Ever really wanted to make somebody’s heart spring a leak? Easy enough. Put these 678 pages in their face, thMY FANGIRL IS AT MAXIMUM CAPACITY, Y'ALL!
Ever really wanted to make somebody’s heart spring a leak? Easy enough. Put these 678 pages in their face, then BAM. Mission accomplished.
With a hero-name like Dancer and an evil family trying to murder-death-kill their son for a plot, this was destined to snake my feelings. But truthfully, an action adventure science fiction romance just can't go wrong in Sherrilyn Kenyon's hands.
Everyone, probably: Yeah, yeah, just tell us what the book’s about, would ya?
Right. So, the deal is that Dancer has done pissed off the wrong people and Sumi? She works for those wrong people.
Poor chick is their slave, so she gets sent in Black Ops style to go kidnap Mr. Big Hulking Warrior.
The book's got some external shenanigans, like a few rescue missions and a handful of combat engagements. But, for the most part, this ain't your run-and-gun kind of story. Dancer and Sumi spend lots of time unpacking their shit-tons of personal baggage whilst having sexy boinking and trying to, you know, not die.
While Sumi might not seem like it her first Meet and Greet, this chick is as tough as a damn diamond. Like, girl is hardcore for-realness a professional badass.
“I look forward to ripping out your spine and beating you with it.” - Sumi
*Cue all of my applause!* DAAAAAMN WOMAN!
Still, as hard as she is, this girl’s backstory is as brutal as Dancer’s is sad. Despite their warrior-ing it up all over the place, in the end our OTP are survivors. Please...allow me to give them ALL of my feelings, thank you.
Poor Dancer has his sexy butt tied to Miss Asshole Fiance Chick, and I swear this glitch is psycho-crazy evil, like a female Hitler-In-Space.
Poor Sumi is fighting to get her daughter back, which OMG that gave me a million tears, fears, and cheers.
And, lastly, poor OTP has The Big Evil that’s gunning for both of them.
Born of Fury is character-driven out the ass, with family and culture being huge in this novel. AND I AM SO HERE FOR THIS!
“Family isn't about the blood you share, it's about the people willing to bleed for you.” - Maris.
“Just remember, family isn’t perfect. It’s just perfectly ours.” - Shahara
This. Book. Is. So. Damn. Good!
The various settings and intricate world building and narrative flow, they all cued my fangirl-flailing, but as always, dat humor! It hit my funny bone SO good. Side characters and old favorites alike had my heart going boom boom.
“Shh! I’m being stupid and I have to concentrate for it.” - Nero
“We’re here to petition the Overseer. You’ll have to forgive my bodyguard, he’s a little irritable, but I can’t blame him. I’d be irritable, too, if I went a month without a bowel movement.” - Bastien
DAMMIT I LOVE THOSE BOYS!
But that love don’t hold a pigeon-smidgen to the agapē I was rocking for Dancer. Boy was a damn nuclear force on every mother-flippin' page!
No, really. As in, really really.
1. An alpha protector. 2. A beta personality. 3. A horrendously scarred warrior. ........4. Yes all of my catnip, thank you!
But on top of ALL that glorious fangirl bait, Dancer was a virgin. A VIRGIN OMG DO YOU KNOW HOW HAPPY THAT MAKES ME?!
His virginity having been so interestingly woven into his cultural identity and backstory was amazing, no doubt. But, GUYS! Reading a story where the heroine’s had the sexy-times but the hero has not?
HAPPY FEMINIST IS HAPPY!
I mean, when you consider the fact that touching Sumi equals death ouchy-ouchy for Dancer...? Can we say next-level?!
“For one touch of your precious hand, I gladly consign myself to death.” - Dancer
Great. Now I'm dead. Purple prose can go gag itself on a lawnmower, because when paired with the story's contextual framing, that was romantic as frickty-frack! But the powerful romance isn't the only thing that’s got me making out with this book.
Characters were constantly tossing out beautiful words of wisdom, dropping profound truth bombs like it was no big.
