Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: August 27 to 31, 2017
First of all, a big thank-you to the publisher Avon and GR’s giveaway program for sending me an ARC. Without them, I would have most likely bought this book and then regretted it afterward. More on that later.
Tessa Dare is probably my favorite strictly romance author and one I turn to for a break in reading, especially when I’m in the mood for vaguely historical, regency-esque, bodice-ripping romances that aren’t simpering or dull. The writing is usually fun, the characters are funny, and the stories are short and sweet, easily contained in one book and great as palate cleansers in between longer reads.
There are tropes, of course, like dashing love interests and young plucky main characters and happily ever-afters, and the stories are told from both POVs, but what makes Dare’s writing stand out from the overcrowded bodice-ripping shelf is her way of bringing modern sensibilities to her characters and stories, which jarred me at first, but I got used to them after a couple of books and then came to appreciate them later on.
I like that, although you get both POVs, Dare doesn’t spend too much time over-explaining motives and feelings or go on and on about each character’s insecurities. Instead, the focus is on the funny moments between the characters. There’s a sweetness to the writing, and once in awhile, it’s nice to read a book that I know will have a happy ending.
This book, however, is not like any of her other books that I’ve read so far. It’s actually more in line with those other “classic” bodice-rippers. I should have known by the cover.
The plot is a duke returns from war after being severely wounded in an explosion that left him physically scarred, and he returns to find his entire estate neglected by an idiot cousin he had left in temporary charge. And then his fiancee left him. Shortly thereafter, he becomes a recluse, shunning society and all who comes calling. That is, until one day, a seamstress bursts into his library demanding payment for the ex-fiancee’s wedding dress.
She’s desperate and in need of money; he needs an heir to secure his estate, so he makes her a deal. After some hesitation and a lot of convincing, she accepts the offer. They sign the contracts and proceed to have a pretend marriage.
By the way, all of this happens within the first 30 pages, so this book gets down to business quickly which was odd for Tessa Dare. I later learned why. It was because she needed the rest of the book to make the characters fall in love and heal their wounds. And there was definitely a lot of falling and healing. And a lot of it dragged on and on.
So yeah, I had some reservation early on, but since this was Tessa Dare, I thought she could pull through. Unfortunately, she couldn’t and the story dragged.
Making the main character a seamstress with a shadowed past was really interesting, and in Tessa Dare fashion, she gave her a group of equally interesting friends for support and comfort. That was fun, but too much attention was paid to the duke’s various insecurities and the seamstress’s haunted past and self-doubt, none of which did anything for me. This is such an over-used trope and basically the backbone of most, if not all, regency romances, and I was disappointed to see it rehashed here.
Also in Tessa Dare fashion, there were quite a few funny moments sprinkled throughout the story, but not enough to lighten the dragged-on feeling or make reading less of a chore. It wasn’t all a downer though. One scene in particular did leave me laughing out loud, and that was when the duke visited the seamstress’s father, who is vicar of a small village, to scare him in the middle of the night.
“A demon has come to drag you to Hell, you miserable wretch.”
“To Hell? M-me?”
“Yes, you. You crusty botch of nature. You poisonous bunch-backed toad. Sitting in this weaselly little house full to the reeking with betrayal and…” He waved at the nearest shelf. “And ghastly curtains.”
“What’s wrong with the curtains?”
“Everything!” he roared.
“Once you arrive in the eternal furnace, there are sinful debts to be settled. ‘Hell to pay’ is not merely a saying. Then there are the endless papers to be signed and filed.”
“Papers to be filed?”
“Naturally there are papers. It should surprise no one to learn that Hell is a vast, inefficient bureaucracy.”
“Doesn’t your Holy Bible have something to say about forgiveness?”
The man covered in silence.
“No, truly. I’m asking. Doesn’t it? I’m a demon. I don’t read the thing.”
Still makes me laugh.
So this book isn’t a disappointment exactly, but it is a break from what I’m used to seeing from this author.