2015 – A Year in Review


Friends. I know it’s the end of February and that means I’m oh…almost two months late in posting my 2015 Year in Review blog entry. But better late than never right? Is there ever really a time when it’s too late to share book recommendations? (Answer: There is never a bad time to share book recommendations)

SO. 2015. I completed my goal of reading 140 books. In actuality I read 182 over the course of the year.

Now for the hard part of the post: my top ten reads of 2015!

  1. Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino
  2. Bringing Home the Bad Boy by Jessica Lemmon
  3. When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
  4. The Billionaire Takes a Bride by Jessica Clare
  5. The Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux
    •  Cut & Run
    • Sticks & Stones
    • Fish & Chips
    • Divide & Conquer
    • Armed & Dangerous
    • Stars & Stripes
    • Touch & Geaux
    • Ball & Chain
    • Crash & Burn
  6. Splintered Trilogy by A.G. Howard
    • Splintered
    • Unhinged
    • Ensnared
  7. The Tairen Soul series by C.L. Wilson
    • Lord of the Fading LAnds
    • Lady of Light and Shadow
    • King of Sword and Sky
    • Queen of Song and Souls
    • Crown of Crystal Flame
  8. Enslaved by Virginia Henley
  9. An Offer From a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
  10. The Boleyn Trilogy by Laura Andersen
    • The Boleyn King
    • The Boleyn Deceit
    • The Boleyn Reckoning

And because 10 is just not enough, here are some more of my favorite reads of 2015, in no particular order:

  • Pride, Prejudice, & Secrets by C.P. Odom
  • Bound by Flames by Jeaniene Frost
  • The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn
  • Wishing for a Highlander by Jessi Gage
  • Serving Pleasure by Alisha Rai
  • Act Like It by Lucy Parker
  • It’s Only Love by Marie Force

2015 was a romance heavy reading year for me (whatever haters, I love love.) I’m trying to diversify myself a bit more in 2016. So far, so good. What did you read in 2015? Give me some of your recommendations!

New Year; New Challenges, Episode V

So here we are near the end of January and I’m only just now getting around to posting my annual “New Year; New Challenges” post. I received a promotion at work right around Thanksgiving and have been trying to deal with the change to my schedule. Having a job with irregular hours can sometimes throw off my schedule outside of work. I’m trying to find my balance between work, life, and blogging, and I appreciate you all sticking with the blog as I figure it out.

With all of that being said, here is my goal for 2015: 140 books. Since I successfully completed reading 100 books in 2014, 10 more books gets added to my goal. (2011 = 100 books, 2012 = 110 books, 2013 = 120 books, 2014 = 130 books, etc) As per years past, you can keep track of my reading progress and what books I’ve read here.

In no particular order, here are some of the books releasing in 2015 that I’m looking forward to reading!

  1. Fairest by Marissa Meyer
  2. Bound by Flames by Jeaniene Frost
  3. Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
  4. And I Love Her by Marie Force
  5. The Heir by Kiera Cass
  6. Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes by Rick Riordan
  7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (This is an exclusive collector’s edition!)
  8. The Seven  Sisters by Lucinda Riley
  9. When A Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare
  10. Murder at Beechwood by Alyssa Maxwell
  11. Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt
  12. Tiny Little Things by Beatriz Williams
  13. One Night with a Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  14. Lady Maybe by Julie Klassen
  15. A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

Well readers, what are your reading goals for 2015? What titles are you excited to read?

2014 – A Year in Review

fireworksHere we are again, at the end of another year! As today is the last day of 2014, it’s time for my annual “Year in Review” post.

As of the writing of this post I’ve finished reading 182 books. 13 of those books were ones I read with my 7 month-old niece, so for argument’s sake let’s say 169. My starting goal was to read 130 books, so I’m counting 2014’s reading challenge as a completed success! That means adding another ten books to next year’s challenge for a total of 140 books! (Here’s to hoping I make it!)

And now the difficult part…picking my top ten reads of 2014!

  1. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  2. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay
  3. Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers
  4. Romancing the Duke/Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
  5. Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (Really, the entire Knitting in the City series)
  6. The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
  7. Cinder/Scarlet/Cress by Marissa Meyer
  8. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
  9. Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
  10. Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell

With the amount of books I read in a year, choosing a top 10 seems stupid. With that said, here are all my runners-up (in no particular order)!

Ok readers, I’m passing the torch to you. What did you read this year? Any books or authors that stand out? Share them below! Enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Eve! See you in 2015!

Kim’s Guest Review of Live (Burnside #1) by Mary Ann Rivers

lmarHello my fellow reading friends!! As you may know, reading bestie Kelly (from Reading With Analysis) and I have almost exactly the same taste in books. We frequently find each other reading the same books, gushing over similar plot points, or hating on some characters while falling in love with others. We’ve taken to writing our reviews for a lot of these books together as a way of (attempting) to write our thoughts coherently instead of SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!

ANYWAY –  Last week we reviewed Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke together as well as Mary Ann Rivers’s Live. 

Somehow Kelly and I always manage to write a letter to Mary Ann in our reviews for her books. In keeping with that theme we decided that for our review of Live we’d write it in an epistolary format. The results were hilarious.

For a direct link to our Live review, click here.

Kim and Kelly’s Review of Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After #1) by Tessa Dare

rtdtdReading bestie Kelly from Reading With Analysis and I loves us some Tessa Dare novels. In fact, our entire friendship started over a shared love of Susanna, the heroine with a lopsided breast from A Night to Surrender. We duel reviewed her Stud Club trilogy and have each read all of the books in her Wanton Dairymaid trilogy and Spindle Cove series. Her books are filled with awesomely flawed heroines, imperfect heroes, and a great blend of humor and sexiness not often found in other romance novels. When Kel and I found out about the hero and heroine of her latest novel, Romancing the Duke, we instantly knew we had to read and review it together.

From Goodreads:

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Kim: Tessa Dare’s novels are always a treat. As I mentioned above her heroes and heroines are flawed and don’t follow the typical romance model (this gives her A+ marks in my book already.)

