Title: Sleepless in Scotland (MacLean Curse #4)
Author: Karen Hawkins
Year of Publication: 2009
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Regency Romance
New or Re-Read?: New
Rating: 2 stars
The best thing I can say about this book is that it’s a quick read. Of course, that may be because when I’m bored by a book, I tend to read it really quickly, in the hopes that it will get better.
My chosen word for this book is “pedestrian”. It’s not just that the story’s dull — it actually could’ve had some potential, except that Hawkins seemed to shy away from potentially interesting plot twists rather than embracing them. But the storytelling itself is utterly lacking as well. This book suffers from the syndrome of “telling, not showing” more than anything else I’ve read recently (or at least since The Valcourt Heiress).
Caitriona is a responsible girl with a reckless twin sister, Caitlyn. Caitriona hies herself down to London to try and extricate her sister from a mess involving Alexander MacLean, but she winds up in a compromising situation with Alexander’s brother Hugh. It’s an unfortunate confluence, both of them trying to protect their siblings but getting netted themselves, and with Caitriona’s reputation in danger, they’re forced to marry. Hugh, who has no interest in having a wife, decides that they’ll be together for a few months to let the scandal die down, and then he’ll pack Caitriona back off to her family, a respectable but estranged wife. (I don’t know how this wouldn’t cause more scandal; estrangements are always good gossip, but we’re meant to believe no one would raise an eyebrow).
So, this happens, over the first fifty or so pages of the book, which is fine. It’s a nice variation of the marriage-by-compromised-virtue trope that we frequently see in Regency romances. Unfortunately, Hawkins then bores the stuffing out of the reader by retelling that sequence of events six or seven times during the course of the novel. Not even kidding. Each time a new character is introduced, someone who wasn’t there and doesn’t know what happened, the reader has to retread the course of events over again. Now, I know she needs to explain how other characters get the information, but there are way more creative and interesting ways to do that, and none of them involve forcing your readers to experience the same sentences over and over again.
This book is also really dialogue-heavy. Now, I’m a fan of witty banter. I love fun dialogue. And I like emotional heart-to-hearts. But this is just so… pedestrian. I’m really having trouble reaching other words for it. The characters don’t have their own voices, unless you count Grandmother Nora’s Scottish burr, and Hawkins tells us almost nothing about the emotionality behind the words. It’s not enough to know what someone’s saying; you have to know how they say it, what expressions or gestures accompany the words, and what feelings are behind them. This book had almost none of that. And so much of the dialogue is explanatory. No one makes discoveries about each other — instead, Grandma Nora wanders in and explains away all of the emotions.
That lack of emotional depth permeates the book. The reader never gets to see a character working through troubling thoughts or difficult emotions. When Hugh is grappling with letting himself feel affection towards Caitriona, we don’t get a description of what that feels like for him, or what thoughts go through his head. No, Hawkins tells us, “He hardened his heart.” Seriously, that’s the sentence. I don’t know what better example I could think of for something that needed to be shown, not told. So much of the book is like that, too — we get the end results, but none of the emotional journey, and it’s thoroughly unsatisfying.
There are also huge gaping plotholes. Some of them, I’m willing to overlook, on account of I discovered after I started reading that this is the 4th book in a series — so I’ll grant that some things may have been explained more thoroughly earlier on. Like the MacLean curse, which means that the men in the family cause storms when they lose their tempers (this is supposed to be a bad thing, but is it just me, or isn’t that a superpower?). Anyway, the reason behind it is obscure, and it always bothers me when magic doesn’t have definable rules, but — I’m willing to give benefit of the doubt there. But some of the gaps are just ridiculous. Hugh, as it turns out, has three daughters. Except he doesn’t have three daughters. He was briefly in love with their mother, apparently before she had any of them, but none of them are actually his get. He takes care of them and loves them, though, and while I can buy that, it made me a little crazy that we got no explanation at all about how that happened. The revelation just drops in, crammed into half a page towards the end of the book. The characters spend absolutely no time on it whatsoever. The mother is also a totally missed opportunity; we hear all book long about what a reckless and dissolute character she is, and how she keeps popping back up to make Hugh’s life difficult — and it would’ve been a great plot element if she’d actually done so. But, nope, nothing happens there.
Overall, this book was a disappointment and a bore. I don’t recommend it. So much of it felt like things I’ve seen elsewhere, only done better (for getting the hero’s kids to like the new mom, for example, see Charming the Prince by Teresa Medeiros, or To Sir Phillip With Love by Julia Quinn, a book with which I have many issues, but which does the stepmother thing really well). I have the final book in the series, and I don’t know if I’ll actually pick it up or not — it focuses on the other twin, Caitlyn, who at least seemed to have a more appealing personality, but if these stylistic issues are typical of Hawkins, I’m not encouraged to spend more time with her.