“Fain taught me early in my life to listen with my eyes and not my ears. Lips and tongue lie. But actions never do. No matter what words are spoken, actions betray the truth of everyone’s heart.” - Dancer
BOOM! Right in my feels! One minute Born of Fury lands a direct hit to my heart with elegantly moving words, and in the next?
Devyn: Guess what? Guess what?! I grew a monkey, Uncle Hauk! Vik: Not that I haven’t been the sacred embryo’s monkey from birth, but this is a little ridiculous. Don’t you agree? Hauk: Vik? Vik: Who else would the bonebag torture THIS badly? I would be more upset about it, but look. Opposable thumbs!
Vik: Got it. Want me to run it? Hauk: Nah. Why don’t you sit there and stare at it for a while? Vik: Syn, could you please remove his anal probe?
Whoomp, there it is. The undeniable proof this novel deserves your eyeballs.
It’s funny, it’s badass, it’s cute. It’s got moments that will rip your heart out in itty-bitty bloody pieces…The heroine beats up the bad guys, the hero is adorable, and both are POC characters.
You, dear reader, got exactly zero excuses to not read Born of Fury. Now shoo.
(If you like my writing voice or you think I’m funny...[or you just really wanna laugh at a fangirl for fangirling]...then SHAMELESS YOUTUBE CHANNEL PLUG IS SHAMELESS! I review romance novels and Asian dramas, so that is a thing and now you know.)
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed
Seriously. Shut up and know all ye THIS BOOK IS FUCKING FAN-DAMN-TASTIC!
Well, so, yes, I might have just secured my one way ticket to the pillowed-wall room complete with self-hugging jackets for that crazy-sauce outburst, but it was so worth being committed over. Alas, lock me away Johnny, for I have recently come to the sad conclusion that books are not healthy for you. In fact, they're a bit dangerous to your well being, and unquestionably no-good for your sanity. Books like No Good Duke Goes Unpunished make it very, VERY difficultimpossible emotionally traumatizing to separate fiction from reality. Why? Well!
When a book kicks much ass, you want that thing to be real, dammit. And, let's face it, we're all secretly convinced that Temple and Mara are walking-talking people. Those two characters are the epitome of a huge honkin' bowl of Awesome sprinkled with a sugary goodness pile of Emotional Agency. Yes, yes, our characters are believable, they're likable, they're strong; they're all of that. But, far, *far* more importantly, their back-stories, their personal identities, AND their personal growth, both independently as well as a couple over the course of novel, brings these two fictional peeps into a hot, zesty fiesta of damned good reading.
Oh, and that's not even broaching the topic of the plot! This story is just damned good; all of it. DAMNED GOOD I SAY! The conflict is nuanced and layered, operating as an external crisis driven by internal emotional pain. The progressing of plot points is so well executed in sensical construction that even the most ADHD spasmodic, "Oh-Look-Something-Shiny!" reading attention span would remain hooked throughout every friggin' chapter. The smexy smokin' sensual chemistry (yay for alliterations!) that sparks in every scene between our hero and heroine is, in my obnoxiously unimportant opinion, serious justification for making this Book-Crack-level worthy.
Not good enough for ya to be convinced to read this glorious collection of words? Well, fine! Then how about a story chock full of piss-your-pants-roller-coaster-ing emotional hits within the plot? Temple's Mr. Angsty-Angst man from Angstville level of mistakenly misplaced self-hate? Or Mara's I'm-Apparently-The-Most-Bravely-Bad-Ass, Most-Independently-Self-Reliant-Vagina-Owner moniker holder in Romance Land? Still not convinced? FINE! Throw in some amaze-balls beautimous writing, some burn-this-mother-down hot sex scenes, AND majestic perpetual plot momentum! Because, ya know, as great effing books do. SO HOW? ABOUT? NOW?!
I really do.
Post Review Postscript:
Dear Sarah MacLean: You're birthed in win, and your DNA is basically the equivalent of diamonds dipped in liquid gold. This has long been acceptable scientific truth for you, for your books up until No Good Duke Goes Unpunished have proven as much. Here I must put it to you, though, that you are a mastery of awesomeness. That itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny way you just SHOCKED THE EVER LOVIN' CRAP-LOVE out of your readership with those last two lines of the epilogue about a CERTAIN surprise you've been harboring over the course of three novels? Well. You are officially Queen of Romance. Here's your well deserved fist bump, good woman.
