Review of "The Heiress Effect" (Brothers Sinister #2) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Heiress Effect. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2013.

eBook | $4.99 (also part of the $9.99 Brothers Sinister Box Set) | 978-1937248154 |280 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Thus far, Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series can more or less be summed up with the words “consistently brilliant.” Building on the backstory of The Governess Affair and Oliver’s introduction as a supporting character in The Duchess War, The Heiress Effect fleshes him out, adding to what we know about his backstory, who, inspired by his past, wants to become involved in politics to give the common people a voice. The struggle between “ambition vs. love” that was a thread in his father’s story is key to his narrative as well, as he falls for someone completely unsuitable.

I already liked Oliver as seen from Robert’s perspective, but I like him as a character in his own right as well. I like that he wants to make something of himself to make things better for others. And while he does have a bit of short-sightedness, feeling he can’t be with Jane, even telling her so in a somewhat cavalier manner, I felt like he grew to the point of understanding that what she means to him is more important than having an impeccable reputation.

Jane is a wonderful heroine. It was great seeing how she was sure of who she was, and that she actually embraced being a failure in society, to the point of exaggerating it. And when the reason for rejecting convention, her relationship with her sister, whose well-being she fears for in the care of their uncle, I truly admired her.

I also like that Milan managed to balance a secondary romance plot without the book feeling too bulky, or without deviating from the central plot with Oliver and Jane. Emily is such a wonderful character, who is determined to live her life to the fullest in spite of having epilepsy, and I loved the romance she had with Anjan.

And speaking of which…I love Milan’s dedication to adding diversity in her books in a way that is respectful to the various cultures and/or identities she’s writing about. In this case, Anjan is an incredibly well-written character, and it led to me learning something about the real life inspiration for his character as well.

This is a wonderful second full novel in the Brothers Sinister series, and I heartily recommend it to any historical romance fan who hasn’t picked it up yet.

The Heiress Effect: https://amzn.to/3amlCQv

Brothers Sinister Box Set: https://amzn.to/2FZgmEn

Review of "Unraveled" (Turner #3) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. Unraveled. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1536983678 | 325 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

Unraveled is my least favorite in the Turner series, but that doesn’t mean it’s not objectively a good book…I just preferred elements of the previous two more. While it’s an earlier book of hers, Milan already showed signs of mastering her craft with an awareness of the unique heroes and heroines she wanted to write, and self-publishing giving her an avenue to have full creative control.

I love the depth she gave to Smite’s work as magistrate, likely drawing somewhat on her own legal background, without the story feeling too heavy handed and bashing the reader over the head with legal-speak. And while he’s another emotionally scarred hero, I like that, while he presents himself as being a bit emotionally detached, it’s not something he lets define him, which is particularly obvious when he makes a statement about not being “broken.”

A hallmark of Milan’s stories seems to be perfectly balancing the romance with family dynamics, and that’s the case here as well, especially given Smite’s uneasy relationship with Ash, due to what happened in the past. However, there’s also adorableness, particularly between him and Mark and a certain puppy…

I enjoyed seeing him bond with Miranda, first physically, then emotionally. I wasn’t massively drawn to Miranda herself, although I admired her dedication to the young boy in her care, and how that factored into the relationship between her and Smite.

While not one of my personal favorites, I can’t deny there’s quite a bit to love here. And while I don’t know that I’d start here with Courtney Milan, I would recommend it to someone who is exploring her backlist a bit more, perhaps after reading at least the other two novels in the series.

Holiday Novellas Wrap-Up

In honor finally getting an eReader (Nook Glowlight 3), I stocked up on a lot of eBooks, including free and discounted holiday books. I tried to get to some of the holiday themed ones, in light of not really having much holiday reading prior to Christmas. I also think it solves the issue of how to post and share my novella reviews, since most are too short to justify individual posts. Note that, while most books will be related to the holiday season, there are a few that aren’t for…reasons. 

