A Week to be Wicked (CBR10 #16)

Another week, another Tessa Dare book review.

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As I mentioned last review of The Duchess Deal, I love Tessa Dare books so it shouldn’t be all that surprising that I went ahead and picked up where I left off with A Week to be Wicked once I retrieved it. My quick review of this one is another five star Dare outing, these two back to back really highlight the parts of Dare’s craft that make these the fun, enjoyable, and downright witty reads I’ve come to hope for from her.

To me, Dare’s writing breaks down into a pretty clear set of standards:

  1. Independent lady making her way in the world
  2. More often than not a Marriage of Convenience plot
  3. Smolder and steamy sexy times
  4. Sincere emotion on display
  5. Wounded Hero, either physically or emotionally, who is smitten with the heroine.
  6. Interesting, but not overtaking, side characters
  7. Comedy/quirkiness/whimsy in some regard. Dare is not afraid of humor.

And with all of that we have a sincerely winning combination of components.

In this, the second book in the Spindle Cove series, Dare gives us one of my favorite of her leading ladies, Minerva Highwood. Minerva is the intelligent catch as an early geologist who is determined to make it to a Geological Symposium in Edinburgh to present her findings. Colin is the middling good at everything one, and obviously not as intelligent as Minerva (and the best part is that he knows it, and relishes in her brilliant mind). It’s energizing to read a romance where the man is not some infallible savior come into rescue the heroine- Colin gives it his best, but as he brings up time and again his best intentions go to hell and he doesn’t always manage to do what he says he will. As the reader, we watch a relationship grow, not just a physical attraction (not that it is lacking) and it feels much more realistic and emotionally satisfying than other romances often are.

I’m all about Tessa Dare lately, and for good reason. One word of caution though, Dare writes what I lovingly refer to as Historical Fantasy Romance. There is *some* historically accurate threads that Dare uses to weave her tapestry, but they are very thin and often bent to suit her wants.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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The Duchess Deal (CBR10 #15)

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I did some traveling over the Easter holiday weekend and left the Tessa Dare book I was reading the week before at Ale’s house post snow storm. Not a problem – I have a nook full of other books in need of reading so I went ahead and pulled up another Dare, The Duchess Deal.

I had this one lined up and ready to go for two reasons: 1. I really love Tessa Dare books, and 2. this was nearly universally claimed as one of the few highlights of the 2017 publishing year for Romance by our Cannonball Romance Readers. So of course I purchased it immediately. The only drawback? I have a few months to wait until the next in the series, this terrible waiting is why I normally don’t start a series until later in the publishing order.

So what makes this one so good? Dare’s cleverness in wordplay and character development without some of her worst over the top tropes (no strange pets, just a regular old cat named Britches), a truly sardonic wit, and a bit of poking at modern social commentary right down to the use of the “she was warned…” speech which has inspired so many of us to adopt “nevertheless, she persisted” as our own battle cry.

The elevator pitch of this book is right in line with classic Dare: a disfigured Duke (literally half of his body covered in terrible scars from an explosion) needs an heir so he proposes marriage to the first convenient woman to meet his requirements (which are quite low), and the seamstress who was to have sewn his former fiancé’s wedding gown and is demanding payment marches in and takes his money but refuses his proposal. We are off to the races for a marriage of convenience plot (with ridiculous rules!) with a truly forbidding hero and plucky heroine.

I know I haven’t said much, but if Dare has ever done it for you, this book will probably hit all the right notes for you. Only four more months until the next one is published…

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

A Wish Upon Jasmine (CBR10 #13)

Last fall I picked up the first book in the La Vie en Roses series, Once Upon a Rose. Due to some ridiculous writing by the New York Times at about the same time, my review of that book is mostly subsumed by my rage about the way genre writing is discussed by major reviewers. However, I found much to be enjoyed in Laura Florand’s writing, and was excited to return to the South of France for a little refueling between One of Us is Lying, The Hate U Give, and Missoula.

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In A Wish Upon Jasmine Florand continues playing with tropes and deconstructing classic story structure, but this one is a quite a bit less light and frothy. In A Wish Upon Jasmine the trope Florand is tweaking is the “Big Misunderstanding” that usually takes place much later in standard Romance fare. The “Big Misunderstanding” is what keeps the main couple apart, some occurrence which they have come to opposite conclusions. For this book the “Big Misunderstanding” happens before the beginning of the book and in much the same way that Loretta Chase’s A Duke in Shining Armor the reader is dropped into action already in progress. Unfortunately, Florand did not do it as well as Chase, but that is a very high standard indeed.

In the second book in the series we are following the relationship of Damien Rosier, the self-appointed “mean one” in this generation of his family, following the lead of his father and grandfather. He is really the glue that holds his family’s (and hometown’s) perfume business together. It falls to Damien to take care of the money that finances his family’s dreams and to that end he has created around himself a steel shell, but it protects his soft heart. Six months ago he met Jess and fell head over heels following a one night stand, but she ghosted him based on several factors in her life. Neither has really recovered.

