Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

REVIEW: Unlocked by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

I’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this book with other readers.  I’ve felt, in the past, that your works were smart and thoughtful but sometimes lacking in emotional engagement.  I particularly struggled to connect with Ned Carhart in Trial by Desire.  But Unlocked packs an emotional punch from the very opening of the story.  My throat was tight and  tears pricked the back of my eyes for most of the story.

Unlocked Courtney MilanLady Elaine Warren entered her first season, flush with excitement and brimming with vitality.  Evan Carlton, the young Earl of Westfield, was drawn to this vitality.  Yearned to feel it.  But because he was callous and immature, the popular Evan Carlton began to poke at Elaine, making fun of her at nearly every party until she became the butt of every joke in the season, until the vitality of Lady Elaine’s spirit was damped out.

When last he’d been here, he would have been the center of that crowd. His jokes had been the funniest—or at least, they had made everyone laugh the loudest. He’d been the golden boy—handsome and popular and liked by everyone.

Almost everyone. Evan shook his head. He had utterly hated himself.

Evan, recognizing his wrongdoing but afraid of his consequences and unsure of how to react, flees England and doesn’t return for 10 years until his father passes away and Evan is required to come home and take up the stewardship of the family affairs.  Upon his re-entrance into society, Evan is a changed man but society has not changed with him. Instead, it is the same people, with the same prejudices, making the same jokes that he had started 10 years ago, including the one about Lady Elaine.

He kept his voice calm. “I suppose she isn’t Lady Elaine any longer. Who did she end up marrying?”

“Really. Who would wed a girl who laughs like a horse?”

He looked at his cousin. “Do be serious. We’re not youths any longer.” Even from this distance, Evan could see the ripe swell of her bosom. When she had come out at seventeen, she had attracted attention, her body mature beyond her age. He had noticed. Often.

She’d been entirely unlike all the other debutantes: not just in body, but with that laugh, that long, loud, vital laugh. It had made him think that she held nothing back, that life was ahead of her and she planned to enjoy it. Her laugh had always put him in mind of activities that were decidedly improper.

Evan’s feelings of longing toward Lady Elaine haven’t changed and he attempts to set right the wrongs he did to Lady Elaine.  The more time he spends with her, the more he attempts to make reparations, the deeper in love he falls even knowing that he does not deserve Lady Elaine’s affections and that he may never win her heart.

Unmarried and a wallflower, Lady Elaine looks at Evan Carlton defiantly refusing to allow him to diminish her one iota.  She has spent the last 10 years trying to survive society and protecting her mother, a brilliant thinker in a time when brilliance in women is deemed nothing short of madness.

This story works so well, particularly in the short format, because we know immediately that Evan is regretful.  Second, Lady Elaine was hurt but she doesn’t wallow in her pain.  It’s marked her, of course, but she shows great courage in coming to party after party.  Third, there is no easy forgiveness for Evan. He really has to work at earning Lady Elaine’s trust, respect, and ultimately, love.  And finally, Elaine is human.  She lashes out when she is hurt even when she tries to put on a brave face. She isn’t perfect nor is Evan and therefore all the more relatable.

This story is like an anthem for every girl who has ever been mocked, criticized or made fun of.  Lady Elaine’s pain, her courage, and her ultimate triumph is painful and poignant.  And Evan is just as sympathetic even though he was the instigator of a deep wrong against Elaine.

This is a self published book and at 99c I felt like I was robbing the convenience store. I felt like I was reading a gift.  A

Best regards,


Book Link | Kindle | All Romance eBooks

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Vi
    May 30, 2011 @ 14:04:38

    This is a shining example of what a self-pub book should be. I can’t believe it’s only 99¢ either. I hope Ms. Milan writes about Lady Cosgrove.

  2. Cindy
    May 30, 2011 @ 14:23:06

    I picked this up over the weekend after I saw everyone recommending it on Twitter. It’s next up to read and it will be my first read by Ms. Milan.

  3. Amber
    May 30, 2011 @ 14:28:03

    Oh…I am a sucker for these kind of stories.

  4. peggy h
    May 30, 2011 @ 15:23:18

    Loved it. If I had Courtney’s eloquence (and I particularly love the way she can convey so much in her novellas) I could say much more, but as it stands, I can only say…I loved this.

