Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Historical Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 9: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare

I really tried to include new-to-me authors in this holiday romance review line-up, but when I saw that Once Upon a Winter’s Eve was on sale for $1.99, there was no way I wasn’t going to buy it and review it. Spindle Cove remains one of my favourite historical romance series ever, and with the holiday stress setting in, I need a brief vacation to one of my favourite literary worlds full of badass women.



Violet Winterbottom (I know, I know, what a great last name) has spent the last year at Spindle Cove after giving her virtue away to the man she thought was her soulmate. However, this cad abandoned her, leaving only a note that did nothing to explain his sudden disappearance. Hence, she has since dubbed him The Disappointment. Violet is disturbed when, a year after their parting, during a winter’s ball, a man breaks through the doors of the Summerfield Grand Hall, a man who looks suspiciously like The Disappointment. At first, the man speaks only in Breton, but Violet, a seasoned linguist, offers to translate for him while the rest of the village decides if he’s friend or foe. As the night goes on, Violet and the mystery man, who is, in fact, The Disappointment, devise a plan to help him escape back to safety, but is she really ready to trust him again? Sadly, despite him being an absolute arse, yes, she is. They are apart for a year, he comes back, they live HEA and I’m mad about it.

3 stars

Full marks for the fantastic writing in this book. It read almost like an Austen novel, with lines like “I’ve been humbled by the comprehensive and inescapable quality of my own stupidity” reminding me of a fumbling but oh-so-hot Darcy. But really, has Tessa Dare ever not written a book full of witticisms and amazing prose? No.

She has also, previous to this book, never written a hero I haven’t liked, but oh boy, did I not like Christian. I wanted to hang Christian by his toes from a wire in a dungeon until he realized what a self-righteous arse he was, preferably after I’d played all the worst pop hits to him at top-volume for 24 hours while repeatedly throwing expired whipped cream at his face. He was, truly, The Disappointment of this book.

Violet is an amazingly brave, strong, courageous woman who has had to weather the past year in Spindle Cove after having her heart and, potentially, her future, smashed to smithereens because she slept with Christian. She’s amazing and deserves a prince among men, but instead, she gets The Disappointment, twice.

Christian is a royal dick. He could have told Violet upon arriving at the hall (after he woke up from the injuries that cease to concern him midway through the book), without many words, that it was, in fact, him, Christian, her old friend, rather than a farmer from Breton, but no, he insists on keeping up the charade for a few hours, torturing Violet. He belittles and manipulates her into feeling bad for him, showing her his scars and saying how much he loves and missed her, despite the fact that he admits to having sex with her partly that first time to ruin her so she’d wait for his return, because oh yeah, he knew he was leaving to become a spy.

That in and of itself is more than enough reason for Violet to run the other way, but no, she stays, because Christian has used his pretty mouth to woo her into thinking that they are right for each other. He also convinces her to have sex with him, when she’s asked him to stop, because he says, “Darling, I promise, this time I’ll make it good. We can make bliss, between us,” when really, we all know he just wants some nooky before he disappears off again because HE IS A GRADE A CAD OF THE HIGHEST ORDER and people should ALWAYS listen to their partners when they say “stop” during life but also, particularly, sexy times.

I also don’t really understand what Violet did in the year they were apart again. She still goes to London and buys dresses and flirts with men, but somehow avoids a proposal or Christian’s sister’s matchmaking so she can wait for him? But if her family is so keen to marry her off that they want her to leave Spindle Cove for London, as it says in the book, why would they allow her to go another year unmarried?

Basically, this is a well-written book with a bastard of a hero and if you want to read it, do it to root for Violet and maybe pen some fanfic that has her ending up with a better dude. That’s what I’m going to spend this weekend doing while I munch on this Honey Spice Cake, which is warm, comforting, and won’t gaslight me.


