Mini-Sort-of-Review: Courtney Milan, Once Upon A Marquess

I had so much fun reading Courtney Milan’s Once Upon A Marquess that I now want to go back and finish Trade Me and The Suffragate Scandal, and also The Countess Conspiracy which I suspect I will love!

I’m just going to list all the things that made me like this one:

  • That it’s Christian who’s obviously in love with Judith at the start of the story
  • That Christian’s Marquess-ness plays absolutely no part in the story!
  • That Christian is odd in a way that’s definitely odd rather than being cute
  • That Christian and Judith communicate with each other, openly and honestly, throughout the book
  • That Judith’s relationship with her brother and sister gets the same air time as her relationship with Christian which fleshes out her character and gives coherence to her choices
  • That Theresa and Benedict, the sister and brother, are also decidedly odd in a rather non plot-moppet way!
  • That the story unfolds against the aftermath of the Opium Wars—which makes me want to re-read Sea of Poppies and finish-up the rest of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy!
  • That Christian and Judith banter as two gay geese! And that this bantering reveals, like nothing else could have, how finely attuned they are to each other
  • That you can get really, really angry with your loved ones and wish them to Hades and still love them
  • That Christian’s accusations of treason against Anthony, Judith’s elder brother, did not turn out to be a namby-pamby decoy-ishy plot device

I can’t wait to read the rest of this series!

What about you? Have you read Once Upon A Marquess?

Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect

So I finally got around to reading Courtney Milan’s The Heiress Effect and I did so love it.

Miss Jane Fairfield is an heiress with a 100,000 pounds to her name—an inconvenience in light of the fact that Jane has no wish to marry, especially till her younger sister reaches an age where she can be free of her guardian. And so Jane transforms herself into an heiress who can beat people to death with feathers. To know precisely what I mean, help yourself to the book—I assure you it’s enjoyable.

For the purposes of this discussion suffice it to know that Jane’s a social pariah, tolerated only because of all those pounds (and also because people love to have a common target to snigger at and feel superior to I think). And so cleverly and deliberately Jane saves herself from the clutches of fortune hunting husbands.

Enter Oliver Marshall, the bastard son of a duke with definite identity issues and someone who is definitely not completely at ease straddling the world he grew up in and the world he has to court in order to further his political ambitions. He crosses Miss Jane’s path in furtherance of those political ambitions—namely, when the “villain” of the story dangles his political clout in front of Oliver as a way to further Oliver’s cause if Oliver agrees to publicly humiliate Miss Jane.

Notice the quotes around “villain?” That’s because Miss Milan does a lot of interesting things with her story. Not the least of which is that the villain is well not really villainous in the sense that you can see his viewpoint and where he’s coming from and that of course makes one feel a little teeny weeny bit charitable towards him, you know?

Speaking of not-so-villanious-villains, if not direct subversions then definitely “interesting things” are being done in this story: the heroine has a 37-inched waist. Her fashion sensibilities are most definitely not in in accord with the rest of the world. Garish might be a word one might use to describe her. So does she change herself in the course of the story to a more admirable and likable fashionista? No sir! Granted she does have a few qualms about the whole issue (which I think are normal and make the story that much more believable) but our girl refuses to change herself even when it becomes a contentious issue between our hero and her.

Gutsy, Miss Jane is. And clearly self-aware as well. She knows that acceding to change her dressing sense while having its advantages is really a recipe for disaster—she would come to hate both herself and the sensible Oliver in a very short period of time.

Then there’s the matter of Free, Oliver’s sister and Freddy, Oliver’s aunt, two intriguing side characters. Free is all set to conquer the grounds of Cambridge and when Oliver talking about how hard it was for him and is afraid at how much harder things are going to be for her says—

Going to Cambridge will not be a thing you do, followed by another thing and another thing. Going to Cambridge will define who you are forever after. For the rest of your life, you’ll be The Girl Who Went to Cambridge.

—Free retorts:

Someone will have to be The Girl Who Went . . . Why shouldn’t it be me? And don’t worry; I have no intention that getting a college degree will be the last of the dreadful things I do. I’d rather be the Girl Who Did instead of the Girl Who Didn’t.

I am so looking forward to Free’s story.

As for Freddy—there’s a really poignant revelation about her at the end. I like to think that despite being confined to that one room (she had an extreme phobia of crowds and rarely ventured out of her single room house) she was perhaps happy in her own way. And though she dies, I would love to know her backstory as well. Are you listening Miss Milan?

