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review 2014-07-21 15:53
Smart and Sexy Historical Romance with Unbelievably Timely Feminist Themes
The Suffragette Scandal (The Brothers Sinister Book 4) - Courtney Milan

Add me to the ranks of Courtney Milan's squeeing fangirls. I was up until 1:00 AM reading this book, and then for another hour just enjoying the post-book Feels. While I didn't enjoy the Brothers Sinister series quite as much as I loved Milan's Turner series (and that mostly only because I really disliked book three of Brothers Sinister, The Countess Conspiracy, and also because I luuuuurrrrvvveee books one and three of the Turner series, Unveiled and Unraveled, like I love no other romance novels ever written), it was still pretty great, and this was a hugely satisfying capstone to the series. (There is supposed to be a novella coming out in August to officially wrap things up, but we all know novellas don't count.)


Frederica "Free" Marshall is a fantastic heroine--smart, funny, sexy, and unapologetically independent. She runs a newspaper by, for, and about women and women's causes, and she will stop at nothing to get her story -- even pretending to have syphilis and getting herself incarcerated in order to write about the deplorable treatment of imprisoned prostitutes in the government's lock hospitals.


Unfortunately, she finds herself in a bind that will seem all too familiar to modern readers: she rejected a man's sexual advances, and now he's trying to destroy her by threatening her, ruining her business, and burning down her house. As another reviewer pointed out, despite its Victorian-era English setting, something about this book feels like the most epic #yesallwomen tweet ever.


Enter Edward Clark, the brother of the man trying to ruin Free. Edward aligns himself with Free first to protect one of her writers, who is an old friend, but within moments he becomes devoted to Free alone. However, Edward doesn't consider himself worthy of her because of his (literally) tortured past, and so he tries to keep his distance even as he falls deeper in love.


This book works as a standalone, but readers familiar with the series will get more out of the scenes in which Free and Edward meet up with her family -- her parents, brother, her brother's half-brother and cousin -- because they will recognize these couples from prior books in the series, and it's lovely to see everyone still enjoying their happy-ever-afters.

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review 2013-10-07 00:57
Courtney Milan Rarely Disappoints
The Heiress Effect - Courtney Milan

I started reading this book at 2:00 AM while nursing my son, and I couldn't put it down in order to go back to bed. It was a really uncomfortable read, in some ways, but by the time I reached the end, I loved this book. I need some time to reflect on it to be sure, but right now I think it might even displace Unraveled as my favorite Courtney Milan story.


This is an opposites attract story, but not the kind where the hero and heroine are at each other's throats before they suddenly fall into bed together. Jane Fairchild is a social misfit--by design. She knows her immense fortune makes her attractive to suitors, but she is determined not to marry until her epileptic younger sister comes of age and can leave the clutches of her misguided guardian, who allows quack doctors to perform heinous and painful "treatments" on the girl in hopes of curing her convulsions. If she married, Jane could no longer be with her sister, and more importantly, she would no longer control her own fortune (as a husband controls his bride's property in Victorian England), and Jane relies on that money to bribe doctors to leave her sister alone. Therefore, she staves off would-be-suitors by being deliberately gauche: her clothing is obscenely gaudy, her manners are atrocious, her voice is too loud.


Oliver Marshall, by contrast, is the bastard son of the former Duke of Clermont (his origins are explained in the novella The Governess Affair, which I also recommend). Although raised in a loving, secure family of his mother, adoptive father, and younger siblings, Oliver has grown into an insecure adult, too conscious that his illegitimacy means he will never fit in the social circles to which he aspires. He wants to be the Prime Minister someday, so his behaviour is as proper as Jane's is crude. He is attracted to Jane immediately, but he cannot act on the attraction because she would make a terrible wife for a man of his ambitions.


The plot of this novel was not as tight as Ms. Milan's previous novels, but that made this story less predictible. There were times when the odds against the couple seemed insurmountable, and the dramatic tension was strong enough to actually give me a stomach ache. (I told you this was an uncomfortable read.) Several of my favorite scenes actually had very little to do with the main plot and might have been left on the cutting room floor in a more rigidly-crafted novel: there is an early scene wherein Oliver goes fishing with his father which was just delightful--funny, emotional, and so full of insight into Oliver's family dynamic; a similar scene in which Oliver goes to rescue his youngest sister (a budding suffragette) from a rowdy political rally only to have her shame him into staying;and a scene between Jane's sister and her paramour, a law student, in which they are puzzling over the arcane property law precept, the Rule Against Perpetuities, just as every law student has since the dawn of time (myself included). On the other hand, sometimes the plot moves at a whirlwind pace and the reader just has to roll her eyes and hang on tight.