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single mistaken assumption must be in want of a glorious ass kicking. What could I possibly be referring to, you might ask? Well, that being MY ass kicking, obviously, and of course MY epic Bitch-You-Crazy-Wrong initial assumption about this book. To quote myself,
"Eh, almost 75 pages in and a distinctive lack of deep POV. This one might not be a gem."
... Yeah. Say, can we hop in the TARDIS real quick-fast and go deliver a ginormous kick to the forehead to Past Jacqueline?
So, in the spirit of not hating too much on the sins of the past, I have to admit that...well, past Jacquie was wrong, but only to a point. This novel DOES rock the stadium down to rubble, but only a bit after page 75. The first four chapters of this little story are atrociously painful. If the Spanish Inquisition were led by Hitler and Jigsaw, even that level of discomfort couldn't compare to how bad this novel tries getting off the ground. When the reader is first introduced to our two lead characters, everything's chaotic. The introductions of their existence is chaotic, the character's initial meeting with on another in the story is chaotic, hell, even the first several exchanges between Griff and Pauline AFTER their "Hey, I'm A Person With A Name And A Face" are just insanely, well, chaotic!
SO MUCH MADNESS! While there is a healthy dose of info-dump that occurs at the onset of the book, most notably during our heroine's first on-page scene, the early part of the book's tone is painfully hurried. Heroine's doing this while running to go do that, and ooh, look! There's THIS factoid about Pauline, all while the hero's hurrying to enact his Hero Plot here and then just OH MY GOD SO MUCH CRAP! ... Honestly, so much was going on for the setup to get Hero A and Heroine B together that I was so, so worried whether or not these two people were going to be believable.
And, yet, I worried for nothing! After an extremely spasmodic sequences of events, once the plot gets underway, Tessa Dare thankfully does slow her roll. Pauline and Griff do begin developing a very keyed up dynamic that is deeply rooted in point of view. These two people become believably grounded in emotional depth the longer they are on-page, both together as a couple and independently as characters. At the beginning of the story, our hero seems just an irresponsible bachelor while our heroine seems just an uncouth servant. Thank spicy tacos these two explore much deeper realities than their initial characterizations. They are beautiful people, dammit, and their romance story is SO wonderful and YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!
Yeah, yeah, admittedly tropes are all over the place in this book, but to me, that's a good thing for I love tropes. Any Duchess Will Do is basically a Cinderella story, if Cinderella the character weren't a pushover lackluster dweeb. (Pauline is so much a better heroine than ol' Cindy!) This is the fairy tale that we WANT to believe, that is believable because all the plot points, all the emotion, all the buildup and drama culminate into a romance and HEA that feels real. If the aching feelings of this book could be bottled and sold, world peace would be instantaneously A Thing. The construction of emotions, dialogue interplay and sexual tension (oh sweet smexy goodness, the chemistry!) alone guarantee Pauline and Griff the gold medal for Most Beautiful Romance, Ever. There exists an open honesty between these two that is so uniquely refreshing. It culminates into one effing hot, most sexy, most intense romance love confessions from the hero truly -ever- written!
"You believe I'd value a strand of jewels above your life? I know we've had our differences, Simms, but that's low. You truly think so little of me?...Tomorrow I can buy my mother another necklace. A better one. A half dozen of them if she likes. Jewels can be replaced." "So can serving girls." "Don't. Don't play that game. When I heard you cry out...it was like a saber to the gut. I wanted to die. I could have found you broken or bleeding, or-" His voice broke. "Or worse. Don't tell me I care about polished rocks on a chain. I want to believe you know me better than that." "I do." "And yet you believe I'd be so upset about a necklace that I'd send you away?""
And, hey, that's just the beginning of the scene. This love confession goes into one seriously beautiful outpouring of manly feels, and it is a thing be witnessed! Griff is such an amazing hero, so elegantly written that he will rip your heart out all over the place. When a man, fiction or otherwise says the following, you love him dammit, whether he exists or not!
