Claire Kingsley’s Bailey Brothers Series, Part I

Back in April I took advantage of my free Kindle Unlimited trial membership to speed through Claire Kingsley’s Bailey Brothers series, which follows the romantic relationships of five brothers in a small (Oregon? Washington? I already forgot) town. The books were recommended here by commenters DiscoDollyDeb and commenter/former reviewer Rose (I may have forgotten someone else, and I apologize if so). These contemporary romances are nothing spectacular IMO, but they are addictively breezy and I surprised myself by speeding through the whole series. This is the first part of a review of all six books. -Janine

Protecting You

This is a novella that is basically a long prologue to the first full-length novel in this series, Fighting for Us. Grace and Asher are literally the boy and girl next door. We see them play together as kids, become more distant when Grace goes off to college (Asher is afraid to pursue a relationship because Grace is so close to the family), then reunite. There is also some setup about the town they live in; it’s established that the Baileys are feuding with the Havens, another family, and have been for roughly a century.

Late in the story something horrible happens to Grace and Asher steps in to protect her, earning himself a prison sentence (I don’t consider this a spoiler because anyone who has read the blurb for Fighting for Us will know this).

If I hadn’t known this novella was going somewhere dramatic, then I might not have stuck with it because it felt slow and bloated for such a short work. About 20% of the words could have been trimmed and it would have been a stronger book. Asher is one of five brothers who are so obviously sequel setup that it feels a little trite, but I did like the loving dynamics between them, and between their grandmother and them as well.

Gram, the boys’ gentle but firm grandmother is (and this applies to all the Bailey books) your basic Magical Negro stereotype except that she is a Native American/indigenous version. I didn’t warm to Asher much (the MMA fighting was a turnoff to me, especially since he seemed to have aggression he needed to get out) but I did like Grace a lot.

The ending, being full of actual plot, was the best part. But then oy! The epilogue was awful. I don’t think I’ve ever read more blatant prequel and sequel baiting in my life. Nothing happened except for Grace’s numerous relatives showing up with spouses and cute babies to look at a house she bought and then Asher’s brothers showing up and meeting them. That was literally it.

Since I hadn’t read any of the Miles family books before reading Protecting You, I was not the least bit interested in any of them and frankly resentful that the author was taking up my time with them in such a deceptive way (calling it an epilogue when it was actually an advertisement). By the end I felt like she should be paying me for reading that epilogue and not the other way around. By itself it knocked my grade down from a C/C+ to a C.

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Fighting for Us

This book is about Asher and Grace’s reunion after he has served out a seven-year prison sentence. Asher has avoided contact with Grace and his brothers during his sentence and when he is released early thanks to a new governor’s unexpected pardon, he’s blindsided. Everyone is happy to see him but he doesn’t know how to behave around them, and especially around Grace, whom he’s sure has moved on. But she hasn’t. She’s determined to resume their engagement and he’s determined that he’s bad for her. Cue passionate if repetitive arguments.

I’ve heard a few people say this is their favorite Kingsley and I can kind of see that because it’s the one that goes the deepest, but I feel the execution is uneven. The beginning is very strong; The characters are equally determined to wear the other down and each is acting out of love. But by the second half I got tired of the rehashed conflict.

I liked that Kingsley wrote a more realistic take on the ex-con hero than you see in most ex-con romances, with some thought given to the aftereffects of a seven-year prison sentence, but I felt that Asher’s decision not to talk to Most of his family while he was in prison was an obvious contrivance to create his and Grace’s stark and complete separation and not something that anyone in his position would have done for seven years. I also didn’t buy that a new governor would come in and pardon Asher’s crime (in a state where there was no time off for good behavior) without being lobbied by his lawyer or anyone else, no matter how understanding he might be.

I still wasn’t a fan of Asher here but I had more sympathy for him because he’d suffered so much. I liked Grace even more than before; her commitment to Asher was unshakable and that was both romantic and heroic. Her quirky best friend Cara was a blast.

I had some problems with the writing. Once again, bloat, though a bit less–only 10-15% needed to go. There were also so many short sentences that they created a metronome sound effect and that can make me zone out sometimes. Gram got even more stereotypical here. She’s a lovely person but that doesn’t change that fact.

A silly running joke subplot about the shady squirrels in this town was introduced and that didn’t fit with the very serious tone of this story either.

Another thing that bugged me was how Asher kept saying that he had no regrets for killing the Grace’s assailant even though it cost him several years in prison. I would be 100% okay with no regrets for saving her, but it seemed to me that he could regret a little that he didn’t control himself a bit better and had only subdued the man. Even if the attacker deserves to die, surely, he has relatives? Parents, possibly siblings, possibly even children. They can’t all be the scum of the earth, so do they all deserve to suffer this loss? Asher’s insistence that he would do it all over again made him seem like an asshole.

