Books · Summer Reading

Summer Reading Project

So I didn’t end up reading half the books I set out for my Master Reading List. I didn’t even read all of the series that I promised to when I cut the list in half a month ago. Oy. But I’m going to concentrate on the fact that I did read 46 books out of my overall 123 so far this year, which is roughly 38% of the whole total. So I’m actually pretty happy about that.

I want to finish up the Spindle Cove series because I am actually almost finished reading it — I haven’t written all the reviews, and there are about three more books to read.  But then I want to concentrate on making sure I write reviews for every single new book going forward. This was a fun summer reading project, though, and I’ll have to start thinking about what I want to do next year.

A Week to Be Wicked (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

I actually wrote a review of this story when I first read it (I do that sometimes, just not enough). Here it is, posted on March 27, 2012:

Listen, until now there's only been one Colin in my life and I'm not saying Tessa's Colin has replaced Julia's Colin, but there's competition. There's something lovely about a hero who so clearly--at the start--NOT really a hero. And yet, of course he is. He wants to do good. He has nice intentions, but things always get away from him. He's charming and just a little damaged. He needs a good woman. A quirky woman. He needs Minerva. And isn't Minerva lovely? She needs him too. God. If you loved Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, then Minerva and Colin will appeal to you because it's quite the same type of relationship. An ugly duckling who turns out to be quite more than she seems and the charming man who is a lot more than he seems. And Tessa Dare, whom I picked up only on Julia Quinn's recommendation, keeps getting getter. This is the eighth effort from this author and not only has she never stumbled, but she continues to exceed my expectations. Worth waiting for!

That's actually a pretty accurate description of my overall response, to be honest, but I'll try to be a bit more articulate with better spelling.

One of my favorite romance heroes has always been Colin Bridgerton from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. I love a good beta romance hero. He's not a man of action, but rather he's a good, charming man who just hasn't found the right woman yet. Colin Sandhurst from A Week to Be Wicked has given Colin Bridgerton serious competition.

In A Night To Surrender, Colin was a bit of a charming rake who didn't seem to take anything seriously. Until the end of the book, when we saw a different side of him--and we got our first scene with Minerva. Minerva changes a bit from Surrender, or maybe it's because we saw her through Susanna's eyes. Minerva was a bit annoying actually early on, and I didn't think I'd like her nearly as much as I did.

And then I read this book. And this book, my people, is everything. We take the usual tropes: a damaged hero who turns to women to avoid being alone and a bluestocking heroine, and somehow, when Tessa Dare writes these tropes, they feel fresh and original. Colin has good intentions and never sets out to hurt anyone. Things just always seem to get away from him because he's not really great at thinking about the big picture. All Minerva ever does is think about the big picture, so she loses of a lot of every day details. And that's what makes them fun to read.

Their mad dash to Scotland is filled with adventures, danger, and risk-taking along with highway men, missionaries, and princes. We spend time with the hero of a future book (Any Duchess Will Do's Griff, who I did not like much until his own book) and we get a beautiful subplot with Kate and Thorne, the stars of my other favorite Dare book, A Lady By Midnight.

Everything about this book is clicking on all cylinders and it's a joy to read it again and again.

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Once Upon a Winter’s Eve (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

When I originally read and rated this story, I gave it three stars. After reading this time, I've definitely revised how much I like this novella. I'm always leery of novellas with characters I don't really know or haven't yet met because novellas are short spaces to write an entire romance. Often authors spend more time on on the plot than they do on the characters and romance which leaves me less than satisfied.

That's not the case with Once Upon a Winter's Eve, though these characters are basically strangers. Violet shows up in A Night To Surrender, but only briefly, and Christian is entirely new. Tessa Dare smartly doesn't give us a separate plot for these characters or develop an entirely new romance between them. Violet and Christian knew and had a relationship before the story opens. This is the story of their reunion and what's happened since he left for the West Indies--which turns out he went to war.

Because the plot is literally Christian being mistaken for a French soldier who speaks a dialect only Violet can understand, it puts their relationship at the center and that's really smart. Violet doesn't know if she can trust him, and Christian is trying to beg her forgiveness and understanding -- it's a great small-scale plot for a novella.

Character-wise, these are both shining examples of people I like to read about. Christian is layered, flawed, and determined. Violet is quick and capable of holding her own against basically the entire world. The romance is great and fun to read. This is one of the best novellas I've read in a long time.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: Samantha Jellicoe (Suzanne Enoch)

This is, hands down, one of my favorite series. If I were to make a top five favorite series list, this makes it. (Oooh, I think I’ll have to do that.) I don’t read a lot of contemporary novels. I’m not really sure why I connect more with historical romances, but it’s likely because I am obsessed with history, and the romance genre allows me to explore worlds I study and write about.

In fact, most of the contemporary novels I read are authors who also write historical. I remember reading Suzanne Enoch’s historical romances — I’m not sure which one–and it had an excerpt from Flirting With Danger at the back. I read it and immediately bought it and got hooked.

What makes this series work? First and foremost, it’s fun. And that cannot be overrated in the current climate. This is the kind of escapism I go to my fiction for, and Suzanne Enoch delivers on every single page. Second, the characters of Rick and Sam are deep and layered, each with flaws that create good conflict and force the other to make adjustments, to compromise. Their relationship as it builds through all six books is the best part of this series.

So when I talk about weaknesses, least favorite, it is with this caveat: I love every book in this series.

The best book, objectively, remains Billionaires Prefer Blondes. It has the highest stakes of any of the other plots, and the romantic conflict between Sam and Rick is the closest they come to breaking. They’re each really forced to examine each other and whether they’re being unrealistic that this could actually work. It has the best supporting characters.

Don’t Look Down is probably the weakest book, only because the conflict between Sam and Rick is a little forced and I’m a bit less invested in the murder. It’s still a really fun read, and I never skip when I do a full reread, but it’s probably the book I open to reread the least of this series.

The other books fall between these in the spectrum. Flirting with Danger and Touch of Minx have strong plots, good romance, great cast. If you were to read one over the other, I think Minx is probably a bit more fun and frothy and has some really fun subplots. Flirting is still great, but it has to set up the world and has more heavy lifting to do.

Twice the Temptation honestly suffers because the first half of the book — the historical romance portion — is not nearly as strong as the series overall. When I reread, I generally skip the first half. That being said, the Sam and Rick part of the book is just fine.

Barefoot in the Dark is a special case. I like it a little less than Don’t Look Down, but I wonder how much of that is because it’s ten years later and I’m reading it knowing that. I’m still rating it above DLD because I like the character-driven nature of the plot, and I imagine the second time I reread it, I’ll probably like it even better.

My favorite thing about following couples through one series in the romance genre is that, if the author does their job well, the characters I read in the last book should be different from the first. I love to read the growth. J.D. Robb does this really well with In Death, and it’s really done well here in fewer books. Sam & Rick grow separately and together so that by Barefoot in the Dark, these guys are a team in the way they’re not in Flirting. That’s the best thing about these kinds of series and few authors can really do it well.

I hope that I get to come back and revisit my series review because I’m getting more Sam & Rick in my life.

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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