I very much enjoyed reading Erica Ridley’s debut novel, Too Wicked to Kiss—I sat down with my ARC, intending to read only a few pages to get the feel of it, and then before I knew it, hours had passed, and I was at the end of the book. It’s intelligent, emotional, compelling, with a plot that strings you along and rewards you greatly, and characters (especially the heroine) that you can’t help but cheer on.
From the ravens circling its spires to the gargoyles adorning its roof, Blackberry Manor looms ominously over its rambling grounds. And behind its doors, amid the flickering shadows and secret passageways, danger lies in wait.
Evangeline Pemberton has been invited to a party at the sprawling estate of reclusive Gavin Lioncroft, who is rumored to have murdered his parents. Initially, Gavin’s towering presence and brusque manner instill fear in Evangeline… until his rakish features and seductive attentions profoundly arouse her. But when a guest is murdered, Evangeline is torn. Could the man to whom she is so powerfully drawn, also be a ruthless killer?
Let’s go for the to-the-point enumerative attack with this one–Y[es!]:
 This is Evangeline’s book, and we’re with her as she faces trial after trial, disappointment after betrayal after pot of dirt (a wink to those who’ve read it already, harhar). Which is not to say that you’ll end up slamming this book against the nearest wall. Evangeline Pemberton is never a victim. Which is really admirable, given how much misfortune assails her. Girl’s got spine. And Ridley achieves balance within this character by not making her a paragon or—ew—a martyr. (That is so Barbara Cartland ago.) Evangeline has flaws, and she’s as human as the rest of us—for example, she does not trust easily. Which bring us to:
 What I said about Evangeline not trusting easily can be further examined: The not-trusting-easily is not just a result of all the difficulties she’s gone through re interpersonal relationships (although I won’t blame her); Ridley manages to inject common-place “Why should I trust you when I don’t know you?” so seamlessly that you know the author’s aware of this knee-jerk reaction, and respects it. It’s saying, So what if the hero’s stunning and yummy? Dude’s rumored to have killed his own parents. The circumstances surrounding the murder under his own roof points to him as suspect. Evangeline keeps her head straight. And I like that. I also like how Gavin isn’t all Why can’t you trust me? because he knows how things look like. Besides, guy’s got baggage too.
 The book is permeated with this foreboding, ominous feel, further bolstered by your go-to setting for foreboding, ominous feels: a castle, with gargoyles, secret passageways—and, er, a field of gnarly blackberries. Gavin is as dark and broody as they come—think Rochester crossed with a widdle Woman-in-the-Attic. And Evangeline, it must be said (for the back of the book didn’t) possesses clairvoyant qualities—she “receives” images from the past, or the future, with one touch of another human being. Spice it up with the (never-to-be-explained) fact that Gavin is immune to this. Or, rather, Evangeline is immune to whatever’s going on inside Gavin’s head. A lot is hinged around this clairvoyance, and although at times Evangeline seems to be defined only through this, at the end of the book, the character successfully asserts herself over the character description.
 But it’s not an entirely dark book. The latter half—as though once the introductions were done with, sunbursts go a-traipsing—is markedly lighter. Which allows the romance between Gavin and Evangeline to develop. For two people obviously very vulnerable, they manage to still feel secure enough with each other to fall in love (and at some points, allow themselves to look ridiculous). <3
 I found myself viewing the members of the house party in a satirical light: there’s the tactless drunkard, the conniving society mamas, the not-so-fresh debutantes, even the crusty old man with deep pockets. To a point, they were stereotypical, but I did not mind, because, well, they were the perfect foils for my satire-reading. And the fact that they were secluded in a Gothic castle—away from the ton—with their own agenda and little schemes? That this seclusion and the specific setting could only highlight their personalities and how they bounced off each other? That too.
 Susan Stanton is one of the most complex secondary characters I have ever read. She’s amazing. One moment you want to strangle her, the next you want to be BFFs with her, and then the next moment you’re kicking her in the shins. It’s amazing. And what’s even more amazing is that Erica Ridley’s second book is about her! Wahoo! Can’t wait to see if she manages to be a compelling heroine, what with all her contradictions.
 I cannot stress enough how much I love that pot of dirt. Read this book if only for that pot of dirt. Yes, this is an inside joke. But it won’t be if you read it. Which is why I want you to read it, because I don’t want to damage your self-esteem. You can laugh with me!
Just a teensy little N[itpicking] with this book:  One single thing niggled at me—I asked myself why I was reading this. Was I reading it for the romance between Gavin and Evangeline? Or was I reading it because of the mystery, the sleuthing? That I really just wanted to have all my questions answered? But, well, nitpicking is nitpicking, and this in particular is blurted in hindsight. By which I mean, I am just whining. I read it. I liked it. Gav and Evie (yeah, we’re that close now) made me smile—that picnic scene where he’s obviously smitten by her just made me giddy. And I know who did it. (It wasn’t the butler—see, I’m tantalizing you, am I not?)
The verdict? I liked it. The Gav and Evie pairing, Susan, the betrayals and redemptions, that picnic scene, and that infamous pot of dirt. Say it with me, people: POT OF DIRT.