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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Mastered By Love (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall

As I was reading this, I wondered if writing about Royce and the duchy of Wolverstone is one of the reasons Stephanie Laurens decided to write her lone medieval story, Desire's Prize. They were released four years apart (2009, 2013) but there's a striking similarity between Royce & Minerva and Montisfryn & Elaine. He's a marcher lord, and she ends up under his care to take up role of chatelaine.  I actually really liked Desire's Prize, and I hope Laurens writes more of them. Her brand of hero and heroine are very well suited to medieval romances, and I am a huge sucker for that sub-genre.

Anyway, this is the last book in the Bastion Club series and wraps up the through-line of the last traitor created in Book 2, A Gentleman's Honor.  There's a lot I like about the final resolution to that plot line, but I also think that it would have benefited from spending just a little more time with the villain. I think Laurens wanted to keep him a mystery until a certain point, but I think this is the book where he should have had more of a center stage. I liked the identity of the villain and the final resolution to it all -- I just would have liked him to be a bit more present throughout the book.

The other part of the plot revolves around Royce's return to his old life and becoming duke upon the death of his father. He returns home to find the ward his parents raised grown up and functioning as the castle's chatelaine -- which was a medieval term you don't read much about in Regency time. Basically, Minerva is a step above the housekeeper and runs the household -- much like the laird's wife would in a Scottish romance, if that makes sense.

During his father's funeral, Royce is harassed beyond the point of sanity by the society grand dames to take wife because the Prince Regent is eyeing the duchy Royce only just inherited. I mean, they're obnoxious, and Royce is a hell of a lot nicer than I would be.

Of the Bastion Club members, only Christian and Leticia really play a role here. Clarice and Jack show up, but not for long. I think Penny is there, too. Thank God, there's only mentions of Jack Hendon, and Deverell is a distant memory for all of us. It makes me happy. Devil from the Cynster series has a minor supporting role with the running joke that his mother is desperate to marry him off and already using the term of Dowager to encourage him. Royce's sisters show up but there's not much to say about any of that. The supporting cast doesn't really do all that much.

I like both the leads quite a lot. Both are capable, honest, and straightforward. Royce is relatively relatable and remains the steady, arrogant, yet reasonable character we've seen in the last seven books. Minerva is a typical Laurens lead who has a strong head on her shoulders and a clear goal. I particularly liked that Royce deferred to Minerva on estate decisions.

The romance is also very good -- in fact, it's up there with Leticia & Christian (The Edge of Desire) and Jack & Clarice (A Fine Passion). I'll get into the weeds about something specific I loved in the spoiler section, but suffice to say that this romance develops really well and escalates nicely.

This is a solid and satisfying end to a better than I remembered series.

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The Edge of Desire (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall

This was always one of my favorite books in the series because I liked the romance and the plot. That remains true though there a few things that kind of jumped out at me in this reread and once I noticed them, they only got more annoying which is why the star is four, not five.

Christian's story actually begins in the epilogue of Beyond Seduction, and there's been some hints of Christian's past (very tiny ones) but the romance been Christian and Leticia is definitely my favorite in the series. They have a history, much like Charles and Penny in A Lady of His Own, but their past is more ably dealt with and actually presents a huge conflict for them to overcome. And I liked that as soon he learned the reason Letitia hadn't waited for him but had married Randall, he immediately took the blame on himself and acknowledged his own failures. He completely let her off the hook which I liked.

When it comes to characters, I still liked them a lot but here's my main problem with Letitia. She's apparently a member of a wild family who have insane tempers, are known for their impulsive nature...and yet, Stephanie Laurens never shows us this behavior. She tells it. Every time we get a "Vaux" tantrum, we don't get any dialogue. She describes it.

And at every turn, the Vaux nature, the Vaux tendency comes back. Over and over again.  Stephanie Laurens has always had a piece of description that she tends to beat into the ground (Jack calling Clarice Boadicea or warrior queen) but this was particularly annoying because I was supposed to see Letitia as a certain kind of character and she just never was.

The plot and murder mystery is pretty good, and Dalziel plays into this one a bit more than we've seen before but that makes sense because his book is next. Some of the other reasons (beyond the Vaux nonsense) that this book, despite being really good, doesn't make it to five stars are more spoilery so suffice to say this is the best book in the series thus far, the equal to A Fine Passion, though I think I like Clarice a smidge more than Letitia.

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Beyond Seduction (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall Response

After the travesty of To Distraction, this was a breath of fresh air though that's not a super hard threshold to conquer, is it? God, I still get annoyed by that book.

