books

Courtney Milan

Books

The Brothers Sinister: The Duchess War (2012), A Kiss for Midwinter (2012), The Heiress Effect (2013), The Countess Conspiracy (2013), The Suffragette Scandal (2014), Talk Sweetly to Me (2014)

The Turner Series: Unveiled (2011), Unlocked (2011) , Unclaimed (2011), Unraveled (2011)

The Worth Saga: Once Upon a Marquess (2015), Her Every Wish (2016)

Proof by Seduction (2010)

 

 

The Brothers Sinister

 

The Duchess War (2012)

Set in England in 1863.The-Duchess-War

This is the first(ish) book in the series, and the third book I read.

Wilhelmina Pursling has a past she is desperately hiding from. She’s changed her name and hidden with obscurity with her two great-aunts, and pushed down everything she once was, to avoid any whisper that might cause someone to look into her past.

Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont was conceived solely so his father would have an heir. His entire childhood was spent as a pawn in his parent’s battles, and it wasn’t until he escaped to school and met his bastard half brother that he began to have any inkling of what family truly could be. So he owes his brother almost everything that he currently has become.

“Your Grace,” Stevens finally said, “your concern does you justice.”

The man’s toad-eating did him none.

Robert met Stevens’s eyes. “No, it doesn’t. It’s called basic human decency, and I deserve no credit for doing what every man should.”

Of course, having read the following two books, I knew what the end result would be (well, it’s a romance, the end is pre-determined, pretty much) but I really enjoying the bits with Sebastian.

“You know me,” Sebastian said. “I’m the soul of discretion.”

“No, you’re not. You are exactly the opposite.”

“I knew perfectly well what you meant,” Sebastian said. “But I’ve always found that the quickest way to make someone relent in his foolish edicts is to take every command literally and to perform it with flagrant obedience.”

I really really like Sebastian.

Did I like this story as well as the other two? Sadly, no. Minnie was fine, as was Robert, but they’re both so serious and so very broken. It just wasn’t anywhere near as fun as The Countess Conspiracy.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: February 2016

Set in England in 1863

Another re-read, and although good, I don’t love it as much as the Countess Conspiracy. But not for lack of trying on the part of the story.

“I’ve never seen this before. And it’s really not my sort of thing.” For one thing, she was fairly certain that any sentence that used more exclamation points than words was an abomination

Oh! Look! Sebastian!

“Sebastian,” Violet replied, calmly looping the yarn about one of her needles, “it is neither proper nor respectful to let a woman know that you think of her as nothing more than a hole.”

It’s a good story, but just not quite as good as my favorite.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1863.

Minerva Lane has been hiding. Hiding from her past and her childhood, and even her name, going by another name, Wilhelmina Pursling. No one but her great aunts knows of her past, not even her best friend Lydia, whose dangerous secrets she’s held for years.

Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont is not hiding from his past, but is instead trying to atone for it–less his past and more the actions of his father. When his atonement causes problems for Minnie, she is determined to keep her secrets–and expose his.

I knew I really liked this series, but for some reason, even though it’s not been that long since I last read it, I was convinced it was better in my memory than in actuality.

I was wrong.

Let me get one thing clear, I do love Ilona Andrews books. But the series I just re-read had a great number of weaknesses that I’d noted upon re-reading; weaknesses that became more glaring in close comparison with Courtney Milan’s writing.

First, the dialog is delightful.

If I do it my way, when it’s all said and done, people will say, ‘Well, Minnie really kept her head, even when a duke was about.’” “And men will marry you because of that?” he asked dubiously. “I only need one man to do so,” Minnie shot back. “More would be illegal.”

Second, Robert is a wonderful hero. I adore him.

The man bowed his head. “Forgive me, Your Grace. The woman is nothing. I erred. I never thought you would take an interest in one so much beneath you.”

“What’s the point in being a duke if I don’t?” The query was out of his mouth before he could call it back— but he wouldn’t have, even if he could.

But to be clear, he is far from perfect.

For himself… He could rarely think of how to respond when immersed in that heady back-and-forth. Sometimes he thought of clever things to say… hours later. Usually, he committed the worst sin possible: He said what he was really thinking. That was why he came out with gems like, I like your tits. Not one of his finest moments, that.

But he is a kind man, and that is something that can be–and is–used against him. Which is the source of his problems.

Of course, we also get Sebastian, who I utterly adore.

“You know me,” Sebastian said. “I’m the soul of discretion.”

“No, you’re not. You are exactly the opposite.”

But it’s more than that. Lydia, Minnie’s best friend is so well developed she gets her own novella. And her personality is very different from Minnie.

“Every time I laugh, he looks at me, judging me for my frivolity. I can’t stand being around him.”

“I had no notion,” Minnie said, moving over to sit beside her friend.

“I work so hard for my frivolity.” Lydia’s hands were shaking. “How dare he judge me for it!”

And then there’s Oliver’s family and Robert’s relationship with them…

But what I like best is that the story isn’t over once Minnie and Robert get married–instead it continues on, showing how they learn to deal with their differences, and–we also get a surprise that is both unexpected and marvelous.

This story is complex and compelling, and even the boinking bits have parts that are fascinating and unexpected. It’s marvelous and amazing and a fantastic start to a wonderful series.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Courtney Milan

A Kiss for Midwinter (2012)

A-Kiss-for-MidwinterSet in England in 1863.

Jonas Grantham is a doctor–it has been his dream. And once he became a doctor, he vowed never to allow anyone to act against his principles as he did when a doctor he was following all but attempted to murder the pregnant young girl he was seeing.

Miss Lydia Charingford has been ruined. But thanks to her best friend Minnie, no one knows about her ruin except Minnie, her family, and the doctors who saw her.

Unfortunately, one of those doctors was Jonas Grantham who has returned after medical school to take up his practice.

Safe to say that she wouldn’t tell her father that Grantham was instructing her on the use of French letters. He might take that amiss.

One of the things I particularly like about Grantham is how blunt he is, but that he’s blunt because he cares.

Her skin turned white. That meant the capillaries in her skin were constricting. He could almost have guessed her pulse from the labor of her breath. She’d be feeling cold and light-headed right about now.

“Breathe deeply,” he suggested.

Carrying a child was hard on a woman’s body, and eight children, delivered ten months after one another, left a woman no room to recover.

Every time he tried to make the argument, though, he found that women disliked being compared to mares and fields, no matter how apt the analogy was.

As for the men—a fallow field, apparently, said nothing about a man’s virility. But a wife who bore child after child formed a living, walking boast, one that he could parade in front of his compatriots. Look at me! I’m a man!

“The stuff that babes are made of comes from your own body, Mrs. Hall.” He straightened and put away his stethoscope. “If the babe needs the material of bones, it comes from you. If it needs the material of skin, it comes from you. There’s a reason you’re losing your teeth, Mrs. Hall.” She looked away. “You need to take a rest from bearing children. This babe likely won’t kill you. The next one might.”

This actually comes up in The Countess Conspiracy, although not in as much detail. And it’s one of the reason I liked this book so much–it’s a blunt reminder of how life really was.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1863.

Lydia was a secondary character in The Duchess War and this is her story–how she found true love despite her past.

