Brews and Brawny Dudes: In Which I Talk About How Much I Loved Say Yes to the Marquess

Say Yes to the MarquessTitle: Say Yes to the Marquess
Series: Castles Ever After
Author: Tessa Dare
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | GooglePlay

My ridiculous love for Tessa Dare’s writing is no secret. I’ve rambled semi-coherently about her novellas on this blog and managed to extend my fanaticism into other awesome book blogs. That said, I still feel obligated to add a disclaimer to this review: I’m a fangirl, plain and simple, and this review of Say Yes to the Marquess isn’t so much a review as it is just me talking about why I enjoy reading Tessa Dare.

I’d been in a bit of a historical romance slump lately–one that started with a couple of Bridgerton novels and just kind of persisted through a few other books that I don’t think I’ll ever get around to reviewing. I was starting to feel sort of jaded and more than a little bored with historical romance. Some of it may have been the letdown after finishing up some amazing series (see MacLean; see also Milan) mixed in with more than a little Outlander withdrawal. Some of it I blame on my disastrous attempt to read 50 Shades of Grey (not historical romance, but it overshadowed a lot of what I read; more on that hot mess later). Some of it was maybe just my fickle reader mood. After getting my book-sister Heather’s permission to put down a few books that just weren’t doing it for me, I decided to pick up Say Yes to the Marquess and was immediately rewarded with exactly the kind of book that I needed at that moment. Call it a coincidence, but I like to think there’s something magical about a reader finding just the right book at just the right time.

Say Yes to the Marquess is the second installment in Dare’s Castles Ever After Series–a loosely tied together collection of novels with heroines who inherit castles, but have very little else in common. This novel is a substantial shift in focus from Romancing the Duke, but still carries with it Dare’s characteristic flair for romantic comedy, witty dialogue, and heartfelt romance.

Clio Whitmore is done waiting. After an eight-year engagement with a globe-trotting groom-to-be and no wedding date sight, she decides takes her future into her own hands.  Her unshakeable dream to open a brewery with a recently inherited castle and end her commitment to Piers Brandon, the Marquess of Granville, puts her squarely in the path of Rafe Brandon, Piers’ younger brother. As the designated black sheep of the family, Rafe is appropriately dark, brooding, and hulking. He’s a prizefighter determined to win back his title, and the only thing standing in his way is one very determined Clio.

Yes, the plot is a little bit of a stretch: Rafe wants to make sure Clio marries Piers because he’s afraid if she doesn’t, Piers will flee the country again and leave Rafe with the responsibilities of the Marquessate…which he already has…kind of…that part was sort of unclear. BUT AT ANY RATE…Rafe is determined to make this marriage happen, which you can already tell is a recipe for romance and romantic strife. I use the word strife lightly, though. Dare’s writing is never heavy, and Say Yes is no exception. Although Clio and Rafe have a history, it’s not one dripping with angst; there’s just enough sexual tension and longing to keep things interesting and push the love story along. The hero and heroine are as likable as all of Dare’s protagonists, and like those men and women in her previous novels they’re just a little different. They’re so charming that I was even able to suspend my epic dislike of the fiance’s sibling romantic trope, mostly because the sibling in question was a) absent for almost the entire novel and b) left poor Clio on the line for 8 years (not cool, Piers).

I’ve read a handful of reviews on Goodreads for Say Yes that claim the novel is anachronistic and so outside of the historical norm as to be really a contemporary romance novel with corsets and petticoats. I take issue with those critiques, because one thing I’ve always loved about Dare’s writing is her ability to give us something beyond the steady streams of blushing ladies and man-about-town lords who frequent ballrooms and gentleman’s clubs. Her Spindle Cove heroines were a riot of feminists, scientists, and oddballs, and her Castles Ever After ladies are no exception. I relish the change in setting from London to the countryside and find her quirky plotlines and characters to be a total breath of fresh air. What other novelist could take a pugilist, a budding brewer, an aging bulldog, awful relatives, and a bisexual fight promoter and throw them together into a story that just WORKS? Whenever I want to be completely immersed in regency manners and history I pick up an Austen novel. When I want a regency romance with humor, sex, and warmth, I pick up a Dare novel.

You should pick this one up, too (preferably with a lovely craft beer in your other hand).

Rating: All the stars, all the time.

