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REVIEW: Proof by Seduction by Courtney Milan

cover image for Proof by SeductionDear Ms. Milan,

I had been hearing positive buzz from several quarters for this, your debut romance, so I approached it with perhaps higher-than-usual hopes. Maybe because of those high hopes, the read started out a little rocky for me. The heroine and hero encounter each other in the first scene, and I found myself disappointed right away because while the heroine is portrayed at being good at her profession, both her actions and her interior monologue give lie to that. I was really hoping to see more audacity and confidence from her.

Jenny Keeble meets Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely in her guise of Madame Esmerelda, London fortuneteller. Blakely has been brought along to Esmerelda’s by his puppyish cousin, Ned. Ned has been a client of Esmerelda’s for two years, and Blakely thinks it’s about time he does something to remove his cousin from the woman’s influence.

Esmerelda does indeed have enormous influence over Ned, and she does take his money. But in exchange, she’s given Ned something he desperately needs….hope. Ned is prone to depressive episodes and it was in the throes of one of these that he first visited Jenny, asking her to give him a reason why he shouldn’t just end it all. Since then, Jenny has helped to keep Ned relatively stable and in addition to lining Jenny’s pockets, Ned has provided her with something she’s had little of in her life – friendship.

Blakely is a rather familiar character, the scientifically-minded, aristocratic, cold-fish hero. He’s more comfortable in the jungles of Brazil, observing the fauna, than in a London drawing room taking tea with his social equals. He feels a little too familiar at first – he’s given the requisite autocratic upbringing to explain his distrust of emotion. But he does get fleshed out along the way, in large part by showing his interactions with his much younger half-sister – he loves her but has no idea how to show her or tell her this, and as a consequence they have a strained relationship. His relationship with Ned is even worse – his attempts to toughen up Ned, his heir, have contributed to Ned’s self-confidence issues. Ultimately I sympathized with Blakely, once I could see the vulnerability beneath the steely facade. His childhood had been as traumatic as Jenny’s in its own way.

Jenny was, it’s strongly implied, born on the wrong side of the blanket, fostered out to a farm family and then sent to boarding school at age four. She has no idea where she comes from and has never really had anyone to love or be loved by. At 18, she fled the school in scandalous fashion, figuring that if she were to be an outsider, it might as well be on her own terms. I was never quite clear how she made the leap from that to faux-Gypsy fortunetelling; I understand that options for a woman in her position were limited but it still seems like rather an outre career choice. Nonetheless, she has done fairly well for herself, managing to build a savings and maintain her independence. Blakely comes along to threaten that.

Ned, firmly believing in Jenny’s prognostication skills and wanting to prove them to Blakely, devises a “scientific” test after Jenny predicts that Blakely will meet his future wife at an upcoming ball. Jenny and Ned each have their own reasons for wanting to win, and Jenny devises a series of tasks for Blakely to complete on the way to finding true love. Thus we have Jenny, Ned and the veracity of fortunetellers on one side, and Blakely and science on the other side. Quite a battle ensues.

There is a lot to like in this book. The hero and heroine, though familiar types, are well-drawn and sympathetic. The secondary characters, particularly Ned, are intriguing and fleshed out. The prose is mostly smooth, though I’m deducting points for the use of “orbs” to describe eyes. The love scenes are well-done.

What didn’t work as well for me was a persistent tendency to tell rather than show. Or rather, to tell and show. I don’t mind internal monologues, but when the internal monologue tells me things as a reader that I already know, I feel like I’m not being given enough credit to understand the story and characters without having things spelled out. Sometimes less is more.

All in all, though, that was a fairly minor irritation. I really enjoyed Proof by Seduction, and am looking forward to your future books. My grade: B+.

Jennie

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony, eHarlequin.com, or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Harlequin Affiliate link earns us an affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

12 Comments

  1. Barb
    Dec 31, 2009 @ 08:31:02

    Jennie
    I just finished this book last night and had pretty much the same reactions you did. I enjoyed the characters and the writing, but I found myself muttering “you’ve told that already” more than I would have liked. And a few characters were over the top cartoon bad (the school headmistress) or way underdeveloped for their importance to the story (the larcenous bank clerk). I gave it a B/B- on my personal scale. But I was interested enough in Ned that I will definitely read the next one (which appears to be a ‘finding love after you’re married to each other’ story).

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  2. Tee
    Dec 31, 2009 @ 08:44:57

    I was interested in this review, because I read Courtney Milan’s first novella in a Christmas anthology some weeks ago and was very impressed with her writing style. I was hoping for more accolades regarding her style once her new book came out. Since I haven’t yet read Proof by Seduction, I’ll have to wait to reserve judgment on it. I have a comparison scale in my mind relating to the novella and am anxious to see how this book will match up. Thanks for your thoughts regarding this novel.

