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...
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
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
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.'"
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!
So, you know that moment when you're flying through a book like a great acid trip, and then WHAM-O... devastatio
This book? Yes, yes, yes, and then NO!
So, you know that moment when you're flying through a book like a great acid trip, and then WHAM-O... devastation? And, I'm not talking Katrina or Mt Kilimanjaro level of Mother Nature Be Crazy, I'm talking Japanese Tsunami, batten-down-the-hatches-'cause-shit-just-got-real level. Take that overdone analogy, and apply it to The Earl's Inconvenient Wife.
"But, Jacqueline!" as I'm sure you're not thinking, "...You rated this book 3 stars; a like! Surely you're not raging that bad?" And, dear reader, you'd be right. This novel takes the very special place in my Highly Qualified Reading Perspective of "yes-but-no." See, the characters? Oh, man, you talk about some believable-ass characters! If Claire was any sweeter, I'd pass out from a diabetic sugar-induced coma. If Nate was any more Beta-But-Alpha-But-Beta, I'd be throwing my panties off quicker than a Rihanna relationship about-face.
(GIF was vital, I promise.) These characters had believable written all over their actions, and their response to their personal situations was both logical, and driven. The plot of the book actually aids in this endeavor, forcing these two together, creating butt-loads of tension and conflict, which in turn make for a GREAT story...until the second act of the novel.
No, no, gentle reader, you read that correctly. This book pwns good conflict and tension backed by likable, interesting characters until about the 75% mark. Annnnnnd, then? The book falls on its ass harder than PSY's music career. Granted, that's a pretty hard insult I'm dishing out, I know, but it's warranted. The novel has one central point of conflict, and while it's the Big Mis trope, it still works. The problem results from the base fact that Ms. Nordin seemed to be trotting along with her writing and conflict, then suddenly decided, "Nah, it's all good now." Rushed resolutions and random character realizations for no logical apparent reason? Check.
Ironically, though, despite having one hell of a let down, the classic "All's well that ends because it ends!" climaxes, I still would recommend this to a friend. (Gokce, hon, I'm looking at you!) It's worth the time as long as the reader knows going into it there's great buildup with mediocre to lackluster climax and resolution. Granted, that's definitely sucky, but it doesn't negate the readability of the story, because fundamentally the characters are likable, if at times a bit underdeveloped. There is a level of depth without delving into the psyche. There's a level of plot without drowning in story.
Not exactly a sterling recommendation, but certainly enjoyable for a light read, or maybe as a break from the typical HR angst.
In Feelville, where feels run amok, there's a shop that specializes in bottled feels, and even THEY cannot conceive of the massive amount of feels run
In Feelville, where feels run amok, there's a shop that specializes in bottled feels, and even THEY cannot conceive of the massive amount of feels running amok in One Good Earl Deserves another. Hyperbole or not, let's just establish that Sarah MacLean kicks copious ass in writing book-crack. You pick up her novels and you're instantly addicted.
Do you like heroines who are unique, nerdy, and unusually fascinating? Heroines who are extraordinarily intelligent, rescue the hero in distress, and are damned strong characters with distinctive and believable personalities? Duh, of course you do, and thus Pippa is basically destined to be your literary BFF. You like heroes who are emotionally tortured while NOT being whiny bitches? Whom quietly pine and burn for their lady, are the embodiment of Sex on a Stick, and are the idealistic mix of Alpha and Beta? Stop right there, awesome reader, because we all know you do, so take comfort in knowing that Cross is your book boyfriend.
(The 11th might not be adorably red-headed, but Cross is one fine ginger!) Basically this book has awesomeness in spades, and if the refreshingly different heroine (yay smart ladies!) and exceptional hero (yay red-heads!) aren't enough to make you book-drool all over yourself, then kick-ass writing, perfect pacing, and plot surely must be! ... Okay, yeah, I just nerd-ed all over the place, so you'll have to excuse the mess, but, c'mon, a story where gender and sex roles are completely reversed? Where the heroine propositions the hero, where the heroine saves the day and rescues herself AND Mr. Sex On A Stick? Where the sexual and emotional tension are viscerally palpable? A book that sparks violent tendencies in you if one dare disrupts your time spent falling in love with non-existent people?!
Okay, I know, I know; I need a chill-pill. But, in all seriousness, while the basic plot of the novel might appear simplistic to some, in that said plot is admittedly just Pippa begging Cross to provide her with understanding of coitus, this seemingly rudimentary set-up provides for fun dialogue and astonishingly interesting story points. Oh, and let's please just take a hot minute to note here that this book is SMOLDERINGLY SEXY! The way this author tantalizes both her lead characters using their undeniably on-fire chemistry, in addition to when the game of Will They/Won't They finally reaches physical intimacy...well, let's just say the reader's wait is rewarded with one hell of a smexy-ass scene.
Ooh, yeah. I went there. *Pauses to laugh maniacally.*
So! Yes! This book? Read it! If you're a genre fan (and, let's face it, if you're reading this review and have made it THIS far, we know you love this awesome-sauce), and you're bogged down with repetitive story types while DYING for something new, One Good Earl Deserves A Lover is begging for your attention.