Brown-Eyed Girl, by Lisa Kleypas

Brown-Eyed Girl
By: Lisa Kleypas
Published date: August 11, 2015

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
Hero: Joe Travis
Heroine: Avery Crosslin



I love love love Lisa Kleypas, and have been waiting for this book FOREVS! And yeah, we all have so I should just get over it, but it has been five years so…  I was up until 2am reading this one, because that’s what you do after work when a Lisa Kleypas book comes out. You read the first pages in the car at stoplights on the way home, eat dinner in bed while reading, and don’t look at the clock again until your friend texts you because she finished the book first, and you feel sorry for her because you still have the pleasure of reading it.  

Anyway, while her historicals obviously top any list, Smooth-Talking Stranger is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s one of the only books I’ve re-read. I like it so much because it has characters you don’t often see in romance novels, but exist by the bucketful in my life. Vegans, hippies, professors, etc. Most romance novels are about aerobics instructors or art dealers or just vocations that are less relevant in the modern world that reading that one was like a breath of fresh air with real people. 

But back to what we’re here for… I liked Brown-Eyed Girl. It was better than most contemporary romances out there right now. Kleypas showcases her famous mastery at crafting emotionally rich narratives and compelling, yet relatable characters. That’s not to be glossed over because it’s difficult and seems to be less important lately. I especially enjoyed the secondary characters on Avery’s side of the family, and thought her assistant Steven could be his own book. Joe Travis was at turns funny and intense, which has been kind of a theme with the Travis brothers, and I thought he was a good hero.

I think my main hiccup was that I wanted it to be longer. The relationship between Avery and Joe seemed to develop way faster than we got to know the characters, and I didn’t feel quite as connected to them as I’d like. Sure, I wanted to like Avery, I really did, but she was VERY serious. I get that was part of who she was, very serious and focused on her work, but for a first-person narrative it seemed like I should have been empathetic about her situation. I also understand that the roles were kind of reversed here. Avery was the driven career-woman, and Joe was a freelance photographer who took pictures of puppies. I mean, so, she really just didn’t have a chance of winning the most likable award, but I appreciate the reversal and respect the decision for sure. 

Overall, it was a great romance, and I’m so happy that Lisa Kleypas is back after a too-long hiatus. Joe was swoonworthy at times and there was a well-developed sense of tension between he and Avery that was fun to read. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I commiserated, I don’t know what more I could ask for as a reader. I mean, maybe gold bricks and a spa vacation, but yeah, other than that, I was happy to be on this ride! I’m sad that this is the end of this awesome series, but I’m equally  excited about what Lisa has for us next!

The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Raven Prince
By: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published date: April 1, 2012

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: 4 out of 5
Hero: Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham
Heroine: Anna Wren

Oh, this book. This book, this book, this book! Reading this book was like breaking open a silky dark chocolate bar and letting each piece melt in your mouth until only the empty wrapper remains. What is it about the early Georgian era that’s so much more nuanced and delectable than Regency? I don’t know, and I don’t care because I just could not get enough of this book! Freaking Elizabeth Hoyt, I’m simultaneously angry and thrilled that I only just now discovered her.

So the Earl of Swartingham is his family’s sole survivor of smallpox. Tragic in itself, then add in that he’s horribly scarred from those same pox and sexily brooding with a generally grumpy attitude to boot and you’ve got yourself a swoon-worthy hero. The heroine, Anna Wren, is a lady, but she’s taking care of her cheating ex-husband’s mother and they’re running out of money so she wrangles herself a job as the Earl’s secretary. And so yeah, these two do some serious flirting and it’s great because they’re proper adults and take control of their destinies. There’s no, “Oh, but I don’t want to fall in love, I’m having the time of my life being poor and riding horses.” No, these two want to get it on with each other, and they do. Sort of. Kind of. Well, you’ll see.

So the The Earl of Swartingham (What a name, right? Hoyt really wants him to be ugly.) is so attracted to Anna, but he knows he’s unattractive, and so to stave off his desire for her that blooms due to their constant close proximity, he goes to a brothel in London. Apparently, a hand will just not do. Anyway, before Anna’s husband died, he was seriously cheating on her, like one of those dudes who just doesn’t care to hide that he’s cheating on his wife, cheating on her. So understandably, Anna now has some issues. One of which, there’s just no way she’s going to let the Earl go sleep with a woman that isn’t herself because, damnit, he wants her. And that’s the truth, he definitely does. So Anna disguises herself and weasels her way into the brothel and sleeps with the Earl. Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky! And if this were another couple, this would be a huge dramatic, unforgivable offense. And for all intents and purposes, it should be. I don’t think it’s rape or anything, but it’s weird and creepy, but sweet if looked at in a different light.

