The Governess Game (Tessa Dare)

Note: I received this an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Response

I actually read this in about two hours on Monday, the day my request to review it was approved. There were lots of squeeing and happy sounds -- and then of course, I couldn't write my review right away because it be a lot of gifs of hearts and exclamation points. I wanted to take a day, reread some parts of it and try to be a bit more objective.

We first met Alexandra Mountbatten in The Duchess Deal, and to be honest, the only thing I remembered about her was that she set clocks. I reread The Duchess Deal to see if I had missed anything and it turns out the prologue from this book is a scene in Deal. I had forgotten that 😛 So we actually meet Chase Reynaud at that point.

This is one of the delightful books where the romance is the plot driving the story forward, so when I talk about the plot, I'm also talking about the romance. There's a lot here to like. Alexandra is a sweet heroine who you immediately root for because she has the sort of fantasies I've had. She meets Chase in a bookstore, but no names are exchanged and she thinks about it a lot -- so much that when Chase does introduce himself, she immediately in her mind, thinks about her name if they were married.

I don't care how old you are, that's something you can relate to. Even today when women don't change their names as often. We all doodled it on our notebooks. I filled notebooks in my first grade composition book with my crush's name and a heart. Page and page. For two years. So yeah, right from the start, Alexandra was my spirit animal.

Chase is a bit more foggy. He seems to live a dual life of dissipation and reluctantly affectionate guardian. He spends the first 75% of the book claiming he doesn't have any affection for Rosamund and Daisy, but he trudges off every morning to eulogize a doll that Daisy keeps killing off with some sort of disease. Chase has a seriously low opinion of himself (like criminally low) and I'm not entirely convinced it comes from what happened with his cousin. He is, however, delightfully charming and that takes care of a lot.

The supporting cast is great. We get more Nicola and Penny, and now I'm salivating for their books because they are so quirky and sweet and supportive that I want them to have HEAs too. Tomorrow. I love John Barrow, Chase's solicitor and illegitimate half-brother. He keeps Chase grounded. I love Ash coming back with his Shakespearean curses. And Rosamund and Daisy are the best. I hope that I get to see how they turn out.

The romance is well-done and takes the twists and turns one would expect. Nothing surprises you in this book, but that's not a bad thing. One of the things I hate is constant twists and turns when there's no reason for this. This is just two slightly damaged people coming together and figuring out they're not that damaged at all. I'm here for the journey, and I don't mind predictability. I love the astronomy in this story, and Chase's support of things he doesn't even really understand.

This is a really sweet book that I would happily recommend to anyone who will listen (and will, I promise you that).

Spoilers Ahead

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Barefoot in the Dark (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

For much of the decade since the last Sam & Rick book, Suzanne Enoch has pretty much specialized in Scottish Highlander romances.  Her last two series have been set or populated with wild Highlanders in the Regency period. Barefoot in the Dark takes all the contemporary fun and suspense of those historical romances and sets them in a historical setting -- a village in the Scottish Highlands complete with a drafty ruined castle.

Considering the fact that this is the first book in the series in a decade, I was happy to see that Sam and Rick were still relatively the same. I'd say it took a chapter or two to get settled back into their old banter, but by the middle of the book, every piece of the plot and all the characters are trucking along.

Something that might be jarring to those of us readers who read the books a decade is that while we're picking up two weeks after A Touch of Minx, Barefoot is set in contemporary times so there are references to Outlander (the TV series), a 2015 Honda Civic (I drive a 2009 Civic so this made me ridiculously happy), and even Downton Abbey. It jarred me a bit and took me a little out of the setting only because I had read the books when they were originally published. If you're a returning reader like me, just be aware of this. People who are newer to the series probably won't even blink.

This book had relatively low stakes--no one is trying to blow Rick and Sam up, slice them through with a sword, or making them commit a multi-million dollar theft from a museum. For the first time, we're solidly in Rick's territory. It's his castle and his family--his history we're steeped in for most of the book. I'm sure most readers have wondered about Sam's mother (and I'm sure we'll get something more about that at some point) but must of us didn't think of about Rick's.

