The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) by Tessa Dare

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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.

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Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After, #1) by Tessa Dare

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date Read: September 06 to 07, 2016
Recommended by: the Vaginal Fantasy group
Recommended to:

A very light and sweet tale that’s at times adorable, but not precious or twee.

What started off as a light Beauty & the Beast retelling turned into something unexpectedly sweet half-way through the story.

After having lost her father to old age and his whole estate to a distant male cousin, Izzy is left penniless, save for a strange inheritance from an estranged godfather. He left her a castle, but not a dreamy, happily-ever-after kind of castle. It’s old and decrepit and on the verge of becoming a pile of rubble–so more of a fixer-upper–but it’s her castle officially, she even has the paperwork to prove it. However, there’s one big problem. The castle also comes with its previous owner, Ransom, Duke of something or other–I forgot, it’s been a few months. Anyway. He’s brooding, snarling, infuriating man who’s determined to kick Izzy out so he could reclaim his castle, but since the castle is her only shelter, she fights him for it.

They get off to a rocky start, but of course there’s simmering mutual attraction and I have to say their battle of witty repartee is pretty funny. Romance isn’t my preferred genre; cutesy historical romance written with the modern audience in mind is even less so, if that’s even possible, but I’ve been trying to read more to broaden my horizon and whatnot. When it’s done right, when there’s a balance between plot and romance, it’s pretty good. So I’ve been following along with the ladies of the Vaginal Fantasy book club for most of the year now and… meh. Their book picks have been all over the place in terms of content and quality of writing, and not one book has impressed me yet. That is, until this one came along. I found it very engaging, even with the rocky start at the beginning, and Izzy and Ransom are pretty good together. But still, I have yet to find books with that balance I’m always looking for.

Another thing is I don’t normally enjoy traditional happily-ever-afters romances–which is basically all of them, right? They contain too many unnecessary explanations of things that should be left up to the reader to infer or figure out, such as the heroine’s and the love interest’s mutual attraction, sexual tension, and budding relationship. No need to spell it out. I can’t stand it when these things are explained, sometimes almost to death, because it’s too much telling and gets to be repetitive further into the story. Another thing I can’t stand is how strickly heteronormative these types of romances are. It’s expected that the main couple are, but must every other character in the book be so as well?*

So in spite of all of that, I did like this book and found myself enjoying it for its many, rather noticeably modern, details and embellishment, which were definitely a bit jarring and took me out of the Victorian setting (or was it Edwardian?), like the characters’ modern sensibilities, specifically Izzy’s open-minded views of sex and relationships and her noticeably lack of uptight-ness, and the hilarious cosplaying troupe of devoted fans following the her around the country. And the humor. It was, once again, unexpected and enjoyable. I found it neither cheesy nor eye-rolling, and it was one of the things I liked most about the read.

“Every time you wake up, you let fly the most marvelous string of curses. It’s never the same twice, do you know that? It’s so intriguing. You’re like a rooster that crows blasphemy.”

[…]

Izzy was utterly convinced. Never mind Arabian horses, African cheetahs. No creature in the world could bolt so quickly as a rake confronted with the word “marriage.” They ought to shout it out at footraces rather than using starting pistols.

[…]

Why must this be so mortifying? Oh, that’s right. Because its my life.

[…]

Astonishing. In the morning, when she sat working at that table of correspondence, silhouetted by sunlight . . .

Her hair truly did look like an octopus.

It was the way she wore it, he thought. Or maybe the way it wore her. It all sat perched atop her head in that big, inky blob. And no matter how strenuously she pinned it, dark, heavy curls worked loose on all sides, like tentacles.

Of course, it was an entrancing, strangely erotic octopus. Ransom worried this might be how fetishes developed.

*And must they all get their own spin-off novels so they could all live out their own happily-ever-afters which pretty much mirror the first book’s plot? Why can’t some of them end up divorced or widowed and spend the rest of their lives partying from one country estate to another, from one affair to another? Oh, wait, that’s not a romance… but definitely something I would read.