Book Review

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

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Title: A Notorious Countess Confesses
Author: Julie Anne Long
Publication Info: Avon 2012
ISBN: 978-0062118028
Genre: Historical: European

A Notorious Countess Confessess - Julie Anne Long I stayed up way too late reading this book. It isn't action packed with swashbuckling mayhem, but the tension and emotional power builds so slowly that I didn't want to stop reading. I wish the ending had been stronger, but this is still one of my favorite historical series. It's all the best things of historical romance with witty dialogue and interesting characters, with the charm of small town settings that are so popular in contemporary romance. As we said in the book club chat for What I Did for a Duke, Pennyroyal Green would make a fantastic television series. 

Evie is the notorious countess: a former actress and courtesan, she married an Earl who won her in a card game, and is now a widow after his sudden death. Evie is assumed to be cold, calculating, and ambitious, but she's really lonely, though unapologetic for her notorious past. She comes to Pennyroyal Green because she now owns a small estate there, and wants to start the next – very new and different – part of her life there. 

Adam is the vicar of Pennyroyal Green, and a cousin to the Everseas, one of the two families of note in Pennyroyal Green. He's appeared in a few of the other books, and most notable for his exceptional good looks. His chuch is packed on Sundays, mostly with women interpreting double meanings in his sermons and hoping he's secretly speaking to them. When Evie asks Adam's help in making friends, he realizes that to create acceptance for her will be a challenge in the town, but despite the fact that he's drawn to her and would prefer to avoid her, he agrees to help, even though he's pretty sure it won't work. 

Adam is one of the best, most emotionally layered, empathetic and truly alluring beta heroes I've read in a long time. Adam isn't dominant hulksmash or rakishly charming. He didn't grow up with the assets that the other Everseas had, and he is grateful for the living given to him by the Eversea family. He doesn't question whether he likes being the vicar; he is the vicar. But he is enormously well suited to the job. He understands the responsibilities he carries, and isn't a bully, pushing to get his way. He tries to subtly influence people in his parish, and tries to influence them for good reasons. He's aware of the effect he has on the women of the population, but tries very hard to be equally attentive to everyone so as not to hurt anyone's feelings. He is intrinsically a good, decent and morally strong man.

Adam's strength is one of the things that makes him so attractive as a hero. It's not physical strength, though there are scenes where he pitches in to dig fenceposts or repair roofs alongside everyone else. He was a moral and intellectual strength and decency that's powerful to read about, especially as the reader learns more about Adam's perspective.

I really can't say enough things about Adam as a character. He's really one of the best beta heroes I've read in a long time, and I can't stop thinking about the ways in which his character grew and revealed more of itself. He wasn't weak or a victim of anyone, and he wasn't unable to create change or fix things. But he did so much of his work in a peaceful and quiet way. His character was just fascinating to me.

In contrast, Eve had layers and depth, but not the same alluring draw as Adam. Evie doesn't regret her past, and she shouldn't, even though people around her try to tell her she ought to act ashamed for it. But she is affected by the fact that her past gets between her and Adam and she is the first to say that their relationship isn't possible.

I wish the idea of Evie as advisor to the young women looking for a confident role model had been more developed. But I loved, LOVED Long's portrayal of the female friendships around Evie. They weren't universally good or perfect, and they weren't relentlessly cruel and immature, either. They changed, and I recognized so many of the conversations and relationships shifting between the young women of Pennyroyal Green.

One of the best things about Evie is that she encourages people to think for themselves, not to follow their social leader. Adam does as well: he could easily abuse his power of influence as vicar, but his determination to be a good influence on everyone prevents him. Evie doesn't want to tempt young women over to the dark side of sex and infamy, even though everyone seems to expect her to do so. She also wants women to speak for themselves.

Evie's strength is in her confidence and her experience – both of which condemn her in the eyes of good society. She's made the choices she has for a reason, and her reasons are perfectly valid. No one was going to take care of her if she didn't take care of herself. I wish her past coming to greet her present was a better developed conflict, because (I realize I'm being vague and I am sorry) her past is a nonphysical thing between Adam and herself, and when a form of it is physically present, I wanted to see more of how difficult it would be for both of them. It came and went rather easily at the end of the novel.