You see, she gives voice to the wallflowers, the physically impaired, the women considered to be unattractive, etc. Her heroes don’t all look like Adonis either. Some were raised in extremely impoverished conditions, others are fops, or “damaged goods” from partaking in active war duty.

In Romancing the Duke our hero, Ransom, is blind, distrustful, and scarred from the ugliness that exists in life. And our heroine Izzy? She’s impoverished, starved for affection and love, and is way ahead of her time intellectually. Yet she’s also a woman who dreams with an imagination that could rival a child’s. Their pairing makes for what I think is Dare’s best novel to date.

Kelly: Tessa Dare is known for her humorous writing, but her books are definitely not light.  It is remarkable how she is able to balance hilarity with depth, to produce a story that is wildly entertaining and intellectually compelling.  It seemed to me while I was reading it that this book clearly shows how much Dare has grown as a writer over the years, but then I got to thinking about her earlier books, and I realized that the sophistication was always there — I just paid more attention to the humor than the underlying material.

Kim: I fully agree! Her humor and sophistication was always present, but something about this novel showcased it in a new way. It’s without a doubt the best thing she’s written to date, and her other novels were all stellar in their own right. And that humor Kelly talks about? Dare found fantastic places to infuse it into the story.

Part of the plot of the story is that Izzy is given Ransom’s castle as part of a bequeathment from her father’s patron. Since the accident that rendered Ransom blind, he hasn’t seen his solicitors in London. He finds it implausible that his castle has been sold without his permission and refuses to believe the documents giving Izzy ownership are genuine.

Kelly: So hijinks ensue while Izzy and Ransom dig through piles of paperwork to find out what happened and answer the age-old question: does Izzy own the castle?  Along the way, Izzy and Ransom are joined by a roving band of LARPers whom Ransom disdains and Izzy finds charming, if slightly stifling.  Eventually, Ransom is challenged to embrace the camaraderie of fandom to find unexpected kinship and the beginnings of true friendship with the brothers in the Order of the Poppy (the Knights of Moranglia), and Izzy is challenged to break free from her past and enter into true companionship without sacrificing her identity.  Oh, and there’s a lot of romance.

Kim: Some of the funniest moments of the book come when this group of LARPers pose as Ransom’s servants. Izzy and Ransom find out that he will be visited by his solicitors, as well as a doctor to judge his mental well-being and ability to run his estate. Izzy sets up several plans to make sure that Ransom appears at his best. When a practice doesn’t go as well as she wants one of the Knights yells out

“It’s on to Plan E!…Plan E everyone! Who has the ermine?”

Kelly: Yes, and then later, during the actual examination with the doctors, the scheming solicitors, and the representative from the Lord Chancellor’s office,

“A shout lifted over all: ‘Release the ermine!’”

Kim: Romancing the Duke is my new favorite Dare novel. In ways it’s an anti-romance: blind hero, plain heroine, crumbling castle, bad first kiss……Yet for all the things that make it an anti-romance, it is filled with some of the most beautiful scenes and sentiments. The entire “Doubt Nots” sequence stuck out in my mind for its beauty. Also, the scene in which Izzy returns to her room and finds it filled with candlelight because Ransom knows she is afraid of the dark? Pure magic. It’s a romantic fan’s dream come alive.

Kelly: Dare took all these classic tropes of romance — the wounded hero — a Duke, for fuck’s sake — the plain but plucky heroine, the atmospheric castle, the chemistry and tension between the characters, the notion of characters saving each other and finding fulfillment in one another — and shook them together in a story that manages to be fun, heartwarming, and feel-good, while challenging one’s preconceived notions of how those tropes ought to play out. It is not so much this epic, magical love that saves the day, not so much the characters surrendering to their feelings for one another that brings about the positive ending.  I mean, all of that helps, sure, but friendship is actually the lynchpin here, and it isn’t even a friendship between Izzy and Ransom.  Izzy’s friendship with Abigail Pelham is one of my favorite things about the book, especially considering that everyone — Izzy included — would have expected them to be rivals rather than friends. And the emotional climax of the story, the “Doubt Not” sequence Kim mentioned above, is just as much a demonstration of Ransom’s solidarity with his newfound friends as it is a declaration of love for Izzy.

Kim: Friendship is SUCH a huge theme in this book. It’s friendship and not love that is the cause of everyone’s improved natures. Sure, love plays a part for Ransom and Izzy, but they’re more open to love because of their newfound friendships. Izzy & Abigail, Ransom & the Knights, Izzy & Ransom – all of these relationships afford them the opportunity to see the worth of love.

Kelly: I’d actually argue that it goes the other way around. (Here’s the moment where we hold up a chicken and an egg and then argue about it for hours and hours while y’all go read some other blog. Sorry!)  I think love is actually the starting point.  At first, there’s no friendship, really.  Izzy and Abigail are nice to one another, but they aren’t really friends. And Ransom is contemptuous to everyone. Then Izzy and Ransom realize that they love each other, but that love by itself is not enough to overcome some of Ransom’s issues and his dukeliness (that’s totally a word), and he acts like a giant douche-pony in this totally dramatic way, pushing everyone away, straining all of these fledgling friendships, but not doing as much damage to the love between Izzy and himself. Then Ransom’s longtime (and long-suffering) valet tells him to stuff it, because Ransom’s behavior is antithetical to love, so Ransom does some thinking. And, after he thinks, he acts, and his first acts are acts of friendship. Likewise, Izzy begins to realize that she has a true friend in Abigail, largely because her love of Ransom (and his love of her) opens her up to the possibility of being herself and of still being accepted and loved.

