Wrapping up her brilliant Brothers Sinister series, the novella Talk Sweetly to Me, wisely centers on one of Milan’s most charming characters: Stephen Shaughnessy. Readers know him as the sole male writer for the newspaper in the penultimate book in the series, The Suffragette Scandal. An irreverent iconoclast, he makes an unlikely suitor for an astronomer’s computer (mathematician) and also the perfect one to help her seize her chance at happiness on her own terms. Courtney Milan continues to play with tropes and write spectacular prose, but I found Talk Sweetly to Me fell short and despite some powerful and entertaining moments, the story never quite gelled.
Living with her pregnant sister to provide support in her husband’s absence, Rose Sweetly has a quiet life that she hopes to keep that way. Her appealing neighbour, satirist and bon vivant Stephen Shaughnessy, keeps disrupting her peaceful life by his very existence, proximity, and sincere flirtation. Rose knows the price she could pay with her family and in society for walking out with such a man, but he is persistent, even following her to work to hire her as a tutor to “help” him with an article he is writing.
I liked Rose and Stephen individually and was happy when I found out he would have his own story. It was almost enough to overlook the borderline inappropriate persistence he showed in pursuing the object of his affection. Rose does her best to resist, taking the role she is told she may have in life and then quietly succumbs to Stephen’s well-intended and honourable overtures.
Milan has a special gift for writing spectacularly appropriate romantic gestures for her characters, one of which, in A Kiss for Midwinter, might be the most romantic thing I have ever read. She does not let her readers down in Talk Sweetly to Me either. Between that and the marvelous way her writing carries you into the story, I almost forgot the seemingly insurmountable obstacles these characters face. Romance novels are built around the notion of “you and me against the world” and this is rarely so true as it will be for this pairing.
On a side note, and I can’t believe I am saying this either, I think Milan rushed the consummation.
A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.