If you haven’t guessed, the conflict arises when the Earl finds out that he slept with Anna in a brothel, except after a few yelling sentences, he seems abnormally pleased that a woman he desires finds him desirable enough to go to such measures to sleep with him. Ah, romance! These two characters then set about healing each other’s wounds and battered self-esteem, and it’s lovely and rich and touching to read.

I love flawed characters so much, and Edward is one of my favorites so far, especially in the Elizabeth Hoyt catalog. This was another winner for me. The best part is that I only have to wait another couple of weeks to read her newest book. Time can’t move fast enough because I’m eager to be swept back into the past while I await my own, hopefully romantic, future!

Four Nights with the Duke, by Eloisa James

Four Nights with the Duke
By: Eloisa James
Published date: March 31, 2015
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: 4 out of 5
Hero: Vander, Duke of Pindar
Heroine: Emilia Gwendolyn Carrington
We all know that Eloisa James elevates the genre of romance, and it’s not just because she’s a professor of Shakespeare, though I imagine that type of respect for detail and verse is a large part of it. To me, what sets her apart from other Regencies is the big picture. Her novels are so complete in a way not many are, emotionally complete, logically complete, and characteristically complete. There are no loose ends to clear up, no actions or decisions by characters that seem wrong or silly. The characters themselves are drawn so wonderfully and richly that it takes me twice as long to read her books because I literally want to savor the words and the world they create. I want to hold on to those moments, to be with those people for longer than is probably reasonable because what she creates is so special.
The main character of this novel is a romance author, so I imagine James had fun writing this one. The chapters started with small plot notes from Mia’s (short for Emilia) book, and were cute and also stayed somewhat relevant to the story. I really hate when people stick long passages before stories that have nothing really to do with the story, even metaphorically. Anyway, the story begins with Vander finding a poem that Mia wrote about him. And it’s bad. Like super bad. Like moonbeams and pearls for eyes bad. In any case, Vander laughs it off, and hurts Mia’s feelings and that portion of the story ends with ultimate mortification for Mia. Fast forward a decade or so later, and Mia has rescued her deceased brother’s son, Charlie, from being drowned at birth because he has a lame foot. And here’s the part I didn’t quite pay so much attention to, but there’s part of some will or contract that stipulates that Mia must be married by a certain date to take Charlie or else Charlie and his lordly estate will be in the care of his very evil and ridiculously litigious uncle.
Soooo, then Mia’s affianced just leaves her at the altar, so she blackmails Vander into marrying her by showing him a treasonous letter his father wrote. Some quick side info, Mia’s father and Vander’s mom had a notorious affair because Vander’s dad was literally batshit crazy. And she gets tragically deeper with that storyline, but back to what I was talking about before, which was Mia and Vander and Vander and Mia forever and ever and ever. Then Vander agrees, but is furious, and of course, hates Mia, and so lays down the stipulation that she can only spend four nights a year with him for the sexin’ because Vander believes she is blackmailing him into marriage because she still loves him even after all these years. But then he finds out she’s not, meets Charlie, falls in love with him, and then proceeds to totally screw up his relationship with Mia even though its quite clear that he loves her, uh, duh.
I think it’s safe to say that Vander is one of my favorite Eloisa James characters. I guess because, and this might be untrue because it’s been quite some time since I’ve read her earlier novels, but her heroes tend to be very nuanced and generally very un-alpha and extremely witty and charming, but Vander was just a sweet guy who cared about horses and screwing his wife. I know I probably should have wanted more, but I was satisfied with that. I liked that he was just kind of a stubborn ass, but also intelligent and kind and a great father to Charlie. He was completely secure in himself, and it was refreshing. Mia was lovely too, and I really enjoyed that she stood up for herself and wasn’t physically perfect.

I will always be an Eloisa James fan, and this book had everything I want in a romance novel. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I booed (mostly at Charlie’s uncle), and I felt better after having met these characters. Here’s to horses, romance novels, and romance novels about romance novelists! If you don’t read this book, I recommend just starting with her first one, except you’ll be out of free time until you’re finished with them all!

Any Duchess Will Do, by Tessa Dare

Any Duchess Will Do (Spindle Cove Series)
By: Tessa Dare
Published date: May 28, 2013

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
How hot is it: 3.5 out of 5
Hero: Griffin, Duke of Halford
Heroine: Pauline Simms

So it’s almost spring, and it’s a good thing because I’ve actually literally run out of Elizabeth Hoyt and Tessa Dare books to read. I started out prepared to not like this book much because it’s one of those commoner falls in love with an aristocrat stories, which I normally don’t enjoy just for the fact that it seems stressful and I don’t care to be stressed while I’m reading something that’s supposed to make me un-stressed or de-stressed. Or whatever. I’m not going to stress about the spelling of the word that means less stressed.

