Book Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan

After reading several books in a row that ranged from mediocre to DNF, I picked up Courtney Milan’s newest book, The Heiress Effect. Milan is, hands-down, one of the best writers I’ve ever read, so I was hoping her newest would be good.

It wasn’t just good. It was fabulous, and I couldn’t put it down. In fact, my friends probably got to hear me read aloud half the book because every time something awesome happened, I hugged my Kindle and squealed, and then had to explain why.

the-heiress-effectSynopsis:

Miss Jane Fairfield has made a career of social disaster. She wears outrageous gowns and says even more outrageous things. The only reason she’s invited anywhere is because of her immense dowry–which is all part of her plan to avoid marriage and keep the fortune-hunters at bay.

Mr. Oliver Marshall is the illegitimate son of a duke. His acceptance in society is tenuous as it is. If he wants any kind of career at all, he must do everything right. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both.

I was really looking forward to this book because I liked Oliver, the hero, from Milan’s previous stories. I loved his relationship with Robert, the hero from The Duchess War, and I couldn’t wait to see Oliver as the hero in his own story.

However, Jane stole the entire freaking show and I loved every second of it.

By the end of the first chapter, you’re firmly in her corner. You completely understand why she’s trying her hardest to drive off any suitors. She’s brave and bold and brash, and even when she’s afraid, she doesn’t back down. You’re cheering for her every single step of the way.

Jane isn’t just bad with manners. She’s downright rude, saying things that don’t just toe the line of social rules; they jump screaming past them. “Outrageous” is quite possibly the kindest way to describe her dresses, as the first one she wears features four different kinds of lace. She came to the conclusion a long time ago that she would never fit in, so she’s going to stand out in the worst possible way to keep herself absolutely unmarriageable.

It’s hilarious to read about, but when she’s no longer playing for a crowd, Jane drops the act and we see how desperately lonely she is. And with Oliver, Jane has the first person, aside from her sister, that she can consider a friend.

Because of the circumstances of his birth, Oliver has spent his entire life with a foot in two worlds, and one of those worlds tries its best to keep him down. If he wants to accomplish anything, he has to play by the rules set out by those who came before him. And so he has, biding his time so that he can make the political changes he needs to.

However, there comes a point when the line between “biding your time” and “cowering” blurs, and that’s part of what Oliver has to deal with in his own arc. I loved him as well, loved watching him grow thanks to (in a large part) the women in his life—Jane, as well as his aunt and sister—and his final confrontation with Bradenton (one of the villains) is a sight to behold.

And I loved, loved, loved that Jane owned herself. She was never a damsel in distress, not really. She could and did take care of herself and handle her own problems. When she turned to Oliver it was not because she needed saving, but because she wanted the reminder that she wasn’t alone. Their relationship had balance.

Then, there was this line, which is one of the best lines I have ever seen a romance heroine utter EVER:

“I’m not a gift,” she said. “Or a prize that you’ve won. I’m a woman, and I want you because it will give me joy.”

Do you have any idea how rare it is to see that explicitly stated in fiction, to see a woman owning her desire and her sexuality without any kind of shame about it? Holy shit, that line might be one of the sexiest things I’ve ever read.

And this was one of the parts that made me shriek with incoherent glee:

“Do you think you’re squabbling with him [Bradenton] over me?” She smiled more brightly. “Oh, no, Mr. Marshall. You’re wrong. I’m squabbling with him over you.”

GO KICK HIS ASS, BABY; I’LL HOLD YOUR FLOWER.

Seriously, Jane was a thousand different kinds of amazing.

I adored the secondary romance between Emily and Anjan. Though it was shorter than the main story, it could easily have been its own book, but it worked very well as it was. My only issue was that I wanted more from Anjan’s viewpoint, because he was just great. One of his last scenes is easily a highlight of the novel.

Words cannot adequately express how much I loved this book. Everything about it was fantastic, and my nerdy little heart just absolutely adored it. While it is second in The Brothers Sinister series, you don’t need to have read the first book to enjoy this one.

Go pick it up. Now. It is worth every penny you will spend and then some.

Authors I Love: Courtney Milan

This is a series that’s just what it says on the tin: authors I love.

These aren’t just authors that I read; these are authors I follow, whose books I buy as soon as I get a chance. These are the authors for whom I’ll read everything they write just because they’re the ones writing it.

This edition features: Courtney Milan!

What does she write?
Historical romance.

How did you first hear about her?
The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website, when they reviewed her novella Unlocked.

unlockedWhat was the first book of hers you read?
I bought Unlocked based off the aforementioned review because I was going on a relatively short plane trip and thought it would be a good length for that. Not only was I right, I ended up buying and reading the rest of the books in that series before the end of the summer.