This entry in the series brings back both Malcolm Sinclair and the recurring "last traitor" plot. I don't really know what Malcolm is doing here -- he seems to have a sort of slightly nefarious plot brewing to get some tinning leases but it fizzles out pretty quick. I know he's in more of Laurens' books -- and he gets his own redemption book but it's hard to see what he adds here.

The plot itself centers around the last traitor though it takes some time for that plot get going. Like To Distraction and A Fine Passion, the romance takes center stage for the first half of the book. Thankfully, this book follows in the footsteps of A Fine Passion because the romance isn't so bad. It's not nearly as good as either Tristan and Leonora and Jack and Clarice, but it's a comfortable in third finish.

The characters are in the mold of the usual Laurens leads and there isn't much to differentiate them from, say, Jack and Clarice. They're all strong-minded people who love their land and their family. The leads and their supporting cast are serviceable but nothing special.

The romance, however, is a bit unique in that Gervase has known Madeline for many years but he's always seen her as an equal, not necessarily as someone who he might be interested in. She's always been in that other box. Once he comes home, he promises his sisters he'll marry the next eligible woman he comes across -- and that turns out to be Madeline. He sets out to see if they're compatible, and once he's decided she is, sets out to convince her.

There are aspects to the romance that I find less than convincing, but they work within the particular world that Stephanie Laurens has constructed for her society. I'll get into them in the weeds.

I think is is an okay entry in the series. It reminds me of A Lady of His Own in that everything does what it's there to do, but nothing really stands out.

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To Distraction (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall

I don't even know where to start with this one, y'all. It was so bad. So unbelievably bad. I've read it twice before and literally had no memory of the story I was about to read--and I really think my brain was trying to protect me. I can usually polish these books off in one two hour sitting, maybe over two 90 minute sessions--generally it doesn't take more than a day or two to read this. This one--I've been reading since Sunday. That's FOUR DAYS.

And it's because I kept putting it down. I kept avoiding reading it. I didn't want to finish it. This is bad. This is bad in a way that Captain Jack's Woman was not. That book had George Smeaton and Kit to save it. This...even the bright spot disappears halfway through.

So what's bad? The so-called hero, Deverell, never ever recovers from the first 100 pages. He is awful, he's pushy, and he just never listens to the heroine, Phoebe. She makes it clear beyond a doubt for the first half of the book she has no interest in marriage. She's attracted to him, but she still doesn't want to marry him. And...we'll get into it in the spoilers, but she literally gives him no encouragement. Responding to a kiss he starts is not necessarily the same thing.

Second, the plot? I don't know. I guess it could have been good but it doesn't even really start until page 247 when we meet the villain. This book was only 351 pages long (in my ebook). I don't know percentages, but I should know what's going on long before that. Like A Fine Passion, the romance takes center stage for the first half of the book--but it doesn't work here because these people are not in love. Phoebe is basically a hostage who succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome. By the time there's an actual villain, I'm just...pfft. Not interested.

The characters? Phoebe starts off interesting. She's--at first--not a typical Laurens heroine, and there are aspects to her character that I like. But Deverell is worse than Jack Hendon (Captain Jack). I did not think that was possible because I hate Jack so much I've set him on fire in two reviews. He makes me see red so much that his name was mentioned in this book and I got all irritated. But Deverell is worse. Because he's basically a stalker who thinks he's charming and he gets away with it.

Skip this book. It doesn't add to the overall series -- Dalziel's last traitor is not featured here, and Dalziel is probably the one person who shows up that I like.

I don't really comment on sex scenes because some people like a lot of them, some people don't. I've never really cared much for the steam level--it doesn't make or break my reading if that makes sense. But the story basically stops for a good 50 pages so Deverell can seduce Phoebe repeatedly. Even in other books when that was happening, stuff was still happening in the story. The middle of this book drags in such a way that you will want to set yourself on fire.

There is nothing interesting about this book, and there's no point in reading. Run away. As fast and as far as you can.

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A Fine Passion (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall Response

My memory of this book was only that it was fine--and my original Goodreads rating of three stars supports that. However, upon re-reading this time and thinking about my trio of rating criteria more closely, I actually like this book a lot. It's probably the best in the series thus far (though The Lady Chosen remains a very close second).

The romance here is the best in the series, and the characters are probably the most interesting and defined. I may not totally love the subplot with Clarice's family (and we'll talk about it more detail), but it's richly written and only plays a small role in the overall larger story.

We're still tracking Dalziel's final traitor, and he shows up again--we even start getting pieces of his background. I'm relieved to say that four books into this series proper, I'm not remotely annoyed by Dalziel yet, and I'll be interested to see how closely his portrayal as a supporting character reflects his main character in the last book.

