A Notorious Countess Confesses (by Julie Anne Long)

"I shouldn't like to debate St. Peter when I arrive or meet with any nasty surprises. 
    I haven't the wardrobe for Hell."

(Lady Fennimore, on her death-bed, confessing to Adam about love, like Song of Solomon - jealousy, fire, and floods - all-consuming intensity and passion!)

A Notorious Countess Confesses (by Julie Anne Long)
Conflict:  So wrong, it's right / Past Baggage Issues.  The "surface conflict" (about 80% of the novel) is that she's an ex-courtesan, and he's a vicar - and they're totally falling in luuuuurrve.  Everyone in town thinks it's wrong.  But we know it's right.  And then there's a "base conflict" (rears its ugly head at the very end):  They both have to get over the fact that she has a "complicated" past.  Which is apparently not as easy as it should be.

Why do I empathize with this heroine:  When we first meet our heroine, Eve, a former actress/courtesan from London, she is pessimistic:  She never should have forgotten that the world was on the side of the planners, not the dreamers. - p. 5.   She grew up Irish-poor in Killarney, raising her siblings and doing whatever it took to survive (so she doesn't take shit from shit).  By the third chapter, she's shrugging off the insults from her overly-righteous neighbors (calling her the "black widow" and other general acts of rudeness/snobbery).  Our hero, Adam (Get it? - Adam and Eve!!!) is a beta hero!  So he's not a loud-spoken, pushy, huge, hulking, Adonis Alpha stud.  And he's a vicar.  He's sensitive, patient, compassionate, and wise, and although he's a beta hero, he's still confident and controlled - and yeah, he's pretty rough in his own way.  You could say he has the alpha strength emotionally.  He deals with every aspect of life - spiritual or otherwise; funerals, weddings, poverty, charity, births, confessions, etc.  He's the ultimate romance hero, because he has to be what everyone in town needs him to be.  They all rely on him for guidance and support, so this guy's emotional intelligence level is through the roof.  On top of this, he is tall and handsome with an awesome velvety drool-inducing voice (ignore that dude on the cover, I'm thinking Matthew MacFadyen from P&P)... so the ladies be lovin' his homilies!

It was superbly refreshing to read a historical heroine not be a wuss (or a milksop as Lady Fennimore would say).  She made everyone check themselves during a bake sale auction (which was also sort of her first "debut" into the town).  She helped out (and inspired) a family in-need in a major way.  What I liked most of all, she can dish it and take it with the best of them -  just like feisty Ol' Lady Fennimore!  She supports her own family (and has since adolescence), but she doesn't want to be lonely.  When she turns to Adam for help with "making friends" in the local Church charity group, romance of biblical proportions ensues throughout the pages.

Overall:  The base conflict hurdle (both of them getting over Eve's courtesan past) was the toughest part to read through, and it was like watching a Three-Stooges slapping match.  I just wanted to shout, "HOLY CRAP - you're both hurting each other, so just stop it already!"  We're talking maybe fifteen pages worth of torment (dangerously close to the end!), where I was really pissed off with both the hero and the heroine, so much that I worried it could jeopardize my expectations of the happy ending.  Nope!  Silly me.  Happily Ever After guaranteed.  (And my distress was still not enough to downgrade the book.  I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads.)  NOTE:  There were definitely some minor flaws that I'm blaming on the editor* - but I can't lie and say that I didn't "really like it".  In my opinion, Julie Anne Long's writing is just that entertaining.  Her supporting characters, the way she sets up a scene, describes the ulterior motives, and finally delivers those three little words that I want to read... all of it ended up being wonderful.  No page is wasted.

I'm reading the Pennyroyal Green series out of order, and I'm loving it!  (Yes, they CAN be read out of order, but seriously, I need to stop at this book, because I think something crazy is about to happen with Olivia Eversea... for those who have read the books, I'm not sayin' anything - but I'm just sayin')  I started with What I Did For a Duke (book #5) and haven't shut up about it since:  5 stars on Goodreads.  Paperback worthy.  On my keeper-shelf, etc.  I told myself, back in October, that I was going to wait for reading Adam's story.  Now I definitely know that I can't read the next book without finishing the previous ones, because this one had a bit of a breakthrough part with Olivia's character (which I know involves past drama)... if I find out one more crazy thing about Olivia's plot line, it won't have the freshness of true shock.  Gotta get back to these - in order.  (After the 2012 Holiday challenge, of course!)

Things I LOVED:

  • Lady Fennimore (as a character and plot device)
  • battling the "milksops"
  • the baked goods auction scene
  • the tiny pillows given to Adam and the way he "lectures" back
  • The St. Christopher medal
  • Adam's Song of Solomon "Place me like a seal" speech at the end
  • also this line in the Epilogue:  "... and puppies. Because Molly the dog really was a bit of a slut." (in reference to the O'Flaherty's dog, Molly)  Very rarely is the pet the pregnant one at the end.  ;)

*(A minor technicality that irked me:  Many times throughout the book it's "Eve" or "Evie" for the heroine's name - or Lady Balmain or Countess Wareham.  Too many names.  Ugh.  And there is a repeated phrase 209 & 212 - "It would take more than Olivia to unnerve him..."  Shame on you editor.  Shame!)

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