Courtney Milan

Dynamite Review Best of 2020

This was a unique year. Books were plentiful, movies were not, and I dedicated myself to one game. So in some ways it was easy to make my lists this year. In other ways it wasn’t.

Movies

I have ten movies to list but the ones at the end weren’t necessarily movies I loved, but they were movies I enjoyed.

  1. Hamilton on Disney+ – I have re-watched this movie so many times. Years ago when everyone was into the soundtrack I could never get into it. The visual made all the difference. I love it.
  2. The Old Guard on Netflix– The first time I watched The Old Guard I thought it was a good generic action movie. With each re-watch, and there have been a few, I love it more. It’s almost everything I’ve ever asked for in an action movie. I hope they’re able to make a sequel.
  3. Bill and Ted Face the Music – This was the movie I needed in 2020. It was so hopeful and fun. When it came out I streamed it with friends and when we finished I felt so happy. It wasn’t amazing, but it was definitely something I needed.
  4. Jingle Jangle on Netflix – This was such an amazing Christmas musical. The songs were great, the story was heartwarming, and oh my god those costumes.
  5. Enola Holmes on Netflix – This was a fun watch. Enola was an entertaining character and I enjoyed seeing her make her way in the world.
  6. Birds of Prey – The one bright spot in the DCEU. Seriously, the only DC movie I like after Wonder Woman 1984 retroactively ruined any goodwill I had for Wonder Woman.
  7. Happiest Season on Hulu – Another Christmas movie but one that I connected with on several levels. I know that sounds stupid, but it’s true so I’m leaving it.
  8. A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting on Netflix – This was another Netflix movie that I hope ends up birthing a new franchise. It was one of those rare movies that my kids and I both enjoyed.
  9. Sonic the Hedgehog – How did this end up being such a better movie than Detective Pikachu?
  10. The Babysitter: Killer Queen on Netflix – I had no idea this was a sequel and despite my extreme dislike of horror movies I plan on watching the first one. It was so ridiculous and over the top that I found it difficult to ever be too scared to continue.

Books

I tried to read all the books in 2020 that I was interested in. I failed. Epically. If I was to wait until I’d read them all this list wouldn’t come out until the middle of next year. Still, I read a LOT and there were several that I loved. I’m going to include one book that didn’t come out this year that I read for the first time because I enjoyed it that much.

  1. Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews– Is there every going to be a list without an Ilona Andrews book? I hope not.
  2. The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan– My historical romance reading this year was off the charts and this was my favorite.
  3. The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler– I laughed so much while reading this book and the sequel was just as good.
  4. How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole – The first book in the new Alyssa Cole series and it was easily just as good as the Reluctant Royals series.
  5. The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk– Wow I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did but it is one that stuck with me even after I finished reading.
  6. Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams– This series is one of my best finds of 2020. It’s so much fun and I love the premise.
  7. The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix – After being disappointed by the last Garth Nix book I read I was so excited after I read this one. It reminded me why I consider him to be one of my favorite authors.
  8. When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare– This is the older book I’m including on my list. This entire series was excellent, but this book in particular was highly entertaining. It was a sexy romantic comedy.
  9. The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde – Ughhh this book was so good. Even better after the recent events in the US.
  10. Snapped by Alexa Martin – I’m not a fan of football, but this series has been one I’ve enjoyed reading. I thought Martin did a good job in Snapped handling a very difficult issue.

TV Shows

Like with books I had a lot of TV Shows I re-watched. It was the year of finding comfort wherever I could. I’ve tried to keep this list to just 2020 seasons, but in cases where there were older seasons I often re-watched the entire series.

  1. Brooklyn 99 on NBC – Easily one of my all-time favorite TV shows, it’s a miracle I didn’t re-watch this more than once last year.
  2. Bridgerton on Netflix – Please, please, please Netflix make this entire series!!
  3. Julie and the Phantoms on Netflix – The music was great and completely overshadowed the teenage angst for me.
  4. The Good Place – I legitimately forgot this ended this year. I loved the ending. I thought there was no way it could live up to the rest of the show and it did.
  5. The Babysitter’s Club on Netflix – This was apparently the year of babysitters, I believe this is the third one to end up in this post. I loved the book series and I was so happy to see how they modernized it.
  6. The Mandalorian on Disney+ – This season was so much better than the first and I enjoyed the first. There were several great episodes and they better get Mando back with baby Yoda.
  7. The Umbrella Academy on Netflix – Five, Aidan Gallagher, is such an amazing actor. I can easily see him as an old man. The story this season was better than last season and I’m glad the family seems to have gotten back together. After that cliffhanger ending I’m eagerly waiting for the next season.
  8. Sex Education on Netflix – Last year was just too long of a year. Shows came out that I enjoyed that I forgot came out. This was one of them. Every time I watch Sex Education I’m surprised at how much I enjoy it.
  9. Doctor Who on BBC America – I’m enjoying the new Doctor and companions so much, though, honestly I barely remember this season.
  10. Guys Grocery Games on Hulu – This was one of my biggest comfort watches of 2020. This beat out The Great British Baking Show to be my favorite cooking show of the year. It’s fun and yummy.

Video Games

Did games that weren’t Animal Crossing come out in 2020? I couldn’t scrape together ten games that I played and liked this year. I play most games on the PC through steam, but included links to Amazon versions. So here is my abbreviated list.

  1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons by Nintendo – I played hundreds of hours of Animal Crossing in 2020. I’d play an ungodly amount, take a break, then come back and play an ungodly amount again. I’m currently taking a break, but I’ll be back, there’s no question.
  2. Hades by Supergiant Games – Holy shit this game was so unexpectedly amazing. The voice cast was phenomenal. The art style was beautiful. The game play was fun. I knew nothing about Hades until all my friends started playing it and I am so freaking glad I went out on a limb and bought it.
  3. Stardew Valley by ConcernedApe– Technically this game didn’t come out in 2020, however it had a pretty big update so I’m including it. The update got be back into the game and it’s currently replaced Animal Crossing in my obsessive playing.
  4. No Man’s Sky by Hello Games– Another game that didn’t technically come out in 2020, but it had several updates. It’s crazy to think back to when this game first released and compare it to now. They’ve added so much. It’s one of those games that I love to go back to again and again.
  5. My Time at Portia by Pathea – Yeah, yeah, I know it didn’t come out in 2020 either. I filled my time before Animal Crossing came out playing it though.
  6. The Sims 4 by EA Games – The Sims 4 had two Expansion Packs that came out this year. I wasn’t a fan of Eco Lifestyle and haven’t played Snowy Escape yet. However, I needed another game for the list and it’s one I played a fair amount of earlier in the year.
  7. Two Point Hospital by Two Point Studios – I mean, there was DLC released this year so…I’m including it.
  8. Civilization VI by Firaxis – Just deal with it.

2020 Goodreads Choice Award Nominations

Today starts the nomination process for the Goodreads Choice Awards. I try to participate every year, but like most years, I haven’t read most of the books initially nominated. For those new to the awards to be nominated, the book has to be published this year. Goodreads uses their algorithms to come up with fifteen books in the twenty categories to start the process off. Considering some of the books nominated don’t come out until this month, I’m not sure how fair their algorithms are.

Each year I discover books I’ve overlooked or never heard of, but I also get incredibly frustrated. How am I supposed to take all the books I’ve read and narrow them down to the categories provided?? There’s only one romance category?? There’s no Juvenile Non-Fiction category?? There’s a sci-fi category, a fantasy category, a young adult fantasy category, but no young adult sci-fi category?? How am I supposed to vote when I still haven’t read all of the books from this year?? Why is this being held now when there are still almost two months left in the year?????

It’s too much!

So, I’m just going to post my favorite books of 2020, so far, here. None of them have been nominated, but the best part of the awards is that you can select them yourself. So if you too liked these books, then please head over to Goodreads and do your duty.

First, The Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde. I nominated this one under the fiction category, though it could probably go under the humor category as well. It was a fantastic satire novel that called out racism using absurd creativity.

I’ve got two historical romances, and I wish I could nominate both. The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite and The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan. Waspish Widows is the story of two older women who fall in love in a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote. The Duke Who Didn’t had a hero and heroine fall in love despite their incredibly different backgrounds. The backdrop was a small village in England that was predominantly people of Asian descent. Plus, there was a lot of good food mentioned.

Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams, Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey, and The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler were the contemporary romances that I wanted to nominate. Undercover Bromance is the second book in a series that I fell in love with earlier this year. The concept of a book group of men reading romance novels is one I love. Love Her or Lose Her made me realize I was missing out on an entire trope of married couples learning to fall back in love with each other. I absolutely loved the sweetness and humor in The Tourist Attraction.

Five romances, and I can only nominate one. It’s horrible. I ended up going with The Duke Who Didn’t because, well, it came down to the food. Lol It was really close, though. The Tourist Trap nearly edged it out for the coveted top spot. If only there were historical and contemporary romance categories.

The science fiction and fantasy categories were easier. The only five-star fantasy book that I’ve read this year was Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews. I did think about nominating N.K. Jemisin’s  The City We Became, I liked it, but I liked Emerald Blaze better. Jemisin’s book was one of the fifteen nominated by Goodreads, so she will probably make it to the next round. If Andrew’s book doesn’t make it will make my next vote easier.

At first, I didn’t think I had a science fiction pick. Not only have I not read many this year, but I haven’t rated the ones I did read highly. I’m trying only to nominate books I rated five stars. I’ve started reading Christopher Paolini’s To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, but there’s no way I’ll finish it in time. So I decided to go with Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews. Yes, it’s another Ilona Andrews book, but they’re my favorite authors.

Last, but certainly not least, is my non-fiction selection. I’ve slacked on non-fiction this year. I could not concentrate like I need to to read non-fiction. So I ended up nominating This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell. It’s a juvenile non-fiction book, so I don’t believe it stands a chance, but it was an excellent book. It clearly explained the issues for young people as well as adults with limited knowledge of the issues.

There are many categories where I didn’t nominate any books, which always bugs me. I don’t have enough time to read everything I want to unfortunately. I’m curious what books everyone else will be voting for, and I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead. Even though I know most of the books I love, if not all, will not win their much-deserved awards.

The Duke Who Didn’t (Wedgeford Trials #1)

The Duke Who Didn’t (Wedgeford Trials #1)

By: Courtney Milan

Blurb:

Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.

Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.

All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.

Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

Review:

The Duke Who Didn’t was a much-anticipated book from Courtney Milan. She has quickly become one of my favorite authors, so I had this baby pre-ordered, and as soon as I caught up with my library books, I started reading.

Chloe lives in Wedgeford, a town famous for its trials. A complicated sounding, day-long quest to find specific medallions or tokens. I’m not sure about all the rules because this year, Chloe and Jeremy didn’t participate. Instead, Chloe helped her father introduce his life’s work, a special sauce, to all the trials’ participants. The plan was to sell the amazing sauce, build a sauce empire, and enact revenge on the racist pricks that stole her father’s original sauce before kicking him to the curb. I can completely get behind this plan.

Poor Jeremy wants nothing more than to make Chloe happy. He’s jovial to Chloe’s more serious nature. He’s learned to be that way after years of dealing with poisonous people. Humor seems to be a coping mechanism. It’s also something he’s good at. He’s been coming to Wedgeford for years because it’s the only place in all of Britain where he feels like he belongs. The only problem is he’s conveniently forgotten to tell them he’s the duke and owns their entire village.

I loved the ending to The Duke Who Didn’t so much. I loved that Chloe was the grouchy one of the two and that Jeremy was always trying to make her happy. I loved their relationship, not only with each other but with their family. I loved how Chloe reacted to the big reveal. I loved how everything played out. It was perfect.

I’m looking forward to learning more about Wedgeford and their trials. There were other characters mentioned and spoken to, but there was very little focus on them. The book was very much centered on Chloe and Jeremy. Still, that doesn’t make me any less excited for the rest of the series.

5/5

Her Every Wish (The Worth Saga #1.5)

Her Every Wish

Her Every Wish (The Worth Saga #1.5)

By: Courtney Milan

Blurb:

Crash has never let the circumstances of his birth, or his lack of a last name, bother him. His associations may be unsavory, but money, friends, and infamy open far more interesting doors than respect ever could. His sole regret? Once lovely, sweet Daisy Whitlaw learned the truth about how he made his fortune, she cut him off.

Daisy’s father is dead, her mother is in ill health, and her available funds have dwindled to a memory. When the local parish announces a charity bequest to help young people start a trade, it’s her last chance. So what if the grants are intended for men? If she’s good enough, she might bluff her way into a future.

When Crash offers to show her how to swagger with confidence, she knows he is up to no good. But with her life in the balance, she’s desperate enough to risk the one thing she hasn’t yet lost: her heart.

Her Every Wish is a companion novella in the Worth Saga. It stands on its own, but those who wish to read in order might want to read the first book in the series, Once Upon a Marquess, before this one.

Review:

I didn’t realize that I had not read the first in this series or that this wasn’t a boxset when I started it. Basically, I saw Courtney Milan’s name and started reading. Since I’ve already read book 2.75 in the series as well, no harm done. Oh well.

The dress on the cover is a bit misleading because she is working class. She struggles to take care of her mother, who is ill, as well as herself. That doesn’t stop her from having big dreams. She’s smart and driven to succeed because if she doesn’t, her only option is to hope she can find a man able to take care of them both.

Crash is mixed race and has been raised by a loving family. He’s learned coping mechanisms to handle all the bad that society piles on him, and hide the hurt behind a larger than life personality. He has learned how to make society work for him and has ambitious plans for his future.

Things were said in the heat of the moment that they have to work through and forgive. It’s a cute story. If I didn’t already want to read the rest of the series I would after reading Her Every Wish.

4/5

The Carhart Series by Courtney Milan

The Carhart Series

The Carhart Series by Courtney Milan

Blurb:

This Wicked Gift: Lavinia Spencer is too poor to be anything but practical. But when her younger brother lands himself in trouble, she has no choice but to do the unthinkable. She accepts the help of the dishonorable man that she’s always wanted, even knowing that it might mean her ruination…

Proof by Seduction: When Gareth Carhart discovers that his vulnerable young cousin is seeing a fortune teller, he vows to prove her a fraud. But he soon discovers that Jenny Keeble is far more than she appears to be, and before he knows it, he’s caught in her spell…

Trial by Desire: Lady Kate Carhart has no use for the husband who left her years ago. But when he returns, disrupting her carefully-laid plans, she has no choice but to distract him…any way she can.

Review:

I hate to say it but this is easily my least favorite Courtney Milan series. Two full length books and a novella, they each had a strong heroine very accepting of their flawed men, and they each had men I couldn’t really stand.

The Wicked Gift had the “hero” pressuring the heroine into sex and while you learn later that he didn’t actually, it still didn’t sit well with me. It ended up being the story I liked the most.

Proof by Seduction once again had a strong heroine, that knew her mind, and was completely capable of taking care of herself. This time the hero was an ass that knew that he was better than everyone and made it very obvious. He didn’t listen to the heroine and ended up annoying the shit out of me.

Trial by Desire was the book I was looking forward to the most. The hero had been in the previous book and he seemed lovable and the fact that he had depression just endeared him to me further. Unfortunately, this book takes place three years after the last which was apparently enough time for the hero to become his own unique ass. I liked that the couple were already married and learning to live with each other, and once again the heroine was great, but I couldn’t get over how much I disliked the hero.

3/5