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on December 9, 2012
I want to say something negative about The Duchess War just to retain some credibility, but I've got nothing to complain about. I loved this book. Robert is a duke very aware of the injustice of his position. His political views are radical, his motivation lies in trying to be the complete opposite of his father. Robert prides himself on personal control. He takes careful steps to keep the fall out from his radicalism from falling on others. Minerva is a quiet girl leading a quiet life. She's constructed a small, safe box to live her life in and she is steeling herself to put the lock on the cage. After meeting Robert that small world is no longer enough. Suddenly Minerva craves more than just security, even as she examines if her cage is actually as safe as she thought. As always, Milan creates characters with depth and history. Minerva has solid reasons for wanting a safe world. Stepping outside of it is not consequence free. Robert is reacting to a legacy of shame that isn't his to bear but which he can't put down. I really loved her clever mind and his need to find a cause that redeems him. They were great characters on their own and totally worked as a couple.
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on December 10, 2012
M. Scott Peck's THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED begins with, "Life is difficult." Courtney Milan knows that and more. If you like Anne Patchett books because of their examination of "what if?" you will like--and probably love--Courtney Milan's newest. If you have a friend who holds romances in derision, give her THE DUCHESS WAR. Milan puts her hero and heroine in situations where prudence, honor, and loyalty demand that they betray one another, yet she does not satisfy the reader's expectations by easy solutions. She believes that it takes maturity and wisdom to love fully, a theme that ironically is rarely explored fully in romances.

Although this book is fascinating, it's not perfect. The beginning is a little slow and Milan holds you distant from the hero and heroine. I didn't quite like the heroine for a while, but then, I came to love her; I loved the hero almost instantly. Even though you can put the book down in the beginning, it is so thought provoking, so interesting, that is one of a handful of "best romances" that I've read in forty years.

THE DUCHESS WAR is different because of the intelligence and awareness of Courtney Milan. The central theme is the lasting damage that distorted, desperate, or narcissistic parents do to their offspring. Whether it is Robert's friend who is studying the controversial theory of genetic inheritance or the fanatical mother who mistreats her son to show the superiority of Christianity, Milan slyly unites this theme in its variations. Many writer have explored the theme of parental abuse, usually by the character's pain and her (it usually is a "she") eventual triumph of shedding her inhibitions to marry the hero. Instead, Courtney Milan shows a man who holds himself to an almost impossible standard of goodness and a damaged heroine who does the best she can for those she loves, even if it means destroying her own future. Then, in parallel dilemmas, the hero and heroine must decide whether to sacrifice their own happiness, betraying each other to protect more vulnerable people. Because life is seldom as easy as it is in most novels, Milan's books consistently explore the anguish, the uncertainty, and the grit it takes to lead a fulfilling and honorable life. It is impossible to read Milan's books and not to think, not to consider ethical problems, not to learn something about life. Most romances tell of fairy tale marriages with perfect happiness with effortless unity unto death. Milan's marriages are made up of imperfect humans, who often say the wrong thing, who knowingly almost destroy the person they love. Minnie and Robert have a vital, living commitment because both are capable of genuine love, honesty, and honor.

Whether authors mean to or not, they expose their own values. Clearly, Courtney Milan values fairness, generosity, honor, as most people do. However, she is smart enough to know that these virtues are sometimes almost impossible to achieve. Robert is so committed to being different from his despicable father that he pens pamphlets to unite the workers for better pay and conditions. I was taken aback when Milan tells us the danger of such an act: it is sedition and can result in imprisonment or death. Then I remembered: we are not the in the US. Milan's humanity is demonstrated so many times in this book. The factory owner glimpses the horrifying possibility that if life had been different, it could have been his daughter who was reduced to working under such circumstances. It is so difficult to write a truly good man that most authors settle for alpha males, even if they are werewolves. Milan's characters have the innate attractiveness of true goodness, without the self-satisfaction or the rote superficiality. THE DUCHESS WAR is an extraordinary book. Do yourself a favor: buy it.
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on January 6, 2013
SPOILERS AHEAD. I've read nearly everything Courtney Milan has written and loved every book -- except this one. The plot is just too strained for me, and I'm typically easily able to suspend disbelief in romance novels. In this tale, however, a duke decides to anonymously foment workers' unions as a way of redeeming his horrible fathers' cruelty and greed, and no one seems to realize that if he simply spent his money and energy in improving workers' situations and pay, his efforts would be much more effective than stirring up unrest. The heroine's situation is just as ludicrous: raised as a boy who plays chess, she was found out and stoned and is now living under an assumed identity working for hygienic reforms. Milan's previous novels have been outstanding for the emotional chemistry the two protagonists share, but the zeal for reform is the big emotional draw in this novel. The hero and heroine deserve each other, but readers don't deserve the wooden characters, overly melodramatic dialogue, nor the completely absurd plotting. Still, I'll be reading more of Milan -- this one just wasn't to my taste.
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on December 7, 2012
Reviewed at Another Look Book Reviews

I was granted an ARC for an honest review.

