Monday, June 01, 2015

The Sweetest Kisses Series by Grace Burrowes

Okay, so I know my taste in books is probably pretty darn eclectic. But I do sometimes enjoy a good romance novel because in the end I really love to read love stories. I can be specific in my tastes about them (I like happy endings, hence the romance novels. I can't stand love triangles, I don't like stories that have any kind of cheating, etc).

I discovered Grace Burrowes kind of accidentally when I found a freebie deal on a book of hers in her Wyndam series of regency romances. I enjoyed the series enough that I've got an alert set up on BookBub for any deals on her books, and that's how I ended up picking up A Kiss for Luck, a novella that starts off her "Sweetest Kisses" series of contemporary romances. As of this writing, it's still free to download.

In the end, I didn't actually like A Kiss For Luck all that much. It was okay, I guess, but as a novella it just moved too fast. See, in filmmaking one thing that bothers me is when filmmakers don't understand that a short film is it's own art form, it's not the same structure, style, and storytelling technique as a feature but crammed into a shorter run time. It's different. Novellas are the same way, and short stories. You shouldn't go through the exact same structure but faster just because your page count is shorter.

A Kiss For Luck does that. It goes through every familiar story beat that romance novels always go through, but at such a pace that I felt like none of it really gelled and became genuine. I did feel like the characters cared for each other, but the typical romance novel "no, we can't really be falling for each other" stuff didn't work because it didn't have time to be set up or steep before it was gone again. Plus I think all the action took place over like a few days, or at least it felt that way. The characters aren't bad, neither is the setting, but I think it's actually NOT the right way to intro a new reader to the Sweetest Kisses series, because it didn't actually make me want to read more.

What made me want to read more was that the novella ends with the first chapter of A Single Kiss, the first book in the series. And the first chapter of A Single Kiss is very good. It completely pulled me in, and I bought the e-book right then. The actual novels are the love stories of three brothers, all of which are lawyers, who run a law firm together and have different specialties. They all appear in A Kiss For Luck, but oddly none of the characters from A Kiss For Luck are ever mentioned in any of the trilogy itself, which makes it feel even more disconnected and unnecessary.

A Single Kiss is about Trent Knightly, who practices family law, and Hannah Stark, who has recently passed the bar exam and is looking to go into corporate law. She gets hired into family law, which is the last place she wants to be, but she takes the job because she has to provide for her daughter. Trent, incidentally, is also a single parent, having dealt with a particularly nasty divorce years before the story starts.

There's just something about Hannah and Trent, and their daughters, that just kept me reading long after I should have stopped and gone to bed. The story was a bit convenient and full of coincidences at times, but what romance novel isn't? The characters were really just fantastic, I cared about them, I wanted them to get what they wanted most. So I didn't care that everything was wrapped up so neatly in the end.

The second book, The First Kiss, deals with the youngest Knightly brother, James, and the once widowed-once divorced Vera Waltham. Vera also happens to have a young daughter, who happens to know Trent and Hannah's two girls. I actually don't mind this, it just is part of why these books start to get a little old a little quickly, because they went beyond being a bit formulaic and straight into feeling a bit like rehashes of each other. I don't know how to describe it, on paper the books seem completely different, but there's so many trappings in common that I just don't know.

The other problem I had with this particular book is that the "why we can't be together" stuff was just...tired. The whole thing with James having his little black book but being tired of sleeping with any woman that asked him just came across a bit overdone. Of course, his past romances have to be forgiven because he was emotionally wounded or something, and her past marriages are basically explained away into almost not existing. It was just felt like the old the rake and the virgin thing that I'm not into, despite how popular it is with romance readers. At the least, the threats to Vera and her daughter felt real and the parts where they were dealing with that were much more interesting than James' inner angst, so I did still at least enjoy reading it.

The big problem came with Kiss Me Hello, the last book in the series, which is about MacKenzie Knightly, the oldest and most serious brother, and Sidonie Lindstrom, a foster mom to a sometimes troublesome, sometimes troubled, teenager.

There was a lot about this book I liked. I liked Mac's character for the most part, I loved the focus on horses and how therapeutic riding can make a difference in a kid's life. I liked Sid for the most part, and I thought her backstory was particularly interesting.

But the entire plot of the book hinged on Mac being a complete and total idiot. Not even slightly idiotic, not making one small mistake and forgetting about it. No, he intentionally and willfully spends the entire book not telling Sid he's a lawyer, that his brothers are lawyers, and that they all own a law firm, because she keeps saying "I hate lawyers." Sure, she has reason to be mad at lawyers, most people do. But there are something like fifteen points where it would have been easy for any one of them to have said "I know you've had a bad experience, but I actually have knowledge, expertise, and the ability to help you solve this problem you have because I am a lawyer." Instead they find ways to try to fix things WHILE keeping everything under wraps. It just gets more annoying every step of the way. Sid's stance on lawyers is partially from an honest place, and partially just childish, and a good conversation could have solved it on page 20, considering everything else about her character. It wasn't the right plot device and it felt off the entire time.

The other problem that really rears it's ugly head in this book is one that's common to all of Burrowes' writing, that she's more than a little bit fond of the "Babies Ever After" ending. And I won't spoil the book, but the ending was so unrealistic that it actually made me mad. I thought for a second it was going to be a book about people making a non-traditional family and exploring the fact that family is made of more than genetics. And it tried, but it punted at the last second anyway, though it still scored a point or two I guess.

There's another novella, Kiss and Tell, which focuses on a completely different set of characters, but between my lukewarm feelings about the first novella, my bitterness at the ending of the third book, and the kind of weird cover, I haven't bothered to pick it up.

Overall, I would say I absolutely recommend A Single Kiss, and if you just need to know what happens for the other two Knightly brothers, then the other two books aren't awful, but if they start to annoy you then it's safe to put them away.