Dr Grantham also appeared in The Duchess War, although far less than Lydia, but he is still interesting even in those brief glimpses.

Here, it is fascinating and wonderful.

“There is a study by Doctor Semmelweis in Austria,” he said. “He has been much maligned for it, but I see no fault with the methodology. Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna, and he decided to make one tiny little change in his practice. After he performed an autopsy— and before he delivered a child— he washed his hands in a solution of chlorinated lime.” He looked over at her. “He found that when he did so, the incidence of childbed fever was reduced by an astonishing ninety percent.”

Also, he mentions John Snow and the Broad street pump.

But on top of that geekiness, the relationship that develops between Lydia and Dr Grantham is believable and marvelous. Both have problems–Lydia is far more damaged than she is willing to admit–but neither makes stupid relationship mistakes, although Lydia is (as she admits) purposefully blind to what Dr Grantham says.

It’s a lovely novella, and highly recommended.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Courtney Milan

The Heiress Effect (2013)

The-Heiress-EffectSet in England in 1867.

The is book two of the Brothers Sinister trilogy, and the second book I read, however, I started with book three. So, backwards.

Miss Jane Fairfield is a wealthy heiress who is supposedly seeking a husband, however, she’s doing everything she possible can to let any man get close to her–never mind propose marriage. Her only friends are the twins Geraldine and Genevieve Johnson, and they twitter behind their hands and encourage her to terrible choices in clothing, helping to make her more of a spectacle than she already is.

All comparisons failed Oliver. It wasn’t the bright pink of anything. It was a furious shade of pink, one that nature had never intended. It was a pink that did violence to the notion of demure pastels. It didn’t just shout for attention; it walked up and clubbed one over the head.

It hurt his head, that pink, and yet he couldn’t look away.

The room was small enough that he could hear the first words of greeting. “Miss Fairfield,” a woman said. “Your gown is… very pink. And pink is… such a lovely color, isn’t it?” That last was said with a wistful quality in the speaker’s voice, as if she were mourning the memory of true pink.

Oliver Marshall is the bastard brother of the Duke of Clermont. Despite his conception, he was raised by two parents who loved him, which gives him far more than his half brother had growing up. But what Oliver really wants is political power, and the ability to make change.

Emily is Jane’s sister, hidden at home, yet longing for life–life denied to her by their Uncle and her guardian. She gets her own part her as well, which I quite loved.

But I really loved Jane. First and foremost for this:

“Oh, God,” she repeated, squeezing her eyes shut. “Why do I always do this?”

“What do you always do?”

“I talk. I talk so much. I talk as if my life depended on nothing but words filling the space. I talk and talk and talk and I can’t stop. Not even when I tell myself I must.” She gave a little sobbing laugh. “I do it all the time—tell myself to shut up—but generally, I’m talking too much to listen to my own advice.”

I’ve described it in myself as “that talking thing.” Which is generally the thing where my mouth runs off and my brain follows a pace behind wincing and screaming, “NO! STOP NOW!”

I have also said this to myself:

“Is it something I said?” Jane asked. And if so, which sentence?

There was ANOTHER passage that I have also lived:

“Are you…uh…Mr….uh…” “Yes,” he replied, because he answered to Mr. Uh almost as often as he did to his own name.

Throughout school, the first day of classes my name was always “Michelle… umm…” to which I would reply, “Here!”

As far as the story goes, I liked The Countess Conspiracy better, but that’s is mostly because I found it marvelous. I also so the bits and pieces that led up to that book, which were just as delightful.

There is also a marvelous sub-sub plot of Oliver’s aunt, who, well, it was just very well done.

One quibble with the cover. Jane is described quite clearly on the first page.

The twelve holes in Jane’s corset were an evil, true, but a necessary one; without them, she would never have reduced her waist from its unfashionable thirty-seven-inch span down to the still unfashionable girth of thirty-one inches.

That model on the cover? Not even close.

But aside from that, lovely.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: February 2016

Set in England in 1867.

This is another good book, but also not quite as good as The Countess Conspiracy.

But it was good.

“Is it something I said?” Jane asked. And if so, which sentence?

Oliver makes many mistakes, but you know he’s going to do the right thing, and not just for the HEA.

It was simple. He didn’t like to laugh at anyone. He could find too much of himself in the object of their amusement. And while much had changed since his childhood, that never would.

Jane is an interesting character–one who has determied to be herself, at first because she didn’t know better, then because she was trying to avoid marriage, and finally because she accepts who she is.

Pink and all.

“What does one call a color like that?”

She smiled at him. “Fuchsine.”

“It even sounds like a filthy word,” Oliver replied.

I also really liked the sub-thread with Emily, Jane’s sister.

Emily meets a man, and that man is kind of awesome.

Fairfield shrunk away from the anger in Anjan’s voice. “I meant well,” he whispered.

Anjan leaned forward across the desk until he was an inch away from the other man. “Mean better.”

Oh look! Sebastian again!

Nobody can object to a discussion of plant reproduction. If they did, we’d require flowers to don petticoats instead of wandering around, showing their reproductive parts to all and sundry.”

I will once again note that the model on the cover IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO THE MAIN CHARACTER.

The twelve holes in Jane’s corset were an evil, true, but a necessary one; without them, she would never have reduced her waist from its unfashionable thirty-seven-inch span down to the still unfashionable girth of thirty-one inches.

That model does not have a 31 inch waist. Her waist is, almost half that I think.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1867

Jane Fairfield has a serious problem–she has money and she is eligible, but she can’t marry–not now. So she has to do everything in her power to not marry, despite her fortune.

Jane sashayed forward and took in the effect of her new gown. She didn’t even have to pretend to smile—the expression spread across her face like melted butter on warm bread. God, the gown was hideous. So utterly hideous. Never before had so much money been put in the service of so little taste.

Almost as impossible as four hundred and eighty—the number of days that Jane had to stay unmarried. Four hundred and eighty days until her sister attained her majority. In four hundred and eighty days, her sister could leave their guardian, and Jane—Jane who was allowed to stay in the household on the condition that she marry the first eligible man who offered—would be able to dispense with all this pretending. She and Emily would finally be free.

Oliver Marshall is a bastard who has been recognized by his half-bother, but wants to achieve things on his own right. So he follows society’s rules and is quiet, hiding what he thinks. But because of his past, he hates the casual cruelty he sees towards Jane.

He’d been wrong. She was going to break him. Not because she was so awful; she meant well, at least, and that made up for a great deal. She was going to break him because he couldn’t stand beside her and listen.

But Jane and Oliver are NOT what make this story. They’re fine, don’t get me lovely.

He’d promised not to lie to her. That was all he had to do now—not lie.

“Miss Fairfield,” he said in a voice pitched normally. “You look well today.”

She dimpled at him.

He let his gaze drift down briefly, and then looked up at her. “Your gown, on the other hand…” He took in a deep breath. “It makes me want to commit an act of murder, and I do not consider myself a violent man. What are you wearing?”

“It’s an evening gown.” She spread her outrageously gloved hands over her hips.

“It is the most hideous shade of pink that I have ever seen in my life. Is it actually glowing?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.” But the smile on her face seemed more genuine.