Dairy-Free Honey Spice Cake
inspired by the recipe for Honey Spice Cake in How to Bake Everything
makes 1 loaf or 1 20cm round cake

1/2 cup strongly brewed black tea
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar (I used caster)
1 teaspoon orange zest
1-1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup whole grain flour (I used white spelt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mixed spice/allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins/sultanas/currants

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C and grease a loaf or cake pan and line with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until creamy. Then, add the tea, zest, oil and honey and whisk to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing with a fork until no flour pockets remain. Then, add the raisins and stir through.
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased cake pan and slide into the oven. Bake 40-50 minutes until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean. Eat, enjoy or give to someone else for a lovely holiday gift.



Baking · Blog · Book Reviews · Historical Romance · Reading · Recipes

12 Days of Holiday Romance Reviews and Recipes, Day 2: I Will by Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas is definitely one of the authors I turn to when I need a good historical romance. She’s actually one of the first romance authors I read, and she’s remained a firm favourite. I Will, however, was a bit of a disappointment. The hero was a jerk, there was a noticeable lack of consent, and it just didn’t fill me with the squee that a normal holiday historical does.


Andrew, aka Lord Drake, is about to be cut out of his father’s will so he needs to find a lady who can save his reputation by pretending to be his betrothed. Miss Caroline Hargreaves fits the bill perfectly—a noted spinster, her brother is also deeply in debt, and Andrew is willing to forgive those debts if Carolina agrees to help him. But of course, drama ensues, which tears the budding lovers apart before throwing them back together again, where they realize that they’re both pretty attractive and live HEA, much to my disappointment because they’re both not great humans.

2.5 stars

First of all, I wouldn’t really class it as a Christmas romance, since more than half the book takes place in the spring/summer/fall. I actually got a bit confused part of the way through, thinking that maybe I’d downloaded the wrong book, when I read mentions of cool spring breezes and roses. Surely that can’t be just seasonal confusion? But no, Goodreads confirmed that this is a “Christmas novella.”

This book contains one of my favourite tropes: forced proximity. Give me two people who are forced to spend inordinate amounts of time together and, in the process, fall slowly in like/lust/love, and I’m a happy woman. However, what I thought was going to be a weekend holiday party replete with kissing in the corner and perhaps a sneaky session in the guest bedroom turned out to be completely bereft of any sexy times except for a stomach-churning nonconsensual scene. It isn’t even clear if the characters really like each other until about 75% of the way through the book, which means I didn’t fully believe the HEA.

The hero, Lord Drake, also seems like an irredeemable asshole for most of the book. He’s the main reason why Caroline’s brother, Cade, is in debt up to his eyeballs, because Drake keeps carting him to every gaming hell in town and, as he says, “I don’t give a damn who gets dragged down with me.” I’m all for a grumpy alpha male who ends up having feels, but no matter what, they have to treat their friends well. I can’t sympathize with a hero who doesn’t value his friendships.

My main issue with the novella, however, came during the rape scene (no way am I calling that nonconsensual bullshit a sex scene). Caroline makes it very clear that she plans to seduce Lord Drake no matter what. She says “I am going to make love to you, right now, on this bed, while you are helpless to prevent it.” This is not consensual! Sure, Drake gets into it and the sex becomes consensual, but Caroline’s intentions don’t start out that way. She plans to take advantage of him until he tells her what she wants to her, and It’s 2018. Consent in romance is mandatory.

Other than that huge, glaring issue, the main problem with this book is that it’s just a bit boring. Not much happens until the very end, and that non-consensual drama puts a downer on any expectations readers might have that things might start getting juicy, romantic, and real. There are so many good Christmas romance novels out there, so save yourself the time and money, and go read one of them and give this one a miss.

To cheer myself up after this face-palm of a book, I made the Vegan Gingerbread People from BBCGoodFood, because gingerbread people are warm, comforting, and, I like to think, would never try to have non-consensual sex with each other for their own personal gains. Below is my adapted recipe. Bake them, decorate them, and have wonderful daydreams of happy historicals.

