Review – The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

Cover image, The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

You know I’m not really going to talk about the plot at all, so here’s the publisher’s blurb:

JUST WHO IS LADY DEBORAH?

I am the Dowager Countess of Kinsail, and I have enough secrets to scandalize you for life. I will never reveal the truth of my soul-destroying marriage—some things are too dark to be told. But at least no one can guess that I, a famously icy-hearted widow, am also the authoress of the shamelessly voluptuous romances currently shocking the ton!

Only now I have a new secret identity, one that I will risk my life to keep—accomplice to Elliot Marchmont, gentleman, ex-soldier and notorious London thief. This adventurer’s expert touch ignites in me a passion so intoxicating that surviving our blistering affair unscathed will be near impossible….

I’ll start with the bottom line: The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah is a lovely example of character-driven writing.  Marguerite Kaye has created two wonderfully complex characters, and she slowly unravels their mysteries for us throughout the various plot points in the book.  There is action in the book (heists and intrigue galore), but it is all secondary to the characters and their development, individually and together (it is, after all, a romance novel.  Of course there’s a Happily Ever After.).  It did strike me as being a trifle folded in (as in A Room with a View with a Staircase and a Pond… see video below), with the characters reacting not only to their counterparts’ actions but also to perceived actions.  It’s not in the least unpleasant, but it did make me think of Eddie Izzard.  (To be fair, the list of things that remind me of Eddie Izzard is long.)

At the heart of the novel is Deborah, a character who vacillates between strength and vulnerability and who protects herself with an icy prickliness (think: hedgehog).  Deborah has issues.  She had a bad marriage, and it left its mark on her psyche.  Deborah is not without a hefty dose of resourcefulness, however, and she is able to survive.  I should note that I reviewed (to great negative effect) a book about a character who also had deep-seated emotional issues stemming from her marriage, and that book made me batshit crazy.  Even though the basic premise of Deborah’s character is very similar to that other, the way Marguerite Kaye handled the situation here is completely different.  Deborah’s issues make sense and are commensurate with her experiences.  I felt that she worked through her issues at an appropriate pace.  I didn’t want to jump into the book and murder her.

I really liked Deborah as a character, but I think I was biased in her favor.  I might be the Least Trusting Woman on Earth, so I identified with Deborah’s inclination to hide behind a wall of reserve, to bifurcate her life (it’s silly to include an inside joke I share with one person on a blog that person doesn’t read, but whatever) and do all her living through an assumed persona.  Other readers may find all that to be annoying or incomprehensible and may wish that Deborah would just get on with it and realize that Elliot is not a bad guy.

Elliot also has issues, but he’s a lot more charming than Deborah.  He helps to balance some of her prickliness, and I particularly enjoyed the way he interacted with his formidable sister.  He’s a thief–the charming kind–and his heists provide some much-needed action and syncopation to the story.  I really loved Elliot.  Deborah, though she has a dry wit, tends to take herself a little too seriously, and Elliot helps to keep the book as light as it can be.

Let’s talk about that blurb.  When I read it, I assumed that the book would be told in the first-person (it isn’t), would contain an outrageous confession or two (it doesn’t), and would be somewhat scandalous (it isn’t).  It is a very good book, but it isn’t the book described by its title or blurb.  When you pick up a book called The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah, you might expect it to contain some steamy sex scenes (or some confessions of past steamy sex scenes), but most of the sex in this book ends abruptly in emotionally-induced coitus interuptus.  Like many women, Deborah just doesn’t know what to do with a penis (but, lucky for her, there was no Cosmopolitan to confuse her and give really bad advice), and her discovery of herself as a sexual creature and of Elliot’s man parts as an extension (ahem, bad pun intended) of him rather than a disembodied manifestation of expectations and judgment is not without its bumps in the road.  As long as you go into this book expecting it to be the exact opposite of what it tells you it is, I think you’ll have a fine time reading it.

For more information on the book and author, please visit Marguerite Kaye’s website here.   She’s got all kinds of fun information and links, including links to purchase the book (if you’re interested).  

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

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Intersection: romance novels and Flight of the Conchords

I’ve been just a wee bit Flight of the Conchords obsessed, lately.  I’ve had some random health issues and busy times at work, and when I’m stressed out and worried, I just want something funny.  So I created a playlist for my ipod that is jam packed with Eddie Izzard clips, Conchords songs, terrible amazing 90s hip hop, and cartoon themes.  The result is that I now associate penne alla arrabiatta with Darth Vader… and, of course, certain romance novels now remind me of Flight of the Conchords songs.

