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Milan's Duchess War: an almost perfect book
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
Posts: 1471

PostPosted: Mon Dec 10, 2012 5:56 pm    Post subject: Milan's Duchess War: an almost perfect book Reply with quote

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 hold 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 quite 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.

Minnie, facially-scarred heroine, has done her best to appear smaller, of less consequence, to go unnoticed and forgotten. In her effort virtually to erase herself, she’s willing to marry a man who she overhears tell his derisive cronies that he’s marrying her because she’ll do what he wants, tolerate his future infidelities, and that he won’t have to “poke” her too often. Hearing that, she still thinks that he is the best she can do in her quest for security for herself and her elderly and impoverished great aunts. Part of the tension in THE DUCHESS WAR is the distinct possibility that she may marry him if she continues to withdraw from life to be safe from her past . Overhearing this humiliating conversation is Robert, the present duke and the son of the rapist in Milan’s THE GOVERNESS WAR.

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. THE DUCHESS WAR is an extraordinary book. Do yourself a favor: buy it.
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CG



Joined: 27 Jan 2012
Posts: 67
Location: Central Texas

PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book. With the exception of The Governess Affair Milan doesn't usually do it for me; for some reason I feel removed from her characters and stories. But I may have to add this to my TBR pile just for the facially scarred heroine.

One question tho, is it depressing and full of angst right up to the happy ending?
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Eggletina



Joined: 06 Jul 2010
Posts: 434

PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 10:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I really liked The Governess Affair, so I picked this up last night but after reading 12 percent decided to wait and read it later when I'm in a more receptive mood. I'm having a hard time buying the deductions made by the hero and heroine at the beginning of this, and then the hero makes a remark about something that caught his eye (concerning the heroine) which I found very off-putting for a Victorian set-piece and I put the book down. It's all very well written, though, and perhaps I'm just too much in a scroogey place right now. I'll try later after the holidays.
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MMcA



Joined: 26 Mar 2007
Posts: 677

PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I've been hearing a lot of good things about this book. With the exception of The Governess Affair Milan doesn't usually do it for me; for some reason I feel removed from her characters and stories. But I may have to add this to my TBR pile just for the facially scarred heroine.

One question tho, is it depressing and full of angst right up to the happy ending?


I've only read 'The Governess Affair' and whatever the novella before that was, so I can't tell you how it compares to her earlier work. I did really like 'The Governess Affair' - which is why I've been waiting for this book - but to my mind, this is a better read.
As I read it, the facial scarring wasn't an issue in the book, more just a fact about the heroine like the colour of her hair. The way she got the scars is central to the story, but it's not a story about her face.

As to your question, I didn't find it depressing at all, though if I tried to write a synopsis of the plot, I suspect it would read that way. I think it's because however difficult the circumstances, the characters themselves are intelligent and likeable, and drive events. And there are funny moments - such as the time the hero decides to accompany the heroine on a train ride home.

And my question is - the novella about her friend and the doctor - it said in the excerpt it was to be released Dec 15th, and I got all excited, but then it's listed as a 2013 release at the back of the book. I'm sort of hoping that's a mistake, and it's December 15th this year, not next year, but does anyone know for sure?
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
Posts: 1471

PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I know (and you know now!) that I loved this book--and that's a mild word, really--but it may not be everybody's cuppa tea. It's mine because life can put people in positions where there is no solution that doesn't cause pain, but this book is not about pain. I love the nuances of Courtney Milan's writing and her wisdom about life. For example, she has a character tell an appalling story that he/she thought was funny about his/her awful past, but the listener rightly sees it as horrifying. Hasn't that happened to you--either as the listener or the speaker? I've thought about this book for three days straight, since I finished it. That's something so unusual for me with a romance that I posted my rave, above. If you didn't like THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR, you won't like THE DUCHESS WAR. If you didn't read THE GOVERNESS AFFAIR, it'll make THE DUCHESS WAR better, but you absolutely do not have to have read it at all! Although TDW is about the next generation of children, Milan catches you up in about two sentences. The couple from TGA make a brief appearances, but they are so brief and so well described that it doesn't matter whether you've met them before or not.

Like CG, I don't like books full of unrelieved angst, and then you see the couple together, happy for nine seconds. All I can tell you is my reaction. I get very sensitive to overwhelming books where the problems, etc. are so deep and difficult, that the romance is a drop of happiness in the sea of misery. So, no, I really can't imagine anyone being depressed while or after reading this book. In fact, I laughed out loud a lot.

Although the hero is a duke, because of his past, he abhors all the privileges that come with that position, and he falls for the heroine because she "really sees him." Both of them have been scarred by their pasts, but they are so rational and such caring people that they overcome, with each other's help, their scars. Minnie's scar is more of a symbol of her internal scars, but I can't remember a book where the heroine was scarred on her face.

As to Eggletina's reaction, I don't quite know what put you off, but the beginning of the book is a little slow and cool. One of the best things about it, though, is that when you learn about the pasts of each character, it makes his/her thinking and assumptions clear and believable. At no point is there almost a supernatural or unnatural assumption of knowledge. The more I read, the more I liked it, but I could (and did) put it easily down for about 25%.

I'm 99.99% confident that the sequel to THE DUCHESS WAR is coming out after (or on) Dec. 15. I've e-mailed Courtney Milan two or three times, nagging her about JUST WHEN was THE DUCHESS WAR actually coming out and she mentioned twice that she was getting the sequel (the novella) out, plus an excerpt is posted at the end of THE DUCHESS WAR and it says it'll be out on or after Dec. 15 (I can't remember).
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Jill



Joined: 30 Dec 2010
Posts: 85

PostPosted: Tue Dec 11, 2012 5:21 pm    Post subject: Milan's Duchess War: an almost perfect book Reply with quote

I agree with you Lynda. To me TDW was almost perfect. I've heard complaints from some friends that the romance was lacking or that the pacing was too slow.

