What Janine is Reading: Claire Kingsley’s Bailey Brothers Series, Part II

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Back in June I blogged about my read-through of Claire Kingsley’s Bailey Brothers series. Part I, which I posted then, covered the first three books. Now for my thoughts on the books four through six.
 

Rushing In

Gavin and Skye meet cute (or maybe awful) when she runs him over. Gavin is a fireman and her dad is his boss, the fire department chief, as well as a family friend, so despite the car accident and his leg being in a cast, he offers to show her around town. Skye, newly arrived in town, has anxiety and is an author fresh out of a relationship with her agent/boyfriend, who cheated on her with another client and then kicked her out of their house. She has also been blocked and has not sold a manuscript in a long time. Gavin’s presence somehow helps her with the writing.

Gavin was my favorite of the brothers and I thought I would love his book most, so naturally, it ended up being the most disappointing book of the series. I expected it to be hilarious, because up until this book Gavin usually was, and I also expected some great daredevil action—Gavin was the youngest Bailey, only twenty-three or twenty-four, and a reckless daredevil in the earlier books. The first chapter (after the prologue about Skye, the heroine—the same exact one that had posed as an epilogue in Unraveling Him, grr), set before the injury sidelined Gavin, did have terrific daredevil action but unfortunately that pretty much ended there. Even more unfortunately, Skye got on my nerves.

Skye was a boring, colorless character and I couldn’t understand what Gavin saw in her. The storyline about her career was focused on praising self-publishing over traditional publishing and I started feeling that the author was making that plotline a mouthpiece for her agenda. When I’m reading a book, I don’t want to be thinking about the author at all.

Skye’s anxiety issues were not portrayed in any meaningful or compelling way; they seemed to be there just to make Gavin look all the sweeter for helping her be brave. I already thought well of Gavin so this was completely needless.

It also seemed to me that Skye’s thoughts about what to make her next book about lacked imagination. All her ideas for suspense novels were as cliched as they come. This had the unfortunate effect of making Skye seem none too skilled, and like maybe she couldn’t get that book contract for a reason. And given how charming and charismatic Gavin was, I felt he deserved a lot better. The most frustrating thing about this book was the wasted opportunity that Gavin presented. He was such a great character and his book could and should have been wonderful.

Spoiler: Show

There was one exception to his wonderfulness: Late in the book, Gavin pissed me off when he announced to Skye that they would have kids together. I know she was overjoyed that he loved her but really? Doesn’t this warrant a discussion and making a decision together, rather than just happily announcing it would happen? Doesn’t Skye get a say? Yes, she wanted kids, but he didn’t bother to ask her that question.

Like the earlier books in the series, Rushing In could have been improved by trimming out 5-10% of the words. Gram, Gavin and his brothers’ grandmother, was still a lovely person and also still a stereotype.

Also like the others, this one had a bad epilogue. Not the worst of the lot by any means but still pretty terrible since it opens in the middle of a detailed sex scene. We don’t even know who Gavin’s brother Logan is fucking (forgive my language, but it wasn’t making love) at the beginning of the scene, though readers of the series will have a strong suspicion. Logan is drunk on top of it all and starting without any setup whatsoever to lead into the sex was a turnoff to me. I need at least a little context to be engaged by a sex scene.

I did really like the last quarter or so of the book, when Gavin started realizing his feelings for Skye and sorting them out. His confusion was lovable and I couldn’t help feeling that he was such a great character that even a half-decent heroine would have been enough for this book to earn at least a B. Unfortunately Skye was not that heroine so I’m only giving this one a C.

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Chasing Her Fire

Chasing Her Fire is the only one of the six books that I don’t have detailed notes on, so if I get a detail or two wrong, please correct me!

This is Logan and Cara’s story. Readers of the series may anticipate it because of the characters’ snappy chemistry in earlier books. I did. I loved Cara going into this book—she was funny and quirky in a cynical way, a really original character—so I was looking forward to this one.

Weirdly, I came out of it liking Cara less than I had before, but even that didn’t mar it for me much. This was neither the most romantic of the books nor the funniest, but I thought it was the strongest of them.

As mentioned above, Cara and Logan’s book begins when they have a one-night stand. At first they both try to forget about it. They archenemies, after all, and have been sniping at each other for years. How could they have fallen into bed together, even if they were dead drunk?

For a while both say nothing on the topic. Logan tells himself he doesn’t remember who his partner was, when he very well does. Then Cara starts to wonder if she could be pregnant. Eventually she tells Grace and, once they determine that she really is pregnant, Logan.

There aren’t very many wild child heroines in romance, and for that reason, it’s important to me that when they settle down, it is an organic transformation that comes from within and from a place of choice. This is not entirely what happens here; instead of growing up on her own through a set of realizations about what she wants and what she’s been hiding from, Cara’s growth is forced on her by circumstances. It made me conscious of the author’s hand and also made me feel that Cara was being tamed—a trope I actively dislike.

Nevertheless, I thought there was a lot of good stuff here. Cara’s backstory was interesting and complicated, and I really liked how Logan immediately took on the responsibilities that were his. Perhaps that is the minimum that should be expected—we’re talking about his child, after all—but he was not the most mature person and he didn’t like Cara (he nicknamed her “evil Ariel” in his texting app), so his immediate acceptance of the situation and his willingness to step up and be there in whatever ways he could was satisfying.