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  3. Dishonor
    Dec 31, 2009 @ 09:36:47

    I’m with you almost 100% on this, Jennie. I was lucky enough to nab a copy before the official publishing date (tomorrow), and while the beginning took a bit to really hook me in, and some characters were over-the-top, the sheer…gorgeousness of the emotional journey was what really impressed me. I agree with you also on the oddness of her career leap–it really bothered me while I was reading. Were I to give Proof a grade, it would also be a B+. Still, I’m a devoted Courtney fangirl, and I’m definitely going to give Trial by Desire a read.

    Tee, for me, Proof was written on basically the same level as This Wicked Gift, stylistically. My personal opinion is that the emotions and main characters were more fleshed out here, as it was a full length book, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you liked her novella.

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  4. Tee
    Dec 31, 2009 @ 10:36:07

    @Dishonor who wrote: Tee, for me, Proof was written on basically the same level as This Wicked Gift, stylistically. My personal opinion is that the emotions and main characters were more fleshed out here, as it was a full length book, and I don't think you'll be disappointed if you liked her novella.

    Thanks, Dishonor. That’s something I was hoping to hear. Now I’m ready for the book–whenever.

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  5. Sally
    Dec 31, 2009 @ 14:23:51

    Thank you for putting the grade back on the front page. It sometimes prompts me to read a review that I might otherwise skip.

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  6. Jennie
    Jan 01, 2010 @ 00:36:22

    Quote:

    And a few characters were over the top cartoon bad (the school headmistress) or way underdeveloped for their importance to the story (the larcenous bank clerk). I gave it a B/B- on my personal scale. But I was interested enough in Ned that I will definitely read the next one (which appears to be a ‘finding love after you're married to each other' story).

    Yeah, the headmistress was a bit OTT, but it didn’t really bother me because her part was small. I’m looking forward to Ned’s story too, though I’m curious about when it’ll be set and whether he’ll be morphed into a more traditional romance hero mold.

    I should try to hunt down Milan’s short story.

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  7. cdouglas
    Jan 02, 2010 @ 12:23:27

    By the end of this book, I kinda loved it, so I would definitely recommend it. I loved Milan’s novella and liked how it was in a way tied to this book.

    That being said, I did not like the first third or so of the book at all, had trouble connecting with Jenny or Blakely, getting why they were attracted to each other, and really had trouble understanding their motivations in a lot of scenes. The inner monologues seemed to be the same stuff over and over again. While they shed some light on their actions, I thought it got a bit tedious because it seemed like they were conciously attributing their actions to their pasts, which is fine on occasion, but people don’t really constantly think like that.

    But as it went on, the last half of the book was much better for me. I started to get both Jenny and Blakely, and as their circumstances and relationship changed, as the connection grew and different situations showed their growth as people, I started to kinda love them. I understood why they were attracted to each other, why they fell in love, and in the end believed the HEA.

    Will definitely buy her next one.

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  8. Tee
    Jan 02, 2010 @ 12:50:15

    I did finish this book today and have to agree with Jennie’s review, and really all of you who posted, almost completely. The book definitely had substance, but that didn’t come thru until after about 90 pages (I checked the page number when it finally clicked for me.) Up to that point, there were so many things that could have been discarded, especially the little challenges thrown Gareth’s way by Jenny. They really were a bit silly and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on reading. However, remembering Dishonor’s statement that the writing style followed the form of her wonderful novella, I decided to keep on reading. (That, plus the fact that I bought the book because I’m not sure the library will be purchasing it.) It all pulled together beautifully in the last 2/3 of the book and I absolutely loved it. I’m looking forward to the next one now.

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  9. MichelleR
    Jan 02, 2010 @ 21:02:26

    Good review, and I agree with most of the points. I gave it 4 stars on Amazon and liked it overall, but the characters seemed a little inconsistent. I do believe the author has a gift though.

    (The site looks great!)

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  10. Jennie
    Jan 03, 2010 @ 00:16:28

    The inner monologues seemed to be the same stuff over and over again. While they shed some light on their actions, I thought it got a bit tedious because it seemed like they were conciously attributing their actions to their pasts, which is fine on occasion, but people don't really constantly think like that.

    ITA. I think that’s what I was getting at when I talked about telling and showing. Perhaps it’s the sort of thing an author gets more confident about as she continues to write – that she’s getting her point across without having to emphasize it over and over.

    I just realized that I do have Milan’s Christmas novella so I plan to read that tonight or tomorrow.

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  11. Michelle
    Jan 05, 2010 @ 16:02:08

    I enjoyed this book, but I thought there were some character inconsistencies – particularly with the heroine – to advance the plot/romance. There was one or two things the heroine did in the second half of the book that I just had a hard time believing she would do. Given her past, she was just a little too lacksaidasal about her financial security in my opinion. I’m being vague to avoid spoilers but wonder if others felt that way.

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  12. Review: Proof by Seduction, by Courtney Milan « Racy Romance Reviews
    Jan 23, 2010 @ 06:14:27

    [...] Dear Author, B+ [...]

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