I wanted to get the most out of my Audible subscription before I canceled so I marathoned Lauren Layne’s 21 Wall Street series. I was excited to see that the audiobooks feature Zachary Webber, one of my current favorite narrators. He and Samantha Cook are a phenomenal team. They bring these characters to life with their seamless narration!
This series centers around three hotshot Wall Street investment brokers and the women who challenge their perceptions about love. While these can be read as standalone, it was fun to read them in order and watching the characters form a found family.
Hot Asset (21 Wall Street #1)
In Hot Asset, our heroine is an ambitious SEC investigator Lara McKenzie. Her dream promotion rests on busting consummate playboy Ian Bradley for insider trading. If only she could find some evidence…and figure out how to resist Ian’s charms.
So….yeah. This book is mostly about an arrogant millionaire playboy relentlessly flirting with a woman who is just trying to do her job. In real life, it’s super problematic. But in this romance novel? I was eating it up. I think I could handwave the ‘office romance’ of it all because the high-stakes finance world the characters exist in feels so fantastical. I really clicked with Layne’s writing. She crafts a tightly plotted, trope-tastic, snappy rom-com with a distinct voice that works wonderfully on audio.
I’ve heard people say enemies to lovers doesn’t work in contemporary but it definitely works here. Nothing says enemies like having someone try to throw you into prison.
Hard Sell (21 Wall Street #2)
The second book in the series, Hard Sell has nearly identical story beats and pacing to its predecessor. This time the broker causing trouble for Wolfe Investments is 29-year-old Matt Cannon, a math prodigy who was once one of Wall Street’s youngest brokers. When Matt’s latest weekend exploits make the front page of the Wall Street Journal he is given an Only in A Romance Novel™️ ultimatum by his boss; settle down with a steady girlfriend or get a new job.
Matt is a cynic about love and relationships. So he makes the Only in A Romance™️ decision; hire a fake girlfriend. He chooses his long-time frenemy Sabrina Cross–a prominent NYC fixer and fellow romance cynic–to play the part. As the two fake date their way through dinner parties and receptions, their ideas about love and happily ever after begins to change.
I’d review this book almost exactly the same way I reviewed Hot Asset; well-crafted, trope-y, snappy and fun. Matt and Sabrina’s frenemies to lovers romance burns up the pages with unresolved sexual tension.
If you read this series altogether (like I did) you will notice Sabrina and Matt’s dynamics and personalities change a bit from book one. Layne explains in the author’s note that she basically had to change them once she actually sat down to write their story.
Huge Deal (21 Wall Street #3)
The final book, Huge Deal is doing something different from the previous two. It’s much quieter and the conflict is more internal. It’s written in a distant third person which was really jarring because the first two have a voice-y first-person narration.
Huge Deal is a boss/assistant romance between the stoic blue-blooded Kennedy Dawson and Kate Henley–the stalwart assistant to Kennedy and the other heroes. Kate has had a crush on Kennedy from day one –but after overhearing him tell the other guys he doesn’t find her attractive she keeps him at a cold distance.
Kennedy has harbored his own feelings for Kate. But he’s a rule follower and makes a pact with the guys that Kate is off-limits. Kennedy thought he’d made peace with the fact that he’d never have Kate. But when his brother Jack…Dawson moves into town and starts dating Kate, it gets complicated.
Huge Deal is a quiet, simmering emotional romance with an incredibly slow burn. I’m talking 55% before even a kiss. The boss/assistant aspect isn’t highlighted much in the book and I would say the main conflict is more about Kate and Kennedy’s timing never lining up. This book definitely wasn’t as fun as the first two but it’s a deeply cathartic romance that ties a nice bow on the series.
CW: Parental death on page
I enjoyed this series a lot but I’d be remiss not to mention that some of Layne’s choices feel dated. There is this obsession with blue eyes–I think every character except Kate has them–and they are described in detail multiple times. It was a little weird. And there is just a lot of that 90’s era fat shaming and body talk. It was fairly eye-rolly.
Layne talks about the mid-series POV switch in the FAQ section on her website and her answer is literally 🤷 . I lol’d reading her FAQ page because it sounds like some of her readers are tap dancing on her last nerve with all their opinions about what she is/isn’t writing.