Kim: If you’re wondering – this is the first time in a long time our dueling review has had a “duel” in it. I’m still of the mind that friendship is what opens them to love. There is certainly affection between Ransom and Izzy, but Ransom is completely blind to it. When his valet tells him to stuff it and then sits down and actually has a conversation with him, he discovers the depth of regard that his valet has always had for him. The same thing happens when he speaks to the Knights. He realizes he has all of these people around him that support him and want him to succeed and it’s this that finally allows him to tell Izzy his feelings (the “Doubt Nots” sequence.)

I agree with Kelly when she says that at first there isn’t a friendship between Abigail and Izzy. However, I believe that to be more true from Izzy’s perspective. I think Izzy considers Abigail to be a frenemy at first. Yet seeing her willingness to help Izzy and Ransom with their fixing up the castle and in the scheme with the solicitors – she discovers a woman very different from her first impressions. I think this also may be due to Izzy’s upbringing. Largely responsible for taking care of herself and her father, she doesn’t allow people to get close to her. She doesn’t understand the bonds of friendship and love.

Kelly: So, it’s possible that we’re actually fighting on the same side of this duel.  Anyway, since Ransom’s and Izzy’s feelings of love (and even their awareness of those feelings) definitely preceded their confession of those feelings, I’m inclined to believe that their sudden interest and ability in developing friendships with the other characters (Abigail, the Knights, the valet, etc.) is born out of that love.  Were I writing an academic paper about this book, that would be my thesis statement.  (As an aside, I think one could — and should — write an academic paper about this book, perhaps comparing it to the romance tradition on which so many of its story tropes are based.  OK, Internet: get on it.)

Kim: Regardless of which side of the duel you’re on, should you read this book you’ll definitely jump on our YAY FRIENDSHIP bandwagon. I think the reason I love friendship being such a huge part of this book is because it’s friendship in a Tessa Dare novel, and as I said earlier it’s a Tessa Dare novel that started my friendship with Kelly. Seeing Dare’s building of these relationships is extra special because it makes me think of how mine was built with Kelly!

Kelly: Yes! Me too, friend!  This book is a celebration of all the things I hold dear: friendship, love, fandom, humor.  It insists that romance, love, and friendship are valid and important in this world, that stories about these things add to our happiness, and that those of us who love these stories are not delusional or stupid.  As the Lord Chancellor’s representative says,

“For God’s sake, man. They’re just stories. The rest of us here understand that.”

Kim’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kelly’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Harper Collins (2014)
eBook: 384 pages
ISBN: 9780062240163

What Are You Reading This January?

Here we are, almost a month into the new year and I have yet to ask what you’re all reading! Pardon my bad manners folks. This month’s reading schedule is chock full of new releases. January seems to be the month when a lot of my favorite authors release new novels. So without further ado, here’s what I’m reading!


Julie Klassen has become one of my favorite historical fiction writers over the last year or so. Her latest release, The Dancing Master, is high up on the list of books I MUST read this year. Continuing on my binge of historical fiction books for January will be new author (to me) Anne O’Brien and her latest release The Forbidden Queen. I love the rich history of the English monarchy, so any chance to read more about it I’ll take. And finally, Tessa Dare’s historical romance Romancing the Duke. It’s the first in her new Castles Ever After series and features a blind hero!!! The first 50 pages were released online this past week (click here) and after reading them…..I was hooked.

Other books releasing this month that I’m excited about: A Match Made in Texas is a compilation of short stories by several authors, Karen Witemeyer being one of them. I’m also pumped about The Destiny of Violet and Luke by Jessica Sorensen, Believe by Erin McCarthy, Live by Mary Ann Rivers, and Seeking Her by Cora Carmack.

Over to you readers! What’s currently on your nightstand? Any new releases you’re excited about this month?

New Year; New Challenges, Episode IV

January 1, 2014. The official start of yet another year’s 100 book reading challenge. This year my goal will be 130 books. Every year that I’ve been successful in reading 100 books I tack on another 10 for the following year. (2011 = 100 books, 2012 = 110 books, 2013 = 120 books, etc.) I’m always giddy with anticipation for the new year’s challenge to start. Seeing my book counter reset to 0 again motivates me like nothing else. You can keep track of what I’m reading throughout the year by viewing my book list page here!

In no particular order, here are some of the titles I’m looking forward to reading in 2014:

  1. The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
  2. The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen
  3. Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
  4. Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer
  5. Written In My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  6. The Forbidden Queen by Anne O’Brien

I’m sure that as the year unfolds I’ll be continually adding to this list. After all, I am a book addict and I can never have enough books to read.

So readers, what are you looking forward to reading this year? Share some titles with me below!

Kim and Kelly’s Review of The Stud Club Trilogy by Tessa Dare

onedanceMy buddy Kelly from Reading With Analysis and I are always reading works with delightfully wonderful scandals and sizzling love stories (see our epic dueling review of Gabriel’s Inferno and Gabriel’s Rapture).  Tessa Dare’s Stud Club trilogy fit right in with this genre, as it is filled with all this and more.  As Kelly is the queen of book analysis (no pun intended), I’m excited to dive into the twists and turns of Dare’s trilogy with her expert opinion intertwined with mine.

Book one is One Dance With a Duke

From Goodreads: In One Dance with a Duke—the first novel in Tessa Dare’s delightful new trilogy—secrets and scandals tempt the irresistible rogues of the Stud Club to gamble everything for love.

A handsome and reclusive horse breeder, Spencer Dumarque, the fourth Duke of Morland, is a member of the exclusive Stud Club, an organization so select it has only ten members—yet membership is attainable to anyone with luck. And Spencer has plenty of it, along with an obsession with a prize horse, a dark secret, and, now, a reputation as the dashing “Duke of Midnight.” Each evening he selects one lady for a breathtaking midnight waltz. But none of the women catch his interest, and nobody ever bests the duke—until Lady Amelia d’Orsay tries her luck.

In a moment of desperation, the unconventional beauty claims the duke’s dance and unwittingly steals his heart. When Amelia demands that Spencer forgive her scapegrace brother’s debts, she never imagines that her game of wits and words will lead to breathless passion and a steamy proposal. Still, Spencer is a man of mystery, perhaps connected to the shocking murder of the Stud Club’s founder. Will Amelia lose her heart in this reckless wager or win everlasting love?

