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As I read Girl in the Castle, the latest release from one of my favorite writers, Lizzie Lamb, I couldn’t help remembering my own life in a medieval castle. Like anyone brought up on Disney-f**ed fairy tales and princesses, I used to dream about living in a castle.

Like any Americans, the Hub and I jumped at the chance a few years ago to move into one corner of a medieval castle in the north of England. I was living the dream. Apparently, the dream is really, really cold and occasionally in a foreign language. Who knew?

Medieval Toilet. (Don't ask about the toilet paper. Trust me.)

Medieval Toilet. (Don’t ask about the toilet paper. Trust me.)

The main thing to remember about living in a 1000+ year old pile of stone is that the builders were a lot more concerned with discouraging visits from Vikings and Scots than with heat and er… sanitation.

But thanks to the sympathetic current owners of the castle, a new kitchen and bathroom took us past the original builders’ idea of facilities. I got used to wearing a hat to bed and cuddling under three down duvets with a British hottie. (On particularly cold nights, I slept with two of them.)

British Hotties. (No, I'm not interested in hearing what you thought I meant.)

British Microwave Hotties. (No, I’m not interested in hearing what you thought I meant.)

When friends and family visited, I tried to give them an idea of what to pack for country castle wear. This is what the Wall St. Journal recommends. They are so tragically wrong.

NOT unless you plan to wear all of it at once. In July.

NO. (Unless you plan to wear all of it—his and hers—at once. In July.)

This is what I suggested.

YES. (And the beauty of this ensemble is that it's also what you'll wear to bed.)

YES. (And the beauty of this ensemble is that it’s also what you’ll wear to bed.)

When you’re visiting the castle, I’d tell potential guests, here is how we’ll start a typical day:

  • I think that gravestone says "Tired of waiting for the dog to find an acceptable place to piddle"

    I think that gravestone says “Froze to death waiting for the dog to find an acceptable place to piddle”

    0’dark:30—the dog will leap straight from her bed to mine (or yours if the castle ghost, the White Lady, has popped in to open your door. Yes, the same door you carefully closed, locked, and probably secured with a chair under the knob. Ghosts don’t get out much, so their sense of humor is somewhat stunted…) The dog shares the breaking news. “It’s time. I hafta. Go NOW! Up, up, up. What part of pee-now do you people not get? And by the way, as long as you’re up, I wouldn’t turn down a bowl of kibble.” One of the good things about sleeping with so many clothes on is that you just have to grab the keys, leash, and wellies. [Note to self: one of these days, must post paean to the glory that is the British Wellie.] Although there is no actual network signal around the castle, you should bring your phone so you can use its flashlight app to find the steaming pile the dog refuses to produce until she’s sniffed every single damn blade of grass in the meadow and churchyard surrounding the castle because, of course, this is the north of England which won’t see actual dawn for about four more hours. (Hey, I don’t want to hear your opinion of run-on sentences. It’s friggin early and we haven’t even had coffee.) Where was I? Oh, yeah. We will stagger back to the flat, where the exhausted dog will collapse in one of the beds she keeps in every room. Tough morning; she needs a nap.

  • We’ll make coffee. Industrial-strength.
  • I love you Mr. Milkman

    I love you Mr. Milkman

    When the coffee is ready, I’ll realize that we went blindly past the milk that Mr. Milkman left at the portcullis, and we’ll have a stare-down to see who will cave and go back down for the milk: the polite guest (you) or the polite hostess (ha, ha, ha, you’re funny, you are). BTW, I’ve never met him, and I really hope Mrs. Milkman doesn’t mind, but I’m in love with Mr. Milkman. He slips in even before the dog gets up, leaving adorable little bottles of organic milk, plus eggs, and rolls of butter wrapped in brown paper. We communicate via notes twisted up and poked into empty bottles I leave for him at the gate. It’s one of my all-time purest, most satisfying relationships.

  • My gorgeous French Émigré with the heart of darkness...

    My gorgeous French Émigré with the heart of darkness…

    Coffee in hand, it will be time for you to witness the other significant relationship in my castle life. I’m not going to say who is dom and who is sub, but I spend a disturbing amount of my time on my knees in front of my sophisticated, elegant French partner, blowing until he’s burning hot (yes, I did write that…) and then returning every few hours to fulfill his needs again. Sometimes, even though I think I’m doing everything right, he knows I need to be punished and he’ll vent his wrath in black oily smoke pouring back into the flat. This sets off the castle fire alarm system, which means I have only minutes to (grab keys/wellies) race down the circular stairs, through the basement, up the other stairs, down the main hall, and over to the fire system in time to call off the emergency vehicles about to be dispatched. That system is clearly in cahoots with the angry Frenchie up in my living room, so I have to stand there for a few hours repeatedly pressing the “clear” button until they reluctantly agree to shut the f-up.