How many of her books have you read?
All of them. I am not even exaggerating. Every novella, every novel: I own them all. All of them on my Kindle, plus one paperback I bought solely for the purpose of being able to physically give it to other people.

I might have a problem.

Why do you like her so much? 
One: She has written (thus far) two virgin heroes and done an amazing job of it. Virgin heroines are a dime a dozen in romance, but virgin heroes are so much rarer. (Oh my God, I didn’t know I needed to read awkward virgin sex until she had a scene like that in The Duchess War and it was so freaking good I just wanted to cry.)

Two: The conflicts that keep her characters apart are never, ever contrived. She forces them into corners where they have to choose between the person they love and something else that matters tremendously to them. There is always a part in her books where I’m thinking, “I know this will end happily, but I have no idea how.” You don’t run into the issue of “This could be solved in five minutes if the characters would just talk to each other.” No, even with the talking, these problems are not easily fixed.

Three: Her characters are fantastic. I can’t count the number of times I’ve finished one of her books and, when asked what I liked, replied, “(Character Here) was AMAZING.” Plus, she has a way of taking characters I didn’t like initially and turning them around so I’m sympathizing with them by the end of the series.

Four: Many of her novellas involve middle-class/lower-class heroes and heroines (The Governess Affair, This Wicked Gift, A Kiss for Midwinter). Since most historical romances involve the upper classes—throw a rock in the bookstore and you’ll hit a million books about dukes and earls—it’s a nice change to see a different class represented.

Five: She doesn’t shy away from social issues of the day, like the evolution of rights for women and lower-class men, racism, and the awful medical practices of the time, just to name a few.

In Trial by Desire, the heroine, Kate, is breaking laws by helping women get away from abusive husbands. In What Happened at Midnight, the idea of a divorce is a radical one. In the Brothers Sinister series, we see a huge focus on issues like voting rights and other extremely radical politics for the time (particularly with Robert in the first book). Milan knows how to do her research, also, and when she fudges stuff, there’s usually a detailed author’s note as to what she did and why. It adds so much richness to the books to see them taking place in a world of change like this.

What’s your favorite book of hers?
Novel: Unraveled. Smite’s probably my favorite hero.

Novella: The Governess Affair. I have read this, I kid you not, five or six times. (Here’s a bit of my flailing about it.)

What’s your least favorite book of hers?
Novel: Unclaimed. I loved the book right up until the very end. One of the fights near the end just didn’t make sense to me because there was just such a disconnect between what the heroine was thinking and what she was saying. Both made sense, but it just didn’t work as well for me.

Novella: This Wicked Gift, because I liked the hero’s arc much better than the romance itself. My favorite part—the one I reread about 3 times—was the climax with the hero at his job.

Where should a new reader start?
I would go with The Governess Affair. It’s a novella, so it’s short, and it’s the first of a new series. And I just love, love, love the relationship between the hero and the heroine. The letters between them? PRICELESS.

If you’re up for a novel, Unveiled, the first one in the Turner series, is also a great place to start. You can read my review of it here.

(Yes, a lot of these are Amazon links. No, they are not affiliate links.)

The Critic Is Liebsterified – Another Blog Award

A couple of weeks ago, the lovely Jennings nominated me for a blog award!

Liebster Blog Award - Oooh shiny!

You like me, you really like me!

Thank you, thank you!

Now there are eleven questions I have to answer and eleven people I have to tag. Considering the last time I got an award and actually tagged people, I got in trouble, I’m just going to refrain from tagging anybody, okay? Call it self-preservation.

If you want to answer the questions below on your own blog (or heck, in the comments), consider yourself tagged. If you’d rather not, then congratulations, you’re safe…FOR NOW.

1. Name a book you would read over and over again?

Every time I pick up one of Courtney Milan’s books, I end up reading the whole damn thing. Same with Loretta Chase, particularly Lord of Scoundrels. If you see me using those as examples of good things to do with writing romance, it’s because I’ve read them so many times I have them memorized.

Once I get through my current stack of unread books, I’d like to go back and read the Mistborn trilogy again. Because it’s awesome.

2. If you could have 3 wishes granted, what would they be?

Wish one would be to have my house completely paid for. (NO MORTGAGE WOO!)

Wish two would be to spend some quality time with these fine gentlemen:

Wish Number 2

Wish three would be for three more wishes.

3. Who was your favorite teacher and why?

I was fortunate to have a lot of cool teachers in school. Mrs. Taylor in fifth grade and Mrs. Britt for sixth-grade history probably made the biggest impressions during my formative years. Writing-wise, I learned a TON during the professional writing program at OU, mostly thanks to Professor Chester.

