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?

To Seduce a Sinner, by Elizabeth Hoyt

To Seduce a Sinner (Legend of the Four Soldiers)
By: Elizabeth Hoyt
Published date: October 10, 2008

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: Very spicy for a historical.
Hero: Jasper, Lord Vale
Heroine: Melisande Fleming

I don’t know why I haven’t read more Elizabeth Hoyt. Maybe it’s because I typed her name as “Holt” twice before realizing that it was, in fact, “Hoyt.” Whatever the reason, it was a mistake, because she’s fabulous. I don’t know if it’s the sub-zero temperatures, but I’m in a Historical Romance reading frenzy, and I’ve been hitting winners all around. I feel like winners should have been homers in that last sentence, but it seems better to get a baseball metaphor incorrect.

Anyway, the basic story is that Jasper is left at the altar (doubtful since he’s an uber-charmer, but I’ll buy it) and Melisande, having been in love with Jasper from afar for quite some years, offers to marry him herself because she’s a selfless dame! For whatever reason, he accepts, there’s some general going on about how he has to sire some heirs and whatnot, but none of it seems relevant. They marry, and that was also kind of nice because there was no formal courtship, they just kind of had to function together and got to know each other that way. Then enter this mystery Jasper is trying to solve. He believes there was a traitor in his regiment in the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War to them, thank you) that led to the death of his best friend. So he’s out trying to figure things out, and when he comes close and Melisande nearly dies because of it, and then that’s it for the mystery. And it goes without saying that by the time she’s nearly thrown off the roof of a house, he realizes that he loves her. Of course, of course.

Hoyt is dark. It’s difficult to describe accurately, but her books (and I’ve only read two) aren’t all sunshine and roses and balls and witty banter. They exist somewhere outside of that giddy sphere where it’s hazy and maybe a little gritty, and satisfies that niggling voice we all have that says it wants to explore murkier waters just to be surprised. Melisande and Jasper are great examples of this. They’re damaged, they’re a little opaque. While Melisande is taciturn around crowds, they provide Jasper with the distraction he needs to forget his harrowing war experiences, and those differences make their pairing interesting. They both reveal themselves to each other in tiny increments, and so much is withheld that it’s easy to get excited about the little tidbits that are dropped every now and then. And even with all the secrets, the characters are still full and interesting and believable.

If I had one complaint, which I don’t, it would be that this book is part of a series and while I was vaguely aware of this while reading, I always assumed that the mystery Jasper was hoping to solve in this book would be solved. It’s not, and it was irritating, in the best way possible, of course. What I’m really saying is that if you don’t want to get sucked into the four-book series, don’t bother, because I’m definitely hooked.

Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase

Lord of Scoundrels
By: Loretta Chase
Published date: October 13, 2009

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
How hot is it: Moderate sexiness.
Hero: Marquess of Dain
Heroine: Jessica Trent

So maybe people will think this book deserves 5 stars because the internet says it’s one of the greatest Regency novels ever, and I liked it, but I just couldn’t give it 5 stars. Mostly because of all the misogyny, but we’ll get to that later.

Don’t get me wrong, the book was great. The characters were interesting, the dialogue was tight and smart, and the plot moved right along with every meeting between the main characters being a veritable firestorm of sparks. The world created in Paris was exotic and dark and sexy, a naughty seduction with talk of orgies and bawdy houses and all manner of indiscretions. It served as the black to the white of England, for when they returned Dain did a complete turnaround and shrugged off the debauched life he’d been living to spend time with his new, pure wife. It’s the dream all ladies dream, that they can be the one to reform a devil. Apparently, they need to shoot him, so I think I’m out, frankly.

The basic story is simple, Jessica Trent is trying to get her nitwit of a brother out of trouble as he’s been carousing with Dain, spending too much money, and in general, going to sh*t. Jessica has heard of Dain as his reputation is rather tainted. What she was not prepared for was her instant attraction to him, and so there’s this pretty flimsy construct where Dain apparently collects icons and must have this particular icon that Jessica bought from the curiosities shop where they met, blah blah. So they meet, and he’s rude and dark and sexy, and she’s sassy and all that stuff. And it’s good. It’s all very good. I can see why this book is popular. The chick shoots the guy, and he’s just fine with it – it’s a high stakes melodrama at its finest.

But then, as promised, there’s the misogyny. And right, I know the Marquess didn’t like women because his mother left him, but let’s face it, most Regencies are written with a modern sensibility nowadays, and his treatment of all women was so, just, ick that I had some trouble with it. I get that it’s one of those stories where the Marquess was more or less abused as a child, and he’s an emotional eight year old, and then she comes along and saves him and yes, sure, fine. And we’re supposed to forgive him all his shortcomings, and I did. I forgave him for being a complete douche who was mean sometimes. That said, lots of parts just made me cringe, and it was hard to really enjoy it how I wanted to enjoy it. Also, Jessica’s end game at the beginning was to open up her own high-end curiosities shop, and then once she meets Dain and they get married, we never hear of that again. And then she becomes a mother to his illegitimate son, and apparently her life is complete. So yeah, there were some things that bothered me.