The Duchess War is a very clever story and it is brilliantly written. Oh how I love a really smart heroine. Perhaps there is nothing I love more other than a hero who respects just how intelligent and noble the heroine really is.

There is a prequel to The Duchess War called The Governess Affair. My review of this prequel is here. The Kindle version is only .99 and I would recommend reading it first. It is not necessary but it does nicely line up the foundation for the this Brothers Sinister series.

The concealed secrets within The Duchess War are slowly revealed. The reader learns about the depth of these mysteries in parallel with the other book's characters. I found myself dying to know the extent of the shrouded mystery surrounding Minnie and the extent of Robert's upbringing. Together with these secrets and the series of events that emerge chapter after chapter; The Duchess War made for a rather suspenseful read. There was a perpetual chain of events that kept me clicking the pages forward quickly. It was very fitting that the game of chess was an embedded plot of The Duchess War.

I found Minnie a rather complex character. Her mind was always plotting forward steps ahead. She was a very guarded lady prepared for her next ploy. The Duchess War made me ache for the women of the time as Minnie was striving hard to carefully carve out a safety net for her foreboding future. She took great effort not to bring attention to herself. Although her soft voice gave the perception of shyness, she was in fact a force to be reckoned with.

The Duke, Robert wasn't a brooding alpha hero that normally appear within the pages of historical romances. He is a romantic at heart. A dreamer. A do-gooder if you will. And finally a Duke that isn't a rake with an abundance of sexual conquests. In the shadows of his dark Ducal father, he aspired to be the complete opposite of him. My heart ached for him. He was determined to make right so many wrongs.

The "war" Minnie battles with the Duke is based upon proving he is the author and mastermind behind distributing seditious pamphlets that she is being suspected of organizing. After her attempt of blackmailing the Duke was not successful, Minnie sets forth to bring about the indisputable proof she needs to secure her innocence. What she doesn't count on is the Duke becoming enamored with her while trying to war against him.

Amazing quotes from Minnie:
"You probably think battles are won with cannons and brave speeches and fearless charges. They're not. Wars are won by dint of having adequate shoe leather. They're won by boys who make shells in munitions factories, by supply trains shielded from enemy eyes. Wars are won by careful attendance to boring detail. If you wait to see the cavalry charge, Your Grace, you'll have already lost."

"I'm sure your prick is as massive as your head is thick."

Teasers: Sedition, humorous train ride with friends, wedding night lessons, alphabet book primer
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on December 13, 2012
This book lives up to the promise of the prequel, The Governess Affair. I found it absorbing and a little maddening, but good enough to lose sleep to.

I found the handling of Robert's crusading excellent. He has all the right intentions, but because of his enormous privilege, he sometimes screwed it up. He forgot to consider other people's feelings. He came from a position of power, and it made him make mistakes. I sort of love that his entire character development was pretty much privilege-checking and apologizing. And his family loves and teases him about both parts.
"Sebastian grinned. "On the eve of your wedding, Robert, we shall offer you the sorts of female delights that you have always lusted after. Philosophical tracts upon philosophical tracts, all of them advocating political change that would result in an upheaval of the current social order. We shall set forth their essays, and then..." He paused, as if for dramatic emphasis. "Then, my friends, we shall argue about them!""

On the other hand, Minnie has a secret past. An atypical secret past. If you like cloak-and-dagger Napoleonic spy stories, you might enjoy this. She has lived her entire adult life trying her very hardest to blend in, to fly under the radar, to not make waves. That doesn't mean she's not blazingly smart. And Robert loves her for that. Also, he thinks of her with really STRONG analogies. It's so refreshing to realize he's thrilled to find a woman who can outmatch him. I want people to think of me as a great powerful beast just pretending to be good!
"He had that sense again, of a great beast pacing in its cage. He wanted to touch her cheek, to turn her face up to his. He wanted to whisper that all would be well."

""Physiological fact," His Grace said. "Arousal makes me stupid. It makes me say idiotic things like `I like your tits' and, `Help, we've had a paste emergency over here.' It makes me want to stay around you even though I know I'm overmatched, even though I'm sure you're going to win." His voice lowered. "You see, I want to watch you do it.""

(swoon)

Of course, this is a Milan book, so at least one person has to have psychological damage (I actually like this feature, but it seems good to warn people.) Minnie is terrified of crowds. Robert had a hellish childhood of rejection. And Robert's mother has Issues. None of these things is actually solved in this book, just... ameliorated by love and behaving like adults.

