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REVIEW: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Dear Ms. Milan:

It’s difficult to give a grade to each one of your books because your prose is so fine that my complaints, if I have any, always sound so mean (as in small not cruel).

There are some brilliant things in this book, so brilliant that I needed more time spent with each character and the lack of time I got to spend with each character made me feel as if I hadn’t been given the entire story. Whereas Unlocked felt fully contained, this book (maybe because of the elongated epilogue) felt more like the set up story for the Brothers Sinister (the series that it does set up). Perhaps it was the subject matter, as well, that didn’t fit well in such a small space.

The Governess AffairHugo Marshall had plans to be one of the richest men in all of England. To achieve this, the former prizefighter won a position as the secretary / factotum of the Duke of Clermont, a selfish clod of a man. Hugo is known as the Wolf of Clermont, a man who makes problems go away by fair means or foul. If Hugo can manage to get the Duke of Clermont in the black and reconciled with his newly married heiress (a marriage that Hugo had orchestrated), Hugo will walk away with 500 pounds and the seed money for his empire.

This is all imperiled by one Serena Barton. She is threatening to make a lot of noise which will impede the Duke’s reconciliation with his wife, put a wrench in Hugo’s plans to achieve his commission from the Duke. Serena is described by the Duke as disgruntled servant who lured him into bed. Hugo, knowing the Duke, dreads knowing the true details.

Serena was taken advantage of by the Duke but she is confused by her own circumstances. She did not fight the Duke. She did not call out for help. Thus, while she wanted no part of him; while he threatened to harm her if she fussed; she does not understand that she was forced to copulate with him. But she was and now she is pregnant. She does not want to be bought off. She wants that voiceless part of her to be heard.

After numerous encounters with the Wolf of Claremont, a man she initially viewed as unprepossessing and harmless, Serena intuits that her biggest victory would be to steal Hugo away from the Duke, thereby ensuring the Duke’s downfall. Serena’s problem is how she, a woman who was raped and shies away from any physical contact from a man, can seduce anyone.

The setup is clever. The seduction scene in which Serena finally gains power and agency in the bedroom is fabulous (and clever). I loved how smart both Serena and Hugo were. Both were quick of mind, employing different stratagems although Serena’s was more brute force and Hugo’s was more quick thinking, which was a role reversal in and of itself. (This is not to say Serena wasn’t smart. She was as recognizing Hugo’s value to Clarement evidenced).

What struck me the most, however, was how unready I was for the big emotional shifts. I wasn’t ready for Serena to have sex with Hugo. She went from flinching on the bench next to him to seducing him in what seemed like a short period of time. I wasn’t ready for Hugo’s big moment either. What motivated him to become the richest coal miner’s son in England is really moving and I wished I had seen more emotional movement from point A (I’m going to make someone’s sacrifice worthwhile) to point B (I love you Serena more than anything).

It might be a testament to your writing that you’ve left me wanting more or maybe it was just too big of a story to fit into the novella format. Regardless, this book is still a recommended read. At $.99 you aren’t going to find a better story except for Unlocked.

Best regards,

Jane

Note: Janet aka Robin served as a freelance editor for this work. Robin has recently acquired a couple of other authors as clients. In order to be as transparent as possible, Robin’s client list will be maintained here and mentioned at the end of every review of one of her client’s works.

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She 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

34 Comments

  1. swati
    May 02, 2012 @ 14:24:44

    I posted about this in the may recs thread too. Fabulous book but definitely deserved to be a full novel.There needed to be many, many, many more pages of Hugo & Serena. Like you said, the transitions were too abrupt. Complex characters should not be crammed into a novella. Again, fabulous book but i feel cheated with the length.
    P.S: I actually enjoyed this more than unlocked.

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  2. becca
    May 02, 2012 @ 14:57:26

    Thank you, thank you, thank you DA for turning me on to Courtney Milan. I love her writing. Like you all, I wanted there to be so much more to this novella. I can hardly wait to read the full length books. I just wish she wrote faster.

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  3. Meri
    May 02, 2012 @ 15:41:34

    I liked this one much better than Unlocked – actually, I would say that Unlocked felt unfinished while The Governess Affair, despite its length, was the more complete and compelling story (though one that would have made a wonderful novel, I’m sure). I gave it an A-.

