Tempest in the Highlands by May McGoldrick
The Pennington Family, #2
Released: March 27, 2018
Reviewed by Sheena
It Happened in the Highlands is a second chance romance that simultaneously hit and missed core marks. I like second chance romance, something about characters finding their way back to one another despite time and distance has always appealed to me. In this novel, Jo, an adopted young woman is jilted days before her wedding, her intended a military man, Wynne Melfort, who received orders to leave their home shortly after their impending wedding. His reasoning for breaking up with her instead of marrying her and returning to her at a later date- he wouldn’t be around to protect her from the viper tongued ton and judgmental townsfolk who were especially shaped tongued and critical about Jo’s questionable birth. Abandoned as a child and taken in by a very wealthy, and loving family, Jo was often ostracized, despite her adoptive family’s wealth and standing.
Melfort fancied himself her protector I suppose. Some protector *snort.*
But, I don’t buy it. Yes, the harpies of society would say snide comments and gossip about Jo, but it isn’t like they didn’t already do that? Their wedding wouldn’t have changed the circumstances surrounding her birth. I found it a flimsy excuse and after reading the novel, I’m convinced that “he’s just not that into you” was the real root of his breaking off their engagement. There was no sweeping love between the two. Jo was smitten and excited about being wed and he liked her well enough. But not enough to marry her, she wouldn’t have been the first military wife with a deployed husband. Fact of the matter is, he didn’t love her enough to marry her and left when it was time to go. That was a theme of his…move on when he feels like the responsibilities he leaves behind would be better tended to by others. Boo!
To add insult to injury, he travels the seas and marries another woman and they have a child not too long after he leaves Jo. So, obviously, being in the military wasn’t an obstacle at all. In a cruel twist of fate, Melfort’s wife dies in child birth and he moves on again, leaving his son in the care of his maternal grandmother.
Melfort continues his travels, eventually retires and settles in Scotland when he partners with a friend to open, maintain and run an asylum for the mentally ill. Years pass and he receives news that his ten year old son must come stay with him, for his grandmother is getting on in years and cannot see to the rambunctious young man’s care any longer. This change in Melfort’s life is a combination of culture shock and chickens coming home to roost. For all of his adult life, Melfort’s been able to cast off or leave behind responsibilities and those whom he feels as if he doesn’t want to or need to care for, and now his son, his 1/2 Jamaican son is now 100% in his care and he hasn’t a clue how to raise him. And when it rains it pours because not long after his son has come to live with him, he finds himself faced with his once fiance’, Jo, and isn’t prepared for those old feelings to be stirred up, but is determined to help her investigate the mystery of her parentage when she is inexplicably linked to one of the asylum patients.
As a second chance romance, this story fails. I felt zero, nada for them as a couple. There was nothing between then, their initial courtship was short and ended coldly. Jo’s memories of Melfort were not much more substantive than a blushing girls crush. He left her for flimsy reasons and his own memories of their time betrothed were more of a fondness, no significantly deep bonds between them. As a character, Melfort was boring and stiff, lacking any twinkle or excitement. He was better suited as a random background character for all he was interesting. On the contrary Jo was a breath of fresh air. She was mature and kind and thoughtful and engaging. I enjoyed all of her interactions with the other characters and found her voice pleasing. I didn’t much care if she wound up with Melfort, as a matter of fact, the most flirty, and engrossing interactions in the novel was between Jo and Dr. Mckendry.
Dr. McKendry was about to speak, but she cut him off. “… A man of your age and position would certainly want a partner who shares his desire for a houseful of children.” As opposed to a spinster getting to an age beyond childbearing years, she thought. This was a fact of life she’d accepted. “I’m also thinking she must be a local lass from a good family, for I’m certain the isolation of the Highland winters could prove wearing on one not as hearty as the McKendrys.”
…She’d hoped her words would lay the subject of matrimony to rest and redirect the conversation, but the doctor raised his glass in her direction. “The lady I have my eye on is beautiful indeed. Regarding age, whether she be in the spring or autumn of life or anywhere between, it makes no difference to me. I seek no heirs, Lady Josephine. I’m committed to this hospital. My time is consumed by patients who need my care and attention….“My future wife’s qualities of intelligence and empathy for others are unparalleled. In all my travels, I’ve never met another lady quite like her.”
Oh yes, by nearly 50%, I was already shipping Jo with Dr. McKendry. He wanted her and I wanted her to want him too!
Wynne Melfort who?
So, in case it wasn’t obvious, I was not at all feeling this novel as a romance. But just as it missed that particular mark, it became enthralling and hit the nail on the head in its discussion and narrative surrounding Melfort’s son, Andrew Cuffe Melfort and his ethnic parentage.
