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Pennyroyal Green series

REVIEW:  Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann Long

REVIEW: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann...

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Dear Ms. Long:

Does it sound negative to say that it feels like your Pennyroyal Green series has been going on for ages? I don’t mean for it to – I was surprised to see that the publication date of book one in the series, The Perils of Pleasure, was 2008. Why does it feel like it’s been going on so much longer? Maybe it’s because Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is the 9th book in the series; I don’t often stick with series for that long (though conversely I sometimes stick with them longer than I want to, if only because I kind of hate to give up in the middle of a series).

My general impression of the Pennyroyal Green series is that it’s a bit uneven. When I started reading Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, it occurred to be that the series seems to be focusing more on the Everseas than their village rivals, the Redmond. A quick review of the books in the series indicates that that’s not really true; the number of Eversea and Redmond books are about equal. What I did notice is that by my hazy recollection, the Eversea books are generally more interesting and memorable, and perhaps received better grades from me, than the Redmond ones. I could check my log to see if my recollection is accurate, but I think maybe no one needs a Sabermetrics-style analysis of my reading of the Pennyroyal Green series.

(I’m not sure I ever even read How the Marquess was Won, which seems by the blurb to be about neither the Redmonds nor the Everseas, but about a marquess who is pursuing one of the Redmond daughters when his attention is caught by her companion. Hmm. Maybe I should go back and try that one.)

So, onto this book: American Titania “Tansy” Danforth has come to England to stay with her relative, the Duke of Falconbridge. He’s the hero of What I Did For a Duke, and his wife is Genevieve, née Eversea. Tansy is actually English by birth; her family moved to America when she was a child. Her father and the duke were friends and cousins, and long ago the duke had promised his friend that he would find a suitable husband for Tansy. Tansy’s family is all gone now (her brother in the War of 1812, and her parents in a carriage accident, surely the number one killer of heroines’ parents in historical romances; those things must have been death traps). She’s alone in the world, but she has beauty and a fortune and it’s up to the duke to make a great match for her.

The duke and duchess are staying with the Everseas in Pennyroyal Green as they search for a suitable home in the area (presumably, Genevieve wants to be closer to her family), so it’s actually the Eversea manse that Tansy arrives at, trailing a lovesick Italian with whom she carried on a shipboard flirtation. The unfortunate swain is dispatched, and Tansy proceeds to charm everyone she meets instantly and repeatedly. The only exceptions are two of the Everseas: Genevieve’s sister Olivia (who is kind of hardened and cold; I suspect it’s because she’s so sick of waiting for her book to come around) and their brother Ian. Ian Eversea seems like every other Eversea hero (granted, my memory of the previous ones is hazy) and a good number of English historical romance heroes in general: devil may care on the surface, but secretly scarred in mind and body by wartime experiences, and of course a total man-whore. He’s also, rather entertainingly, immune to Tansy’s immense appeal, at least at first. Tansy wishes she could say the same about Ian; she is so instantly and totally attracted to the young man that her usual sangfroid quite deserts her in his presence. It’s so bad that Ian starts to wonder if Tansy is perhaps simple or a bit touched in the head. This was amusing and I appreciated that it wasn’t insta-lust on both sides, though I felt a bit sorry for Tansy, who is used to having men fall at her feet and doesn’t understand why the one man she actually wants seems indifferent to her.

Ian’s indifference, is, of course, temporary, and sooner enough both are lusting after each other. But there are barriers to any courtship between Ian and Tansy. For one, Ian is shortly planning on leaving for a long sea voyage; he’s expected to be gone for years. Also, in What I Did For a Duke, Ian was caught by the duke seducing the duke’s then-fiancee, a situation that caused a great deal of tension between the two men, some of which remains. The duke would *never* let Tansy marry a rogue like Ian Eversea.

Between the Devil and Ian Eversea was a little bit of a rollercoaster for me. It started off strong; the effect Tansy has on people, men in particular, was comical. She knows what she’s doing and does it very well. As I noted, I rather liked that Ian didn’t fall into immediate lust with Tansy; in fact, for various reasons, he rather dislikes her at first. But as the two get to know each other, the story becomes both more conventional and bit more oblique. I felt like the underlying reasons for the ways that Tansy and Ian behaved were hinted at a lot but could’ve used a more direct explication. I always feel kind of bad when I think that about a story; I don’t like to think of myself as a reader who needs things spelled out in big neon letters. If anything, I appreciate show-not-tell writing. But in this case I felt like there were little hints and portents of their actions (for instance, Ian observes Tansy on the balcony of her bedroom, attempting to light a cigarette, an action he finds somewhat shocking) that made it seem like the explanation would be more dramatic or lead to a great emotional catharsis, and that’s not the case. Tansy is a flirt because…actually, I’m not sure that’s even explained; if it is, I’ve already forgotten the explanation. I mean, it’s fine if she’s just a natural flirt but it’s clear that Tansy goes out of her way to win people over; she’s actually somewhat manipulative at times (in a fairly benign way, albeit). It’s clear that she misses her family and is lonely, but it’s not clear whether her attempts to conquer hearts is an outgrowth of that loneliness or something she did even before her parents died. That aspect of her personality could have used a little more in-depth coverage, I think.

Ian is a man-whore and adventure-seeker because…of war, I guess? I don’t know. He was in the war, though I don’t know if it was ever mentioned *what* war, exactly. I suppose some of these holes in my understanding of the story could be my fault (my memory is not what it used to be), but I also think it points to a certain hazy quality to the storytelling.

