A Few Brief Thoughts About Non-Fiction: Armchair BEA Day 4

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Design Credit: Nina of Nina Reads

As discussed yesterday in my post about genre fiction and romance, I mainly read for sheer enjoyment and escape. I’m happiest when a romance novel so thoroughly engages me that I can’t wait to talk about it, and if it provokes or challenges me in some way, so much the better.  So mine is not a pure escapism; I enjoy the fantasy, yes, but I also enjoy critical and/or contextual analysis, and I’m willing to look at problematic aspects of the fantasy/ies I’m reading.

Which brings me to today’s Armchair BEA topic.  Although I’m mostly reading romance, and don’t read much non-fiction anymore, I do still make time for reading history. Really, it goes hand in hand with my love of historical romance, and provides context for looking at challenging themes such as colonialism or other forms of oppression that historical fiction sometimes raises or addresses. I’m going to keep today’s post very simple and just suggest a few works of historical non-fiction that have captured my attention and/or imagination in the last several years.

Badass History Books I’m recommending:

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The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity, by Jill Lepore

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community and War, by Nathaniel Philbrick

Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution, by Alfred F. Young

The Wars of the Roses, by Alison Weir – this one I just read last year, in concert with all 5 Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin. Epic fun!

3085271Out of bounds for today’s consideration of non-fiction, but very much worth your consideration as a captivating work of historical fiction, with a strong romance at the center — and a lengthy, almost-believable-for-once cross-dressing deception! — is Blindspot, by historians Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it’s an epistolary novel, like Pamela!  And the authors apparently also wrote it in epistolary fashion.  An absorbing, fun read for anyone who enjoys 18th century American/ Revolutionary history and/or romantic historical fiction.

As an aside, I do also occasionally read a non-fiction book about parenting or child development.  I am currently reading the excellent  Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine, about raising resilient kids and avoiding the “extra-curricular credentials” trap.

Introducing Badass Romance for Armchair BEA

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Design Credit: Nina of Nina Reads

I admit it, I love going to conferences.  I love the chance to get away from home, and laundry, for a few days and hang out with a big group of people who are all pumped up to get motivated and recharged and who share a commitment to a common field of endeavor.  Since my kids arrived on the scene almost exactly a decade ago, I don’t travel for work nearly as much as I used to, but I still make it a point to attend a couple of meetings a year, for the inspiration and connection they yield.

sfly3But as a new blogger with no other connection to “the industry” the idea of attending a literary conference is still just a pipe dream.  Sort of like my daughters’ active fantasy that  when they turn 11 they will receive letters from Professor McGonagle with instructions for Hogwarts matriculation.  Or perhaps just slightly more within the realm of possibility – that I will eventually break down about Disney and take them to Orlando for Harry Potter World.  It could happen, and we really want it to happen, but no one’s holding her breath.  Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure my fantasy book convention trip probably gets more and more wondrous, in my mind, in direct proportion to how much the daily grind of single mom-hood is getting to me in any given week.

But just when I was thinking how I’ll probably never have time to go to a big book convention, due to minor obstacles such as my job and my children, I heard about Armchair BEA — an online version of Book Expo America, which is happening this week in NYC.  For bloggers who don’t attend, Armchair BEA is the next best thing; a way to get connected, without leaving home.

Here are my answers to 5 of the Introduce Yourself post questions:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’ve been blogging here @ Badass Romance for about two months. I do feel as though I’ve arrived rather late to blogging and I’ve also been forcing myself up a pretty steep learning curve with tweeting (which is how I heard about Armchair BEA).  I started talking about books online in fan forums  back in 2004-2005 when my daughters were babies and I was pretty much trapped at home all the time.  I didn’t have time or energy to be in a real life book group, but found a wonderful community of readers to engage with online. Now the girls are about to turn 10, they’re more independent, and I have some scraps of time back.  I have been kicking around the blog idea with my friends (both IRL and online) for about a year, and finally decided to jump in with it. We’ll see how it goes — so far, it’s been a lot of fun. The only downside is that the more time I spend reading posts, tweeting, and talking with other book bloggers and authors, the faster the TBR stack grows. I’m starting to accept that it will always be full, and full of promise.

2. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

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in Lexington, 2012 @ Badass Romance

I’m in New England, near Boston. Revolutionary history is one of my other passions.  We love celebrating Patriots Day by attending re-enactments in Lexington and Concord. As a romance reader, for me the ultimate in perfection is a 5-star historical set in 18th-century America.

3. Have you previously participated in Armchair BEA? What brought you back for another year? If you have not previously participated, what drew you to the event?

I never heard of Armchair BEA until this week.  After the blog had been up for several weeks, I joined Twitter right around the time of the big Romance Times conference (RT13) in Kansas City, and spent a week watching the tweets and realizing how much I’d love to attend a book convention.

4. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

I jumped in to the recent spate of interest in the fate of historical romance and met some amazing reviewers and bloggers via my newbie post: Historical Romance: Lament, or Let it Die?  It’s by no means the most eloquent or my last word on this topic, but it was fun and I loved all the wonderful comments.

5. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013?

I’m currently reading several books, as usual. Just finished Untamed, by Anna Cowan, and I’m working on my review post (so excited about this one — it’s really different!). I’m also reading Silent in the Sanctuary, by Deanna Raybourn, and Teach Your Children Well, by Madeline Levine.

Regency Gossip: When a Bluestocking Is Like a Blogger

A final installment from the Lords Trilogy, In Which We Meet a Viscount in Love with Lord X, Gossip Swirls, and a Marriage is Forced

Badass: Ian Lennard, Viscount St. Clair – on the surface he’s a libertine with a wandering eye, but underneath lies a painful past, strong convictions, and a distinguished record of service to his country that it will take a VERY “tart-tongued, self-righteous spinster” to unmask.

Falls For: Lord X – no, it’s not m/m.  Gossip columnist Lord X is really Felicity Taylor, society architect’s daughter and penniless wielder of London’s most notorious pen. She may be more of a badass than Ian.  Pen mightier than sword, etc.

Brought To You By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Dangerous Lord (2000) (re-issued 2009)books

Hangs Out In: 1820’s London, where he has returned after a decade or so as an expat and (of course!) brilliant spy for His Majesty’s government.

Likes:  Keeping secrets secret; covering up his distinguished service record; triplets; Spanish endearments — querida — inexplicably slip out during intimate encounters.

Dislikes: Being forced to find a wife in order to gain his inheritance (but he’ll suck it up and make it happen once he encounters feisty Felicity.)

Badass Annoying Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar.

Badass Hero Moment: Forcing Felicity to the altar. She’s actually kind of annoying in staunchly and ridiculously insisting that marriage to Ian would be The Most Awful Thing. Ever.

(too) Frequently Described As: Brooding.

Tom-Brady-s-Hottest-Pics-male-models-28291631-500-680Casting? I dunno, but don’t you think the 2009 cover picture looks almost exactly like Tom Brady?  That’s just weird.

Is it a Badass Read?   This is the final book in a trilogy of Lords, and I was distracted by the appearance of the other two heroes, whose stories I had not yet read. My bad, for reading out of order. That aside, it was an enjoyable, quick read, buoyed by SJ’s characteristic deft and funny dialogue.  Although these are not characters that will linger everlastingly with me once I close the book, Felicity is slightly more memorable due to her bullheadedness. Both are variations of the Regency rake and bluestocking.  Honestly, I had a hard time remembering details about what Ian likes/dislikes to do with his time, other than the usual gentleman’s pursuits.  The most memorable characters in the book are the housekeeper Mrs. Box (and isn’t that the perfect name for a housekeeper?!) and Felicity’s younger brothers (think slightly older versions of the manic triplets from Brave!).

I quite like the rake/bluestocking trope, and I liked the attention devoted to conveying something about Felicity’s writerly craft.  She was the equivalent of an influential blogger with 1000’s of followers, and/or a power Twitter user. As a new book blogger and super newbie Tweet-er, I found myself quite sympathetic to her near-constant worry about finding sources (access) and material for her next post, er… column. While at the same time it’s clear she really loves her work and her writing.

What do you think? Are you up to here with rakes and bluestockings? Do you think this match-up is eternally popular with readers for transparent yet genuine reasons having to do with growing up bookish in a culture that celebrates beauty…?