“I fear it may be contagious,” he continued. “It is setting all my preternatural urges on edge, whispering that the color must be catching. I feel an uncontrollable urge to run swiftly as far as I can in the other direction, lest my waistcoat fall prey next.” She actually laughed at that and brushed her shoulder.

“This would make a lovely waistcoat, don’t you think? But don’t worry; the color isn’t virulent. Yet.”

But what makes this story are the secondary characters, especially Jane’s sister Emily, and Bhattacharya. Those two are marvelous and make the story.

Fairfield shrunk away from the anger in Anjan’s voice. “I meant well,” he whispered.

Anjan leaned forward across the desk until he was an inch away from the other man. “Mean better.”

Mean better. Even now reading that makes me almost cry. Which is something her books do–they make me almost cry quite frequently. Not for the big things, but for the little things, like Anjan standing up for Emily.

Also: Sebastian.

Sebastian threw his hands up in the air. “In all the time you have known me, Oliver,” he said, his voice shaking, “in all that time—when have I ever made a joke at anyone else’s expense?”

“Uh…”

“When have I ever done anything except make a fool of myself, expose myself to ridicule to get others to laugh?”

“Well…”

“Yes, I love tweaking noses.” His friend paced away and then turned back. “But I like to be liked, Oliver.”

How had Oliver never seen that before? Prankster Sebastian. Smiling Sebastian. But he was right; all of Sebastian’s clever tricks and pranks had been aimed at making everyone else laugh. He mocked himself with greater alacrity than anyone else, and when they’d been in school together, everyone had loved him for it.

Also: that almost makes me cry as well.

Should you read this story? Yes. Oh very much yes.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

The Countess Conspiracy (2013)

Set in England in 1867.

The-Countess-ConspiracyI absolutely was not expecting to enjoy this anywhere near as much as I did. I thought it would be a nice diversion, instead, I found myself sucked in and really wanting things to work out well for both characters. Despite knowing this was a romance and so there was going to be a HEA, I was worried the HEA would have Violet make compromises.

It totally didn’t.

Violet Waterfield is a widowed Countess who is hiding a very big secret. All the scandalous scientific theories and papers put forth by her childhood friend (and notorious rake) Sebastian Malheur are, in fact, her theories.

No one will respect the ideas of a woman, and so Sebastian has been pretending for years to be the authors of Violet’s papers. But dealing with the derision and scandal (for he is essentially talking about intercourse in public, even if it is plants and animals, is considered by many to be indecent.

“He’s flaunting his godless ways. He is the most dissolute reprobate. Talking in public about breeding and intercourse.”

But if he gives up the charade, what will become of Violet’s research?

Violet is a very intelligent, very witty, but also damaged character. Her past is full of tragedy and repression and suppression and secrets, and she believes herself to be without value and fundamentally unlovable. She’s sharp and caustic and refuses to let herself feel anything for anyone.

Despite that, Sebastian loves her.

Now, sometimes when you read things like that, you have to wonder yourself what the other character sees in them. In this case, Sebastian and Violet were childhood friends, so she allowed herself to trust him perhaps more than anyone else in her life, and he knew her far better than anyone else, and knew that she was more than her fragile and sharp exterior.

All of which is great, but what I liked best about the book was the science and the humor.

There was nothing shameful about the figure Sebastian was pointing to, not unless one harbored an irrational hatred for bar charts.

Ah, Violet wouldn’t say that if she’d ever been forced to sit through a PowerPoint presentation.

But Violet and Sebastian together are utterly marvelous.

So, shipping—”

If there was a more baffling change of subject, Violet didn’t know it. “Shipping?”

“Yes. You know. Ships. Floating things that displace water and carry cargo?

They’re really quite marvelous.

But more importantly, there is the science. The story doesn’t go into the science itself in depth, but rather the place women had in science at that time.

Which was, as far as the general public was concerned, none.

Which makes the dedication of the story so wonderful.

For Rosalind Franklin, whose name we know.
For Anna Clausen, whom I discovered while writing this book.
For every woman whose name has disappeared without recognition.

It’s a wonderful story, that I highly recommend, despite the boinking.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: February 2016

Set in England in 1867.

I really REALLY love this story. And I loved it just as much if not more the second time through, since I was just waiting for the awesome bits.

“I wasn’t talking of seduction,” he said. “I was talking of not seduction, which, as I’m sure you have surmised, is the exact opposite of seduction.”

“That’s specious,” Violet retorted. “If I asked you not to talk of elephants and you wandered around bellowing about not-elephants, you’d be mentioning elephants with every breath. The column of all things that are not elephants includes marsupials, canines—”

“The column of everything that is not an elephant does not include not-elephants?” he inquired, innocently examining his nails. “That’s counter-intuitive.”

“The column of conversational topics,” Violet stressed, “that are not elephant related does not include a discussion of the elephant-shaped hole in the conversation!”

“I don’t think you have a secret. It’s like you were made by some fiend of a blacksmith. You’re a puzzle without a solution. There is no way to undo you. All I can do is learn to avoid the razors.”

She breathed out slowly and picked up her pen. “Yes,” she said softly. “That’s me. Good for nothing but cutting. Made by an insane blacksmith.”

“Come, Violet. I know better than to woo you with confusing data sets.”

“Clearly, you don’t know me as well as you think. Confusing data sets are my specialty.”

Violet narrowed her eyes at him. “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to distract me with science.”

“Of course I am.” He winked at her. “And it’s going to work.”

“You’re trying to distract me with falsified science,” Violet accused.

I love this so very very very much.
Rating: 10/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1867

And this, this is my favorite story in this series.

There was nothing shameful about the figure Sebastian was pointing to, not unless one harbored an irrational hatred for bar charts.

“Don’t worry,” Sebastian told Violet’s niece. “I’ll try not to seduce you on the spot.”

Violet felt a headache starting to form, sharp little pinpricks in her forehead. “Sebastian, you can’t talk of seduction to my unmarried niece.”

Another man might have blushed and apologized. But Sebastian just gave her a cocky smile and a wink. “I wasn’t talking of seduction,” he said. “I was talking of not seduction, which, as I’m sure you have surmised, is the exact opposite of seduction.”

“That’s specious,” Violet retorted. “If I asked you not to talk of elephants and you wandered around bellowing about not-elephants, you’d be mentioning elephants with every breath. The column of all things that are not elephants includes marsupials, canines—”

“The column of everything that is not an elephant does not include not-elephants?” he inquired, innocently examining his nails. “That’s counter-intuitive.”

“The column of conversational topics,” Violet stressed, “that are not elephant related does not include a discussion of the elephant-shaped hole in the conversation!”

You think it’s hard spending time with me? Imagine being a blacksmith puzzle made by a madman. You’re unable to perform the basic functions of your existence. You never bring anyone joy. You learn not to hope when someone picks you up. Because no matter how high their anticipation runs upon starting, you know what will happen in the end: They’ll throw you away in disgust.”

Oh. Look. Almost crying again.

“Come, Violet. I know better than to woo you with confusing data sets.”

“Clearly, you don’t know me as well as you think. Confusing data sets are my specialty.”

I love this story so very much.
Rating: 10/10

Published by Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal (2014)

suffragette-scandal

Set in England in 1877.

