Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage by Jennifer Ashley

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To call their courtship and marriage a whirlwind romance is an understatement, because Isabella met and married Mac on her first night as a debutante. It caused quite a scandal, but nothing like the scandal they caused in their married life. Mac Mackenzie is an artist and embraces the very bohemian life of an artist, and Isabella, fresh out of finishing school, was an eager participant in the hedonistic offerings of Mac's life. But love grows, and the people ought to grow alongside it, but Mac stays firmly fixed in time and space: drinking his family's whiskey and painting up a frenzy. It takes a terrible tragedy for them to realise that the love they feel and their expectation of each other are world's apart, and Isabella makes the painful decision to leave Mac behind.

Mac had never understood Isabella's liking for so many damned people in the house, but he had to admit that he'd never really tried to understand her likes and dislikes. He'd simply drunk her in like fine wine, not questioning, letting her fill and inspire him. He never thought to ask how the wine felt.
- Chapter 5

If Ian's story was about discovering and creating a new relationship, Isabella's story is about revisiting and repairing an old one. If the little tidbits shared at the beginning of each chapter is to be believed, in their three-year separation, Mac and Isabella still managed to live close to each other: when he moved to the continent, so did she. When she returned to England, so did he. They can't live together, but they can't live apart --

Two images came to mind as I read about Isabella and Mac dancing around each other: magnetic poles flipped on the same side and, therefore, repel each other. And the other are the columns that Kahlil Gibran describes in The Prophet:

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
- The Prophet excerpt copied from here

In a sense, Isabella and Mac's story serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who dares to fall in love with a Mackenzie: they love with such intensity and brightness, but it is a love that threatens to consume. It is a test of mettle and metal: will you crumble under the intensity or be shaped and strengthened by it? If you look at Mac and Isabella, they seem like a truly unlikely pairing: Mac is wild and free spirited and Isabella is the product of very strict and rigid upbringing, but something drew them to one another and that something continues to draw them to one another.

Memories flooded back to Mac as he gathered her against him. Don't remember. Don't let it hurt. But memories were merciless things.
- Chapter 14

What amazed me about Isabella is that she is so young -- 18 when she married, and 21 now as she tries to figure out how to rebuild her relationship with Mac. She has overcome the heartbreak of their loss, but it was an event that drove Isabella nearly on the brink of giving up. It was her love for Mac prevented her from walking away completely.

Love is not enough, but love is the answer. It's a strange truism that applies to our hero and heroine. I loved their defiance of society's norms: separated/estranged couples aren't supposed to stay in love with each other; they aren't supposed to stay faithful to each other ... It's unconventional, and out of the ordinary, but then, what do you expect of Mackenzies?

Like Ian and Beth's story, Ashley frames Isabella and Mac's story with a mystery: someone is pretending to be Mac and selling artwork in Mac's name. It takes a sinister turn when the person surfaces and tries to claim Mac's life ... and Mac's wife.

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Now, this part of the story felt a bit stretched: a man exists who looks similar to Mac, and possesses a similar talent to Mac -- and this doppelgänger is English (like Mac), but they aren't related? The odds are so, so unlikely -- but I was willing to suspend disbelief because I understand that the author was trying to present parallels. Mac's life and upbringing wasn't all that idyllic and he suffered his father's abuses, but, for another man, Mac's life is the dream to aspire for.

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As the mystery unfolds, Mac and Isabella muddle through their relationship: they're together, but Isabella hasn't reversed their separation yet; they love and make love, but, somehow feel that isn't enough to sustain a marriage ... ultimately, Jennifer Ashley ends her story the way marriages begin: with a question and an answer. We see love as an abstract, but, as we have seen, thus far, in Ian's story and Isabella and Mac's story, love is an action and it begins with the decision to take the first step.

Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage is book 2 in Jennifer Ashley's Highland Pleasures (The Mackenzies/McBrides) series. To find out more about Jennifer Ashley and her books, click below:


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