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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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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