Though I ultimately felt that Ian was a less well-drawn character than Tansy, I think that his slow falling in love with her was well portrayed. That’s one of the strengths of having your hero (or heroine) not fall into insta-love/lust: you get to watch the person actually have to reconsider their prejudices and discover the other person’s strengths and virtues. Now that is something that I find romantic.

My grade for Between the Devil and Ian Eversea is a B-.

Best regards,

Jennie

 

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REVIEW:  It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long

REVIEW: It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long

Dear Ms. Long,

This is book eight in your Pennyroyal Green series, the realization of which made me reflect on the unevenness of the series for me. But when I look back at the grades I’ve given the six books that I’ve read so far (how is that I haven’t read How the Marquess was Won? Weird), my grade range isn’t really that wide – from A- to B-. Actually, I’m surprised that I gave three of the six books a B- grade, because that’s really not a very good grade for me. I’m starting to wonder if your books are uneven for me not from book to book, but actually within the books themselves; that might explain why I think of you both as a very talented author as well as one who is, well – uneven.

It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne LongThis latest book started off irritating me in a couple of small and admittedly personal ways (meaning, they weren’t flaws in the book but just things that bugged me specifically). Jonathan Redmond encounters Thomasina de Ballesteros (known as Tommy – her nickname being irritant #1) outside the window of some duke at midnight. Why either of them are there is not clear, and continues to not be clear, particularly on Tommy’s part, for rather too long, IMO (irritant #2). I don’t really like it when characters muse extensively about things that are opaque to me as a reader; I think I get anxious because I feel like I’m supposed to understand or remember whatever they’re going on about and it interferes with my enjoyment.

Jonathan Redmond is the youngest child of Isaiah Redmond, a stern and disapproving father whose driving force is his success in business. Jonathan has been a bit of a ne’er-do-well to date, but he’s actually developed some enthusiasm for business (specifically, he wants to invest in a color printing process that a German inventor he’s acquainted with is working on). Jonathan hopes that his father will appreciate his son’s savvy and help steer him towards some financial backers, but Isaiah entirely dismisses him, and instead insists that Jonathan marry a suitable heiress before the end of the year, or be cut off financially.

I was a little disappointed at this trite plot development, but I was also genuinely moved and troubled by the scene between Jonathan and his father. Isaiah really seems to have no respect for his son; all he thinks Jonathan can offer is a pretty face that will help snag a proper wife. The realization that father thinks so little of him shakes Jonathan up.

Thomasina de Ballesteros is the by-blow of a Spanish courtesan and a member of the English aristocracy. She has made her way into society of a sort by becoming a protege of the eccentric and elderly Countess Mirabeau, who holds regular salons that attract artists and young bloods (the latter particularly showing up after word spreads among them of Tommy’s unique beauty and abundant charm). Tommy’s background at first felt disappointing cliched: she lives in genteel poverty in a ramshackle building with an assortment of disreputable characters, including what sounded like one or two Disney whores (TM Jayne) and a giant of a man with a mysterious background who acts as a sort of bodyguard for Tommy on occasion. In her free time she rescues abused children (no, really). I feel like I’ve read books with similar heroines dozens of times, and avoided many more books precisely because the heroine fit this description. I don’t mind a do-gooder heroine and I don’t mind a poor heroine but something about a poor do-gooder heroine (accompanied by a motley group of scrappy sidekicks) sets my teeth on edge. It’s just too much.

To be fair, Tommy’s eccentric background is not played up too much; it wasn’t featured nearly as much as I feared it would be. And she does have dimensions and depth that the average heroine of her ilk usually lacks. She’s clever and aware of her power over the opposite sex. She’s also aware, as she notes herself several times, that she’s in over her head with some of her clandestine activities. I just would have liked it if her background was a little less hackneyed. Also, the sanitized inclusion of the seamier side of life in 19th century London was kind of an issue for me. Rescuing one mistreated child servant (who is, naturally, just as cute as a bug) just reminds me of all the other mistreated kids who weren’t rescued. So you save a girl from a position in which she is regularly beaten – all that happens is that some other poor kid takes her place. You rescue a child forced to work under dangerous conditions in a cotton mill; great, but now some other little kid is forced to risk his or her life on a daily basis. Kind of sucks, really.

I did like the slow way the attraction developed between Jonathan and Tommy. They appreciate each other as witty, smart scrappers without a whole lot of mental lusting, early on. Basically, they actually like each before they want each other, and how rare does that sometimes seem to be in a romance?

The story picked up for me in the last third or so. Jonathan, particularly, really grew on me, and grew as a character, as well. Like all the Redmonds, he’s been scarred by the disappearance of his eldest brother, Lyon, who took off for parts unknown after having his heart broken by Olivia Eversea. (As readers of the Pennyroyal Green series know, the books follow the Redmonds and Everseas, who have apparently existed in enmity in the same small village for generations.) His realization that his father essentially has no respect for him really does inspire and spur Jonathan on, if only to prove Isaiah wrong.  I liked that about him. Tommy felt more faintly sketched to me; she had an interesting and tough past that I kind of wish had been explored a little more thoroughly. She did have her own arc in which she came to accept that her dreams of a family were not going to turn out the way she hoped.

For those who care about such things (whether love or hate), the fact that this is part of a series doesn’t intrude too much on the story. There is some excessively expositiony stuff early on with Jonathan and his very pregnant sister Violet, but other than that I think the hero’s family ties enhance rather than detract from the story. My grade for It Happened One Midnight is a B.

Best regards,

Jennie

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