Really my biggest disappointment was the ending. I looked down and saw I was 95% through the book – which seemed impossible because Evie and Adam were so far apart from one another. The ending was rushed, quick, and difficult for me to believe. I wanted to believe in the ending. I wanted to believe that the scene was possible, that everything would be solved, but it was like the last act of a Shakespeare play: Bob's your uncle, have a happy ending, bye now!

Even with the “Wait, that was the end? That's it?” feeling, I still enjoyed this book tremendously, and have two more cued up to read next. I love that I can bounce around in the series out of order and not miss much. Julie Anne Long is one of my favorite new discoveries in historical fiction and I'm peeved at myself for not trying her books sooner. This wasn't the best of the Pennyroyal Green books I've read, and I wished the ending had developed with the same deliberate slowness as the rest of the novel, but despite its flaws, it was still a wonderful read.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Becky Hirst says:

    I love when you find a great book, so great that it makes you want to stay up late to read it because you can’t just put me down.  That is exactly how I felt as I was reading “Quest for the Lost Name” by George Makris, a fabulous book full of mystery, romance, thrill- it was magical!  Now I can’t wait to check out “A Notorious Countess Confesses.”  Thanks so much for suggesting this!

    http://questforthelostname.com…

  2. 2
    Ladyroy says:

    I read this over the course of the day Tuesday as an election stress distraction. I adored Adam. He was so well-crafted. I haven’t read nearly enough intellectual heroes who aren’t also 1) full of brooding angsty awfulness or 2) completely socially inept. It was just nice to read about someone so comfy in his skin. (Perhaps I should request a GS:STA post?)
    I share your feelings about Evie, as well. I liked her, but I didn’t ache for her half of the story nearly as much. I also felt that I wanted a bit more resolution from her past/present conflict, but it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book at all.
    There is a great realness to the relationship presented, I think. I had just had a conversation with a (currently smitten) friend who is aghast by how often she forgets to say sensible things when faced with the object of her unrequited affections. I laughed several times as this happened to the novel’s protagonists.
    In short, I agree that this book is totally worth the read, and I should read it again when I’m not half distracted by election returns.

  3. 3
    Beccah W. says:

    I find that a compelling male character can make or break a story. I can get over heroines that I don’t quite connect with, but the hero is a big deal for me.

    I’m excited to read this book, because it’s not too often that you find a well done beta hero (and I just love them when they are). I’m thinking of Race de Vere in Hazard by Jo Beverly. He made me all tingly, and never made me want to slap him for being a jerk.

  4. 4
    hapax says:

    I’ve been up and down (more down than up) with this series, but I loves me some beta heroes, so I’ll have to give it a try.

    But … Adam & Eve?  REALLY?  Did the story lampshade this, at least?

  5. 5

    I’ve heard so much good stuff about this book and this series. I’m going to have to just buckle down and move it to the top of TBR mountain.

  6. 6
    Amy @ Turn the Page says:

    I just finished this today and I agree completely , Adam was one of the best romantic heroes I’ve come across though the ending was a little weak and rushed unfortunately.

    The weirdest thing was that I am 100% certain I’ve read this before. I remembered what was going to happen next, I even checked my old Kindle to see if I had stupidly downloaded a book I’d already got after finishing. But it’s brand new out. So it makes no sense whatsoever and I’m a little creeped out.

    Julie Anne long is an interesting author for me because I have loved some of her Pennyroyal books (Colin’s story remains my favourite) and absolutely hated others. So I never know what I’m going to get when I pick up the next one.

  7. 7
    vgms says:

    no!! Unless I missed it, the book never poked fun at them being Adam & Eve. AND he’s a vicar!

  8. 8
    Ladyroy says:

    I kept waiting for the poking fun, but I don’t recall it ever happening. Alas.

  9. 9
    hapax says:

    Amy @ Turn The Page, could you be thinking of Jackie Barbosa’s HOT UNDER THE COLLAR? 

    I had exactly the same reaction you did, and I’m pretty sure it’s the Barbosa book that triggered it—the plot set up is nearly identical.  (And I hope that Long’s version is better—my very strong dislike of the Barbosa novella has been preventing me from picking this one up)

  10. 10
    Lolo says:

    The woman on the cover of “A Notorious Countess Confesses” is wearing the same dress as the woman on the cover of the US cover for “The Lady Risks All”. (compare previous blog entry: “The price of books in Australia”)
    Maybe that is the reason for US books being less expensive: the ladies on the US covers wear hand me downs (that don’t fit or else these dresses would not slip off the shoulder…)

  11. 11
    Karin says:

    I just finished reading “Since the Surrender” which is book 3 in the series, and has the first appearance of Adam, when the hero of that book hires him to be the vicar. He intriqued me immediately and I’m very happy to hear he gets his own story.