Vegan Gingerbread Shapes
adapted from BBCGoodFood

Makes 50 small shapes, 25 large ones

For the cookies:
1 flax egg
400g plain flour (1 and 2/3 cup) plus extra for dusting
200 g vegan butter (about 1 cup)
2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
200 g dark muscovado sugar (about 1 cup)
50 g agave nectar, honey (if not vegan) or maple syrup (about 1/3 cup)
100 ml soy milk (about 1/2 cup)

For the icing:
3 cups icing sugar
6 tablespoons water
food colouring as needed

1. Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F. In a large bowl, rub together the flour and butter until it resembles crumbs. Add the spices and whisk to combine.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, agave, milk and flax egg and pour over the flour mixture.
3. Using your hands, knead the dough until it comes together. It will be smooth and buttery.
4. Scatter some flour on a clean surface and roll the dough out. It will be very sticky, so dust flour on the rolling pin and on top of the dough to ease the rolling process. Cut out shapes and bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 10-12 minutes until just starting to brown around the edges.
5. Once the cookies have completely cooled, clean your work surface to prepare for the fun part: icing! Mix the icing and set aside a few bowls. Add a few tablespoons of icing into each, then add droplets of food colouring until you’ve achieved your desired colours. Using a piping bag or knife, spread the icing onto the cookies. They’ll be dry but still tacky in 10 minutes. Eat, and enjoy! These keep for about 4 days in a sealed cookie tin.



Book Reviews · Historical Romance

Book Review: My Once and Future Duke by Caroline Linden

My Once and Future Duke Blog Tour Banner 1000

You know what I love about blog tours? They introduce me to authors I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and then make me fall so in love with their books that I immediately try to check out their entire back catalogue from the library (thankfully, it’s a digital library, so my bookshelves aren’t bowing under all the weight).

This is EXACTLY what happened with Caroline Linden’s newest historical romance. Scroll on for the book info, a juicy excerpt, author information, and of course, my review!

Book Info.

My Once And Future Duke by Caroline Linden

Series The Wagers of Sin

Genre Adult Historical Romance

Publisher Avon Books

Publication Date February 27, 2018


Avon Romance

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“Why did you propose that wager?”

He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, and looked down at her. His golden hair was rumpled into waves that made her long to smooth it. “Haven’t you guessed?”

She angled her face toward him. “Tell me. I’m no good at guessing.”

He let out his breath, his eyes shadowed, and then he bent and kissed her. His mouth was soft against hers, a gentle hint of a kiss rather than a real one. A soft sound of pleasure hummed in her throat.

The duke lifted his head. For a moment they stared at each other. “Is that all?” Sophie whispered, belatedly realizing how her heart was thudding. “All you want?”

“No.” He traced one finger, as lightly as a feather, down her throat. A shiver rippled over her skin. “Not by a tenth.”

“Show me,” she whispered. “Please.”


ReviewMy Once and Future Duke by Caroline Linden

4.0 stars

This book had all my catnip: forced proximity; grumpy, sexy dukes; sexually experienced heroines with life goals they’re steadily working toward; and strong female friendships. I love that Sophie picks herself up by her metaphorical bootstraps despite life throwing her like 10 curveballs and that she does it with the support of two of her best friends. I also love that Jack’s family life is a little complicated, but he tries to navigate it with an equal amount of respect for his mother and brother, and himself.

I also LOVED the gambling scenes. Linden did such an amazing job setting the scene that it felt like I was there, watching Sophie roll the dice and wow everyone around her with her ‘luck’ (aka extreme maths skills). I just wish that she and Jack could have had sex in one of the lush, velvet-filled rooms in the club, because this book did not have enough sex scenes in it, especially given that the characters were so sexually attracted to each other. Yes, there are some amazing scenes of them at the Duke’s castle, where the forced proximity makes them realise that ‘oh, wait a minute, you’re, like, really really hot?’, but I would have loved even more scenes of them once they got back to London and realised they still couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

The conflict was perfect in this book. Not overly dramatic, fits in perfectly with the characters and plot, and had me biting my nails through the whole thing, even though I knew the HEA was just up ahead.

