Tag Archives: Brothers Sinister

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

HISTORICAL Romance

  1. Ashley, Jennifer Scandal and the Duchess  – enjoyable
  2. Dare, Tessa The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright  – fantastic
  3. Dare, Tessa Beauty and the Blacksmith – fun, bring your willing suspension of disbelief
  4. Duran, Meredith Your Wicked Heart  – such fun
  5. Grant, Cecilia A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong – very good
  6. Hoyt, Elizabeth The Ice Princess – nice version of a common trope
  7. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter CLASSIC as a novella and of the genre

CONTEMPORARY Romance

  1. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date CLASSIC new adult, a perfect novella
  2. Richland, Anna His Road Home – contemporary, wounded soldier coming home

PARANORMAL Romance  – Not my cup of tea, but it could help you determine if it is yours.

  1. Cole, Kresley The Warlord Wants Foreverplenty of THUNDER SEX™!

I also have a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list: So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance.

Links to my reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Courtney Milan’s Catalogue

The Themes: Don’t let anyone tell you who you are, only you get to decide that. Fear is a waste of energy and

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HISTORICAL ROMANCES

The Carhart Series:
This Wicked Giftwonderful, sweet
Proof by Seduction – for completists, you can see her potential
Trial by Desire – one of only two Milan books I don’t recommend

The Turner Brothers Series:
Unveiled – This is the romance novel hero I would marry, given that choice.
Unclaimed – She’s the rake in need of reformation.
Unraveled – great and a personal favourite
Unlocked – a bullied woman finds peace

The Brothers Sinister Series:
The Governess Affair – very good novella
The Duchess War great
A Kiss for Midwinter (novella)– CLASSIC and an absolute favourite
The Heiress Effect – the secondary plot was lovely
The Countess Conspiracy fantastic
The Suffragette Scandal CLASSIC
Talk Sweetly to Me (novella) – good not great

The Worth Saga: Starting 2015
Once Upon a Marquess – nah
Her Every Wish novella – excellent
After the Wedding
The Devil Comes Courting
The Return of the Scoundrel
The Kissing Hour
A Tale of Two Viscounts
The Once and Future Earl

Independent Historical Novellas:
The Lady Always Wins – fair
What Happened at Midnight – fair
A Right Honorable Gentleman – short story, interesting
The Pursuit Of… – historical, LGBTQ, good

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCES

The Cyclone Series:
Trade Mevery good
Hold MeGREAT! Better on each re-read.
The Year of the Crocodile (novella) – quick, entertaining, placeholder story
Find Me
Keep Me
Show Me
What Lies Between Me and You

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The Brothers Sinister Series: Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

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.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

 

The Brothers Sinister Series: The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan

The Suffragette Scandal is an instant classic and a master work of romantic fiction.

In a genre that wallows in cultural necrophilia, you have to love characters fighting actively against the  aristocracy and existing power structures. Or at least I do. Apparently, so does author Courtney Milan because she is doing it again in a novel that is easily one of the best historical romances ever written and one that simultaneously subverts and embraces the genre. Never afraid to beat romance tropes about the head and shoulders, The Suffragette Scandal, like The Countess Conspiracy before it, takes feminism and themes of identity and wraps a love story around them.

In 1877 Cambridgeshire, Frederica Marshall, Free to her friends, runs a newspaper that is, by, for, and about women and the issues they face, much like the romance genre. A radical who has chosen her battles carefully, she is the target of derision and efforts to silence her. Into Free’s life walks Edward Clark. He approaches her with a warning that someone is trying to sabotage her and an offer to help stop him. He makes it clear that he is not doing so out of altruism, he claims to be incapable of it, but because the enemy of his enemy is his friend. Already aware of the challenge Edward mentions, she decides to trust him even when he says she shouldn’t. Free knows better than Edward. She knows better full stop.

Free’s current problem comes in the form of Lord James Delacey, a man whose overtures she had the temerity to reject. It would seem farcical that a man should react so extremely to rejection, if we didn’t know that it is sometimes so sadly true. A woman standing up when virtually the whole world is telling her to sit down, Free makes a convenient public target for Delacey’s ire:“That’s precisely it. You said no, so that is what I am giving you. No newspaper, no voice, no reputation, no independence.”