  12. 12
    Nabpaw says:

    Hi Amy@Turn the Page,
    Courtney Milan recently wrote a book about a courtesan and a beta male called Unclaimed.  Maybe you’re thinking of that?

  13. 13
    Melinda Smith says:

    Just claiming a moment of personal privilege to tell you that I LOVED this book—as a romance reader and also as a pastor. Ministers in novels so often don’t ring true to me—but after reading this book I really felt that Julie Anne Long got it right—that in crafting Adam’s character (flaws, struggles, and all) she accurately depicted not only what good, ethical religious professionals (of whatever persuasion) do—but also who they are striving to be deep inside. Adam’s not holier than thou, he doesn’t shame or condemn—he cares for his people, makes mistakes and learns from them, and does his best with humor and humility. I just really, really liked it, and I would give it an A!
    —RevMelinda

  14. 14

    all over it.  this is my current read.  so far, so good, but I’m really liking the JAL books. :)

  15. 15
    babyfishmouth says:

    I really enjoyed this book. My third favorite in the Pennyroyal Green series (after What I Did For a A Duke and Like No Other Lover).  I’m definitely a bigger fan of her more character-driven books.

    My only complaint: In my Kindle version, Evie was alternately called Lady Balmain and Lady Wareham. Often within the same conversation. It was so distracting.  Did I miss something with her title or was this just a bad ‘find all/replace’ mistake?

  16. 16
    Sophydc says:

    I got the print version and it had the same discrepancy. I had read about the issue before I got the book, so I was ready for it….but still annoying. Loved the book anyway.

  17. 17
    Habibajee says:

    I can’t tell you how very much I agree with you on the abrupt ending and mostly the quick wrap-up. The scene in the church did not ring true to me. I adore JAL’s writing and this novel was near-perfection for me but I guess we’ve been spoiled and expect alot from this author. My favorite remains Like No Other Lover…

  18. 18
    j-gro says:

    Melinda, have you read the Clare Fergusson series by Julia Spencer-Fleming? I’ve only read the first book, but I really liked it. She’s a minister. (If so, now I’m curious as to whether Clare “rang true” for you!)

  19. 19
    Karin says:

    @Melinda, have you read “A Woman Scorned” by Liz Carlyle? The hero is a scholar and cleric. It’s an excellent book.

  20. 20
    Melinda Smith says:

    j-gro, yes! The Clare Fergusson series is terrific. I do think the way Clare approaches her parish and her spirituality rings true for me—and of course the church politics. I love that she’s ex-Army and can kick butt—something I could never do, but maybe should be taught in seminary! :P

  21. 21
    Melinda Smith says:

    Karin, thank you! I admit to being spotty on my Liz Carlyle and I haven’t read that one. I’m putting it on my list!

  22. 22
    SonomaLass says:

    So far as I’ve read (about half the book) nobody in the book seems to notice that the main characters are Adam and Eve. It keeps distracting me.

    I’m enjoying both characters, though; like a lot of readers, Long is hit and miss for me. Most recently, I loved What I Did for a Duke and DNFed the one after it. I took a chance on this one thanks to the recommendations of others.

    I was also confused by the Lady Balmain/Lady Wareham thing. I hadn’t heard about it in advance, and it took me a while to figure out that it was really an editing error and not some weird form of address error (Long often gets that stuff wrong).

    Since hearing that she doesn’t plan to write the book I’m waiting for anytime soon, I’m not sure how many more of this series I’m going to want to read.

  23. 23
    Phyl says:

    I’m in the middle of this and the Lady Balmain/Lady Wareham error is driving me positively bonkers. Several times both names appear in the same paragraph! How did this get past professional editors? I’m reading a library copy and very glad I didn’t pay for this.

  24. 24
    librarygrrl64 says:

    Putting the series on my Goodreads list. Thanks for the tip, Sarah! I needed a new author. :-)

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