A MacKenzie Clan Gathering (Jennifer Ashley)

Note

So my initial instinct was to read this before reading The Stolen Mackenzie Bride because this was the order in which I had bought the books back in 2015 (and now I feel really guilty because I've had The Stolen Mackenzie since September 2015 and I still haven't read it.) So I know they're out of order, but this book is the last of the Victorian Mackenzies before Jennifer Ashley published a trilogy about the  Culloden Mackenzies from the 1740s. I'm going to leave my master list order the way it is.

Overall Response

So I recently purchased The Mackenzie Chronicles, which serves as an overview of the series. Each book has some information about the characters and plot, and also a note from Jennifer Ashley about writing the book. it turns out the title was decided upon before she wrote the story, so I'm glad I know that because I was gonna kind read her for not really doing a clan gathering. I'll set it aside because I get how publishing works and sometimes writing goes in a different direction.

This is relatively good. It's mostly Ian and Beth--and when I say that, it's Ian. Beth has kind of stopped being her own character which is kind of sad since I adored her in the The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Here, she's a supporting character whose primary and defining characteristic is being the center of Ian's world. That's fine, but now the character is just less interesting.

The story here is a dual one -- Ian is at Kilmorgan Castle when Hart's art collection is stolen, and Beth's brother-in-law (from her first marriage) arrives, wanting to help Ian with his madness. Both stories are good, even though I think the latter is probably better. The mystery is entertaining, but I felt like the ending was rushed.

The supporting cast is a little easier to take since the Mackenzies don't show up en masse until the very end of the book, and Daniel's appearance is at a minimum. I'm probably never going to recover from how much I did not like him in Wicked Deeds, which is a shame since he's all over this series. This is what happens when you read things with a critical eye. Lloyd is back and I'm happy to see him! I love him getting to deal with his half-brothers and approaching the mystery.

This is a solid book, but it's not spectacular, and the fact that Ian is really the only character makes it a little less fun for me since I come to romance novels for both sides of the romance. There's actually...no romance here. We're not even really revisiting characters--we're just spending more time with Ian. That's fine, but it's not what I'm here for.

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Rules for a Proper Governess (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

This one of those books in which the romance and characters are so good you almost don't notice how ridiculous the plot actually is. We first met Sinclair McBride, brother to Ainsley from The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, in The Perfect Gift. He's shown up once or twice since, having been established as a widower of two small children, Andrew and Caitriona.

Roberta "Bertie" Frasier is a Cockney pickpocket with a violent, criminal father and similarly suited beau. She's directed to rob Sinclair after he puts someone in jail that her father and beau like. Sinclair catches her but lets her go because of her effervescent charm. Hijinks ensure, Bertie ends up as governess to the kids, and there you go.

Bertie is a lot of fun, but she seems a bit...younger than she's supposed to be. She's established as twenty-six, and she's an East End girl, so I would have imagined that she'd be a bit more...I don't  know exactly. I think we're given hints that her mother was a bit more put together and lady-like, but her past is never developed enough for me. Sinclair is a good match for her, and you can actually feel him being charmed by Bertie's antics against his will.

The romance is nice, the characters are fine, and as always--there's not much plot here. Most of the novels in this series haven't had a central narrative--it's been more about how the characters handle the things that come their way, which is fine. But what plot there is more convoluted than normal and there are moments when you just...stare and think there's no way you just read what you just read.

Still, it's actually pretty good and probably the best book in the series since the original Mackenzie brothers quartet.

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Scandal And The Duchess (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

I remember not being wildly in love with this novella the first time I read it, and I remain underwhelmed during this reread. I think my main problem is that all of the material is here--the elements are present that should make this a good book. I genuinely like Rose and Steven. I think, for once, the supporting cast is well-used. The plot catches my interest and seems well suited to the novella length.

The problem here is that everything is on the surface--it's undeveloped. I want to know more about Rose and Steven and their backstory. Steven seems like he's got this super angsty reason for being in London and then you find out what happened, and you're like...what? Rose is supposed to be this scandal-plagued duchess, but the material surrounding her scandals seems really underwhelming.

I just found myself wanting to know more and not being satisfied with the way it ends.