Spending her life lighting candles against the darkness, Free is a magnificent character. Sanguine and undaunted, she hides none of her intelligence and knows she should not have to. She is not naive, she knows what she faces, but she has decided who she will be and acts accordingly. Her choices have a price she is willing to pay and she finds strength in small victories and in laying the groundwork for the victories to come, even the ones she knows she will never see. Her swain is one of those alluring rogues one encounters in romance. Edward has a disaffected view of the world and of himself, but he is also heartbreaking, appealing, and understandable. As a younger man, he tried to stand up and was forced down so violently that he tells himself he has withdrawn from considerations of right and wrong. Free makes him see that “maybe pessimism was as much a lie as optimism” and in each other they find a suitable partner to stand against the world with.

I cannot possibly do The Suffragette Scandal justice. It is everything a romance novel can be when giving full rein to the genre’s central tenet of a woman’s right to self-determination and in conjunction with Milan’s undoubtedly masterful skills as a writer. It’s a glorious homage to the brave and quiet warriors of the world insisting on what is right. It’s romantic. It’s funny and moving and entertaining. It’s on sale now and you should buy it.

Reviewer’s Note: As a captious reader (I maintain a list), I want to give kudos to Milan for the little details, too, such as the fact that Free’s long hair is held up by nineteen pins instead of the usual two, and, although Free is “small but mighty”, Edward acknowledges that their height difference makes kissing somewhat awkward.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

The Brothers Sinister Series: The Governess Affair and The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

As The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are Victorian romances by Courtney Milan, you can simply assume that, after providing the standard review content, I am going to encourage you to read them and virtually everything else she has published. Thematically, her stories focus on the questions of identity: Who are you? Who does society say you are? Who do you want to be? Romance tropes are flipped or shaken and Milan crafts lovely and heartfelt stories. Moreover, they contain social commentary and an unusually honest view of  the era they depict, as well as of modern mores. Courtney Milan is amazing like that. She is the best romance writer currently publishing and quickly becoming one of the all-time greats in the genre.

The Governess Affair

Setting up the Brothers Sinister series, The Governess Affair is about the coming together of Serena Barton and Hugo Marshall. She was assaulted by her former, and his current, employer, the Duke of Clermont. Serena is staging a sit in on a bench outside of the Duke’s London residence insisting on reparations in the form of financial support for herself and the Duke’s unborn child. Tasked with removing this inconvenience is the Duke’s man of business, Hugo Marshall. They quickly discover that in any other circumstance, they would be rushing to a vicar. Because of the complications of Hugo’s employment and Serena’s pregnancy, their union faces stumbling blocks before it can begin. Serena has already decided who she wants to be and what she is willing to do to become that person. Hugo takes a little longer, but gets to where he needs to be as well.

Story threads beyond Serena and Hugh’s sweet relationship are created in The Governess Affair. What is a triumph for the protagonists has repercussions for both Oliver, their son, and his brother, Robert, the next Duke of Clermont. He just happens to be the hero of the next book in the series.

The Duchess War

Not only has Minerva Lane been told who she is, she has participated in her own belittlement. A lioness terrified of her yearning to roar, her tightly laced corset is the perfect metaphor for the compression of her spirit. When she encounters Robert Blaisdale, Duke of Clermont, at a social event, he witnesses her frustration and gets a glimpse of the formidable woman she hides. Thrown together repeatedly by their political interests and Robert’s fascination, he and Minnie find their way towards each other as much as they do into themselves. He is a Duke with no use for the peerage, she is a woman fighting for security on her own terms, and neither can resist the challenge the other one represents. The limitations imposed on and accepted by Milan’s characters are front and center for Robert and Minnie. They both want so much and are so afraid, often very reasonably, to reach and fail that they both have to find ways to stand up and together.

Both of The Governess Affair and The Duchess War are fantastic and I encourage you to read them and virtually everything else Courtney Milan has published. Minnie’s best friend, Lydia, is featured in the wonderful novella, A Kiss for Midwinter, that follows immediately on the heels of the latter novel. The Duchess War is a great romance, A Kiss for Midwinter is a classic of the genre and one of my top five romances of all time.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

The Brothers Sinister Series: The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

The Countess Conspiracy is a feminist treatise wrapped in a historical romance. It made me cry. I have read scores romances in the past two years. I have laughed, swooned, scoffed, gasped, cackled, writhed, and sighed, but I have NEVER cried. What’s more, I did not cry over the romance, I cried over the gender politics. Once again, Courtney Milan has upended the tropes of the genre and crafted something tremendously entertaining that rises above the theoretical limitations she works within.

