Victoria Dahl, I Have Things To Do

I’ve been a little slow to publish new reviews, in part because I’ve been reading a few egalleys that won’t be published until later this fall, but the real reason is that I’ve fallen into a reader’s rabbit hole filled with books by Victoria Dahl. My love of Taking the Heat was effusive and real and immediately compelled me to go back and read all of Dahl’s contemporaries. I’m working my way through the lot, but thought I’d come up for air and share my thoughts on what is now one of my favorite romance novel collections: The Donovan Brothers Brewery series.

In typical scattered-reader fashion, I read this series completely out of order, which hardly signifies, as any way you read them, these books are amazeballs. The series follows Tessa, Jamie, and Eric Donovan, siblings who run a brew-pub in Boulder, Colorado. My relationship with beer-centered romance (both contemporary and historical) has had its ups and downs, but this series has convinced me that nothing accompanies romantic drama better than a nice Porter.

There’s sort of a Party of Five vibe to the series: Eric has been the head of the Donovan household since his parents were killed in a car accident. In his mid-twenties he set aside his young adulthood to raise teenaged Tessa and Jamie, and take over the family brewery. The series derives as much drama from the sibling dynamics as it does from the actual romance itself. Anyone with brothers or sisters knows how complicated sibling relationships can be, and Dahl is a master at crafting believable, but never over-the-top family tensions. The books are linked together by a break-in at the brewery and its ensuing repercussions, in which long-simmering family issues finally come to head. Here’s a quick summary of each:

  • Good Girls Don’t  — While trying to manage the aftermath of the brewery break-in, and the increasingly tense relationship between Jamie and Eric, Tessa finds herself drawn to police detective Luke Asher. He’s the kind of guy any good friend would warn you to stay away from (read: TOO COMPLICATED TO BE WORTH IT), but Tessa is tired of being good.
  • Bad Boys Do — Jamie kicks off a fun no-strings-attached sexcapade with (slightly older) divorcee Olivia Bishop. But Jamie’s tired of being the irresponsible playboy and is ready to prove to everyone–Eric, Tessa, Olivia–that he’s capable of more.
  • Real Men Will — Eric’s one-night-stand with local sex shop manager Beth Cantrell was supposed to be just that. It’s the only reason he lied about his name (letting Beth believe he was really Jamie). The sex is so amazing that neither Eric nor Beth can let it go, and find themselves getting together again and again.

They’re all fantastic reads, folks, but I will give a special plug for Real Men Will, whose heroine is curvy, beautiful, half-Argentinian (Latina bonus points!), and totally vanilla despite her sex-icon status around town. This last book is definitely the steamiest of the three, so proceed accordingly (ahem, read it first).

Jamie’s story is sort of a classic, there’s-more-to-the-bad-boy-than-meets-the-eye tale, but the presence of Olivia gives the story some legs.  She’s a little older, wiser, but totally inexperienced in love and relationships. I liked that she was coming from the world of academia with all of its political intrigues and ridiculous drama, and I appreciated that she was in her mid-30s (I like reading romance with heroines around my age). Did I also mention that Jamie wears a kilt? Because he does. A LOT.

Good Girls Don’t is a bit like Tessa–a little bubble gum, a little dirty. Her brothers jokingly refer to her as a Disney character, and yes, she is a perky, blond heroine, but I think Dahl manages to dive deeper into her persona. Tessa has some pretty serious underlying abandonment issues (no surprise there) and she’s as manipulative as she is sweet. It’s a refreshing take on what could have been a bland “good girl” character.

There is so much to love about this series! Read it now, folks!

Portrait of a woman seated and reading possibly on board SS TANDA -- from the Australian Maritime Museum

Read-It-Again Romance Favorites

Earlier this month I re-read Pride & Prejudice for the first time in over 10 years. I had a completely different experience reading it as a 30-something historical romance reader than as a college-aged English Literature major. Somehow it was wittier, more romantic and subtle, more sly and tongue-in-cheek than I remembered it being. Of course I fell in love with Darcy and Elizabeth all over again and vowed to never again let so much time pass before re-reading Pride & Prejudice. 