The Bastion Club members, other than Jack Warnefleet, are Paignton and Dearne (Jocelyn and Christian) whose books are both 5 & 7 respectively. Neither of them stand out yet -- they're Laurens heroes, so they won't. They play a good role, however, and their presence doesn't distract me enough to think I won't like their books.  Clarice's brothers, however, are actually irritating and I'm glad they don't show up more than sparingly.

The plot is good, the romance is good, the characters are good -- there are only a few things that keep this story from being a five-star and we'll get into it in the spoilers.

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A Lady of His Own (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall Response

So I feel like this book easily could have been four stars, maybe even five if Stephanie Laurens had just pushed the romance a different way. Unlike any of the other couples thus far, Penny and Charles have a history that layers over their present, and I found it more interesting than the typical strangers falling in love. That being said, their past was ambiguous and I don't think it was as strong as it could have been. I'll get into specifics in the spoilers, but it was just a bit disappointing.

Character wise, this is probably the weakest of the three books thus far (we're not speaking of Captain Jack) because Penny and Charles feel like the thinnest of the characters. I don't feel like anything really sets them apart, and the supporting cast doesn't really come up to snuff. Dalziel shows up, and he's fine. He doesn't do anything to annoy me which just as important. But Nicholas and his father aren't really that interesting either. Everyone is just very one dimensional. I know I said I wouldn't hold the fact that Laurens uses the same archetypes for all her character, but so far I've been able to pull out nuances that give the characters some depth. It doesn't feel that way for Penny and Charles.

The plot is, as always, the strongest element of the novel, though even this one is a bit weaker than the last two. Just a little bit. We're searching out for traitors (ultimately hunting Dalziel's final traitor) and the action has moved to Cornwall and to smuggling. Penny is concerned that her brother and father were secretly French spies, so she's sufficiently motivated to find the foes, and Charles has been asked by Dalziel to investigate rumors in the area. Their paths cross, and they work together to find the truth. I think the plot dragged ever so slightly, and Nicholas doesn't do enough to hold it together. The ultimate villain is interesting but he's not around long enough to make an impression.

Overall, this book is just fine. It's an enjoyable read.

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A Gentleman’s Honor (Stephanie Laurens)

Overall Response

In my review of The Lady Chosen, I said that A Gentleman's Honor was my first Stephanie Laurens book, and that I had liked it enough to go to my local library and get a few more books. I think it was actually The Promise in a Kiss, the prequel to the Cynster series that convinced me to invest more heavily in her backlist.

With the passage of maybe fourteen years, do I still like this book enough? If I had read it today, would I see more books by this author? When I went to Goodreads to add a review, I saw that I had rated it as five stars. I've reduced that by two now.

I do still like this book. The strength of the mystery carries it past some of the issues I have with the romance. As always, reviewing and critiquing the leads in a Laurens book is fraught with issues. Anthony Blake is very nearly interchangeable with Tristan Wemyss from The Lady Chosen, though I think I like Tristan a bit more. Though both were reluctant to discuss emotions, Tristan did it more easily and more quickly. And I don't know that Leonora would have put up with nearly as much nonsense as Alicia did. So in that case, I do think there's enough of a difference.

The romance is...fine. I liked it at first because Tony doesn't really ever balk about keeping Alicia in the loop or working with her which is always nice. But Tony does things and takes for granted that Alicia will follow his lead--that she understands where they're going, and I don't ever blame Alicia for not knowing the endgame. I do kind of hold her responsible for not speaking up sooner. I'll go into detail in the spoiler section, but suffice to say -- the romantic conflict after a certain point becomes artificial and once an issue can be solved if your leads just talk about it--then it's really not a conflict.

The plot is good and it gives us the hint of the final traitor we'll be chasing until the last book in the series. Dalziel shows up here more as a stronger lead, though I'm never sure how I feel about him until we get to his book. I like him thus far, and I'm interested in tracking how that goes and how his continual presence affects his book which is the conclusion of the series.

As always, Laurens uses the rest of the Bastion Club sparingly, and this is one of the reasons why I like her work. I've never noticed her putting in characters for the hell of it, even if they're useful. Jack and Kit from Captain Jack's Woman show up, and I notice they're still pissing me off, but they play a good role and I understand why they're there. That's the mark of a good author. Laurens knows how to plot a series and connect it without making the reader kind of want to smack herself repeatedly. (See Mackenzies and McBrides).

This is a good entry into the series for the most part, though the romance is less satisfying than I like, the other elements carry it enough for me to like it.

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