"You're an intensely attractive woman. You do know that, don't you? You'd believe me if you could see yourself." "I have seen myself. That's the snag, you see." "No, no. Not in a mirror. I know how mirrors work. They're all in league with the cosmetics trade. They tell a woman lies. Drawing her gaze from one imagined flaw to another, until all she sees is a constellation of imperfections. If you could get outside yourself, borrow my eyes for just an instant...There's only beauty."
Oh, God. You just don't even know! This book is entirely emotionally driven, and the few external moments of conflict are spawned by the internal turmoil within our two leads. The drama is believable, but more than that the story is good. The social confines and boundaries these two face are believably overcome. The quite torturous pain Griff deals with throughout the book is creditably dealt with, and the HEA is plausible. This story reaches into your soul in a way that is shockingly intense, and despite the very rocky start to the book you believe it, lock, stock and barrel. The tropes are fun, yes, and the characters are wonderful, of course, but best of all the book is strong, and the story is gorgeous.
You know that feeling when you grab a gallon of ice cream, wolf the thing down in one sitting with the initial thought that, "This is a GENIUS freakin
You know that feeling when you grab a gallon of ice cream, wolf the thing down in one sitting with the initial thought that, "This is a GENIUS freakin' plan!" and then later when your stomach's trying to bitch-slap your brain you realize you're an idiot, but you still regret nothing? Well, surprise surprise, that's an analogy for my experience with The Autumn Bride. I read the first three chapters on day one of starting the thing, waited four days to come back to it, and then proceeded to glom the bastard in one sitting. AND I REGRET NOTHING, DAMMIT!
...No regrets, but definite consequences. At the end of the day, this book was likable; not great, not terrible. Character wise, it's fair to say our author kicked lots of ass in this department; just not necessarily with our two leads. Abby was an enjoyable enough little lady, and our hero was smexy fascination as per usual for a hero. But, the surrounding cast? So much better, especially since Abby and Max, while nice enough are admittedly and completely forgettable. The novel held entertaining sexual tension and the plot's conflict, while VERY thin, was seriously in line with the "I As A Reader Am Curious As To How This Crap's Gonna Play Out" way of book drama. The writing was strong, for you did believe in the validity of Abby and Max as people, just, um, they weren't...well they didn't...oh fine, dammit, their romance sucked!
"Girl, what you smokin' to proclaim this novel is likable if the conflict was minimal, the characters merely okay, and the romance be shittastic?" I know. Logic isn't my strong suit, but bare with me for a hot minute. At the end of the day, this book's biggest problem lies in the fact that the conflict resolution, one which centered on the romance of our leads, was hella rushed; like a hooker's makeup, rushed. Up until the climax and conclusion of the novel the story predominately focused on a will-they/won't-they theme, with the emotional and sexual tension being All Of The High. When we finally get the, "D'aww, lovey feels" at the literal end, it falls ass-first flat. The tension made the book read awesomely quick, but such was a disaster in the final analysis as a romance because it's glaringly apparent Hero and Heroine know jack squat about one another.
"Seriously, WHY DO YOU LIKE THIS NOVEL?!" I know, I know, nonexistent review reader, I'm guano. So, the book's other greatest strength is how enjoyable the exchanges are between Abby and Max, which is also it's greatest weakness because not much else attention is paid to different elements. Issues such as the emotion building, or internal POV exploration of the characters' growing sentiments for one another, are just not a thing with this story. One minute, they're all "I shouldn't want her/him," the next they're "LET ME HAVE/MAKE YOUR BABY!"
Which, at the end of the day, is why this novel is theme-park fun. Yes, the two lead characters are kind of forgettable two milliseconds after finishing the epilogue, but the supporting cast are rich with diversity and interesting characters. Yes, the plot's conflict is painfully thin and almost irrelevant, but the low angst provides for a refreshing book pallet cleanser. Yes, the hero seems to spontaneously decide he's in love with Abby, and vice versa, but we all sometimes love the Jane Austen-ing of a romance story. And, lastly, yes, the book started too slow and ended too hurriedly, but much like that aforementioned gallon of ice cream, it might not sit well upon rumination and completion, but damned if it wasn't enjoyable on the way down.