    One correction: Serena is not described by the Duke as a servant who lured him into bed; he basically presents it to Hugo as an employment dispute, which Hugo immediately recognizes this as a lie – though it takes some time before he learns what actually happened.

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  4. Susan
    May 02, 2012 @ 17:16:50

    Since I’m predominantly an ebook reader, I don’t pay much mind to cover art as I used to, but I have to say that this is one darn fine cover. I love the unusual tangerine shade.

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  5. Dabney
    May 02, 2012 @ 18:00:36

    I liked this more than Jane. For me, the conversations between the two did prepare me for the emotional changes the two went through. I loved the novella–as I’ve loved the last three Milan novellas I’ve read. Of the three, this is my second favorite.

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  6. Carolyn
    May 02, 2012 @ 18:07:18

    It’s in my TBR file and I intend to tackle it after I’m finished with Nora. It sounds like a winner. Thank you for the review.

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  7. Sarah
    May 02, 2012 @ 18:44:58

    Is the rape scene mostly flashbacks so, as the reader, we don’t have to at least read the horrible details?

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  8. becca
    May 02, 2012 @ 18:49:34

    The rape is only described briefly, as Serena tells Hugo about it. It’s only trigger-y for someone who is very sensitized to it. It was handled very well, I thought.

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  9. Jane
    May 02, 2012 @ 19:06:40

    @Sarah: Yeah, no horrible details in my opinion.

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  10. Anna Cowan
    May 02, 2012 @ 19:56:14

    I was ready for the sex scene (so well done with the power play etc. Also, muscles. Nice muscles), but I found the emotional shift at the end abrupt. Hugo’s ambition was THE MOST AMBITION ANYONE HAS HAD EVER, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that he could just give it up. Or that he should, even. But I loved these two together, and I look forward to getting glimpses of their HEA in the coming books. (Their son should be a corker.)

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  11. Sarah
    May 02, 2012 @ 20:19:01

    @becca @Jane Thanks ladies. That I can handle totally.

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  12. Gwen Hayes
    May 02, 2012 @ 20:41:03

    This is my favorite Milan story so far because of the conversations–and notes–between Hugo and Serena. The scene with the notes going back and forth was top notch for me.

    I also bought his transformation because of the passage of time from Serena’s departure.

    I’ll disclose right now, if Courtney Milan got a job writing nutrition labels on soup, I’d buy a can of each. She’s that good.

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  13. cbackson
    May 02, 2012 @ 21:35:49

    So this didn’t displace my all-time favorite Milan, “This Wicked Gift”, but it came pretty close. I love that Milan writes heroes who aren’t dukes and earls. I love that her books reflect a world in which the dark, nasty side of aristocratic privilege is acknowledged.

    But what I loved most about this was the realism with which she handled the rape. The rapist isn’t a mustache-twirling villain; he’s a man blinded by male and economic privilege to the humanity of the heroine. The rape is carried out by threats and coercion, not by direct physical compulsion (which is the case with many, if not most rapes). And the heroine is scarred, but not crushed.

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  14. cbackson
    May 02, 2012 @ 21:41:17

    Argh, didn’t quite finish my thought before posting: I typically hate the inclusion of rape in romance novels, because it’s typically something that the hero saves the heroine from. But here, the heroine takes charge of her own fate. Alice Sebold, in her memoir of her rape, “Lucky”, writes that you save yourself or you remain unsaved. Here although the hero plays a role in the heroine’s recovery, he’s not saving her. She’s saving herself.

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  15. SAo
    May 02, 2012 @ 23:36:36

    Sounds like it would have been a good novel if long enough. But I’ll pass. I don’t get the trend towards short books. Either the plot is trivial or it is rushed.

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  16. SonomaLass
    May 02, 2012 @ 23:57:21

    I enjoy novellas done well, and Courtney Milan does them very well indeed. She probably could have made a longer book out of this story, but from my perspective she didn’t need to. I often have trouble accepting when two very intelligent characters, aware of their attraction to each other, take a long time to acknowledge that they are in love. Especially since most romances these days seem to have the characters physically involved fairly early on, it feels like a stretch to me that they feel physical attraction and emotional attachment but keep fooling themselves that it isn’t love, or it isn’t mutual. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I appreciated Serena and Hugo’s intelligence and relative maturity in resolving their story in a shorter time.

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  17. Ros
    May 03, 2012 @ 05:17:06

    @Susan: It’s a beautiful cover but I can’t see how it relates to the book at all, to be honest.

