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Karen Ranney

REVIEW:  The Lass Wore Black by Karen Ranney

REVIEW: The Lass Wore Black by Karen Ranney

Dear Ms. Ranney:

I had such high hopes for this book, particularly when I realized it was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast inverted. The heroine, Catriona Cameron, was a beauty who enjoyed the pleasures of men, both in bed and out. She enjoyed toying with them. She enjoyed getting away with almost any kind of behavior. Catriona is in a horrific carriage accident that leaves her maimed and scarred. She retreats to her brother-in-laws Scottish estate, hiding in her bedroom suite, coming out to walk the private square at midnight.

The Lass Wore Black Karen RanneyMark Thorburn is the son and heir to a Scottish earldom. At Catriona’s Aunt Dina’s request, Mark comes to consult and see if he can cure Catriona. Aunt Dima is worried that Catriona is trying to kill herself by not eating. But Mark agrees to pose as a footman who oversees Catriona’s mealtimes. The two make a connection, mostly because Mark challenges her constantly.

Catriona learns to live with her own change of circumstances by accompanying Mark to Old Town, the slums of Edinburgh. The deepest characterization in the book is Old Town and the suffering and despair is palpable.

While reading this book, I constantly had to ask myself whether I would feel differently if the beast was a male rather than a female because Catriona was so difficult with which to sympathize.  Catriona is a true beast both in looks and temperament.  Her redemption, of sorts, comes through her realization that no matter how poor her circumstances are, they will never be as bad as what goes on in Old Town.  This transformation was far more believable than a beast made to feel beautiful through the love of another.  While Mark may have been somewhat of a catalyst by leading her to Old Town, Catriona made the internal transformation herself.

Contrary to many readers, I found Mark to be tiresome in his tireless devotion to his medicine. I think it is because the contrast between Mark the amazing and Catriona the horrible was too stark.  For Mark to be interesting to me, he had to be more nuanced.  Instead, he had no flaws. He was the wealthy son of a nobleman.  He treated all people the same, no matter the station.  He was tirelessly patient with Catriona and he was sexually attracted to her scarred and hideous body.  Despite all the abuse she hurled at his head, he was willing to return and he actually fell in love with her.

There are many interesting and different things in this book.  While Mark is an aristocrat, the setting of the book is far away from the glittering balls and music soirees.  There are longer separations in the book as Mark is off ministering to the needs of others.  Catriona as the beast and Mark as the beauty.   A strange suspense plot weaves itself through the book complete with villain points of view. I wasn’t sure exactly the point of the suspense plot other than to possibly drum up sympathy for Catriona (who was really challenging of a character).

When I finished the book, I felt like it was a book that I should have liked, but I didn’t. I found Catriona tedious and Mark bland. Mark’s sleeping with his obviously depressed and emotionally scarred patient was offputting rather than sexy. Ultimately, I felt the story lacked romance and I wasn’t convinced that Mark was the right man for Catriona. I wished, perhaps, she could have found someone after she had recovered emotionally and mentally from her scarring. C

Best regards,




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REVIEW:  A Scandalous Scot by Karen Ranney

REVIEW: A Scandalous Scot by Karen Ranney

Dear Ms. Ranney,

They were a pair, weren’t they? The earl who’d divorced his wife, and the maid who hid her past. Perhaps they deserved each other.

I enjoyed your latest book A Scandalous Scot. It’s a straightforward love story–a Cinderella story, really–between a smart, competent woman and a compassionate, passionate man. The plot made sense, the historical background was interesting, and the supplementary characters were well-fleshed out and added depth to your story. I’ve recently read a spate of books where something–the denouement, the circumstances, and/or the lovers–seemed forced and annoying. Your novel was a pleasant change.

a scandalous scot by karen ranneyIt’s the summer of 1860 in rural Scotland, and the Earl of Denbleigh, after a long unhappy absence, has returned to his childhood home, Ballindair Castle. The Earl, Morgan MacCraig, has been run out of London on a rail of scandal. He, rather than stay married to a woman so unfaithful a friend calls her a “true slut” who “before she’s finished, she’ll have bedded most of London,” divorced his wife, was forced to relinquish his seat in Parliament, and has come home to escape being a “social and political pariah.” Morgan, though he feels his choice was justified, is deeply ashamed to have brought scandal to his family name.

