Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Tessa Dare fangirl. I first discovered Tessa when her debut, Goddess of the Hunt, was released, and was the featured book of the month at Eloisa James and Julia Quinn‘s Bulletin Board. When I read my first Tessa book, I immediately fell in love with her writing and voice. Tessa infuses her writing with warmth, emotion, heart, and humor, and that is an irresistible combination for me. I have had the good fortune and pleasure of meeting Tessa, and she is just as fabulous in person. She truly is one of the nicest, sweetest, and most generous people you’ll ever meet.
Tessa’s Spindle Cove series, which features a fictional seaside town full of “unconventional” ladies and the men smart and courageous enough to earn their love, has catapulted her to the NYT and USA Today bestsellers lists, and deservedly so. Tessa has ended the series on a high note with Any Duchess Will Do,which features Spindle Cove barmaid Pauline Simms, and Griffin York, the Duke of Halford. ADWD is Tessa writing at the top of her game and hands down one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
Here’s the blurb for Any Duchess Will Do.
Spindle Cove Series, Book 4What’s a duke to do, when the girl who’s perfectly wrong becomes the woman he can’t live without?
Griffin York, the Duke of Halford, has no desire to wed this season—or any season—but his diabolical mother abducts him to “Spinster Cove” and insists he select a bride from the ladies in residence. Griff decides to teach her a lesson that will end the marriage debate forever. He chooses the serving girl.
Overworked and struggling, Pauline Simms doesn’t dream about dukes. All she wants is to hang up her barmaid apron and open a bookshop. That dream becomes a possibility when an arrogant, sinfully attractive duke offers her a small fortune for a week’s employment. Her duties are simple: submit to his mother’s “duchess training”… and fail miserably.
But in London, Pauline isn’t a miserable failure. She’s a brave, quick-witted, beguiling failure—a woman who ignites Griff’s desire and soothes the darkness in his soul. Keeping Pauline by his side won’t be easy. Even if Society could accept a serving girl duchess—can a roguish duke convince a serving girl to trust him with her heart?
Pauline Simms is not your average Regency heroine. She’s unabashedly working class, forthright, brash, and has a few rough edges to her. But it is those qualities makes her so interesting, refreshing, and endearing. Despite her humble circumstances, she has a strong sense of self and purpose. Life has thrown Pauline a few curve balls, but she’s developed the thick skin and resilience to deal with them. Her dream is to get out from under her father’s thumb, open her bookstore, and build a new life for herself and her younger sister Daniela. It is her determination to make her dreams come true that has her agreeing to participate in Griff’s wager with his mother. One of the things I most admired about Pauline is her strength and courage. It takes a certain amount of bravery to agree to such an unusual proposal and to be able to hold her own with a duke and his mother, but Pauline more than rises to the occasion. And I definitely found a kindred spirit in Pauline with her love of books and thirst for knowledge and reading. But despite all of her perseverance, bravado, and hard work, Pauline still feels the sting and arrows of being looked down on simply because of where she came from. As her feelings for Griff grow, she increasingly fears being shunned and scored by London society, and the damage it would do to her, Griff, and their relationship. I really enjoyed the character arc Tessa plotted out for Pauline so that Pauline comes to see that belief in herself is all that matters, and she shouldn’t let petty and jealous people make her feel or believe she is less than who she is.
Griffin Eliot York, the eighth Duke of Halford first made his appearance in A Week To Be Wicked, when Colin and Min stop by one of his infamous and raucous house parties on their way to Edinburgh. Back then, Griff lived a decadent, indulgent, vice-filled lifestyle and had the reputation to match. But no more. Griff suffered a huge tragedy and loss before the book opens, and still hasn’t dealt with it, or the aftermath. Needless to say, going through that experience changed him in fundamental ways. Griff has put his carefree, careless days behind him and is struggling to move forward, find direction and purpose, and live up to the lofty Halford legacy. Tessa does a great job of showing the change between AWTBW Griff and the one we see now by gradually peeling away his reputation and arrogant dukish behavior to reveal the man underneath-a man of honor and integrity who is capable of great love, kindness, and generosity, and is thoughtful, respectful and caring. It comes shining through in his interactions with Daniela, his mother, and how he defends Pauline when a someone disrespects and slights her. After Pauline has a run in with a rude shopkeeper, Griff cuts him down to size and Pauline tells him
“No, I mean it. Truly. That was . . .” There was no other way to say it. “It was the best thing anyone ever did for me.” He stopped, then turned to her. “And that, Simms, makes me angriest of all.”
