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REVIEW: The Marquess of Cake by Heather Hiestand

REVIEW: The Marquess of Cake by Heather Hiestand

Dear Ms. Hiestand,

I was having a rocking good time with this book until exactly the 58% mark, at which point it seemed to jump some sort of storyline river, where extra development should have been or was and then got massively cut. It annoyed me so much I noticed the rest of the inconsistencies in characterization throughout the latter half of the book more than I would have otherwise.

Note: I first read this book some months ago and wrote most of this review then (and forgot I had), but I couldn’t help feeling like I had exaggerated the annoyance I felt. So I decided to read it again (I never re-read) to see if I had been unfair. I hadn’t. I feel exactly the same way on re-read as I did then. But I didn’t know how to grade this then and I’m still not sure.

Coffee . . . tea . . . or a pastry chef sweeter than any confection . . .

Scotch trifle fit for Queen Victoria, scones with clotted cream . . . Alys Redcake knows the way to a man’s heart. Yet she is unaware that with each morsel—and flash of ankle—she is seducing the handsome marquess frequenting her father’s tea shop. Unmarried at twenty-six, Alys’s first love is the family business. But thoughts of the gentleman’s touch are driving her to distraction . . .

With his weakness for sugar, the Marquess of Hatbrook can imagine no more desirable woman than one scented with cake and spice. Mistaking Alys for a mere waitress, he has no doubt she would make a most delicious mistress. And when he finds himself in need of an heir, he plans to make her his convenient bride. Yet as they satisfy their craving for one another, business and pleasure suddenly collide. Will Hatbrook’s passion for sweets—and for Alys—be his heart’s undoing?

Alys’s father has climbed his way to wealth from the pits of poverty via pastry, to the point he has been granted knighthood by Queen Victoria. Part of his method was to work his oldest three children in his fledgling factory beginning at the age of 8. As a result, they are not given an education. The oldest child was physically weak and perished, leaving Alys and her twin, Gawain, behind. Once the family achieves some wealth, their father sends Gawain to India and along come two more girls to the family, both of whom, because of the family’s newfound wealth, get educations and finishing school so that they might attract the attention of a noble in need of funds and not particular that it comes from the merchant class. Because Alys has always worked in her father’s factory and then in the storefront bakery he later opens, and is uneducated and unrefined, she is seen as an object of derision by her younger sisters.

All that aside, Alys loves her occupation as a cake decorator and her gift for charming nobles into spending money on her confections. Because of an event that happened years before, she does not want to marry, but at twenty-six, she really has no reason to think she is in danger of such a state. Until her father decrees that, as the eldest daughter of a newly minted knight, she is unfit to work at her chosen occupation and fires her, breaking her heart and putting her future in a flux not of her choosing.

In the meantime, she has met Michael Shield, Marquess Hatbrook, who is a sugar addict with a bad case of either hypoglycemia or early-onset diabetes type 2. I don’t know where I read this tidbit, but it’s the reason I picked up this book because not all disabilities revolve around ones people can see. He is unreasonably aware of and craving different pastries almost nonstop, it seems. In fact, he is initially attracted to Alys because she smells like cake.

Her body pressed against him. He scented that delectable perfume of hers. Eau de Redcake’s.

The writing is lovely. There are many little sections that I found clever, particularly when it comes to Michael’s attention to pastry:

Michael [toyed] with Theo’s plate. It was covered with crumbs and he wondered what Theo had been eating. It looked like a red, seedless jam had been involved.

Michael’s illness is handled very well, especially for the time period, as Alys is observant and insightful, and, with good ol’ common sense, can put two and two together to come up with a decent meal plan to help him (and his mother, who has the same problem). I would not be surprised if the author has some close experience with hypoglycemia and diabetes and its progression.

The characterization is consistent and I really feel for the position her newly knighted craptastic father puts her in. Alys is no-nonsense and Michael is a sweetheart. The sex scenes were lovingly drawn.

But then we hit the part where Alys has a personality and/or motivation transplant, and a previously smart and pragmatic woman does something out of character, and then compounds that by turning stupid.

She has sex with Michael, which would be fine and all, but it was at an odd place in the story, as if someone had said, “We need a sex scene at 58%. Put it in.” And to do that, Alys’s previously bad experience and subsequent inexperience, and all her previous ruminations about what she wants out of life, has to get tossed by the wayside on a moment’s notice.

Then, when circumstances change so that Michael feels he should offer her marriage, this previously smart and pragmatic woman says no, for no good reason. She has a reason, but it’s flimsy at best. It was as if someone said, “Now that they’ve had sex, make her refuse his offer of marriage because reasons.”

Michael is a good communicator. He tells her exactly what he wants from her and why (because he’s very attracted to her and she’s smart and he likes that), but she refuses to believe it. Instead, she decides he must want A, but then she thinks he must want B, but then she thinks he must want C, and none of them are what he flat-out told her he wanted at the 58% mark. And she’s doing this for no reason I can tell. It’s as if someone said, “And I want a Big Misunderstanding here.”

After the 58% mark, the rest of the book was an exercise in frustration and I may have acquired whiplash from all of Alys’s back-and-forthing. Because up to that point, everything was progressing logically and I was seriously invested in the story (as in A-grade invested), I was that much more frustrated with the rest of the book.

