, The Romance Groupie, posted about this book on Saturday. I mentioned my disappointment in the overall writing in the comments, and she responded with this:

Actually, I’ve noticed that many of the popular authors appear to be going down in the quality department. I’m wondering if it’s the editors, publishers, etc. that are ruining it. It just seems strange that so many great authors have gone bad in the last year or so. Is it just me? Are you seeing this trend too?

I thought about it some, and yes, I have to agree. Some of my favorite authors have seriously declined in the last few years. Could it be because of the publishers or editors? Or is it just simply something with them personally?

Regardless, I’m disappointed.

Even though I said this was less a review and more my thoughts on JG’s writing as a whole, I’ll still rate the book:

2.5 out of 5

You can buy it here in hardback or in eBook format here. When I bought it from Books on Board, they were offering a $5 cash-back incentive, bringing the total book price down to $9.95. I’m not sure if they’re still offering the promotion, but you could email them to see.


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Review: Ransom by Julie Garwood

Posted February 18, 2013 by Holly in Reviews | 2 Comments

Review: Ransom by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2) by Julie Garwood
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: November 1st 1999
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 546
Add It: Goodreads
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An alternate cover edition can be found here.

In the dark days after the death of Richard the Lionhearted, lives and lands would fall into upheaval at the hands of a power-hungry British ruler and his violent minions. One victim of the scourge is innocent Gillian, who is a mere child when the cruel and ambitious Baron Alford slaughters her father and tears her family apart. Alford, determined to recover a jeweled box for the despotic King John, is furious when the precious treasure slips through his fingers -- only to be lost for more than a decade.

Now a beautiful young woman, Gilllian finds the key to resolving her past in handsome Scottish chieftains Ramsey Sinclair and Brodick Buchanan. With the cunning and courage of the daring Scotsmen, and with the friendship of a new ally, Bridgid KirkConnell, Gillian at last fights the unscrupulous Baron Alford, laying claim to her home, her family, and her father's reputation. But in the presence of the mighty warriors, Gillian and Bridgid discover that desire can be a weapon of conquest ... betrayal can slay trust in a heartbeat ... and the greatest risk of all is surrender -- to the deep emotions of unexpected love.

Warning: This review contains spoilers

For me Ransom has to be broken into two parts. I adore the first part, which is more about Gillian’s journey to the Highlands with her young charge. The second half is more focused on the mystery aspects and on the relationship between Gillian and Brodick. The traits I love most in Gillian during the first half become way too much in the second. Brodick’s behavior goes from being sweet and funny in the beginning, to just pissing me off in the second.

Lady Gillian is at the mercy of an English Baron who has named himself her guardian. He’s looking for a jeweled box said to hold the key to explaining the unexpected death of the King’s one true love and he thinks either Gillian or her estranged sister, Christen, know where it is. With the help of a traitor from the Sinclair clan in the Highlands, the Baron has kidnapped the brother of the Laird and intends to use him to force Gillian’s sister out of hiding. If he can’t get Gillian to do it first.

Gillian vows to get Alec  – who, thanks to a childish prank, isn’t even the right boy..but instead the son of Iain Maitland – home. In order to do so, after she escapes from the Baron, she sends a message to Laird Brodick Buchanan saying she’s his bride and he needs to come collect her. Once Brodick arrives he and his men decide they’re going to keep her.

But Gillian isn’t interested in getting married, for she knows finding Arianna’s Treasure (the jeweled box the Baron is after) and saving her Uncle Morgan are her first priorities  Plus, there’s a good chance she may not survive….except Brodick is determined that she will.

Part 1

The first part of this book is dedicated to Gillian and Alec making their way from her childhood home in England to Alec’s home in the Highlands of Scotland. Her strength and courage are really showcased as she takes a beating to keep Alec safe, sneaks out of the keep and uses her intelligence and common sense to keep them alive while they wait for Brodick to arrive. She’s a fierce champion for Alec and a strong heroine. I’d even say she’s one of Garwood’s best during this part of the book.

The way Garwood tells the story really drew me in and had me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how Gillian and Alec would get home and how the Lairds would react once they did.  The journey with Brodick and his warriors to the Maitland holding was interesting and engaging. Especially once they reach Annie Drummond’s cottage so Gillian’s arm could be healed. That’s one of the best parts of the novel.

During this time, Brodick is sweet and funny. Yes, he’s extremely arrogant and somewhat overbearing, but that’s tempered by his kindness and tenderness toward both Gillian and little Alec. It was easy to understand how Gillian fell in love with him.

The mystery revolving around why Alec was taken and Gillian finding her sister really pulled me in. I couldn’t wait for her to tell the Lairds her story and see how it would play out.

Then we come to Part 2.

This is where the story fell apart for me. Gillian, Brodick and Ramsey Sinclair, the laird whose younger brother was meant to be taken, travel to the Sinclair holding so they can try to figure out who the traitor is and find Gillian’s sister. Brodick tricks Gillian into marrying him. She thinks they became betrothed but really they got married.

That’s the beginning of the end for me. It’s meant to be funny, I think, but a woman should know when she’s getting married. Not to mention Brodick then uses her feelings for him – she admits she loves him – to manipulate her for the rest of the book. He makes promises and then breaks them, pushes her into doing things she doesn’t want to do and flat out lies to her.

I understood Gillian’s need to go to England to follow through and keep her uncle safe. But if Brodick had been willing to talk to her and share his plans, she would have made different decisions. She’s up front and honest with him from the beginning, while he’s secretive and conniving. The reason he lies is supposedly to keep her safe, but it didn’t read that way for me.

Where Gillian was independent and level-headed during the first half of the book, in the second she makes silly decisions and gets herself into trouble because she doesn’t think things through. I mostly blame this on Brodick, though, since he’s the one who lies to her and keeps her in the dark.

There’s also a secondary romance between Laird Ramsey and one of his followers, Brigid KirkConnell. She’s been in love with him forever, but he didn’t even know she existed until he’s forced to turn down several men who want her hand in marriage (his father promised her she could choose her own husband). We met Ramsey, along with Brodick, in the first book, The Secret. I was intrigued by him and looked forward to reading his story. Unfortunately, I feel like he got the shaft. He deserved his own book. I really liked Brigid, but they weren’t given enough page time to make their romance believable.

If the first half had carried on like the second half this may well have been my favorite Garwood ever. As it stands I have to say the second half really marred my overall enjoyment.

First half: 4.5 out of 5
Second half: 2 out of 5

Overall grade 2.75 out of 5 – the first half isn’t enough to save the story for me.

This book is available from Pocket Books. You can buy it here or here in e-format.


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Author Spotlight Review: The Secret by Julie Garwood

Posted December 14, 2009 by Holly in Features, Reviews | 2 Comments

Author Spotlight Review: The Secret by Julie GarwoodReviewer: Holly
The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1) by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #1
Also in this series: Ransom, Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2), Shadow Music
Publisher: Pocket Books
Publication Date: May 1st 1992
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 379
Add It: Goodreads
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Series Rating: four-stars

Judith Hampton was as beautiful as she was proud, as purposeful as she was loyal. The dear Scottish friend of her childhood was about to give birth, and Judith had promised to be at her side. But there was another, private reason for the journey from her bleak English home to the Highlands to meet the father she had never known, the Laird Maclean. Nothing prepared her for the sight of the Scottish barbarian who was to escort her into his land...Iain Maitland, Laird of his clan, a man more powerfully compelling than any she had ever encountered.

In a spirited clash of wills and customs, Judith revelled in the melting bliss of Iain's searching kisses, his passionate caresses. Perplexed by her sprightly defiance, bemused by her tender nature, Iain felt his soul growing into the light and warmth of her love. Surely nothing would wrench her from the affection and trust of Iain and his clan...not even the truth about her father, a devastating secret that could shatter the boldest alliance, and the most glorious of loves.

Garwood’s Medieval’s hold a special place in my heart. While Saving Grace and The Wedding will always be my favorites, The Secret is right there at the top.

