I’ve been reading a lot lately, relatively low-angst stuff that manages not to be totally conflict-free. So today here are a few mini-reviews of books I have found low-key and satisfying over the last couple weeks: The Governess Was Wild by Julia Kelly, A Copper Ridge Christmas by Maisey Yates and Too Hot To Handle by Tessa Bailey.
The Governess Was Wild by Julia Kelly is a light-hearted, charming historical perfect for anyone who likes road trip romances. The crux of the story is that hero and heroine go in pursuit of an heiress to keep her from running away from her governess with the hero’s stolen horse. It’s the third book of the Governess series and while characters from the previous books do appear, I haven’t read either of them. I think it stands alone just fine. It’s fast-paced and short. It’s also Victorian (set in 1860, trains and all) despite being billed as Regency so sticklers for historical accuracy might find it frustrating.
Nicholas Hollings is an impoverished aristocrat through no fault of of his own. He is bringing a horse to stud when he stops over at an inn. Jane Ephram is a governess, has always been a governess, and always expects to be a governess. That is, until she has to shepherd her wayward charge to the country, where she has been banished for forming an improper attachment. The security of her position rests in getting the girl there safely. Oops.
The plot trajectory is basically what you’d expect out of a story with this trope, but the entire book is worth reading for the last scene, which is the definition of epically romantic. I don’t want to ruin the details, but it’s swoony. Almost over the top even, but I couldn’t bring myself to mind. It could have done with a bit more attention to detail from the editing, but if you can get past that, The Governess Was Wild is a sweet, sexy, tranquil read.
If you’ve never read Maisey Yates’ Copper Ridge series, you could probably start with A Copper Ridge Christmas, the second novella in the series and overall book 3.4 according to Amazon. How do they calculate that? Anyway, it was my third Copper Ridge book, but I’ve been reading them all out of order and it hasn’t really seemed to matter.
In it, grown foster-siblings Ryan and Holly plan a Christmas party for their foster parents. Initially this seemed like it might be creepy to me, but Ryan is several years older and they only lived together for a few months. There’s a little continuity error there, by the way. They say four years twice, but it also says they met when Holly was 13 and Ryan was 19 so…a little older, whatever. While I’m on about annoyances, it’s stunningly hetero-normative and lacks diversity, but anyone who’s read any quantity of small town romance will find this familiar territory. It’s possible this isn’t the case in some of the other books. I just haven’t read enough of them to know.
That said, it’s not a bad book and there’s one element that actually struck me as rather brilliant. As a result of their former family problems, neither one feels that they’re particularly lovable. Instead they go for the friends-with-benefits angle, thinking they’ll have a short fling. We all know how that goes in romance. But there’s a line at the end:
Thank you. But…even if I am…I’m going to take it. Think of everything we’ve been given. All that Dan and Margie gave to us. Every Christmas present…we didn’t have to earn those. Maybe we don’t have to earn this either.
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Yates is actually talking about salvation here. I’ve never really seen that, even in a Christmas novella, though I don’t read inspirationals. The Christian idea that humanity is saved, not through any actions of our own, but by Jesus Christ is uniquely appropriate for a Christmas novella. Not having to earn love, but being given it freely, unasked, is actually a Christian value despite all current evidence to the contrary in the American church. It’s just an interesting thing to have pop up in a mainstream Harlequin. I’m Christian so I noticed it. If you’re not, you probably wouldn’t. There is nothing overt or preachy about it.
So even though A Copper Ridge Christmas is a rather middling read with its fair share of flaws, the more-than-usually upbeat message left me feeling happy. If you’re looking for a better book, I also read Hold Me, Cowboy (vaguely enemies-to-lovers) and Take Me, Cowboy (BFFs-to-lovers) by Yates. They’re on a firmer footing and part of the Desire line so they’re a little sexier. I particularly enjoyed Take Me, Cowboy with its grubby mechanic heroine and its lightly subversive makeover plot.
Too Hot to Handle by Tessa Bailey features a dirty-talking, motorcycle-riding, bar-owning hero and a chef heroine in the midst of a crisis of confidence. She was eliminated from a reality cooking competition, her mother has just died and her restaurant is burning down in the opening scenes of the book so she’s been having a rough time. She’s currently on a cross-country road trip with her three siblings to fulfill her mother’s dying wish. The hero has a few issues too, but his aren’t as pronounced.
There’s less delectable food in this book than I expected, which is why this mini-review is going here and not in a food post on its own, but that’s its only “flaw”. It’s super sexy of course because it’s Tessa Bailey, but there are a couple of scenes of ambivalent or angry sex that I found particularly refreshing. Plus the interplay between the four very different siblings is funny, realistic and touching. I’m excited for the rest of the series as the other three have some interesting issues too. Bailey is sometimes hit-and-miss for me, but this series looks like it’s going to be a strong one.
Let me know if you find these mini-reviews interesting. I often write brief reviews like this on GoodReads, but rarely post them to the blog. There’s no reason I can’t though so tell me in the comments if you think this should become a regular feature.