I absolutely adored living in the castle and miss it every day since moving to the Hobbit House in Glasgow, and then to the needy Victorian on an island off the Scottish coast. The Hub? Not so much. He named the thermostat in the new place (Mildred) and assures her every day of his devoted affection and regard.

For a look at another woman who finds herself in the chilled but romantic confines of a castle, I’d recommend Lizzy Lamb’s entertaining new release, Girl in the Castle. Please check out my review below. Castles PLUS kilts—a no brainer.


 

BLURB: 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?


My Review: 4  stars out of 5

 

Once upon a time, a beautiful princess lived in an ivory tower and dreamed of growing up to become a professor of history. Now with her newly minted PhD in hand, Dr. Henriette Bruar assumes her latest discovery will put her on the fast-track to a coveted Lecturer position and research career. Instead, her career in ruins, she finds herself forced to hide from the academic world by taking a temporary position cataloging the library in a semi-derelict Scottish castle for a remote Highland laird, Sir Malcolm MacKenzie.

Author LIzzie Lamb says, “If you have a dream – go for it! Life is not a rehearsal. After teaching my 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, I decided it was time to leave the chalk face and pursue my first love: writing. In 2006 I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers Scheme, honed my craft and wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted(2012), quickly followed a year later by Boot Camp Bride (2013) and Scotch on the Rocks (2015) – finalist, The Exeter Book Prize. I love the quick fire interchanges between the hero and heroine in the old black and white Hollywood movies, and I hope this love of dialogue and the meet-cute comes across in my writing. I am a proud founding member of the indie publishing group: New Romantics Press and have hosted Author Events at Waterstones High Street, Kensington, and Aspinall, St Pancras, London and raised funds for local Cancer Awareness charities. As for the years I spent as a teacher, they haven’t quite gone to waste as I am building up a reputation as a speaker on the subject of self-publishing and how to craft and finish your novel! I hope you enjoy reading GIRL IN THE CASTLE. I had enormous fun writing it and am currently in the planning stages for #5.

But as the decaying books fail to yield the treasures that might save either the MacKenzie clan or her academic career, Henri finds herself in unwilling conflict with almost everyone around her, from Sir Malcolm to his staff, local residents, and especially the Laird’s estranged son and heir, Keir MacKenzie. Heir to a bankrupt estate, Keir unwillingly accepts Henri’s presence to catalog and dismantle the remainder of their once-prosperous castle. Meanwhile Henri is an unwilling observer as she watches an old tragedy continue to destroy the lives of everyone around her, while she herself keeps hearing the warning sounds of a ghostly piper.

Adding up the de rigueur gothic romance tropes—remote castle, handsome heir, beautiful young employee, jealous romantic rival, wealthy suitor, and that phantom piper—and you have all the tropes of a standard romance. But tropes exist because they work. In the hands of a talented writer like Lizzie Lamb, they aren’t cliches as much as they are building blocks, which she makes uniquely her own. For example, Henri doesn’t insist that she has no idea what men see in her with her long legs, thick blonde hair, and green eyes. Instead, she dryly cataloges the men who only see that far and miss her driving ambition. “Their second sweep often missed the stubborn line of her mouth, the determined set to her shoulders and her death stare that warned—don’t come too close, if you value your head.”

The plot-killing love triangle never emerges because Henri is correctly suspicious of the motives of her “admirer”. And most of all, the characters are allowed to develop and grow over the course of the book. When we meet them, both Henri and Keir are damaged and flawed, each trailing chains of distrust and past tragedy. Author Lizzie Lamb lets us see their pain, suspicion, and fear of giving anyone the power to inflict more hurt. I especially enjoyed Henri’s steel core of confidence in her own professional training and expertise, as well as her determination to recover her academic reputation.

I’ve always enjoyed Lizzie Lamb’s books, and especially (now that I live here myself!) those set in Scotland. She has a unique gift for creating settings and dialog that capture Scottish color, language, humor, and beauty, while realistically including the cold, the rain, and the chill of an ancient castle on a remote island. As someone who has not only lived in Scotland, but also in a medieval castle, I think she’s absolutely nailed that one. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time surrounded by academics, especially at English and Scottish institutions, and I have to say that there are a few things that don’t seem quite so authentic there. My experience of castle ghosts makes the spectral piper seem quite a bit more likely than the English university. 

Overall, though, Lizzie Lamb weaves a terrific romance with all the trimmings. If you enjoy watching two flawed characters struggle through their emotional baggage while surrounded by the cadences of Scottish speech and the beauty of the Highlands—not to mention whisky, kilts, and bagpipes—I think you’ll enjoy Girl in the Castle as much as I did.

 

*I received this book from the publisher or author to facilitate an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*


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