The Heart of Christmas: A Handful of GoldThe Season for SuitorsThis Wicked Gift

The Heart of Christmas (A Handful of Gold, The Season for Suitors, This Wicked Gift) - Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, Courtney Milan A Handful of Gold - 2 starsBoring, generic story of the jaded rake transformed by the surprisingly virtuous opera dancer. Balogh skimped on characterization and emotion, instead playing tropes and archetypes like playing cards.The Season for Suitors - 3 starsEntirely forgettable story, but told well. Sebastian and Clara are adorable with their easy regard for each other - at times engaging in friendly bickering and at others barely keeping their mutual desire hidden. Lovely as the characters were, it didn't make up for the plot. Clara seeks Sebastian out for lessons in avoiding rakes, and everything you think comes next, does.This Wicked Gift - 4 starsThis prequel of sorts to Milan's debut coming in January was all sorts of nifty. Lavinia and William Q. White are both working class, with no hidden aristocrats or wealthy relatives hidden anywhere. Straight-up, penny pinching, tea-reusing po' folk. I love stories with common people, so this alone merits a high score.The plot was beyond unique, with twists and turns aplenty. William overhears Lavinia's younger brother telling her how he got swindled and tricked into signing a promissory note for 10 pounds. He then schemes to buy the note and use it to blackmail her into sleeping with him, since he wants her but is too poor to marry her. The ways Milan has her turn the tables on him and has him redeem himself were quite clever. The characterization was quite insightful as well. Her description of Clara's interactions with her brother were spot on:"Over fifteen years, Lavinia had become quite fluent in the foreign tongue known as Younger Brother...For instance, the average woman off the street would have thought that James had just offered her burned porridge. Lavinia knew better. What James had actually said was, 'Sorry I stole your money. I made you breakfast by way of apology. Forgive me?'"Definitely the strongest of the three and fresh enough to make me want to read Proof by Seduction, even though the premise sounds ridiculous.