4. Where is your favorite vacation spot?

It would be a toss-up between Hawaii and Kea, which was a lovely little island off the coast of Greece. What can I say? I like beaches.

5. What chore do you absolutely hate doing?

Dusting. Farking dusting. I can count on one hands the number of times I’ve done it since moving into this house 18 months ago.

6. What is your favorite dessert?

Probably creme brulee. NOM.

7. What is your least favorite mode of transportation?

I once took a bus to New York. I would not want to repeat that trip.

8. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In no particular order: Lawyer, teacher, illustrator, author, spaceship architect.

9. If money were no object, where would you live and why?

I would live right where I am. I really love Tulsa, and all my friends are either here or within easy driving distance.

I would totally keep vacation houses in Seattle and Hawaii, though.

10. What is your dream career?

Pretty close to what I’m doing right now, actually. If I could bump it so that I was doing webdev part-time and writing the rest of the time, I would be a happy camper.

11. What movie do you flat-out refuse to watch, no matter how good people say it is?

Just about anything that could qualify as a horror movie/slasher flick. I’ve never seen The Exorcist, Scream, or anything involving Freddy and Jason. I hate scary movies.

Want to answer the questions? Feel free!

September #WriteMotivation – Week 1 Check-in

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Well, September is only just underway, and I’ve spent most of the weekend recovering from August. I’ve gone to the movies (hello, Batman, so nice to finally see you) and picked up a dozen new books (yes, literally, one dozen new books).

Of those books, included is the anthology that has “This Wicked Gift” by Courtney Milan, one of two books of hers I don’t yet have. (The other is the anthology Midnight Scandals, which came out about a week ago.) I think this officially puts me in the camp of “fangirl.”

I also think I shouldn’t be allowed near a bookstore for about a week.

1) Finish Buzz stuff by Sept. 10.
I’ve gotten started on both of my articles, and I’ve found about half the articles I’ll need for weird news. So we’re off to a good start here.

2) Edit 5 chapters of the ’06 NaNo per week.
It’s printed!

TSB - Draft 3

When you add all three drafts together, I’ve printed out more than 1500 pages. This is only draft three.

So over the next few days I’ll start going through it in editing mode, making my own notes, and then combine those with the feedback I’ve gotten from my CPs so far.

3) Post to the blog twice a week.
With this, I’ve posted three times in September thus far. Huzzah!

4) Post at least 2 reviews.
If I actually write reviews for everything I’ve seen and read over the past couple of weeks, I’ll meet this easily.

5) Comment on at least 3 other blogs each week.
Haven’t started yet, but I will soon!

July #WriteMotivation: Week 2 Check-in

I’m researching!

*waits for the shocked gasps and disbelieving laughter to subside*

No, really, I’m researching. Something I don’t think I’ve done since college, unless you count looking up proper PHP syntax.

However. Remember that 2008 NaNo I’m intending to rewrite at some point? Yeah. I looked at it, looked at my world, and said, “There are many things I must figure out.”

Fortunately, most of my questions are of the “get the basics on Wikipedia and let your imagination take it from there” variety rather than the “exhaustively research every little nitty-gritty detail” variety.

On the plus side, I’m actually having a lot of fun with it. Most of it’s just building out more of the world, figuring out how certain things work, which is in turn helping me with plot points and ideas for future books. Good times for all!

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Header image and thumbnail photograph by Hugh Lee and licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On to the July goal updates!

1) Finish August Buzz articles by July 13.
All right, I finished them July 15. But still, I got them DONE.

2) Read 1 book a week.
And this past week has been:
Storm by Brigid Kemmerer
The Glamour of Grammar by Roy Peter Clark
Three Weddings and a Murder by Tessa Dare, Leigh LaValle, Courtney Milan, and Carey Baldwin

I think I would have read more if I hadn’t started reading one of the self-pubbed/indie-pubbed books I downloaded for the Kindle.

My brain snapped three pages in and I started making MST3K-style comments with the notes feature and ranting to my roommate every few sentences. I gave it three chapters; when I still wanted to punch the MC into putty, I decided it was time to put the book down and read something that didn’t make me froth with rage.

On a happier note, I have acquired Heartless by Gail Carriger (so I don’t have to wait after I finish Blameless) and Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett.

YES, I am going to hop into the Discworld series! I’m stoked. I’ve been wanting to read it since I finished Good Omens awhile back. I started reading Guards! Guards! in the checkout line at the bookstore, and I was laughing out loud:

The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can be readily proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one of those that look as though they were designed by M. Escher on a bad day and has more staircases than storys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.