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Never Say Die: Speaking Up for Badass Regencies

I have to say I am loving all this talk about historical romance over the past couple of weeks. Last week I tossed around my own musings on the provocative yet substantive discussion launched by the influential All About Romance and Dear Author blogs. This week finds historical romance “troubles” cropping up again at Risky Regencies, which I think is great.  Sick of the Regency? Well maybe, but….

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As many have pointed out, readers have had a decades-long love affair with Regency-set historical romance for good reason, and if there is a real or perceived Regency Fatigue among readers, the candid discussion we’ve all been having stems mainly from deeply rooted affection for this Heyer- and Austen-inspired world. In re-examining my own sentiments this week, I realized I’m probably slightly ambivalent.  I’ve confessed to suffering a mild disenchantment with Regencies that feel too wall-paperish or insubstantial.  I do actively hunt out historicals with settings based on American history, and the erstwhile art historian in me still wishes there were more badass romances set in southern Europe during the Renaissance (and not yet another Tudor- or Borgia-inspired historical novel with romantic elements).

PDVD_415But I’ve read hundreds, probably thousands, of Regencies, and there are so many on my DIK shelf that it’s overflowing. Also, there really are badass Regency heroes /heroines who aren’t dukes, earls, or even the slightest bit aristocratic — through they’re frequently noble, in the best sense of the word. There’s an element of truth in the suggestion that some Regencies offer a fairytale version of England which is devoid of politics, or gritty social and economic realities.  sharpeBut it’s equally true that some Regencies offer well-researched military and/or social history, plots that center on wartime or post-war conflict, and even themes of class conflict, industrialization, domestic violence, and addiction — though I don’t claim to know how Regencies that touch on these darker themes stack up to their frothier siblings in terms of sales figures.

I thought it would be fun to take a few manic Monday minutes to list a few of my all-time favorite Badass Regencies.  If there’s a thread running through this list, it’s my love for intricately connected books, especially a series structured around a plausible group of badass heroes. I am probably repeating something I’ve said elsewhere, but I am drawn to fiction that explores themes like loyalty, honor, kinship, friendship, bravery, and family. Romances against such a backdrop are especially powerful, and it’s a big part of my devotion to historicals.

kinopoisk.ruI’m also a sucker for the band of brothers trope, if it’s done well, with careful and well-researched world-building. Hell, even if it’s a barely plausible Saving England From the Forces of Evil Secret Spy Ring, if it has compelling characters, a strong story and finely honed dialogue, I’m willing to suspend disbelief.

What are your favorite Really Good Regencies??  Today’s list is heavily weighted towards uber alphas, with a lot of war heroes and spies.  I haven’t even mentioned Loretta Chase once yet (!). I’ll return at some point to come up with my list of top badass Regencies where the heroes fight their battles in ballrooms, drawing rooms, and gaming hells, and there are plenty I still haven’t yet read, so please help me out and let me know who you’d add!

Badass Regencies That Won’t. Back. Down

Joanna Bourne, the Spymaster series / Darkly exquisite; French and English spies from all rungs of the social ladder. Words fail me.  If anything, these books just keep getting better and better.  The heroines are as badass as the heroes. Adrian’s story (The Black Hawk) was one of the best books I read in 2012.

Stephanie Laurens, the early Cynster books / Lush and nostalgic; curiously addictive. This family operates like a clan of badass white knights, reminding me both of Scottish medievals and, oddly, of “fixers” like Olivia Pope and her band of gladiators in suits.

Jo Beverley, the Company of Rogues series / Richly satisfying; wonderful secondary characters and friendships; some middle class protagonists. This series is wonderful and only suffers the tiniest bit from probably being constantly compared to the (Georgian-set) Malloren series.

Laurel McKee, Daughters of Erin series / Fiery and pretty political; there are riots and revolutionaries. Broadly speaking, these qualify as Regency-era historicals, but set in Ireland during and following the 1798 rebellion. I loved the theme of SISTERhood in this series, and the history is woven in seamlessly.

Gaelen Foley, Knight Miscellany/ A duke, twin heroes of the Peninsular Wars and their other siblings; these books explore sibling rivalry quite intensely, and the war-damaged brothers are heart-stoppingly enigmatic and tormented.

