Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Trigger Warning: Rape

Oh hey, the Brothers Sinister! What a surprise!

The Governess Affair is actually the prequel novella that provides background on book two’s hero, Oliver’s parents. Robert (from The Duchess War) has a half-brother named Oliver whose biological father was Robert’s odious father (also Robert but henceforth referred to as The Duke ) and Serena Barton, a governess he sexually assaulted. Oliver’s true father, Hugo Marshall, originally works for The Duke in cleaning up problems. Serena becomes a problem for The Duke when she begins to show up, visibly pregnant, and sit by his offices until her demands are met to provide for their child. Hugo is tasked with getting rid of her (nonviolently – this is romance, not true crime) but struggles with his own ambitions and this woman who has been grievously injured.

Milan is able to take on a very difficult subject and still craft a love story that feels real and well-deserved for both. Even better, it sets up a relationship that will give the child resulting in this assault a family that genuinely loves him. Although Oliver’s birthright (or lack thereof) is a source of conflict for the character going forward what is never in conflict is whether he was loved or appreciated. Oliver was able to grow up in a family that loved him, devoid of resentment.

I also appreciate that Milan did not just use sexual assault as a throwaway tragic backstory for her hero. She gave the character who was assaulted an identity and her own agency and happiness. That is done very rarely despite the fairly prevalent use of sexual assault in entertainment nowadays and was very refreshing.

Big surprise, if it won’t be triggering for you, I think you guys should read this book! I believe this is the last Brothers Sinister book review I have this year so if you’ve been getting tired of them, don’t worry. We move onto other things now, for better and worse.

Review: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan

The book that launched my love of romance is finally here!

I originally read this book last year after the episode from Heaving Bosoms. I had been listening to the podcast as an amused observer without actually reading romance, not out of a sense of superiority but mostly because I felt intimidated. Romance is such a big genre with so many possible ways to start and I didn’t feel like I could navigate it on my own so I just enjoyed their recaps until this episode where I thought the book sounded good enough that I had to read it for myself.

The Duchess War is set in Victorian England and the first in the Brothers Sinister series. Robert Blaisdell is a handsome Duke who runs into Minnie Lane, a faux wallflower, while hiding out from a social event. Robert has been anonymously spreading seditious handbills encouraging workers to unionize because he is desperately trying to clean up the horrible mess his father left. Minnie is trying to escape her past with a new identity and stands accused of passing out the handbills. The two face off and as secrets are revealed and motives come out, the characters fall in love.

One of the things that I appreciate about Milan’s work is her brilliant use of banter between characters. Robert and Minnie sass each other in ways that are amusing but never mean-spirited. The respect the characters feel for each other are evident throughout. They both accept each other where they are but also encourage and help each other to grow. Neither character is perfect but even as mistakes are made you root for them instead of just getting aggravated at them. Also, top notch sex scenes and *drumroll* A VIRGIN DUKE!

After years of rapscallion, wanton dukes we get a virgin duke! And a believable (and not comedically cringy) first time! Followed by communication and improvement!

*chef’s kiss*

When I said that Milan is the author I recommend without reservations, this is the specific book because it is the start of the series and a genuinely good story on its own.

Review: The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan

This is another third book in a series and another series that I collect!

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan is a beautiful story of a rake and a scientist and growing beyond the facades you build to protect yourself.

Sebastian Malheur is a rakish playboy and, more scandalously, a scientist who specializes in genetics. In the Victorian era this is considered especially brazen because it references reproduction. If there’s one thing worse than a male scientist it is a female scientist which is why Sebastian actually a front for his childhood friend Violet’s research. In truth she is the scientist and he is just the way for her to communicate her findings. It’s an intriguing twist on a nom de plume and offers an interesting conflict for the characters when Sebastian announces that he will no longer play along with her charade. His reasons are understandable, as is her anger and fear over his choice. I always feel that the best conflicts are ones where there’s no one clear right or wrong person but rather a situation where both people are responding reasonably based on their experience and circumstances and finding a way through it will require growth and courage on both people’s parts.

Another conflict is that Sebastian, for all of his philandering and raking about, has been in love with Violet for years. Meanwhile Violet, believing herself undesirable and also just plain too busy with her work, has survived a horrible marriage and has sworn off romantic relationships with people both for her heart and her body’s safety.

Quick note – If you may be triggered by discussions of domestic violence and miscarriage, please skip past this book or make sure you’re in a good place mentally before reading. It isn’t gratuitous by any means but Violet’s experiences are treated with the correct amount of solemnity and her grief may be especially hard for people who can relate to her circumstance.