I’ve read another Loretta Chase book, I think it was something set in the American West, and I remember liking it, but I haven’t felt inclined to read another of her books since. I’m thinking like Mariah Stewart, this is a book for a different generation of readers. It’s terrific in a lot of respects, is well-written, and a must-read, but I’m not sure if it’s a true love match.

In Your Dreams, by Kristan Higgins

In Your Dreams (A Blue Heron novel)
By: Kristan Higgins
Published date: Sept 30, 2014

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: Totally tame.
Hero: Jack Holland
Heroine: Emmaline Neal

I’ve had this book checked out from the library since November, but I just found it under a pile of papers over the weekend, and as far as finding stuff under a pile of other stuff goes, it was pretty good. I think I’ve made it pretty clear that it’s been a pleasure discovering Kristan Higgan’s body of work, and this book was probably my favorite yet.

In Your Dreams takes us back to Manningsport, New York, which automatically makes me think of sitting by the fire in the snow wearing flannel pajamas or running through a big pile of leaves to get to a lovely steaming mug of apple cider. And not to be too on the nose, but that’s also what reading this book felt like. Jack and Emmaline are just lovely people doing lovely things. Jack is experiencing panic attacks as part of PTSD following his rescue of four kids who crashed into a semi-frozen pond. He worries that he was too late to save them as one is still fighting for his life in the hospital. Emmaline had her heart broken by the man she’d dated since 8th grade, and has struggled to people since then. When Jack and Emmaline go to Emmaline’s ex’s wedding, they fake like they’re in a relationship, and the expected hijinks kind of ensue.

If I had to make one small criticism, it would be that there was a lot of back-story for both characters, and while I thought it was necessary, interesting, and certainly added to the story, I also wanted more of their story together. I felt like the parts when they were actually interacting with each other were few, and I found myself skipping through some of the parts about Emmaline and her ex in the past. And the appearance of Jack’s ex was downright irritating, and ended up being kind of insulting to Southern people, which I guess isn’t a thing unless you live there and then it becomes tiring to see Southern people always portrayed as beautiful women who aren’t good for much outside of looking pretty and making a home. Regardless, it was a good foil for Emmaline, who is a badass who can take care of herself.

Along with peppering the novel with clever, fun, and charming dialogue, Higgins is a master at creating contemporary characters who are both relatable, yet still individual and interesting. You’re not going to find tired stereotypes here because her characters connect and change, have thoughts that make sense, and are caught up in organically occurring conflicts.. The result is a richly satisfying love story you can really sink your teeth into. I still need to catch up on the rest of the Blue Heron Series, and I’m looking forward to it.

Say Yes to the Marquess, by Tessa Dare

Say Yes to the Marquess
By: Tessa Dare
Published date: December 31, 2014

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: Spicy, but nothing too crazy. It *is* regency, after all.
Hero: Miss Clio Whitmore
Heroine: Rafe Brandon

It has been a great reading winter, and since I only leave the house for work and supplies during this period, I’m grateful. So about this book, can we just admit that everybody loves a hero named Rafe? I don’t know what it is, but if I see a book and the guy’s name is Rafe, I’m into it. Good job, romance writers, you understand names that are inexplicably hot. Even without the hot name, I liked this guy a lot. Maybe I’m shallow, but I really dug that he was a fighter. I don’t know, I think Sons of Anarchy has warped my idea of what’s hot. One minute tall, skinny, cerebral guys with glasses were really it for me, and then all of a sudden slightly dirty, buff dudes just took over.

Anyway, that’s not interesting, what’s interesting is this book. I loved it more than I thought I would. From the very first page, it drew me in and I gobbled it up like leftover Christmas cookies you have to eat all at once because they’ll get stale. Probably. Cookies don’t have a chance to go stale in my life, so I don’t actually know how long it takes for one to become stale. Nevertheless, if this book were a cookie, I’d say it would be a chocolate chocolate chunk – classic, but decadent with a twist.

The basic story is that Clio Whitmore has been engaged to Piers Brandon for eight years, and for those eight years, he’s been out of the country on diplomatic business. Well, guess what, Rafe has been in love with Clio since they were kids. What a bummer, right? Turns out, Rafe is a black sheep, who was more or less disowned, so he’s been a boxer for quite some years. And he’s good at it. He’s like, the champion of England or something. Since he’s in charge of the family estate while his brother is out of the country, Clio needs him to sign the papers that would get her out of the engagement. Because Clio is totally done waiting for her stupid fiance to actually wed her. And good for her. Seriously. Eight years is too long.