So, read it, you might enjoy it; don't read it, and you're not missing out. Either way, it's a book, and it was nice, and hell I might even explore other Anne Gracie titles, who knows?
But, one thing IS a certainty, and that is I now want ice cream, dammit.
So, a virgin and a rogue walk into a romance novel's plot...and blow the expectations of win into complete and total Dark Matter of amazingness! This
So, a virgin and a rogue walk into a romance novel's plot...and blow the expectations of win into complete and total Dark Matter of amazingness! This book is just, yes! So much yes, to the point that within five hours I read 348 pages of this book, and finished it. The degree of awesome this novel entails is, let's face it, beyond articulation. So, to keep this boring introduction shorter and less painful for you, you non-existent reader, here's a GIF...
...And that about sums up my wholehearted approval for this novel, and all of its impressive components. But, firstly, there are tropes, and okay, I admit it; I'm a trope fan. Tropes, like Darth Vader, get a bad rep, but when used in the non-eye-bleach-level-of-pain way, they're valuable. This value skyrockets to just plain fun-fun when said tropes are inverted on their ass and consequently jumble the whole kitten kaboodle, which must have been Milan's genius plan for Unclaimed, all along. Herein, we've got the classic inexperienced virgin, which let's face it, is quinte-damn-ssential to the romance novel...except here, Ms. Milan flips that reality on its head and paints the role with a penis, rather than a vigina!
Yep! You indeed read that correctly, dear reader, but here's the awesome catch; Mark and Jessica hook you with their role reversal, but morph from trope to character immediately upon reader introduction. There is such a chasm of depth to both hero and heroine, as well as their starting points with each other, and their own internal realities and tribulations. While Jessica is the tortured soul, she does not cower from her role in life, and yet still experiences consequences, both internally and externally. Our heroine is a fascinating tower of resilience and survival while simultaneously deeply troubled. In a word, she's amazing.
In a pretty cool book-world-reality, Mark, our hero, is tortured to a lesser, but no less significant, extent. He is the very antithesis to the cliched, over written Me Man, You Woman, Me Brood romance guy so prolific in historicals today. While his virginity does slightly play a role in this reality, his personality, his determination, his drive, his past, his intelligence, his morality in regards to his fellow human beings, and his passion (oh boy-howdy, dat passion!) are far more elemental to his role of Smexy As Hell Hero Dude than just his non-bonking bedplay. His love for life and his family are just icing on the man cake (harhar), and prove that the overused Man-Slut-Pigeon-Hole is not a vital recipe element in order to write one smokin' fine male lead. (GIF "metaphorically" relative, of course. Yeah. We'll go with that.)
Next, plot a'hoy! But, interestingly enough, a common and VERY likable thread I've noticed in Milan's writing style is that her plots can't be noted without hauling in the wagon of emotionalism. Frankly, I wish more authors would start carting this stuff in by the truck-fulls! In Unclaimed, while there are a few elements of external conflict, almost all of the driving force behind this story are character driven, and internally fascinating. Jessica's actions affect the story, Mark's reactions drive the climax, but fundamentally both those acts are spurned by their identities as people independently of each other, and dependently on one another. Translation? Sure!...
The pacing and quality of writing within this story impressed me almost as much as the realism embodied by Smexy Mark and Kick-Ass Jessica. The initial chapters of the book have perfectly calm rhythm to their plot points, while the climax and resolution of the book cascade with activity that is steady, but well executed. That fancy-schmancy description-ing basically just means, ERMAHGERD THIS BOOK KEPT ME RIVETED! As noted, I spent less than five hours reading almost the entire book in one sitting and it was totally un-put-down-able!
The emotion of Unclaimed's plot, the degree of realism the whole thing felt just astounds me! The conflict aspects of the novel were real; they were tangible in their difficulty. Jessica's past was not just painted over with an, "Eh, it's all cool beans, whateves!" attitude by the author, or her characters. The resolutions were cemented in plausibility, and hot-damn if I wasn't in love with how Mark's chastity and beliefs were not a trope, but a driving aspect to his character and personal identity! Basically, I just...I am so...
