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review 2019-11-13 20:12
History and Historical Romance
It Started with a Scandal: Pennyroyal Green Series - Julie Anne Long

I tend to get all breathless and twitterpated when I discover a new historical romance writer I enjoy, sending out profligate hold requests at the library. That was the case with Julie Anne Long, whose Lady Derring Takes a Lover was so beautifully choleric on the ingrained sexism of the time, and features a found family plot and exquisitely rendered female relationships. I maybe don't need to say this, but I will anyway: as much I enjoy a historical, the baked in acceptance of social norms which are, to put mildly, antique, and to put more specifically, fucked beyond the telling of it, makes me often quite itchy while I read.

 

This is figleafed in ur average historical romance: industrialists are all, to a man, fair minded and generous, having acquired their fortunes without being the rapacious monsters they all, to a man, were. The aristocrats -- the dukes and earls and the like -- may have daddy issues, struggling under the injurious regard of their Old Testament fathers, but these paternal and paternalistic dinosaurs are emblematic of a outdated mode of lording over great swaths of land and hundreds, maybe thousands of people. These new sons are embodiments of a New Aristocracy, one that views its marriages as meritocracies, the perfect embodiment of noblesse oblige. 

 

I was just reading one recently where the industrialist romantic lead mentioned offhand his ownership of cotton mills, and my mind leapt right to tour of Lowell, MA I took some years ago. Lowell is a locus of both early American industrialization, and the inevitable labor movements that follow once people grow weary of being ground down by engines, spitted by the spearpoint of progress. Young women, girls really, worked 12 hour days six days a week until they coughed themselves into an early grave due to the cotton fibers they inhaled, the factory air muzzy with a fog of particulates. (It is also the hometown of Jack Kerouac.) That's the problem with historicals: they are inescapably based on history, which features a boot on a throat in one permutation or another for as far back as one can manage.  

 

So, the endgame of this little diatribe was some dissatisfaction with It Started With a Scandal. On every objective metric, this is a fine novel, with excellent characterization, smooth pacing, and well drawn sexual tension. Long is a smart, interesting writer, and I will continue to read the shit out of her back catalog. However, I was never quite able to get over the fact that our romantic lead was a prince of Burgundy or Bourbon or somesuch, a French aristocrat who fled France during the Revolution. He's very put out by the fact that his ancestral lands are not in his family's possession anymore, and spends much time glowering and throwing vases in fits of pique. The leading lady, his housekeeper, vouchsafes to feel bad for him quite prodigiously. She is herself just weeks from penury -- she and her child -- so she knows what it is to lose things. 

 

To which I say: bah. The French aristocracy deserved to have their heads separated from their necks. They were indolent, greedy, dissolute shits whose venality resulted in the abject poverty and misery of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people. So boo fucking hoo about getting run out of the country where our hero was born into incredible wealth and privilege. (I may have my back up after seeing some billionaire -- there are only 600 or so in America, a listable group of people -- literally crying on television because someone might tax him commensurate with his wealth. Meanwhile millions of Americans go bankrupt or just fucking die due to a medical insurance system designed to maximize profits at a brutal human cost. Fuck, and I can't stress this enough, every single billionaire.) 

 

I am aware of, and engage in quite happily, the sort of historical blindness required to enjoy a historical romance. I am not going to nitpick inconsistencies unless they are egregious and/or not in service of the final resolution. But sometimes I'm in my own place in history, where I cannot unsee the parallels to current, ongoing, often fatal injustices in the world. I am not going to waste time feeling bad for people who have had everything and then some given to them by accident or birth who, just occasionally, feel thwarted in their every impulse. Our heroine's soft-heartedness looks soft-headed. 

 

I've said this before, but I'm going to repeat it: every romance has the echoes of a less satisfactory conclusion embedded within it. Without the invisible authorial hand, our housekeeper's life would end in brutal poverty, discarded by a "polite" society predicated on systematic exploitation. Mostly I'm satisfied with these romantic revisions -- that is the point of a historical romance novel, n'est-ce pas? I can and do acknowledge this freakout is largely on me -- I do not want to enbussen Long, who seems a very fine writer, because of a personal convergence of things. But sometimes I just can't. The romantic conclusion ends up seeming such a petty, priapic thing, the tumescence of love blotting out all impediments to our lovers, even the important, necessary, and structural ones. 

 

Probably I should just back way from historical romance for the time being, library holds notwithstanding, until some improbable time when our brutal history is less brutal. I'll be busy holding my breath. 

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review 2019-11-11 05:59
Would you like to read my AU?
Lady Derring Takes a Lover: The Palace of Rogues - Julie Anne Long

 

Lady Derring Takes a Lover has such an unbelievably jaundiced view of the relationship between men and women -- and between the classes -- and I am 100% here for it. The titular Lady Derring meets with her solicitor after her husband's death, only to discover he left her destitute. While she's learning of her abject penury, her husband's mistress sweeps in, and learns that she, too, will not inherit a dime. They've been ruined by the same man, because it is a rare situation where women's fortunes are their own. Lady Derring and the mistress, one Angelique Breedlove (not her birth name), pool their limited resources and set up a boarding house in a building that once was a brothel known as the Palace of Rogues. 

