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.
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
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
- Preheat the oven to 350F/175C and grease a loaf or cake pan and line with parchment paper.
- Whisk together the eggs and sugar until creamy. Then, add the tea, zest, oil and honey and whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet, mixing with a fork until no flour pockets remain. Then, add the raisins and stir through.
- 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.