Spoiler: Show

I thought the sex scenes were excessively silly, with Asher and Grace referring to their sex organs with third person male and female pronouns and some other really absurd dialogue. The dynamic of the sex could have been sexy in another book, if they were friends with benefits, or (as in Logan and Cara’s book) enemies sexing it up. But it just didn’t fit with a couple who grew up together and were torn apart tragically reuniting seven years later. I wanted more tenderness and emotion.

Grace’s baby focus really bothered me. Her guy just got out of prison where he was locked up for seven years and had to constantly fight for his life. Why the push to have a baby so soon? Give him and yourself another year to get used to being together again before committing to something so important and energy-consuming. Time to heal, get therapy, and have the other person all to yourself.

The job Asher ended up getting at the end of the book was one no ex-con in the United States would be likely to get, since it involves working with kids. Even volunteer positions for working with kids require background checks these days, and here most of the town was aware of his history.

Still, as I said before, I really liked Grace. The dynamic of the Baileys was once again warm and appealing. The guys were so clearly young guys, I could feel the testosterone in the house. And Gram, however stereotypical, was respected as a figure of authority, and her gentleness made that just lovely.

There was another ridiculous “epiliogue” here. This, and the epoilogues in all but the last book, are literally the prologues for the following book. This “epilogue” had nothing to do with the Asher or Grace and was focused on Evan, the next Bailey brother! That’s not the way I want a romance to end. I want to bask in the glow of the HEA and close the book smiling.

travelling, Fighting for Us had some nice complexity and it felt unusual relative to most contemporary romances I read, so despite all my issues, I’m giving it a C+.

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Unraveling Him

This was one of the better books in the series IMO and also the funniest. When I went into it, Evan was my least favorite of the brothers. I’m not always a fan of grumpy/sunshine and based on the blurb I thought it sounded like the least promising book in the series, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed seeing Fiona, the heroine, disarm Evan.

Evan and Fiona meet when she and father show up (from a her town) at Evan’s body shop because her father him to work on a car. Evan knows Fiona’s father participated in a scam, and he calls him on it. Fiona gets angry at her dad and tells him so after they leave. She thought he had cleaned up his act but it’s now apparent he hasn’t.

Later on, Fiona overhears her father having sex sleep with her roommate/co-worker (both she and Fiona work for him). It is clearly a long-standing affair they kept from her. Fiona leaves town. She lands on Evan’s doorstep with a business proposition for him; she can help him get a rare car that he can restore to compete for a spot in a car museum.

Grumpy Evan has been desperate to find something like that. When he and Fiona go on a long trip to acquire the car (she insists he bring her because the car’s owner loves her and she is persuasive) he is thrown into close quarters with her. He hates all women after a single one did him a bad turn so the more (unintentionally) charming she is, the grumpier he gets, aware that Fiona is sneaking under his armor and there’s nothing he can do to prevent it.

Spoiler: Show

Eventually he lets her stay overnight at his guest room (she has no money or anywhere else to go) and then he gives her a job.

Evan and Fiona’s dynamic was really cute and he turned into such a marshmallow around her that I quickly forgave him for giving up on most of humanity, especially women, simply because an old girlfriend cheated on him. Normally I would be ticked off but here it helped that his attitude was poked fun at rather than presented as rational.

I also liked Evan’s scary (except to Fiona) dog Sasquatch and I loved how Fiona went about making it possible for Evan to acquire one of the parts to restore the car. These two really felt like they belonged together. Fiona’s quirky conversations with her plants and Evan’s befuddlement over them were funny and sweet.

The shady squirrel theme was much more suitable to this humorous book than to the earlier serious ones and I actually really enjoyed it here, too (more hilarity).

Gram was still a Magical Negro, though, figuring out in advance that Fiona was Evan’s soulmate and naming her after an insect to add to the mysticism.

Unfortunately in the last third this book devolved into a mediocre romantic suspense and I really struggled to keep reading past this point. Only my affection for the characters made me keep reading on. With this book, too, I felt that some words could have been shaved, maybe 5%-10%.

The epilogue was even worse than most in this series since it was not only the prologue for book four and not focused on Evan and Fiona at all, but also focused entirely on Skye, a character who doesn’t appear until the next book. How anyone could call this an epilogue without feeling ashamed of themselves for making such a bald-faced misrepresentation is hard for me to fathom. B-.

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Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven novels in romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Examples include novels by Ilona Andrews, Mary Balogh, Aster Glenn Gray, Helen Hoang, Piper Huguley, Lisa Kleypas, Jeannie Lin, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Naomi Novik, Nalini Singh, and Megan Whalen Turner. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

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