I'm actually really happy that we got a more character-driven plot with ghosts and long-lost treasure to reorient ourselves to Rick and Sam. I remarked in my review of Minx that I wondered how these two would do with an engagement and predicted it would be rocky.

There were some definite bumps and bruises that told me that Sam is actually not the problem--Rick is. He's very carefully trying to handle Sam all the time--he approaches things with the same precision he might approach a business deal. He tries to plan for all eventualities, predict all the ways she might react, and it's probably exhausting. It also makes a lot of sense and was useful early in their relationship but it's like a part of Rick is still pretty sure something is going to scare Sam off. I'm looking forward to seeing what is really going to convince him all the way down.

The supporting cast is great -- we get a return of some of the usual suspects, Stoney and Tom, as well as Rick's family. I liked his aunt and uncle--they're a bit stuffy but they're British upper class and they warm up by the end. The fact Mercia ends up loving Stoney is a huge point in her favor.  His cousin Reg and his girlfriend Eerika work great as antagonists, and there's a small piece of me that likes Reg and hopes he finds someone better. I like exploring the dynamics of Rick's family and how he juggles his massive success with relationships with his family.

The plot of the buried treasure was good, and I liked the resolution. I found myself as frustrated as Sam that Rick was being so cagey, so maybe if we'd gotten a more clear POV of Rick's motives, that would have helped. I think it was halfway through before we learned Rick had made a promise not to tell the truth. Once everything gets clearer, it works just fine.

This is a great return to the world of Samantha Jellicoe and I can't wait to see where it goes next.

Spoilers Ahead

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A Touch of Minx (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

For about ten years, this book represented the end of Rick & Sam's story, and I think it was a good finale. The romance gets to a resting place that serves as a HEA, the conflict is crazy over the top (and will make it hard to match), and the characters have come a long way in the chronological year since they met in Flirting With Danger.

I'm pretty excited that this isn't the end of Rick & Sam's story, though, so I'll be reviewing Barefoot in the Park next week after its released. I'll be holding off my on series review until I've read the final book.

I really love this book. It's my second favorite in the series--my idea of favorite is for readability factor--the plot is just a smidge less entertaining than Billionaires Prefer Blondes, but the stakes are about as high as Flirting with Danger.

We find Sam returning to the idea that she could help museums recover stolen artificacts--which would allow her to use her black hat expertise and skills on behalf of the white hats. Rick is less enthusiastic since he knows it might bring Sam danger from thwarting other thieves, and the two conflict over how much danger she should put herself in and what lines she should break. Sam also investigates the theft of Donner daughter Olivia's anatomy project which allows the mood to be a bit lighter in some areas.

The plot of Sam working in museum recover doesn't just bring her conflict with Rick, it also brings conflict with her surrogate father, Stoney. Stoney isn't in this book much (which is a plot point) and his absence is keenly felt. Stoney was left interested in retiring than Sam and this factor remains a thorn in their relationship. Aubrey plays a bigger supporting role here and I find him really entertaining.

One of the small recurring bits about Rick and Sam arguing about Aubrey's sexuality hasn't really aged very well. They go back and forth based on what trait Aubrey exhibits as part of one "team" or another. This was definitely more common a decade ago, so I'm not taking any points off. I have high hopes that it won't show up in the next Rick & Sam books because it's really just not funny.

It's like watching the Chandler jokes on Friends about whether or not he was gay -- and yeah, that was funny in the 1990s. It's just not anymore. Like I said, I'm not going to take any points in this last 2007 outing. I just hope it's gone going forward.

The new cast of possible museum thieves bring us some interesting supporting characters, and Wild Bill Tombs is...colorful. I also like that Kate and Tom are back--their normalcy is such a lovely contrast to Sam and Rick--and their kids are great too. Olivia reminds me of my own niece, Olivia.

This was a great finale to the series, but I am so excited to see where Rick & Sam go next.