  5. joanne
    May 30, 2011 @ 15:35:10

    Shallow, thy name is Joanne.

    Not only does the heroine get groveling aplenty from her nemesis/hero but she has a gorgeous red dress for her story.

    Of all the authors’ work that I love, and they can, at times, be legion, very few can really lay claim to mastering the short story. This is one novella that really, really works perfectly.

  6. Liz Mc
    May 30, 2011 @ 15:49:54

    I started reading this on the way to work today and did not want to get off the train.

  7. Manga Maniac
    May 30, 2011 @ 16:12:32

    I bought this due to your remarks to Sarah on Twitter, too (who said bloggers don’t sell books?), and I enjoyed it very much. It isn’t something that I would have ordinarily read, either. Are there other novellas that you or your readers could recommend to me? I will read any genre, but I avoid erotica. Thanks!

  8. Jane
    May 30, 2011 @ 16:25:40

    @Manga Maniac: Just novellas? I’m trying to think of novellas that you can buy separately. Meljean Brook’s Here There Be Dragons is a great novella, but it can only be purchased in the collection Burning Up.

    Another great novella is Nicole Camden’s The Nekkid Truth in the collection Big Guns out of Uniform. Again, I’m not sure if you can buy it separately, but it is a great novella. I wrote a review about it here.

    Victoria Dahl’s Wild West is more of an erotic romance so I’m not sure if it would interest you but it is well down in a short space.

    Do you say Novella because you prefer the length? I only ask so that I can give you other recommendations.

  9. Manga Maniac
    May 30, 2011 @ 16:34:19

    @Jane – Yes, I say novella because of the length. I have tons and tons of novel length reads, so it is nice to sneak in a shorter read between them. I am looking for something between 100 – 200 pages, if that helps :)

  10. L.K. Rigel (likari)
    May 30, 2011 @ 16:37:21

    If someone is saying bloggers don’t sell books, then someone is grievously mistaken!

    Ask Amanda Hocking. And today, ask Courtney Milan.

  11. Jane
    May 30, 2011 @ 16:51:03

    @Manga Maniac: I liked Karina Cooper’s Before the Witches and Patty Briggs’ Alpha & Omega

  12. lisabookworm
    May 30, 2011 @ 18:40:20

    I just added this book to my buy list. (I’ve already hit this months budget, but in 5 more days I’ll be buying it.) I’ve never read anything by Milan, but for 99 cents and a good premise, I’ll definitely give this author a shot.

  13. Carin
    May 30, 2011 @ 19:20:31

    I just went to buy this one – it’s got a 50% rebate at ARe and also counts toward my buy ten get one free! And Courtney Milan!

    @Manga Maniac – I like my short stories on the erotica side, but I also really liked Shannon Stacey’s Holiday Sparks. It’s part of a collection (Naughty & Nice) but also sold separately. (How I love you Carina Press for this option!)

  14. LG
    May 30, 2011 @ 19:55:28

    This is self published? I hadn’t realized that. It looks fantastic, and the excerpt alone made my throat tighten and my eyes tear up. I’m currently plowing my way through another book (Dreamlands by Felicitas Ivey), but I’ve already bought Unlocked and it’s next on my TBR list. Jane, your comment (“This story is like an anthem for every girl who has ever been mocked, criticized or made fun of.”) was part of why I bought this – as soon as I reached the bit in the excerpt with “Lady Equine” I was SO looking forward to the groveling the hero was going to have to do.

  15. Las
    May 30, 2011 @ 20:12:47

    I really liked Unveiled and have been looking at Milan’s other titles, with nothing jumping out at me. I’ll think about this one, but I’m not sure. I like the idea of novellas, but most of them feel incomplete to me. And considering the plot, it might take a lot more groveling than can be had in a novella for me to be ok with the heroine forgiving the hero.

  16. Sirius
    May 30, 2011 @ 20:26:38

    Sold. You guys introduced me to this author, I loved Trial by desire, and this sounds wonderful, thank you.

  17. Liz Talley
    May 30, 2011 @ 21:00:30

    Yummy. I’m on the beach, the kindle is charged and I think this may be the first in the lineup. Thanks for the review.

  18. Carin
    May 30, 2011 @ 21:44:06

    Holy Cow! Self published and she’s #15 on Kindle’s Romance bestsellers right now! (And #91 on the overall list, too)

  19. Lynn S.
    May 30, 2011 @ 21:46:37

    This sounds like every good thing rolled into one sweet little package. Going to order it right now and I foresee some stealth reading at work tomorrow.

    @Manga Maniac: Although these aren’t available separately I would recommend Dancers in the Dark by Charlaine Harris; The Mad Earl’s Bride by Loretta Chase (love, love, love this story); and, This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan. Mary Balogh is also very good in the short format although hers usually come in under 100 pages. The Porcelain Madonna and The Substitute Guest are two of my favorites by Balogh

  20. Grace
    May 30, 2011 @ 22:01:42

    The artist who designed this fabulous cover is on Deviant Art under the handle PhatPuppy. I love her work, and her gallery is phenomenal.

  21. Amy
    May 30, 2011 @ 22:30:31

    This review sold the book for me, so I just bought my first Courtney Milan novel.

  22. Sunhi
    May 31, 2011 @ 00:55:06

    It appears that a dollar is the price point at which I cannot resist buying a book which gets a good review. Even though the subject matter appeared only so-so, I had to get it (and the Kindle iPhone app).

  23. MaryK
    May 31, 2011 @ 01:32:43

    @Jane: Hmm. I read the review of Before the Witches and passed on it as not my thing. But if you’re recommending it along with The Nekkid Truth and Alpha & Omega maybe I should reconsider?

    @Lynn S.: “The Mad Earl’s Bride by Loretta Chase” – I love that story!

  24. Sirius
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:02:09

    I loved it, thank you so much for the recommendation :)

  25. Brian
    May 31, 2011 @ 08:17:50

    @Lynn S.:

    Dancers in the Dark by Charlaine Harris

    Good one.


  26. Las
    May 31, 2011 @ 09:52:28

    I was just telling myself to go ahead a buy it since it’s only a dollar when I got the email telling me I got it for free. Thanks, Jane!

    The comment about the emotional punch is right on. There were so many moments in this short story that brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. This is a beautifully written novella.

    I still had misgivings, though, since I feel very, very strongly about heroines forgiving heroes for such horrible actions. But that’s my issue, and has nothing to do with the writing. And there’s a very good chance that if this had been a full-length novel and I could have seen them becoming friends and falling in love I would have been happy with the ending. As it is, there’s still a part of me that would have preferred to see them fall in love with other people.

  27. Carolyn Jewel
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:21:05

    I just want to say I loved this story. LOVED it.

  28. Sunita
    May 31, 2011 @ 10:41:00

    This is a wonderful story. I loved the choice of Lady Elaine’s laugh for her flaw, because it’s something anyone could have as a trait yet it stands in for all the attributes we have that are mocked, patronized, or insulted.

    I downloaded this and then started it while on the treadmill. I went longer than I had planned because I didn’t want to stop reading.

  29. Judy
    May 31, 2011 @ 19:15:30

    I read this in one day. It is well-written and I loved it.

  30. Tee
    Jun 01, 2011 @ 17:21:47

    It sucks because some of us may prefer to read books rather than use e-publishing, that we won’t be able to take advantage of reading this story. Any thoughts as to whether she plans to have it published in print?

  31. elisa
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 21:51:33

    @Manga Maniac: Try Ilona Andrews’ novella Silent Blade. Amazing.

  32. Interview with Courtney Milan, #6 on the NYT | Dear Author
    Jul 02, 2011 @ 00:59:00

    […] On Wednesday evenings, the New York Times Bestseller list is emailed to editors and agents. On this past Wednesday, RWA was abuzz because Courtney Milan’s self published novella “Unlocked” made it to number 6 on the NYT ebook list and number 19 on the combined print and ebook list and 36 on the USA Today list. (DA Review) […]

  33. REVIEW: Unraveled by Courtney Milan | Dear Author
    Dec 30, 2011 @ 13:26:03

    […] enjoyed (but been somewhat critical) of your past works but your novella, “Unlocked,” was one of my best reads of 2011. Smite’s book was hotly anticipated. Part of the problem I had with […]

  34. Unlocked by Courtney Milan | Janicu's Book Blog
    Feb 08, 2012 @ 17:07:50

    […] I see a couple more since).   Buy: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook)   Other reviews: Dear Author – A Smexy Books – A Cheeky Reads – “an amazing story” Book Girl of […]

%d bloggers like this: