Don’t Look Down (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

As a second book, this is a great continuation of the world Suzanne Enoch began to build in Flirting With Danger. While I don't think I'm as invested in the mystery because it doesn't affect Sam and Rick personally, it's still a really good plot that keeps me guessing.

We open almost where we left off in Flirting in Devonshire with Sam and Rick still figuring out what their relationship looks like with no around trying to kill them. Sam is setting up her security business, and Rick is trying to help (though his help is often more like trying to do it for her). When they end up back in Palm Beach, Sam begins to investigate the murder of a man who was on her verge of asking her for help.

Because the murder mystery here is someone who we don't know, who Sam only meets briefly, and Rick doesn't know that well either, the stakes are low. In fact, to get Sam and Rick really arguing about what boils down to a private investigation, they make a bet to see who will get to the murderer first -- Sam or the police. It feels a little forced. Not in a bad way, but just enough that you can see the effort. This is something that doesn't happen in the rest of the series which is definitely a good thing.

The supporting cast here is a really plus -- we get the return of Stoney, Castillo, and the Donners with the addition of Rick's ex-wife, Patricia, and the Kunz family: Charles and his adult children, Laurie and Daniel. We also get the introduction of Aubrey Pendelton, a walker who assists Sam and returns in subsequent books.

The plot is great, the characters are great, and the romance...it's great with some qualifications. I'll get into the spoilers, but I think the conflict between Sam and Rick feels slightly artificial. Sam was going to consult with Charles on personal security, and it's not crazy that she feels guilty about his murder which happens only hours after she met with him for the first time. What Sam proposes, initially, is really the equivalent of what a private investigator would do. I don't really understand Rick's issue with that or why he comes down on her so hard for it.

I mean, maybe it's related to wanting her to stay wholly on the right side of the law, and I guess he's afraid straying even near the line might encourage her to go over it. They've only been together for a few months, so the trust is fragile. I get it -- I think sometimes, though, Rick just feels like he's overreacting. I mean, it's not insanely in your face. I was just trying to figure out why I don't love this book as much as the rest of the series (I still love this book) but I think it's because the romantic conflict doesn't feel organic.

It's still a great book, though, and I heartily recommend it.

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Flirting With Danger (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

I actually finished this yesterday and since then have read nearly the entire series, haha. I forgot just how addictive this series could be, and I'm already fighting the temptation to start the last (until next week) entry in the series. I absolutely adore this series. Last year, I did an entire reread of the series and purchased digital copies because I love it so much. Normally, having just finished a reread, I wouldn't have done a second one this year except Suzanne Enoch is releasing a brand new novel, Barefoot in the Dark, after over a decade. Sooo excited!

I don't read a ton of contemporary novels, and I read even fewer series with the same couple featured over and over again -- I think, other than this series, my only other series like this is the J.D. Robb In Death series. It's hard to see the same couple again and again, particularly since the romance genre is supposed to have a HEA.

Rick Addison and Samantha Jellicoe have a unique meet-cute in this first book when she saves Rick's life during a botched robbery of his Palm Beach estate--she's actually trying to steal from him at the same time but she's not responsible for the explosion or the dead guard. They team up to find out who's behind it and trying to kill them both.

The plot is really good even if it gets a bit dodgy from time to time. I only get tripped up on some of the finer points after maybe my seventh reread so that's probably me being an anal-compulsive moron, haha. The characters and romance are really great. Both of these characters are used to being in command and not answering to anyone else so they really have to find ways to compromise--particularly since Sam lives on the wrong side of the law and Rick has to try and figure out just how much of that he's willing to deal with.

The HEA is a good stopping point. We get enough resolution fit the definition, but there are so many issues still to be mined between these characters that conflict still remains.  The romance can occasionally feel driven by lust--and it definitely begins that way, but there are points where there is genuine connection between them and it's fun to watch them try and one up each other throughout the book.

