Tag Archives: Spindle Cove

Castles Ever After Series: Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is called The Duchess Deal and I would recommend its first book, Girl Meets Duke, over Do You Want to Start a Scandal? This crossover story between Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After novels, features the youngest of the Highwood sisters and longtime troublemaker, Charlotte, who has both eldest sibling Diana’s desire for a loving home and intellectual Minerva‘s sense of adventure.

Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is an agent of the crown performing reconnaissance at a two-week house party in the English countryside. Devoted to his duty to King and country, he is caught off guard when Charlotte Highwood presents herself to him with a warning: Her mother will be trying to force a match between them and they must be careful to avoid it. Before you can say “in flagrante delicto”, Charlotte and Piers are caught alone together and giving the appearance of having crossed several lines. Their betrothal now imminent, they agree to the appearance of an understanding to get through the remainder of the estate. Kissing book plotting has other plans for them. After all,  it is a romance novel truth universally acknowledged that a peer must be in want of an heir.

Autocratic and closed off Piers is drawn to Charlotte’s intelligence and charm, while she soon learns that below the surface and behind his protective walls is a loving and passionate man. As they wend their way through plot machinations, they discover they are mad for each other and all that’s left is the genre’s forgone conclusion. I didn’t buy it for a second.

I tried reading Do You Want to Start a Scandal twice –  once in my original attempt and again for this review. It’s amazing how much of my time was taken up with wondering “How old is Piers exactly?” in the midst of skipping forward to find a more interesting part of the story. Charlotte is “not yet twenty-one” and while Piers’ age is never specifically stated, he must be at least 32. A twelve (or more) year age gap is not unheard of, but it didn’t work here. While I’d like an older heroine, the problem is not actually her age. I just don’t see what she has to offer Piers. What could they possibly find as common ground to build a relationship on? All of her youthful exuberance serves to remind me that he is a person of much greater experience in life and of the world and the writing failed to convince me that they were on the same page.

With the lack of well-matched characters overshadowing the story, I wasn’t especially worried about Dare’s usual requirement that I bludgeon and sequester my willing suspension of disbelief or that the revelation of the true goings on by the supporting characters was preposterous. I require somewhat more Regency and somewhat less modern farce in my historical romances.

Julie Anne Long’s classic historical romance What I Did for a Duke features a large age gap convincingly rendered. She’s twenty years old to his thirty-nine.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

Do-You-Want-to-Start-a-Scandal

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Spindle Cove Series: Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa Dare

I have an addition to the Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels:

LUST IS IMPERVIOUS TO COLD.

Never mind all those times people in these books get down to their skivvies in drafty old manor houses, lust’s powers are even greater than I supposed. How else could a person wearing a linen shift and corset while standing barefoot in a snow squall be aware of anything than the fact that she is bitterly cold? But I have gotten ahead of myself. First an explanation:

Elinora, having written a popular pamphlet reminding women that they don’t need marriage to have value, is on her way to Spindle Cove. Tessa Dare fans know it as the setting of her highly entertaining series of the same name and a hive of unusual, outcast, and delightful young women. Waylaid by coach schedules and finding herself riding in a carriage with the man who rejected her years before, she and the very subject of her pamphlet (“Lord Ashwood Missed Out”) end up needing to spend the night alone together in a shepherd’s hut to last out a winter storm. They have quite a bit to sort through these two and part of it leads Nora following Dash out into the snow scantily clad. Fortunately, they make it back inside and under the covers with reasonable alacrity. Events proceed apace from there.

Being a Spindle Cove novella, the reader gets to visit with Dare’s previous characters – Griff and Pauline; Thorne and Kate; Colin and Minerva; and Bram and Susanna – who  are caught up in  Nora’s impending visit and sexual one-upmanship amongst themselves. More importantly, we get to see Minerva’s sister, Charlotte, who is going to have a book of her own. Huzzah!

Lord Dashwood Missed Out is not a particularly strong novella. My battle with Dare’s insistence that I not only willingly suspend my disbelief, but club it into submission continues. It’s not just that some events are historically questionable, but that they are questionable full stop. I didn’t feel like I ever really connected with the characters, particularly Dash, and as a whole the plot seemed haphazardly joined together. Dare does have a charming novella called The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright which I suggest you read instead.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Tessa Dare’s Catalogue

EXCLUSIVELY HISTORICAL ROMANCES

The Stud Club Trilogy:
One Dance with a Duke – some structural issues, great characters and [fans self] smolder
Twice Tempted by a Rogue – a much too literally tortured hero for my tastes
Three Nights with a Scoundrel – Dare hitting her stride with a well-intentioned rake

Spindle Cove Series:
A Night to Surrender – Good, not great.
Once Upon a Winter’s Eve – Pleasant novella
A Week to Be Wicked delightful romp, fabulous hero
A Lady by Midnight – Fantastic smolder, sincere love story, some heavy plotting
Beauty and the Blacksmith – very good, but not great, and worth reading
Any Duchess Will Do – Strained credulity overruled by a heartfelt love story, highly recommended

Castles Ever After Series:
Romancing the Duke – hellaciously twee
Say Yes to the Marquess – fun, light romp, recommended
When a Scot Ties the Knot – meh
Do You Want to Start a Scandal? – no romantic chemistry

Girl Meets Duke Series:
The Duchess Deal – very good, recommended
The Governess Game  – surprisingly entertaining plot moppets
The Wallflower Wager – pretty good

Also:
The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright an absolute gem of a novella
How to Catch a Wild Viscount – early novella, don’t bother, choose an option from above

Spindle Cove Series: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Desperate for grandchildren and a Dower House, Her Grace the Duchess of Halford has gone to the trouble of drugging her son, Griffin York, His Grace the Duke of Halford, and bringing him to Spindle Cove. Familiar to Tessa Dare readers as the setting of her current series, it’s a convenient location for duchess hunting, rife with eligible young ladies who don’t fit into Society for one reason or another. Her Grace insists that her son pick somebody, ANYBODY, and she will mold a Duchess out of the woman. Griff, vexed and still half-lit, picks the barmaid, Pauline Simms, to irk his mother, and because the little voice inside him whispers, “Her. I’ll take her.” Pauline is an astute, purposeful, and engaging woman with a challenging home life. Griff offers her an obscene amount of money to humour his mother and fail spectacularly at “duchess training”.

I’ve written before about the two basic heroes in historical romance novels: The Rake and The Protector. This may be the first novel I’ve ever read in which a character readers met as a Rake in an earlier story is reintroduced later in the midst of transforming himself into a Protector. When Tessa Dare’s readers first met Griff in A Week to Be Wicked, he was a dissipated, dissolute, hedonistic sybarite. He fit a lot into a couple of pages. His Grace wasn’t exactly hero material, but that was Dare’s challenge. You have to bring them low to build them up. Griff had been brought very low indeed before the story began and, I have to say, I don’t think I’ve seen an unapologetic rake so completely redeemed since Sebastian St. Vincent took a bullet for Evie Jenner in The Devil in Winter.

Any Duchess Will Do is a very good historical romance: clever, sweet, sexy, and, yes, romantic. Tessa Dare’s books are always a great deal of fun and often more than slightly implausible. My review of her recent novella, Beauty and the Blacksmith, included my thoughts on the willing suspension of disbelief in romance in general and with this writer in particular. Dare pulls the story off much more successfully in this case because, frankly, the hero is a Duke and rich as Croesus, and because Dare takes a romance trope and gives it enough of a twist to make it sufficiently crediblesque to maintain the illusion. For readers of the series, she has some savvy reincorporation, which was absolutely necessary to keep the willing suspension of disbelief going, although she was less successful in bringing back her most popular characters from A Week to Be Wicked and That Other Book I Didn’t Like as Much.

Reviewer’s Note: I sincerely hope that someone somewhere in the romance sub-culture is making a list of all the things Dare’s heroes compare their telltale masculine firmness to. She has a particular gift for wry metaphor in this area.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

 

Spindle Cove Series: Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare

I’m not going to lie: I love the cheesy title. It sets just the right tone.

Tessa Dare is one of five writers on my historical romance autobuy list and she earned her place there owing to sheer entertainment value. There are different ways for these books to be enjoyable, but Dare’s best books are of the “romp” variety. She is such fun! Oh, there will come a time when she will challenge your profound willingness to suspend your disbelief, but it will be (mostly) be worth it.

Dare’s current series is set in the small seaside town of Spindle Cove where young single women go to recuperate from illness, embarrassment, and/or hide from the world. Local resident Mrs. Highwood has three daughters: Charlotte, for whom I hope a story is in the offing; Minerva, a spectacled academic who has recently married a lord (A Week to Be Wicked); and her favourite daughter, the ethereally lovely Diana, on whom Mrs. Highwood has pinned all of her ambitions. It was Diana’s poor health that brought the family to Spindle Cove and while it worked as a restorative, it also left her at a loose end: Now that she is healthy and has a full life to look forward to, Diana has to decide what kind of life she wants.

Before I had even begun reading Beauty and the Blacksmith, my willing suspension of disbelief was being challenged. Diana couldn’t seriously end up with a blacksmith, could she? Is he the younger son of a lord in hiding? Did he watch Diana from the edge of ballrooms and follow her here? I was very curious to find out because of all the tropes of historical romance that I question, the marriage between someone from the gentry and someone “low born” is the one I regard with the most jaundiced pseudo-historical eye. Unless one of them is rich (him, always him), then all bets are off.

All bets are on. Aaron Dawes, while a strapping sweetheart of a man, is really a blacksmith. One who makes jewelry on the side and this could turn into a loftier career for him, but a blacksmith nonetheless. It fits in nicely with cowboy/fireman/fighter pilot on the Pyramid of Manly Professions, but it slaps the face of historical reality. Dare’s characters get away with all sort of suspension of disbelief-y shenanigans, but this was too much for me. The voice in my head kept saying, “But he’s a blacksmith, but he’s a blacksmith, BUT HE’S A BLACKSMITH,” with ever-increasing volume and HTML formatting. What that voice really meant is that something fell flat in making the pairing sufficiently believable. Diana and Aaron have been mooning over each other from a distance for two years, but how exactly did this mutual yen turn into a convention defying love? Dare included discussions of the ramifications of the relationship, but not enough attention was given to the actual falling in love part of the story.  Which is not to say I didn’t enjoy the novella, even disregarding the even more patently ridiculous things that happened later because of the “romp” factor,  I really did. It just wasn’t quite as fantastic as it could have been.

If you have an e-reader and 99 cents, Dare has a novella called The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright which is charming. Her best novel, so far, is A Week to Be Wicked, and she has one called Any Duchess Will Do (read: The Duke and The Barmaid) coming out at the end of May. I have already “autobought” it.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.