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Twice the Temptation (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

This is a dual book in which we get the Regency-era romance of Rick's ancestors, Connell and Evangeline, before moving ahead two centuries to a contemporary tale of Rick and Sam set in Devonshire. What connects them is the reputedly cursed Nightshade Diamond -- keeping it in your possession brings bad luck while setting it aside draws good luck.

The Regency era story is fine. I've never been a huge fan of novellas with brand new characters meeting and falling in love because I'm often left with a sensation of not having enough space. They often come off as superficial and lacking depth. That's relatively true here. Gilly is an intriguing character but she isn't given enough space to really develop into the kind of heroine I believe would attract Connell.

I like the supporting cast (if you're a regular reader of Enoch's Regency romances, Francis Henning showing up made you giggle) and I was intrigued by Gilly's parents, but there wasn't enough softness in her mother, Eloise, to make her truly interesting. I liked her father, but like I said -- there wasn't enough space to really make this work as well as I think it could have.

It's fine, again, but it's nothing spectacular. It does, however, a good job of setting up the contemporary story which is much better.

Sam and Rick are at his Devonshire estate where the Victoria & Albert museum are using Rick's converted stables for a traveling gem exhibit. Sam is in charge of the security and locates the Nightshade diamond that Connell and Gilly hid in the first half of the book. Naturally, Rick doesn't believe in superstition, and Sam lives her life trying not to attract bad luck. Meanwhile, the gem exhibit is threatened by a thief from Sam's past.

This was better than Don't Look Down, but not as good as Flirting with Danger and Billionaires Prefer Blondes.I'm glad we didn't spend an entire book wit this plot -- I think it was a bit thin. I didn't love the mystery/suspense aspect, but the romantic conflict was mostly decent. There were a few things that kind of tripped me up and kept me from really giving this book a higher rating.

It's a good book, however. The second story is much better than the first half, but neither are a waste of your time.

Spoilers Ahead

First, with the Connell/Gilly story: I'm not a huge fan of men who pursue women who have told them no (See: To Distraction). However, I think it works better here than it usually does because Connell doesn't do anything super irritating. He follows all the normal rules -- he comes to call, asks for a date. It's slightly better but still one of my least favorite tropes.

Gilly's mother actually seriously annoyed me, and I don't know how her father put up with this nonsense for nearly twenty years. I don't have much more to say other than that.

For Sam and Rick, my biggest problem was that it's hard to believe Sam and Rick didn't catch on to Larson faster. I guess Sam was distracted by Bryce, but I would have thought Rick would do more vetting. I don't know. I liked the idea of a plant, I just think they're both smarter than that.

I'm super glad that Sam flipped out on Rick for putting the Nightshade diamond in her pocket. She's in the middle of a security threat and her entire reputation (and yours) is at risk. This is not the time to prove your point about superstitions. I'm glad Sam called Rick out on this idiocy -- it doesn't matter how Rick feels about the diamond -- he knew she felt.

I'm not sure how I feel about Rick being jealous about Bryce and his history with Sam. His heavy-handed nature is definitely his least attractive quality, and I'm glad that Sam continually calls him out on trying to solve problems she hasn't even had yet. I don't think Rick really believes Sam would cheat on him, but I guess given his past and Sam's adrenaline addiction, I get why he can be a bit waffly on the topic.

I like this book but it's definitely not one I pick up to reread often.

Billionaires Prefer Blondes (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

With the comfort of having finished the entire series, I can honestly say this is the best book of the five stories. It has the strongest romantic conflict, the best page turning plot, and some of my favorite supporting characters in the series.

The action takes place in New York City where Rick and Sam are staying while he buys a hotel from a Japanese businessman and attend a special art auction. Sam spots her supposedly dead father, and while she's sneaking out to meet with him, someone else is stealing one of the million dollar paintings Rick just won at the auction. Sam is arrested for the theft and finds herself drawn into an increasingly dangerous ring of thieves, trying like hell to stay on the right side of the line and keep herself and Rick alive.

