Catching up on book notes; spot the theme!

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister), by Courtney Milan. Heiress Jane Fairfield has tons of money and suitors, but is determined not to marry; in my very favorite part of the book, she fends off her suitors with a combination of social obnoxiousness and spectacularly hideous dresses. Her sister Emily is shut in by her guardian due to epilepsy, but sneaks out and meets a sweet Indian law student.

A very enjoyable romance distinguished by excellent characterization, including of the minor characters, plenty of comedy, and good banter. I liked all the characters individually, but the heroines were much more interesting to me than the heroes, so this worked better for me as a novel than as a romance. It's the second in a series, but I accidentally read it first.

Look elsewhere for historical accuracy, though Milan does often use snippets of actual history: the hideous dye which plays a role in the story actually was a recent invention. Anjan could have been doing what he was doing in England at that time, but I don't think everyone would have been anywhere near as accepting of his romance with an English woman. The discussion of colonialism, the rights of disabled people and women, and other social issues are all important and true, but also a bit anvillicious. That being said, in terms of the actual portrayal of people with disabilities, both mental and physical, Milan is outstanding.

The Other Side of Us , by Sarah Mayberry. A woman filmmaker still recovering from disabling car crash injuries moves in next door to a man with an adorable dog. She too has an adorable dog! It must be fate. I liked the realistic treatment of her disabilities, but there were too many stupid misunderstandings for my taste.

Summer Campaign, by Carla Kelly. Genuinely heartwarming romance between Major Jack Hamilton, just returned from years at war and struggling with PTSD, and the bizarrely named Miss Onyx Hamilton, who is illegitimate and so considered lucky to marry anyone, let alone the vicar whom she doesn't love. (The name is explained, but still.) She is set upon by highwaymen! He is shot rescuing her! She does such a good job nursing him that he asks her to come nurse his dying brother. And their relationship slowly blossoms.

The social situation probably isn't historically accurate, but the medical details are. The characters' emotions and the slow growth of intimacy and love are very realistic and believable. If you're tired of insta-love and relationships driven by lust, this is the book for you. Kelly is one of the few romance writers who has heroes who are not particularly handsome, out of shape, etc. Her characters are ordinary people who value each other for their personality and kindness.
A sweet, psychologically acute romance set in England not long after the American Revolution. Miss Milton, a poor relation and live-in tutor for the young son of the house, seems traumatized and emotionally beaten down in a way that the everyday bullying and petty cruelty of her family can’t account for. The politically progressive mill owner Scipio Butterworth (yes, really) takes an interest in her and coaxes her to stand up for herself and speak her mind. She does, with far-reaching consequences.

The dark secret of Miss Milton’s traumatic past turns out to be absolutely horrifying without involving sexual assault or any sort of direct violence. (Perhaps you have to read a lot of romances to know how much of a welcome break that was.) possibly disturbing spoiler ) Mr. Butterworth’s own secret tragedy is a little convoluted and implausible, but not ridiculously so. I did think Miss Milton got over her PTSD a bit easily, but its depiction was otherwise very believable.

There’s little romantic conflict in this novel, just the slow growth of a relationship as two vulnerable adults lay down their burdens and begin to trust each other. I liked them both a lot, and I liked the book.

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind (Signet Regency Romance)
A sweet, psychologically acute romance set in England not long after the American Revolution. Miss Milton, a poor relation and live-in tutor for the young son of the house, seems traumatized and emotionally beaten down in a way that the everyday bullying and petty cruelty of her family can’t account for. The politically progressive mill owner Scipio Butterworth (yes, really) takes an interest in her and coaxes her to stand up for herself and speak her mind. She does, with far-reaching consequences.

The dark secret of Miss Milton’s traumatic past turns out to be absolutely horrifying without involving sexual assault or any sort of direct violence. (Perhaps you have to read a lot of romances to know how much of a welcome break that was.) possibly disturbing spoiler ) Mr. Butterworth’s own secret tragedy is a little convoluted and implausible, but not ridiculously so. I did think Miss Milton got over her PTSD a bit easily, but its depiction was otherwise very believable.

There’s little romantic conflict in this novel, just the slow growth of a relationship as two vulnerable adults lay down their burdens and begin to trust each other. I liked them both a lot, and I liked the book.

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind (Signet Regency Romance)
Nightfall, by Joan Aiken. I would never have guessed she'd written this if her name wasn't on the cover. Short, readable, yet intensely stupid thriller about a woman trying to regain lost memories of a childhood trauma and so getting involved in an old unsolved mystery. The plot depends on everyone in it being an idiot-- not realizing, for instance, that twins commonly look alike.

Reforming Lord Ragsdale, by Carla Kelly. A sweet, touching Regency romance about an English aristocrat who's been depressed and drinking heavily since losing an eye in the war in Ireland, and Emma, the strong-willed Irish indentured servant who drives a bargain with him (when he's dead drunk) that he'll free her if she can reform him and get him married off. You can see where that's going.

The appeal of this is that the characters are the opposite of the ones in Aiken's book: they behave intelligently and out of reasonable motives. Perhaps Lord Ragsdale's slow growth of a social conscience is totally historically implausible, but it was portrayed believably, and I liked that Kelly tackled the social issues of the time rather than pretending they didn't exist. The power imbalance between the romantic couple is handled thoughtfully and well, and I liked that they genuinely cared for each other and that Kelly didn't resort to random nastiness or contrived misunderstandings to keep them apart. And the scene when he tells Emma he's taking her to Mass really got to me.
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