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REVIEW:  Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare

REVIEW: Once Upon a Winter’s Eve by Tessa Dare

Dear Ms. Dare,

In the usual way of things, I am not a fan of the novella. Neither am I quite keen on the short story. I find both lacking in character, particularly in romance where that is the key to any relationship development. Neither the novella nor the short story offers an adequate length for the development of either of those two central aspects, in my experience. Or it does so rarely enough that I have come to view the novella with leery and suspicious gazes, especial those that are offered up in between books in a series.

Once Upon a Winter’s Eve	Tessa DareHowever, I do like spinsters. This is because I am one. Being, like most people, supremely interested in anything having to do with myself I will nearly always read a story that features spinsters. And you provide bucket loads of them—a whole town full of them! This sparked my interest enough to overcome my perfectly sensible dislike for the novella. My liking for spinsters outweighed my dislike of the medium in which they were conveyed and thus I decided to give Once Upon a Winter’s Eve a try.

Violet Winterbottom has suffered a disappointment. It was such a disappointment that it took on a definite article and a capital “D”. The Disappointment resulted in Violet fleeing the ton to Spindle’s Cove, aka Spinster’s Cove, where those young ladies of quality who are awkward, scandalous, or otherwise de trop amongst Society may go for reprieve. Unfortunately, Violet’s reprieve is at an end. Tomorrow she must climb aboard a carriage and join her family for Christmas and then the Season.  Her last night in town coincides with a Christmas ball which features young men from the militia to dance with and the usual sorts of entertainments provided at balls. But the usual stops when quite unexpectedly—as these things usually are—a disheveled and bloody man stumbles into the ballroom, lurches across the room only to collapse at Violet’s feet, all the while muttering in a foreign tongue.

The militia is absolutely thrilled! England is at war (isn’t it always?) and a foreigner washed up on Sussex shores can only signal something is afoot. However, he is not speaking French. Violet, a polyglot, identifies the language as Breton, which happens to be in France and thus indicates that the unconscious man now at Violet’s feet may be a spy.

He also may be something or someone else all together. Though he claims, quite insistently, that he is Corentin Morvan, a humble farmhand there is something rather familiar about his eyes. The nose is different, yet . . . Violet is unsure what to believe. After all, her suspicions are rather incredible. When Corentin comes around, he manages to convince Violet that he will only speak if they are alone. Wanting answers, Violet does just this and finds herself running about Spindle’s Cove with an outlaw in the dead of night as a result.

I couldn’t figure out how to talk about this novella without giving away the mystery, so the rest of this review is going to contain spoilers.


Corentin Morvan is, of course, The Disappointment, also known as Lord Christian Pierce, the man who plucked Violet’s virginity last year and then ran off the next day to the West Indies without a word.  At least, that’s the story as Violet has understood it. In truth, due to his adept ability with languages and a need to make some meaning out of his brother’s death, he has become a spy posing as Breton farmhand who passes information back and forth between more important players in the game.

He’s also terribly in love with Violet and could not bear to leave England without kissing her. Christian is perfectly aware that he behaved like a cad. He’s also perfectly aware that Violet has no reason to trust his declarations of love. After all, he cannot even explain how he came to love her without bringing up some other girl.

Dash it, Christian couldn’t recall precisely when he’d begun to feel this deep affection for the quiet, unassuming girl next door. He could name the day he’d grown aware of it, but he suspected that tale would have only increased her pique.

The story involved another woman.

And it took place in a ballroom, much like the one Violet marched him to right now. At one of his parents’ more scandalous masquerades, he’d been flirting with some demimonde—for no particular reason. She was a painted bulls-eye, and all the young men took a shot at her. And she’d said to Christian, with the smile of a practiced coquette, I shan’t waste my time with you. You’re a puppy. You’ll pant and slaver over me for a while, but then you’ll grow up and be faithful to a girl like her.

And she’d tipped her fan toward the corner occupied by Violet Winterbottom.

Marry? Marry Violet Winterbottom?

Christian had laughed long and loudly, dismissing the notion out of hand. But the notion, impertinent thing that it was, wouldn’t be dismissed. It clung to him, hovered around him like a puff of cheroot smoke as he went about his nights of revelry with friends. Eventually, he’d stopped staying out so late and started waking earlier to take the dogs for their morning run.

And to see Violet.