I’ve read the book twice now, months apart, and my opinion didn’t change. A for the first 58% and a D for the rest of it for needless trope mongering. C+

~July
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REVIEW:  Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare

REVIEW: Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa Dare

Dear Ms. Dare,

I may have had it with Spindle Cove, your Regency-era haven for unusual young women and the men who love them.* The place has become nettlesomely toothsome, rather like Gwyeth Paltrow gushing over adorable organic baby blankets. This novella, Beauty and the Blacksmith, is a quick, easy read, the equivalent of a too small serving of trifle served with a half cup of over-sweetened tea.

Beauty and the Blacksmith by Tessa DareThe fairest maiden in Spindle Cove is Diana Highwood. Diana is the well-behaved sister of my favorite of all the Spindle Cove spinsters, Minerva, the heroine of the very amusing A Week to Be Wicked. In the books preceeding this one, Diana’s role has been to be a gorgeous, delicate foil for her matrimony-obsessed mother, Mrs. Highwood. Mrs. Highwood is a good example of why I’ve grown tired of quaint Spindle Cove. In every scene she’s in, she makes the same inane assertions. Diana is so lovely, every titled man in England must fall for her. Diana is so striking that if she’d just try a bit harder, she could land a Duke. She’s a one punchline joke I’ve encountered too many times.

In Beauty and the Blacksmith, Diana, like the reader, is uninterested in her mother’s marital schemes. Diana doesn’t want to wed any of the men her mother keeps throwing her at, for Diana has fallen for the village blacksmith, Aaron Dawes. She thinks he’s hotter than the forge he’s always banging away on. (I will refrain from making a smutty pun.)

Goodness. Just look at it. Thick as my ankle.

Diana Highwood took her glove and worked it like a fan, chasing the flush from her throat. She was a gentlewoman, born and raised in genteel comfort, if not opulent luxury. From an early age, she’d been marked as the hope of the family. Destined, her mother vowed, to catch a nobleman’s eye.

But here, in the smithy with Aaron Dawes, all her delicate breeding disintegrated.

How could she help staring? The man had wrists as thick as her ankle.

As always, he wore his sleeves rolled to the elbow, exposing forearms roped with muscle. He pumped the bellows, commanding the flames to dance.

Broad shoulders stretched his homespun shirt, and a leather apron hung low on his hips. As he removed the glowing bit of metal from the fire and placed it on his anvil, his open collar gaped.

Diana averted her gaze—but not fast enough. She caught a moment’s glimpse of pure, superheated virility. Sculpted chest muscles, bronzed skin, dark hair . . .

Aaron has the hots for her too. Not only is she the most beautiful girl in the world, she’s kind, resourceful, smart, too good for him, etc… Aaron knows she’s above his station but damn, it’s clear she’s as attracted to him as he is to her. He knows this because, for the last two years, she has brought him every piece of metal she owns to be repaired.

“I wonder about it. Why you come so often. Why every metal latch and clasp and rivet you possess seems to need mending of late.” His voice grew deeper, almost dreamy. “I’ve told myself you’re just bored with this village. With this weather, there’s little else to do.”

He circled her, running his finger beneath that chain. Branding her with a necklace of his touch.

“Other times”—she caught a wry note in his voice—“I decide you’ve been sent by the devil to torment me for my sins.”

He came to stand before her, holding that vial that dangled from her necklace. He pulled gently, and she swayed toward him. Just an inch.

“And then sometimes I think maybe . . . just maybe . . . you’re hoping for something to happen. Something like this.”

She swallowed hard, staring straight into the notch above his sternum. That shamelessly sensual crossroads of bone and muscle and sinew and skin.

The heat of him swamped her. She felt . . . It was so very odd, but she felt ticklish. As though every inch of her was exquisitely attuned, anticipating his touch.

Perhaps he was right.

Perhaps she had been wanting this.

He released her necklace. “Well?”

She gathered her courage and looked up at him. Outside of social calls and dinner parties, Diana had little experience with men. But if there was one thing her genteel upbringing had taught her, it was how to read an invitation.

If she gave Mr. Dawes the slightest encouragement . . .

Oh, heavens. He would kiss her. Those strong, sensual lips would be on hers, and his powerful arms would hold her tight, and there would be no taking the moment back. She would leave with a changed understanding of herself and smears of soot on her best blue frock. In the eyes of the world, she’d be soiled.

Dirty.

“I should go.” The words erupted from her throat, like a geyser of panic. “I should go.”

Diana does run away the first time he tries to kiss her, but not the second, and before you can say once upon a time, the beauty and the anything but beastly blacksmith have fallen in love.

This slight novella tells Aaron’s and Diana’s story quite straightforwardly. There’s nothing but reality standing in the way of their HEA, but, hey, this is a fairy tale.

I liked Aaron and Diana and Ms. Dare infuses her prose with her usual well-done heat. But, there’s little here (with the exception of a very odd and yet funny story about mysterious suitor named Mr. Everwood a Spindle Cove spinster named Miss Bertram natters on and on about) that’s new or exciting. And, all the things that have begun to grate on me about Spindle Cove exist in abundance in Beauty and the Blacksmith. I give it a C+.

Sincerely,

Dabney

*It turns out I’m not ready to abandon Ms. Dare’s Spindle Cove series. After reading Beauty and the Blacksmith, I read the next book, Any Duchess Will Do. It’s delightful.

 

 

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