Enter Tante Colette, our story engine. She gifts Jess the Rosier’s family perfume shop in Grasse where she can get back to the nuts and bolts of her profession and put together the pieces of her family history. We then spend the next two thirds of the book watching Damien turn himself inside out to repair the relationship with Jess while she is naïve to the point of emotional blindness. It made for a slog of a read both in the beginning while trying to figure out what happened before the book began and piecing together the timeline, and then in the back half watching the main characters slam together like rocks falling off a cliff.

And these two things are what keep me from wanting to rate this anything above 2.5 stars. But, Florand wrote dynamic, fully fleshed out characters in an evocative settings with an emotionally vulnerable hero and she also portrays the intensity of emotional and sexual attraction with a deft hand, and it makes me want to rate this 3 stars or slightly higher. I am at an impasse with myself.

Looking over the book descriptions of this series and her L’Amour et Chocolate series I think I am going to go back to those books and start again. While I am interested in seeing what comes to pass with the other Rosier cousins (official and otherwise) I think I want to go back and lay in more groundwork with the work of a contemporary writer whose craft I appreciate.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

The Wedding Date (CBR10 #8)

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I accrued some library fines on this book and I’m sending my apology out to the universe for the person behind me in the holds list who is delayed in getting this copy in their hands. That’s what happens when you get six books on interlibrary loan over three days (after none arriving for three weeks), your social calendar gets very full, and you can’t renew this new book (published January 30, 2018 y’all). But I’m also quite glad that I embraced the fines and kept the book.

I try to be more mindful in my reading, and one area that I still don’t give enough attention to is making sure I’m reading book written by people of color and those featuring them. This book is both, and for that reason is a slam dunk for me as it is in a favorite genre – romance – and is perfect for the Read Harder Challenge task 10: read a romance novel by or about a person of color. Done and done. And it is good to boot.

This book has been on my radar for a few months, ever since Roxane Gay gave it a rave review on Twitter back in September. If Roxane is about it, and it is diverse Romance? I’m on it.

She’s spot on, it is charming and its characters are great. However, our opinion diverges on star rating. I’m rounding up to a 4 from a 3.5 because this is Guillory’s debut and the craft of her writing is there, but there’s some first go hiccups (over-reliance on certain phrases for example).

The Wedding Date is the story of Alexa and Drew who meet in an elevator during a quick blackout and each experience a bit of well placed lust. Drew jumps on instinct and asks Alexa to be his date to a wedding he is in that weekend, his ex’s wedding (oh yes, good old Romancelandia drama). Alexa says yes and we are off to the races of these two flirting and eventually getting together. A single weekend turns into trading weekends back and forth as they live in opposite ends of California, which leads to misunderstandings and emotions developing that neither is ready for or really expecting.

Guillory built herself some very believable and nuanced characters. Each has their strengths, each has their weaknesses, and they don’t necessarily solve the others, they have to work on whatever this relationship is at any given time. The secondary characters serve to fill in the yelling of the reader at the main pair (why are you saying that? Why AREN’T you saying that?!), and are well drawn and interesting on their own (Carlos follow up! Please!!). We also don’t suffer instalove, the relationship builds over several months and they talk about issues that exist in our contemporary world, the gross men, the legitimate concern Alexa would feel about not knowing if she will be the only black person at a given social event, the bureaucratic layers associated with getting social aid if our public servants have managed to get it provided in the first place.

This is a good one folks; it has meat on its bone and sexy bassline. Get on it!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

A Duke in Shining Armor (CBR10 #7)

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The Romance genre is a trope filled place. Like any other genre, its readers are trained for what to look for, and what to expect. I am a well-trained reader, so much so in fact that I went back to Goodreads early on in reading A Duke in Shining Armor by Loretta Chase to make sure that the book in my hand was in fact the first in the series. I am apparently not the only one with this thought: Ms. Chase dedicated a blog post to assuring us, yes, this is the first. My trope instincts went off because Ms. Chase dumps us into action already in progress: the characters know each other, one of the pairs is already married* (but estranged), and a wedding is supposed to be taking place but the bride and groom are both drunk, and the bride is making a run for it out the nearest library window and the best man is setting off to bring her back, if only he can convince her (and himself) that it’s the best plan.

* I am very, very excited and interested in what will be the third book in this series as it will focus on reuniting a married couple (I presume).

I was immediately intrigued. Add into that a heroine who has been overlooked, is a nerdy book girl (Loretta Chase is writing herself and all of us into the story here, I swear), and a steadfastly loyal to his friends male lead and I knew exactly why so many of my romance reading friends were so happy with this book after a relatively lackluster 2017 in Romancelandia. The year was so lackluster in fact that I read only two romances published in 2017 last year (Pretty Face  – which everyone should read after they read Act Like It in time for book three in that series to come out later this year and When Life Happened at PattyKates’ request.)

