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August 2018

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl meets Duke #2)

Cover of the Governess Game by Tessa Dare. Two people, embracing, forehead to forehead on the edge of a deskI find Tessa Dare's writing delightful and reading them like being in the fluffiest and warmest of bubble baths, but underneath the fluff she is doing really some serious work piercing the Regency Romance bubble with decidedly un-fluffly topics, such as racism and abandonment.  

In the Governess Game, outside of a few dear friends, Alexandra Mountbatten is totally alone in the world. Her Philippine Mestiza mother died when she was a young child and her beloved father went down with his ship in a storm.  She makes her living as professional timekeeper, winding and setting the clocks of wealthy patrons.  She arrives at the home of Mr. Chase Reynaud to offer her services only to be mistaken for an applicant for the perpetually vacant post of governess to his two young wards. He doesn't care who she is and doesn't remember the time they briefly met the year before, but he is desperate to keep her.

"I don't care if you're gently bred, roughly bred or a loaf of brown bread with butter. You're educated, you understand propriety, and you're . . . breathing." -- Chase Reynaud in Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But his charm offensive and extremely lucrative offer are not enough to sway her.

"And then she did what Chase yearned to do, often. She flung open the door, fled the house and didn't once look back." -- Tessa Dare's The Governess Game

But an accident and lost chronometer not much later has Alexandra re-evaluating the merits of his offer and ends up changing all their lives.

If the governess trope is not one of your favorites, I usually avoid it, know that early on Dare makes it clear that Alexandra has other options for shelter and job opportunities, so the power imbalance of employer and employee is minimized but it does not go unacknowledged as it does in too many stories.  

Dare layers banter, word-play (I lost track of how many alliterative names they came up with for Chase's hideout, but I cackled at each one) and surreal situations (such as Millicent's daily deaths and funerals) into a confection that serves to highlight the moments of piercing emotional realism.  When Alexandra wakes shaking after nightmares flashing back her days adrift alone in a dinghy or when Chase is confronted by his guilt over his cousin's death and his feelings of inadequacy as a father-figure and future duke, those moments sear.

I loved how Dare deconstructs the familial relationships in this book,  unacknowledged brothers, wards of uncertain parentage &  estranged relatives and how Chase, Alexandra, Rosamund & Daisy find a way to reassemble themselves into a new family. As much as Chase, Daisy and Rosamund consider themselves lost causes, unlovable or unworthy of loving, Alexandra refuses to give up on them.

Dare's style is not for everyone (don't come here looking for detailed depictions of wallpaper) but this series are dollops of delight. I love that heroines are unbowed by their past pain, but not emotionless "strong-female heroine", they hurt, they struggle but they are determined to build lives for themselves.  At points I wanted to shake Chase out of his wallowing in guilt and self-reproach but I adored the scene when Ash ( the hero of the Duchess Deal) bursts in on Chase and Alexandra determined to save her from Chase. 

"I came as soon as I hear you'd taken up residence in this place." He walked past her to stare down Chase face-to-face. "You deserve to know what a worthless scoundrel he is, Alex"

"Yes!" Chase exclaimed. He reached for Ashbury's hand and pumped it in a vigorous greeting. "Thank you. I've been trying to tell her myself, but she won't listen."

 

But Alexandra has listened, and seen. I love that love isn't blind. Alexandra sees his guilt, his past bad actions, and still sees he is more than that.  But their journey as a couple takes them through many ups and downs of dashed hopes before Chase gets his act together.  There is a good grovel and reconciliation at the end, with little touches, that made it far from generic, but very grounded in the specifics of their narrative.

 

I received a ARC from the publisher for review consideration via Edelweiss.

 

 


Love in Panels Review: Stripped by Zoey Castile

This review was originally published at Love in Panels:

Zac Fallon has been stripping for 10 years and he has always loved everything about it. He loves making women smile, being in the spotlight, the camaraderie with the other guys in the show, the freedom to travel and the money. But he just doesn’t quite love it as much as before - something is missing in his life.

Robyn Flores had it all together once. She is the one who did everything right but ever since since her 

best friend, Lily, the wild one of their duo, got engaged and started settling down, her life has started falling apart. She is happy for Lily, maybe a bit jealous of how together and happy she seems, that she can’t bring herself to tell Lily about how much she struggling. Robyn can barely get to work on time, is coming dangerously close to losing her teaching job and has little clue of why she can’t bring herself to care.

This Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance by Zoey Castile (who writes YA as Zoraida Cordova) was a roller-coaster - part frantic romantic comedy, part angsty relationship drama. While there are lots of glitzy and sexy scenes, what I loved were the quieter romantic moments that let me see why Fallon and Robyn were getting so wrapped up with each other so quickly. Castile captures the allure of someone who listens but might not be there to judge one’s bad choices the next day, especially as Robyn struggles to figure out what she wants to do, not what she thinks will please the people in her life.

But he listens to every word and, somehow, the space between us on the couch disappears and we’re sitting side by side...”

-Robyn -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

I also I really like the frank moments late in the novel where Lily and Robyn finally face why their friendship is floundering and it was interesting to contrast the state of their relationship to that of Fallon’s with Ricky and Aiden.

“... they want the spectacle. I want someone who might see more in me.”

-Fallon -- Stripped by Zoey Castile

The ‘Magic Mike Life” that Fallon is living is losing its charm after 10 years. Hosting an apartment-full of women for an after-party, just feels like a chore rather than a perk. But is an adjustment to become someone’s boyfriend, even a temporary one. Castile does a good job presenting the double edged ness of Fallon’s career. While he has plenty of people who get it and support him simple small talk with Robyn friends and family feels like traps, intentionally or unintentionally. Fallon is ready for something new, for a change, but outside of loving Robyn what that new thing was left too vague for my liking. 

I got a little tripped up in the early chapters by several eyebrow-raising references related to Robyn’s teaching (how can any teacher avoid meeting their new principal for two months? Do they not have faculty meetings?) but if anything, it showed how checked out Robyn was from her career and her life in general. Her gigantic heavy work bag she lugs back and forth to work did make me feel seen. I also appreciated that she frequently considered filling out union incident reports because she was certainly entitled to have done so. The whole storyline with Lukas, her inappropriately fixated principal was an ode to trusting one's instincts when other people think someone is okay.

There is a lot to like in this romance and I am intrigued enough by a lot of supporting characters, particularly Ricky the lead choreographer and organizer of the crew that I will come back to the Happy Endings series again.

If you are looking for a Magic Mike XXL-inspired romance with a sweet hero that doesn’t sugar coat the challenges, is full of emotionally messy people, set in a NYC that is as diverse as the real one and has just enough humor to balance the angst you should check this out.

I received an ARC for this book for review consideration from its publishers, Kensington.


Mini-Reviews @ Love in Panels for Wild like the Wind by Kristen Ashley and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon

I have two mini-reviews over at Love in Panels today.  Check out what I had to say about Kristen Ashley's Wild Like the Wind and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon.

 

Wild Like the Wind, by Kristen Ashley
Ana says: Pass for everyone but series completists 

 

WLtW was a deeply uneven book, with a terrible first half and a tolerable second half.  The Hound, Shepherd Ironside has had unrequited feelings for his best-friend Black’s widow. He has kept his feelings under wraps for decades, as it would be breaking their MC’s brotherhood code to make a move on another man’s woman, even if he is long-dead.  Keely only wakes up to the fact that she loves Shep, after an emotional confrontation causes him to stop coming around and she realizes she needs to make the moves.

The first half of the book is written in Hound’s POV and it was dreadful. In her better books Kristen Ashley’s the deep POV leads to an immersive ride however, Hound’s POV was riddled with info-dumpy passages that sounded nothing like the typically taciturn biker, including one where he catalogs the hotness of his biker brothers in addition to several where he rhapsodizes about the heroine’s home decor style.  The book improves once we switch over to the heroine, Keely’s POV because these passages are just not as jarring. What doesn’t improve however, are the passages extoticizing the heroine’s 1/4 Apache heritage.

If you are invested in the series’s overarching suspense plot, there are significant breakthroughs and setting up for the conclusion of the series plotline in the next book.  

Content Warnings: Crime, domestic violence (not MCs)

Ana purchased this book.

 

The Protector, by Helen Kay Dimon
Ana says: DNF

 

Cate Pendelton has been turning over every rock in her efforts to find out the why and hows of her sister’s death in a secretive commune. Damon Knox left Salvation, PA under tragic circumstances and vowed never to return, but knows that the only way Cate will be able to find the answers she needs is if he brings her back with him.

