The Duke I Once Knew (Olivia Drake)

Overall

This is one of the books that you like while you're reading it, but that you can't entirely remember all that much a week or so later. In fact, I was trying to remember the lead characters' names and I simply couldn't. It's been like two weeks since I read this and I had to flip through it to remember the details.

I mean, I liked this book. I always like these stories where the leads fell in love as teenagers and are separated by circumstances to find each other as adults. This is probably my second favorite trope after marriage of convenience. I liked Max and Abby and most of the supporting characters -- I definitely hope this isn't the last we've seen of Max's sister and Abby's cousin.

I'm not entirely sure why this book isn't going to stay with me. I guess maybe I'm just tired of daddy issues being the only thing that drives male protagonists. Max is a horrible rake who doesn't ever come home to see his sister because of his father? Eh. It's just over done.

I'll probably reread this book, but only because I like rereading books that I don't remember that well. They always feel new again 😛

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Bella and the Beast (Olivia Drake)

Overall

Of all the books in this series, this is the one that closely aligns to a specific fairy tale and features references from the Disney 1992 movie, down to being forbidden to go into the west wing. That 1992 movie is one of my favorite movies of all time so I was already predisposed to like this story.

The characters and the romance make up for a little bit of a lukewarm plot. I love the heroine--Bella is incredibly self-sufficient and her own person. I liked Miles a lot -- there are few things I did not love him about him, but they're more about the plot. I liked the way they worked together, I liked watching them get to know one another.  They just worked.

I think my main problem with the plot of the story is that there are a few extraneous characters who don't serve a purpose and the murder of Miles' father happened more than two decades before the book opens, so it feels a little dusty as a motivation. When you find out who the villain is, it's hard to believe it could have stayed hidden for so long.

But all the pieces line up and I like the romance so much that this is one of my personal favorites to reread.

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Abducted by the Prince (Olivia Drake)

Overall

Objectively, this is not a stellar book. It's fine and everything works for the most part, but there's nothing here that should blow me away or that's special. Yet, for some reason, I love rereading the second half of this book from time to time. I don't know. I can't explain it.

Ellie is a spinster poor relation who has spent her whole life tending to her younger cousins because of her gambling father. Damien is an illegitimate gambling club owner who has a childhood connection to Ellie's cousin, Walter, who stole something that relates to Damien's murky past. To get it back, Damien decides to kidnap Beatrice, Walter's cousin, but ends up with Ellie. They don't know that until they're up in an isolated Scottish island.

There are a lot of readers, particularly these days, that would be turned off by the kidnapping trope. It's not really a deal breaker for me--it usually depends on the context and the way it's written. It's not great, but it's not as bad as others I've read.

The romance is actually pretty good -- I buy the slow build and the reasons these two come together, their bumps in the road. I like both the characters, but I think the overall plot is pretty weak and the supporting characters are cardboard and one-dimensional.

I think it's a good book that's worth reading once, maybe twice. With a tighter plot and better supporting cast, it would have been much better.

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Stroke of Midnight (Olivia Drake)

Overall

There's something about this book that I just don't connect with. All of the elements should be there, but something is missing -- I think it's in the characters and the romance after a certain point. This is one of the books that does the setup just right but misses the dismount.

Laura Faulkner returns after ten years abroad--she and her father were once the toast of the ton but forced to flee when he was accused of stealing one of the most valuable diamonds from a leading hostess. Until then, Laura had been courted by Alex, the Earl of Copley. It was Alex that found a set of earrings and publicly accused her father. Laura cut his cheek, scarring him, as she and her father left. She returns after her father is killed in London, and wants to clear his name. Through Lady Milford, Laura becomes the companion to Alex's aunt and that's how they run into each other.

I think maybe I wanted more from Alex and from the romance after the middle of the book. Alex is supposed to have a tragic backstory, but I never quite felt that. I like this book, but it just left me meh and I usually skip over it when I reread the series.

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If the Slipper Fits (Olivia Drake)

Overall

I really like this book, and it serves as a really good introduction to the series (which lasts another five books).  I think it was my first Olivia Drake book and I've been relatively happy with her all along.

There's a bit of a fairy tale element with this series and with this book specifically. Annabelle is an illegitimate orphan left to rot in a boarding school where she now teaches.  She's given a position as a governess to an orphaned duke by a slightly mysterious benefactor, Lady Milford, who also gives her a pair of elegant shoes. It's the shoes and Lady Milford that ties all six books together rather than the characters. She's sent to Cornwall where the duke, Nicholas, is living with his guardian, his uncle Simon. It's very much a Cinderella story.

I really like Annabelle and Simon for the first 80% of the book. Simon is a bit of a bitter soul--Nicholas's mother was a woman Simon had courted but married George, the duke. He didn't speak to his brother again before George and his wife died. He went into the army, had plans for his life--but now he's guardian to a little boy that he resents.

And Simon is unlikeable for the first third of the book. He really resents his nephew. I applaud Olivia Drake for actually writing a guardian who doesn't like his ward rather than paying lip service.  It gives Annabelle something to do when she shows up.

My main problem is that Simon's POV disappears in the last part of the book, leading up to the climax. He does an about face that we don't get to see, only experience when Annabelle does. I expect my main leads to do equal heavy lifting in my romance novels, and Simon's epiphany happens off screen. There are a couple of things that happen this way towards the end. The background plot with attempted killing and whatnot -- it happens in a bit of a hurry, and I think that's why it feels rushed at the end.

It's an overall satisfying read, but if Simon had just showed up at the end of the book, it could have been one of my top favorites.

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The Wrong Highlander (Lynsay Sands)

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Response

I reread Lynsay Sands' Highlander Brides series last summer as part of a re-reading project, and it was an interesting experience. There were some highs and lows, but generally, it's an okay series as long as you're familiar with her work.

I was worried when I realized that she was releasing another book about a Buchanan brother -- there are like a thousand of them, and they're all the same. I couldn't have told you their names before she started releasing the books.  I was hoping this book would be about Rory because he's the only brother, aside from Aulay, that I had any interest it. But apparently it's about Conran, who I had no idea existed.

The characters aren't all that interesting, the romance is very uneven, and the plot is all over the place as if Lynsay Sands just hadn't figured out how to do write this. It actually has a sort of a promising beginning that, for me, never delivers. I mean, if you just want to with a cup of tea, be comfy, and read a book that will probably entertain you but won't stay with you, this is a good book for that.

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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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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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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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