Hunting for a Highlander (Lynsay Sands)

Note: I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review from the publisher. This book is scheduled for release by Avon on January 28, 2020.

Overall

I’ve read every historical romance Lynsay Sands has released, including all seven previous entries of the Highland Brides series. She’s an author who plays into specific tropes with an incredibly melodramatic style of writing. That’s not a criticism — as a soap opera lover, I love melodrama and there’s honestly not a lot of authors who can do it well. She’s one of them.

When I first started reviewing the Highland Brides series, I hadn’t yet identified why exactly I go back to Lynsay Sands over and over again because I don’t read a lot of authors who write in this style. And it’s because her melodramas are incredibly entertaining, almost always satisfying, and comforting. She writes lusty heroes and heroines who have a lot of sexual chemistry are always in the middle of murder mysteries, and I always know exactly what I’m getting when I pick up a Lynsay Sands novel.

The Buchanan brothers were introduced to us in The Highlander Takes a Bride when the sole sister of the rambunctious group, Saidh, gets married. There are seven brothers, and Hunting the Highlander is the fifth of their stories. Geordie is one of three unmarried Buchanan brothers who returns to the keep to find it filled with unmarried women looking for husbands to inherit their father’s land because they have no brother. This is a good opportunity for the Buchanans who have a lot of brothers but not a lot of titles.

Geordie seeks solace and silence by sleeping in a tree in the orchard only to be woken up one of the potential brides fleeing tormenters. We meet Dwynn Innes, heiress to a holding by the sea in the Lowlands.  Dwynn is not a typical beauty, but she and Geordie hit it off immediately and there’s not a lot of conflict as to whether they’re going to end up together. They’re immediately attracted to one another, but someone seems to want to cause Dwynn harm.

I really liked this book. I think that Geordie and Dwynn are probably my third favorite couple in the series (Ross and Annabel are always going to be number one). The attacks and attempted murder stuff is all fine and predictable. The most I can say in relation to that stuff is that it doesn’t drag the book down and it’s nicely paced. As always, both our leads get injured a lot which lets the other person confront their feelings. That’s a Sands trope I’m ready for.

I think my only critique of this book is the focus on Dwynn’s breasts. Her sisters lower all of her necklines to an excruciating degree (there are lots of times when we’re told her nipples are basically showing) and I feel like that doesn’t match the fashions of the time period. It’s a weird central theme that repeats until literally the end of the book. Early on, Geordie even sees Dwynn and only recognizes her because he’s looked at her breasts more than her face. It’s a discordant note in an otherwise delightful book.

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The Wallflower Wager (Tessa Dare)

I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall

This is the third book in the Girl Meets Duke series, and one that I was particularly looking forward to having met Lady Penelope Campion in early installments. She was the delightfully sweet animal lover who made sham sandwiches that Emma and Alexandra made their beaus pretend to like. I’m a sucker for any book with a lot of animals, and this definitely did not disappoint.

She lives alone with a chaperone who should probably retire, surrounded by her animals, but her aunt makes it clear that Penelope can only remain in London if she makes an attempt to marry and rejoin society. Otherwise, she will be forced to return to her brother’s estate, a fate she can’t face. Her next door neighbor is ruthless business man Gabriel Duke who bought and restored the town home next door. He knows social climbers will jump at the chance to live next to a member of the ton like Lady Penelope. He agrees to help Penelope re-home her beloved animals and keep her in London.

Their meet cute is probably one of the most adorable you’ll ever read — Penny has adopted a parrot that flies away and ends up in the house next door in the middle night. Dressed in her night clothes, she goes to retrieve the parrot, thinking the house is empty, only to find her new neighbor in little more than towel, fresh from the tub.

I like this book. It’s cute, there are a lot of animals, and we get to see the returning supporting cast. I like Penny and Gabriel and their various adventures in re-homing many of Penny’s animals. Their romance is lovely, and Penny’s backstory is suitably tragic. It’s as well written as you’d expect a Tessa Dare book to be, and I promise you, if you love her writing, you will like this book.

I think the problem I have with this book is not the fault of Tessa Dare, but something a bit more subjective for me. Everything about this book is good — all of the dots line up, things connect, and it’s good. But I will probably never be able to re-read it.

I’ve always read my ARC books a few times to get the best review possible, but for content reasons, I won’t be able to read this one again. I’ll get into that in the spoilers.

Let me repeat that this book is good. I think that I’m just not able to be more objective than that, and I feel really bad. This is probably the reason books should have content warnings, to be honest. I wouldn’t have asked for this book as an ARC if I’d known the content. I still would have read it once because I adore Tessa Dare, but this is a topic I don’t ever read about more than I have to.

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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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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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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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Lady Sophia’s Lover (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall

I was so excited to get to this book--it's always been one of my favorite romance novels because it takes place over a longer period of time. A lot of novels, particularly in the last decade or so, tend to take place over a couple of weeks but rarely span longer than a month, maybe two. This novel is probably at least six months, if not more, and it really allows the romance and characters to develop.

The plot is a bit of a misdirect--Sophia's desire for revenge is really more of an inciting incident and it doesn't take her long to start rethinking her opinion of Ross and the actual plot kind of meanders a bit. That's not a bad thing because if Sophia stuck to her original plan I feel like that would have caused the story to drag.

The characters are great -- Ross was a good supporting character in Someone to Watch Over Me, and he remains solid here. He's a principled man of honor and it's fascinating to watch him apply his own vision of justice. Sophia is a great lead -- I like that she does revise her opinion and plows her own path, even if she's occasionally quick to jump to conclusions.

The romance is good and develops well. I like that Ross never seems to shy away from his feelings for Sophia but I could have done without her former lover or Ross's brother. I know they were there to provide a contrast to Ross, but it did get annoying having Sophia blackmailed and propositioned at ever turn.

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Someone to Watch Over Me (Lisa Kleypas)

Overall

I have to admit that I was nervous when I put this series on my summer reading list because while I've read the other two books in this trilogy several times, I can only remember rereading this book maybe twice since the first time I read it in 2004. It didn't stick with me as well as the rest of the series.

I'm happy to say that while I still like the other two books better, this is by no means a weak story. The aspects about the plot that I was worried about -- Grant's so-called revenge -- was actually handled better than I had remembered. While the romance is a bit more superficial than I typically like, it's still pretty good.

I actually liked the journey Lisa Kleypas took Grant on -- he's a very hard character in the beginning and "Vivienne" does kind of force him to re-examine himself. Given his origin story, I can understand why he is the way he is, but I guess maybe I wish he'd been punished a bit longer.

The plot is fine -- it's a standard mystery but it's never really the focus. It's always about Grant and his confusion that Vivienne isn't acting the way he'd expected her, too.

Still, this is a good introduction to one of my favorite trilogies -- I love Bow Street Runners, and Sir Ross's book is ridiculously good (at least I remember it being good). While this book doesn't have the depth in the plot, characters, or romance that the rest of the series does, this is a good book. I really like Grant and "Vivienne" and was happy for them to get their happy ending.

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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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