Edward Clark has allowed his family to think him dead–only fitting since his younger brother all but had him killed. Unfortunately, that same younger brother is now going after one of the men Clark considers to be his true family, so Clark has returned to England, hoping to stop his brother’s plans.

It had been years since he’d imposed on Patrick. His friend had never breathed a word of the debt that Edward had incurred. He wouldn’t—Patrick wasn’t the sort to parcel out who owed what to whom. That’s why Edward had to keep score on his behalf. Those debts would never balance. All Edward could hope was to keep them at bay.

Frederica "Free" Marshall is doing all the things she set out to do: she runs a paper by women and for women, is pushing for female sufferage, and is living her life on her own terms (as much as a woman can in 1877). Unfortunately, she has made enemies, one of whom is Edward Clark’s brother.

But unlike Clark, Free does have family she can count on.

She leaned up and kissed his cheek. “You’re my favorite brother.”

“I’m your only brother,” he said in dark amusement.

“You see?” Free spread her arms. “I can’t count on any of the others to even exist when I need them.”

Whether she can learn to count on Clark is something else entirely.

I really liked Clark. He didn’t even trust himself, but those he held dear trusted him, which allowed you to know that he wasn’t truly the scoundrel he made himself out to be.

“Are you really left-handed?” Mr. Marshall asked.

“No. I’ve just been pretending to use my left hand my entire life because I enjoy never being able to work scissors properly.”

What I liked best about Free is that this is not your typicaly historical romance where the heroine has to be rescued by the hero. Free rescues herself, and her fight is not against the hero, but against society.

Please note, however, that the model on the cover does not accurately represent Free. She doesn’t dress in ball gowns.

She wore a dark skirt and a white shirtwaist. But her jacket had a decidedly mannish flair to it—strong lines, military braid at the cuffs, and epaulettes at the shoulders. She wore a man’s bowler hat.

This is a very different story from the other books in the series, but just as good–possibly because it reflects the changes in society that were happening at the time.

But here is why I really like this story. These are excerpts from the Author’s Note.

When I chose to make Free an investigative reporter, I modeled her after a real nineteenth century investigative reporter, Nellie Bly.

That brings me to another nineteenth century woman—Josephine Butler. Butler was a devout Christian who abhorred sexual immorality. You might think that a woman like Butler would keep silent about something like the Contagious Diseases Act. But she was outraged by the double standard in the Acts—a standard that allowed the men who spread the disease to walk free while imprisoning only the women.

Yet another reminder of how women were actually treated in the past.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1877

Free Marshall has done the things she told her brother Oliver she would, including going to college. Now she runs a women’s newspaper that calls for rights for women and points out injustices. (Free was based a bit on Nelly Bly.)

She wagged a finger at him. “You’re mispronouncing that word.”

“Your pardon?” He groped, trying to remember what he’d said.

“Suffragette? How does one pronounce it, then?”

“Suffragette,” she said, “is pronounced with an exclamation point at the end. Like this: ‘Huzzah! Suffragettes!’”

Edward Clark was abandoned by his family, and after years away is fine with his brother taking the estate–fine until he discovers his brother is trying to ruin his childhood friend, Stephen Shaughnessy, and so he returns to England against his better judgment.

When the declaration of war had come, Edward had written to his father, asking for the means to return to England. It had been a blow when his father refused. He’d said that if Edward didn’t believe in the family honor, he needn’t rely on the family’s help.

But it was James who had taken matters two steps further. When Edward had arrived at the British Consulate in Strasbourg two steps ahead of the advancing army, the consular secretary had declared him an impostor. The secretary had received a letter to that effect, after all—a letter signed by James himself. Edward had been called a liar and a profiteer and he’d been tossed out on his ear.

With that had vanished Edward’s last hope of financial assistance or a pass of safe-conduct.

“I wept when you could not be recovered,” James told him.

Edward was sure that was true, too. James would no doubt have felt very sorry. If he hadn’t, he would have been forced to admit he was a vile betrayer who’d secretly hoped his brother would die. No man saw himself as a villain. James had done what he’d needed to do, and then he’d lied to himself about his actions.

Talk about a shitty family.

We also get some other ends tied up with this story, including Genevieve Johnson (from The Heiress Effect) and Amanda Ellisford (Violet’s niece from The Countess Conspiracy) which I did like.

“That column you wrote,” Miss Johnson said, “that one from six months ago, about the life a woman could have without a man. The one you wrote in response to Lord Hasslemire? I felt that one.” She set her hand on her belly. “I felt it here, when you wrote about how Hasslemire talked about a lady’s life as a collection of things that women did for men. When you said that a woman could exist for herself, without needing to serve someone else’s needs…” Miss Johnson smiled. “Do you know how many women clipped that column and sent it to me? Seven.

What I wasn’t sure about in this story was the end–there were parts of the HEA that bothered me, mostly Edward’s actions. They just felt–strange and weird and just a bit out of time. Yes, things had started to change quickly at that point in history, but I’m not sure if they had changed quite enough for his actions.

Free’s actions I’m fine with, interestingly enough, and I’m ok with Edward through most of the book until the very end. Perhaps because *all* the compromise seemed to come from him. That just seemed… unfair.
Rating: 7.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Talk Sweetly to Me (2014)

Talk-Sweetly-to-MeSet in Greenwich, November 1882

Miss Rose Sweetly is a shop-keepers daughter and a mathematical genius who is currently working as a computer at the Royal Observatory. She is also keeping her pregnant sister company while her husband is away on a tour of duty.

(H)e picked up one of the offending fruits and smiled in her direction. “Why is it that the oranges bounced, but the apples did not?”

His smile felt like an arrow, one that struck her straight in the solar plexus. And so Rose adjusted her spectacles on her nose and said the first thing that came to mind.

Unfortunately, the first thing that came to mind was…

“It’s Newton’s Third Law. Upon collision, the apple exerts a force on the pavement, and so the pavement must exert an equal and opposite force on the apple. The structure of the apple is inelastic and so the apple bruises. The orange, by contrast…” She swallowed, realized that she was babbling, and shut her mouth. “I’m sorry, Mr. Shaughnessy. I don’t think that’s what you meant to ask, was it?”

Stephen Shaughnessy is an author and a rake (and also the author of the “Ask a Man” column of the woman’s paper. But just because he’s a rake, doesn’t make him a complete jerk.

(H)e had a very firm rule that he did not do terrible things to people in general, and to women in particular.

I was very glad when my father came to London to start his own emporium. I wasn’t on display any longer, not until my father tried to have me learn deportment.” Rose smiled. “It didn’t work so well—I didn’t like the idea of performing in society. Eventually, on Patricia’s advice, he bribed me to pay attention by offering me tutoring in higher mathematics.”

As you can tell by the cover, Rose is of African descent, and if this book hadn’t been by an author who has proven she has done her research on other historical topics, I would have skipped it. I can’t give you an opinion as to how a reader of color would take Rose, but it seemed to me that she did a very good job portraying how life would have been for Rose and those like her.

For those who are curious, she did this through Patricia’s pregnancy, and how Patricia was treated by the doctor. But these scenes weren’t just to show racism of the time, Patricia was integral to the story

I particularly loved Rose’s dream.

