About the Book
- Tessa Dare
While corsets are the diametric opposite of sweatpants, I don’t think I’m alone in saying that romance novels really helped me endure 2020. There were plenty of things about last year that made me heave, but not of the bosom variety, and I was thankful to escape into the land of brooding men and fiery women with the FYA Grown-up Guide to lead me. So obviously, I’m excited to welcome y’all to the third installment and even more thrilled to be a part of it this time around!
We’re primarily a YA-focused site, as you might have picked up on, but every February, we focus a little more on the “A” and have a grand old time as Mature Readers. Whether you’re a Harlequin fanatic or a romance novel virgin, we hope you’ll enjoy this four-part romp between the sheets pages of literature’s hottest genre.
Castles Ever After series by Tessa Dare
What to Expect: Castles (duh), Independent Women, Leading Men with a Secret Pain, Female Pleasure, Light Humor
True to the series’ name, this trilogy is all about unconventional (read: “old,” single, smart) women who inherit castles in a slight-to-serious state of disrepair. And that’s… pretty much the gist. None of the stories or characters overlap, so you can read the series out of order and not miss a beat.
From Fancy Dress to Fabio:
Fancy Dress is the name of the game for this trilogy, though the state of the dress varies wildly between covers (like, Clio in Say Yes to the Marquess appears to have lost all of her buttons). Also, only one of the covers features a dude. I’m not sure if that was a choice meant to highlight the strong female protagonists of the series or to keep the artwork on the classier side, but I’m glad When a Scot Ties the Knot bucks tradition because the world needs to see Logan rocking that kilt.
Romancing the Duke (Castles Ever After #1) – Reviewed by Kandis
Her father’s famous Goodnight Tales feature stories of a young Izzy and she’s committed to honoring his legacy, despite the fact that he left her homeless and penniless. (Oh, those dratted nineteenth century entailed estates.) When Izzy’s godfather leaves her a crumbling castle desperately in need of some rehab, she thinks it’s the answer to her prayers, never mind that it’s already inhabited by a cranky duke who believes it’s his castle. Scrappy and imaginative Izzy isn’t one to let that a challenge like that stand in her way.
The Leading Lady:
Isolde Ophelia Goodnight, who you might think was hated by her parents, to be saddled with that name, is known throughout England, thanks to her father’s serialized Goodnight Tales. Izzy is a pro at trying to be what everyone expects of precious little Izzy Goodnight, but she’s desperate to be seen as a grown woman in her own right, and she revels in being with Ransom, who knows nothing of those childhood stories and therefore sees her for who she is. In fact he might see her a little too well, which could lead to uncovering her biggest secret.
The Leading Man:
Ransom, Duke of Rothbury, is recovering from a broken engagement and a lost duel that’s left him mostly blind and slightly disfigured (but in a hot, rakish way, obvs). He’s been licking his wounds in one of his most decrepit properties when Izzy arrives to claim her inheritance (the castle he definitely did not sell to her). If Ransom doesn’t want to risk losing any more of his fortune, he’s going to have to accept Izzy’s help to find out who’s been cheating him, and pull himself together before things get even worse.
Risque Ranking: 7
Typical Tessa Dare, centering women’s pleasure. She also tends to make her heroines a bit older, so that even though they’re still virgins, you feel like they’re plenty worldly enough to enthusiastically consent. The sex scenes are fairly standard for current historical romances, though Ransom has a pretty dirty vocabulary. That is not a complaint.
Mrs. Perky’s Prize for Purplest Prose:
As he slid back and forth he balanced on his arms above her, watching her every reaction. The steady crescendo of her pleasure was like a captivating story, one written in pink brushstrokes across her pale skin. She was so beautiful, and ready for him, judging by the slickness gliding between their bodies. It was a damned good thing, because he couldn’t wait much longer.
Was it Good For You?
Rosemary: It was…fine? I liked the story’s setup, and the idea that Izzy’s dad’s books had a fandom. And the idea of Izzy and Ransom being forced to share a castle was good in theory. But overall, I found Ransom’s bitter surliness to be a little TOO bitter and surly. He had an understandable reason, but I like my romantic heroes a little softer.
Stephanie: It’s been almost five years since I read this one, so I don’t have a lot of witty commentary for it, but I remember enjoying the cosplayers for the books Izzy’s dad wrote for her. It took itself a bit less seriously than some other Regency-era books I’d read at the time, and I appreciated that.
