29 October, 2012

Review: A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

Isn't the cover for A Notorious Countess Confesses perfectly seasonal? While I love the warm tones, I don't know that it fits the characters. This is one of those Vicar meets Courtesan books. (He's Jesus, she's Magdalene, can two crazy kids from such different backgrounds make it work?) I mean, look at her face and posture. She's thinking "As if" while he's working on his best Fabio moves. I think he's whispering something like "You promised we could!" At least they have heads. With a crop treatment the gripping hand would turn menacing. Taking the story out of it, it's well done.

But back to our Magdalene. This is the seventh novel in the Pennyroyal Green series and my first Julie Anne Long. I enjoyed about 85% of it, putting her on par with Eloisa James. In fact, I enjoyed Long's style so much I was halfway through the book before I realized she'd named her lead couple Adam and Eve. (I got over it and kept reading.) Long does a great job with Adam's uncertainty. Instead of a fire and brimstone vicar he's a man of doubt doing the best he can to muddle through. While the world of Long's Pennyroyal Green is absolutely wallpaper historical, her depiction of a conflicted man of faith rang very true. Likewise, the inhabitants of her fictional town are appropriately hypocritical. I had a little more trouble with Eve. I'm getting rather tired of famous courtesans who've barely had sex at all. In Eve's case, she's had two protectors and a spouse. A woman does not become a legendary courtesan without a nightly rate. But we will give Eve her backstory. There are plenty of readers who will balk at any number.

Eve has decided to live a respectable life, now that she's widowed. (With a fairly small living from her dead husband's estate and a number of financial responsibilities it seems unsustainable. I gave her that too.) While she could return to her former life, she wants a new one. While Eve is ready for a fresh beginning the village is already familiar with her past. Who else for Eve to turn to but the town's moral center? Adam isn't just a local boy made holy. He's the town heartthrob. Despite being of a lower financial status, Adam is the subject of many a local girl's hopes. His well attended sermons are dissected and discussed among the single girls. I found the relationships between Adam and Eve, between Eve and the matrons, between Adam and the girls plausible. The relationship between Eve and the girls made me roll my eyes. With nothing in common beyond their age, Eve is soon giving advice on men to them. This advice is rather modern. Be yourself. Make him treat you like a queen. Confidence is beauty. Eve has seen the darker sides of men. I think she'd lead with other aspects of the male / female power dynamic but if she's still a romantic who am I to argue?

85% of A Notorious Countess Confesses was a pleasure. Early in the book Eve tells Adam she has serious control issues. She makes the choices in her life, not the men. Eve's number one statement to Adam is about self determination and self direction. This is a key aspect of her personal security. Of course the HEA blows that all to hell. Adam not only disregards this, he treats her like a child while he does it. 90% of those reading A Notorious Countess Confesses will find the ending jaw droppingly romantic. Adam covers all the bases. He makes a public stand that couldn't leave anyone in doubt of his emotional stake. Eve is thrilled. I'm thinking she had a head injury somewhere along the way because the Eve from the front of the book would see right through this. I don't want to spoil the ending. Let's use a completely different example to illustrate the point. Suppose your lover invites your mother to live with you. And maybe your mother in law. Without asking you. And let's suppose both of them are out of work and emotionally needy. I'm guessing you might have feelings about that. Feelings you might express loudly, amid the slamming of a lot of doors. Because if you wanted your mother and mother in law as housemates, you could certainly arrange that yourself. As Eve is neither stupid nor completely illiterate, Adam's end of the book assumption that he knows best in all things made me crazy. Fortunately for him, he'd banged the brains right out of Eve so she found it charming. I give these crazy kids six months.

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