Kelly:  Plot wise, this book starts out the mystery that ties all three books in the series together: who killed Lily Chatwick’s brother?  One Dance with a Duke raises the question, but not much progress is made throughout the course of this first book, largely because so much of the book is taken up with the rather silly question: did Spencer do it?  Everyone (including the reader) knows he didn’t  but a lot of time is still spent chasing after that question.  I suspect these characters would have had a much stronger story together if they had not drawn the short lot–if they had not been assigned to start out the series.  Kim and I talk later on about how rare it is to find a decent third book in a trilogy, but I also think that series’ first books often suffer, as they are burdened with a lot of backstory that is necessary for the subsequent books, and they often do not get to have clean endings (Hunger Games, I’m looking at you.).

Kim: Definitely agree with you on the stock thoughts on trilogies.  I also at times felt weighed down by the “did Spencer do it?” question.  It’s so obvious to all of the characters (except Julian) that he didn’t do it, yet the plot keeps spinning around that main thought. Did he? Didn’t he? Did he? Didn’t he? (You get the picture).  I think that my annoyance with the plot led me to become annoyed with Spencer and Amelia.  Spencer just seemed like an arrogant ass to me and Amelia was a bit shrewish.

Spencer is pretty much an ass to everyone.  He’s rude and has complete tunnel vision.  All he cares about is being the 100% owner of Osiris and is willing to go to whatever lengths he has to.  I think I was all set with him when he offered Lily 20,000 pounds for Leo’s share of the horse, shortly after she finds out about the murder.  Totally rude, uncaring, and unfeeling in my eyes.  That incident overshadowed his “transformation” for me.  He doesn’t really ever seem to get “nicer” to Amelia because he WANTS to be nice.  He seems to act nice because he’s lusting after her.  I never felt the switch from lust to love.

Kelly:  I know, he’s pretty awful in the beginning.  Amelia seems at first to be a fairly typical heroine (which makes her a fairly atypical Dare heroine), but she’s got some quirks in store for the reader, too.  Like many romance heroines, Amelia is a little older than a typical debutante.  She embroiders.  She attends parties.  She plans menus and finds a huge amount of satisfaction in domestic successes.  But she’s strong and warm and infinitely loving.  She cast herself in the role of protector for her family, and that’s a bit unusual.  In fact, most of the conflicts between Amelia and Spencer relate to her attempts to protect her brothers, especially the wastrel brother (everyone has one of those, right?).

Kim:  I found myself surprised at how “normal” Amelia was too.  I’m used to Dare’s heroines that buck the normal heroine formula.  I did enjoy how Amelia was the “matriarch” of her family (not that her brothers really “listen” to her). Even so, I enjoyed how she made the sacrifice of marrying Spencer to benefit her family and raise their name in society.

Kelly:  Amelia spent so many years putting her family first that it’s a bit difficult for her to transition from being a sister to being a wife.  Spencer doesn’t really help her out at all (quite the opposite), and significant marital distress ensues.  That’s another thing that’s interesting about this book… it’s a story wherein the characters marry early and then wrestle with all the problems that would normally come up in a courtship… but they’re married, so they’re kind of stuck with each other.  Anyway, Spencer is utterly jealous of Amelia’s love for her family, and that jealousy prompts him to lash out and makes him seem like even more of a jerk than he would have seemed otherwise.

Kim: That jealousy helped show a vulnerable side of Spencer I think.  While that vulnerable side helped soften Spencer (slightly) it still didn’t help me get over his abrupt nature towards everyone..

Kelly:  I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I really found Spencer endearing, even though he has more rough edges than a [something that has rough edges].  I love that he is socially awkward and never, ever says the right thing.  Smooth and suave this man is not.  He reminded me of Darcy, if Darcy had grown up in Canada with sublime nature as a companion rather than other human beings; if Darcy had a hot temper as well as a resentful one.  The vulnerability and awkwardness Spencer tries so desperately to cover with arrogance and rudeness are, to me, just as compelling as Darcy’s loneliness and longing.  Spencer has one further claim on my affections: he loves animals (horses in particular) and feels more comfortable with them than with other humans.  I totally feel his pain there.  It’s so strange, but I wasn’t bothered at all by his awkwardness (read: frequent rudeness and always saying the wrong thing-ness) with Amelia.  Spencer is like Mr. Palmer from Sense and Sensibility (actually, so is my husband, so maybe that’s why I liked Spencer so well…)… some folk will find him offensive and rude, but others will find him to be a charming fuzz-ball who just can’t help himself.  He’s got to say the rudest thing possible in any situation, but he isn’t trying to be rude or mean…  Things just fly out of his mouth, you know?

Kim: I did feel a SLIGHT affection for Spencer with the whole loving animals thing.  His comfort with animals over humans did show a different side of him, but still didn’t help me figure out when he switched from lusting after Amelia to loving her.  I know I said Amelia is shrewish (and she is at times) but I did see a good heart in her.  She’s totally devoted to wanting to help her brothers and Spencer’s ward, Claudia, with the woes of their life.

Kelly:  See, I think he loved her the whole time, from the very beginning.  The lusting after her stuff was just a smoke screen.

Kim: You think it was from the beginning, really? Even during my re-read I felt like all he thought about was “oh hey she has a curvy body.” Or “oh I love that freckle on her boob.” I never felt like he was attracted to her mind or the activities she devoted herself to.

Kelly:  Nothing says love like noticing boob freckles.  Let’s talk needlepoint.  Amelia spends a lot of time working on needlepoint (I have no idea why, but hey, everybody’s got to have a hobby), and she takes a real delight in doing it well.  At the very beginning, she lends him a handkerchief that she embroidered, and he notices the care that she took with it (and hoards that damn handkerchief, because it means a lot to him).  Later on, he watches her making some sort of needlepoint landscape, and he steals the completed project in order to frame it and hang it on the wall because she threatens to make a seat cushion out of it.  He’s horrified that she considers her art only worthy enough for people to put their butts on.  However rude he is, he sees and values her as her own person.  Also, he loves her boobs.