The bulk of the story is that Rafe ends up trying to convince Clio to marry his brother, so they have to do all sorts of wedding-type things, like look at flowers and try on dresses and so on. This culminates in the single greatest scene involving food in a book that I’ve ever read. At one point, Rafe brings her a lot of cakes. A lot. From the description it literally sounded like an entire room just filled with cake. This author gets me. I think there was an almond orange cake or something, I don’t know, they all sounded extremely delicious. And then they threw cake at other. Amazing. I love it when characters are playful and immature. Maybe that’s not a popular opinion, but can’t they just have some silly fun every once and a while?

I was trying to think of something I didn’t like about this book, but let’s face it, it had lots of cake, a buff dude, a chick who started footraces, heart-tugging romance, and a dog who literally just slept and drooled the entire time. Loved it! The romance and interaction between the two characters was natural and fun and sweet. The pacing was perfect, the climax was emotionally satisfying, the dialogue sharp and smart. You just can’t ask for more, sign me up for the next one!

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy, by Julia Quinn

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy
By: Julia Quinn
Published date: January 27, 2015 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5
How hot is it: Steamy, but sparse on the love, if you know what I mean.
Hero: Sir Richard Kenworthy
Heroine: Iris Smythe-Smith
It’s no secret that I think Julia Quinn is just it for Regency, and really all, historical romance. She manages to be witty, insightful, and emotionally complex while writing engaging plots and characters. Besides the quick banter, what I adore about her novels is that nothing super dramatic happens. I mean, there’s certainly drama, but the most interesting parts are when Julia goes super deep with her character motivations; their arcs are always realistic and cathartic. Her heroines, especially, are drawn as women who are self-aware, smart, and not a darn one of them is in need of saving.

Iris is no different. She’s a study in the little things that actually make people interesting. So many romance novels describe their heroines with such broad strokes as to, I guess, appeal to a bigger audience, but I relate so much more to the small, yet very significant personality traits that Julia gives her characters. Iris is one of my favorite characters of late mostly because she can be kind of mean sometimes. Call me crazy, but that just made her more human. I like that she’s sarcastic, has a huge sense of fairness, and just more or less handles her shit. And she doesn’t just handle her shit sometimes, this chick even handles it when her husband tells her that she has to pretend to be pregnant and a whole bunch of other totally messed up stuff that would send most romance heroines into one of those perennially inconvenient, yet somehow also convenient, apoplexies.

Anyway, onto what happens in this book and stuff. Sir Richard needs a wife. Quickly, apparently. Like within a fortnight. And then kind of somehow that two weeks is shortened to a week. The whole why of him needing this wife is cloaked in mystery, but regardless, he’s immediately infatuated with Iris because he believes she’s sensible and understands making sacrifices for family, i.e. playing in the infamously torturous Smythe-Smith musicale. So he totally flirts with her, and then of course, ends up genuinely enjoying her. Then he compromises her! Not like bending her over the settee in a study compromise, just a kiss in front of family members kind of compromise. So it’s marriage for these two, and it happens within a week as well, and then they’re off to Sir Richard’s lands.

Iris mostly takes this compromising in stride. There’s not a whole lot of whining about how she got a bum deal, which she totally did, even though she likes Richard, and I agree that he seems like a fun guy. She knows she can’t change the situation, so she makes the best of it. I overall enjoyed the interplay between Iris and Richard. It seemed sincere and honest, and they respected each other. Once they get to Richard’s house, Iris meets Sir Richard’s sisters, and then stuff just goes downhill from there. The family is in the middle of a huge drama. I mean, big, so interactions are tense and it’s painful to see Iris and Richard’s relationship deteriorate so quickly from something so lovely to watch and read.

I hate to say anything remotely negative about this book, because really, I loved it, but an argument could be made that the ending was somewhat unsatisfying. Not the HEA part, but the whole last fourth of it just felt kind of rushed and incomplete. I kept waiting for Iris to truly get mad and be emotional, but she didn’t. So it’s kind of this conundrum where I was glad that she kept her shit together, but I also totally did not want her to forgive Richard as easily as she did. Even though what needed to be resolved in the end was resolved, it still didn’t feel like enough time for Iris to honestly forgive Richard. It didn’t even happen to me, and obviously, it didn’t actually happen to anyone, I promise I’m not totally crazy, but even I haven’t completely forgiven him. This mostly stems that everything was kind of figured out with a conversation or two, and I guess I just needed a bit more closure. Who knows, I might be nitpicking.

Anyway, even if you don’t like historical romance, even if you don’t think you like romance novels at all, Julia Quinn will change your mind. Reading her first book when I was in college literally introduced me not only to a world outside bland and predictable Harlequin romance novels, but to a smart voice I recognized and appreciated. She writes women I’d like to be friends with, and that’s a gift, indeed!

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