Eileen Dreyer, Drake’s Rakes series / A genuine band of brothers series; they fought and barely survived Waterloo together. The journey home is fraught with perils like amnesia, mistaken identity, deception, treason, abandonment and a disgraced wife.  The depiction of military life, especially the officer’s wives/daughters who traveled with the army made Never a Gentleman my favorite.  This series also reminded me so strongly of Bernard Cornwell’s legendary hero Richard Sharpe, that some of the glory of Sharpe’s Rifles may have rubbed off on Drake’s Rakes.

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Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe, a particular favorite Regency badass who fought his way to being an officer but never a gentleman, before he got involved with Lords or Rings or playing the Game of Thrones.

Widow and Orphan: What Jane Eyre and Julia Grey Have In Common

I am a latecomer to the novels of Deanna Raybourn.  She has a new release set in colonial Africa out just last week, but just last night I finished Silent in the Grave (2007), which is the first Lady Julia Grey book, a Victorian-set mystery. 6933131

Being compulsive about sequels, I’ve already begun Silent in the Sanctuary (2008), which is the second book in which Julia will — it appears — solve a tangled mystery in the smoldering and rather mysterious company of investigator Nicholas Brisbane.

Charlotte Bronte, on the other hand, has been in my life since my early teens. I’ve posted recently about the enormous influence of Jane Eyre on my tastes and preferences as a reader, as part of explaining (for myself, mainly, and also for anyone else who’ll listen) why the hell I decided to start this blog.  🙂  Jane is a key figure in my literary back story – why I love reading, why I love romance and history and moody gothic tales, why in spite of knowing the absolute opposite is true, I still sort of think being a governess sounds romantic….

I didn’t expect Jane to keep cropping up all over the place this week, but it’s been a week of Big Thoughts about romance and history, and my bedtime reading has put me in a shadowy Jane Eyre mood.  Silent in the Grave is a Harlequin MIRA romantic mystery, so not a traditional HEA romance, but it’s honestly the most achingly romantic book I’ve read in a while.

At the center is an attraction compulsion that provokes me like Jane and Rochester with its subtle complexity and oblique intensity.  Julia and Nicholas positively spark and flare, generating heat without sex scenes, just by being in a room, circling each other, worrying about each other, vaguely threatening each other.

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I realize I am not the first to see Bronte resonances here.  There’s the incredibly tangible atmosphere of a gaslit Victorian England, from the overstuffed privilege of a fashionable family home to the grim surroundings of the expendable classes (prostitutes, orphans). Yes, I know it’s 1886, and Jane Eyre was published in 1847, but I’m talking about a mood here, people.  I can’t wait to get to the third book, where they’ll head north to the moors and I can picture them, windswept and wild, stalking each other until they finally succumb to the lust!

Jane Eyre 2007Because of course the most resonant thing about this book is the relationship itself, and the way Julia and Nicholas interact.  This above all is what puts me in mind of Jane and Rochester.  It’s something about the way they inadvertently both madden and seduce one another, with intellect and conversation and a hands-off but incredibly latent and irresistible sensual appreciation for each other’s physical presence and appearance.

Of course what’s totally different for Julia is that she is in fact a widow, and not an orphan.  Her very involved and encouraging family are another delightful aspect of this book, though even without them, this heroine enjoys a much less precarious position in Victorian society than poor long-suffering Jane.  As MacPudel so astutely pointed out in a Comment on the Historical Romance brouhaha this week, heroines who are believably in a position — economically and socially — to make their own relationship choices — in a historically accurate historical novel — are hard to find.

jane_2006_4_465x310I always thought of Jane as unrelentingly strong-willed, and from the start I loved how she made herself Rochester’s equal in intellect and conversation, but when push comes to shove, her existence as a single woman of no family is dangerously marginal and fraught with peril.  When she does make her own choices, her independence comes at a huge price. But Julia has the means to be independent, or at least as independent as was possible for a young widow with a fond father to be.  Not only does she not serve Nicholas as member of his domestic staff, but she has actually sought his services as an investigator and has a higher social status.

So it would seem Julia and Jane really don’t have very much in common at all.

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Except for the romance.  The intense fixation on a charismatic, brooding and tormented hero who himself is unable to tear himself away from watching and waiting for the woman who challenges and fascinates him.

Bottom line — if there’s anyone reading this who hasn’t already read the Lady Julia Grey series, I’m going out on a limb to highly recommend after only one book.  And I just can’t stop thinking about the ways this book is getting under my skin because of its smoky Jane Eyre echoes. Reader, find. A. Copy.

Fellow Jane fans will likely notice I’ve only used pics from the 2007 BBC production with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.  I know claiming a “best” adaptation is controversial, but in my mind this is absolutely it.  Love love love the sizzling chemistry between these two – it was the first film adaptation where I actually felt the heat, and where Rochester was both unappealingly beastly and astonishingly gorgeous in a way that made sense to me.  

So what about you? Which is your favorite Eyre?  And for those who are ahead of me on this, and have read the Silent series, what do you think?  Are Julia and Nicholas as epic as Jane and Rochester?  

Please Do Not Touch

FORBIDDEN….. About Touching Things You’re Not Supposed To, and When Heroes are Better in Someone Else’s Story

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Name:  Jordan Willis, auburn-haired Earl of Blackmore; by day he crusades for social reforms in Parliament, by night he’s busy winning the affections of the bored wives and widows of the ton.

Falls For: Prim yet proper rector’s daughter Miss Emily Fairchild, blackmailed into posing as wild Scottish debutante Lady Emma Campbell.

forbidden lordStory Recounted By:  Sabrina Jeffries, in The Forbidden Lord (1999)

Hangs Out In: Parliament, the British Museum, clubs, the opera (London 1819)

Likes: merry “uncomplicated” widows, social reform, his militant sister Sara.

Dislikes: falling in love (but he does fall in the end, and there’s quite a lot of heat along the way!)

Badass Hero Moment: Arranges sizzling hands-on private encounter with the Elgin Marbles, newly displayed at the British Museum.  “I’m a trustee of the museum…”

Badass Annoying Moment: Insists throughout that he doesn’t believe in love, that his heart remains untouchable and his desire for our heroine is purely physical, yet proves his emotions are deeply involved — and confused — when he’s all too willing to believe the worst of her.

(too) Frequently Described As: Controlled.

Might Look Like:  Rupert Penry-Jones as Captain Wentworth in the 2007 PBS Persuasion.. ?

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To Read Or Not To Read?  This is the middle book in the Lord trilogy, and, like the other two, it’s a bit of a romp, with occasional interludes of character development revealing painful histories and inner emotions.  A fun read largely because SJ does such a good job building the ever-intensifying sexual attraction between Jordan and Em(ma)ily. There are evil, scheming relatives and unsuitable suitors all over the place getting in the way of the HEA, but there is connection and chemistry to get them past these obstacles. Usually false identity “uncanny double” storylines are irritating because you can’t believe the hero/ine doesn’t realize the deception sooner, but in this case we get that out of the way quickly, which is a relief.  Blackmore is nothing if not keenly observant when it comes to women.

The odd thing is that I think I found Jordan more compelling, and even more sexy, as Sara’s ruthless brother in Book 1 of the Trilogy than in his own book, where his edge seems blunted by the plot device that drives the central conflict — his insistence that he doesn’t “believe in love” just comes off as annoying and repetitive.forbidden

This trilogy from a decade or so ago was reissued by Avon and I think if Steamy Regency is your thing, this fits the bill quite nicely. Lord’s sake, I could not stop reading in spite of it being neither the steamiest, nor the funniest, of its ilk!  (And I’m not sure why, but I think in this case I actually like the old cover better…)

elgin_marblesTangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:

Arrival, Exhibition and Early Reception of the Elgin Marbles in London, from APOLLO.

These iconic fragments of classical Greek sculpture were removed from the Parthenon in Athens in the 1790’s and brought to London. Controversy over this looting/appropriation/rescue (you decide) raged even then, and they were not displayed publicly until after 1816, but they remain in London today and the controversy over where they belong continues.  It could just be the erstwhile art historian in me, but the scene in the Museum where they’re alone together with their hands all over the freaking Elgin Marbles really got my attention. All that forbidden touching!!

Pamela Poll:  Who are your favorite secondary character heroes? Have you ever been disappointed when they seemed less Badass in their own book?

BONUS QUESTION:  Have you ever touched something in a museum that was off-limits?

Boston and Badass

I just need to get this off my mind.   It’s an unfinished post I was working on about 2 weeks ago.  Butch O’Neal was going to be my next badass.  I wanted to do a JR Ward hero to add a solid dose of vampire/paranormal romance into the mix, and review a book I actually really liked.  My blog is so new; I’m still trying to get some momentum going and figure out what it’s really going to be about. What will be fun and interesting for me to ponder and post, and what might inspire some sassy and/or intriguing discussion?
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Even though I read Lover Revealed quite a while ago, Butch’s story was among my Black Dagger favorites and this is partly because of the Boston connection.  So there it is… I’ve been completely stalled and distracted, like everyone else who lives in the Boston area, and pretty much haven’t even thought about my new blog for over a week, since before marathon Monday and school vacation week.  When I did think about getting back to the blog, it was with avoidance,  because I knew this was the post I’d find.  Ugh.  I can’t finish it now, and I’m not sure I should post it at all, even with these fragmentary musings.
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I have noticed the term badass all over the place in mainstream coverage and tweeting about the cops in Boston and Watertown.  I can’t tell if I am just noticing it more, or if it is actually being used more. For example, this from a list of media moments compiled by Boston.com’s Radio BDC blog:
IF YOU WERE LISTENING TO THE SCANNER, THIS WILL NOT BE NEWS: WATERTOWN POLICE OFFICERS ARE TOTALLY BADASS.  While waiting for backup, a single Watertown police officer engaged in a shootout with the suspects early Friday morning — and employed a tactic straight out of a Die Hard movie, according to Watertown police chief Edward Deveau. The officer put his car in gear and jumped out of it, hoping they would think he was still in it as he fired from behind a tree, Deveau said.
We tell kids to “look for the helpers” when we’re forced to talk with them about violent and scary events in the news.  I think some of us grown-ups can’t help looking for badass heroes, in much the same way.
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It’s interesting how quickly social media has provided the means for romanticizing key figures in the drama of the last week.  This morning I read this crazy story about how “hot” and badass the Boston FBI head is, based on tweets and other online sources of pop culture buzz.
In case you were buried under a rock, DesLauriers was at the center of the investigation all last week. He stood up at press conferences and said all kinds of badassy stuff, like this: FBI’s DesLauriers ‘We will go to ends of the earth to find those responsible for this despicable crime.”

I was inclined to just ditch my whole post, since it seems pretty cheesy and insensitive to objectify and engage in the “crushing out” on Boston law enforcement in the context of an overwrought fictional world where the Boston cop hero is a vampire.  I have not been directly injured or affected by the terrible events of last week.  I just live here, and my children live here.  The perpetrator is being treated in the hospital where they were born.  Many other strands link us to the places and institutions that have suffered devastating loss and lockdown. For me, Boston Strong is too personal; it’s not just a meme to adopt, analyze and/or deconstruct.   But then I decided to leave the post unfinished and try and make my peace with it by articulating some of this.

I had been especially looking forward to comments on the “poll” question, but now the whole thing just feels completely different.  Real life badass cops chasing and fighting warped evildoers who suddenly — given the scale and grandiose ambition of their actions — resemble nothing so much as Lessers.  Tough to make your peace with that.

Boston Badass

Badass: Brian (Butch) O’Neal, hard-ass Boston cop and long lost descendant of Wrath; re-united with his kin and his kind when he rescues Beth, a female vampire destined to be Queen.

Falls For: Marissa, aristocratic female of impeccable lineage who was not destined to be Queen, but kicks ass in her own right when she takes on the Princeps Council and defeats an attempt to impose misogynist restrictions on female rights and freedoms (the “sehclusion” motion).

Story Recounted By: the incomparable J.R. Ward, in Lover Revealed (2007)

Hangs Out In: V’s lair at the mansion, the ultimate man cave.

Likes:  Schmancy clothes, good Scotch, the Sox .  There are a lot of high end, top shelf brand names in this book.

Dislikes:  Following law enforcement rules when justice is what he’s after; sitting on the sideline when there are Lessers to be Dehstroyed.

Badass Hero Moment: Withstands torture to protect the Brotherhood and its secrets.

To Read Or Not To Read?

Tangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:  

Pamela Poll:  Boston cops, Boston criminals… there’s a whole sub-genre now of Boston Noir, and it’s not just books.  There are so many great Boston films.  And tv — who can forget Spencer For Hire?!  So…. who are your favorite Boston badasses?