It is no secret that diversity in some literary genres is undergoing some very important and progressive conversations. In this story, there is a huge element of respect, understanding and cultivation of identity and culture that gave this book the biggest burst of fresh air. I abandoned any care for the main couple’s HEA (typically the kiss of death in a romance- because hello- romance!) but there was something else so interesting, so authentically engrossing happening along side the romance that I couldn’t think to put it down. As I mentioned, Cuffe’s mother was Jamaican and he lived with his grandmother on the island for all of his young life, until being passed along to his father. That transition is not an easy one under any circumstances, let alone, 1818. And the author goes there. Cuffe’s ethnicity is not a prop or plot device to check a diversity box. The deep dive and attention to detail and the legacy and acknowledgement weaved into the story to create Cuffe’s own tale as well was beyond pleasing. Jo, ever the amazing heroine that she was, brought a level of understanding and open mindedness that fit Melfort’s obvious care and affection for his son. Melfort was indeed a jerk for pawning his son off on the grandmother for so many years, but he was stepping up as a dad and determined to do right by his son. He protected him and did what he could to guide him, though, things didn’t turn around until Jo lent her insight.
“…Cuffe is more than an English gentleman, is he not?” [Jo] suggested. “What acknowledgment is being made of his mother and the world he has only recently left behind?”
His piercing blue eyes met hers and she felt as if he were trying to reach into her thoughts and read her mind. “I take your meaning,” Wynne replied. “He’s rejected the name Andrew.”
“And it appears he’s rejecting the education you’re providing for him, however valuable it will prove to be in his future.”
“I want him to survive. Here. In Scotland and in England. There’s no life for him back where he came from,” he argued. “How do I make him understand?”
“Talk to him,” she said softly. “Negotiate, if need be.”
“I’m not willing to forego giving him what he needs.” “
You’re showing him that you respect his Jamaican heritage by calling him Cuffe. Perhaps you can reflect that, as well, in his program of studies.”
“What do you suggest? I’ve read Defoe’s Crusoe, and I don’t believe the man ever saw Jamaica or any island west of Guernsey.”
Jo thought of Phoebe and the books at the Pennington libraries at Melbury Hall and London and Baronsford. “You might have him read literature written by Africans or those of African descent. The autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. Or the work of the Phillis Wheatley, if you have no objection to an American poet. There are others. I’d be happy to compile a list for you. In doing so, you’ll be showing him that you don’t intend to strip him of an identity to which he is most attached.”
“The lad is only ten years old. I don’t wish to bore him out of his mind.”
“What he may be feeling now is worse than boredom.”
“I agree. But I’m at a loss.”
“It’s the gesture that is important. Your gesture,” she said. “And he might surprise you as far as how advanced he is in comprehension and maturity.” Jo understood his frustration. He was willing to make a change. His commitment to his son was admirable.
“Decide on a time each day for him to go into the ward and read aloud.”
“And what would he read that would keep them engaged?”
“It’s what keeps Cuffe engaged that matters.”
So much of this novel is about Melfort making inroads and progress with his son he left behind, now in his care as well as earning back Jo’s trust. I can 100% say that May McGoldrick wrote Cuffe’s back story and issues with coming of age and living with his father and respect of his mixed race culture spectacularly. So used to ethnic people relegated to props and nameless, throw away characters, it was beyond pleasing to see what it looks like when authors dig in and create rich, multi dimensional ethnic characters with a story and not just plop them in the story like some sort of literary ethnic paint-by-numbers “insert ethnic person/stereotype here” sort of deal.
This is a story of second chances and how we make good on old broken promises and foster new relationships with those whom we’ve hurt. Jo/Melfort was a bust as far as real romance goes (their connection never really felt solid) and I couldn’t help but think that sure, Melfort is all #TeamJo when she shows up at the most opportune time to help him raise his son and settle down. For the sake of the HEA, I diligently worked to squelch my cynical take on their romance…but I’m just saying…it’s funny how Melfort went all “MINE” when Dr. McKeaerny (who actually had palatable chemistry with Jo) showed a little interest in her after he saw how good Jo was with Cuffe. Maybe having Jo as a
governess wife was what he really wanted.
In the end, things heat up where they need to, smexy steamy times toward the last quarter of the book get the job done and there is a reliable epilogue so things button up nice and tidy for the new blended family.
On the whole, I was let down by the main couple and it’s always “Huston we have a problem” when I fantasize about the heroine falling for the hero’s best friend. Awkward romance execution aside, the absolute best part of this book is the evolution of Cuffe and Melfort’s relationship and watching Jo be Jo because she was pretty awesome to behold.