The challenges these characters have faced, in their personal lives and with each other, makes their Happily Ever After all the more satisfying. I also appreciated that the HEA for Violet includes recognition and professional happiness just as much as romantic happiness. Milan does a brilliant job of ensuring that each of her characters have lives outside of their relationships while still making the romance a driving force of the plot. Every book in this series would be interesting enough to read without the romance just based on the characters and their challenges, but the romance doesn’t feel unnecessary or forced. Courtney Milan is an author whose books have yet to disappoint and is one of the few authors I automatically and without reservations recommend when people are dipping into the Romance genre.

I will be writing a review for two more of the books in this series (including the first one) coming up so look for more Milan gushing then!

Review: The Rose by Tiffany Reisz

Y’all.

This book.

Tiffany Reisz truly never disappoints.

The Rose is a sequel to The Red though in this instance it takes its inspiration from Greek mythology instead of classic art. The basic premise is that the daughter of the heroine from The Rose, Lia, is all grown up and is gifted an artifact, a Rose Kylix, which one of the guests at her party, August, informs her is a sacred relic that will make her life out her deepest fantasies if she drinks from it. Lia (obviously) chooses to try it, not believing it will work, and finds herself throughout the course of the novel living through various erotic fantasies based in and around Greek mythology with August by her side. There is also a really great friendship and lady love based subplot as well as a getting closure on a shitty ex subplot.

As with The Rose, I appreciated the sheer creativity and quality of storytelling in this novel. There was the risk of the heroine being overshadowed by the presence of her parents but Reisz does a great job of incorporating the former characters to provide context while also giving this heroine a unique journey of her own. She also gives her unique sexual encounters similar to (though perhaps tamer than) the first novel. The book felt like a much quicker read than its 400 pages so if you’re looking for a quick read, don’t be turned off by the page count. As with all of Reisz’s works I’ve read so far, I found it creative, well-written, and over with far too soon.

Review: Tikka Chance On Me by Suleikha Snyder

Hello reader! it’s been almost a year but it was my last year of grad school so there was a lot going on to distract me from this blog. Luckily, it did not (entirely) distract me from my reading! Also, I finished and can now say that I have graduated with my Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling!

But this blog is about books so let’s refocus on that. These next batch of reviews will be shorter because I’m trying to get them all in before the end of the year. Historically if I fall behind in a project I just abandon it, but I don’t want to do that with this blog. So even if the posts are shorter, I am determined to get something down on this blog to track my reading.

I read Suleikha Snyder’s romance novella Tikka Chance On Me and it hit me in so many catnip places. It had a character based on bearded Chris Evans (√), had a unique and likeable heroine (√√), references to Captain America (√√√), a genuine conflict and not just talk-to-each-other-already tension (√√√√) and very well written sex (√√√√√√√√√√).

In the words of the Amazon synopsis:

He’s the bad-boy biker. She’s the good girl working in her family’s Indian restaurant. On the surface, nothing about Trucker Carrigan and Pinky Grover’s instant, incendiary, attraction makes sense. But when they peel away the layers and the assumptions—and their clothes—everything falls into place. The need. The want. The light. The laughter. But is it enough? In this steamy contemporary romance that Entertainment Weekly calls “so flaming-hot it might just burn you,” Trucker and Pinky won’t find out until they take a chance on each other—and on love.

On the surface this premise wouldn’t necessarily appeal to me because I typically read historicals. What sold me on it was 1) a glowing recommendation from the Heaving Bosoms Podcast and 2) this tweet from Suleikha Snyder.

I’m a simple woman. I know what I like and I liked what I saw and I definitely liked what I read. If you’re looking for a quick read that will make you feel multiple (if not all) the feelings, I highly recommend this novella. Plus it’s only $2.99 on Amazon and well worth the investment.

Review: Priest by Sierra Simone

Disclaimer: This book deals with suicide, molestation, and has many scenes of a sacrilegious nature involving a priest breaking his vow of chastity. If any of those are things you cannot handle or are uncomfortable with, you have my full blessing to scroll on by til the next review.

Continue reading “Review: Priest by Sierra Simone”

Review: Tempest by Beverly Jenkins

Well guys, I goofed.

I had heard about Tempest for awhile and Beverly Jenkins is such a prominent figure in the romance community, so I just chose that one as my intro and jumped in. I did not realize at the time that this was the third and I believe final book in a series. I hate reading books out of order, especially when it becomes clear that references are being made to established characters, and the ending of the novel was essentially wasted on me. However, I never claimed to be a professional and all I can do is give you my impression of the books I read as I read them so let’s do that.