Other than the dearth of sexytimes, my only real criticism for this book is the lack of explanation of Jack’s relationship with his ex-sweetheart, Portia. Linden never really makes any connection between Portia’s ill-treatment of Jack and Jack’s relationship with Sophie, which seems the only real point of mentioning Portia in the first place. Her effect on Jack’s life is, thereforem unclear.

This book, however, was still pretty great. I’ve been really struggling to find historicals that really draw me in and make me want to keep turning the pages way after the lights have gone out, and this book definitely gave me that. Read it for the insane sexual attraction between the characters, the family drama, the friendships, the strong female heroine- basically, just read it!


Author Info.Caroline Linden

Caroline Linden was born a reader, not a writer. She earned a math degree from Harvard University and wrote computer code before discovering that writing fiction was far more fun. Since then, the Boston Red Sox have won the World Series three times, which is not related but still worth mentioning. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages, and have won the NEC-RWA Reader’s Choice Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, the NJRW Golden Leaf Award, and RWA’s RITA Award. She lives in New England.



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Blog · Book Reviews · Historical Romance

Book Review: The Trouble with True Love by Laura Lee Guhrke

Laura Lee Guhrke will always hold a special place in my heart. I read Guilty Pleasures by her during that first fateful summer when I began reading romance. I remember reading this book on my Kindle on a warm summer day in early July, sitting under a willow tree and devouring chapter after chapter. Don’t you love book memories?

Now on to the juicy stuff!

Book Synopsis

Dear Lady Truelove, I am a girl of noble family, but I am painfully shy, especially in my encounters with those of the opposite sex . . .

For Clara Deverill, standing in for the real Lady Truelove means dispensing advice on problems she herself has never managed to overcome. There’s nothing for it but to retreat to a tearoom and hope inspiration strikes between scones. It doesn’t—until Clara overhears a rake waxing eloquent on the art of “honourable” jilting. The cad may look like an Adonis, but he’s about to find himself on the wrong side of Lady Truelove.

Rex Galbraith is an heir with no plans to produce a spare. He flirts with the minimum number of eligible young ladies to humour his matchmaking aunt, but Clara is the first to ever catch his roving eye. When he realizes that Clara—as Lady Truelove—has used his advice as newspaper fodder, he’s infuriated. But when he’s forced into a secret alliance with her, he realizes he’s got a much bigger problem—because Clara is upending everything Rex thought he knew about women—and about himself. . .

Book Info.35068598

The Trouble With True Love by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: none (standalone)
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Avon Books
Publication Date: January 30, 2018

To preface this review, this week has been INSANE. Like 3 other book reviews, 6 freelance articles, plus 40 hours of normal work kind of insane. So I haven’t finished this book yet. I have, however, enjoyed 157 pages of it, and from that, I can tell you that this is a book you should go read ASAP.

The chemistry between Clara and Rex is crazy-hot and palpable, and I was rooting for their HEA from the moment they first touched while dancing in the ballroom. Rex’s character is so intriguing- he’s not the normal rake we see so often in romance. Sure, he’s sexy as hell, but he’s also generous, sensitive, and has a normal amount of emotional depth (compared to so many other historical heroes whose only two emotions seem to be: growly anger and get-in-my-pants lust). Clara is shy but fierce, and I love that she comes to life with Rex, giving him all the sass he deserves.

Despite my love of historical romance, I’ll admit to not exploring many historical romance eras outside of the regency. But after seeing how dramatic and gripping the 20th century can be with the right writer, I’m definitely going to explore more of this sub-genre. Plus, you know, the skirts are less poofy in that era, so it’s way easier to get down to business.