The supporting cast is great, particularly Rick's lawyer, Tom, and Homicide detective, Frank, who will both come back in later books. I particularly adore Stoney, Sam's fence and only real personal connection. I was excited to see all of them come back.

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A Night to Surrender (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

So initially, Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove was going to be my next series to reread because she's got a book coming out at the end of the month. Then I realized that Suzanne Enoch's next Sam Jellicoe book is coming out next Tuesday (OMG) and I have her series on my list. So I read this book but didn't go on in the series just yet because I want to have the Enoch series ready to review when the book comes out.

I found Tessa Dare by accident. I was browsing Julia Quinn's recommendations, a thing I don't do all that often but I was lucky enough to get an excerpt from Tessa Dare's debut novel, Goddess of the Hunt. Her first two series were good and I enjoyed them, but I wouldn't say she was an automatic pre-order buy.

And this book came out.  The Spindle Cove series is literally one of my favorite series of all time and it was after this book that Dare jumped into my top 5 authors. (When we get to A Week to Be Wicked, I'm not going to be able to keep myself together from the squeeing because COLIN).

Spindle Cove is a small coastal village that is dominated by women and known in some circles as Spinster's Cove. Young ladies come to the village who often are shy or not doing well in society. Susanna Finch takes them under her wing as the unofficial hostess of the village. Lieutenant Colonel Victor Bramwell (only really ever called Bram) arrives in Spindle Cove to meet with Susanna's father about getting his command in the military back after a war injury sidelined him. Bram is a military man who doesn't have time or patience for soft things, and Susanna has no interest in men who will upset the safe place she's created in the village. Sparks fly.

I. love. this. book. First of all, the romantic conflict between Susanna and Bram is everything. I love love love love love when a conflict is not because someone is keeping a secret but that something about who they are as people is the obstacle. Bram wants nothing more than to head back to war and Portugal, and Susanna needs her safe place and hearth in the village. One of them has to bend in order for them to be together, and it's so wonderful to watch them deal with one another. They begin the book so sure they're each right, and by the end--they've both bent enough to make something new and strong together. I love it.

The supporting cast is wonderful here as well. We get characters who are going to come back again and again, particularly the Highwood women, all of whom get their own story (Minerva is Book 2, Diana is Book 3.5, and Charlotte is Book 5). Colin and Thorne are here as well who both also get their own books. Spindle Cove is a fully fleshed out community from the beginning of the series, and you just grow to love it more as the books continue.

The plot is more in the background -- Bram wants his command back and has to train a militia of Spindle Cove men; Susanna is not in favor of this because it draws her father, a well-known military engineer, back into the fray--his last few inventions have not gone well and she worries for his health. It's really well done and their back stories are incredibly poignant and do a lot to drive the action forward.

I just love this book.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: Bow Street Runners (Lisa Kleypas)

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Summer Reading

This is the shortest series I’ve done for this project thus far and it’s more of “this next book has characters you met in the last one” kind of series which were really popular for about ten years. Today, a lot of series have something else that connects them — I’m thinking of neighborhoods and villages like Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane and Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove.  While the heroes all work for Bow Street, that’s not really something that connects the books on a narrative level.

This is also the first series that did not suffer for having read them all in a row over a few days. Each one of these books stands entirely on their own with unique characters and plots. I don’t have any trouble telling Nick, Grant, and Ross apart which is definitely a step up from the Bastion Club, the Highland Brides, or the Keegan-Paxton series. I also don’t want to groan when previous characters come back — Grant plays a decent supporting role in both the next two books and I never want to set the book on fire. So there’s something for that.

Objectively, the best book in this series is probably Someone to Watch Over Me. It has the tightest plot, with characters that develop and grow, and a romance that appears to escalate nicely. However, my personal favorite remains Lady Sophia’s Lover. Though the plot seems to change halfway through the book and meanders a little bit, I connected more easily to Sophia and Ross and was more invested in their romance. Worth Any Price is probably the weakest of the books, but it’s actually a really good book that I enjoyed a lot and count among one of my favorites.

