Hold Me (Cyclone #2) by Courtney Milan

I apologize to readers and the author for the delay in this review; I was a little distracted with the WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS!!! (Sorry, I’ve waited all my life to say that and I’m going to use every opportunity to get it out there. WORLD CHAMPIONS! CUBS! THESE WORDS GO TOGETHER AT LAST!

image1-1

Ahem. Okay, I will get focused—at least for a bit.

Hold Me is the second full-length book in Courtney Milan’s contemporary “Cyclone” series. We met Tina’s roommate Maria Lopez in Book 1, Trade Me (previously reviewed here).

Hold Me front cover

Hold Me front cover

THE PLOT: Maria Lopez leads a double life. By day, she’s a college student with a rough family history. By night, she runs a popular website discussing statistical data of theoretical apocalyptic events. She keeps this identity hidden, but a lot of professors and really smart people love her blog and beg to meet her and possibly hire her astonishingly smart self for projects. (Although they assume she’s probably a guy.) One fan she comes to know as Actual Physicist has, only through texting and email, become a best friend and maybe even more. But they’ve agreed to keep their identities secret and not meet, so the relationship hasn’t progressed to the next level.

When Maria and her brother’s friend, Professor Jay Thalang, meet for the first time, they immediately hate each other. Jay assumes he knows everything about Maria just from her appearance and dismisses her. Maria understandably bristles at this and doesn’t hesitate to tear him apart. There’s a physical attraction, but so much animosity that they’d probably never get past it…if they weren’t already in love as Em and Actual Physicist. Of course, they don’t know this yet.

What follows is a complex love story between two people with a lot of baggage between them. Even if they find out who the other is, is there any way to work through A) the way they met; B) Jay’s issues with his past, and C) Maria’s abandonment issues?

MY TWO CENTS: I should just talk about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK and leave it at that, but I have to say something else first. I’ll try to keep it brief.

This is the first romance I’ve read with a transgender person as one of the leads. When I realized we were getting a book about Maria, I had a split second of, “Do I want to read this?” I’m sorry for even that split second. I consider myself an LGBTQ ally, but it took Courtney Milan writing this book to make me understand that claiming that title takes more than just accepting that all people have human rights. People also deserve representation and inclusion. They don’t deserve me wondering if should dare read a book about them, like they’re some sort of forbidden element, or the mysterious “other.” Am I afraid that reading book will change my gender identity or sexual orientation? No. Do I enjoy books that represent the extreme complexities of human emotions in relationships? Yes. Do I believe that all people everywhere, regardless of gender, orientation, race, size, ethnicity, or religion, experience these emotions? Yes. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to turn away from a book from a favorite author when she’s representing a group of people that doesn’t include me.

And here’s the thing: this is a romance with problems you would find in any other romance. The conflict in the story doesn’t come from Maria being transgender or Jay being bisexual. Those things help create the characters, but they’re not the point. It’s more like the transitive process in interfering with the relationship development. For example, Maria is terribly skittish of love because her parents threw her out when she was 12. This tends to throw a roadblock into believing others can love and accept you unconditionally. There are no roadblocks involving her gender identity specifically.

As far as the story goes: it’s not just that I didn’t want to put it down; I didn’t even want to be bothered with going to work if I could be reading this instead. It’s enthralling. The reader is caught up in, “WHEN will they figure out who the other is? Will Maria and Jay make up in person before they find out they’re already in an online relationship? Who figures it out first? How will they react?” And then, actually making a relationship work is like a whole other (equally complicated) story.

One more thing: I love how the world of the Cyclone series was getting more fleshed out in this book. Adam and Blake Reynolds only make brief appearances, but Tina has a meatier role. So does Angela Choi, who will be a main character in the upcoming book Show Me.

COVER NOTES: Once again, the author had photos taken to represent the characters accurately. So we see representations that are the correct ethnicities (imagine that!) plus Jay and his tattoos, and Maria being gorgeous. Too bad her awesome shoes aren’t on the cover, too, but one can’t demand everything.