THAT NIGHT, ROSE DREAMED that a column of numbers was chasing her through some odd, non-Cartesian landscape, a vista of lines and swirling colors. In the distance, someone was laughing—not a cruel laugh, or even a laugh at her expense. Just a friendly, welcoming laugh.

The numbers caught her, taking hold of her shoulder. She jerked away, but they held her fast.

How did numbers grip? She turned to them, fascinated…and very groggily came awake.

That is an actual dream, not the stuff that authors and movies often pretend are dreams.

One thing I keep forgetting to mention–you should make a point to read her author’s notes (I’ve quoted from them before) because they tell you where some of the historical bits come from.

The other source of inspiration for this was a real woman. Her name is Shakuntala Devi, and she was known as the human computer for her ability to calculate complex cube roots in her head in a matter of seconds. Her roots were modest—her father was a circus performer—but not only was she a mathematical genius, she also wrote cookbooks, nonfiction on homosexuality, nonfiction on learning mathematics, and novels (many of these are available as ebooks today). She even ran for office.

One thing I do not like about this book is that Rose succumbed to Stephen prior to marriage. I realize that Courtney Milan writes boinking books, and so boinking is expected, but those portions of the story felt false to me–I didn’t really believe that Rose would have made such a decision, no matter how good of a rake Stephen was. (Though I do appreciate that it WAS Rose’s decision entirely.)
Rating: 7/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1882.

This is the final novella in the Brothers Sinister series, and I adore it.

Rose Sweetly is a computer–she can do complex mathematics in her head, and loves working with astronomers. She’s an utter geek, long before geeks were cool.

“Why is it that the oranges bounced, but the apples did not?”

His smile felt like an arrow, one that struck her straight in the solar plexus. And so Rose adjusted her spectacles on her nose and said the first thing that came to mind. Unfortunately, the first thing that came to mind was… “It’s Newton’s Third Law. Upon collision, the apple exerts a force on the pavement, and so the pavement must exert an equal and opposite force on the apple. The structure of the apple is inelastic and so the apple bruises. The orange, by contrast…” She swallowed, realized that she was babbling, and shut her mouth. “I’m sorry, Mr. Shaughnessy. I don’t think that’s what you meant to ask, was it?”

“So let’s say that is the sun. Then where is the comet?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Mr. Shaughnessy. If that orange represents the sun, we here on Earth would be standing seventy-one feet away.” “Seventy-one?” he asked mildly. “Seventy-one point five eight three, by the last measure of the distance between the earth and the sun, but I try not to be pedantic. It makes people laugh at me.”

Yes, I adore her.

Plus, there’s this:

“I love you, Rose.” Patricia sighed. “And I know you’ll make a good marriage, one as brilliant as mine. But you have to remember that most of the men who look at you won’t be seeing you. They won’t see that you’re clever and amusing.” Her sister came forward and took Rose’s hand in her own. “They’ll see this.” She rubbed the back of Rose’s hand. Dark skin pressed against dark skin. “It doesn’t matter how respectably you dress or how much you insist. Most men will see only that you’re black and they’ll think you’re available. So please take care, Rose. I don’t wish you hurt.”

The hero, Stephen Shaughnessy is an Irish Catholic who everyone knows is a terrible flirt and a rake. He writes a regular column, Ask an Actual Man, for the Women’s Free Press, and has gotten quite the reputation from that.

“On a scale of wantonness that ranges from…” He paused, trying to think of a suitable analogy. “From multiplication to astronomical parallaxes,” he said, “embracing someone you care about while fully clothed ranks at about the arctangent level.”

“Oh, dear.”

And yes, race is addressed.

Have you thought about what it would mean to have black, Irish, Catholic children?” He blinked, slowly, and frowned. He really hadn’t thought about it.

But interestingly, it would NOT have been the same problem in England as it would have been in the US at that time.

While we don’t have statistics of this by race, by 1882, Britain had probably trained at least as many black doctors as there were dukes.

(From the Author’s note)

So, there is everything to love about this story–especially the geekiness.
Rating: 9.5/10

 

 

The Turner Series

 

Unveiled (2011)

unvieledSet in Somerset, August 1837

I started this and put it back down several times, because I was unsure about the premise. But I eventually got through the first chapter, and fell right into the story.

Margaret Dalrymple lost everything to Ash Turner–her home, her title, her legitimacy. So when she secretly remains to care for her father when Ash comes to the estate, she is looking for ways to defeat him and allow her and her brothers to take back their legitimacy.

Ash Turner is a self-made man, who discovered that the current Duke of Parford was a bigamist, and has become heir to the Dukedom–all for revenge against the Duke.

I truly could not see how this relationship was going to work out, which is what initially put me off, but then I discovered that Ash was actually a good man, and that Margaret would have reason to both fall in love with him and understand Ash’s grudge against her father.

If you gave people compliments, they tended to like you. If you confided in them, they were likely to trust you. And if you then asked for their help, they were yours forever. Of course, it helped that Ash genuinely liked almost everyone. People could sense that; it was as good as a master key on a housekeeper’s ring, opening up the affections of even the most recalcitrant of individuals.

The other thing I especially liked was that Ash can’t read. He’s dyslexic, and I was fascinated by how this worked in the story.

He must have realized how ridiculous he appeared, because he shook his head.

“No, madam,” he said. “There’s no problem here. We were having ourselves a friendly fight, we were—me and this book.”

I also liked Mark (the subject of the second book) who is writing a “Practical Guide to Male Chastity”.

I was thinking I ought to drag my brother with me to some of the society events this upcoming Season, so he can find a woman virtuous enough to satisfy his practical needs.”

“In point of fact,” Mark said dryly, “a wedding would be of little practical use, if she remained virtuous after marriage.”

But don’t think that Ash is completely virtuous. He will fight for what is his. Literally.

If you do, I won’t just steal your title and your lands. I will run any bank that holds your funds into the ground. I will bribe your servants to slip nettles into your bed. I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals.

OK, that last line just makes me giggle, because it is so horrible to contemplate.

The other thing I particularly liked was the explanation for why the Duke was such a horrible jerk. He isn’t a shallow evil character, but the product both of his past, and:

But he’s particularly a jerk—and almost childishly so in Unveiled—because of his medical history. Throughout the book, he’s having an ongoing series of transient ischemic attacks (sometimes called mini-strokes).

I really like that she put so much thought into how and why he would behave as he did.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1837

Ash Turner has succeeded beyond what anyone might have imagined, and his final goal is taking the Dukedom from the family of his distance relative–turning the man’s children into bastards in the process.

But Ash doesn’t care, because everything he does is for his family.

(D)espite his best efforts, his sister had died. A few months after that, Ash had left for India, determined to make his fortune and thus undo everything their mother had done.

But he’d left his brothers behind. He would never be able to forget the sick sensation he’d felt when he found Mark and Smite on his return, pale and thin, alone on the streets of Bristol. It had made so much sense to leave them. But nothing he did could repair what had happened to them in his absence. They wouldn’t even talk of those years, not to him.

That right there is reason number one why I adore Ash. He will do absolutely anything for his brothers.

Margaret is one of those who Ash has declared a bastard. So she has presented herself as her father’s nurse, in an attempt to find something terrible about Ash that would help her family’s case in court.

She too has suffered loss–the death of her mother after her marriage was voided.

