The Duke I Once Knew (Olivia Drake)

Overall

This is one of the books that you like while you're reading it, but that you can't entirely remember all that much a week or so later. In fact, I was trying to remember the lead characters' names and I simply couldn't. It's been like two weeks since I read this and I had to flip through it to remember the details.

I mean, I liked this book. I always like these stories where the leads fell in love as teenagers and are separated by circumstances to find each other as adults. This is probably my second favorite trope after marriage of convenience. I liked Max and Abby and most of the supporting characters -- I definitely hope this isn't the last we've seen of Max's sister and Abby's cousin.

I'm not entirely sure why this book isn't going to stay with me. I guess maybe I'm just tired of daddy issues being the only thing that drives male protagonists. Max is a horrible rake who doesn't ever come home to see his sister because of his father? Eh. It's just over done.

I'll probably reread this book, but only because I like rereading books that I don't remember that well. They always feel new again ūüėõ

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Bella and the Beast (Olivia Drake)

Overall

Of all the books in this series, this is the one that closely aligns to a specific fairy tale and features references from the Disney 1992 movie, down to being forbidden to go into the west wing. That 1992 movie is one of my favorite movies of all time so I was already predisposed to like this story.

The characters and the romance make up for a little bit of a lukewarm plot. I love the heroine--Bella is incredibly self-sufficient and her own person. I liked Miles a lot -- there are few things I did not love him about him, but they're more about the plot. I liked the way they worked together, I liked watching them get to know one another.  They just worked.

I think my main problem with the plot of the story is that there are a few extraneous characters who don't serve a purpose and the murder of Miles' father happened more than two decades before the book opens, so it feels a little dusty as a motivation. When you find out who the villain is, it's hard to believe it could have stayed hidden for so long.

But all the pieces line up and I like the romance so much that this is one of my personal favorites to reread.

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Abducted by the Prince (Olivia Drake)

Overall

Objectively, this is not a stellar book. It's fine and everything works for the most part, but there's nothing here that should blow me away or that's special. Yet, for some reason, I love rereading the second half of this book from time to time. I don't know. I can't explain it.

Ellie is a spinster poor relation who has spent her whole life tending to her younger cousins because of her gambling father. Damien is an illegitimate gambling club owner who has a childhood connection to Ellie's cousin, Walter, who stole something that relates to Damien's murky past. To get it back, Damien decides to kidnap Beatrice, Walter's cousin, but ends up with Ellie. They don't know that until they're up in an isolated Scottish island.

There are a lot of readers, particularly these days, that would be turned off by the kidnapping trope. It's not really a deal breaker for me--it usually depends on the context and the way it's written. It's not great, but it's not as bad as others I've read.

The romance is actually pretty good -- I buy the slow build and the reasons these two come together, their bumps in the road. I like both the characters, but I think the overall plot is pretty weak and the supporting characters are cardboard and one-dimensional.

I think it's a good book that's worth reading once, maybe twice. With a tighter plot and better supporting cast, it would have been much better.

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Stroke of Midnight (Olivia Drake)

Overall

There's something about this book that I just don't connect with. All of the elements should be there, but something is missing -- I think it's in the characters and the romance after a certain point. This is one of the books that does the setup just right but misses the dismount.

Laura Faulkner returns after ten years abroad--she and her father were once the toast of the ton but forced to flee when he was accused of stealing one of the most valuable diamonds from a leading hostess. Until then, Laura had been courted by Alex, the Earl of Copley. It was Alex that found a set of earrings and publicly accused her father. Laura cut his cheek, scarring him, as she and her father left. She returns after her father is killed in London, and wants to clear his name. Through Lady Milford, Laura becomes the companion to Alex's aunt and that's how they run into each other.

I think maybe I wanted more from Alex and from the romance after the middle of the book. Alex is supposed to have a tragic backstory, but I never quite felt that. I like this book, but it just left me meh and I usually skip over it when I reread the series.

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If the Slipper Fits (Olivia Drake)

Overall

I really like this book, and it serves as a really good introduction to the series (which lasts another five books).  I think it was my first Olivia Drake book and I've been relatively happy with her all along.

There's a bit of a fairy tale element with this series and with this book specifically. Annabelle is an illegitimate orphan left to rot in a boarding school where she now teaches.  She's given a position as a governess to an orphaned duke by a slightly mysterious benefactor, Lady Milford, who also gives her a pair of elegant shoes. It's the shoes and Lady Milford that ties all six books together rather than the characters. She's sent to Cornwall where the duke, Nicholas, is living with his guardian, his uncle Simon. It's very much a Cinderella story.

I really like Annabelle and Simon for the first 80% of the book. Simon is a bit of a bitter soul--Nicholas's mother was a woman Simon had courted but married George, the duke. He didn't speak to his brother again before George and his wife died. He went into the army, had plans for his life--but now he's guardian to a little boy that he resents.

And Simon is unlikeable for the first third of the book. He really resents his nephew. I applaud Olivia Drake for actually writing a guardian who doesn't like his ward rather than paying lip service.  It gives Annabelle something to do when she shows up.

My main problem is that Simon's POV disappears in the last part of the book, leading up to the climax. He does an about face that we don't get to see, only experience when Annabelle does. I expect my main leads to do equal heavy lifting in my romance novels, and Simon's epiphany happens off screen. There are a couple of things that happen this way towards the end. The background plot with attempted killing and whatnot -- it happens in a bit of a hurry, and I think that's why it feels rushed at the end.

It's an overall satisfying read, but if Simon had just showed up at the end of the book, it could have been one of my top favorites.

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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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