Desert Isle Keeper Review

A Notorious Countess Confesses

Julie Anne Long
November 2012, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $5.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0062118021
Part of a series

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Warm

Iíve read romances about former courtesans (too many to count), and Iíve read romances about ministers (not as numerous as ex-courtesans), but Iíd 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 husbandís - the Earl of Warehamís - untimely death. Her ambitions at this point are relatively modest; sheíd 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 Sylvaineís attention in a very unflattering way when she falls asleep during his sermon on Loving Your Neighbor. Adam is used to feminine attention. Heís 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 canít keep her eyes open. He meets Evie and her maid Henny after the service and figures heíll 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. Evieís horse throws a shoe, and an unpleasant encounter with one of the locals who has heard Evieís unpleasant nickname leaves her feeling out of sorts. He catches her unawares, and her conversation with Adam is not what she expects; he doesnít 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 Evieís history at the local tavern, and canít 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 ďtypeĒ - 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. Evieís a planner who has made calculated decisions, but sheís also vulnerable. She isnít ashamed of her choices, but she wants a different life. and while sheís not the stereotypical ďhooker with a heart of goldĒ, she does have a tender heart. Some of the best scenes are when she is with a local poor family with an abusive father. itís a life she knows all too well, and she helps the children deal with their circumstances.

Adam wasnít necessarily ďcalledĒ to be a vicar. Unlike many of his relations, heís 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. Itís 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.

Iíve read Julie Anne Long before, but itís been a while, and in my opinion she has really grown in her craft. The writing itself is noticeably a cut above average. Itís clever, funny, and poignant. The dialogue is pitch perfect.

I havenít 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 didnít feel like I was in the dark. And I didnít feel like I was inundated with backstory on every secondary character that wandered in. And though I havenít read the other books, I enjoyed this one so much that Iíd 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 wonít want to miss.

-- Blythe Barnhill

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