Her mother had not been given to elaborate ceremony. But every birthday that Margaret could remember, the duchess had spent a few hours with her daughter. When she was four, they had planted a rosebush together. Her mother had given her thick gloves just for the occasion and let her pat the dirt in place under the careful auspices of the gardener. Every year thereafter, they’d added to the gardens—a slim beech tree one year, a profusion of tulip bulbs the next. But usually it was roses. They’d planted a different variety each year.

But this story is way more than that.

As always, there are vibrant secondary characters, and not just Ash’s brothers.

“There’s one last thing,” Mrs. Benedict said, coming to a halt. “I have standards for the conditions under which my girls must work.”

“In my London townhouse, I grant my servants a half day every week and a pair of full days each month.”

She let out a puff of air. “That’s not what I meant.” She squared her shoulders fiercely and then looked up. “I insist on this, Mr. Turner, as a condition of my employment. You and your brother are young, healthy males. I’ll not have you imposing on my girls. They’re from decent families. It’s not right to put them in a position where they can’t truly say no.”

Ah. Those sorts of working conditions. Ash had a feeling he was going to like Mrs. Benedict. “You won’t have to worry about my brother,” Ash said. Unfortunately. “As for myself, I didn’t get where I was by indulging my wants indiscriminately. Besides, I had a sister, too. I couldn’t use any woman so cavalierly without her memory intruding.”

Though of course Mark is a marvelous character.

“I’ve been wondering. You aren’t exactly teaching me to fight by gentleman’s rules, are you?”

He shrugged. “What use would that be? You’ll never need to use what I’m teaching you against a gentleman who follows the rules.”

But the best part of the story is of Ash’s struggle.

He unfolded her note gingerly. Only two short words on that paper, and a signature. Ash took a deep breath—it would have been idiotic to be nervous, and he tried to avoid idiocy—and read. Two short little words. He read them, one by one. I’m. Sorry. He read it again to be sure, and the second time it said the same thing: I’m sorry, plainly spelled out for anyone to see.

SPOILER

Ash has dyslexia. Everything he has done, he has done while barely being able to read. This struggle is heartbreaking–especially when it intrudes in Ash’s relationship with Mark.

Mark was different from agriculture. His book would naturally prove different. And Ash had made a promise. If he wanted it, he told himself, he would simply make it happen. There was no other choice.

Thus far, the force of his will had only managed to give him a raging headache. It shifted behind his eyes, the letters sliding off the page before he could pin them down, until all he wanted was to sleep—and he’d only managed to comprehend the first three syllables.

And this is what makes Ash such an incredible hero.

END SPOILER

Not that Margaret is a wilting flower, she’s also marvelous, but it’s Ash’s story that brings you to tears.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Entangled

Unlocked (2011)

unlockedSet in England in 1840.

Evan Carlton, Earl of Westfeld behaved so badly during Lady Elaine Warren first season that he left the country and spent 10 years on the continent mountain climbing.

Lady Elaine Warren was so badly bullied her first season that even ten years later she has not had any offers, and hates going to social events where her bullies, especially Diana, Lady Cosgrove will be. But she has refused to allow them to break her, and laughs loudly, despite the mocking she knows she’ll receive.

There are two things I had serious difficulty with in this story: 1) the mountain climbing 2) the bullying.

Because of that, I cannot fairly review this book, because I absolutely never want to read it again.

I did, however, adore Lady Elaine’s mother.

“And you danced three times.”

“Yes,” Elaine said uncomfortably. “I did.” She sighed. “At least that’s three times better than the last ball.”

Her mother set the brush down with a click. “No, it is infinity times better, the ratio of naught to three being boundless. If you continue to attract dance partners at an infinite rate, at the next ball you attend, every man in all of England will ask you to dance.”

Elaine smiled. “You’re being ridiculous, Mama.”

Her mother frowned. “Yes,” she finally admitted. “It is rather optimistic to extrapolate a geometrical trend from two data points.”

Published by Courtney Milan

Unclaimed (2011)

UnclaimedSet in London and Shepton Mallet, in 1841

Sir Mark Turner was knighted for his popular work on morality, however, neither he nor anyone else expected this popularity and what would come along with it–adoring crowds, jealous individuals, and random people trying to make money off his popularity.

Why was it that men had to take every good principle and turn it into some sort of a club? Why could nobody do the right thing on his own? And how had Mark gotten himself embroiled as the putative head of this one?

“I’m not a member of the Male Chastity Brigade,” Mark said, trying not to make his words sound like a rebuke. “I just wrote the book.”

For a moment, Tolliver simply stared at him in disbelief. Then he smiled. “Oh, that’s all right,” he said. “After all, Jesus wasn’t Church of England, either.”

I quite like Mark.

Really, Mrs. Farleigh. You must think that because I have never been in anyone else’s skin, I cannot be comfortable inside my own.”

I really really liked Mark.

“But, Sir Mark! She’s wearing scarlet. She made you give up your coat. You can’t really believe she’s an innocent. She…she could be a fallen woman!”

“There is no such thing as a fallen woman—you just need to look for the man who pushed her.”

“When someone falls,” Mark said, “you don’t throw her back down in the dirt. You offer her a hand up. It’s the Christian thing to do.”

Jessica Farleigh is a courtesan looking to retire from the life, and so she takes the challenge (and hopes for the reward) of knocking Mark Turner off his pedestal.

She wasn’t impossibly thin and delicate; nor was she extraordinarily buxom. Still, she somehow made every woman around her seem wrong and ill-proportioned by comparison. For just one second, Mark felt a wistful tug. Why doesn’t anyone ever try and foist women like her off on me instead?

Mark Turner has bought back his family’s childhood home, and looks to escape the crowds of London there.

From here, he could not make out individual words—just the rough lilt of Somerset farm country, a rise and fall that, from a distance, sounded like…home.

He hadn’t been back in more than twenty years. Long enough to lose the accent himself, long enough that his tongue felt too fast, too sharp in his mouth, an unwelcome, foreign invader in this familiar place.

I very much liked the idea of a courtesan heroine, especially paired with Mark’s ideals on chastity.

We also learn about the Turner’s mother–as her insanity played such a large part in how her sons developed. The things she did were horrifying, but they were also not unlikely–especially in a time where parents were generally allowed to do as they pleased with their children.

Again, the one thing I didn’t like is the boinking prior to marriage–not on a religious grounds, but because it just didn’t feel right for that character.

I can easily believe that Mark would accept Jessica as she was–that was very much in his character. I just have a hard time believing that he’d not wait until marriage.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1841

Mark Turner has been knighted by the queen for his book on Chastity for men. That single event has made him a super star–despite all his best efforts not to be one.

Why was it that men had to take every good principle and turn it into some sort of a club? Why could nobody do the right thing on his own? And how had Mark gotten himself embroiled as the putative head of this one?

“I’m not a member of the Male Chastity Brigade,” Mark said, trying not to make his words sound like a rebuke. “I just wrote the book.”

Jessica Farleigh is a courtesan who has realized she is no longer able to do the work to keep her off the streets. So she decides to take up the offer to seduce Mark Turner for 300 pounds. Except that doing so is going to be much harder than she expects.