BOTTOM LINE: Are you hesitating in reading this book? Please don’t. It’s a fantastic love story. You will love it, you will love the characters, and you will learn something—about statistics, or human nature, or both.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Find Me, about Tina and Blake (again), should be out sometime in 2017. The description is on Courtney Milan’s website now. Also coming soonish is After the Wedding, the next book in Milan’s historical Worth saga.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

The Year of the Crocodile (Cyclone 2.5) by Courtney Milan

This short story is a follow-up to Trade me, previously reviewed here.

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

The Year of the Crocodile Front Cover

SPOILER WARNING: There will be some spoilers for the first book in the series.

THE PLOT: Blake and Tina have been dating for a year, and so far Tina has successfully kept her parents from meeting Blake’s father. It’s not just that Adam Reynolds is a profane, self-centered jackass. It’s not just that Adam is a multi-billionaire while the Chens are poor. There’s also politics…the Chens had to escape communist China, while Adam exploits workers there.

When Adam realizes that Tina is deliberately keeping this meeting from taking place, he takes matters into his own hands. He storms the Wal-Mart (his very first trip there) where Tina’s mother Hong Mei works as a cake decorator. Hong Mei is more than a match for Adam, and they spar while she (ahem) decorates a cake for him.

Will the Reynolds and Chen families spend Chinese New Year together in the Chens’ tiny apartment? Will anyone die? Will Tina’s head actually blow off in a mushroom cloud?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a hysterical, laugh-out-loud (several times!) story. It only takes about 40 minutes to read, maybe less, but it’s well worth it. The cake scene is roll-on-the-floor funny. Okay, fine, if you don’t like bad language (like Captain America), then you probably won’t like Adam Reynolds or this story. Remember, his employees refer to him as “AFR” and the F does not stand for “fantastic.” He f-bombs a few times per sentence, but it’s not just for shock value. It’s his very character, and it’s pretty funny. Consider this jewel:

These two items of personal history go abso****inglutely great together, like bananas and asphalt. Like marshmallows and the ****ing swamp thing.

This story is narrated in turns by Tina, Blake and Adam. Adam’s internal monologue gives us more insight into his character and motivations. Hmmm, that well runs deep. Can’t wait to explore it more. Oh yeah, Tina and Blake get a steamy scene, but frankly, they took back seat to Adam for me in this story.

Note that this is numbered as 2.5 in the series. According to the author, that’s because this story actually takes place sometime during the setting of book 2.

COVER NOTES: Many cheers to the author for setting up photo shoots of models who actually represent the characters.

BOTTOM LINE: Short but hilarious, and also moves Adam’s character forward a bit. When I’m down, I’m pulling this back out and rereading the cake scene.

TEACUP RATING: Five+ out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Hold Me, the second full-length book in the series, is planned for October 2016.

Note: Review is based on a free product received from the author.

Her Every Wish (Worth Saga 1.5) by Courtney Milan

This novella is the second entry in the  new “Worth Saga” series, and its characters were first introduced in Once Upon a Marquess (reviewed here). Daisy is Judith’s friend in poverty, and Crash is her former lover.

her every wish

Her Every Wish Front Cover (Independently Published)

THE PLOT: When Daisy enters a contest that will be awarding startup capital to the person with the best business proposal, the crowd mocks and belittles her. Just because the rules didn’t specifically state the entries must be male doesn’t mean a woman should try to take a job from a man. But when people start throwing things at her, Crash steps in to stop the violence.

Daisy and Crash had a brief affair that ended abruptly. She’s not sure why he wants to help her win the contest, but having him around unnerves her. As for Crash, he’s still smarting from their breakup. But as Crash works to build up Daisy’s confidence, they forge an emotional connection that was missing the first time around.

MY TWO CENTS: I feel that no one gets to the heart of human emotions like Courtney Milan. For me, that makes her work more than romances. They’re like studies in human nature. The characters learn more about themselves, and that allows them to become romantically involved.