...I just need to shut up, really! Shutting up, now, because my inner fan-girl for this book is overtaking the part of my brain that can logically, cohesively and intelligently define everything that is frackin' impressively cool and great about this story! Put simply, Ms. Milan, if you're reading this (because YEAH...like that's even a remote possibility!), just know the following GIF sums up everything I feel about your amazing talent, and the gift your books simply ARE...
Courtney Milan has written the very definition of the perfect-effing-novel. Seriously. When it comes to romance, and God kn
Yeah. It's just like that.
Courtney Milan has written the very definition of the perfect-effing-novel. Seriously. When it comes to romance, and God knows I've read enough, there are so many authors who know how to suck-it so bad. Cliches become transparent, characters are a joke, and the plot is a dead squirrel hidden in the anus of Hitler. So not so for The Duchess War! As is, I'm currently holy-effing-wow-amazingly-awesome-I-CAN'T-BELIEVE-HOW-MUCH-THIS-BOOK-ROCKS! (And, yes, the exclamation marks were needed.)
First and foremost, this book is just geniusly well constructed. Most novels' writing, romance or otherwise, come off as being a men-in-tights scenario; you think it's okay initially, but after a while, you kind of want to just barf. Milan knows her business. Her structure of sentences, her pacing, her detail and description, it's all perfectly perfect perfection! Additionally, her historical writing is phenomenal, with believable detail that's just perpetual enough to allow for total immersion in setting, but not so much that I want to off-myself with the nearest Soup Spoon. The Duchess War is not a book, it's a time-travel machine; I visited Victorian Leicester England.
Speaking of Leicester England...I want to bang a Beta, right now. Okay, okay, so those two thoughts weren't exactly cohesive, but holy-crap-on-crap, Milan has entirely redefined the definition of "Romance Hero." Robert (think Downton Abbey's Lord Crawley, but even hotter, if that's physically possible) is absolutely the most respectable, most considerate, most thoughtful fictional dude I've ever read. (By the by, Robert's a virgin, and lemme just say this virgin made some HOT-HOT-HOT monkey-lovin' scenes!) And, yes, he's tortured. Hey, you Alpha-A-Holes, think you've got a monopoly on tortured? Pfft. Incidentally, Mr. Alpha-Ass...
...Think again, because Ms. Milan proved conclusively that a character can be created who's not Mr. Rapey-Rape Man, who struggles with the idea of love, and who doesn't turn into a walking douche box. I'm angry at you, Alpha-A-Hole, because you dominate a market on romance novels and you shouldn't, because Robert pwns you, almost in the same way Minnie pwns romance heroines. Incidentally you romance heroines, I'm tired of you being all "I've got problems," when in actuality you just come off as being redonkerous. I don't believe you. I do, however, believe Minnie. Oh, sure, she does some things I don't like, but I BELIEVE her crappy acts. I buy her as a person, fleshed out and whole. Minnie is absolutely someone I can see talking to IRL, someone to take out for a drink just for the hell of it.
You know that moment when your Kindle reaches out and grabs your face, yanking it through the screen like your gravity's bitch? Well, the plot's kind of just like that, except even more so. Throughout the entire reading of The Duchess War, I was so drawn in by the story that I forgot I was, in fact, reading a frakkin' story. On the one hand, it's an external conflict narrative, and on the other, it's internally driven. I don't even recall the diminutive details because hot-diggity, reality ditched my consciousness, entirely.
The Duchess War also deals with a some pretty heavy non-love-story elements, as well. Social class, working conditions for the poor, the role of government in the lives of its citizens; who said romance novels weren't "smart reading?!" This novel goes to some pretty dark places, both within the elements of the book, as well as the lead characters. There are moments when I just want to reach out and bear-hug both Robert, and Minnie. Each character has some pretty hardcore excrement from their pasts to deal with, and both do so with such believable emotion that the reader can't help but get entrenched in their emotional state. The plot aids this along at times, as well as the character's internal dialogues. Put simply, there are times I want to repeatedly slam my head in the refrigerator door because EMOTION! I do NOT cry, dammit, okay? I don't effing cry! (<--Lies.)