It’s officially on my read-it-again romance list, and yes, I have a real list. It’s small at the moment, just a few select favorites that I turn to every year (sometimes less, sometimes more) when I need a little something that I know I can always find within its pages.

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The Maddening Lord Montwood – Blog Book Tour Stop

Tasty Virtual Book Tour - The Maddening Lord Montwood

I’m so excited for this book, y’all. As you know, I’m a super Vivienne Lorret fangirl. From her Wallflower Wedding series to Lord Everhart and Mr. Danvers, I can’t seem to get enough of her heartfelt historical romance. I’m delighted to be a stop on the Tasty Virtual Book tour for the final installment in The Rakes of Fallow Hall trilogy, The Maddening Lord MontwoodRead on for a review, excerpt, and giveaway.

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Sometimes the Best Books ARE Free

Scandal by Carolyn Jewel

Title: Scandal
Author: Carolyn Jewel
Purchase: It’s free on Amazon! and on B&N! and on iBooks! and on Kobo! and on Google Play!

I’m going to work really hard to contain my exclamation points in this post, but it will not be an easy task. Carolyn Jewel’s Scandal, a 2010 RITA finalist for Best Regency Historical is free right now.


And it’s amazing (which I shall elaborate on in great, great detail).

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Blog Tour: All’s Fair in Love & Scandal by Caroline Linden

All's Fair in Love & Scandal

Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Avon

My introduction to Caroline Linden’s writing was the first book in her Scandals series, Love and Other Scandals, featuring the fiesty and fierce Joan Bennet (and of course, the dashing Tristan, Lord Burke). Joan’s brother Douglas was an ancillary character, but his presence was a wonderful complication to Joan and Tristan’s my-best-friend’s-sister romance. All’s Fair in Love and Scandal marks the return of Douglas Bennet as the hero of his own happily ever after. It’s a great novella with a fantastic heroine who’s making her way to the top of my Awesome Ladies of Historical Romance list.

Never one to resist a good wager, Douglas accepts a smarmy friend’s challenge to expose the woman behind  50 Ways to Sin, the scandalous publication we’d all be hiding under our petticoats and reading late at night if we were gently bred 19th century ladies. The problem: The suspected author is the lovely but notoriously aloof widow Madeline Wilde, who maintains her place as a member of society but never a full participant.

Despite Douglas’ underlying deceit, their romance is quite straight-forward. The motivation of the wager quickly loses steam as Madeline poses less of a challenge and more of a prize. It’s easy to see why Douglas would want her. She’s beautiful and intelligent, witty and sharp, and just distant enough to cultivate the aura of a woman worth pursuing. The question in my mind was always: What does she want with Douglas?

I’ll confess to anxiously awaiting Douglas’ fall into love and matrimony, but as I continued to read All’s Fair I felt less Team Douglas, and more Team Madeline. In a way they are at odds. Madeline is struggling to hold on to her hard-won independence despite her growing love for Douglas; Douglas is not really sure what he’s doing but he knows that he wants Madeline to want him (and yes, he absolutely wants her). Madeline knows her own mind and Douglas doesn’t. Neither is mature enough to avoid the games we all play (and lose) in love, but somehow Madeline just comes out the better person in this novella. She’s a fan-freakin-tastic heroine and I might want to be her when I grow up.

As is to be expected with any Linden novel, the writing is top-notch, the dialogue is stellar and the pacing is spot-on. The novella’s resolution is full of so much YES! that I hesitate to even address it at all in this review lest I ruin it for future readers. I’ll just say that it’s deeply satisfying.

Rating: A- (for my new regency role model, Madeline Wilde)

About Caroline Linden

Caroline LindenCaroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer software before turning to writing fiction. Ten years, twelve books, three Red Sox championships, and one dog later, she has never been happier with her decision. Her books have won the NEC Reader’s Choice Beanpot Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and RWA’s RITA Award. Since she never won any prizes in math, she takes this as a sign that her decision was also a smart one.