I liked that it was work for these people to get together, even though they had feelings for each other. Feelings don't operate in a vacuum, and I like a story that shows that.

Be aware that this is more Victorian than Regency, so there are trains and industrialization and stuff like that, and the role of women is slightly less constrained. Also, can one assert there is a Boston marriage in industrial England? Because there so is, and I love it.
"And when they failed to find men that they loved after a handful of Seasons, they had refused to marry for convenience. Instead, they'd retired together to the small farm that Caro owned just outside of Leicester--friends and spinsters for the remainder of their lives. They were as close as sisters. Closer, Minnie suspected."

I am really looking forward to the Christmas-themed book in this series, which should be out annnnnytime in the next couple days.

Read if: You have enjoyed other Courtney Milan books. You would like a new series of romances about adults. You would love to see a pair of inexperienced lovers actually TALK about sex.

Skip if: You don't want labor action in your romance. A smart woman pretending to be meek is going to bother the hell out of you. You have trouble reading about neglected children.

Also read:
The Governess Affair (The Brothers Sinister)
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on January 19, 2014
I saw several 4-star reviews of this "Brothers Sinister" series so I naturally started with book one. I won't be continuing on. Within the first twenty or so pages I encountered what I felt was bad taste. I know that rakish males are common in romances, but when the chief love interest (the Duke) made an entrance by saying, "I like your tits," I pretty much wrote him off as a lost cause in terms of charm. I tried to settle this in my mind by reminding myself I am used to the refinements of the regency era, and Ms. Milan is writing about the Victorian period (50 years later), when morals and one's manner of address might be a bit looser, but I couldn't quite do it. Even the Duke's difficult childhood couldn't possibly excuse such callow rudeness.

The sex scenes did not follow a culmination of sexual tension or rising flirtation. This was a huge problem for me, since if there's going to be sex, I like a finely crafted phase of anticipation. The scenes seemed thrown in pell-mell. I thought the first night of the honeymoon was not just awkward but bizarre, not remotely titillating. What romance novel bridegroom snaps at his wife because he's insecure about his performance? Then she sort of bosses him through round two in a rather masterful (read: emasculating) way. It just made an already odd man even more unappealing. If this is a romance, well, it's a sub-genre I've not encountered.

In addition, when I saw the author making choppy transitions from one paragraph to another, I began to lose patience. Editing issues popped up everywhere, for example, around page 50: "What plaster remained on the walls of the single room was cracked and streaked with soot. The single room smelt of sour vinegar . . ." Gee, I guess there was only a SINGLE ROOM. This stuff is inexcusable in my opinion; instead of relaxing and enjoying the vivid and continuous journey of the characters, I just got slapped around by problems of construction, taste, and development.
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on December 17, 2012
Rating: B ... Heat: Warm

The tagline for this novel - "Sometimes love is an accident. This time, it's a strategy." - could not be more appropriate. From the moment that Minnie and Robert meet, these two are at war. Because Robert's secrets are endangering Minnie's own and, if it comes down to it, she will take Robert down. Duke or no.

Wilhelmina Pursling has spent most of her life trying to blend in. She is quiet and unassuming... until she feels cornered, that is. Then a whole other side, a side that remembers what it was like to be Minerva Lane, is unleashed. Minerva is brash and witty and cunning. And no one brings her out quite like the Duke of Clermont.

Who is Minerva Lane? And why is she pretending to be Wilhelmina Pursling? That is exactly what Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, would like it know. From the moment he sets eyes on her, while she's hiding behind a davenport listening to her not-quite fiancé talk about her, he realizes there is more to the not-so-mousy Minnie. She is the first and only person to ever see him--the man, not the title.

Because Robert is also not what he seems. He is... a radical. A progressive. He views his position, his title's power, as something that shouldn't be abused. And he takes the saying `the sins of our fathers' quite literally. He spends his life trying to atone for his father's misdeeds.

Together, Minnie and Robert were bound to butt heads. Their purposes oppose one another too greatly. A woman who doesn't want to stand out and the duke who keeps shining a light on her. And so, for most of the book, they battle it out. They fight with each other and with themselves. And, I've got to say, it made up some of my favorite moments. I loved seeing Minnie outmaneuver and outthink Robert. She is not a woman to be trifled with! (Which, I must admit, is one of my favorite types of heroines!)

The Duchess War tackles social and political issues not often seen in a historical romance. It shows a view on the peerage not usually addressed. But... it's also not as romance-y as her previous books. Nor as steamy. I would've loved more time between Robert and Minnie without the past or any scandal involved. A great deal of effort and thought went into developing each character individually, and I would of loved if more time had been spent on developing their relationship and the romance.