Wait, wait, wait, WAIT?! Are you telling me that I just read a hella grand novel, and the author actually THANKS HER READERS (capitalization necessary, yes) in the Acknowledgments? And, she also takes time to go into some of the historical points she addresses within the context of her book?
Yeaaah. My heart totally had a happy as a result of the above. So, in summary? This novel totally made me have Good Book Noise, and it's gonna be stuck in my brain's Fiction Reply data bank for quite some time. Dammit, I need more Courtney Milan, otherwise I'm going to asphyxiate for no logical reason!
Sometimes they're epic, sometimes they're shittastic, and other times they fly around like a YoYo in a Bounce House. In the case of Mi
Books are weird.
Sometimes they're epic, sometimes they're shittastic, and other times they fly around like a YoYo in a Bounce House. In the case of Milan's book, Unveiled, said novel falls way-the-hell into the latter category. Before I dive into my I'm-Gonna-Rant-And-Then-Shut-Up review, know with absolute certainty that this book kicked SO much ass! Yep, I liked it, I loved it, and I spazzed in wanting so much more of it, truly. But! Upon the start of the book, and definitely within the first one hundred pages I was all...well...
...Yeah. Kind of like that, except more, "I don't know where the hell this book is going!" as apposed to the general, "Dude, what the serious seriousness?!" Any book can struggle at the onset, but Milan's novel, for some inexplicable reason, came off like a drunk hobo making the switch from boxed wine to Vodka; a good plan, but not without some stumbles and issues. Ironically, my yes-but-no interest in the first half of the novel didn't stem from the lack of interestingly dynamic characters; me LOVE some of them characters! Rather, the story just jump-starts with a BANG into the meat of the book without any real buildup. Throughout the first few pages, I was just searching for a foothold or some story line clarity, like bad.
Unveiled didn't seem to be a Happy-Happy-Star-Ranking kind of deal, at first, since the heroine and I...well, we didn't get along too well in the beginning. She jumped from page one seeming like the Eternal Ass-Snob, and while I know it's illogical to say one can't enjoy a story if the lead characters aren't likable (I KNOW, okay?!), I still maintain that it's a prerequisite for my judgmental ass. Margaret felt like Queen Bitch for no other reason than the fact that the reader is denied personal time with her before the book leaps off, so here I was thinking, "Yep! I'm gonna hate her!"
Yep! I sucked on that assumption! One of the most damn-woman-you're-good! aspects of Courtney Milan is that she pwns the ability to create fascinatingly dimensional characters that are layered in complexity. This is obviously true for Margaret, who was a unique mix of strength and weakness, confidence and self-consciousness, and pretty much every other polarizing identifier. Likewise, such is, can, and should be said for Ash, the hero who embodied probably one of the most interesting male roles I've ever read in quite a while. His weaknesses gave him a strength that made him simultaneously multifaceted, and fun to read.
Interestingly enough, while the above is true for the two leads of the book, the entire cast of characters contained a lot of the cool conflicting character traits, too. The brothers, each set belonging to both the hero and heroine, were the antithesis to "set pieces," were damned-yes vital to the plot, and granted so much more to the reading of this story than I can possibly articulate. The fact that the entire novel felt realistic in its character creations, even down to the inconsequential secondary and tertiary cast, shows Milan's got some mad writing skills to her credit.
(Not to Milan, apparently!)
Lastly, the final thing that just blows me out of the water is Courtney's ability to create an exceptionally complex plot that is entirely, completely, OH MY GOD ALL THE WAY dependent on emotionally driven conflict. And, yes, she even manages to do so without once making the novel come off too weak, as though there was no plot in existence whatsoever, or without bogging the whole ship down with Angsty Drama Bullshit. When considering how well the story sails along, all the while making me FEEL for Margaret's loyalty struggle, making me FEEL for Ash's feelings of inadequacy, hell, making me FEEL for their emotional story as a whole...I just...I can't even!
Incidentally, if you're an author who can write THIS for your lead character, how the hell is it possible to not just fan-girl over the book, like lots?!
