a very specific glom: novellas by Courtney Milan

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In 2011, I read a review at Dear Author praising Courtney Milan’s novella Unlocked. I marked the book as TBR and forgot about it. But when Jane at Dear Author put it on her best of 2011 list, I bought it. And loved it.

Since then Ms. Milan’s works have been auto-buys for me. Her novella The Governess Affair made my best of 2012 list; her novel The Heiress Effect is on my best of 2013. Two of her novellas–A Kiss for Midwinter and This Wicked Gift–are on my favorite holiday stories list.

Ms. Milan is a top-notch novelist. She is a superlative novella-ist. I’m not sure anyone in romance does the novella better. I’ve read six. Three are books I re-read on a regular basis, I love them so. Two are tied for Best Courtney Milan Novella (thus far): This Wicked Gift and A Kiss for Midwinter.

This Wicked Gift flat out rocks. The hero, William White, has lost faith in virtually everything. When he envisions his life it’s harsh, lonely, and cold. He’s given up dreams, and is bereft of fantasies save one. He’s lusted for Lavinia Spencer since the moment he walked into her family’s lending library. He knows he’d never be able to marry her–to do so would consign her to a life of poverty–but when a bad decision on her younger brother’s part offers him (he thinks) the chance to bed her, he takes it. What happens next is the stuff of great romances: unexpected, sexy, and a treatise on the power of love. I’ve recommended This Wicked Gift to everyone I can and, to a person, they have thanked me.

A Kiss for Midwinter showcases, among other talents, Ms. Milan’s impeccable historical depth and accuracy. The hero, Jonas Grantham, is a Leicester physician at a time when medicine changed radically. In particular, two famous studies, one done by Joseph Lister on the efficaciousness of washing one’s hands before moving onto the next patient and the other done by John Snow which isolated tainted water as the source of a London cholera epidemic, began to dispel the antiquated and often deadly practices of physicians driven by myth and misinformation. Jonas, in the novel’s opening scene, stands quietly by as the town’s doctor prescribes deadly poison and doom for a young pregnant girl. Jonas knows the man is wrong but, as he has yet to officially study medicine, he doesn’t feel he can contradict him. Years later, he returns to Leicester to practice medicine after having trained and worked in London. He’s ready to marry and makes a list of the ten prettiest women in town. Number eleven (and thus not on his list) is Lydia Charingford, the long ago pregnant girl. Once Jonas meets Lydia and talks with her, she becomes the only woman on his list. She, however, can barely be in his presence, he so reminds her of her shameful past. Ms. Milan tells their love story with compassion, insight, and humor. Jonas is one of my five favorite heroes in romance. I love his story and the way in which he wins over Lydia.

The Governess Affair is perhaps the best known of Ms. Milan’s novellas. (My review is here.) It launched her Sinister Brothers series which has, viably, been lauded by romance readers and reviewers. In it a young woman, made pregnant by a banally evil Duke, is determined to make him apologize and promise an education for her child. The Duke of Clermont, a bratty cad, turns the problem of Serena Barton over to Hugo Marshall, his man of affairs. Hugo, an ex-pugilist, is called the Wolf of Clermont due to his ruthless methods of making sure the Duke retains his fortune. Their story is funny, tragic, and beguiling. It’s a great read.

Unlocked is part of Ms. Milan’s Turner series, a set I like but, with the exception of this novella and the first book in the series, Unveiled (a top ten book for me in 2011), don’t love. Unlocked is a marvelous story. It takes a hero who once bullied the heroine to the point of her social destruction and make them lovers you desperately want to come together. Like many of Ms. Milan’s books, the science in this book–about comets, astronomy, and the geology of mountain climbing, is impeccable and intrinsic to the plot. If you don’t fall for Evan, Elaine and her mother, well, I suspect your tastes don’t mirror mine.

My favorite part of Ms. Milan’s What Happened at Midnight is its resolution. In this story, a young woman Mary has escaped a group of investors her father defrauded right before he died. Mary’s place of refuge, however, is no real refuge. She is the companion to a woman whose husband controls his wife’s and Mary’s every move. His non-violent abuse is horrifying–Mary is literally trapped in their home. When John, her ex-fiance and one of her father’s victims, finds her, he initially plans to do whatever it takes to find the money her father has taken from him and his family. However, he quickly susses out the truth about Mary’s current situation and together the two plot a better future for themselves and for Mary’s terrified lady. There’s nothing spectacular about much of this tale. It is, as is everything Ms. Milan writes, well-written and intelligent. The way in which the evil spouse is overthrown is excellent, though, and makes the novella an worthwhile read.

My least favorite of Ms. Milan’s novellas is The Lady Always Wins. My review of it is here. Though not my favorite, it’s still a novella by Ms. Milan and thus a fun read.


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