Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

I read The Governess Game by Tessa Dare to fulfill the “romance about a single parent” category of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. This is the second book in the Girl Meets Duke series, I reviewed book one, “The Duchess Deal” last year and really enjoyed it. This book continues that trend and also furthers my love of Tessa Dare.

The premise: Chase Reynard is a rake who has been tasked with two young wards – 10 year old Rosamund and 7 year old Daisy – after he jumps from being fourth in line to the heir apparent. Desperate to find a nanny until he can send the girls to a boarding school he turns to Alexandra Mountbatten, a woman he literally ran into months ago at a bookshop who has shown up to set his clocks (not a euphemism). After she gives him a scathing takedown for his poor taste in creating a Cave of Carnality (complete with mirrors and nude portraits) he insists she is the right one for the job. She accepts the position for the money but quickly learns that there are depths to this scoundrel and that his posturing and attempts to but distance between himself and those around him speaks to a depth of feeling that he fears after past heartbreak.

One thing that I loved about this novel was that both characters have clear, well-paced growth. Chase doesn’t just fall in love and suddenly lose all of his fears surrounding attachment and Alexandra doesn’t magically get over her terror of being on boats just because he’s there. Love is not treated like a magic cure all, it just shows how choosing to accept the love you feel for others can help give you support to face down your fears and grow through them. Dare also does an excellent job showing how children can react to trauma and grief, one growing rigidly practical and the other falling into the continued roleplaying of funerals. The girls also grow in the novel and the reader is left knowing that they will be ok and this will mostly be because they will be allowed to grieve and be loved unconditionally instead of them just suddenly being “happy” or “ok.”

Despite its take on many painful issues, the novel made me laugh repeatedly and balanced its poignant and humorous moments well. In my opinion, Chase is the quintessential rake. He has a healthy sexual appetite and makes no bones (lol) about feeding it. He is a generous lover and a conscientious one as well. He is talented through practice and just the right amount of cocky. And, most importantly, he has that wonderful quality of being roguishly unaffected on the outside with a soft, creamy, marshmallowy inside of affection. Alexandra is also a great heroine and they make an excellent match. While (spoiler alert) their epilogue does include a reveal of the fact that she is pregnant, I didn’t get the sense that this baby is what would make them a family. Chase, Alexandra, Rosamund, and Daisy are already a complete and happy family and the baby would only grow what is already there. That’s not common in romance, particularly historical romance, and as the daughter of two people who were adopted into their families, I really appreciated this respect given to the legitimacy of a family created through nontraditional means.

I will be reading book three, The Wallflower Wager, coming up sometime but in the meantime I am going to be reading Darkfever and A Kiss for Solstice so keep an eye out for those reviews.

Review: More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh

Continuing with the Reading Embrace I read More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh for the “Dueling, Bring It Back” category. This might be a bit of a meander-y post because honestly you guys I’m still not sure how I feel about this book.

This is my second Balogh read. Before this I read Someone To Love which I also felt confused about. Like that one, I really liked the heroine and I thought the side characters were compelling and endearing, but I hated the hero. In both books the hero was a haughty, arrogant dick who intimidates everyone with a squint through his quizzing glass.

Please go with me on this quizzing glass journey because guys, I’m lost.

This is a quizzing glass:

quizzing-glass-closeup

I always called it a monocle but here we are. Maybe if I did more research I would understand why a man looking through his quizzing glass at you could be intimidating but reader, I do not understand. If a man raised his quizzing glass and peered at me like a grumpy owl I would simply laugh. And be a little embarassed for him. But this is the second time Balogh has used The Quizzing Glass as a tool of intimidation so it clearly is A Thing for someone or the period or etc.

Let’s get the plot out of the way though and I am going to use the synopsis on Goodreads because I tried explaining it to my boyfriend last night and there was so much I kept forgetting.

“An arrogant duke does the unthinkable-he falls in love with his mistress.
She raced onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melee, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, was shot. To his astonishment, Tresham found himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby was far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes were the sort a man could drown in-were it not for her impudence. She questioned his every move, breached his secrets, touched his soul. When he offered to set her up in his London town house, love was the last thing on his mind….
Jane tried to pretend it was strictly business, an arrangement she was forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there was nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she got past his devilish facade and saw the noble heart within, she knew the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drove her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thought love was for fools.”

I liked that the heroine refused to be cowed and was doing what she needed to be safe. I liked some of the banter between the main characters. I loved Tresham’s sister and brother, both very lively and funny characters that I would happily read more about. I liked the loyalty his friends showed even if they were kinda gross when they talked about women. I like that the hero does genuinely apologize at one point. I like that this book was chock-o-block full of dueling to more than hit the requirement for this category. That might be where what I like ends.

I did not like the hero who was an emotionally stunted prick with a Tragic Backstory that is supposed to excuse his behavior. I did not like the relationship as a whole. The author didn’t seem to know how she felt about it either based on how between “I’m pregnant so I’m forced to marry you” and “we’re married guys surprise and also we are in love” there is absolutely nothing to segue the parts. The characters bounce between being angry with each other (and having people say that’s proof of their love, which – ugh DON’T) and confessing their deep love and back to the fighting. I didn’t see growth from either character. He learns how to express emotions which is good but he was still by and large an ass. Also, the dueling is genuinely stupid and I know Jane is there to be that voice going “hey maybe don’t almost die or murder a person because of Honor” but it’s never taken seriously and he sure seems down to duel still at the end.

I struggle because I want to like Balogh’s work. There’s always some stuff in them that I like that keeps me wanting to return and try something else. But so far (and admittedly, only two books out of her catalogue isn’t a huge sample) the heroes seem very similar and very obnoxious. Also the descriptions and language around sex is ludicrously flowery. There was a lot of talk about Becoming One and Mounting and Making Love when I mostly wanted to know where was what and what impact was that having on people beyond a metaphysical sense of Bonding and Togetherness.

I don’t know, you guys. Maybe I will try another Balogh next year but I think one a year is a good rate of sampling for me unless one of you has a rec for one you think I’ll enjoy.

Review: Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

I jumped back to the HB Reading Embrace to read Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick to fulfill the Competency Boner category of the embrace. Amanda Quick was actually the first romance novelist I read. I snagged my mom’s copy of I Thee Wed as a young teen. I don’t remember how I felt about it. I know I didn’t read romance again for years but that certainly wasn’t a reaction to the book. In any case, I was excited to give this author another read as an adult who has a bit more romance experience under her belt.

Slater Roxton has a reputation that precedes him, most of it lies, some of it truth. He’s been rumored to be mad since he spent a year on an island after a cave-in during his expedition and now leads a quiet but much storeyed life retrieving artifacts and cataloguing them. Helping him with this is Ursula Kern, widow and owner of the Kern Secretarial Agency. When an employee and friend turns up dead and is shrugged off as a suicide, Ursula takes it upon herself to pursue what she knows has been murder. Slater helps her and along the way they find the truth and fall in love in Victorian England.

I enjoyed reading this book, but there were definitely some things that got in the way of my enjoyment. Slater apparently loved Ursula at first sight and is very protective and a little bit possessive of her in ways that are totally inappropriate, especially because he doesn’t actually relay his feelings until well into the book. Ursula’s past is hinted at as very shocking and maybe I’ve just grown snobbish about my Secret Past backstories but the reveal was kind of anticlimactic in my opinion. Also the sex is written in a very hyperbolical, every-touch-sets-someone-on-fire way that felt almost satirical with how elaborately it was described. But I recognize that is in part just a hallmark of the time and there definitely weren’t any descriptions that thoroughly turned me off (see “hot honey” from Once Burned). However, there were some delightful side characters. The pacing and the writing were both good and I was happy for the characters. It also definitely qualified for the Competency Boner category because both characters are smart and talented and good at their jobs.

Review: Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

Trigger Warning: References to a suicide attempt, depictions of torture

It’s the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace time again folks!

The first category for the embrace is “Abs, Abs, Abs, Dick!” which I interpreted as finding a book where the hero on the cover is all abs and a hint ‘o dick (aka it fades away but you Know he is naked). To fulfill this category I read Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost.