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The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

As I grew closer in the series to reading Daniel's story, I was becoming more and more apprehensive because I was not connecting to Daniel in any of the places he had showed up in the series thus far, save for The Many Sins of Lord Cameron. He was just too glib, too smooth, too...perfect. It's clear that he's one of Jennifer Ashley's favorite characters -- either he or Ian show up in every single Mackenzie book even when there's very little purpose to his presence.

And my opinion really didn't change as I read this book. Daniel felt...superficial. Smooth. I think I was supposed to connect to his troubled upbringing and there was definitely some moments where I could see those hints, but there just wasn't anything there. Violet, however, is a lovely lovely character. I love every moment she's on the page, and the real reason I decided to root for Daniel and Violet was because Violet wanted Daniel, and that was good enough for me.

There's not much of a central narrative here. It's mostly Violet's journey to trusting Daniel and dealing with her past. Daniel is really incidental to it, which is good. Because if he'd been the main character, I don't think I would have liked this.

I really love the time period this is set and the focus on inventions, engineering, and cars is really different. Right now, this is the latest book in the series -- there are three more books set with this generation, but they both go back a few years.  The next three books are set a century earlier during the 1740s, I think. I haven't read the two that are published yet. I hope Jennifer Ashley returns to this generation and decade.

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The Untamed MacKenzie (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

I was happy to finally get to Louisa and Lloyd, since both of their characters have been part of the series since The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie and Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage. They shared a moment in the The Duke's Perfect Wife and The Perfect Gift, so we knew they would end up together. But how would Jennifer Ashley write the story of the illegitimate police inspector and scandalous daughter of the ton?

Naturally, they're brought together by the murder of a bishop who wanted to marry Louisa. She's the suspect, and Lloyd is trying to clear her name. Of course, the rest of the Mackenzies make their appearance, and in a lot ways, this novella puts to bed the story of the Mackenzie brothers as Lloyd is the last son of the duke to find peace.

I wrote in my review of The Perfect Gift that Ian is Jennifer Ashley's favorite Mackenzie to write about because he is in every single book, but Daniel is a close second. He plays a major supporting role here, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. We've seen Daniel since the first book as a teenager beyond his years, and here he's eighteen clearly going on forty. The next book is his, which I'm actually in the middle of reading now, and I just don't know if I like Daniel. I'm still sorting that out.

I do, however, like Lloyd a great deal, and I would have loved if he had his own full-book treatment. I wanted to get know him more--I wanted to see his romance with Louisa deepen. I wanted a better character development journey from the clearly insane inspector of the first book I like Louisa just fine, and I think she's a great foil for Lloyd. I'm just not sold on their romance by the end the way I should be.

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The Seduction Of Elliot McBride (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall

I liked this book when I first read it, and I liked it again on what I think it is probably my third time through. I did, however, get slightly annoyed at the trajectory of the romance in a way I hadn't before. I'm not as big a fan as I used to be of the idea of that a damaged man just needs the love of a good woman to heal him, and that's a lot of what this book seemed. I'm sure Elliott loved Juliana, but there were times it bordered on uncomfortable obsession for me, particularly when he makes it clear that thoughts of her helped him retain some sanity while he was in captivity. That's way too much pressure on Juliana.

I'm glad Jennifer Ashley had a character address the idea that it wasn't Juliana's job to fix him, but it came a little too late for me. Juliana and Elliott just seem so different to me -- she clearly looks forward to the role she's been prepared for -- society and spending the season in Edinburgh -- while Elliott always seems to be going along with it for her sake. It's lovely at first, but I can't help the niggling feeling that it's a fight they're waiting to have five years down the line.

I also kind of felt, in a way I don't normally, that this book was more based on lust than emotion. I hadn't felt that way in the Mackenzie part of the series, even though sexual attraction is a major proponent of all of her stories. Elliott was constantly seducing Juliana all over the book--even when she would try to talk to him.

I don't know. I liked this book, I liked the characters. I think it had an interesting plot and Elliott's psychological issues were well done, but this and a few other quibbles I'll get into under spoilers kept me from loving it.

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A Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

I always like revisiting characters, when authors write novellas that bring us back to a family of characters, I'm basically throwing my money back at them. Jennifer Ashley has written two novellas taking us back into the Mackenzie family and I like them both just fine. This is the first, which begins about eight months after The Duke's Perfect Wife ended. Chronologically, it's also set after The Seduction of Elliott McBride because Elliott and Juliana are mentioned briefly but this book was published first.

