I’m deep in the annuls of Audible’s Romance Package (so much fun!), so I’ve taken a break from my challenge to read whatever the hell I want. Courtney Milan it is, then!
I’ve never read any of her books before, and I must say that I really enjoy her. Her books are fun and lighthearted without feeling overly flippant or silly. And yes, my flavor of choice is Fantastical Lands in the form of Regency England with Two Slightly Misfitted but Still Attractive People Reluctantly Find Love With Each Other. So here I am! And it was fun!
What’s more is that the women in the books almost unanimously received the No Idiot Award, a prestigious accolade I give out to only sensible and decisive characters.
Courtney Milan, you are officially on my Go-To List.
The Governess Affair
Series: Brothers Sinister #0.5
Her: dismissed governess, educated, strong, pregnant out of wedlock.
Him: former pugilist, current steward of a self-indulgent, asshole duke.
Meetcute: she refuses to leave the front step of the duke’s estate, wanting restitution for being sexually assaulted by the duke (to the point of pregnancy) while she was a governess. He is tasked by the duke to get rid of her. They share a pleasant conversation when they first meet, she not realizing he is her enemy.
Rating: Super yay!
I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Man, did I enjoy this novella. Remember how I say I don’t like a) novellas, and b) prequels? Two strikes against it, and still this book charmed me!
I don’t know how Milan fit in all that backstory into one novella. I didn’t feel cheated out of character development like I usually do with shorter novels. The only thing that felt rushed is the conclusion of the tale, but I supposed the duke showed himself to be a weak, awful man, so I guess it makes sense that the story was easily wrapped up.
And, oh! Everything else! Such sweetness! I admired her strength, his patience, and the simmering attraction they had despite the odds. This wasn’t a enemies-to-lovers story, so you don’t have to worry about the always confusing “i hate you so much I love you!” tripe. Our hero doesn’t like the duke at all, so he takes a very pragmatic approach to it all, and looks for the most expedient solution.
Our hero is a slow talking, always coolheaded, methodical, working-man type with big ambitions to get out of the cycle of poverty. I kept picturing a younger, more attractive Brendan Coyle (from Downton Abbey and North and South), though the text gave me no indication he looked like him.
And who is this strapping, fine figure of a man that has be the model for my latest romance novel? This guy:
Yes, the rabble rousing factory worker (who i think was toothless in the novel) and head of the factory worker’s union from the miniseries adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South is my working-man fantasy. He probably smells like social justice and good, honest labor.
I have a funny story about Coyle (the actor). Though I had seen him in N&S before watching Downton Abbey, but I didn’t know I was attracted to him until a couple of episodes into Downton, when I asked myself, who am I most attracted to in this show? Amidst the bustle of the upstairs/downstairs world, with starry eyed young footman to pragmatic young doctors to fancy pants slick gentlemen, the one person I was interested in was Coyle’s character: the old valet with a limp.
When he started hooking up with that (clearly much younger) blonde woman, part me was like, there’s a big age gap here, and part of me was like, “she gets it.”
Though I was very much in love with Richard Armitage at the time, the lasting impression I got from Coyle in North and South was, “swagger and a peek of chest hair.”
And apparently proud, hardworking working-men are his speciality, because he was also that in Lark Rise to Candleford! #peekofchesthair
Back to the book.
The wedding night was SOOOO SWEET because he was really considerate towards her about her horrible experience with the duke. They played a game of favors, and then he gave all his favors to her. Dawwww!
The duke was a surprisingly fleshed out bad guy. You saw such a different part of him than you see of him in the first novel. You really see his weakness and self-obsession.
So, within this novella, we have a strong woman, a patient and pragmatic man, a fleshed out bad guy, radical consent, and the finer points of the results of sexual abuse, worthy of the #metoo era. I even got a little teary eyed in the end.
The Duchess War
Series: Brothers Sinister #1
Her: quiet, unassuming companion to a debutante, wears glasses, and has a secret past of being a chess champion!
Him: almost naive, well meaning (virgin!) duke with radically iconoclastic views, secretly dispersing unionizing handbills.
Meetcute: bump into each other in a library while they are escaping the party. She decides to blackmail him in order to keep her secret past hidden.