Kim: I can see the correlation between the needlepoint and his valuing her, but honestly I felt like it was a ploy to get in her pants. I mean dress, since women didn’t wear pants.  She finds out he framed her landscape and all but falls at his feet for the sentimental value.  Is that really enough to show that his lust is no longer lust, but love?  Like she asks him to hold her one evening and all he can think about when she’s in his arm is grinding up on her.

Kelly:  [dithering]… He is a dude, so there’s that.  I think it might be difficult for him (for any man, possibly) to separate out the physical aspect of his feelings for Amelia from the purely emotional, especially since he’s so socially awkward that it’s difficult for him to comprehend having anything like feelings for her, but both times I read the story, I paid more attention to his feelings than his libido.  I do have a huge bias in favor of Spencer, but there is a lot of sweetness there, underneath all the prickly behavior.

Kim: I guess at the end of the day I wished he was able to show Amelia the same affection and care he had for his horses.  I would have instantaneously fallen head over heels for THAT man.  Instead I was left with what felt like a Jekyll and Hyde type personality.

Kelly: So there you have it.  If you’re married to someone who reminds you of Austen’s Mr. Palmer, you’ll probably love Spencer and find this story a very sweet romance that verges on the atypical — because romance heroes usually have some sort of charm, and Spencer is completely lacking in that department — (and is just a tad unsatisfying because many of the story elements remain unresolved at the end and are passed on to the next two books).  However, if you’re a normal person, you’ll probably be a tad put off by Spencer’s prickly ways.

Kelly: 3.5 out of 5 Stars (I’m keen on decimals)
Kim: 3 out of 5 Stars

One Dance With A Duke by Tessa Dare
Random House (2010)
eBook 312 pages
ISBN: 9780345518866

twicetemptedBook two is Twice Tempted By A Rogue

From Goodreads: The daring members of the Stud Club are reckless gamblers and no strangers to risk—until love raises the stakes in Twice Tempted by a Rogue.

Luck is a double-edged sword for brooding war hero Rhys St. Maur. His death wish went unanswered on the battlefield, while fate allowed the murder of his good friend in the elite gentlemen’s society known as the Stud Club. Out of options, Rhys returns to his ancestral home on the moors of Devonshire, expecting anything but a chance at redemption in the arms of a beautiful innkeeper who dares him to take on the demons of his past—and the sweet temptation of a woman’s love.

Meredith Maddox believes in hard work, not fate, and romance isn’t part of her plan. But when Rhys returns, battle-scarred, world-weary, and more dangerously attractive than ever, the lovely widow is torn between determination and desire. As a deep mystery and dangerous smugglers threaten much more than their passionate reckoning, Meredith discovers that she must trust everything to a wager her heart placed long ago.

Kim: Of all three of the Stud Club heroes, Rhys has the privilege of being my favorite.  He’s the most vulnerable of all the men, I believe, due in large part to his childhood.  His time in the army has given him the ability to mask his feelings extremely well.  He’s wanted his life to end so many times before, only to have life deal him the “living” card over and over.  He feels undeserving of “life” for a multitude of reasons; the strongest reason, however, stems from the abuse he dealt with from his father.  He also blames himself for the struggles his home village faced when his family left.  He truly does have the weight of the world on his shoulders and suffers from an insane amount of guilt as well.  Guilt for the soldiers who died when he survived.  Guilt for the people of his village turning to smuggling as their way of living.  Guilt that Meredith’s father was crippled in the fire that destroyed his family’s estate.  The list goes on and on.  Something about Meredith though makes him want to live.  Even with all this guilt and the suppressed anger he feels over the abuses of his childhood, Meredith makes him feel ALIVE.  And Rhys wanting to be alive is just…..sigh….wonderful.

Kelly:  Yes!!!  I really liked the first book in this series, but within two chapters of Twice Tempted, I knew I was absolutely going to love this story.  Rhys is my favorite type of hero (and Meredith is pretty much my favorite type of heroine), and I’m a serious sucker for redemption stories.  Rhys’ internal journey throughout this book from something stunningly close to nihilism to an embrace of life and love is beautiful.  Meredith’s internal journey is not as remarkable, but she does evolve.

Kim: Kelly and I loves us some tortured hero, so it’s really not a huge surprise that we like him so much.  He wants so much to give but at times is totally clueless in how to do it.

Kelly:  I loved that Rhys holds himself to such a high standard and has to learn how to forgive himself and let go of all his guilt.  In many ways, Rhys has to learn moderation in order to achieve his HEA — he swings from his bruiser/fighting past to an extreme, self-imposed pacifism, and then has to work to find the middle ground (essentially, to find an identity other than “mindless fighter” or whatever he determines the opposite of that to be.).

Kim: Good point! His life has always been a battle of extremes.  He was either wishing for death or wishing for life.  He’s either fighting in the army/brawling or trying to build a home.  He’s either escaping his past or building a future.  His life has never had a “calm” period, it’s always been in some sort of tumultuous state.

Kelly:  Rhys is an incredibly compelling character, and when I think back on the book, I tend to remember stuff about him a lot more than I do about Meredith, but she’s an excellent character, too.  Meredith is strong, independent, and does not suffer malarkey from herself or others.  She and Rhys work together well, I think, because he has a tendency to want to take responsibility for ALL THE THINGS, and she’s no-nonsense about nipping that crazy in the bud.

Kim: I too loved Meredith! I loved how she would need a drink to deal with the stress of the inn and how Rhys was like, “hey, you need to cut back on that shit.”  Her focus on making the inn reputable for the gentry was a source of comedy for me.  The first scene you meet Meredith in, she’s sassing a group of men who are fighting and destroying the furniture and brick-a-brack.  She commands the room and puts all of the men in their place, yelling about blood on tablecloths etc.  The scene did 2 things – 1. It showed us that Meredith has a backbone of steel and refuses to allow anyone to mess with her dreams and 2. it gave us a hint of the comedy to come.