I’ve seen some reviews claim that Daisy and Crash had a “big misunderstanding.” I don’t agree with that. A lack of understanding, maybe; but I characterize a “big misunderstanding” as something like: “a couple were in love, but her father told the hero she wasn’t interested, and told the heroine that he only wanted her for her money.” This is more like, Daisy doesn’t understand how she insults Crash by insinuating that he should apologize for who he is…a multiracial former thief of uncertain parentage. In response, Crash lashes out at Daisy, hitting her in her weakest spot: her very worth as a human being. Yep, these two have a lot of work to do to mature, learn about themselves, and other people’s points of view.

Also, I love how Courtney is making a point of writing for all people, all kinds of romances. To a lot of people today, an interracial romance is probably no big deal, yet the vast, vast majority of romance is focused on white straight people. Courtney’s got some very interesting stories coming up in her contemporary “Cyclone” series, and I’ll definitely be checking them out.

BOTTOM LINE: This novella was just about the perfect length to tell a complete story without getting overly long or being too short. I love the way these characters grow to maturity before they can connect emotionally.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The novella is now available in e-formats and paperback.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: After the Wedding, about Judith’s sister Camilla, should be out around the end of the year.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once Upon a Marquess (Worth Saga #1) by Courtney Milan

Happy 2016! I hope all my readers enjoyed lovely holidays. I’m finally ready to return from my vacation. (Well, okay, I’m not ready, but it’s time anyway.)

At last, we have the first book in Courtney Milan’s new historical series. And even though the series is presented as a historical romance series, remember that Courtney Milan is never what you could call “traditional” (and I for one am glad of it).

Once Upon a Marquess Front Cover

Once Upon a Marquess Front Cover

THE PLOT: Once upon a time, Judith Worth was the pampered daughter of an earl, innocently flirting with her brother’s best friend, Christian, Marquess of Ashford. Then her life changed drastically. Her father killed himself after being convicted of treason, and her oldest brother, Anthony, disappeared while being transported for the same crime…all based on Christian’s testimony. Poor Judith was left alone to care for her younger brother and sisters. She did her best, but the family can barely afford to eat; her young brother is being bullied at Eton; her sister Camilla hasn’t spoken to her for eight years; and her youngest sister Theresa is “difficult.”

Then Christian returns to her life. Judith doesn’t even want to see him, but she needs help with a legal/financial matter, and her solicitor is feeding her a line. She needs the backing of a male to get some answers, and a marquess would be particularly helpful.

Christian is haunted by what he did to the Worths, but still believes he was in the right. He wants Judith to loan him Anthony’s journals so he can get to the bottom of the treason.

As the two reluctantly spend time together, their natural personalities begin to overcome anger and awkwardness and rekindle their friendship. But it’s going to take a whole lot of openness to really reach an understanding. Judith’s pride and Christian’s secret demons throw up some serious barriers.

MY TWO CENTS: This is not a “traditional” romance. It’s the story of a family struggling to survive after heartbreak and scandal. Judith has taken a huge burden on her shoulders: she wants her siblings to have “normal” lives despite whatever happens to her. Her very selflessness is a burden and she doesn’t even realize it. Her only outlet (and secret source of income) is working with clockwork items, a fact Christian recognizes and encourages even in young Judith.

I don’t know enough about Autism Spectrum Disorder to absolutely diagnose Theresa, but I’m fairly sure that’s what explains some of her behavior. Theresa is both darling and exasperating, and Judith’s refusal to abandon her to save herself strengthens her character.  The situation also giving us hints of Camilla’s character.

Which leads to…what on earth is Camilla’s story? I’m so glad her book is next. Judith has been writing to her for years, assuming that Camilla just won’t speak to her. When Judith discovers the truth, she is helpless, shocked, and appalled.