Pennyroyal Preacher Man

Badass (?):  Reverend Adam Sylvaine, brawny yet contemplative Eversea cousin, discovering his vocation, serving the flock of Pennyroyal Green as their vicar while dodging the lustful and marriage-minded pursuits of the entire female population.

Falls For: Eve Duggan, widowed Countess of Wareham, notorious former Covent Garden actress, courtesan, and all-around Scandalous Woman.

Brought to You By: Julie Anne Long, in A Notorious Countess Confesses (2012) (7th in the Pennyroyal Green series)

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Hangs Out In: The pulpit, the vicarage, and a certain bedchamber at Damask Manor.

Likes: Children and old people, sarcastic and scandalous old women in particular.

Dislikes:  Anyone making snide, insinuating comments about Evie’s past.

Badass Hero Moment: When a man of the cloth throws a punch, or offers up five pounds he doesn’t have, you know it’s meaningful.  Fortunately, he’s also forceful and persuasive from the pulpit.  Definitely a winning combination.

Badass Annoying Moment: Makes snide — beyond insinuating — comments about Evie’s past.  (At that point, though, they were both pretty much acting like idiots.)

(too) Frequently Described As: Golden.

Looks Like….?

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(Richard Chamberlain, The Thorn Birds, 1983)

Ha ha.  JAL has a clever bit of dialogue around the fact that Rev. Sylvaine doesn’t wear a “dress” (a cassock), and he’s (obviously) not a Catholic priest.  He’s really more like a lanky, broad-shouldered country gentleman who happens to have the care of a church and its flock of parishioners rather in place of an estate. Still, the contrast between his outward control and inner lust, along with the inevitable loss of control and explosive sex reminded me of the infamous Father Ralph. Yes, I know Pennyroyal Green is a million miles from the Australian outback and really there’s nothing else similar about these two.  But it made me smile to think about the Thorn Birds!

To Read Or Not To Read?  So. The whole thing about Adam being a vicar really got me thinking, though, about what had to be different about him — from the other Eversea and Redmond males — in order to make him believable as both an alpha hero and a clergyman.  I think both Adam and Evie were just kind of too… something… maybe it’s that they were both too earnest.  It must have been a challenge to write him in such a way that he’d come across as a red-blooded…well… badass like his cousins Colin and Ian.  These two, who we’ve already met and married off in prior books, make regular appearances here, checking up on Adam. It’s as if Long uses them to give Adam some badass glamour by association. I kept trying to figure out if he needed this kind of bucking up, or if he really is just a kind of beta badass, who keeps a low profile but is a force to be reckoned with when pushed to his limit.

What’s more convincing is Adam as a man exploring his calling as a caretaker of souls, even as a somewhat ambivalent sermon-writer and preacher.  His humility as he discovers his gift and his vocation are nicely conveyed.  But combined with the fact that Evie spends almost the entire book doing good works of one kind or another (she visits the parish poor, she makes huge and almost irrevocable sacrifices in order to provide for her own poor relations) there may have been too much humble pie for me.

That’s always part of the problem with a (former) courtesan heroine; there always have to be dire circumstances that forced her to sell herself,  she has to be stoic and/or unapologetic about being a fallen woman, and she has to refuse to “drag down” the hero, before they can arrive at the HEA.

Bottom line — these two could not have made more incompatible career choices, and it just wasn’t quite as sparkling and fun — or even as funny — as the preceding Pennyroyals. I don’t know if I’m going to start giving letter grades, but if I had to, this would be a solid B. Anything from JAL is just so beautifully written and Pennyroyal Green is a place to which one wants to return again and again.

Tangentially Related … and Possibly Diverting:  The setting in quaint PG, with the requisite assortment of odd and earnest villagers, at one point taking turns in a dramatic recitation of 1st Corinthians that is both sweet and ridiculous, also made me think about funny old Dibley.

Romance arrived for our dear Vicar of Dibley in the HILARIOUS episodes where Dawn French lusted after, and landed, smoldering Richard Armitage.  Found this awesome video of Armitage and French romancing and goofing around together. I firmly believe any excuse to watch Richard Armitage should be taken advantage of, so Enjoy!

Pamela Poll:

Who’s your favorite badass sexy preacher man? Can a clergyman be a convincing alpha hero?