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...more
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 referri...more
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.
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...more
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...
You know that moment after finishing a book, when your brain zig-zags like an in-play Ping Pong ball because you can't figure out how you feel about w...more
You know that moment after finishing a book, when your brain zig-zags like an in-play Ping Pong ball because you can't figure out how you feel about what you have just read? Well, welcome to my world. Firstly, let me put this out there, because I feel like if I don't I'm sacrificing virgins on the alter, or something equally heinous; A Rogue By Any Other Name is worth reading. It is, put simply, a good book. Despite my following complaining screed, it's fun to read. But...
...There are some problems.
The synopsis is pretty in-your-face-like-whoa simplistic; boy wants revenge, girl harbors means for revenge, annnnnd...marriage. While there is obviously a bit more to the structure of the story, that oversimplification is the meat-and-taters of the thing. As far as plot goes, there isn't too terribly much happening in the background lives of Penelope and Michael. This is sad, because I think if there were other motivating elements to the story, the thing would have bazooka-ed on up as a better read. As is, we've got Penny and Bourne circling each other in a very off-beat dance of "What's Going On With The Two Of Us, Yo?"
As far as characters are concerned, I'm thinking Penelope was a lot more fleshed out as a person than Lord Bourne (or Michael, he's a tad crazy-sauce Bipolar with his name for some inexplicable yet obvious reason.) The nature of the story grants us a significant amount of time inside Penny's head at the onset of every chapter, which is good like a sunny day at the beach, and bad like the subsequent sunburn. I, personally, believed her motivations, her actions and goals within the book, I just didn't like 'em. Too often, I felt like screaming...
...In the singular form, of course. Essentially, Penelope took so long to develop her backbone to Michael that I grew more irritated with her than I did with the hero's occasional Ass Hat #3 moves. It was such a relief towards the end of the story when she began showing some spirited spunk for herself, but by that point, I felt it was too late for me to truly appreciate her attitude. The above sunny day/sunburn analogy comes into play here, for the doorway, the one in which we're granted access to this chick's identity, is solely streamlined through letters to a dude (Michael) who's ignored her for years. Add that to the fact that she's all Mrs. Droopy-Eyed Pup about her new hubbie, and I wanted to just, well...
Michael gets the same treatment, too, of course, but to a lesser extent. Yeah, yeah, that's probably sexist, but at least his motivations came from a bit more believable context. However! Despite the bad character aspects, and the occasionally forced plot-points that just didn't flow well, the story read surprisingly well! From my review I'm sure it seems otherwise, but, since I have no problem DNF-ing a book in a split second if the thing becomes unreadable, that's not the case. A Rogue By Any Other Name reads well, predominately because of the fact that, despite having occasionally shit-tastic character motivations, Sarah MacLean makes you care about Penelope and Michael, as well making you wish for their HEA.
But, that in and of itself is the problem. You like Michael, you like Penelope, but rather quickly upon seeing them finally find one another emotionally, the two are easily forgotten. If anything, this book is prime sequel-bait, because if for no other reason it's hooked me like a Diabetic to a chocolate fountain; I want Pippa and Cross' book! The final scene of this novel makes you go uber-gushy; I admit it. I mean, c'mon, a nerdy girl in Victorian England paired with a tall intellectual ginger? Yeah. I'm all over that.
Wow. *Sigh.* This novella is just...oh, God. Talk about one comfortable read! Overall, I'm not a big-honkin' fan of the short story, predominately bec...more
Wow. *Sigh.* This novella is just...oh, God. Talk about one comfortable read! Overall, I'm not a big-honkin' fan of the short story, predominately because I'm frequently of the mindset that they suck. More often than not, a writer bombs shorts because it's hardcore hard to cram a compelling, interesting story within the span of one hundred pages, or less. But, oy, Milan rocked this one out of the stadium. A Kiss For Midwinter is one snuggable and fun read that just works.
(Yes, the above one-word scream is vital.) Do not, at all, under any circumstances read this novella without having first read The Duchess War. I mean it, dude; don't. With absolute certainty, your face will explode if you don't follow my instructions. Well, okay, granted, there exist no continuity confusion-issues without first reading Book One, and a reader won't be all what-the-hell with the plot, this is all true. However, the story will not be nearly as appreciated without first having met the characters of Lydia and Jonas, who are background-fun in The Duchess War.
So! A story that focuses entirely on two characters both of which must arrive on-scene emotionally prepared to drive a story entirely on their own merit? A story that does not utilize any external conflict whatsoever to move the plot along? A story that goes to some pretty intense and emotionally dark places? A story that utilizes the "Christmas time trope" without ever once tutoring the reader? A story that makes you care about two people immediately upon the start of the novella, with vastly limited exposition time? It's almost like Mrs. Milan looked at her publisher, and went balls-to-the-wall...
The story has excellent pacing, which is damned necessary when it comes to writing truncated stories. The characters are likable, dynamic, and engagingly believable. But, there does exist one teensy-weensy problem; the hero. Oh, don't get your knickers in a wad, you Beta-male HR haters, it's not what you think. Jonas is absolutely adorable as a male lead. I like him, I love him, I want more of him; but! There's one thing I didn't like, and that's the fact that Milan basically wrote the Perfect Hero, and had him go nowhere.
The entirety of the plot, indeed, the sole basis of the story is Jonas traipsing after Lydia in trying to make her "see" him; and hey, considering the background these two characters have, I'm okay with that aspect. Rather, a perfect story has lots of Must Meet This Criteria To Be Awesomesauce, and one of those is growing your characters. Lydia morphs from a seed to a rose, which makes sense and fits when considering the emotional baggage of her back-story. In order for her and Jonas to wrap up their HEA, she's got to get from Point A "I-Gots-Shiznit-I-Need-To-Deal-With" to Point B "Hey!-Hey!-I'm-Okay!" This cool-beans transitional growth, though, never happens for Jonas, 'cause he basically arrives on scene with a lot of possible issues for internal conflict that go nowhere faster than Mother Teresa in a whore house.
THIS. IS. WHY. I. HATE. SHORT. STORIES! (Also, yay John Green GIF!) ... A Kiss For Midwinter had a lot of happy-places where I felt wonderful, and I did enjoy the story, so much. I love what it made me feel, I love the characters and the writing, but even as excellently structured as the story was, I felt that had it instead been a full-length novel, both characters could have had evolved equally as well during the span of the story, not just Lydia.
Any story that can go from here...
"Also, he had decided it would be best not to mention his main reason for wanting to marry - that he thought it expedient to procure a regular source of sexual intercourse without risking syphilis." ...
"'I only said I would stop talking to you,' he'd written. 'I never promised to stop loving you.'"