Sunday, December 16, 2012

Review: Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley

Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Highland Pleasures, Book 4.5
Publisher: JA / AG Publishing
Genre: Historical Romance
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Smashwords
Jennifer Ashley reading order: here

The Mackenzies gather for a clan Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland. In the chaos of preparations for the celebration--the first of Hart and Eleanor’s married life--one of Ian’s Ming bowls gets broken, and the family scrambles to save the day. Daniel busily runs a betting ring for everything from the hour Eleanor’s baby will arrive, to whether Mac’s former-pugilist valet can win a boxing match. Ian begins a new obsession, and Beth fears that the loss of one of his precious bowls has made him withdraw once more into his private world.

The Perfect Gift CoverTake a heartwarming journey to the Highlands this holiday season with Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift. Author Jennifer Ashley has truly outdone herself with this festive, fun, emotional Mackenzie family story.

It takes a deft hand to write a story teeming with characters, all of whom have their own backstories. Many authors would easily fall into the trap of overwhelming readers with information or slowing the pace of the book. It’s a good thing Ms. Ashley is a master at her craft because she takes the multitude of Mackenzies (along with wives, in-laws, friends, and servants) and delivers a smooth, fast-paced story where all the characters are original and fleshed out and their interwoven storylines flow like a dream. I felt like I was at Kilmorgan Castle with the Mackenzies and their extended family.

It’s impossible to detail all that goes on in The Perfect Gift without writing a review that’s almost as long as the book itself. Suffice it to say that every single character and plot thread in The Perfect Gift drew me in. I could not put the book down until I had finished. That being said, I have to highlight one particular storyline that touched my heart. Ian and Beth — whose gorgeously penned romance began the Highland Pleasure series and started my love affair with Ms. Ashley’s writing — face what might be their first significant misunderstanding since The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. When Beth accidentally breaks a unique Ming bowl Ian had wanted, she fears Ian will give into the darkness or despair that had once frequently plagued him. She desperately wants to replace the bowl, but Ian has no interest in similar antiques, nor does he claim to be upset over a loss that only a few years before would have sent him into uncontrollable fits of despair. Misunderstandings in romances often come off as an overused trope, but not in The Perfect Gift. Because Ian has Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of high-functioning autism) in a time long before anyone knows what Asperger’s is, in this situation it’s difficult for Beth or Ian’s brothers to effectively communicate with Ian and vice versa. I won’t spoil the reason Ian wanted that particular bowl or the resolution to the misunderstanding, but I will say that Ms. Ashley managed to bring tears to my eyes more than once. In Ms. Ashley’s books the simplest of actions and a few well-spoken words can bring forth a wealth of emotion.

The Perfect Gift takes place between the last chapter and the epilogue of the fourth Highland Pleasures book, The Duke’s Perfect Wife. While you don’t have to have read the first four Highland Pleasure books (The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, and The Duke’s Perfect Wife) in order to follow along, I highly recommend doing so, for part of the enjoyment of The Perfect Gift stems from having a prior attachment to almost all the characters. Even though I focused on Beth and Ian earlier, rest assured that Hart, Eleanor, Cam, Ainsley, Mac, and Isabella get equal page time. Ms. Ashley also whets the appetite for future Highland Pleasure books. I don’t know which Mackenzie or McBride I’m most eager to read about next!

The Perfect Gift is an amazing story that touches the heart. Ms. Ashley made me feel like I was part of the Mackenzie family in The Perfect Gift. I felt all the characters’ joys, sorrows, fears, and hopes as if they were my own. I loved Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift and I cannot wait for the next Highland Pleasures novel!