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Marion Lennox

REVIEW:  Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

REVIEW: Christmas at the Castle by Marion Lennox

Dear Marion Lennox:

I fell behind reading your releases in 2013, but when I saw you had a Christmas novel out in December I jumped on it. From the first couple of chapters I could tell that this was going to be a vintage Lennox, combining a fairy-tale holiday setting and story with a likable, no-nonsense heroine and a sympathetic, aristocrat hero.

Christmas at the Castle

Angus Stuart, Earl of Craigenstone and Lord of Castle Craigie, has a problem. The unwilling inheritor of his horrible father’s Earldom, he wants only to sell up the Castle and its land and get back to New York, where he has lived almost all his life. But his young half-siblings want one last Christmas at the Castle, and with the way their father mistreated them and their mother, he’s having a hard time saying no.

Scottish-Australian chef Holly McIntosh also has a problem. Her worthless fiancé stole money from their restaurant and ran off, leaving Holly with a mountain of debts and maxed out credit cards. She returns to Scotland and her beloved grandmother for a break and a frugal Christmas.

Angus needs a chef and housekeeper, and Holly needs money and a job. They strike a bargain, but that bargain almost immediately becomes more complicated when Angus tries to reassure his father’s widow, Delia, that the children will be fine at the Castle because Holly will look after them, he goes too far and blurts out that Holly is his fiancée. Holly agrees to the deception but on strictly business terms, and our tale is off and running.

Angus is not your average Earl; he hates being the Earl, he hates having to take responsibility for a Castle, family, and tenants he doesn’t know, and he just wants to get things settled and return to his investment banker American life. But he’s a very decent person, and while he’s just the Lord and not the Laird, as Holly’s grandmother Maggie observes, he’s not actively malevolent like the previous Earl.

Holly is forthright and unimpressed by Earls. She takes pride in her accomplishments as a chef even as she berates herself for having falling for her worthless ex-fiance’s deceptions. But although she agrees to the engagement pretense for the children’s and her grandmother’s sakes, she won’t turn herself into what the Earl thinks an Earl’s betrothed should be. Their trip to an exclusive boutique in Edinburgh (Maggie’s suitcases are, of course, lost by the airline) is a great sendup of the scene in Pretty Woman: the boutique’s salespeople are more than happy to kit her out, but she doesn’t want their twinsets and pearls:

She flicked over a price tag and gasped. ‘If you’re serious about spending thissort of money, or, if you’re serious about letting me be a fiancée, then I reckon I ought to be my sort of fiancée. Does that make sense?’

‘Yes,’ he said cautiously. ‘I think so.’

‘But you like this?’

‘It’s suitable.’

‘You haven’t exactly chosen a suitable fiancée,’ she reminded him.

‘I haven’t exactly chosen…’ But then he looked at the manager’s dour face and he decided enough was enough. He wasn’t about to discuss temporary engagements in public.

‘My mother will probably be coming over…for the wedding,’ he told the man consolingly. ‘She’s American but this style of clothing is exactly what she’d love. That’s why I brought Holly here. If I can leave my car here now, I’ll bring my mother—and her friends—in for a pre-wedding shop as soon as they get here.’

‘Certainly, My Lord,’ the man said heavily, casting a look of dislike at His Lord’s intended. ‘So your mother has taste?’

‘Yes, she does,’ Angus said and Holly smiled her sympathy at the poor man.

‘That’s put me in my place properly,’ she said and she reached out and took the manager’s hand and shook it with such warmth that the man’s disapproval gave way to something that could almost be a smile.

Their next stop is a more appropriate store, where Holly finds:

black leggings, blue leather boots that reached above her knees, a gorgeous oversized scarlet turtleneck sweater and a cute scarlet beret that should have screamed at her copper curls but didn’t.

Much better.

Of course Holly wins over Delia (and vice versa) and of course the children love her, and of course Maggie and her helpers from the village are able to turn a dark, miserable Castle into an inviting, Christmasy home. And of course Angus looks incredibly hot in his kilt. It’s a Christmas fairy tale, so you know how these things work. But the relationships feel real, and Holly and Angus don’t just fall into lust with each other, they talk and share confidences and become friends.

Not everything works perfectly; sometimes the Christmas spirit is a little thick. There is a dog, who belongs to the forcibly retired gamekeeper. They get their happy ending too. Everyone gets their happy ending, except the villain, whose villainy is played for understatement and who doesn’t get punished as badly as he deserves.

