BY SAMANTHA WARBURTON

Author: Kimberly Freeman

2011, Touchstone

Filed Under: Romance, Historical.

The experience of reading Wildflower Hill was similar to watching a Lifetime movie: it has a weak plot and bland characters, but I found myself staying up late to finish it anyway. The novel tells the story of three generations of a Scottish family, the Blaxland-Hunters, as related through alternating narratives by both the matriarchal grandmother, Beattie, and her granddaughter, Emma. There’s plenty of romance (and with it heartbreak), ballet, fashion design–but it does manage to dodge being either your typical romance novel or, worse, chick lit.

The opening pages introduce Emma, an 11-year old consumed by dancing, and her rich and successful grandmother, Beattie. The story looks backward in time to Beattie at 18, then a poor Scottish barmaid struggling with a pregnancy by a married lover, before flashing forward to Emma at 31, by then a prima ballerina, struggling with a break-up and a career-ending injury. Emma returns home to lick her wounds, where she learns from her mother that Beattie, now dead a few years, left her a a sheep ranch (the titular Wildflower Hill).

The trajectory of Beattie’s success unfolds slowly through parallel narrative, while Emma’s physical and emotional recovery occurs at the ranch. Freeman structures the intertwining plots well, revealing secrets and twists along the way that genuinely took me by surprise on a few occasions.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the characters. Emma and Beattie evolve over the course of their respective stories, but lack any depth or nuance. Freeman wants them both to be atypical heroines, but she does it in far too stereotypical a manner: Beattie challenging the mores of the day; Emma starting out insufferably self-involved but ultimately developing an ability to reach out and embrace her community. Character development was there, but it was too obvious to be compelling.

Freeman’s storytelling is strong, but the same can’t be said for her abilities as writer. Nonetheless, it was no struggle to plow through this novel. While the prose is mediocre, transitions from one storyline to the next are seamless and well-timed–I didn’t tire of the two characters’ perspectives or the switching between them. Nor did I feel shorted when each section ended. And while the descriptions didn’t strike me as well-written at the time, I can easily conjure images of scenes and settings. Wildflower Hill doesn’t break any new ground or turn any impressive phrases, but it is engaging. I was surpised by how hard it was to put the book down.

Similar Reads: Plain Pursuit (Wiseman)

[A review was requested and a review copy provided.]

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