I’ll admit it: I judge books by their covers. Something about seeing a big, beautiful dress on the cover of a book brings me back to my childhood when I went rifling through my aunt’s closet. Perhaps this is the reason that I am stuck in a Regency rabbit-hole. Each time I read a new book, I see another one that is just as pretty that I am dying to try. Regency books are my Pringles. So, after finishing a Lisa Kleypas and a Sarah MacLean, I just had to try out Tessa Dare. Let me tell you, while the cover might be like the others, this is no ordinary Regency book.
Pauline is a farmer’s daughter and a barmaid/serving girl who has a head for numbers, tons of pride, and is fiercely protective of her disabled sister. To me, she feels a little like Belle in the beginning of Beauty and the Beast: everyone in town thinks she’s weird, but she has big dreams. Enter Griff, a duke whose mother is desperate to marry him off to literally anyone. She brings him to this town full of unmarried women and wants him to pick one for her to train into a duchess ala My Fair Lady.
Y’all, I can’t even. This book was so good and so funny. I laughed out loud at several parts, and I just LOVED Pauline. Griff initially selects her because she is so disheveled to spite his mother, and his mother calls his bluff. Almost immediately, he starts backpedaling , making plans to leave for London saying that surely Pauline can’t drop everything and leave. Pauline replies,
“Certainly I can[…] I can leave my post anytime. […] I don’t need a post at all, do I? Not if I’m to be a duchess. […] Mr. Fosbury, […] I’ll be leaving now. I don’t expect I’ll be coming back today. I’m taking the duke ‘round to the cottage so he can ask for my hand in marriage […] Shall we, your grace?”
See? No wimpy heroine here, just one who knows herself and knows her mind and refuses to be talked down to or underestimated. Don’t get me wrong, she has a tough road, and pure pluck isn’t enough to overcome every obstacle in her way, but she is so real and original that I had a blast reading her story. There’s even a nice little callback to Pretty Woman that, even though it’s been done before, makes me smile every time. I think my only disappointment was the first sex scene because of the lack of foreplay, but that is corrected in later scenes. One scene in particular is like OMG: hot and fun.
There is so much good here. Obviously, the heroine was my favorite, but the hero, his past and how it was handled is lovely. Even the duchess is a sympathetic, full character rather than a broadly-drawn stereotype. The story is compelling, well-written and, even though it presents tropes we are comfortable with, the author does it in new and interesting ways that makes them feel new.
The Bottom Line
I feel like any romance reader, Regency fan or not, would enjoy this book. It is universally enjoyable: both funny and heart-wrenching. I cannot wait to read Ms. Dare again, and indeed, this book again as it will become one of those special books that I will return to when I need to smile. 5 stars