Saturday, 16 April 2016
#CBR8 Book 39: "Her Every Wish" by Courtney Milan
Rating: 5 stars
Daisy Whitlaw has an almost impossible dream. She wants to open her own shop, selling affordable everyday luxuries for everyday women, but to do so, she needs money, which she doesn't have. Daisy's father is dead and her mother is ailing, and Daisy can barely make enough money working as an assistant in a flower shop to make ends meet for them. Her best friend Judith recently married a marquess, but there is no way that Daisy would ask her for a loan, she wants to make her own way in the world. When the local parish announces that they will be making a charity bequest to one lucky young person, Daisy seizes on this chance with everything she's got. There is nothing in the wording of the competition that says the grants will only be offered to men and she's determined to prove that she has what it takes to win.
Crash refuses to let his checkered family background, his questionable parentage, the colour of his skin or the many ways in which people try to bring him down affect him. While he knows his family and those who raised him were never what some might call respectable, he grew up among people that loved him and he's filled with an unshakable confidence that he's going places in the world. One of his only regrets is that Daisy no longer speaks to him. When he discovers that she's planning to apply for the charity bequest, he knows she won't be able to persuade the charity board without his help. She may despise the way he made his money and they may have parted with a lot of bitter words exchanged from either party, she may have a fiancee off at sea (this bit may in fact, unbeknownst to Crash, be completely untrue), but she needs his assistance and he's not going to let her refuse it.
Daisy needs to be supremely confident to have a chance at winning and Crash certainly has confidence enough to spare. Using his recently self-imported velocipede, he starts teaching Daisy that sometimes you have to ignore what others say and just throw yourself into things. Go fast, don't hesitate, or you'll fall and hurt yourself. Of course all this swagger training requires them to spend a lot of time together. The attraction they once shared is still there, but can they get over the horrible things they once said?
Courtney Milan is an amazing writer, and she keeps being progressive and inventive in her writing. Her most recent full-length novel, the first in The Worth Saga, featured Daisy's bestie, Judith Worth, who eventually ended up marrying the marquess she initially believed ruined her entire life. The main problem with Once Upon a Marquess was that Milan, at the start of a series that promises to be long and complicated, tried to fit so many different things into the book that the main romance seemed not just secondary, but almost tertiary. Luckily, in a novella, there is no room for anything superfluous, just the main story and Crash and Daisy's story is a lovely one.
Some of my favourite Courtney Milan stories are novellas. The Governess Affair is excellent, A Kiss for Midwinter remains one of my favourite romances of all time, no matter how many times I re-read it. Her Every Wish will be going on the list of novellas I treasure and that effected me greatly while reading them. There are no titled protagonists, fantastic dresses or elaborate balls in this story. Just two people, trying their damnedest to make something of themselves in the world, despite being told at every turn that they are reaching above themselves and shouldn't, because of the colour of their skin, or their gender or their less than privileged backgrounds. Daring to dream, being brave and strong enough to fight for a better future, even in the face of near-impossible odds is something that Daisy and Crash have in common. They are two of a kind, and once they get over the hurts dealt by the other due to a miscommunication in the past, they are very aware that they're perfect for each other.
Milan is so very passionate about rooting for the underdog, and while this book has some remarkable banter and some steamy scenes, Crash teaching Daisy to strive for more, to believe in herself, to dare to demand respect and to stop apologising for existing nearly every second of her life that really got me. I'm sure I might find flaws and nitpicks when I re-read, but I'm not sure I'll care. After the disappointment of the last book, it was very encouraging to see Milan back on form, and I'm very excited about the prospect of the next story, which seem to indicate there will be shot-gun weddings, hidden identities and all manner of complications.
Judging a book by its cover: You may be a great writer of romance and empowering books, Ms. Milan, but you're really not all that great about photo-shopping covers together. I seem to recall reading on her blog, that Ms Milan finds stock footage of women in wedding dresses and then pretty much superimposes them over a background, while changing the colour of the dress. This cover has little to nothing to do with the contents of the story, with the exception of the cover model being blond, which is suitable for Daisy. Only in her wildest fantasies does Daisy possess such a meringue of a poofy dress, which is horribly anachronistic for a Victorian era working class woman. To add insult to injury, the stock background is of some trees and a field, when Daisy lives and works in London and is unlikely to have seen such a pastoral scene for some time. Neither the awkward pose of the cover model, nor the insipid look on her face suit the resilient and determined heroine of this story either. Hopefully the cover won't actively scare new readers away.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.