The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

Overall

I missed this when it originally came out and didn’t hurry to read it, probably because I hadn’t totally loved the first book in this trilogy, The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh. It was fine, but nothing that made me look forward to the stories of Rand’s younger brother and sister. The Cavanaughs are the younger half-siblings of Ryder Cavanaugh, the hero from The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh who married Mary Cynster. Their mother was Lavinia, the villain of Taming, so that makes this series slightly more interesting. After all, Lavinia was truly terrible but raised these kids. What would it be like to have such an utter sociopath as one’s mother?

Designs didn’t really address that and neither does Pursuits. I haven’t reread Taming in a few years (it’s on my list when I do the Cynsters next year) so I don’t remember much other than the big stuff. So I was a bit disappointed to see that thread wasn’t really pursued (ha) here. That being said, this is a sweet read that deviates a bit (in a good way) from the formula that I’ve come to expect from Stephanie Laurens.

When I think of Laurens’ books, I don’t think of characters or the romances. I generally return to her writing because I love her mysteries and her plots. She has a basic approach: her heroes are alpha males who pursue the heroines who generally need to be convinced to marry them. Her female leads are always strong-willed, intelligent, and a good match for the heroes. One of my favorite things about the majority of her romances is that hero values the heroine for that intelligence and they often work together side by side to solve the plot. Her Bastion Club was tour de force of these kinds of romances (save the terrible prequel, Captain Jack’s Woman, and the stalker in To Distraction).

This book isn’t quite the same. There’s more focus on the romance, actually, as our lead characters navigate a series of smaller mysteries as they get to know one another better. Lord Christopher “Kit” Cavanaugh is the second of Lavinia’s three sons and has come to Bristol to begin a yacht-building company. His new warehouse lease displaces a charity school run by vicar’s daughter Silvia Buckleberry, the maid of honor at his brother’s wedding. Silvia has a low opinion of Kit at first, but when he helps her relocate the school and goes on to sponsor it, she sees a different side of him.

Laurens also writes a lot of sex scenes in her books — I don’t generally review this stuff because it’s not really what I go to romance for so I end up skipping some of the scenes. But generally her leads have a lot of sex. Pursuits doesn’t have a kiss between her leads for almost two hundred pages, and then the single sex scene is in the epilogue. Instead of lust, Kit and Silvia work together to save the school, find out who’s sabotaging his business, and then who’s following her around Bristol. Silvia is a vicar’s daughter, and Kit respects that. I was surprised by how much I liked that approach. Kit and Silvia weren’t very interesting character on their own, but their romance was sweet and they worked well together. When he finally kisses her, it feels a lot more earned.

The mysteries themselves aren’t super engrossing, but they’re fun to read and follow. There are bits of this book that are a bit overwritten, but that’s part of Laurens’s style so I tend to discount that. This is a sweet book that is a bit outside her norm, and I really liked that.

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Under Currents by Nora Roberts

Overall

Under Currents is a return to an old formula for Nora Roberts, one in which she has deviated from in her last two hardback releases, Shelter in Place and Come Sundown. Those releases read more like straight suspense mysteries with romance as a subplot. Both were good, but they showed Nora Roberts stretching her writing muscles and stepping out of her role as master romance writer. In Come Sundown, the main story was the tragic and disturbing kidnapping of a woman who was then kept in captivity for decades while Shelter in Place examined the survivors of a mass shooting. I liked both of these books, but I haven’t been driven to return to them.

Under Currents takes place on familiar ground. Like Carolina Moon, The Witness, and Obsession, we’re in a small town filled with vibrant characters, warm family ties, and the seediness that often lies beneath the thin layer of old-fashioned values. We follow the hero, Zane Bigelow Walker, primarily. He’s our protagonist for the first 130 some pages as we live through his abusive childhood and the night that changed his family and future forever. The heroine, Darby McCray, doesn’t show up until Chapter Eight. If you read Obsession and The Witness, you’re familiar with this narrative style.

I liked this book. I don’t know if I loved it. I think it’s because I just wasn’t sure what the plot was, and I didn’t know what to expect. I think that’s good in a lot of ways — having read so many of Nora Roberts’ novels, I was expecting a central plot that was hinted at in the beginning and then given to us at the climax. This was a lot more episodic in a way that I can’t quite say I was expecting.

We spend a lot of time with teen-aged Zane, then follow Darby as she sets up her landscaping business. Then we follow their relationship for a little while. Because we start with Zane, I expected his story to drive the plot. But it doesn’t. Nothing really does. And I don’t know if I like that. I guess their romance pushes the plot but I’m not sure their romance was all that interesting.

I think this is a book that I want to reread now that I know what to expect. I liked the setting and the supporting cast. Nora Roberts has a way of constructing characters that make you want to read more about them, and that’s no different here. Zane has two nephews who are quite charming, and another author might write their story later. But alas, Nora Roberts never returns to her characters in her single titles.

This is a good book and I’m sure a lot of people will like it. But it didn’t have enough of what I go to a Nora Roberts for — there wasn’t enough conflict in the romance and there wasn’t enough suspense in the mysteries. It kind of meandered in a way that didn’t entirely satisfy me. It’s well-written, and I like Darby and Zane. It just feels…thin.

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Project Duchess by Sabrina Jeffries

Overall

I always feel bad when I try to think of my favorite books by Sabrina Jeffries, and I literally can’t remember the title of any of them. Nor do any of her books really sit with me for long after I finish them. I actually really like Jeffries’ books, and she’s always been on pre-order status with me, but looking over her backlist, there’s really nothing that pops out of me.

That being said, I never regret buying her books and Project Duchess is no exception. It suffers a little from the heavy lifting any first book in a series does — it has to not only tell the current story but create the universe. Some books avoid this by simply not introducing all of the characters or elements right away, but as this series is about a family, it would be odd if we didn’t meet the majority of the family.

It’s a relatively rote, by-the-numbers romance. Two leads with trust issues and difficult memories of their childhood. A titled lord who is charmed by the heroine who is more hoyden than lady and doesn’t simper over him. Rambunctious siblings. There’s a murder mystery that looks as though it’s going to stretch across at least two or three of the books.

Fletcher Pryde, Duke of Greycourt, and more commonly known as Grey is the eldest son of a woman who managed to marry three times, all to men who either were dukes at the time or inherited a title. Her last husband was ambassador to Prussia, causing Grey to be separated from his family at the age of ten since his paternal uncle had guardianship over him because, you know, the patriarchy. He grows up, resenting his mother and stepfather for giving him up and there’s a rift in the family.

Beatrice Wolfe is the poor cousin of Grey’s youngest brother, the new Duke of Armitage, Sheridan. Sheridan suspects that his father and the previous duke were murdered and suspects Bea’s brother, Joshua, of the deed. Joshua returned from the war, injured and more worse for the wear. He enlists Grey’s help in getting to the bottom of it. Grey and Bea are thrown together because his mother is trying to distract herself by preparing her daughter, Gwyn, for her debut and wants to launch Bea at the same time.

It’s a solid book, and I’m not mad at any of it. The plot escalates well. There are misunderstandings and stolen kisses. The characters are interesting, but they feel like a hundred other characters I’ve read in a romance novel, as does the plot. You won’t regret spending a few hours with the book, but you probably won’t remember it in a week either.

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