by Julie Anne Long, historical (2012)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-211802-8
What happens when a notorious widow arrives to reside in Pennyroyal Green? You'd think the people who actually delight in having the infamous Overseas as one of their own would be, at the very least, indifferent, but no. Aoife "Evie "Duggan, a former actress who married the penniless and now dead Earl of Wareham, has already a reputation as a black widow in London, and the people of Pennyroyal Green are well aware of it. And like romance readers in general, they don't like any notoriety that does not come attached to a dashing pee-pee.
The vicar, Adam Sylvaine, is only human, however, and when he feels sorry for her and decides to be kind, he is soon entranced with Eve despite his best judgment. Evie wants a friend, and she hopes Adam will help her get along better with the disapproving locals, but she soon also finds herself attracted to him. Can a love story between a notorious widow and a vicar withstand their own internal prejudices as well as those of the people around them? And what happens when a man from Eve's past shows up to cause trouble?
This book has some really sweet and beautifully written emotional scenes. The grand finale at the end is horridly sentimental and mawkish, but I find myself crying to that scene - this is how easy the author plays with my emotions, sigh. It is because of these scenes putting me through the emotional roller-coaster ride and getting me to enjoy every second that this book gets a pretty high rating from me.
The truth is, if we take away the visceral joy the story provides me with, this story wouldn't work at all for me at a fundamental level.
I wondered whether making this book a Pennyroyal Green thing a mistake in itself, as this story makes Pennyroyal Green seem to be full of abusive drunkards, boors, and priggish judgmental women that, conveniently enough, turn sweet and nice for the sentimental grand finale. As I've mentioned earlier, it's hard to imagine the locals of a place where one of the main families are notorious for being, er, adventurous and are still accepted among polite folks would be so dramatically "Oh! Begone, thy whore of Babylon!" on Evie. Set this story in any other bucolic province and it may work better for me.
Adam is a nice guy, on the whole, but the author has to make him part of the Eversea clan (he's a cousin) to justify making this story part of the Pennyroyal Green series, and this is a pity. I mean, it is by law, I guess, that everyone with even a little Eversea gene has to be so attractive, so hot, so capable, so Adam turns out to be someone who could be anything - duke, earl, rogue. There is nothing vicar-like about him. He's doesn't seem pious to me, all the girls want him, and he's not a virgin. A vicar hero is a rare thing, so imagine my disappointment when this vicar is a cosmetic one. Well, I guess him being a vicar allows for some "oh, but his image and livelihood may be ruined if word gets out that he's porking a former actress" (no worries that God would smite a vicar for having sex outside of the sanctity of marriage, of course, because God is an Eversea), but that seems more like a plot device than an organic part of Adam's character.
Evie is also a disappointing character. She's said to be an actress that had all the boys eating out of her hands back in London, but in this story, everyone reads her like an open book. She is so earnest and eager for the hero's affection that he holds all the power, so to speak, in their interactions with one another. She is also desperate for friendship, but I don't know why she wants the friendship of these people. I mean, is it so bad in London that she can't do something to be among the people she would be comfortable with? I don't know, start a scandalous salon, buy and run an opera, something like that? But if that is the case, then there would be no story for this book, I guess. Just as I have a hard time buying Adam as a vicar, I have a hard time believing Evie to be what the author claims she is.
Not that Adam and Evie as a couple are horrible. Emotional scenes that made me cry don't arise from clumsily depicted relationships, after all. It's just that I don't buy what they are said to be, and I also have a hard time believing that the reason for them to come together is organic. In other words, I find the story to be contrived and artificial. Since I can find equally moving emotional scenes in many of the author's other books, that makes A Notorious Countess Confesses a "just okay" romance novel by this author.
Oh, and is it just me or the editing for this author's books is becoming more slipshod with every book? Evie morphs into Eve as the story progresses, and nobody caught that during the preproduction stage?
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