I love that Jane and Oliver are both sympathetic, moral people trying to hold on to their principles while doing what's best for others, even if doing what's right means they can't be together. Jane can't let herself be swept away by love, because doing so would leave her sister unprotected. Even when her sister's situation is happily resolved, Jane isn't willing to sell herself short by becoming the meek, mannerly "wren" of woman Oliver thinks he needs. Oliver's desire for a proper wife is fueled by his political ambition, yes, but he is not ambitious for his own sake: he is driven by the injustice inherent in the fact that the best, most ethical man he knows, his father, can't vote because he doesn't own property. Because Oliver identifies the cause with his father, he sees anything that hurts his chances for political success--including an alliance with Jane--as a betrayal of the man who gave up his own ambitions to raise a boy who was not even his own son. Often times, the barriers that keep lovers apart in romance novels seem contrived or overblown, but this conflict feel real and heartrending, and I loved the way it finally resolved.

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review 2013-10-06 17:16
I'm a Sucker for Friends-to-Lovers Tales
All He Ever Dreamed - Shannon Stacey

This sixth book in the Kowalski series started a little slow, and I wondered if Josh was ever going to realize that his best friend, Katie, was totally in love with him. I generally love friends-to-lovers stories (not for nothing: I married my best friend from junior high), and I enjoyed this one a lot.


Josh is a little self absorbed. The youngest of five, he got left running the family business--a snowmobile resort--while his siblings struck out on their own, and he's been seething with resentment for years. That resentment makes him behave like a jerk sometimes, though it becomes clear that he isn't really selfish at all--just nearsighted.


Katie has been hiding her true feelings forever, but when she finally gets what she wants, she's not content to settle for less than she deserves, even if that means letting Josh go. I love that she isn't a doormat, even after pining for Josh for so long.


As slow as the beginning was, the ending felt a little rushed, and these problems with pacing dimmed my overall enjoyment, though I liked the story a lot.

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review 2013-10-05 02:29
Fun, but Overhyped, Aussie Contemporary
Boomerang Bride - Fiona Lowe

This won a 2012 RITA Award for Best Contemporary Single Title Romance. I thought it was good, but not earth-shatteringly good. Plot Summary: Matilda (Tildy), still grieving the loss of her beloved Nana, comes from Australia to Wisconsin to meet her online fiance, Barry. Surprising no one but Tildy, Barry is a conman and, having emptied their joint account, he is long gone by the time Tildy arrives to find herself jilted, penniless, and alone in a strange (and cold) new land. Marc is a hotshot architect from NYC who returns to his hometown once a year, for a few days at Thanksgiving, to visit his family out of a sense of obligation rather than devotion. This year, though, his visit gets extended by his sister Lori's revelation that she has breast cancer, is about to undergo a double mastectomy, and needs Marc's help to watch her teenager while she recovers. Marc's philosophy is why-do-anything-when-I-can-pay-someone-else-to-do-it, and so he shortly hires Tildy as a housekeeper/nurse.


If you think Marc sounds like a bit of an ass, you're right. As romance heroes go, he didn't ring my bell at all. But, Tildy's plucky and funny and smart (despite the book's premise, which might trick the unsuspecting reader into thinking she's Too Stupid To Live), and I love that she doesn't sit around feeling sorry for herself when jilted by Barry, and she doesn't take Marc's sh*t, either.


The best part of this book, though, is the secondary romance between Marc's sister Lori and the town's policeman, Brian. They are much more sympathetic characters, and their romance is a lot more interesting and compelling than that of Tildy and Marc, and I wished they'd been the main focus of the story rather than a subplot that occurs mostly off-page. Lori's emotional journey from cancer diagnosis through surgery and the beginnings of recovery was so much more heartrending than Tildy's stranger-in-a-strange-land/pull-oneself-up-by-ones-bootstraps story, and Brian is so much more likeable and romantic a hero than stuffy old Marc. Ah well.

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