There’s not much to say about this series. I love any kind of series associated with Bow Street, and I wish that that the third book had been more about Bow Street, but that’s a personal preference and doesn’t affect Worth Any Price all that much. It’s a good series, but I probably like the Wallflowers and Hathaways more. Still, Kleypas is known as one of the masters of the genre for good reason.

Worth Any Price (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall Response

This is one of my favorite books because it has one of my favorite romance tropes: the characters are already married. I'm always dumbfounded by people who complain about this type of storyline -- apparently it takes some of the fun out of it for them. You're reading romance, a genre in which the HEA is guaranteed (or I demand my money back). The journey is what makes the book worthwhile.

Anyway, Nick Gentry returns from a bit of an uneven appearance in Lady Sophia's Lover. I didn't entirely love him but I'm thinking maybe Lisa Kleypas hadn't quite figured how ruthless she wanted him to be so I can forgive it. It's three years later, and Nick has turned into one of Bow Street's best runners and commands the respect of even Sir Grant Morgan (Someone to Watch Over Me's hero). He takes a private commission to locate the runaway fiancée of Lord Radnor, Charlotte (Lottie) Howard who is hiding out with Lord Westcliff as a companion for the Dowager Countess. Nick convinces her to marry him to free her from Lord Radnor's really creepy clutches because her family won't help. And that's all in the first 50 pages.

The book is about their marriage and how Nick adjusts to the changes presented to him once he's married. Sir Ross Cannon (Lady Sophia's Lover) has petitioned for Nick to take up his title and birth name of Lord John Sydney, and Grant tells him that the runners are likely to be disbanded within some months. Lottie also has to contend with the creepy Radnor and her ridiculous family.

So the characters and the romance are amazing. I go back to this book often because I really like Lottie and Nick and the way Kleypas brings in a supporting cast of old and new characters. This is actually the first time we meet Lord Westcliff (which explains a huge issue I have, which we'll talk about in spoilers) but because I've read the entire Lisa Kleypas universe, he feels like an old friend here. I love seeing Ross and Sophia, though I'm surprised by how little we ever get to see Victoria, Grant's wife. She makes maybe two cameos, one in each book.

I thought Nick's back story presented some interesting obstacles for his marriage to Lottie and her resilience and naturally upbeat nature provide him a foundation to deal with the demons of his past and I like how Nick grows over the book and where he ends up at the end. Lottie's best stuff happens in the first half of the book--this is really Nick's journey.

The plot is probably where this book falls apart. It's almost dual plot -- and Nick's part holds up relatively well. His acceptance and reluctant embrace of his birthright feels real, and I happy with where it ends up.

It's Lottie's half of the plot that is crazy pants. Her family seems relatively one dimensional--her parents are basically selfish people who don't really get any kind of comeuppance and the resolution to the Radnor plot feels like maybe Kleypas built herself up to something she didn't know how to stop. It just kind of ends.

But this is a really good book with a good romance and does a good job ending the trilogy.

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Lady Sophia’s Lover (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall

I was so excited to get to this book--it's always been one of my favorite romance novels because it takes place over a longer period of time. A lot of novels, particularly in the last decade or so, tend to take place over a couple of weeks but rarely span longer than a month, maybe two. This novel is probably at least six months, if not more, and it really allows the romance and characters to develop.

The plot is a bit of a misdirect--Sophia's desire for revenge is really more of an inciting incident and it doesn't take her long to start rethinking her opinion of Ross and the actual plot kind of meanders a bit. That's not a bad thing because if Sophia stuck to her original plan I feel like that would have caused the story to drag.

The characters are great -- Ross was a good supporting character in Someone to Watch Over Me, and he remains solid here. He's a principled man of honor and it's fascinating to watch him apply his own vision of justice. Sophia is a great lead -- I like that she does revise her opinion and plows her own path, even if she's occasionally quick to jump to conclusions.