The way Angus resolves his obligations to the village and the earldom requires the greatest suspension of disbelief, and it will undoubtedly cross over into sugar-overload-territory for some readers. But this is Marion Lennox’s story, and she manages to balance the sweetness with a few down-to-earth characters. And I’m a sucker for a Christmas story, so it worked for me. Go into expecting to read about a Christmas miracle and it may well work for you too. Grade: B

~ Sunita


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REVIEW:  A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire by Marion Lennox

REVIEW: A Bride for the Maverick Millionaire by Marion Lennox

Dear Ms. Lennox,

From the wonderful descriptions in this book, I’d say that you enjoyed yourself on your cruise through the same locations. Only I hope you and your DH didn’t go overboard and need to consider whittling a waddy then adding roasted lizard to your menu. Book two in the “Journey through the Outback” series takes up where sister Amy’s story left off though I think that readers could start with either book and enjoy them equally. Barley sugar, anyone?


“Rachel Cotton has high hopes for her cruise through the beautiful Kimberley region–surely this will be the perfect chance to forget her past and enjoy some much-needed rest and relaxation? But gorgeous shipmate Finn Kinnard seems much more interested in stirring her up!

Finn might make Rachel feel all woman, but he also warns her that romantically he can’t be relied on. But when a high-octane adventure puts this claim to the test, Rachel discovers there’s much more to Finn than meets the eye–and that he might be just the man to entrust her fragile heart to….”

Once again you manage to construct two wildly disparate characters who, on the surface, are miles apart but who end up being perfect for each other. I also like that they’re friends and comrades – once they get past their initial prickly introductions – before romance enters the picture, both enjoying their to-the-death Scrabble games with Dame Maud. Each has to overcome deep seated beliefs which are direct results of past issues in their lives. Finn’s father made a game of seducing a certain type of weak woman while Rachel’s bastard of an ex-husband twisted truth and lies until the event that injured Rachel and killed their unborn child.

Finn sees petite Rachel and his mind immediately flashes back to his weak, fragile mother who depended exclusively on others. He has to learn by watching her that Rachel is one of the strongest women he’s ever met and would never fit the description of “helpless female.” In fact, it’s her agility – despite her gimpy hip – and expert knowledge of rocks that gets the job done when it needs doing. Geologist Rachel to the rescue! But then ever since he’d seen her slither though red dust on her back to get a glimpse of prehistoric cave drawings of wombats, Finn has known – deep down – that Rachel is special. And, devious man that he is, he knows enough to entice Rachel with Big Rocks – instead of the expensive chocolate that lesser men might resort to – when the occasion demands.

Rachel is a woman who’s been lied to in the past by someone whom she should have been able to trust. She senses that Finn isn’t being totally honest with her about who he is and what his family relationships are. She and Maud decide that he’s an honorable rogue. When she discovers exactly who and what he is, Rachel accepts that not everything is black or white nor need it be. Her trust had been shattered but through Finn’s careful treatment of his siblings and of his honorable treatment her, it is rebuilt and strengthened. Finn is also the man who asks about Rachel’s child and through talking about her lost daughter, Rachel can be sure that her baby won’t be gone to everyone except Rachel. Let me say that this part of that scene choked me up. Finn is the man who makes Rachel want to believe in men and their promises again. Both end up growing as people even as they fall in love.

Despite all the character growth over weighty issues, this isn’t a total angsty, downer of a book as shown in the deadpan humorous dialogue:

‘So we’re dividing labour according to sex? You want me to hunt and kill while you make fire?’

He grinned. ‘Be my guest. Go bash a barley sugar to death.’

‘I’m far too sensitive. They look at me with their big brown eyes.’ Then she saw his hands and her smile died. ‘You need to let me help. Your hands are already blistering with sunburn.’

‘Yours are prettier than mine to start with,’ he said. ‘Why spoil four hands? But you might usefully hunt and kill firewood. Does driftwood look at you?’

The meddling busybody character usually doesn’t work for me but as in “Her Outback Rescuer,” Dame Maud is a secondary yet essential component to the story as well. She’s an enthusiastic matchmaker, intrepid tourist and determined rescuer when those she loves are in danger. Anyone who tangles with her or makes the mistake of dismissing her concerns soon learns you don’t fool with Dame Maud. That also goes for Finn and Rachel when Maud thinks they need a swift kick to get back on the road to a potential HEA. Maud comes off more as a wise and loving mothering character instead of a pushy and interfering one.

The ending of the book did get a touch treacly and group hug-ish in contrast to the slightly acerbic, yet still funny, beginning. Still it’s a strong ending to the series – or is it? – and a lovely armchair tour of what sounds like a fabulous part of Australia. B



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