Dawwww! He’s a VIRGIN! Omylord.
He didn’t want to be like his philandering father, and never found the right moment to uh, give away his V card, so to speak. And, unlike some more fantastical romances, his lack of experience leads to a just..not..good.. first time. But then she pipes up, “uh can I suggest some things?” Forthright female to the rescue!
Our heroine was the first book that made me realize Milan might be a No Idiot Awardee. Our heroine is SMART. She understands strategy, and she is always one step ahead of the hero.
When they go toe-to-toe, I mentally jump up and down in glee. I haven’t been this excited about a book in a MINUTE (that’s “Southern” for a long time).
My podcast cohost Ilana and I usually disagree about the battle of wills trope. When pairing a battle of wills with romance, the plot is a slippery slope to nonconsenty issues, and Ilana is all about consent. I have a harder time because I love the push and pull, and I love a good bout of verbal jousting. But this was a battle of wills about something other than romance, so it was a lot of fun to see.
Also, surprisingly, though our heroine is somewhat of a misfit, her friend is a side character that manages to be charming, optimistic, and cheerful without being a real bimbo. I hate lazy writing, when pretty girls are automatically rivals or superficial. The Optimist is usually either an ingenue (good) or bimbo (bad). However, this woman has a reason why she is optimistic: she had a miscarriage out of wedlock and has been given a second chance for her happiness, so she is DETERMINED to make the most out of it.
There are intricacies about that outlook that has problems, of course, but we get to explore that in the next novella!
A Kiss for Midwinter
Brothers Sinister #1.5
Her: purposefully optimistic. charming debutante with a secret miscarriage in her past
Him: sarcastic, acerbic, growly young doctor
Meetcute: he was apprenticing with the doctor called in to examine our heroine when she was first pregnant. She remembers him from that time and hates him. He insta-loves her, and, in an effort to spend more time with her, bets her that she will lose her sunny disposition after she spends a day with him while he makes his calls.
I’m NOT crying YOU’RE crying!!!
I LIKED this perky, cute debutante. That is just really surprising to me. And I LOVED the doctor, of course, but no big surprise there. He’s exactly what I love: sarcastic, growly with an inner extra squooshy inside. He takes care of his father! Who is, yet again, a full character though he is a side character. The massively flawed, yet charming dying man steals your heart, with room to spare for the main characters’s love story.
AND it’s a novella.
The tension is great. Our heroine thinks that the hero doctor is making fun of her at every turn because she thinks he remembers her from the night she was diagnosed as pregnant. He doesn’t, and everything he says is achingly truthful. The wonderful things he says about her falls on deaf ears because she assumes he is being sarcastic.
“You may have noticed that I am a man with particular faults…”
His favorite saying. I love when they have favorite sayings!
And then there’s the moment where he reveals that the doctor probably prescribed her a drug that was meant to kill the baby, her, or both, and OMG THE TENSION. I done ’bout cried at that.
Well, they end up together at the end. An unlikely pair, almost too unlikely, but whatevs. On the next!
The Heiress Effect
Brothers Sinister #2
Her: unlikely heiress bent on avoiding marriage by being extremely obnoxious and wearing hideous dresses. Has an epileptic sister that she is trying to protect from their uncle’s crackpot doctors. Whip smart and enjoys her infamous status.
Him: bastard son of a duke, raised legitmate by commoners (book 0.5’s couple) and given an education. Stalwart, noble, cautious. Angling to be Prime Minister.
Meetcute: an political ally wants him to publicly humiliate her for being so uppity. He hangs around her, trying to decide if he wants to do it.
Usually I like noble bastards/second sons but our hero was JUST SO WISHYWASHY. YUCK.
She was fun, though. She parades around in these blindingly bright and over the top dresses and purposely says the rudest things under the guise of being completely lackwitted, but she’s actually very smart. And, you find out later, she loves it! Her favorite color is fuscheen (fuschia+sheen), a manufactured blinding pink. Points given for the character staying true to herself after the conflict is resolved, and continues to wear outrageous outfits.
I also liked her sister, who has epilepsy, and her beau the Indian lawyer.
Overall, however, least favorite.