There was a subplot about Cara’s absent father that I really liked, and the backstory for the tension in Logan and Cara’s interactions, when it was finally revealed, was a fresh payoff that rewarded me for following this couple through the earlier books.

I could wish there was a little less focus on pregnancy, childbirth and preparations for parenthood in this book. With a plot like this that needs to happen, but at the same time it’s a topic I find unromantic as can be. Babies are cute little cock-blocking mood killers for me.

There was chemistry in Logan and Cara’s relationship but the sex scenes were a little over the top. For me the books in this series don’t show a deft hand with sex scenes. A piece of that problem in this book was that Logan is a man child in many ways. He wears mismatched socks and sits around the house in his underwear. This is not at all unbelievable but it’s also not the stuff of a romantic figure. His immaturity came through in the sex to an extent, I felt; some of the dialogue was borderline humiliating, and in the context of Cara’s pregnancy-related vulnerability, it wasn’t sexy to me.

Gram’s Magical Indian woo-woo powers of mystical perception reach their peak (or should I say their nadir?) here. Yes, I am going to keep flogging this horse. She is a lovely human being but at the same time her characterization is stereotyping, othering and exploitive. And haven’t indigenous Americans been exploited enough already? Many of us are living here on what should rightfully be their land.

Pacing-wise, I have to give it to this book. It’s the only one of the six books in the series that feels well-paced. It doesn’t lag at any point, and it also doesn’t feel rushed at any point. I had more fun reading Evan and Fiona’s book, but this one was better crafted. B.

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Rewriting the Stars

Book five in the series, Rewriting the Stars, was middling. This one is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet. There’s a long running feud between the Baileys and another family in town, the Havens. Usually the feud only amounts to pranks but lately there have been some incidents that were dangerous to the characters’ lives and that most of the Baileys and Havens assume to be feud motivated.

(Throughout the series, a feud in this day and age felt contrived to me, but the pranks were fun and occasionally hilarious so I willingly suspended some of my disbelief.)

Levi Bailey and Annika Haven started texting in high school despite the feud, and a year or two before the book begins, Annika returned home with a young child after her marriage ended. Annika and Levi had stopped texting for a while but resumed their communications when she returned. They have the hots for each other and when they bump into each other a couple of times, their desire intensifies. They start sneaking around kissing and then having sex. When the families find out, there’s fallout.

The Romeo and Juliet allusions in this book were heavy handed, with Annika filing Levi’s texts under Romeo and Levi naming her Juliet in his own texting app, though neither knows the other is doing that. The beginning of the book was very romantic and hewed pretty to closely to the play, considering that this is a contemporary romance and the characters are adults, not teenagers (though you wouldn’t always know it from the way they behave, with all that sneaking around at night). There was a balcony scene and a masquerade. I liked what happened between them at the masquerade, but the other allusions were a bit silly so I was glad when they gave way to the rest of the story.

However, the middle of the book was almost its weakest section (topped only by the squirrel stuff). This book is another case where the pacing felt off, but here it was rushed instead of sluggish. The part where Annika and Levi fell in love was mostly skipped over; it happened in high school and we were only told about it briefly. So when they start risking everything to meet up and have sex, it feels like hormones are ruling the day, like Annika and Levi are in it for the hot sex and not because of deeper emotions.

(It’s a shame the falling in love was wrapped up quickly, because I feel that more development of and flashbacks to the high school portion of their relationship could have made their interactions feel more meaningful and given the sex scenes greater depth.)

The way their relationship is revealed is pretty ridiculous.

Spoiler: Show

One night Annika leaves sexy professional photos that she and Levi posed for on a getaway weekend lying around the living room in her parents’ house, where she and her son live, and one of her brothers stumbles on them (ugg). Who does that in their parents’ house, much less when their families hate each other?

Despite this, I liked Annika. Levi too. There were a couple of lovely scenes involving Annika’s toddler son. An early one where he got lost in a hardware store and Levi found him and handed him to Annika in front of her dad was really sweet.

A running gag about Annika’s little boy saying “big cock” instead of “big truck” (in reference to the fire engine) was broader humor than I prefer. I also wanted to see more of Logan and Levi’s closeness, since their twinship connection was mentioned.

Spoiler: Show

The second half of the book had a suspense plot that was much better than the one in Evan’s book and held my interest partly because it was an outgrowth of the earlier books. I liked this part of the book pretty well, even though the villain went to lengths that were so extreme that they read as contrived.

A treasure hunt that runs through the whole series is, of course (since this is the last book), resolved here. The way the treasure was discovered was absurd but it was still nice to see it resolved. I liked the way the book ended overall. The peacemaking among the feuding families happened in an enjoyable and satisfying way.

Gram is still a Magical Negro Indian and I still like her as a person outside of that. Her gentleness is lovely, but why oh why does she have to be a stereotype?

Though the rushed and silly parts of this book made it feel a little half-assed, it was enjoyable enough to rate a C+/B-.

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