12/25-The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky by Mackenzi Lee. (Hardcover), 3 stars: Borrowed from the library prior to receiving my Nook, it was one of the short books I squeezed in between Lady Darby 2 and 3. It’s kind of an extended epilogue taking place after The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and as the title implies, it surrounds Monty and Percy’s first time. It’s fun, and it’s great to see those characters again, but it’s not exactly the most engaging and substantial story. But then again, I didn’t really expect it to be. 

12/25-Miss Compton’s Christmas Romance by Sophie Barnes (EBook), 4 stars: Sophie Barnes is one of my favorite authors, and, despite it being a shorter story, she still more or less shines. With her now firmly finding her feet in self-publishing, it’s nice to see her exploring the world outside the aristocracy, with both Leonora and Philip being such solid, nice working-class people, and one of many books out there that prove you don’t need pots of money to be happy ever after. 

12/26-The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan (EBook), 5 stars: An excellent an emotionally moving prequel to the Brothers Sinister series. While I understood the gist of it from The Duchess War, reading about the crimes committed against Serena by the previous Duke of Clermont was heartbreaking, as was the fact the Hugo is so sweet. Torn between trying to make something of himself through his work for the duke and his growing love for Serena, I was so deeply invested in his arc, and overjoyed when, of course, love won out. 

12/27-The Lady Always Wins by Courtney Milan (eBook), 3 stars: I couldn’t help but feel a little let done by this one, but I suppose it’s my fault for reading this one so soon after The Governess Affair. There’s nothing wrong with this story, but the emotion here is relatively lacking, and it feels like another standard historical romance. Decent for the genre, but we all know Courtney Milan can and has done better. And the fact that it is a standalone probably also does work against it, not giving me any real reason to care about the characters outside the confines of the story. 

12/28-A Kiss for Midwinter by Courtney Milan (eBook), 4.5 stars: A delightful holiday  story set in the Brothers Sinister world, and following Lydia, Minnie’s friend from The Duchess War. And while it’s still not my favorite Milan, I enjoyed this one, particularly for Jonas, the hero. I like that he’s blunt and doesn’t play games about anything, and he’s very matter-of-fact about sex. Not to mention him being in love with Lydia for years. As for her…a friend compared Lydia’s arc to that of another fictional Lydia, in Pride and Prejudice, and what she could have been, and it definitely works, with her being a relatable lead. And this is another Milan story with a lot of depth to the secondary characters as well, such as Jonas’ father who is battling an illness. 

12/29-The Lady in Red by Kelly Bowen, 4: A fun “bridge” novella between Bowen’s last two series, Season for Scandal and Devils of Dover, I enjoyed the focus on art here, with both Charlotte and Flynn having artistic ambitions, bringing them together. This novella grapples with some deep themes in spite of its length, like the risks Charlotte is taking as both a woman and an aristocrat pursuing her passion and the issues of the class divide motivating Flynn to prove himself and rise above his roots, with an additional hint of a past heartbreak with another aristocratic lady to make things interesting. 

12/30-What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? By Catherine Stein (eBook), 5 stars: A novella set in the same world as Eden’s Voice, this is a fun steampunk story set around New Year’s Eve (obviously). And while I had a few issues with EV, I liked this one overall as a nice little nugget that’s a lot less overwhelming tech-wise and plot wise. And the couple fall in love in the New York Public Library, where the hero, William, works as a librarian? This is the story I’ve been looking for my whole life (not literally…but it hits all my sweet spots). 

12/31-New York Engagement by Maida Malby (eBook), 5 stars: A novella published between Carpe Diem Chronicles novels that I missed upon first publication, I made sure to snap it up in time to ring in the New Year (and decade, depending on how you count) with. It was a blast to see Krista and Blake’s engagement and her meeting more of his family (as well as finding out the identity of her own father). Malby’s signature blend of sweetness, scrumptiousness (of course there’s food!), and steaminess is all here. 