This read reminded me of why I love doing embraces/challenges/setting reading goals. I would never in a thousand years have read a book that had Vlad Tepes as the hero if it hadn’t fit the embrace description so perfectly. Dracula by Bram Stoker is one of my favorite novels and I have a longstanding anger towards depictions of him as a romantic figure and went into this book just trying to keep the two works separate, a tactic aided by the author’s own acknowledgement of that work and the hero’s derision for it because of how incorrectly it describes him. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Leila, or “Frankie”, works with some sideshow performers with her death defying gymnast acts. Also, she has a massive scar running down her face and arm and can electrocute people with her right hand and see people’s worst sins/past/sometimes future when she touches them. She’s had this power (no pun intended) since she was a young teen and got electrocuted. It’s basically a superhero origin story except the superhero is more of a Rogue from X-Men superhero in that she can’t not hurt people and it’s made her lead a very sheltered life. She lives with a dwarf vampire named Marty who has been her surrogate father due to her estranged relationship with her biological father and the fact that he can handle her occasional, accidental shocks better than humans. Everything in Leila’s life goes along about as normal as it can when acting as a carny and living with a vampire when she is kidnapped by other, much meaner vampires. These vampires force her to help them locate Vlad and once he is in her life, he doesn’t leave. He saves her from the kidnappers, takes her back to his home, and they begin to work together to track down who is trying to kill him. He also informs her that there is a connection between them (a Sexy connection) and he is correct.

A lot of this could have gone very wrong for me and somehow it never went there.

Frost makes a point of referencing the character being in her mid-twenties so even though there is clearly an age difference between Leila and Vlad, it wasn’t as squicky for me as it is when it’s a teenager. Also, Vlad’s actions never read as him being an Alphahole. He’s just a very old, very powerful vampire who genuinely does not have a connection with his humanity for the most part. He has no problem torturing people and is thoroughly confused and annoyed by her anger over it. He never lays a hand on her but he also isn’t lovesick and swayed by her pleas to be less vicious. In fact he establishes from the start that the word please means nothing to him. And this could have meant he ignored consent but this vampire overlord is actually very much about consent and does not do anything the heroine isn’t clearly, verbally, enthusiastically on board with. He never glamors her to seduce her. Hell, he barely seduces her. By the time they do anything she’s already decided that it’s going to happen and she’s up for it.

I also appreciate how the author did her best to portray Vlad as clearly being more powerful but not taking away Leila’s power or agency in the process. Also, Vlad has as romantic past and has had ex-girlfriends and lovers and Leila doesn’t get weirdly jealous about it. Leila has no sexual history but that makes sense based on her power and Vlad does make a gross comment about her virginity being a special gift but it’s just one sentence, not a consistent theme which it can be in some books. Vlad remains Vlad throughout the novel. He never suddenly becomes a new or “better” person, he doesn’t really soften a ton, and he never says I love you. The two characters are clearly having feelings for each other but there isn’t some emotionally fraught confession. His actions show his feelings for her in small but important ways and often in ways she doesn’t realize until she reads his mind.

Another thing that could have gone wrong but was handled well is that the characters can read each other’s minds/communicate telepathically. This is actually helpful in many cases and neither character really tries to abuse this. Vlad can just do it and can’t really help it but Leila is taught a way to block out people reading her mind if she wants that privacy so again she is given some agency without taking away Vlad’s abilities.

The sex scenes were… ok. Not bad! There was some terminology that took me out of them like reference to his “hot honey” and mentions of fangs grazing parts of the body I am not comfortable grazing but they were well paced and well placed in the novel.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book and will be continuing the series after I get a bit more of the challenges under my belt. If you enjoy powerful but non-asshole vampire lords and powerful, processing-her-trauma heroines, you will probably enjoy this book.

Review: Quest of Honor by Ellie St. Clair

I’ve been on a quest for a real good pirate romance for a long time so I was excited to have the Reading Embrace finally push me to do pursue one. I ended up reading Quest of Honor by Ellie St. Clair and while it isn’t my dream pirate romance, I really enjoyed it.

Eleanor Adams is the daughter of a pirate who is more Robin Hood than Redbeard. Captain Adams is being doggedly pursued by Naval Captain Thomas Harrington who has become the laughingstock of the navy for his inability to bring in this one pirate and dreams that perhaps if he catches this one he can find a new path for himself. Eleanor goes to do recon on the man pursuing her father and ends up in his bed, having been mistaken for a sex worker and caught up in her own desire for the handsome Captain. When the truth comes out and roles shift, will these two find a way to be together despite being on opposite sides of the law?

Yes. Yes they will. Because this is romance and that’s what we can count on damnit.

This was a brief read because I am running out of time but it was still well paced and I enjoyed it a lot. The romance felt a bit rushed but I understand that St. Clair only had so much space to work in and things had to keep moving at a pretty brisk pace to ensure the HEA happened. I don’t feel especially compelled to keep reading the series, not because of anything lacking in the book, but because there are just so many books I want to read that if I don’t feel strongly about continuing a series I just don’t have time to bother. It has definitely rekindled my need to find my One True Pirate Romance. Or maybe write my OTPR?

