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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The Lass Initiated the Laird (Lisa Torquay)

Note: I received this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Overall

So I actually hate reading things out of order. When I find a series, I try to never start in the middle, and I really don't do it when it's my first book by an author. So this novella is set after the third book in aseries called Explosive Highlanders, and it really convinced me that I was right to avoid novellas in the middle of series by authors I've never read before.

That's not to say I didn't like it, but I just kind of think it suffers from me not knowing anything about the world that Lisa Torquay has created if that makes sense. For example, I'm pretty sure Aileen and Taran, Sam's father and stepmother, are in Book 1 or 2 -- but now I don't want to read their story because Taran's a jackass.  This novella does not stand on its own.

Another drawback is the pacing. It's a short novella--about 90 pages--and most of the book is building up the seduction between Sam and Harriet. That part is mostly fine. There are some tropes and purple prose, but whatever. And then the book gallops over weeks and months, and there's a trip to Scotland that makes little narrative sense except we want to to see Aileen and Taran--the pacing is all over the place.

Sam and Harriet don't really stand alone as interesting characters either, though I imagine I'd feel differently having read the first two books. If you're looking for a short story with a lot of sex, then this is probably a good book for you. If you're looking for a little bit more development in your romance and a more traditional narrative, I wouldn't recommend it.

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The Highlander’s Promise (Lynsay Sands)

Overall Response

This one is being reviewed out of order because it was only just released on Tuesday, June 26, and I didn't wait to wait to read it. I've been hoping for a good story for Aulay since we met him in The Highlander Takes a Bride and he showed up in subsequent books.

I was happy with this story for the most part. There were some...secrets being kept that I think bordered on problematic with the hero not telling the heroine the truth. Had Jetta known from the start what the deal was, things would have been different. Still, points for it never being Aulay's idea to lie to her, and for having a relatively decent reason for continuing it. (Better than most books).

I think this probably the last book in the series only because we're out of the women from To Marry a Scottish Laird and the Buchanan brothers didn't strike me as romantic leads, but I guess we'll find out. A solid entry in the series.

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After the Wedding (The Worth Saga #2)

Note: Received as ARC in exchange for a review. For order links, see Courtney Milan's website.

Initial Thoughts & Hot Take

I thought the book got off to a slow start. The first few chapters threw a lot of information at me about Adrian's background and family, so it took me a minute to get into the story. That being said, once it got going, I couldn't put it down and I finished it in a few hours. We'd waited a while for the follow-up to the cliffhanger ending at the end of the first book, Once Upon a Marquess, and I definitely felt like After the Wedding delivered.

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The Pursuit Of… (Courtney Milan)

Note: This book was originally released as part of an anthology, Hamilton's Battalion, and will be released as a standalone novella on June 26, 2018. This book was provided as an ARC in exchange for a review.

Overall Response

I'm still very much dipping my toes into the m/m romance subgenre. This is not really a matter of preference, only that I tend to follow the same authors who tend to only use LGBTQ characters and romances as subplots and supporting characters. This is my third novel in this category, and the second in the m/m tradition. So that being said, I'm happy to have read this. The leads are engaging, the banter is lovely and swift and as always, Courtney Milan tackles the larger issues so deftly you don't even notice what she's doing.  There's always something deeper at work in Milan books, and her hero and heroines are always just left of conventional, which is my favorite thing about her work. I love knowing when I pick up a book from Courtney Milan, I'm about to be taken on a journey that no other author could have done.
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