Blog Tour: The Elusive Lord Everhart by Vivienne Lorret

The Elusive Lord Everhart Tour BannerWhen I have a book hangover the night after a marathon reading session,  you can be sure the book in question in a keeper. Thank you, The Elusive Lord Everhart, for leaving me bleary-eyed, puffy-faced, and crabby on a Wednesday morning. Despite the mass quantities of caffeinated beverages I’ve just consumed I still want to crawl under a blanket with a nice cup of tea and read the next installment in this fantastic new series by Vivienne Lorret. Today’s stop on the Tasty Virtual Book Tour features a review in which I detail every reason you will want a Lord Everhart of your very own and a giveaway of Lorret’s previous novels (which I want to win as badly as a single gal fights for the bridal bouquet throwaway at a wedding).

The Elusive Lord Everhart, like so many amazing historical romance stories, begins with a secret. Five years ago, Miss Calliope Croft received an unbelievably romantic love letter containing everything you might hope for in a secret admirer’s correspondence: passion, love, and a proposal of marriage. What held the promise for a lifetime of happiness ultimately left Calliope alone, heartbroken, and firmly on the shelf…or so she thought. A fortuitous visit to a cousin brings Calliope face-to-face with the author of that letter, the devastatingly handsome and seductive Gabriel Ludlow, Viscount Everhart, who’s just bet a fortune on the promise that he’ll never marry. Kept apart by secrets, lies, and the always-present self-preservation instinct (gotta protect those hearts, folks), Gabriel and Calliope soon find themselves unable to stay away from one another.

Despite a slightly confusing start (the first chapter made reference to several previous novels I hadn’t read), Lorret’s latest tale has all of my favorite romantic tropes in one nuanced, well-written package. Everhart’s the perfect kind of rake–sexy and seductive, but with hidden depth and character. He’s nursing a broken ankle throughout much of the story, which seems to make him more approachable, less intimidating, and in just the right state of vulnerability to encounter the woman he’s spent the past five years pining over. Calliope is presented as a spinster by choice. Unable to stomach the idea of wedding anyone other than the author of the letter that stole her heart, she’s refused proposals, suitors, and a genteel lifestyle in favor of independence (or as much independence as a 24 year old regency woman could realistically possess). She’s the perfect foil for Everhart, and when they get together, they spark.

Lorret does something really special with Everhart and Calliope. Yes, there are all kinds of plot devices keeping them apart–the letter, the bet Everhart makes with his hot friends, Calliope’s overprotective brother and dreadful cousin, Everhart’s own childhood issues–but it’s obvious from the moment they reunite that they CANNOT. STAY. APART. Their attraction and sexual tension is INTENSE, but rather than give in to it immediately, as they both obviously want to do, they take the path of so many cowards in love before them: ANGER. Maybe I have some problems, ya’ll, but I adore novels with heroes and heroines who are so crazy about each other that they resort to angry outbursts, shameless teasing, and ridiculous challenges just so that they can stand in the same vicinity, and (if they’re lucky) maybe end up touching one another in the process. It’s a total kids-in-the-schoolyard approach to romance and I love it. (See my love of Not Quite a Husband, Tempting the Bride, and, in an upcoming review, I Loved a Rogue for reference). This kind of emotional self-preservation just makes for such a compelling, deeply moving romance, which is exactly what you’ll find in The Elusive Lord Everhart.

There are all kinds of tangential events and characters keeping Everhart and Calliope apart, but they are so secondary that I won’t even bother with the spoilers. I will say that “the bet” that begins the novel is less about Everhart and Calliope’s story and more about starting a new series, I think, so those of you with aversions to gambling men need not worry. There’s a great plot twist that reminds me a bit of the Elinor-Edward-Lucy debacle in Sense and Sensibility, but again the main driver of this romance is the amazing connection between Everhart and Calliope.