Anyway, I was wrong, as usual, because this book was great. I don’t know what it is, but so rarely do book descriptions capture the spirit of a book, and I’m always thinking I won’t like something that I totally end up adoring. But I’ve gotten off track again. Basically, the Duke of Halford’s mother wants her son to get married. So she drugs him and takes him to Spindle Cove where she tells him he has to choose any woman, and she will turn her into a duchess. Well, he’s so clever, and he ends up picking a serving girl. But the joke’s on him because his mom is totally cool with it because she’s his mom and she’s super wise and knows that he’s already intrigued with the smart-talking girl. So the duchess has a week to make Pauline the toast of the town. Spoiler alert: She doesn’t really succeed. Double spoiler alert: They fall in love instead.

The smaller story here is that the Duke of Halford is a libertine, described as such a reprobate in another of the Spindle Cove books that I almost didn’t want to read an entire book about him, and I just love a naughty rake. Pauline is a hard-working serving girl trying to protect her developmentally challenged sister from her abusive father and has a dream of opening a circulating library. And herein lies the problem. Pauline doesn’t really do any changing, she’s just great at the beginning and she’s great at the end and I guess her reward for that is getting to be a super rich duchess who still only cares about people reading books. And this is all fine and great and wonderful, but I have to admit that sometimes it was also kind of boring.

This is not to say I felt anything other than enjoyment while reading it because my pleasure was very real, but I wasn’t quite as enchanted with it as I am with most Tessa Dare novels. I loved a lot about it, especially the Duke’s redemption process and seeing him heal. I also really dug his mother and watching their relationship evolve. Mother/son relationships aren’t super usual in these novels, and it was fun to read. When it’s all said and read, another home run by Tessa Dare!

Thief of Shadows, by Elizabeth Hoyt

Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane #3)
By: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published date: June 26, 2012
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: 3.5 out of 5
Hero: Winter Makepeace
Heroine: Lady Isabel Beckinhall

Right, so yes, another Elizabeth Hoyt novel, wherein I finally get a handle on not writing her name as Elizabeth “Holt.” I’m not even going to try to pretend that I’m not mildly obsessed with these books. I thought I loved the Four Soldiers series, but I am totally hooked on the Ghost of St. Giles! He’s dark, he’s mysterious, he’s often a martyr of some kind, I just love the secrets and the drama of it.

Winter Makepeace is the least likely person to be the Ghost as he’s quite taciturn, and more or less, a fuddy duddy schoolmaster. He’s also a virgin, talk about a romance novel first, right? Anyway, he’s taken a personal vow to take care of the children of St. Giles so it’s his entire life, he eschews personal relationships and deep emotions. Until, of course, he meets Lady Isabel, a new patroness of his Home for Foundling Children, the actual name of the home is long and hilarious, but I’m far too lazy to look it up, you’ll just have to believe me when I say it’s ridiculous.

Lady Isabel is a witty widow who likes to poke at Winter’s solemn  nature, and this comes to a head when she is tasked with tutoring him in polite behavior to secure his position at the home. They flirt, it’s charming and sexy, and we see that Isabel is more than just a shallow society lady. She and Winter begin to know each other without the masks they wear for others, and their romance is intriguing, surprising in a lot of ways, and deeply emotional. My favorite part of it was that Winter was so self-confident that there wasn’t this back and forth that he wasn’t good enough for a baroness because he was a common man. I’d been prepared for that kind of plot device, and it was so refreshing to watch two self-assured people unexpectedly fall in love with each other. As a reader of romance, I can say with some authority that this is not especially common.

I’m definitely finishing this series, and officially cannot wait until the next installment is out in May. It’s been the perfect antidote for a cold, miserable winter. The ominous backdrop of St. Giles and the rogue-ish Ghost were compelling and lent a little grit to the fluffy ballrooms and house parties we usually get in historicals. The only regret I have is that there are only two more left to read!