Ms. Chase does much well in this book, and it’s nice to see her back towards Lord of Scoundrels territory after an enjoyable but not great Dukes Prefer Blondes. In A Duke in Shining Armor Chase deploys a well-paced timeline to keep a short time period from turning into instalove. Chase lays out the historical precedent of how little times affianced couples could expect to spend together in the upper echelons of society in England during the 1830s, and fills a week with more one on one time and varied experiences than many couples featured in romance novels, let alone the real world, would experience, and simultaneously uses the idea of putting a pair together that had spent the better part of a decade keeping each other in their sights we are dealing with people who don’t know each other but would not be considered social strangers. It is just one of many historically accurate details that Chase is known for adding to her writing, and features so prominently on her other blog Two Nerdy History Girls (also a great follow on Twitter for those inclined).  

It was also a bit of a cozy read: there was zero sturm und drang until right at the end. We simply have a bit of an adventure, a bit of a misunderstanding, and some work against social expectations and needs. Olympia and Ripley are well matched, even if we get a little less of who Ripley is on the page, but I expect his character will become clearer as we learn more about his compatriots, the Disgraces.  Oh, and one of my favorite components: a road trip.

I know I’ve told you very little about the book itself, but there are some great reviews to give you more detail there, I’m just going to sit here in my happy feels about a solidly 4 star (creeping towards 4.5 star) book.

 

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Romancing the Werewolf (CBR10 #5)

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In some ways my CBR history is the history of my reading Gail Carriger books. The third book I ever reviewed for Cannonball was Carriger’s Soulless book. Heck it and the next three books in the Parasol Protectorate series make four of my first 10 reviews. Carriger showed back up in my reading in CBR6 as I started her Finishing School books (a prequel series) which spread out over Cannonballs 7 & 8. I am a big Carriger fan; I enjoy her online presence, and find the tempo of her writing fun and soothing. When last year I saw that her second novella in this universe was going to focus on the love story of two of my favorite supporting characters from the Parasol Protectorate books, Professor Lyall and Biffy, I pre-ordered it to read at the end of CBR9. Of course, it ended up in the beginning of CBR10 instead because that’s just how I roll.

While this is a perfectly serviceable romance novella and an interesting piece of Carriger’s Steampunk Universe I made a mistake. In the Note on Chronology Carriger tells us readers that her Supernatural Society novellas can be read in any order, and that this book takes place chronologically after the events of Imprudence (in 1895), and ties romantically to events in Timeless. I focused on the Timeless portion of that sentence but I should have paid closer heed to the Imprudence part as I have read a sum total of zero of the Custard Protocol books which follow the Soulless books in chronological order.  I should have just gone and spoiled myself so the setup made more sense.

That said, this novella still has all the things I love about Carriger’s writing: her brand of humor, werewolves, vampires, fancy dress and hats, intrigue, and a quick little mystery to solve, and a peak into an alternate Victorian England. It also is a sweet romance between two characters who have been separated for a long time and aren’t sure what they are to each other anymore. Any time spent with Biffy and Lyall is time well spent. I wish there was a little more ahem, romance, in this novella, but I’ll take what I can get.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Three Nights with a Scoundrel (CBR9 #72)

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I usually set myself up with reading landmarks throughout the year, to keep things interesting for myself. It also helps to keep me on pace. The past three years I have ‘read with my ears’ Tessa Dare’s Stud Club series. It was a random choice, to pick this series to enjoy via audiobook, but I’ve stuck with it and it been for the good. The narrator, Rosalyn Landor, handles the text superbly and I’m fairly certain she improves upon Dare’s early, sometimes uneven, work.

Because that is in fact what we are dealing with: Three Nights with a Scoundrel is uneven. We are wrapping up a few storylines and they are not all as strong as they could be and the pacing suffers because of it. We learn the fate of that damned horse Ossiris as well as the circumstances of the death of Leo Chatwick, plus the resolution of who Julian Bellamy really is, or isn’t but it doesn’t come together in a completely satisfying whole.

There are things I truly and unabashedly loved – our heroine Lily who is deaf and the ways she functions in a society that isn’t built to accommodate her. The emotional landscape of her relationship with Julian is also expertly handled. I also enjoyed Morland’s pregnant ward Claudia and her various interactions as they were a hoot and not without consequence. It is all the other fluff and bits around the main story that detract from what Dare does very well. We have another strange pet, this time the parrot Tartuffe, who at least has plot significance, but he shouldn’t have had to, there should and could have been better communication between the leads. I know having a parrot around a romance novel should have been more amusing to me, it simply wasn’t.

We also receive visits from both previous couples in the series so the male leads can wrap up the murder investigation (ugh), but we were seriously shortshrifted where it came to Rhys and Meredith. They are bringing a crucial piece of the puzzle to London, but are merely treated as a conveyance. Urgh. And as to that piece of the puzzle… while I am always happy for more representation of lgbtq relationships in romance novels this one felt a bit shoehorned in and if it had been telegraphed I completely missed it. In a certain way it all came together a little too much deux ex machina for my personal tastes.

This one gets three stars for all it does right, but doesn’t get rounded up to four because to my mind it didn’t live up to the second in the series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (with a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society. Registration for our tenth year is open now.