Review of "Lessons After Dark" (Englefield #2) by Isabel Cooper

Cooper, Isabel. Lessons After Dark. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402264405 | 334 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranorma Romance

3 stars

After trying Isabel Cooper’s first book, No Proper Lady, I decided to continue with the second (and currently last) book in the series, Lessons After Dark. Like book one, it’s charming, and aside from the connection of the Grenvilles now founding a magic school there is not much connection to book one, so you couls easily read this as a stadalone, though I do heartily recommend reading book one as well.

Cooper’s worldbuiling remains solid. I enjoyed the developments of the magic from the first book, and the fact that the couple from the first book are now running a magic school, presenting the opportunity to introduce a set of new characters.

And the leads themselves this time around are decently compelling, especially given their shared history, even if Gareth does harbor animosity toward Olivia a bit longer than I felt was necessary, not to mention Gareth being kind of full of himself at times. And while they did hve chemistry, the trajectory of some of the beats of the romance, with him disliking her with no real reason, soured the romance to an extent for me.

Despite my issues with it, I did still enjoy this fun, light read, and am prioritizing some of Isabel Cooper’s other books to read in the near future, although I’m still hoping that, once she’s done with her Highland Dragon world, she’ll come back and do Englefield #3, as this world is such a delight. And I would recommend it to fans of historical paranormal romance.

Review of "Stranger" (The Blades of the Rose #4) by Zoe Archer

Archer, Zoe. Stranger. New York: Zebra, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420106824 | 486 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

I was anxious to pick up Stranger after meeting Catullus Graves in Scoundrel, one of the previous Blades of the Rose books. And while I fully intend to pick up the other two books in the series when I’m able, I’m glad I got the chance to read Catullus’ story, because he is an awesome hero. Given my excitement with the most recent Archer/Leigh nerd hero, I’m glad to read about another compelling intelligent male character from her.

I also love the way his past, with his ancestors being slaves and still dealing with racism, is written, and how it fits into the broader scope of the series, with the Blades of the Rose fighting back against colonialism.

Gemma is an okay heroine, but I definitely felt more investment with Catullus’ perspective, especially as she didn’t seem as connected to all of this compared to London from Scoundrel, what with her connection to the Heirs. But Gemma also has her own past of not being valued by the men in her life, and I love the way she and Catullus come together as people who have both been somewhat ill-treated by others, even if it is in different ways.

The adventure plot is also a lot of fun, with once again just the right balance of that and sensuality and romance. I love Archer’s take on Arthurian legend, discussing the connection of Glastonbury to Avalon, as well as introducing characters like King Arthur and Merlin.

This is a fun historical/paranormal adventure-romance, with an absolutely swoonworthy hero and a compelling story that kept me invested from start to finish. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal romance.

Review of “Scoundrel” (The Blades of the Rose #2) by Zoe Archer

Archer, Zoe. Scoundrel. New York: Zebra, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420106800 | 425 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranromal Romance

4 stars

I have read everything Zoe Archer wrote under her other pen name, Eva Leigh, but never picked up any of her earlier Zoe Archer work until I saw Scoundrel being discussed on Twitter, in conjunction with a recent temporary ebook sale on that title and another book in the series, and my interest was piqued. Despite being second in the series, you can definitely read this as a standalone, a I have, although I am anxious to read all of them now.

The plot and world are engaging. Archer pitched the book at the time the sale was first announced with this tweet, including this amazing book pitch: ” Do you love Indiana Jones/The Mummy-type stories but wish they had plenty of hot fucking? I have the book for you.” And it definitely delivers on all counts.

There is fast-paced adventure, and I love how Archer creates a system of magic that feels believable within the context of the Victorian setting and the wider issues of the time, which many historical authors are still ignorant of, in the name of “historical accuracy.” While not being overly preachy, she delves masterfully into the problems of the imperialism and the grab for treasure in “exotic” locales, while also making it fun, in the same way her inspiration stories are.