A Week to be Wicked, by Tessa Dare

A Week to be Wicked  (Spindle Cove #2)
By: Tessa Dare
Published date: March 27, 2012
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: 3 out of 5
Hero: Colin Sandhurst, Viscount Payne
Heroine: Miss Minerva Highwood

Ah, Tessa Dare. A delight and a treat for a lazy Sunday afternoon. This line from the book more or less sums up why I love Tessa Dare. “Men never hesitated to declare their presence. They were permitted to live aloud, in reverberating thuds and clunks, while ladies were always schooled to abide in hushed whispers.” What a truth! And still so true even today that it’s startling. Girls still dream of being silently graceful ballerinas and boys dream of being loud football players who urinate on each other in the pileups. So anyway, sure, insights like that don’t necessarily mean that the romance part of the book is strong, but there’s something reassuring and relatable in knowing that the author understands universal truths, that she just simply gets it.

More importantly, this book was great! I love a book about a lady scientist. I also love a book about a lady heroine with glasses. Not surprisingly these two things normally go together, and that held true for this book so it was a win-win. Minerva Highwood has discovered what we’re more or led to believe is a dinosaur footprint that she wants to present at a geology symposium in Scotland. She also doesn’t want her elder sister, Diana, to marry the rakish Viscount Payne because, well, he’s a terrible rake and her sister is lovely and, of course, she deserves better than a man who sleeps with a different widow every night.  So to accomplish both those goals at the same time, because she’s a practical sort being a scientist and all, she enlists Viscount Payne to accompany her to Scotland. He refuses, obviously, because her reputation will be ruined, but alas, she’s already sorted everything out and is willing to take the risk.

So through a series of events, they end up on a delightful adventure to Scotland. And I do really mean adventure. I’d consider this the precursor to the modern day road trip novel, and I had a jolly good time reading it. It was fun to see what would assail them next, and at some points they were more or less hitchhiking and hustling for money. It was amusing to see them scramble for their survival as they are accosted by a highwayman, abandoned by their ride, and forced to bunk at a debauched duke’s estate. I’ll leave it to you to find out if they ever actually make it to Scotland.

Some books I read all the way because of the HEA payoff, and well, I just generally finish books because that’s just who I am, but I finished this book because I looked forward to each chapter. I enjoyed watching these characters grow together. They fell in love while growing together and learning about themselves in the process. Tessa Dare is simply wonderful at creating likeable characters who are relatable, yet still interesting and compelling. I wish I’d read more of Spindle Cove, but I’d avoided it mostly because I’m getting a little burnt out on the spinster angle, and Spindle Cove is supposedly a place where all spinsters go to be old and weird or something. But as sometimes happens, I guess, I was completely wrong. Rest assured, I will be reading the rest of the series ASAP!

To Desire a Devil, by Elizabeth Hoyt

To Desire a Devil (Legend of the Four Soldiers #4)
By: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published date: October 14, 2009

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5
How hot is it: Pretty hot.
Hero: Reynaud St. Aubyn, Earl of Blanchard
Heroine: Miss Beatrice Corning

So I wasn’t kidding, I went straight to another Elizabeth Hoyt to finish off this series. I actually read the first book too, but couldn’t wait to write about this one. This is the final installment in this series, and as always, you always hope it will be the best. And this one was good.

These books follow four soldiers who return home from the French and Indian War damaged in some way. Reynaud was a slave to a tribe of Native Americans for seven years. He fights his way back to England with only the clothes on his back, only to find out that his home is no longer his home. A total bummer for sure. He’s feverish, starving, and desperate so Beatrice persuades the new Earl, her uncle, to let Reynaud stay in their townhouse until it’s established that Reynaud is the true heir and Earl.

As could be expected, Reynaud has some major PTSD and at times forgets he’s not in the war anymore, which in itself seems strange since he’d been held captive for seven years longer than he’s been in the military, but that’s just not that much of a deal. In any case, this leads the current Earl to believe he can make a case for Reynaud being mad so he can keep the earldom for himself. The rest of the book is a kind of half-hearted fight to make sure Reynaud gets his title back. There are some murder attempts, lazy attempts to make him look mad in crowded place, but these peter out by the middle.

The rest of the story more or less revolves around finally figuring out who the traitor in the regiment was, which was the mystery the men were trying to solve through this entire series. It was a relief, but not exactly a big surprise who it was. Then of course, Beatrice is captured by the traitor and Reynaud has to find her, and you get the idea.

I have to admit that maybe my expectations were too high, and while the book was great, I wanted more passion I think. It just seemed like the romance between them happened extremely quickly and inorganically and that Beatrice, while very nice, could have been anyone. Reynaud is intriguing and vulnerable and fierce, so he made the read interesting, and I think it would be a difficult character to write so I admire the complexity with which he was drawn. I’ll definitely be reading more Elizabeth Hoyt (just FYI, I’ve written Holt first every time I tried to write Hoyt in this post, excluding that time right there) in the future. Her novels are rich, suspenseful, and satisfying. What more does one need from a romance?

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