The best thing about this book is the resurgence of Sam's father because Martin is a giant influence on Sam's character--a huge source of vulnerability--and she's not thrilled with Rick meeting him. Martin drags Sam into an art theft ring whose leader gives Sam the choice between helping them or death. It's a high stakes game with a ton of organic conflict because Sam is being forced back into her old life, and Rick knows there's a small part of her enjoying the adrenaline rush.

I love this conflict between them because it reminds the reader that Sam isn't really a white hat. She has a good heart, but she also grew up with a different set of moral codes being drummed into her. Her line is not the same as Rick's, and the gap between those lines drives this plot forward. Sam is always sure that there's a point where Rick can't accept her baggage, and it's that need that keeps the emergency pack and set of clothing close at hand.

Rick drives me less crazy here than he did the last time -- he's really learning how to best handle Sam's vulnerabilities, and even the moments where I want to slap him, there's never a point when I don't understand exactly what he's thinking. That character motivation was lacking just a bit in the last book.

The supporting cast is great -- Patricia comes back and plays a minor role which is fun. The cop that investigates Rick's theft, Sam Gorstein, is a great foil for Sam -- he puts up with way less of her nonsense than Frank does back in Palm Beach.  I also like the bad guys we get -- Martin is a frustrating character that completely explains Sam's inability to trust Rick doesn't have a breaking point.

This is my favorite book and considering how much I love this series, that's saying something.

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Don’t Look Down (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

As a second book, this is a great continuation of the world Suzanne Enoch began to build in Flirting With Danger. While I don't think I'm as invested in the mystery because it doesn't affect Sam and Rick personally, it's still a really good plot that keeps me guessing.

We open almost where we left off in Flirting in Devonshire with Sam and Rick still figuring out what their relationship looks like with no around trying to kill them. Sam is setting up her security business, and Rick is trying to help (though his help is often more like trying to do it for her). When they end up back in Palm Beach, Sam begins to investigate the murder of a man who was on her verge of asking her for help.

Because the murder mystery here is someone who we don't know, who Sam only meets briefly, and Rick doesn't know that well either, the stakes are low. In fact, to get Sam and Rick really arguing about what boils down to a private investigation, they make a bet to see who will get to the murderer first -- Sam or the police. It feels a little forced. Not in a bad way, but just enough that you can see the effort. This is something that doesn't happen in the rest of the series which is definitely a good thing.

The supporting cast here is a really plus -- we get the return of Stoney, Castillo, and the Donners with the addition of Rick's ex-wife, Patricia, and the Kunz family: Charles and his adult children, Laurie and Daniel. We also get the introduction of Aubrey Pendelton, a walker who assists Sam and returns in subsequent books.

The plot is great, the characters are great, and the romance...it's great with some qualifications. I'll get into the spoilers, but I think the conflict between Sam and Rick feels slightly artificial. Sam was going to consult with Charles on personal security, and it's not crazy that she feels guilty about his murder which happens only hours after she met with him for the first time. What Sam proposes, initially, is really the equivalent of what a private investigator would do. I don't really understand Rick's issue with that or why he comes down on her so hard for it.

I mean, maybe it's related to wanting her to stay wholly on the right side of the law, and I guess he's afraid straying even near the line might encourage her to go over it. They've only been together for a few months, so the trust is fragile. I get it -- I think sometimes, though, Rick just feels like he's overreacting. I mean, it's not insanely in your face. I was just trying to figure out why I don't love this book as much as the rest of the series (I still love this book) but I think it's because the romantic conflict doesn't feel organic.

It's still a great book, though, and I heartily recommend it.

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Flirting With Danger (Suzanne Enoch)

Overall Response

I actually finished this yesterday and since then have read nearly the entire series, haha. I forgot just how addictive this series could be, and I'm already fighting the temptation to start the last (until next week) entry in the series. I absolutely adore this series. Last year, I did an entire reread of the series and purchased digital copies because I love it so much. Normally, having just finished a reread, I wouldn't have done a second one this year except Suzanne Enoch is releasing a brand new novel, Barefoot in the Dark, after over a decade. Sooo excited!