Back to the romance: Christian has some quirks himself, such as an obsessive compulsion to put items in order. He also has a somewhat Pythonian sense of humor, which Judith matches (see the hilarious conversation between “Fred” and “Bill,” complete with many puns). It’s not that they can’t be romantic; it’s just that Milan understands that to build that bridge, they must be friends first. And their friendship is beautiful, realistic, and relatable.

BOTTOM LINE: “The Worth Saga” is off to a promising start. I’m looking forward to Her Every Wish, the novella about Judith’s friend Daisy, and I wish Camilla’s book, After the Wedding, was out RIGHT NOW.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and e-formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Trade Me (Cyclone #1) by Courtney Milan

As a rule, I generally don’t care for contemporary romance. I much prefer historical settings, and I usually feel like contemporaries end up being much more about sex than romance. (Jude Deveraux is my exception.) But I have recently chosen to read two contemporaries  written by two of my favorite historical romance authors. The first is Trade Me, a New Adult by Courtney Milan and the first in her new Cyclone series.

Trade Me Front Cover (Femtopress)

Trade Me Front Cover (Femtopress)

THE PLOT: Tina Chen is a really poor, struggling college student. She lives on rice in order to send money to her family…and then her mother gives it all away to other people. Tina is pretty fed up when she loses it over comments made by classmate Blake Reynolds, the pampered son of the super-wealthy owner of Cyclone, a Fortune-500 technology company. Blake has been interested in Tina for a long time, but he’s been dealing with a lot of issues…including how to avoid taking over the company from his father. For him, college is a deflection, NOT the only way to a better life like it is for Tina.

After the blow-up, Blake starts bonding with Tina. As her learns about her, he offers to trade lives with her for a short time. She can write the script for the reveal of Blake’s incredible new Cyclone product, live in his house, drive his car, and earn his salary. He’ll live in the garage she calls home, washing dishes for a job and living on Tina’s meager salary. Tina agrees under the condition that when time’s up, they have no relationship whatsoever…no friendship, no romantic involvement. Mutual attraction will play havoc with this plan, though.

MY TWO CENTS: I couldn’t stop reading this book. Yes, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief, but that didn’t bother me. Blake is a likable character, and he wrestles with a problem you don’t usually see with male characters. Tina and her family are so well-written that they might actually exist. I could feel Tina’s anguish in dealing with her mother, as well as her sense of responsibility for the family.

As usual, Courtney Milan makes the reader believe a real relationship is developing between two characters. It’s never just, “Poof, we’re in love. Ta da!” It grows gradually throughout the story.

BOTTOM LINE: I really enjoyed this story and both main characters. I’m definitely looking forward to Book 2 in the series, Hold Me, which will include a transgender character (Tina’s best friend and roommate).

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book is available now in paperback and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister 4.5) by Courtney Milan

This novella is the final entry in the “Brothers Sinister” series, which makes me sad. It features…gasp…an interracial couple! Really! In 1882! Readers met Irishman Stephen Shaughnessy, also known as “An Actual Man,” in the previous book, The Suffragette Scandal (reviewed here). His romantic interest is Rose Sweetly, a brilliant mathematician who also happens to be of African descent.

Talk Sweetly to Me Front Cover

Talk Sweetly to Me Front Cover

THE PLOT: Rose is a lot more interested in Stephen, her neighbor, than she should be. First, she knows his reputation with women. Second, he’s always joking, and she’s got serious things on her mind, like the distance between planets and caring for her very-pregnant sister. Third, she believes her racial background pretty much prevents her from ever being more to him than a mistress. But Stephen will not be denied a chance with Rose. He manages to set up math lessons with her as his tutor. He buys her a telescope for a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. And at every step, he’s unselfish as can be. But Rose just can’t take the chance until a life-or-death situation proves whom she can trust most in the world.