Judith Hampton and Frances Catherine became friends at a young age, before they knew it was wrong. Over the years their friendship not only held, but grew stronger. Judith made a promise to Frances Catherine that when it was time for her to have her first child she’d attend her. Only there’s a problem; Judith is English and Frances Catherine is married to the brother of a Highland Laird. To say the Highlanders are unhappy about the promise is an understatement. As a matter of fact, they’re convinced Judith, as an Englishwoman, has no intention of keeping her word.

They’re thoroughly surprised, however, when they arrive in England and Judith is ready and willing to go. Iain Maitland, the laird, is especially surprised. Not only is the Englishwoman willing to keep her word, but he finds her beautiful in the extreme. He knows there are way too many complications and he can’t keep her, especially since his clan is currently in turmoil since he just stepped up as laird. That doesn’t stop him from wanting her though.

Judith is surprised to see the laird of Frances Catherine’s clan himself. She never would have expected that he’d be the one to fetch her..nor that he be so handsome. Though she tries to fight it, she can’t help but be attracted to him. As they travel to the Highlands, she finds herself falling completely under his spell.

But things aren’t going to be easy for her in Scotland. Her father – whom she’s never met – is an enemy of the Maitland’s, the clan midwives are terrible harpies who only want to inflict pain, and her attraction to Iain is one step away from turning to love.

I really adore this book. This is a full-bodied story that really transports the reader back in time. Garwood often writes about weightier issues, and this novel is no exception. Here she tackles the misguided way the church treated women.

I loved the way Judith stood up for herself and the other women of the clan, often putting herself out or making a fool of herself in the process. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. Her frustration over the way the clanswomen were treated was well written. I loved that Iain stood behind her and supported her. Though he was as arrogant as they come, he still valued Judith and her opinion.

The way Judith and Iain battle their attraction, but are unable to keep away from each other, is beautifully written. There is much humor peppered throughout the story, especially when it comes to the council and Iain’s soldiers. The way Graham and the the other elders bickered and confused matters made for some great reading, as did the way Brodick, Liam and Ramsey all tripped over themselves around Judith.

Parts of it are over the top – especially the wedding. While I’m sure it was meant to be extremely amusing, it’s something Garwood often does in her novels and I tend to just roll my eyes through those scenes. The way some of the conflicts were resolved came about a bit too easily..everything was wrapped up in a nice tight bow. While part of me appreciates that, I also find it just a bit too trite.

Overall this is an emotionally compelling read, rich with the flavor of the highlands and wonderful characters. Reading it was like coming home to good friends, ones I wasn’t even aware I’d been missing until they were with me again.

4.5 out of 5

The series:

Book CoverBook Cover

This book is available from Pocket. You can buy it here.


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Weekly Reread: Ransom by Julie Garwood.

Posted January 3, 2008 by Rowena in Reviews | 4 Comments

Weekly Reread: Ransom by Julie Garwood.Reviewer: Rowena
Ransom by Julie Garwood
Series: Highlands Lairds #2
Also in this series: The Secret (Highlands' Lairds #1), Ransom (Highlands' Lairds, #2), Shadow Music

Publication Date: August 31st 2010
Pages: 546
Add It: Goodreads
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Ripped Bodice | Google Play Books
Series Rating: four-stars

For fans of Scottish medieval romances comes this beloved and classic page-turner from #1 New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood.

In the dark days after the death of Richard the Lionhearted, lives and lands would fall into upheaval at the hands of a power-hungry British ruler and his violent minions. One victim of the scourge is innocent Gillian, who is a mere child when the cruel and ambitious Baron Alford slaughters her father and tears her family apart. Alford, determined to recover a jeweled box for the despotic King John, is furious when the precious treasure slips through his fingers—only to be lost for more than a decade.

