Series Review: Carhart by Courtney Milan

Series Review: Carhart by Courtney MilanThis Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan
Series: Carhart #0.5
Published by Entangled: Edge on July 7, 2014
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 126
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads
one-star

Lavinia Spencer is too poor to be anything but practical. But when her younger brother lands himself in trouble, she has no choice but to do the unthinkable. She accepts the help of the dishonorable man that she’s always wanted, even knowing that it might mean her ruination…

Courtney Milan leapt to my super favorites list with the Brother Sinister series. In that series, she overthrows tropes, has great plots, amazing ships, and a solid feminist foundation. The novellas were weaker, but the novels were A+++. This Wicked Gift, however, shows absolutely none of what I loved about Brothers Sinister. It’s offensive in both concept and execution, and it’s hard to believe that it’s the same author who wrote Brothers Sinister.

Lavinia Spencer works at her family’s lending library and has been pinching pence to save up for a nice Christmas dinner. Her plans hit a snag in the form of her scamp of a younger brother, who steals the money to gamble, and who ends up owing ten pounds to a bad guy. Lavinia’s crush, William Q. White, overhears this and uses the ten pounds of his inheritance to buy the brother’s debt from the bad guy.

Then the love interest asks Lavinia to come visit him at his boarding house, where he tells her she can have the IOU back in exchange for him getting to sex her up. She goes along with it, and they do the blackmailed sex. Afterwards, William feels really bad about being a rapist, and Lavinia’s all “nah it’s cool. My bro is too young for that debt to be held against him anyway. I just wanted to do the sex with you, so I let you think that, so I actually took advantage of you.” And I’m all

Nothing happens to countermand this. Blackmailing a woman into sex is apparently a charming little meet cute and totally not reprehensible. And it’s all to impart some sort of weird Christmas spirit where she shows him that love is free and doesn’t require money (aka blackmail). A lesson he doesn’t learn because he still refuses to marry her because he doesn’t have enough money. The only reason they end up together is because he conveniently ends up with a better job.

Frankly, I’m still gobsmacked by how incredibly atrocious this novella is, because it’s absolutely the opposite of what I’d expect from Courtney Milan. I recommend skipping this one, even if you love Milan’s fiction (as I do).

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: Carhart by Courtney MilanProof by Seduction by Courtney Milan
Series: Carhart #1
Published by Harlequin HQN on January 1, 2010
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads
three-stars

She was his last chance for a future of happiness...

A gifted fortune-teller from a humble background, Jenny can make even the most sophisticated skeptic believe her predictions simply by batting her smoky eyelashes. Until she meets her match in Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a sworn bachelor and scientist.

He just didn't know it yet

Broodingly handsome, Gareth is scandalized to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of "Madame Esmerelda," and vows to prove Jenny a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress defies logic. Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth's calculated plan--until he can't decide whether to seduce her or ruin her. Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know...and the boundless possibilities of love.

Journeys into the backlist can be fraught with peril. Obviously the novella written years after didn’t work out so well, but I nonetheless ventured into Proof by Seduction, despite the horrid cover. There are aspects of Proof by Seduction that work, but the premise itself is flawed, making for a compulsively readable but not particularly great romance.

Jenny Keeble poses as “gypsy” Madame Esmerelda and parts fools from their money. A girl has to make a living after all. The “rep” here is deeply problematic, and there’s not a single Romani person in the whole damn thing. So yeah big warning on that because it’s not good.

Setting aside Jenny’s occupation, the premise allows for some nice humor. Gareth Carhart’s nephew Ned is her most devoted and most beloved client. Ned has depression back before it was really a thing, and Esmerelda’s predictions have warded off the darkness for him. Gareth, however, doesn’t know about that and just sees his nephew throwing away his money to a liar, so he sets out to prove that Esmerelda’s a fraud. What results is at times a madcap misadventure where Jenny uses this to get Gareth to do increasingly embarrassing things to try to make him back off.

I do like elements of this romance quite a bit, though it would have been stronger if it hadn’t leaned quite so hard on traditional romance genre cliches. Jenny’s not secretly wealthy, and she actually did try out life as a mistress in the past. She’s not an innocent, and she values her independence. Gareth meanwhile broods spectacularly; he’s gruff and speaks in a monotone, and he’s often rude. However, this stems from the fact that he has no idea how to deal with people at all. Deep down he’s awkward and almost completely unable to participate in small talk or to understand illogic. If only he didn’t, in scenes with Jenny, tend to the alpha male bullshit which seems a bit ooc tbh.

The good elements of this could have been made into something really great by later Courtney Milan, but Proof by Seduction, her debut novel, is a mixed bag. I’d recommend it only to huge fans, and I certainly would not recommend starting here.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:


Series Review: Carhart by Courtney MilanTrial by Desire by Courtney Milan
Series: Carhart #2
Published by Harlequin HQN on October 1, 2010
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads
three-stars

She cannot forget the fire he ignited…

In the three years since her husband left her, Lady Kathleen Carhart has managed to forge a fulfilling life for herself. But when Ned Carhart unexpectedly returns, she finds her tranquility uprooted—and her deepest secrets threatened. Though she has no intention of falling for Ned’s charms, Kate can no longer deny the desire that still burns in her heart.

Or the promise of his love…

Ned is determined to regain his wife’s trust by using unbridled seduction. But just as Kate surrenders to Ned’s passion, her carefully guarded past threatens to destroy her. Now Kate must place her faith in the only man she’s ever loved, and the only one who has ever betrayed her…

Trial by Desire is easily the best of these, though admittedly that’s not a super high bar. For some reason, though, I actually enjoyed it less than Proof by Seduction.

Glimmers of Milan’s later works really start to shine through. There’s a strong underpinning of feminism to the plot. The heroine, Kathleen, uses her privilege to help wives escape abusive husbands, and her husband, Ned, assists her without question in this venture. Ned was brought up to have a strong opinion of women and their capabilities, and he appreciates his wife’s strength of character.

Milan also does a great job with the portrayal of Ned’s depression, which he’s largely learned to manage by forcing himself into constant action but which he hasn’t yet dealt with emotionally. The fact that he remains ashamed of his depression and unwilling to discuss it with loved ones is a barrier in his relationship with Kathleen. That felt very accurate to my own experience dating someone with depression.

The fact that I wasn’t more impressed with Trial by Desire comes down to the fact that I just didn’t get on board this ship. Romance requires strong chemistry to really work, and Ned and Kathleen have a set-up here that didn’t really work for me. I shipped them in Proof by Seduction, but it’s years later and their isn’t any really change of feeling so much as them learning to communicate existing feelings. No doubt another reader would enjoy that, but it keeps me from feeling particularly invested. I do like that Kathleen’s the more dominant in the relationship and that she’s the one who pushes for physical closeness while Ned’s waiting for emotional intimacy from her.

Trial by Desire‘s a pretty decent book, but it’s not one I’ll be revisiting. Milan clearly hadn’t hit her stride yet. I can’t say I recommend this series particularly, unless you’re a stubborn completist like myself.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

One response to “Series Review: Carhart by Courtney Milan”

  1. This has been on my TBR list for years (also because I’m a bit of a completist) but I think I’ll be taking it off. I have plenty more Milan to still be reading so I’ll make sure to remember not to get distracted with this one.
    Bonnie @ For the Love of Words recently posted…Something To Look Forward To – Week of December 18th, 2017My Profile

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