Each couple has his own little mini plot, though some are better than others. Ian and Beth's, is always, the best. Beth has broken one of Ian's Ming Bowls and the whole family is on tenterhooks because it has been a disaster for Ian in the past. Hart and Eleanor's is probably the next best, as they await the birth of Alec, the little boy we were introduced to in the epilogue of Perfect Wife. Ainsley and Cameron have a sweet story about their daughter, which gives Daniel something to do. Mac and Isabella have almost nothing to do except Mac is creating a gift for Isabella. I was disappointed to see that they didn't have their own strong storyline.

It's clear that Ian is Jennifer Ashley's favorite brother to follow, because his is the only story that interweaves throughout the entire book. There are some minor subplots--Mac's valet Bellamy almost looks as though he's getting a story, but it's only two quick scenes. David Fleming gets a lot of POV scenes for some reason that's never entirely clear. I wonder if Jennifer Ashley intends to give him his own book or was playing around with the idea here. Lloyd Fellows also shows up and has a minor subplot.

This is a sweet revisit of characters we fell in love with during the first four books, but it's a bit scattered and all of the characters and plots are not evenly given time to breath. I could have done with fifty more pages, I think.

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The Duke’s Perfect Wife (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

The first time I read these books, I was nervous about Hart's story. He's a bit like Wulfric Bedwyn from Mary Balogh's Slightly series except Wulfric was more sympathetic and my real issue was whether or not Balogh could write a heroine worthy of him. Hart is just much harder character and though he loosened up in Lady Isabella and Many Sins, it was hard for me to get past the story in Madness when his mistress nearly killed Beth.

I knew that Eleanor could stand up to him -- we met her briefly in Many Sins in which she counseled Ainsley and ran into Hart in Ediburgh. Her jilting of Hart has been referred to in every book. I just wasn't confident that I was ever going to warm up enough to him to want a happy ending for him.

While there are some minor quibbles in the romance and characters, I have to say that this story definitely managed to make me want a happy ending for Hart. His maddening need for control was very well written and his growing dissatisfaction even as he grows closer to his goal was very well done, and I thought Eleanor did a good job of holding her own, even if I wasn't entirely sold on a few pieces.

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The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

For some reason, when I've read this book over the years, I've always skipped the first half of the book when Cam and Ainsley are in Scotland. I think I used to feel like the narrative dragged until that point, but rereading it this time--I can't imagine why I ever thought that way. So much happens in those first 150 pages or so.

Cameron has been one of my favorite characters since we first met him in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. There were hints that his background was particularly tragic, and as hard and tough as he seemed, his love for his son was evident. Cam and Daniel usually stole every scene in Madness and Lady Isabella's Scandalous Marriage. Ainsley had popped up, I think, first in the second book. She may have been mentioned in the first book, but  I don't remember her. There's not much to her in that appearance, but that fits into who she is as a character: someone who has made a decision to blend in and be useful to others.

This book is darker than I think either of the first two books. Though Ian and Mac had their own issues (and Ian's time in the asylum and childhood is horrific), Cam's story is very dark and when Ainsley pushes him to make changes and come out of his shell, I almost want her to just stop bringing it up. To stop making her remember. It's beautifully done but emotionally draining.

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Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage (Jennifer Ashley)

Overall Response

I liked Mac and Isabella so much in The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie that I remember pre-ordering this book, staying up until it downloaded onto my Nook at like 12:15 AM and then reading the whole thing in a few hours. One of my absolute favorite tropes in romance is a story in which the characters marry either at the beginning or shortly after the book begins. One of the tropes I actually like less is marriages in which there have been separations and now they're reuniting. This is generally because when a married couple separates, particularly in this time period, it's usually through the bad behavior of one of them. I actually hate unfaithful couples -- it's so hard for me to look past it. I know, it's prudish of me, but I know what I like.

That was not the issue here, thankfully. Mac and Isabella separated three years prior to the beginning of this story because Mac was too much--he drank too much, he partied too much, and he just wasn't really emotionally healthfully enough to be in a marriage, and I think Isabella was just too young to really know how to do anything about it until it reached the breaking point.

I loved watching them find their way back to one another and deal with life throughout the book. There is a decent amount of plot in this book with a wide supporting cast, but it never feels like overkill. It just feels like Isabella and Mac are getting to know each other again, realizing who they are underneath it all. I loved this book so much -- almost more than the first book though that's pretty difficult to say.

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