Kandis: I think this is a fun start to the series. I love that Ransom is disabled, and the care that went into explaining his limitations and how he’s overcome the ones that he has. I think he has just the right amount of crankiness, and when he goes too far, he’s capable of apologizing and trying to make it right. He has daddy issues, but not to the degree of Bridgerton’s Duke of Hastings, and for that, I am super grateful. I liked that it was really clear the ways in which Ransom and Izzy complement each other, which made their relationship more believable.
Sarah: I really enjoyed The Goodnight Tales aspect of the book, especially the fandom for it, which was fun to see in a Regency novel. And the castle itself is more of a character in this book than in the other installments of the series (a priest hole with a skeleton!). Izzy and Ransom have their moments, and it’s certainly interesting to have a (mostly) blind leading man, but I prefer a romance with more tension, and Izzy arrived pretty much READY to be ravished, which, you know, good for her.
Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After #2) – Reviewed by Rosemary
Clio Whitmore has been engaged to Piers Brandon for eight years, which is a long time by modern day standards, and practically unheard of in Regency times. Her fiance is always off traveling and doing vague businessy stuff, and everyone–Clio included–has given up hope that he has any interest in marrying her anymore. Clio’s tired of waiting and decides to call off the engagement. Without the ability to get Piers’ signature on the paperwork, Clio needs the next closest thing: the signature of his brother (and her childhood friend) Rafe. But Rafe refuses to sign. He has his own reasons for needing his brother to marry, so he shows up at her castle ready to plan their wedding himself.
But seeing Clio try on wedding dresses and hearing her make cake sounds (!) only reminds Rafe that he’s been nursing a crush on her since they were kids. The more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to keep his hands off her, much less to keep insisting she marry his brother.
The Leading Lady:
Clio is cool. Like, “wants to start a brewery in the castle she inherited so she teaches herself all about craft beer” cool. She’s also not your run-of-the-mill virginal romance heroine. I mean, she IS a virgin, but she knows what sex is, how her body works and what it’s capable of, if you get my drift. She’s playful with Rafe and not overly concerned with being a proper lady. Though she feels guilty that she’s still technically engaged to his brother, she refuses to give up on what she really wants.
The Leading Man:
Rafe Brandon is this big tough guy who’s really just a softie at heart. He has always struggled with feeling lesser than his brother Piers, a feeling made all the worse by the fact that Piers snatched up the girl Rafe loved then left her out in the cold for so many years. Rafe gave up London society life and became the best prizefighter in town so he could finally say he was better than his brother at something. Though he’s always loved Clio, he’s never thought of himself as worthy of her, and despite everything, he really does love his brother. All of this combines to give Rafe a complex inner struggle that lends depth to the story.
Risque Ranking: 7
I love a childhood crush plotline, and the longing in this story made the build-up to the sexy moments even sexier. Unlike some Regency heroines who have no idea what sex is or how its done, Clio is like, “I’ve been alone for 8 years and I’m 26 years old. I know how things work, and I have a LOT of pillows on my bed.” She’s nervous the first few times she and Rafe give in to their desires, but she’s game. There was one scene in particular that involved dirty talk, a pair of stockings, and something Rafe had been fantasizing about since he was a teenager that was one of the hotter romance scenes I’ve read in a minute.
Was it Good For You?
Rosemary: Yes! This one was my favorite of the Castles Ever After series. I know that some readers have valid complaints about the more anachronistic aspects of the story, and I think the ending was a bit muddled with too much *stuff* happening. But I am a sucker for childhood friends-to-lovers stories. The sex scenes were very sexy, and big bad prizefighter Rafe was such a cinnamon roll with a crush. Swoon-city!
Kandis: This one is actually my least favorite in the series. I just couldn’t get past the hipster Regency brewery, and I found Rafe’s inferiority complex tiresome.
Sarah: Like Rosemary, this is my fave in the series, and not just because I’m a huge fan of childhood-besties-turned-lovers. Rafe is a totally swoll smoke show, and Clio is a no-nonsense beer-drinking badass, and then there’s Ellingworth the bulldog! And a cake fight! Yes, there was also a ridiculous lack of communication and some unnecessary drama at the end, but the panty-melting sparks between Clio and Rafe totally made up for it.
When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castles Ever After #3) – Reviewed by Sarah
Maddie Gracechurch suffers from crippling social anxiety and a wild imagination, so it’s no surprise that, at the age of sixteen, she skips out on her first London season by telling her family a lie–that she met a Scottish gentlemen by the name of Captain Logan MacKenzie while in Brighton, and they are now betrothed. To maintain the deception, Maddie begins to write letters to “Captain MacKenzie” and carries on the correspondence (both ways) for over five years, fully convincing her family to the point that her godfather leaves her a castle in the Scottish Highlands so that, when her fiance finally comes back from the war, he’ll feel at home. Owning the castle gives Maddie the independence she needs to finally let her betrothed “die” in the war, so imagine her shock when a very large and very handsome and very real Captain Logan MacKenzie shows up at her front door, demanding that they marry immediately.