It is little moments like that that helps the reader understand who the true Griff is, and fall in love with him right along with Pauline. I loved that he never talked down to Pauline, respected her, and enjoyed Pauline getting sassy with him. Indeed, he gets irritated and frustrated when she pulls back and shrinks her personality in front of others. Needless to say, he is still handsome as sin, and retains the best parts of his rakish past. I for one, am grateful, and I’m sure Pauline would agree!
The relationship between Griff and Pauline is scorching hot, tender, extremely sensual, and playful. I enjoyed how their mutual antagonism quickly gave way to sparks of attraction, and the chemistry between them was off the charts. Obviously, I need to talk about the infamous Chapter 21. Much has been made of it, and indeed it is blistering hot. I definitely fanned myself after reading it. But truly, the scene was so profound not because of the physicality, but the depths of the emotional and spiritual connection achieved between Pauline and Griff during that scene. The raw vulnerability of showed by them both during that scene was truly touching and amazingly written by Tessa.
One of the hallmarks of a Tessa Dare novel is her ability to balance humor with emotional depth and character growth, and ADWD is no exception. When Tessa gave her acceptance speech after Night to Surrender won the RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance, she said that for her, true love and romance was about finding someone who loves and accepts you at your worse self, but empowers you to be your best self. That perfectly encapsulates what I most love about Tessa’s books. You get the sense that her heroes and heroines are perfectly matched because they truly love, understand, and accept each other, warts and all. Not only that, they may start the story antagonizing each other, but by the end it’s clear each is the catalyst to bringing out the best in the other. Finding that love, understanding, and acceptance is what helps her heroes and heroines to blossom and become the people they were meant to be. As Griff and Pauline say to each other
“It’s different with you. Everything is different with you.”
Isn’t that lovely? For me, that is such an inspiring and moving message because it reaffirms the awesome and transformative power of love. It is certainly true in the case of Pauline and Griff. Pauline helps Griff break through his loneliness, come to terms and make peace with the tragedy he suffered, and bridge the gap with his mother. Griff shows Pauline that he believes in her wholeheartedly and she doesn’t have to change to be the right duchess for him. In fact, he shows Pauline she is a woman who can literally bring a man to his knees in a wonderful scene which employs one of my favorite tropes-the Grand Gesture. And in typical Griff style, his Grand Gesture is a doozy, and sure to melt your heart and bring a tear to your eye, as it did mine.
I also applaud Tessa for how she dealt with some particularly sensitive issues in Any Duchess Will Do. The issue of class, and the social chasm between Pauline and Griff is not dismissed, ignored, or brushed to the side. It is part of the reality of the times, and her characters face it and address is squarely. Pauline may not have been a smashing social success and a darling of the ton, but she passes with flying colors to those who matter. I love that she and Griff forge a new path for themselves, and the solution and attitude they come to: “We’ll know who our true friends are and to heck with everyone else.” In addition, there is Pauline’s sister Daniela, who has an intellectual/cognitive disability. Tessa deals with the issue with great understanding and sensitivity, and shows the full complexity of what it means to have a family member with such a disability. Not only that, Daniela becomes a fully fleshed and endearing character in her own right. The bond and love between Pauline and Daniela is one of my favorite parts of the book.
ADWD has great secondary characters, and I adored Griff’s mother (who totally reminds me of the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey-sharp tongued, no nonsense, but with a heart of gold) and Daniela. In addition, several couples from previous Spindle Cove books make cameos, including Min and Colin from A Week To Be Wicked. The confrontation between Griff and Min is hilarious and one of my favorite moments from the book. It was a real joy to catch up with the other Spindle Cove couples and see how they were doing and what they were up to.
As you can tell, I absolutely loved ADWD and can’t recommend it highly enough. It has all the ingredients of what makes a Tessa Dare book so special-characters that touch your heart, stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page, and make you laugh, cry, and sigh with happiness. I have fallen in love with Spindle Cove and its inhabitants and you will too. I’m sad the series is ending, but I have the comfort of knowing I can revisit anytime I’d like. And I am so excited to find out what Tessa has in store for us next.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE CUPS OF TEA
To celebrate the release of Tessa’s new book, I will be giving one lucky commenter a Kindle or Nook copy of Any Duchess Will Do, winner’s choice. All you have to do is comment below, or answer the question: If you were Pauline, would you accept Griff’s deal? What would you do with the fortune after the week was over? Anyone else besides Pauline who has dreams of opening a bookstore?
To find out more about Tessa and her books, visit her website HERE