Kiss Me Hello is third in Grace Burrowes’ Sweetest Kisses contemporary romance series. Miss Bates isn’t sure how, or why she missed the second, The First Kiss, but she enjoyed the first, A Single Kiss, and you may read about why here. Miss Bates is certain the second was pretty much like the first, and the third is much like the first two. Because Burrowes has her signature and Kiss Me Hello runs true to form: characters are painted in black and white, men are gentle, if brusque, care-givers, and women are nurturing, tough cookies, but a bit of a mess. If her formula works for you, then her books will deliver consistently. Like most romance readers, however, while the genre remains the reading material of choice, the formulas can delight, or grate. Miss Bates has written about how Burrowes can grate here. She would still maintain, after reading Kiss Me Hello, she prefers contemporary to historical Burrowes. The Sweetest Kisses series is built around three brothers who run a successful law firm in small-town Virginia. Kiss Me Hello is the story of the eldest Knightley (and the name is telling, yes) brother, Mackenzie, and newly-arrived-in-Damson-County foster mom, Sidonie Linstrom. What Sidonie doesn’t know is that she inherited the Knightley brothers ancestral home … as well as their two massive childhood horses, Daisy and Buttercup, bringing defence lawyer Mackenzie, in his farrier incarnation, to her door.
Sidonie and Mackenzie are well-drawn, typical Burrowes characters. Sidonie is grieving her deceased brother, Tony, whose company she used to run. She’s in Damson County with her sixteen-year-old foster child, Luis. She wants to adopt him, but Luis is protective of her, fears he’ll fail her, or she’ll lose out by being his mother. Mackenzie, as the oldest Knightley brother, did a lot of parenting. His brothers, Trent and James, urge him to find a woman, get some pleasure out of life, but still, nearing forty, Mackenzie has closed himself off. There isn’t a meaty plot to Burrowes’ novels and Kiss Me Hello runs to type. Mackenzie and Sidonie do the courtship dance. Mackenzie, like all Burrowes’ heroes, is a gent: he helps out Sidonie with the horses, supplies, farming, and pizza-buying. He’s huge, handsome, and utterly domesticated: a nice homebody who can cook, bake, and brew tea. He’s also an incisive criminal lawyer, which he neglects to tell Sidonie. Sidonie, city-gal, is the one who slowly grows into country living: a slow pace, the baking of goods and planting of gardens. Mackenzie is with her every step of the rural way. Sidonie and Mackenzie are both sexually reticent and low on self-esteem … even though they’re both really really good-looking. Their couple tension centres around things-in-my-past-you-don’t-know-make-me-not-good-enough-for-you and Mackenzie neglecting to tell Sidonie he’s a lawyer and only part-time farrier. Sidonie, for reasons, hates lawyers. Needless to say the proverbial fecal matter hits the fan and Sidonie and Mackenzie, though they shared three wondrous-eye-rolling-into-back-of-head love-making sessions are on the outs.
Burrowes’ strength is in her openings, as she establishes character and initiates attraction and liking between hero and heroine. Her openings are imbued with engaging detail and a witty way with words. She has the ability to make us like her protagonists with their quirky humour, intelligence and, most importantly to Burrowes, kindness. She is able to establish our immediate sympathy for Mackenzie with: ” … the idea that everybody but Mackenzie Knightley had somebody with whom they could exchange silent looks and warm jackets was tiresome.” Burrowes’ heroes and heroines yearn for domestic comforts and affection. They’re not sexually charged; their attraction is hot, but not overwrought. Mackenzie is lonely and ripe for meeting Sidonie. Pathos lies with the Burrowes’ hero because she’s not interested in writing a man who is anything less than a paragon.
Sidonie, in turn, becomes aware of Mackenzie physically because Burrowes’ heroines are allowed to ogle way before her heroes 😉 Sidonie confronts two massive horses as Mackenzie arrives to help out when she puts the call to the local riding school. Her first impression of him is of size: “A man stood a few feet away, a man built on the same scale as the damned horses, but leaner – meaner? … His voice was peat smoke and island single malt, and his eyes were sky blue beneath long, dark lashes.” Mackenzie’s enormous size makes him a sure-fire guarantee that he’s able to protect and that’ll be important to a woman dealing with horses, farming equipment, and mean social services executives who threaten to take her son. It’s important to the Burrowes’ romance fantasy that her heroes are established as capable and giving. Mackenzie’s strength is signaled by size and ability to take on the horses; his charm and loving nature by his sky blue eyes and especially long lashes. Romance reader shorthand done really well. As Sidonie alternates thinking of him as Vulcan, or Saturn, his strength is re-established with humour. His gentleness and kindness in “He was holding out his hand – and a sizable paw it was too – with one sugar cube balanced on his palm.” For the horse, of course. From thereon, massive Roman and Norse god that he is, he can also be gentle and loving in Sidonie’s naming him “Mr. Sugar Cubes.”
Once the cute stuff is over and the narrative slowed like molasses from the fridge with threats to Luis being returned to Baltimore, a courtship dance of will-they-or-won’t-they, and Mackenzie not forthcoming about his lawyering, Miss Bates became pretty restless. Burrowes slows down her narrative with unnecessary detail: does Miss B. really care that Mac’s tea mugs are paisley? Do the brothers have to have that many heart-to-hearts? And how many instances of interrupted coitus can one romance narrative sustain? And why won’t Mac just tell Sidonie he’s a lawyer: her sense of betrayal scene can be seen chapters ahead. Romance readers want familiarity, but the one lesson Burrowes doesn’t seem to learn is they don’t want predictability. Blah blah … slow return to normality and then the crisis scene over Luis and Sidonie versus the child services system hits. Things pick up: Mac and bros to the rescue, of course, but Burrowes sure can write a courtroom scene. Miss Bates enjoyed it immensely. The working out of Sidonie and Mac’s halycon future, on the other hand, in terms of solving the cause of their low sexual-and-relationship esteem, was a fail of believability. Not as good as the first in the series, but not a total dud either, Kiss Me Hello, says Miss Austen, is of “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park.
Grace Burrowes’ Kiss Me Hello, published by Sourcebooks, was released on March 1st, and is available in “e” and paper at your preferred vendors. Miss Bates received an e-ARC from Sourcebooks, via Netgalley.