I don't read a ton of contemporary novels, and I read even fewer series with the same couple featured over and over again -- I think, other than this series, my only other series like this is the J.D. Robb In Death series. It's hard to see the same couple again and again, particularly since the romance genre is supposed to have a HEA.

Rick Addison and Samantha Jellicoe have a unique meet-cute in this first book when she saves Rick's life during a botched robbery of his Palm Beach estate--she's actually trying to steal from him at the same time but she's not responsible for the explosion or the dead guard. They team up to find out who's behind it and trying to kill them both.

The plot is really good even if it gets a bit dodgy from time to time. I only get tripped up on some of the finer points after maybe my seventh reread so that's probably me being an anal-compulsive moron, haha. The characters and romance are really great. Both of these characters are used to being in command and not answering to anyone else so they really have to find ways to compromise--particularly since Sam lives on the wrong side of the law and Rick has to try and figure out just how much of that he's willing to deal with.

The HEA is a good stopping point. We get enough resolution fit the definition, but there are so many issues still to be mined between these characters that conflict still remains.  The romance can occasionally feel driven by lust--and it definitely begins that way, but there are points where there is genuine connection between them and it's fun to watch them try and one up each other throughout the book.

The supporting cast is great, particularly Rick's lawyer, Tom, and Homicide detective, Frank, who will both come back in later books. I particularly adore Stoney, Sam's fence and only real personal connection. I was excited to see all of them come back.

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A Night to Surrender (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

So initially, Tessa Dare's Spindle Cove was going to be my next series to reread because she's got a book coming out at the end of the month. Then I realized that Suzanne Enoch's next Sam Jellicoe book is coming out next Tuesday (OMG) and I have her series on my list. So I read this book but didn't go on in the series just yet because I want to have the Enoch series ready to review when the book comes out.

I found Tessa Dare by accident. I was browsing Julia Quinn's recommendations, a thing I don't do all that often but I was lucky enough to get an excerpt from Tessa Dare's debut novel, Goddess of the Hunt. Her first two series were good and I enjoyed them, but I wouldn't say she was an automatic pre-order buy.

And this book came out.  The Spindle Cove series is literally one of my favorite series of all time and it was after this book that Dare jumped into my top 5 authors. (When we get to A Week to Be Wicked, I'm not going to be able to keep myself together from the squeeing because COLIN).

Spindle Cove is a small coastal village that is dominated by women and known in some circles as Spinster's Cove. Young ladies come to the village who often are shy or not doing well in society. Susanna Finch takes them under her wing as the unofficial hostess of the village. Lieutenant Colonel Victor Bramwell (only really ever called Bram) arrives in Spindle Cove to meet with Susanna's father about getting his command in the military back after a war injury sidelined him. Bram is a military man who doesn't have time or patience for soft things, and Susanna has no interest in men who will upset the safe place she's created in the village. Sparks fly.

I. love. this. book. First of all, the romantic conflict between Susanna and Bram is everything. I love love love love love when a conflict is not because someone is keeping a secret but that something about who they are as people is the obstacle. Bram wants nothing more than to head back to war and Portugal, and Susanna needs her safe place and hearth in the village. One of them has to bend in order for them to be together, and it's so wonderful to watch them deal with one another. They begin the book so sure they're each right, and by the end--they've both bent enough to make something new and strong together. I love it.

The supporting cast is wonderful here as well. We get characters who are going to come back again and again, particularly the Highwood women, all of whom get their own story (Minerva is Book 2, Diana is Book 3.5, and Charlotte is Book 5). Colin and Thorne are here as well who both also get their own books. Spindle Cove is a fully fleshed out community from the beginning of the series, and you just grow to love it more as the books continue.

The plot is more in the background -- Bram wants his command back and has to train a militia of Spindle Cove men; Susanna is not in favor of this because it draws her father, a well-known military engineer, back into the fray--his last few inventions have not gone well and she worries for his health. It's really well done and their back stories are incredibly poignant and do a lot to drive the action forward.

