I used to read an absurd number of romance novels, but I've found myself with less time, disposable income and patience than I used to have, so there are now only a few authors whose books I'll still always check out. (Theresa Romain is another one in case you're trying to see if we have similar tastes or just want a recommendation for a new-to-you author!) The first two books of Tessa Dare's Castles Ever After series didn't really click with me. Honestly, I found myself missing my favorite entries from the Spindle Cove series and wondering if I'd ever truly love any of Dare's newer work. So my expectations for this one were moderate, but I'm thrilled to report that this ended up one of the very most pleasurable reading experiences I've had this year.
The heroine was just the type I tend to love and relate to most---she's caring, creative, smart, passionate about things other than men and competent but with clearly established flaws that keep her from being dully and unrelatably 'perfect.' Maddie (I even love her name...you know how little things about a book just connect with you and make you think 'this is so the book I was meant to find'?!) suffers from what would today be diagnosed as a social anxiety disorder. She creates a fictitious boyfriend to avoid dealing with real life men...only said "made up" boyfriend appears on her doorstep one day. Jaded but fundamentally kind Scottish soldier Logan is more flawed and troubled than the man of her amusingly active imagination, of course, but turns out to be a true hero in all the best possible ways. (And, yes, I love the hero's name as well...in addition to his passion, courage and blend of strength and vulnerability!)
It's not exactly a spoiler to reveal that Logan and Maddie eventually fall in love despite and in some ways even because of their flaws, but it's how they get there that's rewarding. Instead of a series of contrived and highly annoying "misunderstandings" that could be resolved with painfully simple explanations neither provides (may the book gods save us from romances that rely on those to sustain 350+ pages of plot!), Maddie and Logan grow closer by seeing how each deals with other people and conflicts in their lives, come to terms with their pasts, challenge but support each other, and just generally make each other better people even when they clash on a given issue.
Other things I loved:
One of the primary reasons Tessa Dare is still a "go to" author of mine even when I find some of her books disappointing is that her prose and dialogue are just uncommonly sharp, smart and witty. I'm a language lover, and the humor and subtle insight that characterizes Tessa Dare's best work makes it a special favorite of mine.
A few of the minor characters in this one are really vivid and memorable. I especially adored Maddie's Aunt Thea.
The book gives a few poignant illustrations of how war can affect men both physically and psychologically without descending into preachy, self-serious grimness.
When a Scot...is warm, witty and sweet without being over-the-top silly, utterly insubstantial fluff. The more emotional moments feel really well earned and genuine (as opposed to falsely melodramatic and overdone!)
The few things I didn't love:
I'm not a fan of very explicit love scenes, and Tessa Dare's are always more lengthy and detailed than I personally enjoy. The good news is that Logan and Maddie are definitely NOT one of those couples who feel like they're bonded by physical lust with very little emotional and intellectual connection. (That's a huge pet peeve of mine about many modern romance novels and is one reason why I read far fewer than I used to!)
The hero's use of Scottish phrases adds authenticity---he's supposed to be Scottish, after all!---but could potentially be mildly annoying and distracting for those who don't like a lot of "ayes" and terms most of us aren't familiar with popping up in dialogue.
Even if you didn't love the first two books of this series (and I'm among the seemingly few who didn't!), I'd urge lovers of witty, warm, mood-lifting romances to check this one out. The theme about reality never quite living up to your fiction-fueled imagination but sometimes being even better in unexpected ways is likely to resonate with many of us 'bookworms'!
"well-written, fast-paced story. Characters of great emotional depth, courage and passion combine to support an outstanding love story between people of different backgrounds. Top Pick!" (Romantic Times)
Rouge: red-hot romance...