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  18. Ashlyn Macnamara
    May 03, 2012 @ 06:56:41

    @Ros: The heroine’s wedding dress is described as being of an orange brocade. I thought the cover was meant to portray the wedding gown.

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  19. Patti
    May 03, 2012 @ 07:30:05

    I read this book last night and loved it. I did not miss the longer length. I did want more time with them, but only because I enjoyed the book so much :-)

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  20. Ros
    May 03, 2012 @ 08:20:58

    @Ashlyn Macnamara: In a 1950′s style?

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  21. Anne
    May 03, 2012 @ 08:49:47

    @Ros:

    To be fair though, I can’t think of many romance covers with truly historically accurate clothes. As long as its pretty, I don’t really mind. And I’d rather Victorian by way of the 50s than clinch cover.

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  22. Dabney
    May 03, 2012 @ 08:49:53

    @Gwen Hayes: I’m with you. My husband told me he almost woke me up in the middle of the night last night because his battery ran out and he didn’t know where the charger was. He was 80% of the way through This Wicked Gift and was desperate to know how Lavinia and William ended up.! I’ve liked all three of her novellas a lot.

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  23. Gwen Hayes
    May 03, 2012 @ 09:06:58

    @Dabney: That’s funny, Dabney. When I told my husband about Mr. Milan’s reviews with the tanks instead of stars, he had me send one of her books to his Kindle. He kept getting mad at the hero for not having sex with the heroine.

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  24. Isobel Carr
    May 03, 2012 @ 10:37:55

    @Dabney: You officially have the cutest hubby ever, LOL!

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  25. Dabney
    May 03, 2012 @ 12:55:14

    @Isobel Carr: He didn’t take up reading fiction until about ten years ago–scientist. He read mysteries for the first five years, then “literature,” and is now reading romance. I love that he reads romance. We were talking about someone we know who, at 55, is slowly coming out of the closet. I said, “I just can’t imagine faking it all the time, pretending to everyone, even your family and closest friends, to be someone you’re not.” He said, “Yeah, it’s like that guy in that Sherry Thomas book who pretends to be an idiot.” I might have actually beamed.

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  26. Karen
    May 03, 2012 @ 14:05:16

    @Dabney
    @Gwyn Hayes

    Thank you for sharing! You (well, your husbands) both made my day! I keep telling my husband that he would like them if he read them, but no luck!

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  27. Dabney
    May 03, 2012 @ 15:45:07

    @Karen: If he’s a “serious” book reader and likes history, give him the third Joanna Bourne Book, The Forbidden Rose. I hooked my husband in with that book and then that series.

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  28. Brian
    May 03, 2012 @ 21:49:37

    Just finished reading this. Very good, just like everything else I’ve read by her. It certainly got me primed to read the new series when it starts coming out.

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  29. Molly O'Keefe
    May 04, 2012 @ 08:04:51

    I just spent most of the night reading this book, too. Milan shines, totally absolutely shines in the short form. This is my favorite thing by her. For 99 cents, it’s ridiculous NOT to buy it.

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  30. Molly O'Keefe
    May 04, 2012 @ 08:06:42

    Oh and sonomalass – I totally agree with you about why the emotional shifts didn’t bother me. I would have loved a longer book too and spent the other half of the night imagining that – but it didn’t NEED to be longer. I just wanted it to be.

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  31. pamela
    May 04, 2012 @ 23:30:39

    Loved it, and like others, I wanted more. Not sure if that was because of the length though. I probably would have felt that way even if it was a full length novel.

    Also, I’m glad to learn that Milan has a third novella I haven’t read. I thought that I’d read everything she has written, so that’s a lovely surprise!

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  32. Laura Florand
    May 15, 2012 @ 16:01:25

    This was lovely. I love Courtney Milan’s work in general, but hadn’t gotten to this one. Thank you for the recommendation!

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  33. Reading List of What Dabney read in April and May
    Jun 11, 2012 @ 12:58:19

    [...] I adored this novella. I don’t love it quite as much as I love This Wicked Gift, published by Ms. Milan in 2009, but I really enjoyed it tremendously. I thought the heroine, hero, and their love story were all wonderful. The novella is a prequel to a new series by Ms. Milan called The Brothers Sinister, the first book of which, The Duchess Wars, is to be released this summer. I can’t wait. (You can read Jane’s review here.) [...]

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