Friday, September 11, 2015

#Review: Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway - 3.5 Wine Glasses

25110086Title: Highlander Undone
Author: Connie Brockway
Format:  eBook & Paperback, 322 pgs
Published: Sept. 15, 2015 by Montlake
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N
Source: Netgalley
Reviewer: Kimberly
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Wine Glasses

While recovering at his uncle’s estate from wounds sustained in the Sudan, Jack Cameron—a loyal Scottish captain in the British army—is haunted by the words of a dying officer: one of Her Majesty’s Black Dragoons is aiding the slavers they were sent to suppress. But how will he find the traitor without sending the culprit to ground? He finds a way while listening to the voices beneath his open window—particularly those of Addie Hoodless, a beautiful widow, and her brother, Ted, a famed artist commissioned to paint portraits of the Black Dragoons’ senior officers.

Posing as an artist, Jack decides to infiltrate the close circle of friends at Ted’s studio to listen in on the unguarded conversations of the officers. But first, he must win Addie’s trust despite the emotional wounds of her past. Will Jack dupe the only woman he has ever loved or stand down from hunting the traitor? If his real identity is exposed, Addie’s life will be in terrible danger.

Kimberly’s Thoughts:
"I will be as direct as you, Mr. Cameron." She took a deep breath before plunging on. "I believe I may need you, as much as I suspect you may need me."
"Then Mrs. Hoodless," he said in an odd voice, "I am yours."

Recovering from a war injury, Captain Jack Cameron, has been confined to his room, with the window open for fresh air he becomes the unwitting eavesdropper to a trio's everyday and not so every day, conversations. The trio consists of Mrs. Addie Hoodless, her brother Ted, and his friend Gerald. Addie's brother Ted is an artist whose patroness is Jack's uncle's wife and the owner of the dowager house he is recovering in. As Jack lies there, he begins to know the group and develop an affinity for them, especially Mrs. Hoodless. As it is with eavesdropping, Jack hears things not meant for his ears, he learns of Addie's fear of men, notably soldiers, of which her late husband was one of and who used to physically abuse her. He also hears that her brother Ted has been commissioned to paint the portraits of officers of the Black Dragoons, men that he wants to investigate for treasonous acts.

Did she unsettle Jack Cameron? The idea was electrifying.

Right before Jack was injured, a dying man spoke of a Black Dragoon officer who was working with the slavers in North Africa for profit and giving them information, causing British soldiers deaths.  He needs to get close to Ted so he can be in his studio to question the officers but without tipping the guilty one off but this also requires him to get close to Ted's sister who will also be in the studio and is afraid of soldiers, who Jack is one of. Cloaking himself in a dilettantes clothing and affecting an artist's benign mien, Jack gains Addie's trust, Ted's wariness, and access to Black Dragoons. However, Jack soon finds that he started to fall in love with Addie's voice through a window and now simply with her but the deaths of his brothers-in-arms haunt him wanting justice and keeping him lying to her. Addie is recovering herself for the first time since her marriage but can she be saved by the very type of man who first destroyed her?

"Addie, it won't be long." He sounded so miserable. "You have only to crook your little finger and any man with an ounce of red blood in his veins will come running."
Their gazes locked. Slowly, she pushed him away, and then she lifted her hand, extended her forefinger, and crooked it.

Addie is a character that will pull at your heartstrings, she is naturally a vivacious, saucy, and mischievous woman but after five years of being literally and figuratively beaten down by her husband, she has lost her core. As we the reader come into the picture after her husband has died and only learn of her abuse from Jack recounting what he heard, we do not directly "see" her abuse. Her trauma is told not in harsh abusive scenes but rather emotionally devastating moments, tensing of the shoulders, unnatural quietness, gaze to the ground, and a withdrawing into herself whenever soldiers enter her space. Her brother does his best to support her but Jack's reactions and Addie's strength garnered from his are what the reader is really here for and are wonderfully the strong points of this story. From the aforementioned eavesdropping, Jack is aware of the reasons of Addie's withdrawals and it tears him up inside. He begins to become protective of her but since he is hiding his soldiering background he is forced to leave his overtly strong presence behind and instead covertly use his stinging wit. His actions put him in some confrontational moments, which surprisingly have Addie jumping in to "save" him. Addie's protectiveness of Jack begins to show her that she might just have some hidden strength.

"Addie. You must believe me when I say I will never force my will on you."
"How can I ever be sure of that? Give me one good reason to believe you."
He chuckled. "You would never let me."

Jack lies by omission to Addie about who he essentially is but the way he strives to find justice for his comrades and torments over having to play Addie falsely makes his undercover work forgivable. The way he went about trying to investigate the Black Dragoons was a bit side-eyeing, it worked as a way to get our leads together but was a bit thin; the overall story was compelling but I'm not sure how tightly all the puzzle pieces fit together. The beginning also had a bit of a clunky start, with the story not gaining its stride until about twenty percent in. The strength here and what Brockway writes so well is the relationships between her characters. Ted is the big brother we all wish we had and his feisty little relationship he has with an American heiress is demanding a book of its own. The villain of this piece was predictable, his motivates a bit sketchy, but stayed away from over-the-top. Each character exists and interacts in a way that adds much to the story and creates a believable world. The stars remain the center pieces of the story, although, I would have loved for Addie and Jack to have had more alone time. The force pulling our couple together was felt and the way Jack plays Addie's knight in shining armor by not stepping in front of her to slay the dragons but by handing her the sword, showing her she has the power, while radiating strength behind her makes him the man you want all romance book heroes to be.

"I…I wish…I wish I were someone else. Someone who had never known Charles Hoodless. Someone who could love Jack without equivocation."
He squeezed her hand. "Jack doesn't."
Her breath caught at that. No, Jack didn't.

Highlander Undone was a good story but I couldn't help but feel that it didn't quite reach the peak I know Brockway can. The searching for the treasonous soldier was a bit of an unwieldy thread and while there were flashes of brilliant emotion between our leads, they ultimately didn't spend enough time together to develop a truly memorable relationship. This was a pretty clean read with the heat being found in glances and gazes, except for two scenes at the end. If you're a Brockway fan and missing her work, then picking this up is not a question but if new to her, choosing from her backlist would yield better results.

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