MY TWO CENTS: How can you not love Rose? She’s a geek! She’s a genius! And, unfortunately, she’s forced to face the barriers of racism. (As I was reading Rose, I was picturing Freema Agyeman, who played another smart, geeky Brit who also happened to have dark skin.) And while I enjoyed Stephen, Rose was really the star of this story. She wrestles with her own feelings and the dictates of society, all while just wanting to be alone with her slide rule. (That is not a euphemism.) The moments where Rose shines the most are those she shares with her sister, Patricia, whose complicated pregnancy is even more endangered by the racist doctor who’s supposed to be caring for her. The first time the doctor referred to Patricia as “women like her,” I physically flinched. I’m so glad Rose gets to…oh, but wait, that would be a spoiler.

For those interested, no other Brothers Sinister characters show up. There is a mention of Free, but that’s all.

BOTTOM LINE: A really good novella, but I wish this story could have been a full-length novel. I feel like the story itself is stronger than the romance, which, granted, is not necessarily a bad thing. Stephen and Rose’s relationship could have developed so much more, and more gradually, over a longer novel.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups. Definitely worth checking out, even if you haven’t read the rest of the series, especially if you appreciate diversity in your reading.

ON SALE DATE: The novella is now available in e-formats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister #4) by Courtney Milan

Alas, we come to the final full-length book in the “Brothers Sinister” series. The book’s original title was The Mistress Rebellion, and, according to the author note, it was going to have a completely different kind of male lead. I think everyone will agree that the author made excellent decisions with both the title change and the hero’s personality.

The Suffragette Scandal Front Cover

The Suffragette Scandal Front Cover

THE PLOT: Frederica “Free” Marshall is a suffragette in 1877 England. She runs a newspaper “written by women, for women, about women.” Edward Clark is a man with a tragic past. He’s been pretending to be dead for years after a family betrayal. Now he’s come back to England to stop his own younger brother, James, from persecuting Edward’s childhood friend, Stephen Shaugnessy. Only he finds out that James isn’t really after Stephen; he’s trying to bring down Stephen’s employer…Free.

Edward is really the rightful Viscount Claridge, but he has promised James that he’ll “stay dead” and let James be the viscount if he just stops the attacks on Stephen (and Free). But of course James won’t stop. In the meantime, Free is drawn to this man who is a self-proclaimed untrustworthy forger, but may be a whole lot more besides. How does Free stay safe without giving up her newspaper? How does Edward avoid claiming his rightful inheritance and becoming a peer? Will he ever confess to Free that he’s lied to her about his identity? How do they both stay the people they are without compromising for love?

MY TWO CENTS: I know this will come as a shock to my readers (sarcasm), but I loved this one. I may even have loved it a little more than The Heiress Effect (reviewed here), but I’m not sure. That’s a LOT of love.

Free is a fantastic character. She’s absolutely intelligent and firm in her beliefs throughout the book. She’s strong but not abrasive. It would have been easy to make an abrasive suffragette, but Milan deftly makes Free lovably assertive, not annoyingly aggressive. Edward is also a great character, and Free’s perfect match. Their first few scenes together are almost like a screwball comedy of one-upmanship (hint: Edward never wins). But the real key is that, by the end of the book, they know each other well enough to truly complete the other. It’s like magic.

I also have to mention yet another three-dimensional villain in James. He’s not your normal mustache-twirling “Mwha ha ha” villain. He’s really a weakling who convinces himself that he’s completely justified in all his actions, no matter how loathsome they are. Luckily, Edward has his number and knows just how to play him.

BOTTOM LINE: Another stellar offering from Courtney Milan, quite possibly the best in the whole series. How lucky for us readers that Free “demanded” her own book! And we still have Stephen Shaughnessy’s novella, Talk Sweetly to Me, to complete the series in August. My only fear is that her next series, the “Worth Saga,” won’t be as good…but maybe it will be even better.

TEACUP RATING: An easy 5+ teacups out of 5. Okay, maybe 6 out of 5, because the thimble speech really deserves a teacup all on its own. (Read the book. You’ll get it.)

ON SALE DATE: E-book formats are on sale now; audio will be released soon. I don’t see a print version listed on Amazon, but print versions are usually available at some point.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

%d bloggers like this: