I’ve started on reviews of many random novels and revisited the basic, and, I discovered, quite outdated romance tropes introduction from my first entry. But let’s be honest, I only wrote it because I was embarrassed about reading
historical romance novels genre fiction, and wanted to be wry and self-basting. It’s one hundred and twenty books later and I know the current constructs, character types, and that the consummation devoutly to be wished occurs around page 200. I can explain which authors write the best love scenes and that the books range from fade-to-black to thisclosetoerotica. (Wikipedia tells me the when it is thisclosetoerotica, they call it “romantica” which sounds like an android sex worker who, for 5 dollars more, will tell you that she loves you.) None of this matters. What I like and don’t like in regard to the love scenes is of interest only to me, Mr. Julien, and the version of Daniel Craig that lives in my id. It would tell you more about my tastes and proclivities than about the genre; however, if YOU want to read this kind of book, I recommend not only reading the first couple of pages as you would any book, but also flipping forward to about page 200 when they get busy. Running into an off-putting love scene can derail the entire reading experience, so you should get a preview first. I once looked at a book by a major romance author and found the phrase “and sucking, and sucking, and sucking, and sucking”. That’s right, four “and suckings”. An apt description of the writing, as well.
Julie Anne Long’s A Notorious Countess Confesses continues her Pennyroyal Green series focused on the Redmond and Eversea families. In my review of What I Did for a Duke, I congratulated Long on pulling off a huge age difference. Her challenge this time is the character Malin and I enjoy referring to as “the hot vicar”. He is indeed very hot: tall, literally and metaphorically broad-shouldered, hard-working, sincere. The novel setting is Regency (God, I hate the clothing), so it was church or military, and Adam Sylvaine ended up with a family living from his Eversea uncle. It means he need not have been chaste nor uptight, but simply a good man who ended up in an available profession, and one he turned out to be very well suited for*. The heroine is the Countess of the title, Evie. I did not realise until quite far into the book that the main characters were Adam and Eve. It is mostly forgivable and also indicative of Long’s tendency towards the quietly twee.
Evie supported her brothers and sisters by working as an actress, then a courtesan, although “there were only two”, and lastly she married an Earl who won the right to wed her in a poker game. When the story begins, she has just come out of mourning for the Earl and moved to the house he bequeathed to her in Pennyroyal Green. She has a scandalous reputation, just enough money, and a desire to start again. She falls for the hot vicar because, while he is drawn to her, he is so self-possessed and at ease with himself that he is immune to her attempts to charm him, and to the facades she wears as self-protection. He is a good man, albeit a preternaturally attractive and charming one, but this is romance fiction after all. Adam takes Evie under his wing to help her join local society and find friends. The local women are alternately horrified and deliciously shocked by her. Evie is able to build a new life and Adam is given a safe haven from the constant demands and burdens of being the (hot) vicar.
Despite the fact that I prefer more sardonic rake in my heroes, I LOVED 90% of this book and Julie Anne Long is on my auto-buy list. She always manages to balance fantastic sexual tension, sincere characters, and be funny. She is so good at the tension that the most intense scene in the book involves Adam kissing Evie on her shoulder. There were flames shooting off my Kindle. Long also pulls off a very clever running joke about embroidered pillows that crescendos with dueling Bible verses about licentiousness. So what went wrong with that last 10%? I overlooked the patronizing attitude towards the harried mother, and the whole boots and breeches impossibility, but the ending was TWEE AS FU*K. It started out swooningly-romantic and then kind of fell apart for me. Her last novel, How the Marquess Was Won, (she needs to fire whomever approves these titles) suffered the same fate: Fantastic romance undermined by trite plotting choices. Right up to that point though, it was wonderful, and head and shoulders above the “and suckings” of the genre.
A complete summary of Julie Anne Long’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.
*Given that Julie Anne Long usually has a couple of enjoyably detailed love scenes, part of me secretly hopes that some naive fool looking for “Christian romance” bought this because it was about a (hot) vicar, had her hair blown straight back, and will follow up with a horrified one star review on Amazon.