Because suddenly, he’d begun to truly see Violet. To appreciate what a clever, thoughtful woman she’d become. She had a real gift for languages—which he recognized, being quite handy with them himself. And she liked a challenge.


As for Violet, she isn’t at first entirely sure whether or not this man is The Disappointment. And when she becomes sure of his identity, she still is uncertain as to his feelings. After all, she gave away her virtue with nary a protest last year and look how her trust was rewarded. She isn’t inclined to make the same mistake twice.

One of the reasons that I think this novella is strong is because the hero and heroine have a history together. It is very difficult for me to believe that two people who have just barely met and for whom very little time has passed could possibly be truly in love let alone love each other. My god! The number of times I have met someone, had a few drinks with them and then became absolutely convinced that so-and-so was my new Bestie Forevah! is really too many times to count. The exact number of times that such an evening out has resulted in a BFF is exactly zero. Obviously, one cannot regard one incredible twenty-four period as a sign of anything but a moment. But this book avoids that pit fall, instead giving Violet and Christian a past in which they slowly came to know each other over conversations in which they learn about each other.  This makes the ensuing romance both more believable and more interesting. That is, the obstacles they must overcome are twofold: not blowing Christian’s cover and earning back Violet’s trust.

Speaking of Violet, what a very likable heroine! She’s clever and funny and full of self-doubt. She’s not pathetic, which can be a problem with spinsters in romance. Nor is she feisty, which can be a problem with heroines in general. I enjoyed the way she thought about her past. It was tinged with pain and humor simultaneously—as can be seen by her calling Christian, The Disappointment. In fact, it was the way Violet approached the problem of Christian that was the most likeable thing about her. When she wasn’t sure who he was, her thoughts reflected what I considered to be an intelligent amount of doubt, not only for her own senses and her own imagination, but also doubt of her doubt. That is, she consistently re-evaluated the situation, as unlikely as it was, as new information came in.

She rose and went to a table where the maids had laid out tea service. As she poured a fragrant, steaming cupful, her mind churned.

It was easy enough to explain how he’d learned her name. But that didn’t explain the intensity in his eyes. It didn’t explain the way he affected her, deep inside.

It didn’t explain the eerily familiar freckle beneath his left ear.

Violet. I would cross a world for you.

The memory sent a frisson chasing over her skin.

It was impossible, unthinkable. But the more she observed and spoke with the man, the more she felt certain he was The Disappointment.

She closed her eyes. Time to stop hiding from that name.

She felt certain he was Christian. There were differences, yes. But the similarities were so numerous, and her reaction to him so strong, she was starting to believe it must be him.

And yet—if he were Christian, what was he doing here, and not in the West Indies? Why would he bother to row into the cove, trudge across fields, and claim to be a Breton farmhand? He could have simply pulled up in the drive, knocked at the door, and said, “I’m Lord Christian Pierce, third son of the Duke of Winford.” It’s not as though he would have difficulty speaking to Violet, if he wished to. And he hadn’t wished to—not in almost a year.

Christian would not have crossed a world for her. He couldn’t even be bothered to cross the square and bid her a proper farewell.

As she stirred sugar into her tea, she stole another look at the dark, intriguing man lashed to a chair. Perhaps even he didn’t know who he was. Perhaps he was stark raving mad, or suffering from amnesia.

She let the spoon fall to the tray, exasperated with her mind’s wild contortions. “Truly, Violet,” she muttered to herself. “Amnesia?”

She returned to her chair, not knowing what to think, nor even what to hope.


I do like a heroine that thinks.

Overall, I enjoyed this novella. It struck the right balance in the development of characters and relationship over the short period of time it was set (a night) and in the shorter medium of the novella. However, I do think that the latter half lost the friction and emotional tension that characterized the first parts. The latter scenes focused more on getting Christian back to his ship and figuring out what to do about their relationship than the emotional tension that such a history would leave in its wake. It felt a little uneven to me emotionally as a consequence. This, however, is a negligible complaint.

By giving Violet and Christian a past history together, what we see in this story is the final consummation (Har! Har!) or realization of that previous relationship. It is just the sort of story that is perfect to curl up with between wrapping presents and enduring visiting relations. B+


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Wednesday Midday Links: Major Publishers Support Internet Killing Bill & Retro Romance Debut from Samhain

Wednesday Midday Links: Major Publishers Support Internet Killing Bill & Retro...