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Blog · Book Reviews · Historical Romance

Book Review: Midsummer Delights

Eloisa James, aka Mary Bly, was one of the first romance authors I ever read, so her titles hold a special place in my heart. Though her last few books haven’t wowed me the way that her Fairy Tales and Desperate Duchesses series did (see my review of Wilde in Love for Love in a Time of Feminism), she’s still one of my favourite authors, so when I got the email that Pure Textuality was organising a blog tour of Midsummer Delights, a collection of short stories, I jumped at the chance to review the book.

Book Info.Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James

Publication Date February 6, 2018

Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James

Series A Short Story Collection

Genre Adult Historical Romance

Publisher Avon Impulse


Avon Romance

Barnes & Noble

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This book contains three short stories about heroines and heroes finding a happily ever after with people they’ve known since childhood. The problem with short stories, especially in romance, is that it can be very difficult to adequately build up the relationship between the hero and heroine enough that the HEA seems believable, rather than just the de facto ending to all romance. Such was the case with the first and second stories in this collection. There just weren’t enough details about Cecilia and Theo to make their VERY SUDDEN falling in love and proposal at all believable. Theo also basically tells Cecilia he’s glad her brother has been bullied so much that it has ruined Cecilia’s prospects and caused her brother to retire to the country, because it meant that no one offered for her and he was free to scoop her up, so to speak. There are so many things wrong with this, but here are a few: 1. Theo is happy that Cecilia’s brother suffered what sounds like truly traumatic teasing and harassment because it means he gets to marry his lady love, so he’s obviously a selfish cock 2. Cecilia says NOTHING in response to Theo’s jerky comments and instead just gazes dreamily at him 3. From the sounds of it, Cecilia and Theo didn’t even get along well as children and adolescents, and she previously describes him as pudgy and spotty, yet somehow he’s been pining for her for years, and the minute she finds out he’s a talented musician, she’s ready to throw caution to the wind and fly off into the sunset with him? WHAT?! Theo then ends by saying that Billy, Cecilia’s brother, can live with them because he feels bad for him, and Cecilia again just acquiesces to his every word. Ugh.

The second story in this collection also suffers from a lack of adequate background details and an overall badly written plot. Elias is in love with Penny and has been his whole life, which his best friend also knows, yet his best friend is about to marry Penny, who is also ready to marry him, even though it turns out that Penny has also been in love with Elias for as long as he has been in love with her? WHAT! Are Elia’s BFF and Penny just jerks? If they truly cared about Elias, wouldn’t they just tell him to hang the manly pride that kept him from offering for Penny because oh hey, Penny feels the same way as he does! The friendship between Elias, Penny, and Reggie also needs way more background to make it believable. The only detail from their childhood mentioned is Penny beating Reggie up and Elias saving him.

The third story in this collection, however, is well-written, with a believable ending thanks to the ample background details we get about the hero and heroine that make their love totally honest and awesome to see come to fruition. Violet also takes absolutely no shit from Rothwell, refusing to bow to his charms and graces when he’s spent the last four years ignoring her, despite the strong connection and passionate kisses they shared as teenagers. Also, the sex scenes in this story are utterly delightful and very hot, and, the best part, Violet isn’t a virgin! Hurrah for non-virgin heroines. The regency needs more of them!

My only other criticism of this story collection is that in all three stories, the hero and heroine go out into the garden alone, and we all know that in the regency that is. not. done. unless you want to start a scandal that will have anxious mamas and ladies of the ton swooning where they stand. It’s one thing if the hero and heroine steal away to the garden for some illicit smooching, but they wouldn’t just walk out, calm as you please! I was pretty shocked when this happened because I always associate Eloisa James with thoroughly researched books.

So, if you’re going to pick up this book, stick to the last story, and the sneak peak of the next installation in the Wildes of Lindow Castle series, which looks SO JUICY and is high on my TBR.


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