I'd been hearing good things about Tessa Dare - her Spindle Cove novels were funny and quirky. Then I managed to read the second book before the first, with a Sarah MacLean novel in between (more on her in a different post).
Minerva Highwood has been living in Spindle Cove (which seems to be a vacation hotspot for unmarried ladies with health problems, cash-flow issues, and/or behavioral issues, such as not being so meek and obedient as the next debutante) with her mother, a variation on the Mrs. Bennet theme, and her sister Diana (Diana has asthma). Min is a confirmed spinster bluestocking and is absolutely certain that she has found proof of prehistoric animals in a cave off the Cove. Colin Sandhurst, Viscount Payne, is the rake to end all rakes - it's even rumored that he never sleeps alone, ever - and is nearly climbing the metaphorical walls in Spindle Cove. He doesn't have the blunt to return to Town and he won't gain his inheritance (held in trust by his friend Bram, Earl of Rycliff) unless he marries or turns twenty-five, whichever comes first. It is also rumored that Colin will offer for Diana Highwood, an instance that Min neither desires or things she can stomach.
So Min hatches A Plan. She needs to present her scientific findings at a meeting of the Royal Geologic Society in Edinburgh - if she has the best "find" (and she's certain she does) she will win a monetary prize. If Colin escorts her (and her plaster iguanadon foot, Francine) to Edinburgh, she will give him the prize money thereby eliminating his need to marry Diana. To do this, these two caracters, fake an elopement, convince family and friends they're in "love" (courtesy of one faked diary), outrun armed robbers, survive their worst nightmares, and travel four hundred miles without killing each other (that sentence was cribbed off Goodreads since I couldn't write one better). They have A Week to be Wicked.
This is a zany road-trip novel Regency Romance-style. I laughed so much every time Colin made up some crazy-ridiculous story about his relationship with Minerva. Like any good lie, it gets bigger and bigger until it bites him in the tail (like the one where they pose as brother and sister missionaries to a family then Get. It. On. (loudly) after hearing another couple in the inn knocking boots, so to speak). Or how he introduces Min as his non-English speaking mistress (I'm with Min on that instance - would it have killed him to win that hand of cards?). Antics aside, Min was a wonderful character to root for with her scientific zeal and pleasant-ish family and Colin as her perfect foil bouncing between his rakish extremes and phobias about closed carriages. You will never look at mathematical terms the same way again.
Spindle Cove #2 being an excellent read, I picked up A Night to Surrender. I'm glad I did because it explained so much about the Spindle Cove world and events that were only hinted at in A Week to be Wicked. Miss Susannah Finch created a quiet haven at Spindle Cove, near her father's home, as a place where well-bred ladies could escape the rigors of the ton - particularly those ladies who don't quite "fit" as Society believes they should. It is about to be invaded by His Majesty's militia. Victor Bramwell, newly appointed Earl of Rycliff (for the tumbling-down castle of the cliff), has been ordered to create a militia out of a ragtag band of men and boys for the purpose of defending England's coast. With him is a (reluctant) Colin Sandhurst and a Corporal Thorne, a career military man. Susannah is absolutely determined that these men just leave (leave!) and let Spindle Cove enjoy its peace and quiet.
Reading A Night to Surrender helped quite a bit in explaining who does what in the seaside village of Spindle Cove - the characters are so intertwinted that in book #2, when the action moved away from Minerva and Colin, I was a bit lost in who Kate was, or Thorne, or Diana, or Susanna...definitely a series that benefits from reading in book order.
This first book was very well-constructed, with good backstories for everyone not just the hero/heroine couple. Susannah's father is different from Thorne, who is different from Colin, who is different from the Bright's absentee drunken father (who doesn't appear, but gets a number of mentions). Mrs. Highwood is curious mix of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Dashwood but she's the only flat female character, IMO, when compared to Kate, Sally, and Violet.
And although there are funny parts, this is a much more serious book in tone and much darker in the details. Dare gets some serious props in this one with her historical research: those medical "treatments" Susannah mentions having undergone to "treat" "hysteria" are spot-on. I've done considerable research in 18th/19th/early-20th century medicine and it's all historically accurate. Barbaric, in a word.
I also found a little novella, a Spindle Cove #1.5: Once Upon a Winter's Eve. Violet Winterbottom has endured The Disappointment. She gave herself to a childhood friend, a man she thought loved her, and he left the next day with no word, no good-bye, and no explanation. Heartbroken, she moved to Spindle Cove and rebuilt her life. On the night of the Spindle Cove Christmas Ball, a dirty, bloody man crashes into the ballroom and passes out at her feet. The other revelers think the man is a French spy but Violet knows who he is...Christian, Lord Pierce, the man she loved. Violet has one night to get the entire story out of Christian before he disappears or dies.
This was short and sweet, a little nuts as far as plotting. Just my opinion, but forgiveness comes a bit too fast - having been left with no explanation, Violet should have been waaay more irritated at Christian. And how hard would it have been for Christian to leave Violet some sort of letter explaining that he worked for the War Office and to wait for him or something like that.
Spindle Cove #3, A Lady by Midnight, is scheduled for August!