In case you missed it yesterday, BN just launched gifting of ebooks.  YAY!

Look for deals at the end of the post.


Seth Godin has a list of publishers that are supporting SOPA, a bill that many internet supporters believe will allow large corporations to cut off content access for individuals.  SOPA is up for a vote tomorrow.  SOPA will allow copyright holders to have an entire URL blocked  if one part of the URL is hosting illegal material.  For example, if there is a book trailer posted by an author that contains copyrighted photos or music, the copyright holder could have everyone’s access to YouTube blocked.  This is what Viacom wanted in its suit against YouTube and ultimately lost. Proponents of the bill argue that it will never be used to block access that citizens enjoy and that it is only a measure designed to target overseas sites but the language of the bill is so broad and overreaching that any copyright holder could enforce these actions against sites like Etsy, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and so on.

The bill gives the right to any copyright holder to serve a notice on Etsy and have Etsy’s connection to the internet suspended:

Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods, where users can set up a storefront and create listings for things they’ve made.  There are over 800,000 active “shops” filled with these handmade goods — far too many for Etsy to monitor manually. Further, because of the eclectic nature of goods listed, it’s difficult to technically filter through the objects listed.

All that means that it’s not feasible for Etsy to proactively prevent listings that may be perceived to violate US copyright or trademark law.  That’s a problem, because  under SOPA, anybody who is a “holder of an intellectual property right harmed by the activities” of even a portion of the site, could serve Etsy’s payment processors with a notice that would require them to suspend Etsy’s service within 5 days. That means that a trademark violation in one of the storefronts could lead to payment suspension across the entire site.

It’s not that people don’t want to protect copyright but that the language in SOPA is too overbroad.  It’s not going to affect sites like DA because we don’t allow you to upload pictures or music or books but it can easily affect any site that does allow that such as photo sites, social media sites, internet commerce sites.

Boing Boing has an easy to use form that will allow you to contact your representatives and share with them your thoughts about SOPA.


Samhain has launched its Retro Romance line with some very attractive pricing. I’m not sure whether this is attractive to authors, but as a reader, I’m a fan.  From the press release:

According to Heather Osborn, Editorial Director, the program is in line with the desire of many authors to find new readers for old favorites—without the challenge of self-publishing. “With the proliferation of eBook readers, authors know they can quickly reach a new audience with their books, but self publishing still has inherent challenges for authors who prefer to spend more time writing than promoting,” explained Osborn. “For authors who have older titles and want to release them digitally, but don’t care to act as their own cover artist, production assistant, editor, or distributor, Samhain’s Retro Romance line is an ideal solution. We take on the work of scanning print books into digital files, copy editing, formatting into all of the various digital formats, creating beautiful cover art, advertising and promotion – and supply authors with a robust built-in distribution. It’s a win-win.”

The line, which launched Dec. 13, includes the following authors and titles:

  • Sharon DeVita, Heavenly Match
  • Kate Donovan, Game of Hearts
  • Patricia Hagan, Love and War
  • Karen Kay, Lakota Surrender
  • Debra Mullins, Once a Mistress

To learn more about Retro Romance, visit us online at

Now the important stuff for the reader.  The price points of this line is as follows:

  • Plus Novel: $4.99
  • Novel: $3.99
  • Category Length: $2.99

During launch week, the books are 30% off at Samhain.  Interestingly the covers of the Retro categories are virtually indistinguishable from Harlequin. Can you tell the difference?

category covers


An unhappy reader sent me a link to a blog post by Echelon, a publisher of romances. I think I’ve heard of them but I can’t say I’ve read a book published by them. In any event, the publisher is unhappy that readers aren’t reviewing more and points out that she reviews books that she publishes.  What’s wrong with you lazy readers?  You pay for the book and should review them too.  Echelon is giving away a Kindle Touch once 50 reviews are posted to one random reviewer.


Romance at Random has a monthly shopping list in text form.  You can check out the one maintained at Dear Author if you like the pretty covers.


Taken by the Cowboy by Julianne MacLean is All Romance eBooks free book of the day.

Anthea Lawson emailed that her debut self published YA is on sale for $.99 through December 18.

Harlequin’s coupon of the day is E5DOLL11 for $5 off the purchase of one Harlequin eBook. You can check this post for recommendations.