Yep, he got all of her letters, and now he’s intent on claiming the castle so he and his men, a ragtag crew of wounded soldiers, have a place of their own. Maddie, who fears losing her land and her reputation if the truth gets out, agrees to marry him in a quickie “handfasting” ceremony, which leaves her time to wriggle out of the marriage since it won’t be bona fide unless consummated. The only trouble is, Logan makes that consummation look mighty, mighty tempting.
The Leading Lady:
Maddie is such a nerd, and I love it. Like, I don’t just mean she’s a bookworm (she is). She also has a huge passion for drawing illustrations of beetles and other insects, and with aspirations to have her work published in an encyclopedia, she’s currently stalking two lobsters (Rex and Fluffy) and waiting for them to mate. Like all of the heroines in this series, she’s fiercely independent, and I admired how she was more than ready to embrace spinsterhood so she could focus on her own pursuits. Maddie refuses to give up her dreams, even after she develops feelings for Logan, and I loved seeing her geek flag fly. But real talk, I want to read a book about her Aunt Thea, a feisty free spirit who is obsessed with body products (who isn’t!) and makes off-hand comments like, “While you’ve spent your time drawing beetles, I’ve penned a torrid novel in my tower upstairs.” LEGEND.
The Leading Man:
I can’t be the only person who pictured Sam Heughan as Logan, right? So, yeah, that obviously colored my feelings about the character in a lusty positive way, and then there’s the fact that he’s a big reader, which means heart eyes from Maddie and me. Captain MacKenzie is a real heart of gold type, exemplified by his loyalty to his men, but he also carries a heavy load of emotional baggage (ding ding ding! Secret pain!) which causes him to guard his emotions closely. Thanks to years of receiving her letters, Logan has extremely complicated feelings for Maddie, and while I spent half of the book shouting, “JUST BE HONEST WITH HER FOR THE LOVE OF GOD,” I spent the other half fist pumping for his dedication to showing her a good time in the sack.
Risque Ranking: 6
So, Logan feels like he knows Maddie due to her letters, but she has zero knowledge of him, which makes for an awkward imbalance. Do I fault her for feeling instant chemistry with a hot Scotsman? No. Does it feel natural for her to let him try to bed her within 24 hours of meeting for the first time? Eeeehhhh. I understand that many, if not most, romance fans want some kind of action right away, but I like my gratification served delayed-style, and I think the spice level could’ve been upped by a bit more tension (though there certainly is some) and time, allowing a true connection to form before things got horizontal. With that said, Captain MacKenzie is quite dedicated to pleasing his virgin bride, and that is always sexy with a capital S.
Was it Good For You?
Rosemary: Just like with Romancing the Duke, I love the backstory and world-building details of this book, but everything in the middle is sort of forgettable for me. I loved the idea of Maddie writing all those letters to Logan and him falling in love with her over the course of many years while essentially reading her diary. Everything after that was enjoyable enough, but not a favorite.
Stephanie: Ditto on this book like the first; it’s been ages since I read it! What I remember liking about Dare’s heroines in this series is that they were independent women getting things done for themselves. I liked the idea of there being an actual person out there who got Maddie’s letters, though I think I enjoyed this less than Romancing the Duke.
Kandis: This one is solid for me. I love that Logan has been reading letters from this nutty stranger for years, and I love that Maddie’s idea of a perfect life is to go live in her castle, draw her bugs, and be left the hell alone. I get it, Maddie. I’ve read enough romances where the characters have to consummate a marriage on a schedule to not be bothered by that bit – especially, since Tessa Dare’s heroes are pretty good at what they do.
Sarah: As much as I adore Aunt Thea, Scottish accents, and a faux correspondence (in that order), this book was my least favorite in the series. Logan’s feelings for Maddie made sense, but I had a hard time buying her, the nerdy virgin, just letting some stranger share her bed, even without any sexual shenanigans. Also, Tessa Dare has a tendency in the Castles books to heap on a ton of drama near the end, and it’s especially exasperating in this installment.
Have you read this series? Was it good for you… or not? Let us know in the comments, then tune in next Monday as we frisson our way through Beverly Jenkins’ Destiny series.
FTC Full Disclosure: We did not receive money or cocktails for writing these reviews. The Castles Ever After series is available now.