Review of ALWAYS MINE by Sophia Johnson (see her website)
Zebra Historical Romance, August 2006
Lydia Hunter has loved Lord Damron since she first spotted his portrait in a Scottish castle. When she's cast back in time, Lydia becomes Brianna Sinclair--the very woman whom history records married Damron. But Lydia retains her modern memories and her modern beliefs. She is unwilling to put up with the life that Damron expects--a life where he is the master and where she falls somwhere between his horse and his sheep. Sure she loves him, but that doesn't mean she will share him with another woman, will accept his orders without question, or will allow him to punish her for infractions of his rules. Of course, a few minor curses (like sheep's patootie) shouldn't cause troubles, either.
Since he found his ex-wife in bed with someone else, Damron has had trouble trusting women. Is it too much to ask that his new wife be loyal to him, cherish him and not spend her time with other men, or abandon crazy notions? He's attracted to Brianna/Lydia's spirit as well as her body, but surely there are limits. Surely a man must ultimately be master--or allow all of his clansmen make him a laughing-stock. Although he continually makes compromises, agrees to Brianna's conditions, it seems that there is always something else, always some barrier that prevents her from making the commitment that he so desperately needs. Then again, his jealousy doesn't help matters.
Both Lydia/Brianna and Damron work toward an understanding, but they face implacable opposition as well. Damron's former Leman hopes to regain Damron's attentions and does everything she can to make Brianna believe that Damron is being unfaithful to his new wife. And a local chieftan is obsessed with Brianna and attempts to kidnap her for his pleasure. Is Damron really supposed to believe he is chasing after Brianna with no encouragement at all? Fortunately, a Welsh bard and Damron's sister and family are quick to see Brianna's merits and strive to calm Damron's impulsive nature.
Author Sophia Johnson (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of novels by Johnson) combines historical research with past-life theories for an interesting take on time travel. Set in the tumultuous days after the Norman Conquest, ALWAYS MINE spans the English marches and Highland Scotland. In an era where witches were feared, Lydia/Brianna did not dare tell the truth about her origins--or her strange mix of knowledge and ignorance. Her uncertainty about how long her soul would stay in this body made her even more reluctant to commit to anything permanent. What would the real Brianna think if she returned to find herself married and pregnant?
The story worked most strongly when Johnson successfully integrated Lydia/Brianna's modern attitudes into the conflict. Her unwillingness to commit due to her fear that she would return to the 21st century and her refusal to agree to blind obedience both heightened the conflict as they tagged onto Damron's deepest fears and the betrayal he suffered at the hands of his first wife. Brianna's own jealousy over Leman Asceline doesn't seem as organic to the story and comes off as conflict for its own sake. Occasionally, her behavior seemed just a bit overblown given what set her off. Similarly, I never really understood the compulsion driving Brianna's erstwhile kidnapper.
If you're looking for an intriguing take on the time travel story, and enjoy stories of a modern woman who finds herself in a strange land, facing strange customs (and powerful Scotish Lairds), you'll definitely want to give Sophia Johnson and ALWAYS MINE a try.
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