But what draws me to CM's stories is her mature, intelligent writing. The romances are realistic and not mushy. The plots are layered. She does the unexpected with her characters and not always the accepted. Her protags do not always do the right and honorable thing, but their decisions are relatable.

With this latest title she's proven to me as a reader that she delivers outside the box and is easily one of my top favourite authors of HR at the moment.

The Duchess War was only my third 5-star book for this year and I've read over 250.
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CG



Joined: 27 Jan 2012
Posts: 67
Location: Central Texas

PostPosted: Wed Dec 12, 2012 7:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you Lynda X, MMcA and Jill for your thoughtful responses to my question; I'll be adding The Duchess War to my TBR.
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PegS



Joined: 03 Aug 2010
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 1:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think I know what Eggletina meant. I loved this book, loved the writing, loved the characters. Most of the book is a solid A for me.

What tended to pull me out of the story was...and I don' t believe this is a spoiler...was how the racy and sexual sequences were dealt with. I see this more and more in historicals and it pulls me squarely out of the book every time. Suddenly, instead of a historical with a gentleman dealing with a gently-bred virgin, I feel like I'm watching Samantha from "Sex and the City" with one of her paramours. The attitudes and conversations would be unbelievable for most typical couples in 2012 at the beginning of the dating period (or even entering into a sexual relationship at times), much less in the 19th century.
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Lynda X



Joined: 05 Apr 2007
Posts: 1471

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 8:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

You know, Peg S, I must admit that bothered me too. Like you, I don't think the hero's talking about masturbation to the heroine belonged in its time period, especially before marriage. It almost smacked of the author speaking through a character about her feelings. I thought, however, that both the h&h were different kinds of people, so it's possible. I remember a documentary about people's sexual attitudes during different periods and they quoted some Victorian love letters that were amazingly sexual, so I suppose anything is possible. Having said that, however, I would have been happier if Milan had left it out.
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Blackjack1



Joined: 21 Feb 2011
Posts: 783
Location: Portland, OR

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I just started the book and so haven't gotten to any racy parts yet, but I have a little insight into Victorian erotica and pornography, which is highly x-rated, for lack of better term. At one point I came across the statistic that there was one prostitute for every male living in London in the late 1870s. The interesting dichotomy of 19th-century life is the ultra conservative sexual mores on the surface as opposed to the booming sexual undercurrent out of the prying eyes of society.
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PegS



Joined: 03 Aug 2010
Posts: 45

PostPosted: Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Blackjack1 wrote:
I just started the book and so haven't gotten to any racy parts yet, but I have a little insight into Victorian erotica and pornography, which is highly x-rated, for lack of better term.

I'm certainly familiar with Victorian erotica, but I really have to stretch my suspension of disbelief to think the scenes we're talking about make sense in this book. She's not courtesan or a widow with a reputation among the haute ton, and he's under no illusion that she's either as well.

She's too sure of her own sexuality too, and we've never gotten a sense that she spent time poring over Eastern erotica in some dark library either.

Anyway, I don't want anyone to get the sense that this isn't a really good book. Just be warned, if you've had similar issues with other historicals.
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Blackjack1



Joined: 21 Feb 2011
Posts: 783
Location: Portland, OR

PostPosted: Sat Dec 15, 2012 12:11 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't comment on Milan's book since I'm only on chapter 3 but I do find often in historical romances that authors have difficulty negotiating their own 21st century sensibilities and customs with 19th century (or earlier) ones, and this includes any number of issues including sex. There's definitely some skills involved in writing historical fiction. In some ways sexuality is just as important in the 19th century, or maybe even more important, given the public repression of it. Middle and upper class women and even men didn't openly discuss it and so we have to read between the lines to gain insight into their way of thinking on the issue. Lots of time is spent interpreting metaphors and symbols in Victorian literature!
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Pop Tart



Joined: 22 Mar 2007
Posts: 126

PostPosted: Mon Dec 17, 2012 9:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with others about how wonderful this book is.

For me what makes this one and Julie-Anne Long's NOTORIOUS COUNTESS CONFESSES such powerful reads is that even though you know everything will end well (these are romances after all), there is real tension in the story about the happy ending. Just how will these characters get to their happy ending. Because of this tension, the happy ending means even more. And in THE DUCHESS WAR it was so satisfying that I just wanted to keep reading about these two people. I'm not a big fan of epilogues but in this case I really appreciated that little extra time to spend with Minnie and Robert.
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maryskl



Joined: 25 Apr 2009
Posts: 354
Location: Alabama

PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 9:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lynda X wrote:
You know, Peg S, I must admit that bothered me too. Like you, I don't think the hero's talking about masturbation to the heroine belonged in its time period, especially before marriage. It almost smacked of the author speaking through a character about her feelings. I thought, however, that both the h&h were different kinds of people, so it's possible. I remember a documentary about people's sexual attitudes during different periods and they quoted some Victorian love letters that were amazingly sexual, so I suppose anything is possible. Having said that, however, I would have been happier if Milan had left it out.


Oh I disagree. I think it was entirely in character for this hero. His sex was in a sense vicarious and/or solitary. I also think he wanted to shock her into really SEEING him. It was another equivalent of "look up or look at me." I LOVED this book and it has been a while since I really loved a new book.
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JaneO



Joined: 17 Feb 2008
Posts: 798

PostPosted: Tue Dec 18, 2012 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I had an entirely different problem with this book. I found the hero's mother simply unbelievable—a plot device rather than a person. This wouldn't matter if she were just a walk-on part, but she plays a significant role in the plot, and since I found her unbelievable, I had trouble accepting Robert's and Minnie's reactions to her.
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