"Because if you were suggesting that you would sacrifice your sister's reputation to serve your own purposes, think again. If you do, I won't just steal your title and your lands. I will run any bank that holds your funds into the ground. I will bribe your servants to slip nettles into your bed. I will hire trumpets to stand outside your home every evening, where they will sound notes at irregular intervals. You will never have a solid night's sleep again."
When considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fasWhen considering my reaction to this book, in general, overall, I'd have to say enjoyment was found. At the end of the story, I admit freely I was fascinated by the characters. I found the plot to be readable. The dialogue was believable. The external drama was interesting, and well written. But, there were some issues.
From the beginning of the novel, to the end, I found the leading characters in the story to be very much grounded in reality. One of my biggest criticisms of a book forms itself when the people within a story are flat and without life. In Secrets of a Proper Countess, while I have other criticisms, this is not one of such. Both Blackwood and Isobel are given distinct personalities which form themselves very well, and allow for the sense that these two are real people, with real feelings.
However, with compliment comes criticism. Firstly, while the above holds true for the hero and heroine, it does not hold so for the secondary characters. Along with the two antagonists of the book, whose on screen viciousness is only truly depicted at the end of the book, thereby making them seem less of a threat throughout the story, I likewise found the secondary protagonists, Adam and Marianne, to be TSTL. The Too Stupid To Live designation holds more for Marianne, considering her actions and out-of-place reactions to her predicament with Isobel at the story's close made her seem vapid, which drastically contradicted the tone of the story the author was so obviously trying to create. Adam, though, was more of a placeholder character for Blackwood, seeming to play the External Doubt for him in a very awkward and spastic way.
The plot of Secrets of a Proper Countess holds as much merit as criticism. The story did fascinate me, however, since the high drama finality of the book was unexpected. Largely, Isobel's struggles throughout the story focuses on her internal conflict in coping with the role she plays in her family, specifically with her in-laws. The danger she courts by dallying with Blackwood plays out more like suspense, rather than true conflict, since it is largely emotionally based.
All changes dramatically by the end of the story, the nature of the story transforming from internal to a very hard-hitting external conflict. Which, sadly, didn't lend itself well to the story. This is so because, frankly, the author handled such transformation by not handling it. Instead of threading the transformation throughout the story, providing intrigue with drama and suspense, Cornwall instead decided to slap the reader with this change by giving us an 89 page climax!
Yep, that's right. Very, very heavy grit-your-teeth, squint-your-face-because-you're-kept-in-a-constant-state-of-Holy-Shit-What-Now?! is elongated over an absurd amount of time. Starting on page 274, and not ceasing until page 363, the fate of the primary characters are unknown for a ridiculous amount of time. While high-drama is okay for a climax, and almost expected, really, it is not okay when it is used simultaneously for a story's turning point, as well as its closing Final Problem. Big, big no-no for me.
Aside from drawing out the drama to an unnecessary degree, Cornwall also disappointed me in another big area; the romance. Fundamentally, I am reading a romance, and with that fundamental reality comes the fact that while I enjoy danger, intrigue and mystery as much as the next reader, I still want my romance. One of my biggest criticisms of this book is the fact that the hero and heroine go from Lusty Pants to Love-Lovey with no emotional framework in between.
Frankly, there was so much plot to this book that such rudely shoved itself in between the romantic development Isobel and Blackwood needed in order to make their romance and HEA believable. Such development was so nonexistent that, by the time the couple was proclaiming Love-Lovey-Loveness, I was excessively irritated because it came across as painfully dull, and fake. What's more, the hero considered Isobel to be a traitor and murderer not a few pages prior to deciding that he loved her! Our gallant hero instead claimed it was Adam's fault for making him doubt Isobel!!! (Yes, three exclamation marks were indeed necessary.) So, yeah, big problem, there.
So, overall, this book? Yep. Its got issues, big issues. However, at no time was I so disgusted with the story that my hands ever itched to throw it against the nearest wall. Likewise, regardless of the Big No-Nos within, the novel was entirely readable. I did connect with the characters, despite wishing they'd connect more with one another. I did enjoy the plot, despite feeling as though it's conclusion was longer the President Bush's presidential term. And, overall, I did like this book, Big No-Nos aside. But, as with any novel, if it's written well enough, it can endure in spite of itself....more