The characters are also interesting, even if perhaps I feel like she’s gotten a bit better at nuance with them with her Eva Leigh work. As the title indicates, Bennett is something of a scoundrel who does, in typical rakish romance hero fashion, lose his heart and pledge fidelity to the heroine. But I enjoyed his role as one of the Blades of the Rose and how he works to save ancient treasures and magic from those who would misuse it.

And ultimately, he is a great partner for London, who in typical Archer/Leigh fashion, is incredibly competent, in spite of society dictating that she shouldn’t be. I love how she went from being loyal to people like her father, who have bad intentions, to using her gifts to help people as a member of the Blades of the Rose.

This is a wonderful book, and while the sale mentioned Archer’s tweet has since ended, I would still recommend getting this book if you happen to like, to paraphrase what she said, adventure stories like The Mummy and Indiana Jones, but also want a sexy romance.

Review of “The Lady Is Daring” (The Duke’s Daughters #3) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. The Lady is Daring. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-06266673 |346 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I enjoyed The Lady Is Daring (although I wonder why the consistency of the titles was disrupted, and it wasn’t called “Lady Be Daring”–I believe it was a working title at one point, and is even still listed as the title on the list of “Other Books inc the Series” included in the next book). It’s nice that not only does Bennett get his HEA at long last, but he ends up with Ida, the person I’m sure none of us expected at first, least of all him.

But in spite of its unexpectedness, it works, and not just in the typical “unconventional heroine meets more conventional hero” way that it seemed like at the outset. And in part it has to do with the shared history between them, with him as a suitor for both Eleanor and Olivia, and also as a relation by marriage due to their subsequent marriages. It was great seeing them evolve in their perceptions of each other from in-laws with nothing in common to finding common ground due to their desire to escape their familial expectations, however temporarily, to developing an even deeper understanding and love for one another.

And while they are both great characters, one of their great mutual assets is also their mutual downfall where the other is concerned, in that they are just a bit too noble and selfless. Their love is apparent to both of them by the time they consummate their relationship, but in spite of the fact that her sister ruined herself in a similar scenario, Ida is willing to let him go because she can’t be the conventional wife he has previously expressed desire for (but likely no longer wants), yet she goes home anyway, with said ruined sister in tow, to a mother who was already excited to marry her off before and is then even more so.

And Edward simply accepts this at first, out of respect for her and wanting to let her make her own choice. It does lead up to a moment where he turns to Alex for help and sets up his big declaration of love, but there was just quite a bit of unnecessary angst that I felt was unnecessary, given the more creative way things were solved in the previous two books.

While this was probably the most needlessly dramatic of the three thus far, I did enjoy the character arcs for both characters, and also the lead-in for Della’s story with her formal introduction into the series. I recommend this for fans of fun historical romance.

Review of “Lady Be Bad” (The Duke’s Daughters #1) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Bad. New York: Avon Books, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062666628 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I was determined to set aside all preconceived notions regarding this book after recently enjoying book two, Lady Be Reckless. And it definitely was worth finally giving a chance.

The setup for Eleanor’s arc magnifies the ridiculousness of the family dynamic, showing how Frampton pays tribute to Austen’s Bennet family and the wider societal expectations, subverting them in the process. Between the marriage-concerned mother and the way Eleanor is forced to forego the spectacles she needs to see for vanity’s sake sets up the path she takes for risk taking. It’s wonderful to see a woman wearing glasses painted in this light, complete with her wearing them in the process of going gambling so she can engage with her surroundings. And ultimately, her courage to take life into her own hands, in spite of feeling pressured to do the “right thing” in the wake of her sister’s scandal, is admirable.

Alex is also an engaging character, and one who surprised me. I love his relationship with his brother, and how he first works as Bennett’s advocate with Eleanor to persuade her to go through with the marriage, and once he falls in love with her, manages to effectively communicate with Bennett, and eventually his father, about alternatives to marrying for money to save the estate.