When Troublesome Tropes Meet Your Favorite Authors

Yesterday evening I finally finished up the amazing novella box set, Seven Wicked Nights. Never one to read things in order if I can help it, I skipped around a bit and ended with Caroline Linden’s When I Met My Duchess. As expected, it was a great story with the right balance of humor and depth of feeling, steady pacing, elegant writing, and engaging, well-developed characters (which are not easy to create in a novella).

Did I love this story? No.

Is this a negative review? Absolutely not.

In which I attempt to explain the disconnect between the previous two statements to a hopefully modest degree of success.

Linden’s novels are always great fun to read (particularly Love and Other Scandals), but in When I Met My Duchess she hits upon a romantic trope I find particularly off-putting: The hero in love with his fiance’s sister. When Gareth, the Duke of Wessex, welcomes his bride-to-be and her family to his estate for the wedding, lightening strikes–literally! But the tree it fells is the least of his worries. Completely captivated by his fiance’s sister, Cleo, Gareth suddenly finds himself wondering if his heart hasn’t been struck as well, and if perhaps he’s marrying the wrong woman.

It’s such an emotional premise, and yet it’s just one that makes me bristle. Yes, I have a younger sister and no, she never stole my boyfriend, but I still have such a hard time with this plot device, even though it’s a great romantic set-up. The gender has little to do with it. Heroine in love with fiance’s brother or any same-sex variation on that theme is equally troublesome to me. I can’t explain it, and yet it’s there–that awful urge to hurl the book (or Kindle) across the room when the fickle fiance meets her/his true match in their intended’s sibling. I want to shout (WHY’D YOU PROPOSE IN THE FIRST PLACE, YA TURKEY?!?!), I want to roll my eyes (Really, you’re sure THIS is the right person for you?), and sometimes I find myself wondering what would happen if a third hotter/more intelligent/more sensitive sibling were to come along.

But mostly I just want to understand why certain tropes speak to certain readers when others make us want to run screaming for the next book on our shelf. 

I’ve read romance reviews where the reader was instantly put-out by plots centered on marital infidelity, open relationships, or power plays (e.g. a governess and a lord). Often it’s difficult to separate these visceral reactions from an honest, objective review, particularly when a trope either hits us in the gut or sends an arrow straight to our heart. I can pretty much guarantee that I will love any and all novels where a bluestocking, shy bookworm, or nerd gets the rake or the belle of the ball. I can’t help it. I also can’t help angrily flipping pages until a HEA resolves itself so that both the hero, the jilted fiance and the fiance’s sister all find love. (Thanks, Ms. Linden, for giving Helen her very own happy ending).

I’ll admit to recently putting a stop to reading Theresa Romain’s Season for Temptation only so that I could read Season for Surrender and make sure that poor Louisa–the jilted sibling–gets her own happy ending. (Season for Surrender is lovely, by the way.) I adore Romain’s writing. The ongoing Matchmaker trilogy is beyond amazing, and Season for Temptation is so witty you’ll find yourself laughing at every chapter title, piece of dialogue, and turn of phrase she expertly crafts. But again, that trope just KILLS ME.

So what’s a reader to do?

One of my best friends admits to only reading books that challenge her in some way or make her uncomfortable. As a romance reader, I clearly do not subscribe to that reading point-of-view. Yet I will admit that part of that sentiment has merit. I think we as readers do sometimes need to step out of our comfort zone to discover new authors and approaches to the our favorite genres. Despite bristling at certain plot structures, I can still recognize a great read. I am so taken with Linden’s and Romain’s writing that I will easily pick up their next novels as soon as they’re available. Who knows, perhaps the next time the heroine falls in love with her fiance’s brother I’ll even cheer them on!

What tropes or plot devices in romance novels (or other genres) put you on edge? Which ones are your favorite?

I’d love to hear your reactions in the comments below!

FEATURED BOOKS

Seven Wicked Nights
Title: When I Met My Duchess
Author: Caroline Linden
Found in: Seven Wicked Nights and At the Duke’s Wedding
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play

 

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Books by Theresa Romain
Season for Temptation
Season for Surrender
It Takes Two to Tangle (Book 1 in the Matchmaker Trilogy)
To Charm a Naughty Countess (Book 2 in the Matchmaker Trilogy)