Girl in the Castle by Lizzie Lamb

Her academic career in tatters, Dr Henriette Bruar needs somewhere to lay low, plan her comeback and restore her tarnished reputation. Fate takes her to a remote Scottish castle to auction the contents of an ancient library to pay the laird’s mounting debts. The family are in deep mourning over a tragedy which happened years before, resulting in a toxic relationship between the laird and his son, Keir MacKenzie. Cue a phantom piper, a lost Jacobite treasure, and a cast of characters who – with Henri’s help, encourage the MacKenzies to confront the past and move on. However – will the Girl in the Castle be able to return to university once her task is completed, and leave gorgeous, sexy Keir MacKenzie behind?

It was the first paragraph that did it. Honestly. A ghostly lament, images of an ancient Scottish castle above a loch, swirling mists and – yes, I admit it – the word Sassenachs. Hey, I’m a huge fan of Outlander. How could I resist?

Seriously, the beginning of this book is beautifully written and the pace is perfect. The reader is drawn in immediately. From page one, I wanted to know, who was this woman travelling alone on a train? Where was she heading? Why was she on her own, journeying through the Highlands of Scotland on that misty autumn evening?

So, the stage is set, and the story tantalisingly unfolds, taking the reader on a journey of thrills, mystery and passionate delight. A castle on an island in the middle of a loch is some setting, and its interior is so well described you feel as if you’re actually exploring it with Henri. The characters are fantastic: the irascible, irresponsible laird, Malcolm MacKenzie; the dour and grim Lachlan; the wonderful and kind-hearted Alice. All beautifully drawn and intriguing. What are these three people doing in this castle? What has happened to change the family’s fortune and leave them practically penniless? What is the great sorrow that hangs over them all?

As if all that wasn’t enough, we are then introduced to the laird’s heir: Keir MacKenzie. Oh. My. Word. Look, I’ve loved all of Lizzie Lamb’s books, and I’ve loved every one of her heroes, but Keir … Och, he’s one on his own! I feel terribly disloyal to Ruairi Urquhart, hero of Tall, Dark and Kilted, but I think I have to admit that Keir is my new favourite of Lizzie’s leading men.

Burdened with guilt, and grief that hasn’t been allowed expression for so many years, Keir battles with his father’s lack of love, not to mention the laird’s penchant for living the good life, all paid for by selling off Keir’s inheritance, and leaving the castle bare and forlorn. Things are so bad with the estate, that it’s expected that Keir will do his duty and marry Ciorstaidh – a cousin of sorts – who belongs to the rich side of the family. The fact that a similar expectation had once fallen upon the laird himself, but had been ignored when he met and fell in love with Mary, Keir’s mother, is neither here nor there in the laird’s eyes. Keir must save the castle, and Ciorstaidh is very vocal about making sure Henri knows that the laird’s heir is hers, and Henri had better not get any ideas.

Henri has no interest in Keir MacKenzie – not after their introduction, which is off-putting to say the least. Although, given the reason for her arrival at the castle, and the laird’s track record with young women, it’s not surprising that Keir has gained the wrong impression about her and formed an unfavourable opinion. Even lovely Alice takes some persuading that she’s not interested in seducing the laird, and has no plans to sell off even more of Keir’s inheritance.

As the weeks pass, Alice and Henri form a bond, and Henri discovers more about Keir, the history of the castle, and the sad events that have broken the family into these fragments. As Keir himself begins to trust Henri and opens himself up to her, their relationship deepens, threatening Ciorstaidh’s and the laird’s plans, and jeopardising the future of the castle. Henri, meanwhile, has her own battles to face – her own life to shape. She has to figure out exactly where her future lies, and what sort of future it will be.

With the bank running out of patience and pressure closing on all sides, Keir and Henri find sanctuary within the castle walls, shutting out the world. But real life keeps intruding, leaving them wondering exactly how they can resolve their respected problems.Β  Can an ancient legend be the answer? And can the lament of the ghostly piper be the key to saving them all?

I loved this book. I loved everything about it. I loved the atmospheric setting, the sprinkling of gaelic, the fabulous insults hurled by Alice, as she berates Lachlan, and the fascinating insight into the world of academia. I loved the magnificent Castle Tearmannair – a character in itself. I loved the glimpses of Highland traditions, the tales of Highland history, the descriptions of the clothes and celebrations, and even the fact that I learned what a clootie dumpling is and how it’s made!

Most of all, I loved the relationship between Keir and Henri. It’s quite beautiful. Passionate, tender, all-consuming. When Keir tells her, “Is tu an solas na mo bheatha” (You are the light of my life) I nearly stopped breathing. Gaelic endearments sound soooo much more romantic than anything murmured in English! And the description of him in his Highland dress – kilt and all – at the Samhain gathering, well …

You’ll have to read it for yourself to know what I mean, and you definitely want to do that. I guarantee you a thoroughly enjoyable, gripping, highly romantic few hours. Lizzie Lamb has surpassed herself with this book and I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5/5

You can buy Girl in the Castle here.