This is a sweet and fun read, and one that I recommend to other readers of historical romance.

Review of “Lady Be Reckless” (The Duke’s Daughters #2) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Reckless. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062666642 | 376 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I loved several of Megan Frampton’s previous historicals, but, Austen purist that I am, I found myself reaching for the metaphorical smelling salts when I saw she was “Heyer-izing” Pride and Prejudice, not only by making the “Bennet sisters” duke’s daughters, but by the mention of a rake hero in book one (the irony is not lost on me that I judged this P&P reimagining based on “first impressions). But as more books in the series came out and they actually sounded good (not to mention that she follows me on Twitter and we’ve had a few exchanges there recently), I decided to finally give book two a try.

And this is exactly what I wanted in a historical. The characters are absolutely wonderful. Edward in particular is compelling, and one of the reasons I’m glad I re-entered Frampton’s world with this book. The exploration of illegitimacy, while done before from different angles by other authors, was so well explored here, from the way it cast a mark on him socially to the effect it had on his perception of himself. Watching him develop a greater sense of himself was beautiful.

I also found Olivia likable, and her main strength to me was the dynamic she has with her sisters, especially her twin, Pearl. It was nice to see how family focused she was in light of the scandal with her other sister Della, and how she was willing to marry her sister, Eleanor’s former suitor (and even thought herself in love with him), in spite of his lack of interest, and it was through Edward’s friendship with him that they were thrown together.

The pacing of this one is a bit odd, and I did find my investment wasn’t 100% there at times, due to there not being much happening. However, the dynamic between Edward and Olivia saved the story for me, with them coming to understand each other’s perspective, with realistic stakes and character growth.

This is a fun book with pretty great characters, and the family dynamic has me excited to check out the rest of the series, even book one. And I think if you’re a fan of historical romance, this is worth checking out if you haven’t.

Review of “The Duchess War” (Brothers Sinister #1) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Duchess War. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2012.

Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1536846584 | 315 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

While I read a bit of Courtney Milan’s early work published by Harlequin earlier this year, I knew the Brothers Sinister was considered her most popular series and represented something of a turning point, being the first series that was entirely self-published. And despite being initially skeptical of its somewhat unassuming blurb, with buzzwords like “wallflower” and “handsome duke,” I was told that The Duchess War was a duke book that I would enjoy.

And to my delight, it was everything I’ve been looking for in a historical romance, with characters who don’t fit within the status quo, especially Robert, the Duke of Clermont. Amid all the recent events of people touting the Heyer-esque version of “historical accuracy” that favors of a sanitized view of the aristocracy and the erasure of everyone else, including marginalized groups, it’s refreshing to read about Robert, who is so opposed to not just his father’s profligacy as the former duke, but the fuller extent of power afforded to the aristocracy itself, to the point of wanting to abolish it altogether.

And Minnie’s journey as a character is equally compelling. I could sympathize with her in terms of her discomfort with large crowds, and loved her growth in that regard, in terms of the way she chose to attempt to face the public in the end, even knowing what it meant for her. It’s also wonderful how she complements Robert in their relationship, recognizing that their marriage takes work even when he feels horrible enough to want to throw in the towel.

I also love how the story focuses just as much on the familial/friend relationships, balancing out well with the romance. The brotherly bond between Robert and Oliver is a touching one, and I found it touching when, in a moment of crisis, Oliver’s mother shows more compassion toward him in that moment than Robert’s mother showed him in his whole life, in spite of the fact that Robert carries the guilt of his father raping Oliver’s mother.

This is a wonderful series starter, and I can understand why it’s one of Milan’s most popular books, if not the most popular. If there are any other historical romance fans who haven’t read it yet (please tell me I’m not the last HR fan on Earth to read this?), I heartily recommend it.