I just love this book.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: Bow Street Runners (Lisa Kleypas)

This is the shortest series I’ve done for this project thus far and it’s more of “this next book has characters you met in the last one” kind of series which were really popular for about ten years. Today, a lot of series have something else that connects them — I’m thinking of neighborhoods and villages like Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane and Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove.  While the heroes all work for Bow Street, that’s not really something that connects the books on a narrative level.

This is also the first series that did not suffer for having read them all in a row over a few days. Each one of these books stands entirely on their own with unique characters and plots. I don’t have any trouble telling Nick, Grant, and Ross apart which is definitely a step up from the Bastion Club, the Highland Brides, or the Keegan-Paxton series. I also don’t want to groan when previous characters come back — Grant plays a decent supporting role in both the next two books and I never want to set the book on fire. So there’s something for that.

Objectively, the best book in this series is probably Someone to Watch Over Me. It has the tightest plot, with characters that develop and grow, and a romance that appears to escalate nicely. However, my personal favorite remains Lady Sophia’s Lover. Though the plot seems to change halfway through the book and meanders a little bit, I connected more easily to Sophia and Ross and was more invested in their romance. Worth Any Price is probably the weakest of the books, but it’s actually a really good book that I enjoyed a lot and count among one of my favorites.

There’s not much to say about this series. I love any kind of series associated with Bow Street, and I wish that that the third book had been more about Bow Street, but that’s a personal preference and doesn’t affect Worth Any Price all that much. It’s a good series, but I probably like the Wallflowers and Hathaways more. Still, Kleypas is known as one of the masters of the genre for good reason.

Worth Any Price (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall Response

This is one of my favorite books because it has one of my favorite romance tropes: the characters are already married. I'm always dumbfounded by people who complain about this type of storyline -- apparently it takes some of the fun out of it for them. You're reading romance, a genre in which the HEA is guaranteed (or I demand my money back). The journey is what makes the book worthwhile.

Anyway, Nick Gentry returns from a bit of an uneven appearance in Lady Sophia's Lover. I didn't entirely love him but I'm thinking maybe Lisa Kleypas hadn't quite figured how ruthless she wanted him to be so I can forgive it. It's three years later, and Nick has turned into one of Bow Street's best runners and commands the respect of even Sir Grant Morgan (Someone to Watch Over Me's hero). He takes a private commission to locate the runaway fiancée of Lord Radnor, Charlotte (Lottie) Howard who is hiding out with Lord Westcliff as a companion for the Dowager Countess. Nick convinces her to marry him to free her from Lord Radnor's really creepy clutches because her family won't help. And that's all in the first 50 pages.

The book is about their marriage and how Nick adjusts to the changes presented to him once he's married. Sir Ross Cannon (Lady Sophia's Lover) has petitioned for Nick to take up his title and birth name of Lord John Sydney, and Grant tells him that the runners are likely to be disbanded within some months. Lottie also has to contend with the creepy Radnor and her ridiculous family.

So the characters and the romance are amazing. I go back to this book often because I really like Lottie and Nick and the way Kleypas brings in a supporting cast of old and new characters. This is actually the first time we meet Lord Westcliff (which explains a huge issue I have, which we'll talk about in spoilers) but because I've read the entire Lisa Kleypas universe, he feels like an old friend here. I love seeing Ross and Sophia, though I'm surprised by how little we ever get to see Victoria, Grant's wife. She makes maybe two cameos, one in each book.

I thought Nick's back story presented some interesting obstacles for his marriage to Lottie and her resilience and naturally upbeat nature provide him a foundation to deal with the demons of his past and I like how Nick grows over the book and where he ends up at the end. Lottie's best stuff happens in the first half of the book--this is really Nick's journey.

The plot is probably where this book falls apart. It's almost dual plot -- and Nick's part holds up relatively well. His acceptance and reluctant embrace of his birthright feels real, and I happy with where it ends up.

It's Lottie's half of the plot that is crazy pants. Her family seems relatively one dimensional--her parents are basically selfish people who don't really get any kind of comeuppance and the resolution to the Radnor plot feels like maybe Kleypas built herself up to something she didn't know how to stop. It just kind of ends.

But this is a really good book with a good romance and does a good job ending the trilogy.

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