 

The romantic lead doesn't appear except in snatches for a long, establishing opening -- this is the first in a series, so some groundwork must commence. Instead, in that interregnum, we are given a beautiful nuanced relationship between a widow and a mistress, one with so much heat I could see some furious slash written about these characters. Romantic lead dude is fine -- his major superpower is that he godamn listens -- but those women, gah, so hot. Which I guess tells you plenty about my predilections, you're welcome. 

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review 2019-11-09 17:06
Angel in a Devil's Arms by Julie Anne Long
Angel in a Devil's Arms: The Palace of Rogues - Julie Anne Long

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

What mattered was she was standing, and that was very much in spite of the men who had populated her life.

 

Readers first met Angelique in Lady Derring Takes a Lover, first in The Palace of the Rogues series. A mysterious man had just arrived when we left the series and Angel in a Devil's Arms picks right up from that. It wouldn't be hard to start the series here, you'd miss emotional foundations between Angelique and Delilah (Angelique was Delilah's husband's mistress) but the author does a good job of revisiting Angelique's background and the romance between our leads starts here.

 

I’ve had all manner of experiences and known all manner of people . . . I believe I can say with some authority that people become who they are more because of the pain they experience than the pleasure. And you, my friend, I do believe you carry about your pain the way you might carry eggs in your apron.”

 

Angelique popped off the pages for me in the first book and I was highly anticipating her story. Almost all of the story takes place in the inn she runs with Delilah and except for a slight revenge plot, this story is focused on character driven and the relationship between Angelique and Lucien. If you're a reader of Long, you'll know how beautifully she can turn a phrase and describe emotion, for example: He paused. She would not be surprised if it was because he heard her heart beating. He’d toyed with the rhythm of its since they met. He ought to know it the way a violinist knows his own instrument. Gorgeous writing. The story has many sentences like this, but I still ending up feeling a lack of connection between our couple.

 

Imagine a woman who could shorten his breath and blank his mind with just one curve of her lips.

 

Our hero Lucien was born a bastard but his Duke father started off very loving until he married and then he shunned Lucien and his mother. Lucien started to act out for attention which caused his step-mother to be embarrassed about him and possibly is behind assailants pushing him into the Thames. He gets rescued by a passing ship and ends up sailing the seas for ten years. We're told this and I think I needed some flashbacks of his time surviving, fighting, and building himself up to feel closer to his character. A developing relationship between Lucien and his half brother helped to add layers to Lucien's character and I can't help but already wish for the half brother's book. However, there wasn't anything that really stood out for me with his character and Lucien ended up feeling pretty benign.

 

But what surprised her most was the gratitude for everything, including all the heartbreaks, upheavals, betrayals she’d so far known. The wrong men had simply prepared her to recognize the right one. The seemingly wrong turns had led her precisely to where she wished to be.

 

When Angelique and Lucien are together, they do have some good byplay but the sparks just weren't there enough for me. The bedroom scenes were there but felt strangely short and rushed for what Long usually writes. A revenge plot ends up sputtering out and I just don't think the characters and their relationship was strong enough to carry the character driven focus. Angelique and Delilah have screen time together, more towards the end and I missed feeling their connection like I did in the first. The inn's guest are all here again and provide some comedic relief but secondary characters couldn't make up for the lack of punch I was missing between our leads.

 

Living one’s truth, it seemed, was more liberating than the false safety of no emotion or no risk. It was just so much easier to do when you knew you were loved.

 

Long has talent and skill for writing and describing human emotions and complexities beautifully and truthfully, but the breadth of the romantic relationship between Angelique and Lucien was missing for me. The epilogue sweetly sets up the next couple in the series and I'll definitely be reading it and hoping the setting can leave the inn more and our main couple will have more scope to their relationship.

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text 2019-11-07 21:28
50%
Angel in a Devil's Arms: The Palace of Rogues - Julie Anne Long

She knew full well that some wounds could not be vanquished. Some old wounds never did heal and you just learned to adjust them, the way you would adjust a burden on a long journey.

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text 2019-11-07 01:31
Reading Update: Page 1
Angel in a Devil's Arms: The Palace of Rogues - Julie Anne Long

I love the look of the heroine but the hero and his awkward torso are, awkward.

Loved Angelique in the first book and excited to finally read her story!

 

Angel in a Devil's Arms by Julie Anne Long purchase link

 

Salted Caramel Rice Pudding recipe

As you can imagine super rich but so so good. I used 1% so a bit more soupy but second night leftovers absorbed more. Perfect rich dessert to read romance with.

 

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