I think I might be in love with you, Mr. Pratchett. And I’m only on page three.

3) Update blog twice a week.
Well, last week and this week I’ve managed three updates. Here’s hoping it continues the rest of the month.

On that note, are there any types of posts you want to see more? I’ve got a couple of ideas in the pipe, but if there’s anything you’ve particularly enjoyed and want to see more of, let me know.

Camp NaNoWriMo & June Goal Updates – Week 3

A hilarious thing I discovered this week:

Author Jennifer Armintrout started a chapter-by-chapter recap of reading 50 Shades of Grey back in April, which has made me come closer to spitting tea on my laptop than just about anything else this week.

(Well, okay, maybe this video: Trolling Saruman)

No, I have not read 50 Shades, and given the excerpts Armintrout has posted on her blog and my feelings on Twilight, it’s safe to say I probably won’t. (From her descriptions, my guess is it would be “book meet wall” by about chapter 8 or 9 for me.)

However, reading her commentary on the book is just, well…here are a couple of choice quotes:

“When she shakes his hand, Ana has some kind of short circuit situation that makes her blink like a malfunctioning Furby.”

“Still, even though he is, by her own description, an arrogant control freak who does weird things with his fingers while looking at her, Ana is completely, sexually paralyzed by his stunning physical appearance, which, as far as I can tell from the numerous superlatives Ana breathlessly recounts, is like looking directly at the face of God if God were an orgasm dipped in chocolate and the perfect pair of jeans.”

And this is just the very first chapter. As of right now, she’s got 24 more of these things up on her site.

On a related note, I will make it my life’s mission to work the phrase “blink like a malfunctioning Furby” into everyday conversation.

June goals!

1. Finish current edits on 2006 NaNo WIP!
Chapter 28 is in the bag. Chapter 28 was much longer than anticipated. Chapter 29 has started. I love chapter 29. And chapter 29 should not take me a freaking week to finish.

2. Outline 2008 NaNo novel, aka my Camp NaNo project.
Pretty much where it was last week.

3. Write 30,000 words on said Camp NaNo project.
Well, I have broken 30k, though it wasn’t on the “technical” Camp NaNo project.

4. Finish Buzz articles by June 11.

5. Read at least one novel for a brain break.
I definitely did not reread the first two books in Courtney Milan’s Turner series this week. Nope. Not at all.

Seriously, after I finish this draft, you guys aren’t going to hear from me for a month. And when you’re all, “Hey, Critic, what’s up?” I’m going to say “Nothing” and “Nothing” will actually mean “I’ve read every book on my shelf, beaten every game in the Final Fantasy series, and rewatched Doctor Who and White Collar for the umpteenth time.”

And now, a Camp NaNo update!

Camp NaNoWriMo Participant

Mmm, s’mores and writing.

Minimum word count for June 22: 35,000/50,000

My current word count: 30,108/50,000

Adventures in NaNoing: So say you have two really good friends. And you guys go a month without seeing each other, because you know, crazy stuff happens.

Then you meet up again and one friend is all “Hey, Bob proposed and we’re going to Cabo next month to get married!” And the other friend goes “OMG that’s great! I’m pregnant!” And then you sit back and say “Well, I got a new job and I’m moving to Hawaii!”

And you guys spend the next five hours comparing gossip on what’s happened to you and what’s happened to your families and how on Earth you’re going to make it to friend A’s wedding and friend B’s baby shower while still packing to leave for Hawaii on time.

You know that?

That was chapter 28 for me. Four characters, haven’t seen each other in about 3 weeks, catching up on all the crap that’s happened in the past 17 chapters and figuring out what to do next. Only it was less “babies and marriage” and more “demons and riots and by the way, brother dear, I can use magic, did you know that?”

Screw engagement, I want to have THAT conversation with my friends. “What have you been up to these past three weeks?” “Oh, you know, killed a demon, quelled a riot, single-handedly stopped a fire from devouring Woodland Hills Mall. How was your June?”

Very Short Excerpt:
Completely unedited.

Mason shook his head. “So…wait. She’s Ruby?”

The tone of Mason’s voice had changed, and Ari had the uncomfortable feeling he was in trouble. “Yes?”

Mason coughed delicately. “Don’t tell His Highness that it’s his sister who fought a demon with you.”

Ari had no intention of telling the prince any more than absolutely necessary of what had happened in the past few weeks. He could just imagine the man’s reaction.

“You did WHAT?”

Unfortunately, it seemed the princess did not share that same intention.