The romance is good and develops well. I like that Ross never seems to shy away from his feelings for Sophia but I could have done without her former lover or Ross's brother. I know they were there to provide a contrast to Ross, but it did get annoying having Sophia blackmailed and propositioned at ever turn.

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Someone to Watch Over Me (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall

I have to admit that I was nervous when I put this series on my summer reading list because while I've read the other two books in this trilogy several times, I can only remember rereading this book maybe twice since the first time I read it in 2004. It didn't stick with me as well as the rest of the series.

I'm happy to say that while I still like the other two books better, this is by no means a weak story. The aspects about the plot that I was worried about -- Grant's so-called revenge -- was actually handled better than I had remembered. While the romance is a bit more superficial than I typically like, it's still pretty good.

I actually liked the journey Lisa Kleypas took Grant on -- he's a very hard character in the beginning and "Vivienne" does kind of force him to re-examine himself. Given his origin story, I can understand why he is the way he is, but I guess maybe I wish he'd been punished a bit longer.

The plot is fine -- it's a standard mystery but it's never really the focus. It's always about Grant and his confusion that Vivienne isn't acting the way he'd expected her, too.

Still, this is a good introduction to one of my favorite trilogies -- I love Bow Street Runners, and Sir Ross's book is ridiculously good (at least I remember it being good). While this book doesn't have the depth in the plot, characters, or romance that the rest of the series does, this is a good book. I really like Grant and "Vivienne" and was happy for them to get their happy ending.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: The Bastion Club (Stephanie Laurens)

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Summer Reading
Captain Jack's Woman - Stephanie Laurens

At the end of this series — which took two weeks for me to read — I’m left with the feeling that I would never recommend anyone read nine Stephanie Laurens books in a row without a break. This is a similar feeling I had after finishing the Highland Brides series by Lynsay Sands. There’s not enough of a differentiation between characters and romantic conflicts and even now, I have to stop and remember which plot went to which characters.

That’s not to say this is a bad series — there’s really only one dud that I would suggest you avoid like the plague (To Distraction). Even Captain Jack’s Woman is at least entertaining enough to get through one read (but don’t ever do it again — Kit’s worth one read, and Jack isn’t worth anymore of your time.) The plots and the residual aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars are well done, though I do wish there had been more of the Bastion Club trying to readjust to the society after so many years undercover.

Of the male leads, they don’t stand out too much. I probably liked Tristan (The Lady Chosen), Jack (A Fine Passion), and Royce (Mastered by Love), but other than Jack (Captain Jack) and Deverell (To Distraction), none of the other male leads are bad. They’re just not memorable.

The female leads were a bit more varied but not by much. Clarice and Minerva were probably my favorite, though Leonora was a close third. I found myself disappointed in Leticia because I wanted to love her and be swept away by who she was described to be but that woman never appeared on the page. She falls in the middle of the pack with Penny and Madeline. Phoebe and Alicia were fine, but I wasn’t really invested in them.

Romance wise, I’d say Royce & Minerva were probably my favorite, but they’re very closely followed by Jack & Clarice, Christian & Leticia, and Tristan & Leonora. There’s nothing wrong with Charles & Penny and Gervase & Madeline though, they’re solidly in the middle. Tony & Alicia are disappointing because Tony is an idiot, but you can probably get through a read. But I hated Jack & Kit and Deverell & Phoebe‘s relationships with the fire of a thousand suns. They were just awful misogynistic stalking assholes whose female leads deserved better.

This is a good series — just don’t read it all at once.

 

Mastered By Love (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall

As I was reading this, I wondered if writing about Royce and the duchy of Wolverstone is one of the reasons Stephanie Laurens decided to write her lone medieval story, Desire's Prize. They were released four years apart (2009, 2013) but there's a striking similarity between Royce & Minerva and Montisfryn & Elaine. He's a marcher lord, and she ends up under his care to take up role of chatelaine.  I actually really liked Desire's Prize, and I hope Laurens writes more of them. Her brand of hero and heroine are very well suited to medieval romances, and I am a huge sucker for that sub-genre.

