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Book: “Rules of Engagement” by Selena Montgomery
Publishing Info: Berkley Books, September 2022
Where Did We Get this Book: ALA!
Book Description: Dr. Raleigh Foster, an operative for a top-secret intelligence organization, knows that her undercover work has its risks. So she doesn’t hesitate when asked to infiltrate Scimitar, the terrorist group that has stolen lethal environmental technology. But when she’s assigned a partner–brooding, sexy Adam Grayson–to pose as her lover, Raleigh discovers that the most dangerous risk of all…is falling in love.
Adam blames himself for the botched mission that got his best friend killed by Scimitar, and he believes that Raleigh may have contributed to the man’s death. But the closer he works with his alluring partner, the more his suspicions turn to trust–and intense desire. Now, as he and Raleigh untangle a twisted web of secrets and lies, the tension mounts between them…until their masquerade as a couple proves too tempting to resist.
Kate and I nabbed ARCs of this book during a preview panel at ALA. While I don’t typically read this sort of romance novel (I tend to stick within my genres, even with romance and am much more likely to pick up a fantasy or historical romance before a contemporary story), the plot synopsis of this one did stand out to me. Who can not be interested in undercover agents falling in love?
And there were things to enjoy as far as this premise goes. I liked the action scenes and the build up of tension during some of the undercover moments. The story was also written in an approachable, fast-paced manner and I was able to blow through it pretty quickly. I think readers of this sort of romance will likely very much enjoy it.
However, it is also very much of its time (originally published in 2001), and there were far too many times when I became frustrated with the interplay between the main characters, as well as their portrayals as individual characters. The hero, Adam, was probably the biggest issue I had with this book. He was very hot and cold, but not in a sexy way. More like a strangely aggressive obtuse inability to understand that Raleigh was also an under cover agent who would make the decision to keep her own secrets. I was also not a fan of some of the terms that were repeatedly thrown around to describe Raleigh, terms like “childlike,” “vulnerable,” and “fragile.” Ummm…she’s clearly a supremely competent under cover agent, given her success rate and her age. I don’t think “fragile” is the term I’d use to describe this type of person. But, again, much of this just feels more of a different time anything else.
Overall, this book is a bit dated, but I think it will likely still appeal to contemporary romance fans. Especially for romance readers who enjoy political intrigue and under cover operations.
As some one who has been very impressed by and a huge fan of Stacey Abrams, not only for her political maneuvering but also her unabashed geekiness (her perspective on the Buffy/Angel/Spike love triangle is PERFECTION), I was pretty eager to try out her first romance novel when it was presented to us at ALA. And by first I mean this was, as Serena said, a reissue of her debut from 20+ years ago. Even though romance is pretty hit or miss with me, I was more than willing to give this one a go.
And I have to echo a lot of what Serena said. Even though I’m not someone who really enjoys spy stories in general, I liked the espionage shenanigans in “Rules of Engagement”. It felt part Black Ops, part “James Bond”, and I enjoyed seeing Raleigh slip into characters while also balancing her real life, be it dealing with her attraction to Adam, or with her fun best friend Alex. I also mostly liked Raleigh, as her complexity felt real and believable while also fitting into the role of a super spy (who still manages to be SUPER young, but hey, that’s fine!).
But, also like Serena, the biggest downside for this book was the dynamic between Raleigh and Adam. I just didn’t like how he treated her, infantilizing her one moment, raging against her and nearly despising her another moment, then going full on protective star crossed lover ANOTHER moment. Whiplash! Whiplash I say! I agree that it probably worked better twenty years ago, but as a reader today I didn’t find it terribly sexy. And I say this as a person who generally likes enemies to lovers tropes!
It’s fun seeing Stacey Abrams alter ego’s first story in action! I may see if I can find some of her later romances to see how they compare, as “Rules of Engagement” had some pluses, but minuses as well.
Kate’s Rating 6: I liked the espionage stuff and I liked Raleigh for the most part, but the dynamic between her and Adam was not my cup of tea.
Serena’s Rating 6: Not for me, as I disliked the hero and had a negative reaction to some of the descriptions of the heroine as well. But this is also a very subjective opinion and fans of the genre will likely enjoy it!
“Rules of Engagement” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Spy Romances.