On his first night home, he literally runs into Jean MacDonald, one of the castle’s many maids. She is lurking in the dark, in the Master Suite, hoping to see one of the castle’s famous ghosts. Morgan is irked she’s disrupted his return–he’s tired and cranky–and Jean is mortified to have been caught loitering someplace she’s not supposed to be. She also thinks Morgan’s a bit of an ass–he embarrasses her in front of her aunt, the castle’s housekeeper, as well as the other staff.

Just as Morgan has come to Ballindair to escape a scandal, so has Jean. She and her sister, the gorgeous and slightly evil Catriona, aren’t really MacDonalds. They were born into a relatively privileged life, but then a horrific act on the part of their father plunged them into poverty. Their aunt took them in and put them to work as lowly maids. Catriona loathes their life–she’d rather be a wealthy man’s mistress–but Jean is a make-do sort and finds ways to challenge herself. She tries to be the best maid she can be, to learn something new every day, and to be appreciative of the world around her.

When Catriona decides to seduce the Earl, Jean, trying to save Catriona from disgrace, intercedes, and ends up compromised herself. Morgan, after some thought and encouragement from Jean’s aunt, offers to marry Jean, an offer Jean tries to turn down. Not only does Jean feel she’s not the stuff of countesses, she knows if she marries under a false name, the marriage will be a legal sham. Morgan, though, is drawn to Jean for her quick mind and honest conversation. He insists they marry and, less than a month after she collided with the Earl in the dark, Jean is the Countess of Denbleigh.

I liked Jean. She’s always been considered plain–especially when compared to her gorgeous sister–and she values herself for her honor and her mind. She does whatever she thinks needs to be done–taking care of Ballindair’s dying steward, making sure a wrongly accused maid is treated justly, pushing Morgan to become a better caretaker of his estate–even when doing so is awkward or puts her at risk. She’s a good person in a real way–there is nothing cloying or falsely perfect about her. I enjoyed watching her become more sure of herself as she settled into her role as Countess.

Morgan’s a winner too. When he first comes home, he pays scant attention to his staff or his land. As he tells Jean, when she asks if he sees the people who serve him, he says,

“I try not to…. Sometimes, all those people, set to obey your slightest whim, are oppressive.”

However, as he stays in Scotland, and as he watches how Jean deals with her responsibilities, he begins to shoulder more of his own. In doing so, he  learns  the joys of  a purposeful life. One of my favorite things about this book is the pleasure Jean and Morgan take in working and in tangible accomplishments.

As much as I like Jean and Morgan separately, I liked them even more as a couple. The two spend as much time talking as they do making love (the love scenes in this book are excellent and plentiful) and their conversations are fun to read. Jean is willing to debate almost anything–she’s endearingly (slightly) self-righteous. Their exchanges are well done and often funny. Here, the two, the first time they formally dine together, are arguing over marrying.

“Forgive my tardiness,” he said.

“You can’t marry me,” she said, blurting out the worlds.

……”Good evening to you, too, Jean,” he said, sitting at the head of the table and unfolding his napkin.

“You’re an earl. I’m a maid.”

“Thank you for explaining that,” he said.

….“Have you heard the tale of Cinderella?” he asked.

She shook her head.

Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre,” he said. “’Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper,’ written by Charles Perrault nearly two hundred years ago.”

“I don’t speak French,” she said.

“Pity. It’s the tale of a girl who was forced into being a maid by circumstance. She ends up attracting the attention of a prince.”

“Did he marry her?”

“I believe he did, and they lived happily ever after.”

“What rot.”

When Morgan explains the glass slipper part to her, Jean thinks it sounds crazy.

“Didn’t he recognize her? Wouldn’t he have noticed her face? Or was he always staring at her feet?”…. “I doubt they lived happily ever after,” she said. “If he couldn’t remember what she looked like.”

Not much happens in this story–this is not a book full of plot twists, big misunderstandings, or histrionics. Morgan and Jean take care of the castle, its staff and land. Jean must figure out how to tell Morgan the truth about her past. The two slowly fall in love. Catriona and Morgan’s slimy friend Andrew try to derail that process but they do so in petty and fairly unimportant ways. A Scandalous Scot is a low-key story–I liked that about it, but, at the same time, it makes the novel, once finished, fairly forgettable.

It’s tough to grade historicals. So many of them suck–mistorical and otherwise. At the same time, there are stellar writers out there–Cecilia Grant, Sherry Thomas, Joanna Bourne, to name a few–whose works often take my breath away. This book, while pleasant and well-done, isn’t a knock-out. So, despite my enjoyment of its straight-forward, nicely told love story, I’m giving it a B-.