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FYA’s Grown-Up Guide To Romance Novels: BROTHERS SINISTER Series by Courtney Milan

We're celebrating the most romantic month with a four-week series on some of our favorite romance novels. This week we’re talking about Courtney Milan’s inclusive, smart, and sexy Brothers Sinister series.

FYA’s Grown-Up Guide To Romance Novels: BROTHERS SINISTER Series by Courtney Milan

Friends, lovers, dukes and duchesses, welcome back to FYA's Grown-Up Guide To Romance Novels, a four-week series during the horniest month, in which we're exploring bodies...of work of some of our favorite romance authors. From modern day to historical, we'll get down and dirty with one series each week, and we hope you'll join us for the ride.

Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan

Sub-genre: Regency
What to Expect: Gorgeous dresses, smart protagonists, inclusivity, great banter, and flawed men who have to earn the heroine’s love

The Deal:

Despite the series title honoring left-handed brothers, it’s really all about the women. Milan loves ladies on a mission: from academia to suffrage to learning to love after terrible relationships, the brothers aren’t exactly an afterthought, but they’re happy to let their women shine. What could be sexier than security and support?

From Fancy Dress to Fabio:

Fancy dress all the way—even the novellas feature a fully-dressed lady in period-clothing. (I’m fairly certain that approximately zero of these dresses are remotely close to Regency gowns, but who’s keeping track?) The models don’t really look like their fictional counterparts (just check out The Heiress Effect—does that look like a plus-sized woman to you?), but hey, we’re not here for the covers.

The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister #1)

Meet Cute:

There’s nothing quite like diving behind a sofa to avoid your future fiance (who is talking about what a biddable wife you’ll make, so he can get his needs satisfied elsewhere) and running into a duke. (Who among us has not had that problem, honestly.) The problem is, this duke is hot. This duke has a social conscience. And this duke is determined to get past Minnie’s scarred face, panic attacks, secret past, and sharp tongue to earn her trust. In the meantime, Minnie knows Robert is behind the pamphlets encouraging workers to unionize, which would be so commendable...if only the constable didn’t think it was Minnie behind it all. Solution? A fake courtship, of course.

The Leading Lady:

You’ll meet her as Wilhemina Pursling, but Minnie is actually Minerva Lane, a plain young woman who’s desperate to fade into the background—for good reason. Wouldn’t you know it, though, there’s a brilliant mind and hidden depths behind the painfully shy facade.

The Leading Man:

Poor Robert grew up as the pawn between two horrible parents. His father used him to torment his mother and his mother distanced herself so that she couldn’t be hurt any longer. Not exactly the stuff of warm fuzzy Christmas cocoa and sweet bedtime stories, but to his credit, Robert wants to fix the sins of his father...and make a family of his own choosing.

Risque Ranking: 7

Milan typically has very sexy-but-restrained sex scenes, using a good balance of explicit words with more subtle descriptions of the act(s)—more modern than your mom’s romance novels, but not the raciest sex I’ve ever read in romance. Minnie and Robert are both virgins (virgins who are familiar with the art of self-gratification), and their first time isn’t exactly fireworks and burning loins. What I love, though, is the acknowledgement that sex is goofy and awkward and silly just as much as it feels great, and that’s half the fun.

Ms. Perky's Prize for Purplest Prose:

She came with a fevered cry. Her whole body shuddered in waves of pleasure. For a moment, it felt as if those waves were traveling through him, too.

Was It Good For You?

Stephanie: I’ll be honest and say this first book is the one I remember the least, possibly because I read it first so long ago, but also I don’t remember it being my favorite of the bunch. I did enjoy seeing cameos of Minerva and Robert in later books (Robert is particularly sweet to Free, his not-quite sister, in her story, The Suffragette Scandal). 

Rosemary: This is the only book from the Brothers Sinister series I’ve read (yet!), and it definitely has me excited to read the rest. I was super intrigued from page one, wondering what Minnie’s backstory could possibly be, and was NOT disappointed. I loved her with Robert, who I just wanted to gather up in my arms and hug because, man, this poor guy.

Kandis: Robert is such a sympathetic hero. This poor duke really just wants a family of his own to hug. And I really felt for Minnie and the desperation of her marriage plight combined with her crippling phobias. These two are perfect for each other and the banter is adorbs. Bonus points for the dude not being an inexplicable sex expert from the get-go.

Jennie: It’s nice to read about a gal with panic attacks landing a sweet man, let alone a sweet man who likes to bone, has a lot of money and social status, and a social conscience, to boot. Calgon, take me away!

The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister #2)

Meet Cute:

Like everyone else, bastard-son-of-a-duke and Parliament-hopeful Oliver Marshall is initially aghast when he sees Lady Jane Fairfield. She’s the gaudiest, most ostentatious peacock of Cambridge, and her thoughtlessly cutting but guileless comments to duke and lady alike make her the laughingstock of England. It’s all exactly how Jane has planned it. She must remain unmarried for just one more year, and if turning off all the eligible men in Cambridge is the way, then so be it. But Oliver’s gaze is a little too keen behind those cute spectacles, and he may be the first to wonder what’s underneath those garish gowns...

The Leading Lady:

Jane’s main love is her younger sister, who is the ward of their dreadful uncle. She’s pleased her plan works, but even though she says the twitters and the sotto voce comments don’t hurt her, you’d have to be a robot not to feel at least a little put out. 

The Leading Man:

Oliver has a major inferiority complex he’s tried to get over, but sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, especially when Jane gets on the wrong side of the marquess he wants to impress. He’s offered a proposition: embarrass Jane in public and he’ll earn Bradenton’s vote in Parliament. 

Risque Ranking: 6

That make-out sesh in the rain on the horse was pretty hot, and Jane taking charge and having her way with Oliver’s soaking wet body was a nice touch. Milan is the kind of romance writer who goes for quality, not quantity.

Ms. Perky's Prize for Purplest Prose:

It was utterly electrifying. To have his lips there. As if all the things she’d yearned for he had heard through the tension in her muscle. As if her desire was spelled out with his tongue.

She let out a moan.

Was It Good For You?

Stephanie: I really liked Jane’s story and her journey to self-acceptance; liked Oliver a little less so, but he did finally man up by the end and not make a complete fool of himself. I really want some pictures of these colorful gowns Jane concocted because they sound amaze-balls.

Kandis: JANE IS THE BEST. Oliver got there eventually. Hot horseback make-outs go a long way. But like Stephanie said, Jane’s journey is the real star here. I loved getting to watch her make new friends (and enemies) and cheering for the outlandish lengths she goes to in order to protect her sister. (And I loved her sister, Emily, getting her own love story!) I’m not completely certain Oliver deserves Jane, but the girl does what she wants.

Jennie: This is my favorite in the series, all because of Jane’s purposeful obnoxiousness. It’s got to be exhausting, but she’s rewarded with a partner who loves her true self. Also, I would like Jane’s wardrobe budget. Drown me in lace and beads and jewels, people!

The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister #3)

Meet Cute:

Violet and Sebastian have known each other for years—in fact, they’ve been deeply entangled for awhile now. Not because they’re, like, doin’ it, but because Violet is a scientist, and if she wants anyone to take her research seriously, she needs a man to pretend that her work is his. Meanwhile, Sebastian has been in love with the widowed Violet for years, but the weight of their deception is destroying him. When he refuses to keep up the charade, Violet feels like the rug has been pulled out from under her. Her research is all she has, especially after her unhappy, abusive marriage. She doesn’t hope for more, since she knows she’s unlovable...but irrepressible, cheerful Sebastian might just prove her wrong.

The Leading Lady:

This whole book is a love letter to women in traditionally male professions (which makes sense, because Courtney Milan is an attorney who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor—let me tell you, for all the strides we’ve made, law is still very much an old boys’ club). Violet is brilliant but thinks she’s unlovable, especially after her horrible marriage and miscarriages broke her spirit.

The Leading Man:

Sebastian is supposedly a rake (we never really see this), with ineffable charm and good looks. He’s the comic relief, but he’s convinced himself that that, really, is all he is. Everyone else has their “something,” but he’s a fraud. The only thing he’s good at is making people laugh. That, and loving Violet.

Risque Ranking: 7

The sex acts are hot, but when Sebastian starts talking about his Violet-centered fantasies over the years, DAMN.

Ms. Perky's Prize for Purplest Prose:

She caught fire beneath him. Even then he didn’t speed up. He continued through her every last sob, taking every inch of pleasure from her until she was worn out.

Was It Good For You?

Stephanie: As an English major I like to think of myself as fairly knowledgeable about words, but I only read this one about two years ago and it taught me the word ‘bluestocking’. How did I not know this before? Do I not read enough Regency novels? Literally right after this it popped up in several more books in rapid succession. Life is weird, y’all. Anyway, my point is Violet as an educated, scientific badass was the bee’s knees. I really loved Sebastian and his grandstanding. I read this one until the wee hours of the morning, and it was worth losing sleep over.

Kandis: I really love Sebastian. Not only was he fine with learning complex scientific methods and mathematics from a woman, he then applied them to his life and new career. He’s a man ahead of his time and an hilarious conversationalist. I didn’t connect quite as well with Violet here (though I loved her brief appearances in the two previous books). But she is proof that even the brainiest among us can be leveled by a lifetime of relationship trauma.

Jennie: This book hits so many of my sweet spots for romance, including the steamy scenes. Not to get too personal, but I first read it when I was in my own unhappy marriage, and the very idea that a smart, prickly, guarded woman who had been married before could land a gorgeous younger man was intoxicating. (And guess what? I’ve experimented—for science—and it’s true. Thanks, Courtney!)

The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister #4)

Meet Cute:

Edward is supposed to be a Viscount, but his horrible family left him to rot in France years ago, and now he’s his own man. Frederica (AKA Free) is a champion of women's’ voting rights and runs an all-women newspaper that’s been getting a lot of attention from the wrong people, namely, Edward’s jerk of a brother, James. Edward convinces James he’ll help him destroy Free and her only male writer, Stephen Shaughnessy (an old friend of Edward’s), if James tells him his diabolical plans, then turns around and tells Free what to do to protect herself.

The Leading Lady: Feisty Feminist

If Free were alive today she’d be spearheading the Women’s March, proudly wearing a pussy hat, and have a prolific blog where she highlighted injustices to women. She’s a very modern, independent woman in a backwards society and not one that I feel I generally see in a Regency novel as she definitely doesn’t want to be married to any member of the gentry.

The Leading Man: Rogue With A Heart Of Gold

Edward needs some therapy to get past the traumas of his former life, stat. He constantly refers to himself as bad, as a scoundrel, as a morally grey person, but methink the man doth protest too much. I did enjoy his sarcasm (as I am wont to do).

Risque Ranking: 5

I’m deducting a few points because I wanted Edward and/or Free to be a bit more internally resistant to their feelings, but these two lovebirds fell head-over-heels so quickly that they got a bit schmoopy for me at times.

Ms. Perky's Prize for Purplest Prose:

He tasted so sweet that she could scarcely believe that she was kissing him again after all this time. But she set her hands on his shoulders, and he was real and solid. Her body pressed against his. Her mouth opened to him. Kissing him felt like sipping lamplight; she became more radiant with every touch of their tongues.

Was It Good For You?

Stephanie: Yes! I started reading this last week and got a weird deja vu that’s I’d already read it, then realized I’ve definitely started this book at some point in the past and never got beyond the first chapter. But I really don’t know why, since I enjoyed this one a lot! I read The Heiress Effect right before this one and I would recommend doing it in that order as many of the same characters (like Genevieve and Jane) pop up. I liked the inclusion of Amanda and Genevieve’s romance even if it didn’t get as much “screen time”. 

Jennie: I am all about subversion, and the machinations regarding Free’s, uh, free press, and outsmarting James really did it for me. The sex wasn’t quite as steamy as some of the other books in the series, but reading about a man admiring a brilliant woman? That’ll get it done every time.

Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister #4.5)

Meet Cute:

Stephen Shaughnessy is a snarky male advice columnist for a women’s newspaper with a reputation and happens to live down the street from the most fascinating woman he’s ever met: Miss Rose Sweetly. Rose is a legit math genius and always has her eyes on the stars (as she is a computer for an astronomer). Stephen decides to get Rose to pay attention to him by using the ole “I need tutoring” excuse, and he’s lucky that standing close together under the stars is inherently romantic.

The Leading Lady:

Rose is inherently a unique Regency romance novel leading lady because she is Black, which I am not sure I have ever seen (though I do not pretend to read all the romances). So when she resists Stephen’s attempts at wooing, it’s not just because she’s heard about his reputation, but she doesn’t think he’s seriously considered the ramifications of being with her as a White dude. I loved that she was a straight up space nerd, even though I didn’t understand half of what she was trying to teach Stephen with that dang slide ruler. 

The Leading Man: Jovial Jokester

We’re told that Stephen has quite a “reputation” both in general (for daring to have an unusual job) and with the ladies, but he interacts with almost no one else but Rose for the entire book, so we never see this in action. He’s charming and silly, and bless him for willingly learning math to impress a girl.

Risque Ranking: 4

As we’ve seen, Milan, in general, isn’t prone to writing in multiple liaisons within one book, and since this one is a novella there’s only one opportunity for some saucy bits. I didn’t find myself swept away by Stephen and Rose’s romance, and all I could think about when they finally got busy was, aren’t you exhausted? You just helped give birth to a child, don’t you feel like you need a shower? This is not the time or place!

Ms. Perky's Prize for Purplest Prose:

He let out a laugh—but before he could say anything else, before she could lose her nerve—she took him entirely in her hand, caressing him from tip to stem. It was the most amazing thing, the male organ—responsive, moving ever so slightly with her every touch. His breath grew uneven; his shaft pulsed in her hands, growing harder and longer.

Was It Good For You?

Stephanie: This is a quick novella that was cute but not overwhelmingly amazing compared to the rest of the Brothers Sinister series. I almost would’ve liked it to be a little longer just so there could be more backstory to their romance (and so they could explore some more of the issues brought up above). Rose’s sister’s pregnancy plotline was giving me major Call the Midwife vibes, and I think I was experiencing some PTSD as I was expecting someone to die at any moment. 

FTC Full Disclosure: We did not receive money or Girl Scout cookies of any kind (not even the lame cranberry ones) for writing these reviews. The Brothers Sinister series is available now.

Jennie's photo About the Author: Jennie Kendrick lives in San Francisco and has an excessive fondness of historical fiction, spreadsheets, turquoise sparkly things, and bourbon. She is also a literary agent. When she's not reading, writing, or writing about reading, she cooks obsessively, and thrifts for vintage everything.