Tempest started strong with the heroine, Regan Carmichael, an african-american woman on her way to meet her husband (Dr. Colton Lee, stoic and swarthy as the day is long) and fulfill her role as mail order bride, shooting the aforementioned fiance. Right away, I was hooked. Obviously it was a case of mistaken identity (she thought he was part of the gang of robbers who had just attacked her carriage and caused the death of one of the drivers) but there’s still something wonderful about shooting your soulmate on sight. From there the pace of the book continued along pretty excellently with seamless introduction of some excellent side characters (looking at you Spring Lee) and realistic challenges (Does he want to marry a lady who shoots on sight? He just isn’t sure and I love him for it). The way Jenkins writes sex is interesting. It was at times incredibly poetic and then unexpectedly violent terms would be used. For example, the first time the heroine orgasms she describes it as “shattering” which took me out of it. That being said, their first sex scene together was the perfect blend of seduction and clear consent and led to complicated feelings for the hero who has only sought out a wife after losing his first wife and mother of his child in childbirth. He isn’t sure how he feels about not just engaging in sex but actively enjoying it with his new bride. And she isn’t sure how she feels about him not being sure how he feels about it. This is all very good and very understandable. After this point, however, I felt the tension slack and the pace did as well.

Essentially after both characters have accepted and realized they love each other (which also did not take as long as I expected), all the oomph went out of the book for me. There were still distinct challenges with someone trying to kill the heroine and the trial for the robbers and the heroine is openly rejected by her husband’s grandfather. But there were things that were written as working so seamlessly it just didn’t feel right. There is a large portrait of the late Adele Lee in the main room and Regan is completely comfortable with this and with her legacy surrounding her and running around in the form of Colton’s daughter Anna. She even goes so far as to talk with the deceased lady in the portrait as though they were old friends. There isn’t a moment of wondering how she would feel about her being there. Regan does worry that Colton, who openly declares at first that he does not intend or expect to love her, will never open his heart to her. But there is no awkwardness with the lady of the house still looming large. To be fair, this was a time in history where people could and did die often from many things, childbirth especially, and it is possible that Regan would truly feel entirely unconcerned by this. From my modern perspective it felt almost forced, as though the author were trying to just cut through any of those feelings by saying “Nope she’s fine let’s move on.” And you know what? That is her right. It just felt weird for me.

Another relationship that was oddly swift and without complication was Anna and Regan’s. Anna is at first a little shy and standoffish, though this is more due to the abuse of her aunt than any hesitation over a new mother coming to take over. I expected more hesitance on Anna’s part. True her mother died before she could know her but her presence has been maintained (see: large portrait) and with her father being too busy to spend time with her it would be normal for her to worry that this new woman would only usurp the very minimal attention she already receives from him. Regan is charming and clever and wonderful with her and their relationship flows without a single question or hiccup. And future hiccups are marched out somewhat quickly and factually and the line between character experience and author giving you a history lesson blends a little to the point where there was a part that I felt should have been a focal point of its own novel instead of being pocketed into this one.

All of that being said, Tempest was a story that I was able to devour in very little time and did keep my attention. It had interesting side characters, representation without denial of the ignorance of the time but also without denying these characters their own agency and happy ending, and though the ending and references to prior characters was lost on me I would be interested in going back and reading them.

Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2019

My favorite podcast, reading related or otherwise, is Heaving Bosoms where two friends banter and discuss romance novels. It’s like belonging to a long distance book club where I practically never do the reading. It is magical. This year they introduced their own reading embrace and I am all in and urge you to join us! I’m a fairly new romance reader and this embrace really gives you an opportunity to revisit old favorites and branch out and explore new facets of the genre.

Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2019 Syllabus

America Times: Tempest, Beverly Jenkins

Because Witches: Witches of East End, Melissa de la Cruz

Consent Boner: The Countess Conspiracy, Courtney Milan

Cousin Stuff: Mastersons, Lisa Lang Blakely

Do They Got Reasons: Guilty Pleasures, Laurell K. Hamilton

England Times: The Duchess Deal, Tessa Dare

Herbs, Herbs, Herbs: Outlander, Diana Gabaldon

Highlander Times: The Highlander’s Bride, Amanda Forrester

Hufflepuff + Slytherin Love: Duke With Benefits, Manda Collins

Keep Being A Badass: When All The Girls Have Gone, Jayne Ann Krentz

Lady Love: Fried Green Tomatoes, Fannie Flagg

Medieval Times: Temptress, Lisa Jackson

Pirate Times: The Notorious Lady Anne, Sharon Cullen

Reindeer Mafia: Ruthless People, J.J. McAvoy

Sherlock Holmes Times: A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn

Sportsball: Time out, Jill Shalvis

Virgin Duke: The Naked Duke, Sally MacKenzie

Werves: The Last Werewolf, Glen Duncan

Western Times: Big Sky Mountain, Linda Lael Miller

#Problematic: I Thee Wed, Amanda Quick