Kelly:  I love that scene!  And I totally agree with you that this book features a hefty dose of comedy, considerably more so than the first book in the series.  Maybe it’s because I read this series after I read a few of Dare’s other series, but when I read this book, I felt like I was returning to Dare’s voice.  One Dance is a tiny bit more melodramatic than I’ve come to expect from Dare’s writing, but Twice Tempted is sparkling while still not being a romp (I’m not keen on romps.).

Kim: I think there needed to be comedy to help deal with the all the tortured hero talk.  It got deep and dark for a while.  The comedy helped ease in and out of that darkness without becoming depressed.  The comedy was a great surprise, but I also enjoyed the role reversal that took place.  Before Rhys’s return to the village, Meredith is forced into a more masculine role.  Her father is injured and unable to care for her.  She in turn marries an older man to financially support her father.  Her husband dies and she is left the inn to do with as she sees fit.  She sees an opportunity to take care of the whole village and begins to.  When Rhys comes to town she’s at first threatened by him (I think).  Rhys tells her his plans for rebuilding the estate to begin supporting the village.  She tells him that nobody will support him and that he should just give up.  I find that she does this for several reasons.  First – She’s TERRIFIED he’ll leave and abandon her and the village again.  She’s so afraid of making herself vulnerable and opening her heart to him only to have it thrown back in her face.  The second reason I find for her dissuading Rhys is that she’s frightened of not being “needed” anymore.  She’s nervous that if he can rebuild the estate and win over the villagers that there will be no need for her or the inn she has worked tirelessly on.  Her sacrifices will have all been for nothing.  I found these parts of her character incredibly endearing.  Her need for reassurance and stability humanize her and take her from just another character in a novel to one that you can actually relate to.

Kelly:  Meredith is such a fantastically complex character — starkly and strongly independent and resilient (because she’s had to be) but also brittle with vulnerability.  In a way, the main journey that Meredith takes is the one that any feminist does, at some point, especially if one has been independent for a while and is suddenly given an opportunity to lean on someone else for a change.  How can one be an independent woman who is self-reliant AND be in a relationship that requires a certain degree of interdependence?  It takes Meredith a while to realize that she can be in a long-term relationship with Rhys and still be her own person, still keep the inn, still obsess about fixtures and curtains, etc.  Essentially, she realizes that they can both save the village together, and it will be better for everyone.  In order to get to that point, though, she has to learn how to trust Rhys, to stop allowing fear to rule her life.

Kim: Twice Tempted by a Rogue was definitely a strong enough book to make up for the deficiencies that Kelly and I found in book one.  It reinvigorated our faith in Dare’s novels and had us eager to continue on with this trilogy. (Even though the third book in trilogies scare us)

Kelly: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Kim: 4 out of 5 Stars

Twice Tempted By A Rogue by Tessa Dare
Random House (2010)
eBook 296 pages
ISBN: 9780345518880

threenightsBook three is Three Nights With a Scoundrel

From Goodreads: In Tessa Dare’s dazzling new trilogy, the men of the Stud Club live and play by their own rules—until passion changes the game.

The bastard son of a nobleman, Julian Bellamy is now polished to perfection, enthralling the ton with wit and charm while clandestinely plotting to ruin the lords, ravish the ladies, and have the last laugh on a society that once spurned him. But after meeting Leo Chatwick, a decent man and founder of an elite gentlemen’s club, and Lily, Leo’s enchanting sister, Julian reconsiders his wild ways. And when Leo’s tragic murder demands that Julian hunt for justice, he vows to see the woman he secretly loves married to a man of her own class.

Lily, however, has a very different husband in mind.  She’s loved Julian forever, adores the man beneath the rakish façade, and wants to savor the delicious attraction they share—as his wife. His insistence on marrying her off only reinforces her intent to prove that he is the only man for her. Obsessed with catching a killer, Julian sinks back to the gutters of his youth, forcing Lily to reach out with a sweet, reckless passion Julian can’t resist. Can her desire for a scoundrel save them both—or will dangerous secrets threaten more than their tender love?

Kim: So normally I find the third books in trilogies to be the worst.  I find that stories are dragged out and the characters are no longer fresh and/or interesting.  Tessa Dare’s proven my thoughts wrong with Three Nights With a Scoundrel.  I was SO blown away by all the twists and turns that took place in book three.

Kelly:  I’m totally with Kim on third books in trilogies… It’s so common for them to fall apart (or to be basically the same book three times over, and somehow it’s fine for the first two, but by the third I’m done, you know?)  Anyway, the third book of this series is my favorite, partly because the characters are wonderful and partly because the other two books of the series build to this one.  I think it’s possible to read this third book as a stand-alone, but a much fuller, richer experience is available to the reader who invests in the entire series.  That’s always a tricky thing, and (having read the whole series) it’s difficult to say whether a reader could actually enjoy book 3 on its own, but I think that it could work on its own.  But I liked all three, so I’m always going to recommend folk read all three.  Why not, right?  Dare’s writing is good, her characters interesting, and even a book that is comparatively weak (only when compared to the rest of her canon) is still amazing compared to much of what’s out there in the romance world.

Kim:  Agreed! The other two books are good in their own rights, but they are really both building to tell Lily and Julian’s story.  To get the full understanding of how rich these two characters are (in-depth, not financially) you need to see where they’ve been and how they grow.  Julian especially is the character (of all three novels) that grows the most.  His unfortunate roots lead him to constantly doubt himself and his value, especially when it comes to whether he is worthy of loving Lily or not.  His vulnerability when he reveals his past to Lily is just incredible.  The scene is written to perfection.  His anguish over his need to find Leo’s killer and his need to follow his heart is written so well that I honestly felt like I was Julian.  I’d find myself so lost in his story and so in his head that I forgot I was even reading a story.  THIS is the reason I read everything that Dare writes.  You become lost in her writings and can’t help but become deeply emotionally invested in her characters.