Violet, Countess of Cambury, and her dearest friend, Sebastian Malheur, have been keeping secrets from each other and from the world for many years. As the story opens, Sebastian has decided that he can no longer lie, not about the fact that he loves Violet, nor to continue his scientific work on her behalf. He is tired of secrets and exhausted from the hostility and derision their work is greeted with. Sebastian is a bright, kind, charming man, but while romances frequently come down to the hero, The Countess Conspiracy is not really about him, despite his strong subplot, or even the two of them together. This is Violet’s book. Milan blends the love story with an examination of society’s limitations, the roles we play, the restrictions we create on our own lives, and the prices we pay when we struggle against them.

A splendidly complicated, strong, and wounded character, Violet is closed-off and abnegating, brilliant and driven. She has been told by others for so long who she is that Violet has begun to believe them and, worse, believe that she must be this way to survive. She broke my heart. Her world that tells her very clearly what a woman, a woman of worth, must and must not be. What is considered good, proper, and natural, and what will happen if any woman, even one of privilege, transgresses against these rules. Violet’s story is about the perception of oneself and the fear those rules create, and the strength it takes to defy them.

The story makes its way towards a happy ending. Milan’s writing is clever, well-researched, and diverting as always, her characters well-drawn and visits to old favourites included. In the past, she has taken on poverty, the class system, and even women’s health issues. Not every book is superlative, but when she’s good, she is one of the very best historical romance writers ever. To my mind, Lisa Kleypas is one of the genre’s master craftsmen, but Courtney Milan is an artist. If you want to read a superior, entertaining, and heartfelt romance, read The Countess Conspiracy. Was it entirely realistic? No, but it is still a romance and its escapist vindications need not be only in the relationship sphere. Was it wonderfully romantic? Not quite, but the decline in swoon was made up for by the excellence of the other story elements and the fist pumping I engaged in while reading. Read The Countess Conspiracy, read the Dedication, and read the Author’s Note. It is Milan’s most fully realised work so far and I am saying that with the addendum that I feel she has already written one truly great romance, Unraveled, and one classic, A Kiss for Midwinter.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

The Brothers Sinister Series: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

If you want to try a historical romance, I recommend Courtney Milan’s books the most highly, but not this particular one. Nobody’s perfect and it does open splendidly…

Miss Jane Fairfield has a number of problems, but they can be boiled down to the fact that she a. is very wealthy and therefore marriageable and b. has a younger sister she needs to protect from a rather dim and unscrupulous uncle. In order to avoid marriage and protect her sister, but still give the impression she is trying to find a husband, Jane takes it upon herself to be available but undesirable. It is quite a balancing act. She must repel suitors, but not openly reject them. To accomplish this, she is meticulously awful: loud, ill-mannered, horrifically but seemingly unintentionally impolite, and hideously upholstered in garish clothing.

The Heiress Effect novel begins strongly. It is fremdschämen in chapter form.  Jane is doing her best to be inappropriate and seemingly oblivious to the mocking laughter behind her back. She attends a dinner party and meets Oliver Marshall, an ambitious young man of equally questionable background who simply refuses to participate in unkindness toward Jane, even when given the opportunity to gain his own political ends if he helps put the bright and brave upstart “in her place”.

My reaction to the novel is a disappointed, “Oh, dear”. Courtney Milan is the very best writer currently publishing in historical romance. The. Very. Best. But The Heiress Effect is a bit of a mess. A very well-written and compelling mess, but a mess with structural and character issues nonetheless. It feels like a fabulous novella that other story lines have been slotted into, or perhaps one that simply got away from the author. The extra plot lines were interesting, and the one for Jane’s sister could have been a lovely novella in and of itself, but they didn’t coalesce successfully. The lead characters were kept apart for too long and Jane behaved in a way that contradicted her earlier actions. I was actually gaping whathefu*kingly at my Kindle.

Such is my faith in Courtney Milan’s writing ability that I  went back and re-read portions of The Heiress Effect, hoping the problem was how quickly I had read it. I came to the same conclusions, but assume Milan could have resolved the problems, if she had more time. I suspect that the publishing schedule that many romance authors keep to of one book every six to nine months and her promised publication date was the real issue here.

Courtney Milan is fascinated by medical history and it always makes for interesting and galling story developments, in this case with themes of women’s rights and personal empowerment. Also, she deserves some sort of award for writing stories that take place in neither London nor Bath, the two default locations for all nineteenth century historical romance.

A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.