Now a beautiful young woman, Gillian finds the key to resolving her past in handsome Scottish chieftains Ramsey Sinclair and Brodick Buchanan. With the cunning and courage of the daring Scotsmen, and with the friendship of a new ally, Bridgid KirkConnell, Gillian at last fights the unscrupulous Baron Alford, laying claim to her home, her family, and her father's reputation. But in the presence of the mighty warrors, Gillian and Bridgid discover that desire can be a weapon of conquest, betrayal can slay trust in a heartbeat, and the greatest risk of all is to surrender to unexpected love.

With all the talk about Shadow Music going around and then finding out that Brodick was in the story, I thought it’d be cool to do a reread of one of my favorite Julie Garwoods of all time (Yeah so I’ve got a few of them but dude, this is totally one of them) to prepare myself for JG’s latest. I’ve got to say that I’m really scared to ruin JG for me since I absolutely love this book. From the beginning to end, I just loved the entire thing.

I enjoy reading about Brodick’s bullheadedness and his stubborn streak. The guy’s got a head harder than stone, but love him, I do. He doesn’t like the English and I do but man, love Brodick, I do. I love the transformation that JG gave Brodick from hard headed brute to hard headed brute …in love.

Brodick is this man of brutish strength. He leads one of the most elite band of warriors and is feared by both men and women far and near, well in all of Scotland anyway. He is the leader to the scathing soldiers who make grown men quiver in their boots. And he likes it that way. He loves that his clan lives like a bunch of cavemen, it suits him.

And he’s right.

Then there’s Lady Gillian who is the exact opposite of Brodick. She’s gentle and kind. And very, very courageous. When she comes into Brodick’s life, Brodick cannot believe the lengths to which Gillian would go to, to accomplish the tasks she’s set out to accomplish. Her mission was to return a little boy to his family, risking the wrath of her captors but she did it without thought of what would happen to her because she wanted the little boy safe from Baron Alford’s evil ways. She snuck away with Alec, Laird Iain’s son from The Secret and set about, getting him home safely.

She’s not above asking for help from Alec’s champion, Laird Buchanan and the lies and the stories she wove to get him to come to her, had me laughing my tail off. By the end of the book, I was mesmerized by everything surrounding Gillian. From the way she was with Alec to the way she was with Brodick and then her budding friendship with Brigid, I seriously thought that as a heroine, Gillian rocked the house!

The romance between Brodick and Gillian was easy to fall into. You really get that they are falling in love and that they’re both in this for the long haul and that they totally get each other. The fierce protectiveness that Brodick showed where Gillian was concerned warmed my heart and had me cheering the both of them on to the very end. It was that good.

Then there’s the secondary love story between Ramsey and Brigid.

I’m still pissed off that Ramsey was dicked out of his own story. I mean, I loved Ramsey right from the very moment he made his presence known in Iain and Judith’s story. The hot stud with the pretty face that he gets embarrassed about. I had every faith that JG could have made his story work, only we never got his full story.

Just the bits and pieces in this book.

But as far as stories go, I can’t say that I hated Ramsey’s story because I didn’t. I just wanted more of it. I enjoyed seeing how frustrated Ramsey was getting with Brigid turning down every Tom, Dick and Joe. I enjoyed Brigid for Ramsey because she was beautiful and she was witty and light hearted and just full of love and life. It was everything that Ramsey was missing in his. The scenes between these two where Ramsey tried to persuade Brigid into marrying one of his soldiers makes me laugh every single time.

Brigid was a great addition to the story, getting to know her through her friendship with Gillian made me love the book all the more. Her character was so lively and just …perfect for Ramsey. I would have liked to see more of her, get to know her personally the way we got to know Gillian. To know how she felt with the whole thing with her mother and that scene where she kicks that woman out of Ramsey’s bed is frickin’ hilarious! Cracks me the hell up, gosh she was a character!

The whole bringing the two clans together made for some good reading. All of the different things going on made the book a lot more fast paced and just intriguing. It wasn’t confusing, it wasn’t too much, it was the right amount of everything rolled up into one and I enjoyed the whole hot damn thing.

You guys should definitely read this book if you’re planning on reading, Shadow Music…and since I am, I’m going to be brave like Gillian and read the damn thing anyway, you never know, I might love it more than the others…

…cross your fingers for me, will ya?


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