Kelly: And how.  I really hated Julian in the first two books, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to accept him as a hero, but I totally fell in love with him, and his apparent douchebaggery from the first two books just made him more endearing (in a weird way), especially as you begin to piece together the reasons for all that douchebaggery.

Kim: I totally understand what you mean here.  His was SUCH a jerk in the first two books I found myself wondering how Dare was going to “sell” him to the audience.

Kelly:  I shouldn’t have worried (but I did).  I fell in love with Lily in the first book, and being able to watch Julian pine and long and love from a distance was really all it took… I was a goner from the first sentence.  How can you dislike someone who loves Lily, who really sees her for who and what she is, values and appreciates everything about her?  Answer: you can’t.  Julian is beautiful and loveable because he loves her.

Kim: We should probably mention that Lily is deaf.  Not that it’s an important characteristic in our minds, but she isn’t the “normal” heroine of romance novels.  I LOVE that Tessa Dare writes characters that buck the norm.  I appreciate that Dare doesn’t make Lily’s deafness the “problem” keeps them apart.  Even though Lily is deaf, it’s not what defines her, or why Julian loves her.  It’s simply just a part of her.

Kelly: Yes!  I adored how Lily and Julian explore Deaf and hearing culture in their relationship, and that Lily’s deafness never once appears as a disability.  It’s a fact about her, a trait she has, but the novel is very careful in its stance on Lily’s deafness.  The novel is also able to illuminate some of the problems with hearing vs. Deaf throughout history.  Lily has a truly terrible aunt who gets to play the part of historically correct awfulness to demonstrate how marginalized the deaf community was (a fun little “look how far we’ve come… but we still have a ways to go!” bit of social commentary dropped in the middle of a romance novel.).  It’s subversion at its finest.

Kim: I think it was also an interesting touch that Dare had Lily’s brother in on the marginalizing of the deaf routine.  When Lily begins learning sign-language (after Leo’s death), she’s asked why she never learned before.  Her response is that her brother never picked it up, and with him being her main source of companionship, what was the point?  To me, this struck me as super odd but also really sad.  There’s a show on TV right now, Switched at Birth, that is also delving into this plot line.  (One of the characters on the show is deaf and his family has never bothered to learn how to sign)  I guess I come from a mindset that if a loved one of mine was deaf and started learning to sign, I would do anything and everything I could do to also learn to sign.

Kelly:  It’s actually the most common thing in the world for the families of deaf/hard of hearing folk to resist putting in the effort to ease the way for a deaf family member.  The hearing world accommodates the hearing, and with Cochlear ear implants, hearing aids, surgeries, lip-reading, etc., the hearing community often can’t understand why the deaf don’t automatically do whatever is necessary to remain in the hearing world.  It’s heartbreaking, but there it is.  I totally agree with Kim, by the way.  I have a friend who is deaf and skirts the hearing/deaf communities.  She can pass either way, but for the longest time her family forced her to pretend to be hearing (because deafness is shameful, they thought)… She did her doctoral work on identity issues among children with invisible traits (deaf and LGBT), and her findings were generally that families cling to norms at the expense of their loved ones.  Thus I absolutely loved Dare’s stance and, even more, loved that a romance novel used this social issue as a theme.

Kim: I think that this is why I keep reading Dare’s novels.  She takes the romance genre and adds depth to it.  She creates characters that would NEVER be the heroes and heroines of other “normal” romance novels.  She writes for the underdogs and gives those with no voice a platform to preach their uniqueness.  She advocates being different. Couldn’t we use more authors like this?

Kelly:  Preach it, sister!  Further, her ‘unique’ characters are actually unique.  It isn’t just another way of advocating the norm (like those stories where a nerdy girl is transformed into a beauty because *gasp* she was beautiful all along.).  Dare finds beauty in unexpected people and showcases it.

Kim: So I think maybe the biggest thing to take away from our thoughts on Three Nights With A Scoundrel is that this book is marketed as a romance novel, yeah? Now go look at all the things we pulled out of it and tell me that the love story is the only reason to read it.

Kelly: 5 out of 5 Stars
Kim: 5 out of 5 Stars

Random House (2010)
eBook 289 pages
ISBN: 9780345518903

#120-123 A Review of The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy by Tessa Dare

Early in 2012 I discovered a wonderful author by the name of Tessa Dare.  I began reading her Spindle Cove series and instantly fell in love with her unique heroines and swoon-worthy heroes.  Once I had exhausted all of the available Spindle Cove novels I moved on to her Wanton Dairymaid trilogy.  At first I didn’t realize that these books were part of a trilogy, and I ended up reading book one last.  Fortunately, I don’t think it took anything away from the overall story when I had read them out-of-order, but to save you the confusion I’ve reviewed them in the correct order!

goddesshuntBook one is Goddess of the Hunt:

From Goodreads: Ever the bold adventuress, Lucy Waltham has decided to go hunting for a husband. But first she needs some target practice. So she turns to her brother’s best friend, Jeremy Trescott, the Earl of Kendall, to hone her seductive wiles on him before setting her sights on another man. But her practice kisses spark a smoldering passion–one that could send all her plans up in smoke.

Jeremy has an influential title, a vast fortune, and a painful past full of long-buried secrets. He keeps a safe distance from his own emotions, but to distract Lucy from her reckless scheming, he must give his passions free rein. Their sensual battle of wills is as maddening as it is delicious, but the longer he succeeds in managing the headstrong temptress, the closer Jeremy comes to losing control. When scandal breaks, can he bring himself to abandon Lucy to her ruin? Or will he risk his heart and claim her for his own?