She wasn’t impossibly thin and delicate; nor was she extraordinarily buxom. Still, she somehow made every woman around her seem wrong and ill-proportioned by comparison. For just one second, Mark felt a wistful tug. Why doesn’t anyone ever try and foist women like her off on me instead?

“There is no such thing as a fallen woman—you just need to look for the man who pushed her.”

“When someone falls,” Mark said, “you don’t throw her back down in the dirt. You offer her a hand up. It’s the Christian thing to do.”

What I especially like are the people who actually hear what Mark has been saying. Most people don’t hear, but some do.

Unbidden, Mark glanced across the lawn toward the knot of other contestants. He caught a glimpse of Mrs. Farleigh—a flash of a long gown of buttercup yellow with smart white cuffs.

“And you needn’t worry about her,” Tolliver continued innocently. “Dinah—Miss Lewis, I mean—has agreed to partner her. I did take what you said to heart.”

“Huh.” Perhaps the boy might actually have done so.

“And besides,” the young man continued, “Dinah wanted to talk with her. She wanted to know how she did her hair. Can you believe it?”

Also, there are these bits about rural life.

Technically, Mrs. Tatlock was only the letter carrier’s wife. She had no duties, collected no pay. But her husband was known to sometimes evade delivering the letters to the houses farthest out, particularly on fine summer days when he preferred to fish. She’d arranged a system where she would hold letters at the post office until her husband decided to deliver them—or the owner decided to pick them up, whichever came first.

I don’t like it as well as the first story in this series, but it’s still a good book, and despite being a rock star, Mark is eminently likable.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Entangled

Unraveled (2011)

UnraveledSet in Bristol. October 1843

Smite Turner is a very difficult person. First off, he was named Smite by his mother (or rather, a long biblical verse for which Smite was how it was shortened).

He is the most damaged of the brothers, Ash having escaped to go make his fortune, and Mark having been protected by his older brothers.

And Smite is very damaged.

But he is not a bad person, just one that cannot relate normally to others.

Smite knew he was being rude, retreating from the conversation as he was. But he had little truck with easy conversation. Nothing about him was easy; why should he pretend otherwise?

“Don’t think anything of that,” Miranda said, coming to stand by Smite. “For him, that was an apology on bended knee. Anything more than he just managed, and he’ll overload his sentimentality quota.”

Smite felt a touch of annoyance, and he yanked his hand away.

But (the man) gasped. “Never tell me he still has the sentimentality quota.”

Miranda’s look of surprise mirrored his. “Never tell me that the sentimentality quota truly exists.” The two of them exchanged shocked glances, and Smite found himself folding his arms across his chest.

Miranda Darling has been surviving in Bristol mostly by her wits. The daughter of actors, she was orphaned and had to make her way on her own–all the while carrying for a young boy who somehow ended up in her care.

The authors of heartwarming books apparently had no contact with actual adolescent boys. They weren’t kind. They didn’t know how to adore. They were just surly.

She hasn’t done anything truly illegal, but she is involved in a shadowy organization run by The Patron.

I very much liked the premise of this story. First, that Miranada was so willing to become a mistress to secure her future felt true to both her character and the times. (So I’m not ALWAYS against boinking prior to marriage in books.)

I also like how Smite was not miraculously healed of all of his issues by love. Yes, he does change, but he remains a difficult man who has many problems he will probably never get over.

Miranda leaned over to the other woman. “Despite his apparent fluency in the English language,” she said earnestly, “Smite lacks the capacity to express some very basic thoughts. Compliments that other people manage quite easily, like ‘My, you look lovely,’ or ‘I hope you don’t die tonight’ are quite difficult.”

I liked this story, and I liked Smite–damaged as he was.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: July 2017

Set in England in 1843.

Smite Turner is known as Lord Justice–a magistrate who takes his duties very seriously.

Billy Croggins licked his lips. “Lord Justice. Please. Have mercy.”

The man shook his head. “The proper form of address is ‘Your Worship.’”

Croggins frowned.

“In any event,” Lord Justice continued, “if the house had truly caught fire, you might have killed your daughter and your grandchildren.” He paused and looked round the room.

He stole the breath from his audience, packed a thousand years of expectation into those bare seconds. If this had been a performance, Miranda would have applauded the perfection of his timing. But this was no play, put on for public amusement. This was real.

Lord Justice looked back at the defendant. He spoke quietly, but his words carried in the waiting silence. “I am having mercy, Mr. Croggins. Just not on you. Not on you.”

It’s said his married to his job, and because of his past, that’s fine with him.

Smite woke, jerking upright, swallowing a shout on his lips. He could hear it ringing around him, and he felt that old sense of embarrassment. Not that it mattered; there was nobody else about. What servants he employed lived outside his home; he’d arranged matters that way for this very reason. He gulped breath and urged his heart to cease racing.

Smite knew he was being rude, retreating from the conversation as he was. But he had little truck with easy conversation. Nothing about him was easy; why should he pretend otherwise?

One of the things I particularly like about this story is that there are no stupid misunderstandings due to lack of communication.

She twirled her hair around her finger. “I assumed I would be better off telling you about this, rather than waiting for the entire thing to blow up in my face. You did ask for honesty, after all. It seemed to be a matter of basic common sense. When one is threatened by a shadowy criminal figure, one goes to the magistrate that shares one’s bed rather than the shadowy criminal figure.”

Published by Courtney Milan

 

The Worth Saga

 

Once Upon a Marquess (2015)

Once-Upon-a-MarquessSet in London in 1866

Judith Worth has been holding her siblings together as best she can, after there family was ruined by Christian Trent, the Marquess of Ashford. Except that Christian didn’t set out to ruin anyone, he just needed to do what was right.

One thing I particularly like about Courtney Milan’s characters is that they are often atypical. Christian would today have a tidy mental diagnosis, but in the 19th century, such behaviors were usually hidden by families, seen as scandals.

Demolition, then division: He’d separated the bits first by size, and when that seemed unsatisfying on some gut level, by deviation from roundness.

Then, he’d very carefully started eating— from the most irregularly shaped crumb toward the most symmetrical.

He was almost finished with the infuriatingly oblong bits when Judith came in.

The same goes for Judith’s sister Theresa (and we slowly learn the many sacrifices that Judith has because of and for Theresa).

There is so very much I like about her writing, especially the life lessons that are seemingly dropped at random.

People get upset for good reasons. Trying to cheer them up denies what is happening to them.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Christian set a hand on the seat between them. “It’s a way of recognizing their very legitimate feelings of distress and wishing that person well. You cannot reasonably think that it’s cruel to hope that an unhappy person will feel better.

And so many parts are just plain funny.

You know how gossip is. Go to a few parties. Dance with a few young ladies.” She shrugged. “Marry one of them, and nobody will ever speak ill of you again.”

Christian couldn’t help himself. He burst into laughter. Well, at least he’d tried to be serious. “Go to a few parties. Dance a few dances. Commit yourself in a public, binding ceremony to another person for the rest of your life. One of these things is rather different in scope than the others, don’t you think?”

“We represent the British Empire,” Christian said, watching her. “Embroiling ourselves in conflicts where we do not belong is our imperial business.”

Interestingly, although this being a romance, I knew the main characters were going to work things out, but I had a very difficult time seeing how things were going to work out, so she did a good job keeping me guessing.