Anyway, this is the last book in the Bastion Club series and wraps up the through-line of the last traitor created in Book 2, A Gentleman's Honor.  There's a lot I like about the final resolution to that plot line, but I also think that it would have benefited from spending just a little more time with the villain. I think Laurens wanted to keep him a mystery until a certain point, but I think this is the book where he should have had more of a center stage. I liked the identity of the villain and the final resolution to it all -- I just would have liked him to be a bit more present throughout the book.

The other part of the plot revolves around Royce's return to his old life and becoming duke upon the death of his father. He returns home to find the ward his parents raised grown up and functioning as the castle's chatelaine -- which was a medieval term you don't read much about in Regency time. Basically, Minerva is a step above the housekeeper and runs the household -- much like the laird's wife would in a Scottish romance, if that makes sense.

During his father's funeral, Royce is harassed beyond the point of sanity by the society grand dames to take wife because the Prince Regent is eyeing the duchy Royce only just inherited. I mean, they're obnoxious, and Royce is a hell of a lot nicer than I would be.

Of the Bastion Club members, only Christian and Leticia really play a role here. Clarice and Jack show up, but not for long. I think Penny is there, too. Thank God, there's only mentions of Jack Hendon, and Deverell is a distant memory for all of us. It makes me happy. Devil from the Cynster series has a minor supporting role with the running joke that his mother is desperate to marry him off and already using the term of Dowager to encourage him. Royce's sisters show up but there's not much to say about any of that. The supporting cast doesn't really do all that much.

I like both the leads quite a lot. Both are capable, honest, and straightforward. Royce is relatively relatable and remains the steady, arrogant, yet reasonable character we've seen in the last seven books. Minerva is a typical Laurens lead who has a strong head on her shoulders and a clear goal. I particularly liked that Royce deferred to Minerva on estate decisions.

The romance is also very good -- in fact, it's up there with Leticia & Christian (The Edge of Desire) and Jack & Clarice (A Fine Passion). I'll get into the weeds about something specific I loved in the spoiler section, but suffice to say that this romance develops really well and escalates nicely.

This is a solid and satisfying end to a better than I remembered series.

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The Edge of Desire (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall

This was always one of my favorite books in the series because I liked the romance and the plot. That remains true though there a few things that kind of jumped out at me in this reread and once I noticed them, they only got more annoying which is why the star is four, not five.

Christian's story actually begins in the epilogue of Beyond Seduction, and there's been some hints of Christian's past (very tiny ones) but the romance been Christian and Leticia is definitely my favorite in the series. They have a history, much like Charles and Penny in A Lady of His Own, but their past is more ably dealt with and actually presents a huge conflict for them to overcome. And I liked that as soon he learned the reason Letitia hadn't waited for him but had married Randall, he immediately took the blame on himself and acknowledged his own failures. He completely let her off the hook which I liked.

When it comes to characters, I still liked them a lot but here's my main problem with Letitia. She's apparently a member of a wild family who have insane tempers, are known for their impulsive nature...and yet, Stephanie Laurens never shows us this behavior. She tells it. Every time we get a "Vaux" tantrum, we don't get any dialogue. She describes it.

And at every turn, the Vaux nature, the Vaux tendency comes back. Over and over again.  Stephanie Laurens has always had a piece of description that she tends to beat into the ground (Jack calling Clarice Boadicea or warrior queen) but this was particularly annoying because I was supposed to see Letitia as a certain kind of character and she just never was.

The plot and murder mystery is pretty good, and Dalziel plays into this one a bit more than we've seen before but that makes sense because his book is next. Some of the other reasons (beyond the Vaux nonsense) that this book, despite being really good, doesn't make it to five stars are more spoilery so suffice to say this is the best book in the series thus far, the equal to A Fine Passion, though I think I like Clarice a smidge more than Letitia.

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