We’ve all been there: having a crush on someone who does not reciprocate the feeling.  It’s devastating and painful to think that the person you love may never love you back.  This is but a glimpse into Lucy’s mind as she contemplates a future without Toby.  She’s at her wit’s end on how to gain his attention and affections and the only person she can talk to about her situation is cold, frigid Jeremy.  The old saying “opposites attract” has never been truer than in the case of Jeremy and Lucy.  Initially they get along about as well as oil and water, Jeremy acts more like a father figure at times than a man figuring out that the love of his life has been in front of him the whole time.  Lucy, on the other hand, acts out to garner attention, whether it be good or bad.  Reading the fireworks that consistently went off between the two of them was so exciting and definitely had me on the edge of my seat.  I couldn’t wait for that moment when they would realize how perfect they were for each other.  It definitely made me sad that I read this trilogy out-of-order, as I ended with this and was disappointed that I had no more books to read!  Regardless, Goddess of the Hunt was a solid beginning (or end in my case) to this trilogy.

4 out of 5 Stars

Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
Random House (2009)
eBook: 352 pages
ISBN: 9780345515117

surrendersirenBook two is Surrender of a Siren

From Goodreads: Desperate to escape a loveless marriage and society’s constraints, pampered heiress Sophia Hathaway jilts her groom, packs up her paints and sketchbook, and assumes a new identity, posing as a governess to secure passage on the Aphrodite. She wants a life of her own: unsheltered, unconventional, uninhibited. But it’s one thing to sketch her most wanton fantasies, and quite another to face the dangerously handsome libertine who would steal both her virtue and her gold.

To any well-bred lady, Benedict “Gray” Grayson is trouble in snug-fitting boots. A conscienceless scoundrel who sails the seas for pleasure and profit, Gray lives for conquest–until Sophia’s perception and artistry stir his heart. Suddenly he’ll brave sharks, fire, storm, and sea just to keep her at his side. She’s beautiful, refined, and ripe for seduction. Could this counterfeit governess be a rogue’s redemption? Or will the runaway heiress’s secrets destroy their only chance at love?

WOW.  Surrender of a Siren was definitely my favorite of the entire trilogy.  Of all the heroes in the trilogy, Gray was hands-down my favorite.  At first he seems a bit barbaric, and he is.  He’s been accustomed to getting what he wants when he wants it.  Nobody questions his authority.  Sophia, however, sees through all of this.  She sees the lonely man inside who deserves love, dreams, and partnership.  She sees a bit of a kindred spirit in him, in that they have both have become creatures of expectations.  Gray does what he thinks is best for his family and crew and puts them first and foremost, while Sophia has a duty to become the darling of society, which she has fulfilled.  In essence, Gray learns from Sophia what it is to buck those expectations and finally live for yourself and for your heart.

Back to Gray’s barbarism for a second.  At first it’s very caveman-like.  “I am man, hear me roar” and all that jazz.  By the end of the novel though, his barbaric tendencies are, well….hot.  He’s a big giant of a man – filled with muscles and manliness.  There really is no other way to put it. Gray is a hottie and damn do I love him.

5 out of 5 Stars

Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare
Random House (2009)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780345516848

ladypersuasionBook three is A Lady of Persuasion

From Goodreads: Only one thing could convince Sir Tobias Aldridge, an incorrigible libertine, to profess undying fidelity to a woman he’s just met. Revenge. What better way to get back at an enemy than by stealing the scoundrel’s sister? Not that Toby finds it a chore, seducing a beguiling, sultry beauty freshly arrived from the West Indies. When the prize is Isabel Grayson, vengeance is doubly rewarding. 

Isabel is determined to marry a wealthy, powerful lord and become a lady of influence, using her rank and fortune to fight social injustice. Sir Toby, with his paltry title and infamous reputation, is unsuitable husband material–but he makes her blood race, her heart pound, and her long-buried passions come to the surface. If she can reform the charming devil, she’ll get exactly what she craves: society’s respect. But it’s a dangerous gamble. For if Toby wins this battle of persuasion, Isabel could lose her heart.

This was my least favorite in the trilogy, and I think it probably had to do with the fact that I didn’t connect with Isabel and Toby’s love story.  Isabel’s motives for wanting to marry a man of influence are commendable.  Her desire to help every charity and have a husband that can make political changes wasn’t what bothered me about her.  In fact, I want to hug her for all of her charitable notions, it shows that she has a good heart and deep down is a good person.  It was her need to reach an unattainable level of perfection that at times made her character read as very cold and unemotional.  These moments of coldness didn’t allow me to connect with her as a character. thus leaving me unable to ever really root for her love connection with Toby.  Toby, on the other hand, was a different story.  I really wanted to smack some sense into him at times for his inability to stand up to Isabel and tell her the truth.  Other than this disconnect with the main characters, I enjoyed the opportunities this novel afforded in revisiting the characters of the first two in the trilogy.

3 out of 5 Stars

A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare
Random House (2009)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780345516831

New Year; New Challenges, the Third

This is my third New Year; New Challenges post and I have to tell you, I still get excited writing them.  Just knowing that I’m beginning another 365 day period of challenging myself to read an ass-ton of books excites me.  Since I completed the 110 books I set as my goal for 2012, I’ve decided to stick with tradition and add another 10 books to my goal for 2013.  Therefore, my starting goal for this year will be 120 books!  In case you missed all of the reading challenges I’ve signed up for (on top of my overall goal), you can click here to view my progress.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading (in no particular order) in 2013:

  1. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  2. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  3. Sever by Lauren DeStefano
  4. Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt
  5. Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris
  6. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare
  7. The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz

I know that this is a bit of a short list, but I’m hoping that as the year progresses, more new and exciting books will be announced from my favorite authors.  2012 was a great year for both new books and additions to series that I already loved, so I’m hoping that 2013 will be just as fun, if not more so!

As always, I encourage you to try your own reading challenges!  My biggest piece of advice is to start small.  There is nothing wrong with saying that you want to read 10 books this year.  Make a small goal, meet that goal, then increase it!  Tell me about your own goals, as well as the books you’re excited about reading, below.