Who can say.

What I can say is you should pick up this novella if you enjoy lady pirates and boat sex.

Review: Priest by Sierra Simone

Disclaimer: This book deals with suicide, molestation, and has many scenes of a sacrilegious nature involving a priest breaking his vow of chastity. If any of those are things you cannot handle or are uncomfortable with, you have my full blessing to scroll on by til the next review.

Continue reading “Review: Priest by Sierra Simone”

Review: Tempest by Beverly Jenkins

Well guys, I goofed.

I had heard about Tempest for awhile and Beverly Jenkins is such a prominent figure in the romance community, so I just chose that one as my intro and jumped in. I did not realize at the time that this was the third and I believe final book in a series. I hate reading books out of order, especially when it becomes clear that references are being made to established characters, and the ending of the novel was essentially wasted on me. However, I never claimed to be a professional and all I can do is give you my impression of the books I read as I read them so let’s do that.

Tempest started strong with the heroine, Regan Carmichael, an african-american woman on her way to meet her husband (Dr. Colton Lee, stoic and swarthy as the day is long) and fulfill her role as mail order bride, shooting the aforementioned fiance. Right away, I was hooked. Obviously it was a case of mistaken identity (she thought he was part of the gang of robbers who had just attacked her carriage and caused the death of one of the drivers) but there’s still something wonderful about shooting your soulmate on sight. From there the pace of the book continued along pretty excellently with seamless introduction of some excellent side characters (looking at you Spring Lee) and realistic challenges (Does he want to marry a lady who shoots on sight? He just isn’t sure and I love him for it). The way Jenkins writes sex is interesting. It was at times incredibly poetic and then unexpectedly violent terms would be used. For example, the first time the heroine orgasms she describes it as “shattering” which took me out of it. That being said, their first sex scene together was the perfect blend of seduction and clear consent and led to complicated feelings for the hero who has only sought out a wife after losing his first wife and mother of his child in childbirth. He isn’t sure how he feels about not just engaging in sex but actively enjoying it with his new bride. And she isn’t sure how she feels about him not being sure how he feels about it. This is all very good and very understandable. After this point, however, I felt the tension slack and the pace did as well.

Essentially after both characters have accepted and realized they love each other (which also did not take as long as I expected), all the oomph went out of the book for me. There were still distinct challenges with someone trying to kill the heroine and the trial for the robbers and the heroine is openly rejected by her husband’s grandfather. But there were things that were written as working so seamlessly it just didn’t feel right. There is a large portrait of the late Adele Lee in the main room and Regan is completely comfortable with this and with her legacy surrounding her and running around in the form of Colton’s daughter Anna. She even goes so far as to talk with the deceased lady in the portrait as though they were old friends. There isn’t a moment of wondering how she would feel about her being there. Regan does worry that Colton, who openly declares at first that he does not intend or expect to love her, will never open his heart to her. But there is no awkwardness with the lady of the house still looming large. To be fair, this was a time in history where people could and did die often from many things, childbirth especially, and it is possible that Regan would truly feel entirely unconcerned by this. From my modern perspective it felt almost forced, as though the author were trying to just cut through any of those feelings by saying “Nope she’s fine let’s move on.” And you know what? That is her right. It just felt weird for me.

Another relationship that was oddly swift and without complication was Anna and Regan’s. Anna is at first a little shy and standoffish, though this is more due to the abuse of her aunt than any hesitation over a new mother coming to take over. I expected more hesitance on Anna’s part. True her mother died before she could know her but her presence has been maintained (see: large portrait) and with her father being too busy to spend time with her it would be normal for her to worry that this new woman would only usurp the very minimal attention she already receives from him. Regan is charming and clever and wonderful with her and their relationship flows without a single question or hiccup. And future hiccups are marched out somewhat quickly and factually and the line between character experience and author giving you a history lesson blends a little to the point where there was a part that I felt should have been a focal point of its own novel instead of being pocketed into this one.

All of that being said, Tempest was a story that I was able to devour in very little time and did keep my attention. It had interesting side characters, representation without denial of the ignorance of the time but also without denying these characters their own agency and happy ending, and though the ending and references to prior characters was lost on me I would be interested in going back and reading them.