As Oliver struggles between “the right choice that is easy” and “the unethical answer [that] is too tempting” there’s a subplot with Jane’s sister at its forefront. I liked how Miss Milan wrote Emily, the sister. Usually such secondary characters are featherbrains, beautiful but empty-headed; however, that’s not the case here. In this storyline as well the heroine rescues herself—quite literally actually.

I like that the hero was almost a second fiddle of sorts and that the heroine came off as having more brains and gumption. That is not to say that the pairing didn’t work for me or that I think it won’t be a marriage of equals. It’s just that so much of our world (from 1800s to now) normally portrays the guy as having the more of everything that this book was a refreshing change. It worked resoundingly well for me.

And the tiny glimpse of Sebastian and Violet that we get to see? Yes, I know that I am being set-up for a sequel and I can’t wait for it to be released!

In conclusion, if you’re any sort of romance reader at all, do yourself a favour and get Miss Milan’s The Heiress Effect.

Unveiled by Courtney Milan (Review)

Courtney Milan - Unveiled

Courtney Milan – Unveiled

Miss Lowell, you magnificent creature, I want you to paint your own canvas. I want you to unveil yourself.

And with that Ash Turner, the hero of Courtney Milan’s Unveiled makes you fall in love with him.

The plot centers around Ash Turner having the heroine Miss Lowell’s aka Margaret Darlymple’s father, the Duke of Parford, declared as bigamous, thus inheriting the Duchy for himself and his family while simultaneously having Margaret and her brothers relegated to bastardy.

Ash’s action frames the heart of the story – how do you strike a balance between doing what’s best for your family and doing what’s best for you? This theme really spoke to me and perhaps that’s one reason that I enjoyed Unveiled.

I fell in love with both the hero and the heroine early on.

Ash Turner is an alpha male (a stereotype I love in my romance) with none of the brooding looming-ness and asinine jerk behaviour that at times accompanies this stereotype. At the same time he’s also shot through with certain beta archetype facets that make him pretty much a perfect hero in my book. He is charming, goes by his instinct and most importantly sees each person he meets as someone worth knowing. Margaret Darlymple recognizes this unique gift of Ash’s. She becomes seduced by his ability to strip her off her societal trappings and reach to the core of who she is and see someone “who matters.”

That the heroine needs the hero to help her see her self-worth is slightly disturbing but perhaps necessary given that Unveiled is a romance; however, as someone who has had mighty struggles with her self-esteem, I know the value in having a friend, a loved one point out to you that “you are someone important” and that you do not need whatever parades as society’s approval for you to love yourself or believe in yourself. Miss Milan’s treatment of Margaret’s struggles with her self-worth and her eventual coming-into-her-own rang true to me.

So did the way she resolves the central conflict between Margaret and Ash, who essentially cannot be with each other while also being ‘loyal’ to their families. I kept expecting Miss Milan to spoil everything by introducing plot elements that would facilitate some sort of ‘big misunderstanding’ between Ash and Margaret and consequently make Unveiled bland and boring. Thankfully, Miss Milan though does no such thing. Her plot resolution is believable – the hero and the heroine’s actions, their turnarounds, their moments of realization and epiphanies is completely in keeping with their character and the transformation that they have undergone through the course of the story.

In fact I was extremely impressed with the tightness of the plot. More so because a couple of days ago I read Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk, another much vaunted historical romance, and while I loved the first half of the book I found the second half meandering, and set at a pace different than the first half, making the whole reading experience a little disconcerting. Unveiled on the other hand was paced consistently and held my interest throughout.

This difference between two such highly rated historical romances led me to look up Miss Milan and what I found about her background surprised me. Miss Milan is a graduate of UC Berkley in theoretical physical chemistry and then went on to graduate summa cum laude in law from University of Michigan. She’s also adept at programming. That she made such a turnabout from science to writing and romance writing at that is something that I found unusual and fascinating. And I cannot help wondering if Miss Milan’s training in approaching things analytically does not perhaps help her have a more thought-through and detail-oriented approach to writing as well. I would certainly love to know more about her writing process.

Anyway, moving back to Unveiled – the characters and romance, both are well-developed. The resolution is satisfying. I can completely see why Courtney Milan is a favourite with people whose opinion I respect. In fact, I am going to give The Duchess War (Miss Milan’s recent offering that I’d read a few pages of and given up on) another try and of course, I have the rest of the series queued up for my reading pleasure.