Julie Anne Long
November 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062118021 Part of a series
I’ve read romances about former courtesans (too many to count), and I’ve read romances about ministers (not as numerous as ex-courtesans), but I’d be hard pressed to think of one I liked as much as I liked this one. A Notorious Countess Confesses may sound like the type of title you see all the time - but the book is much, much better than the title suggests.
Evie Duggan has arrived at Pennyroyal Green by way of Ireland, the London theater world, and most recently, as a result of her husband’s - the Earl of Wareham’s - untimely death. Her ambitions at this point are relatively modest; she’d like to live on her small property in relative obscurity and economy, continue to support her needy brothers and sisters, and make a contribution to the community. If she could ditch the unfortunate epithet bestowed upon her by the ton, so much the better.
Evie catches Vicar Adam Sylvaine’s attention in a very unflattering way when she falls asleep during his sermon on Loving Your Neighbor. Adam is used to feminine attention. He’s related to the infamous Everseas (he got the vicar post through his uncle), and he has the family good looks. His single female parishioners have been known to drop by with all manner of gifts hoping to attract his attention. But Evie hears a few words of his sermon (which starts with his thoughts on goats) and can’t keep her eyes open. He meets Evie and her maid Henny after the service and figures he’ll never see her again - his sermon was so boring after all.
But he runs into her on the way home, accidentally surprising her into using her Irish accent. Evie’s horse throws a shoe, and an unpleasant encounter with one of the locals who has heard Evie’s unpleasant nickname leaves her feeling out of sorts. He catches her unawares, and her conversation with Adam is not what she expects; he doesn’t respond to flattery or flirtation, and seems vaguely offended and bored. Both of them think about the encounter later. Adam hears a brief recounting of Evie’s history at the local tavern, and can’t help remembering her hurt expression. Evie is intrigued by Adam and decides to engage his help in her endeavors to befriend the local population.
Obviously, Evie and Adam will fall in love. It seems an unlikely match, but of course it is perfect. I hesitate to say much about the romance for fear of spoiling it. The conflicts are about what one would expect. Evie has a past and a reputation. Adam has a carefully guarded reputation, and his standing in the community depends on his ability to continue to guard it. No one is really rooting for these two to get together - except the reader, who can see how ideal their match is.
I loved both of these characters. Either of them could have been a “type” - or worse, a stereotype. But you can feel their uniqueness almost immediately. Long spends quality time on the set up, and you understand what drives both of them. But their conversations with each other are also key. You understand why they fall in love because you truly watch it happen. Evie’s a planner who has made calculated decisions, but she’s also vulnerable. She isn’t ashamed of her choices, but she wants a different life. and while she’s not the stereotypical “hooker with a heart of gold”, she does have a tender heart. Some of the best scenes are when she is with a local poor family with an abusive father. it’s a life she knows all too well, and she helps the children deal with their circumstances.
Adam wasn’t necessarily “called” to be a vicar. Unlike many of his relations, he’s not wealthy. The living was an opportunity, and a calling he hopes to live up to. He has actually found himself to be well-suited for the work, but he struggles with sermons sometimes, and with his prominent role in the community. It’s not easy to write a vicar as a romantic lead, but Long does it well. As a character, Adam is fully realized and frankly, fantastic.
I’ve read Julie Anne Long before, but it’s been a while, and in my opinion she has really grown in her craft. The writing itself is noticeably a cut above average. It’s clever, funny, and poignant. The dialogue is pitch perfect.
I haven’t actually read any of the other Pennyroyal Green books, and guess what? It made absolutely no difference. While there were allusions to people and situations that more up to date readers would likely understand on a deeper level, I didn’t feel like I was in the dark. And I didn’t feel like I was inundated with backstory on every secondary character that wandered in. And though I haven’t read the other books, I enjoyed this one so much that I’d like to. This, my friends, is exactly how you should write a series.
I wavered back and forth on whether A Notorious Countess Confesses was an A- or B+ - and then decided I was just being stingy - DIK it is. Memorable characters, great writing and insightful dialogue - this is one you won’t want to miss.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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