Let me introduce you to Courtney Milan. Her debut novel, Proof by Seduction, is due on January 2010. Living Social (Visual Bookshelf in FB) gave me a wunnerful gift–a free e-copy! I settled down to read it this afternoon (which was very, very bad of me, since schoolwork is piling up, but BAH). I read it in one sitting (a very sleep-deprived sitting), groggily noting comments every couple of pages, and then right after the book’s epilogue (one of the best my jaded self has seen), I promptly collapsed.
Goodness, but I’m a fan. [Slightly off-topic: can you imagine the tension the cover model’s neck had gone through?] This is one of the best debut romance novels I’ve ever come across–Milan has the makings of a cult favorite.
This is what the back of the book tells you:
SHE IS HIS LAST CHANCE FOR A FUTURE OF HAPPINESS . . . // Jenny Keeble has never let her humble upbringing stop her. She’s made her way in the world as a fortune teller, one who convinces her clients her predictions are correct by telling them what they most want to hear. Business is good… until she meets her match in the form of Gareth Carhart, the Marquess of Blakely, a scientist and sworn bachelor. /// HE JUST DOESN’T KNOW IT YET. // Broodingly handsome, Gareth is appalled to discover his cousin has fallen under the spell of “Madame Esmerelda,” and he vows to prove her a fraud. But his unexpected attraction to the fiery enchantress defies logic. Jenny disrupts every facet of Gareth’s calculated plan— until he can’t decide whether to ruin her or claim her for his own. Now, as they engage in a passionate battle of wills, two lonely souls must choose between everything they know . . . and the boundless possibilities of love.
 Jenny Keeble has been posing as Madame Esmeralda for years–and she knows she’s a fraud, and that she’s been “living at the edges of respectability.” And she’s a spunky one, I tell you that, and as good a fictional heart as any as I’ve come across. And Gareth, well, is a rare creatures–the Historical Nerd Hero. He’s cute, he’s damnably awkward to the point of weirdness, and adorable. Not to mention self-deprecating. With these two characters, Milan offers a fresh way of looking at the disparity between What You Want to Be, and What You Must Be. Here are two people playing roles on a daily basis. Jenny has to be a fortune teller, because she has nothing to fall back on, but she plies her trade with as much honesty and kindness as it allows. Gareth is a marquess, and he hates it, because he’d rather be backpacking across Brazil and noting obscure insect species, but he throws himself to his work with a tenacity borne of upbringing and stalwart integrity. These are wholly written characters, with believable motivations and admirable psyches, not to mention an overall flaky sense of humor.
> How many times did I write “AWWWWWWWWW” on this book’s virtual pages? That awkwardness of Gareth goes deep. At a loss as to what to say, and how to interact with people–that is, common niceties, mostly white lies and pretend interest–well, it makes for some interesting passages that had me go wanting to hug him, and then giggling like a madwoman. At one point in the book, I wrote, AW HE’S MAKING FWENDS. Oh, Gareth.
 The story sets up the conflict well enough–at first it was territorialism of the two characters over Ned Carhart (Jenny’s client and friend, Gareth’s younger cousin and heir), a relentless battle over what honesty really means and if it should always come first, and personal beliefs. The plot brings us to three impossible tasks, part of Gareth’s scientific experiment setting out to prove that Jenny is a fraud–and these tasks are filled with moments of hilarity, and then a tenderness and intensity that slaps you silly–and then you laugh again. It boggles my mind to think of how Milan even thought of these things. I know this is the first time I’ve written “Cute elephantine moments” as a comment for any piece of literature.
Beneath and beyond it all though, the relationship between the two main characters is well-developed, and it is a relationship that serves as perfect foils to further develop their own personalities, and how they could nudge and push and tie themselves into each other’s hearts. More than that, it’s a romantic story, an essential development, an all-around complex and immensely believable relationship.
 One of my pet peeves is when romance novelists go overboard with padding their secondary characters. But Milan weaves them in seamlessly–and, in the case of Ned Carhart, vitally. There’s a friendship between Ned and Jenny that goes deep–something Gareth can’t seem to understand at first. And Milan shows us how strong their friendship is. At the same time, Gareth’s relationship with his sister revealed so much about him. Our first encounter with these two siblings show, well, a little lost boy–not exactly angst, but a dignified awkwardness, a lonely tinge to it. They’re foils to the main character, yes, but they stand on their own, and they do it so well–Ned made me so proud, for one, and I admired Laura (Gareth’s younger sister) and her backbone, and her loyalty, and her love.
 You will laugh out loud, and at the most unexpected places. Trust me. A part of the hilarity is trying to figure out how anyone could’ve come up with such baffling but fitting scenes. This book is not amusing–it is hilarious, okay?
 One of the best epilogues I’ve ever come across. No children running around no, no fat babies in picnics. If I take out my rusty Lit minor, well, musty ol’ Sasha will tell you that it’s a turning of the tables–of mythmaking, of lies, of reputation. The most I could tell you is that it’s told in the point of view of the ton. And that it is so freaking cool.
I am very much looking forward to more of your books, Miss Milan. You’ve got a fangirl here. :)