Which is not to say I didn't find the history fascinating. And I certainly like the idea of a progressive duke. I absolutely adore Miz Milan for her willingness to take risks and push the boundaries of what's expected in this genre. I'm eager to see where she's going to take this series next.

Favorite Quote:
"I dare say you'd never tell them that you were entranced by the curl of my hair. That's the sort of thing a man says to convince a woman, but men don't talk that way amongst themselves."
He'd obviously expected her to swallow that codswallop about her hair, because he paused, slightly taken aback. And then, he gave her a shake of his head and a grin.
"Come, Miss Pursling," he said. "Men wouldn't ask any such thing. They'd already know what caught my eye." He leaned forward and whispered in conspiratorial fashion. "It's your tits."
Her mouth dropped open. She was suddenly very aware of said tits--warm and tingling in anticipation, even though he wasn't anywhere near them.
He murmured, "They're magnificent."

*ARC was kindly provided by author in exchange for an honest review!

-- A Romantic Book Affairs Review.
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on February 21, 2014
I have never read anything by this author before and was so bummed when she got too graphic for my taste. I gave the book two chances but a second scene of him imagining her giving him a bj was waaaay to much for me! If you are looking for a clean love story this book is not for you.
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on October 2, 2014
I guess the main thing I like about regency romance is that it's often like a Disney fairy tale for adults, but this was one of those weird (and to me, off-putting) regency romances where the two main characters seemed to have 21st century attitudes despite the fact that they were supposed to be living in the 1800's.

Middle class Minnie is banking her entire future on marrying a loser she can barely tolerate--and she is well aware that the feeling is mutual. She is supposedly in dire straits, yet despite her supposed dire straits, she spends she her time living the life of an idle rich woman (she volunteers for a charity and champions social causes, as she is a big proponent of personal hygiene and disinfectant). She's got a mysterious past but once I discovered what it was it just seemed a little too weird and far-fetched.

Her suitor, Duke whats-his-face is a total beta with very idealistic values (he is on a crusade to eliminate the entire British class system). I found him way too agreeable and accepting to be real--so much so that I can't even remember his name. Don't even get me started on the sex scenes (so unsexy it was almost funny).

The whole forced marriage situation in this book was equally far-fetched--even for a romance. Minor spoiler alert: Minnie faints in a public square filled with a mob of people and duke whats-his-face carries her to a room with her best friend in tow and she is suddenly somehow considered "ruined" or "compromised" by this? Duke-what's-his-face seemed to think so; he was all "I'm so so sorry Minnie! You simply MUST become a duchess now." Wtf? I know I said I liked Disney fairy tales but come on...this didn't even make sense!

I don't think I've read much--if anything--by this author before so I don't know if this is normal for her or what, but I get the feeling she doesn't like to adhere to the traditional stereotypes and tropes that are usually prevalent in regency romance. For some people, that'll be a good thing, but for me, that's what made it way less enjoyable. I wanted the mother-in-law to be a mean bitch. I wanted the hero to draw conclusions and act like an a-hole (I want to see him grovel!). I wanted Minnie to feel sad that her future husband and his friend (the future husband before she met the duke, that is) compared her to a rodent but she barely seemed to notice.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon December 13, 2012
If somebody told me that from now on I could read historical romances written by only one author and no others, I think I would have to choose Courtney Milan. Of course I would miss out on some great stuff by Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and a few others, but Milan's work just keeps getting better and better and I'm always looking forward to her next book.

This new one is excellent. The characters are so well written, so real, so flawed, so complex. The story is so beautifully layered and rich in detail. If you read Milan's novella The Governess Affair (The Brothers Sinister), you're familiar with the horrendous duke who is the late father of the hero of this story and know the back story of his half-brother Oliver. You don't have to have read that novella, however. This book gets you pretty well up to date on everything.

Hero Robert, the present Duke of Clermont, has lots of emotional baggage from his childhood, with an emotionally-cruel father and an indifferent mother, both intensely disliking each other, with Robert caught in the middle. His childhood emotional scars color everything he does and feels as an adult. He dedicates his time to making restitution for the cruelties his father and other members of the peerage have inflicted on those classes with no power.

Heroine Minerva is a scarred survivor also, but she is scarred both internally and externally. She has suffered both emotional and physical trauma in her childhood, which leaves her spending her life seeking invisibility and shunning crowds or any attention to herself. Learning Robert and Minerva's back stories and watching them interact and eventually help each other to heal is quite a moving reading experience.

There's so much more to this story than your usual historical romance provides. Milan has so much detail, so many small events, so many interesting characters, and it all works together to immerse the reader in a complex, multi-layered Victorian world.
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