Although the tropes in this book should have appealed to me (bad first impressions, fake relationship), neither the plot nor the characters caught my attention. In previous books, the banter carried me even when the plot stalled, but in this one the bickering that too quickly turned into lust didn’t feel genuine. I wanted to sympathize with Damon, but he was too obnoxious and unwilling to level with Cate about his past.  And I felt little connection to Cate beyond her frustration with Damon because we knew so little about her beyond her determination to find closure about her sister’s death. Although I loved The Fixer and The Negotiator, I never clicked with The Protector and when I put it down at little over half-way into the book I didn’t have any interest in picking it up again.

 Content Warnings: Crime, guns

Ana received an ARC from the publisher, Avon, via Edelweiss.


Latest Listens: Mini-Audiobook reviews for Twisted by Laura K Curtis, The Hidden Legacy Series by Ilona Andrews and Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins

In the past month I have spent a lot of time with audio-books, in fact I listened to books each day. Walking around the neighborhood, digging out weeds in the yard, and listening during long drives, books have been keeping me company.  I have been listening to a mix of new-to-me books and revisiting some comfort reads. My favorite genres to listen to are Mystery, PNR and Historical and this past month has been filled with wonderful examples of all three.

 

Blonde woman with hair blowing on her face, woods in the backgroundI have been meaning to read Curtis's books for a long time, as we've followed each other on twitter for years and have met in person several times over the last few years.  I was very excited for her when I saw she had arranged to produce an audio book with Angele Masters whose narration on Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series I really enjoyed.   While it took me a couple of chapters to excise Veronica and Stoker from my head (as the MCs in this book are also arch and gruff), I really sunk into the story.   The mystery, a cold case that threatens power players in a small town and the romance, hesitant and wary, were both very nicely developed and I was very engaged in both storylines. I hope she continues to produce more audiobooks for the Harp Security Series, as I am eager to listen to more of their adventures.

CW: guns, gun violence, murder, references to past trauma (sexual assault, sexual abuse, rape).

I received a copy of this audiobook as a gift from the author.

 

HiddenLegacyI re-listened to Gordon and Ilona Andrews fantastic PNR series, Hidden Legacy. Blazing through from Burn for Me, straight into White Hot and on to Wildfire.  While I adore the Kate Daniels series, I have to agree with Elisabeth Lane and many others that Hidden Legacy is probably their best series. The world, and the relationships, just gel together so much earlier.  It was fabulous to re-listen, and see what stuff I missed as I raced to read them the first time. I love noticing how early Rogan realizes she is a prime, and starts anticipating what she will need to do, all while she is just trying to stay alive and deny her growing feeling for him.  I can't wait for the follow up stories that are coming this fall. I love so many of the supporting characters and I wish I could have a dozen novellas.  

My only nitpick with Renee Raudman's narration of these books is how old she makes Nevada's mother, Penelope sound. She is 45 and sounds ancient.  As someone creeping toward my mid-forties, I would have liked a less creakiness to her voice. Although I am sure someone else feels the same way about Grandma Frida's voice.

CW: gun violence, torture, murder

 

Cover of Night Hawk by Beverly Jenkins. Black man, shirtless, wearing a black stetson and black leather duster.I continue to love listening to Beverly Jenkins's novels on Audio.  I have struggled to read historical romance recently but I know that no matter what Beverly Jenkins book I have queued up next I will get swept up in the story.  While Kevin R. Free's Scottish accent in the prologue was very rough, I urge to persevere as the rest of the book is wonderfully narrated.  I came into this book a little wary because I had mostly heard about the hero, and I am heroine-centric reader, however Maggie is wonderful in her own right, even if Ian's tends to steal the show. And why shouldn't he, he is a knight-in-shinning-armor, hiding behind a black hat, leather duster and a checkered past.  This is a road-trip romance, and  I loved how Jenkins has Maggie learn about Ian's many identities as they travel from town to town looking for judge or sheriff he can safely deliver her to while encountering folks who remember him fondly or have grudges to settle with him. I loved how their relationship morphed, and how they became essential to each other, when at first what they most wanted most was to get rid of each other.  I expect that I will want to listen to this again in the future.

CW: guns, gun violence, attempted rape, sexual harassment, abusive language/slurs & racism directed at MCs. 

I love audio-books and this has been a fantastic month.  I hope you find something wonderful to listen to for the next time you have to tackle you next drive or chore