Rating: A, Those of you who like romance with just a little bit of angst: this one’s for you.

Purchase The Elusive Lord Everhart
Amazon | B&N iBooks | Kobo | Publisher

About Vivienne Lorret
USA Today bestselling author Vivienne Lorret loves romance novels, her pink laptop, her husband, and her two sons (not necessarily in that order … but there are days). Transforming copious amounts of tea into words, she is proud to be an Avon Impulse author of works including The Wallflower Wedding series and The Rakes of Fallow Hall series.

You can find Vivienne online: Website | Facebook | Twitter |Goodreads

The Giveaway
Enter this Rafflecopter Giveaway to win an ebook bundle including: Winning Miss Wakefield, Daring Miss Danvers and Finding Miss MacFarland.

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A Nerd Girl’s Wishlist: Get Kissed. Find Some Interesting New Books.

Season for SurrenderTitle: Season for Surrender
Author: Theresa Romain
Series: Book 2 in the Holiday Pleasures series
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play

A few weeks ago I wrote about Season for Temptation, Theresa Romain’s fantastically witty debut. Despite it’s obvious charm and desperately romantic story, it hit upon a romance trope that always turns me off: the groom-to-be in love with his fiance’s sister. I admitted to stopping the book half-way through just to make absolutely certain that the jilted fiance got her own HEA. The result: I tore through Louisa’s story, Season for Surrender, in about 2 days.

In the second book in her Holiday Pleasures series, Romain manages to hit upon one of my absolute favorite romance novel tropes OF ALL TIME: the bookish bluestocking and the rake fall in love. Bonus: It’s a Christmas romance. Not only do I get a storyline set up to appeal to my little librarian heart, but I get snow, mistletoe, and mulled wine in paperback form! It’s a WIN-WIN, folks.

Louisa is invited to a naughty holiday house party at Lord Xavier’s (Alex) country estate thanks to an off-handed low-stakes bet between Xavier and his smarmy cousin Lockwood. Despite Xavier’s playboy reputation and the scandalous gossip that surrounds this annual event, Louisa accepts. Eager to find some fun in a life that’s left her firmly on the shelf, a third-wheel in her sister’s marriage to her ex-fiance, Louisa sets off with the intent to get kissed and find some interesting new books. Isn’t that every girl’s fantasy? No? Just mine? Oh well. Throw in the best ballsy, brassy doyenne EVER–Louisa’s aunt, Lady Irving–and it’s a recipe for a hilarious and sexy Christmas romance.

(Also, nerd alert: Much of the romance happens in a fabulous library.)

Romain’s sparkling wit is, as always, on display (as evidence, see the chapter: Containing the Aggravation of Shakespearean Insight). Her dialogue is spot on and inner monologues are so rich and revealing that it’s a wonder I don’t expect to find these characters in my day-to-day life (Lady Irvine, let’s do lunch). Louisa and Xavier’s romance is rooted in the revelations that happen when two people have the advantage of simply being alone together without artifice or expectation. Surrender is a getting-to-know you story, less about the external obstacles thrown before a budding relationship and more about the walls we put up to keep ourselves safe.

Louisa may play the well-mannered wallflower but her tongue is sharp and her wit is biting. She just rarely puts them on display. Xavier is the rake we all hope for–all flash and style to hide a somewhat boring homebody, the kind of guy who just wants to sit at home reading Dante, y’all (commence swooning). In reading Surrender, I couldn’t help but think of one of my favorite TV shows, Freaks and Geeks. It has that same theme of people not quite matching up to their stereotypes, but instead turning out to be complex, likable, annoying, and well-rounded human beings.

I’ll continue reading my way through Romain’s Holiday Pleasures series because she’s a fantastic writer and I am such a sucker for Christmas romance. If you’re interested, the latest book in the series, Season for Desire, was just released this month!

Rating: A
(It’s only missing the plus because I was really hoping for a Lady Irving secondary romance. Sassy widows need love too!)