Review: Highland Fling by Tess Mallory

To continue the metaphor from Highland Dream, you know when you’re eating that thing that you’re not really enjoying but it’s hitting something you can’t identify so even though you finish it and think oh god thank god it’s done but then you grab ANOTHER serving of it? That was this book’s experience.

In Highland Fling, the heroine is a briefly mentioned friend of Jix’s, Chelsea, who is a Boring, Spinsterish, Plain, Hopeless, Wallflower of a woman whose friends constantly try to remake her, tear her down constantly, and then slut shame her when she wears something spicy in an attempt to embrace her sexuality a bit. Oh, also she’s a PhD level scientist who is brilliant but gosh dang if she doesn’t have babies her life is worthless! This isn’t me extrapolating, it’s pretty explicitly expressed by Sam who continues her reign as rancid bitch (I did not read the third book because it featured her and I do not feel Sam deserves an HEA tbh).

There is a lot of time traveling in this book and I enjoyed the unique premise. This premise is the friend from the first book, Griffin, travels to contemporary Scotland and runs into his friends who had successfully gone back to their time at the end of the first book. Chelsea’s friends refuse to let her in on what happened, leaving her feeling left out and hurt which is completely understandable. She grows close to Griffin and they end up time traveling to the old west to find his cousin who he discovers accidentally traveled there and was hung for a crime Griffin is sure he could not have committed.

Once in the old west there is some fun stuff that happens. Chelsea comes out of her shell a bit when she’s taken in by the Madame at a saloon and does some dancing and enjoys herself for probably the first time in her whole life. Griffin reunites with his cousin and there’s a good old fashioned jailbreak. The protagonists are also both virgins and that’s not common, especially when you have a contemporary person in one of the pair. I was happy for them when they got their HEA, happier than I was in the first book because I actually liked Chelsea even though I wanted to shake her and tell her that her friends were toxic and she should get therapy for her low self-esteem. I was also happy to see Griffin get his HEA because he was a sweetheart in the first one and a genuinely good character. The two deserve each other in the best way. In hindsight I think I enjoyed this one better than the first (at least after they left behind Sam and Jix) but again, I don’t feel compelled to read on because Sam deserves nothing good from this world and I don’t know or care about the characters in the rest of the series.

Highland Dream by Tess Mallory

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

You know when you bite into something, like a greasy junk food, and there’s a part of you that’s like “ugh this is conceptually gross and I don’t even totally enjoy it” but you can’t stop eating it? That was me and this book.

Highland Dream is a time travel romance featuring possibly my least favorite heroine I’ve ever read. Jessica Isobel Xavier (who goes by Jix) is known for a couple of things: her tragic past with tone-joltingly rough domestic violence and lying. About everything. For fun. Just for kicks. Cuz she’s Just That Quirky. She is meant to instill a consistent vein of humor throughout the novel but most of the time it just read like slapstick which is a medium best presented visually. Oh, also Jix gets prophetic dreams, so that also adds to her Quirk factor.

The basic premise is that Jix has a dream where she sees her best friend Sam in a wedding dress next to a gorgeous Scotsman. The trouble is that her friend is currently engaged to a guy who’s a jerk and Sam’s father enlists Jix’s help breaking up the relationship because apparently Jix is the only person allowed to make her own choices and grow through mistakes and everyone else must have their autonomy violated. So quirk, so fun. She pulls this off not by having a serious talk with her friend about her concerns but by getting her friend drunk on the plane and transferring them to a plane headed to Scotland where they are going to stay at an airbnb. If a man did what Jix did this would be the plot of a Lifetime movie but Jix is Quirky so it’s all just in good fun.

Fast forwarding past Sam’s very valid anger and bewilderment at being brought to Scotland, ruining her wedding and taking her to another country against her knowledge or will, and Jix demanding it’s fine because after all Sam tried to talk Jix out of her marriage before and this is the same thing. Probably. Sure.

They get to Scotland and who opens the door to the old Scottish manor house they’ll be staying at but the very gorgeous Scot that Jix saw in her dream? Jamie MacGregor has a backstory about how he’s in the CIA or some equivalent but honestly it hardly comes into play so just know that he’s gorgeous, he’s trained to Fight, and he’s there. He and Jix immediately hit it off and Jix keeps trying to force Sam to be around the guy when the woman just wants to go to bed. This turns into a clumsy scene where they are all touching the man’s sword (not a euphemism) and Jamie speaks his family’s motto in gaelic and the sword glows and poof they are transported to Highland times Scotland.

In this interpretation of time travel your hair and clothes automatically also change so when they get to Highland times Jix’s hair has grown long and flowing and his is also longer. No clue how Sam’s hair looks because she isn’t there. They are captured and brought to a castle where their identities are mistaken for the contemporary MacGregor clan and an agreement is struck that Jamie will help them with a heist and marry his “sister” Jix to the clan leader and they will get the sword back. Jix keeps insisting that he fall in love with Sam, he has no idea why she’s so determined and even though they are literally back in time she doesn’t think he’ll believe her if she tells him that the reason she’s so insistent is because she has prophetic dreams. They fall into a pattern of arguing, boning, her being distant for no reason and lying to him consistently about why, her being mad when he lies about things, wash, rinse, repeat. They eventually find Sam and that’s a whole complicated thing about Romani people that was a bit cringey.

One of the reasons I think I kept reading was that Mallory isn’t a poor writer. The pacing was good, it was crafted well, and I loved a side character in the novel who became a friend of Jix’s and I bought and read the second because it featured him getting an HEA.

In the end of course it’s all happy and fine but it takes 75% of the book before Jix tells Jamie the truth. I just can’t with consistent lying you guys. That’s probably one of the reasons I really struggled with Jix. Still, as I said, I did buy and read the second book because there was just this strange pull to Mallory’s work. Most reviews talk about how hilarious they found the book so I might just be a snob or it may have just hit me wrong for some reason. I’d say give it a shot but be aware that if you don’t like when the major conflict is people not just talking to each other, this is going to be a hard one for you.