Especially since nothing turned out as I was expecting.

One thing, however, I did not like was that they story–the Epilogue, specifically “After the Epilogue” is a giant cliff hanger. I suppose that it was a cleaner ending than leaving that bit unresolved, but I didn’t like it. I prefer things to be vaguely unresolved with a hope of resolution in the future than a cliffhanger.

But aside from that, it was an enjoyable story.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Re-Read: August 2017

Set in England in 1866.

Judith Worth has been raising her brother and sister since her father and eldest brother were convicted of treason. Since that conviction cost them their fortune, it has been a struggle–especially since they didn’t know how to do anything for themselves.

Additionally, her youngest sister is… difficult.

Some people thought Theresa stupid. She wasn’t, not remotely. She was just the kind of clever that cared so little for what others thought that it was often mistaken for stupidity. When she could make herself sit still long enough to read, she understood everything. But she was always distracted— or, at least, she was always distracting herself. She’d been difficult from the moment she was born.

Christian Trent is the Marquess of Ashford, childhood friend of the Worths, and responsible for finding the evidence of the treason of Judith’s father and brother.

He also has his own difficulties.

His business had been the demolition of pastry into its constituent crumbs. Demolition, then division: He’d separated the bits first by size, and when that seemed unsatisfying on some gut level, by deviation from roundness.

Then, he’d very carefully started eating— from the most irregularly shaped crumb toward the most symmetrical.

He was almost finished with the infuriatingly oblong bits when Judith came in.

Also, he has a marvelous sense of humor.

“Sometimes, it’s downright cruel to crack jokes. People get upset for good reasons. Trying to cheer them up denies what is happening to them.”

“No, it doesn’t.” Christian set a hand on the seat between them. “It’s a way of recognizing their very legitimate feelings of distress and wishing that person well. You cannot reasonably think that it’s cruel to hope that an unhappy person will feel better. It’s like saying ‘my sincerest condolences’ at a funeral.”

I absolutely love how her characters are rarely perfect. Not that the hero and heroine don’t see each other as perfect–but they have quirks and issues like normal people, which make them, to me, tremendously lovable.

I also love the secondary characters, and the interactions with the main characters that brings more life to all.

It was a curious friendship, the one Judith had with Daisy, but that didn’t make it any less dear. Theirs was not the sort of friendship where they told each other the truth. The truth was hard and nearly impossible to bear; talking about it would not make it any easier.

I also love the seemingly throw-away bits that make the story more complex, such as Judith’s description of her father.

My father was difficult; I never knew him well. Before he inherited the earldom, he was in the army. After, he was gone for years on end for his ambassadorial duties. When he returned from his last stint in India, he was… odd. He developed some exceedingly strange notions.” She couldn’t look at him. “He served in too many wars before he inherited the earldom unexpectedly.

Plus, I love the glimpses into society.

You know how gossip is. Go to a few parties. Dance with a few young ladies.” She shrugged. “Marry one of them, and nobody will ever speak ill of you again.”

Christian couldn’t help himself. He burst into laughter. Well, at least he’d tried to be serious. “Go to a few parties. Dance a few dances. Commit yourself in a public, binding ceremony to another person for the rest of your life. One of these things is rather different in scope than the others, don’t you think?”

Well, society and Christian’s sense of humor.

ALSO:

Given the work recently done by John Snow and Louis Pasteur, Christian suspected that a central repository of aging water was more likely to be a hotbed of disease than health. But then, nobody had asked him.

I don’t think this book is quite as good as the books in the Brothers Sinister series, but it is still very good and well-worth reading.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Courtney Milan

Her Every Wish (2016)

Set in England in 1866

This is a novella in the Worth Saga, and follows after Once Upon a Marquess.

Daisy Whitlaw is struggling to keep herself and her mother housed and fed. Everyone tells her to let her mother go, that she can’t support the two of them, but Daisy won’t abandon her mother, and so works hard enough for both of them.

Because she wants something more, she enters a contest for entrepreneurs–present a business proposition and the winner gets 50 pounds.

Crash is a man of color, although no one is quite sure who is father was or where he came from–they just know he was a sailor.

My grandmother was born a slave on the island of Tortola. She accompanied the trader who held her on his voyages as… never mind. One day, a mile from the shore of England, she jumped overboard.”

“Why?”

He managed a short, frowning glance. “Because slavery was not recognized in England,” he said shortly. “She couldn’t swim. She made it to shore anyway. At the time, she was pregnant with my aunt.”

Daisy looked up at him. “When people hear ‘dock whore,’ they imagine some poor specimen of a woman who wanders up and down the wharf, thinking of nothing but her next john. My grandmother took in laundry. She sewed. She did all these things for sailors, and one of them fell in love with her. How could he not?” He smiled. “The only people who called her a whore were ladies who had no other words for a poor woman with a prior bastard child. My grandfather was an Indian lascar who had been abandoned in London by a shipping company because he had injured his knee. No clergy would solemnify their marriage. It didn’t lessen the affection in it. The gentry saw her as nothing but a prostitute.

I started this book several times, and never got more than a few pages in, but after having reread Once upon a Marquess, decided to give it another try.

This story went all kinds of places I wasn’t expecting, from the contest to Crash’s proud acknowledgement.

I’m the scion of three generations of dock whores and sailors.

It’s marvelous and heart-breaking all at the same time.

I think what I liked best about this story was how Daisy ended up with her HEA–not just Crash, but her life on her own terms.
Rating: 7.5

Published by Courtney Milan

 

 

Proof by Seduction (2010)

Proof-by-SeductionSet in London in April 1838

Jenny Keeble has set herself up as a fortuneteller, and has done well for herself, until Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely shows up with his cousin Ned.

Blakely believes in nothing that he cannot see and touch. And he really does not believe in Madame Esmeralda.

“Ned, how can I assist you today?”

Ned beamed at her. “Well. Blakely and I have been arguing. He doesn’t think you can predict the future.”

Neither did Jenny. She resented sharing that belief.

“We’ve agreed—he’s going to use science to demonstrate the accuracy of your predictions.”

“Demonstrate? Scientifically?” The words whooshed out of her, as if she’d been prodded in the stomach. Jenny grasped the table in front of her for support. “Well. That would be…” Unlikely? Unfortunate? “That would be unobjectionable. How shall he proceed?”

I really didn’t like Blakely. Even when we learn why he was who he was, I still didn’t like him, although I did feel sorry for him.

Then he’d been silent too long, an entire species of error in its own right.

“Very well.” Laura’s voice trembled. “Double it. I don’t care.”

Nothing had changed since she was four except the chairs. He was still ruining everything.

I did, however, like Jenny and her compassion for Ned–that was probably the best part of the story.

This is Courtney Milan’s first book, and I admit that if I’d read this first, I wouldn’t have been tempted to pick up another by her, but I can see glimpses of what I have come to very much like about her writing.

She stiffened in shock. In those first delicate seconds, he almost pulled away. Then she folded into his embrace. To his surprise, he found that the cold really did flow out of him. And it didn’t go into Laura. Instead, her sobs quieted to soft hiccups. They thawed each other. Newton would have been flabbergasted. This kind of energy was not conserved.

It wasn’t horrible, but it also wasn’t for me.

Published by Entangled