Cover image, Love Letters by Lori Brighton

A few weeks ago, The Dashing Duchesses listed some books that were on sale or free from the major retailers as part of a summer reading feature.  I love me some cheap books (if they’re good… or very amusing), so I was all over that list.  Love Letters is one of the items I picked up, free, and I am so glad I did.  Love Letters features two distinct novellas, The Art of Seduction and Meant for Me, as well as a preview/excerpt of To Seduce an Earl, the first book of Brighton’s newest series.  I liked Meant for Me a little better than The Art of Seduction, but both were fairly good, if a little paint-by-numbers, novellas.

Undoubtedly, my favorite part of Love Letters is the excerpt of To Seduce an Earl, in which the hero is a male prostitute.  Novelty is rare in romance novels.  There are simply a bajillion books about rakish (but heart o’ gold) lords (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons), alpha-male heroes of all walks, gentlemen-scholars, etc.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about a man-ho, and I have to admit I’m very intrigued.  The excerpt I read was almost Shakespearean with mistaken identity and intrigue aplenty.  (I love mistaken identity stories… not sure what that says about me.)  Anyway, in honor of To Seduce an Earl, here’s a video of the song that ran through my head while I read that excerpt.

Lori Brighton is a completely new author to me.  I have absolutely no idea who she is or what she normally writes, but I am 100% more likely to buy one of her books now that I’ve read a lengthy (and free) sampling of her work.  To be fair, though, she totally had me at male prostitute.  This collection shows that Brighton is a good writer whose style I enjoy, for the most part.  (I did question a few things, such as how long clay residue would remain on one’s hands once one had rubbed said hands all over someone else’s body… at some point doesn’t one run out of clay residue to spread around? Just how gunky with clay were his hands?!)  There were some editing issues that caught my attention, but it’s difficult to muster a lot of irritation for such a thing when the item in question is free.

OH MY GOD!  I thought I should explain the Darth Vader/penne alla arrabiata combo… and I found this.  I think I just had a moment of squee…

Dream job title: Supreme Vice Chancellor

Job titles are pretty much always ridiculous, right?  They rarely have any bearing on the actual work that one does and are instead vanity pieces that we show off to one another.  Woe betide the humble Administrative Assistant, but if you take that same person in the same job and elevate her (because it’s nearly always a woman) to “coordinator” or, God help us all, “Special Assistant to the _____ and Communications Coordinator,” then she’ll be able to hold her head up high and feel some self-worth at long last.

She might even get business cards.

Anyway, I have a new job title, and it was meant to acknowledge some of the responsibilities that I accidentally took on when I could not help but notice all the misplaced commas, misspelled names, and unchecked ‘facts’ that made it to final publications at the place where I work, but it really doesn’t.  Instead, it makes me think of transvestites every time I see it on my email signature line.

I used to be an administrative assistant who performed the functions of an executive assistant, event planner, and editor… now I am, strangely, an Executive Coordinator.

Still waiting for the transvestite tie-in?  Wait no longer.

There are a few plain ol’ coordinators ’round these parts, and it’s so difficult not to refer to them (in my head or out loud) as ‘fuckin’ weirdo coordinators’… I manage (barely), but it’s an effort.  Anyway, I figured I would post this bit of news (after the fact… I started in the “new” job last month) to explain my slightly haphazard posting schedule.  We’ve a lot of publications coming out before the start of the academic year, and I’ve been very busy editing and ranting on Twitter about how annoying it is that no one seems to understand what is meant by the words “final draft” for a “final review.”  Oh, are you curious, too?  Well, let me tell you.  A final draft should be as free of errors as possible (having been through several review stages to remove all those errors, right?), and a final review should just be quick read-through to confirm a document’s final publication-worthy status.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get back to a more regular schedule in the next few weeks.

OK, there is simply no excuse for this, but I’m doing it anyway.  This video would be so much better if it were actually Kermit instead of a strangely good knock-off, but I can’t help myself: it’s about bacon! (sort of)

I am going to talk about religion (even though God don’t think stuff’s funny)

I like writing and thinking about religion, but I really hate talking about it.  You know how it is–you’re talking with a friend or a stranger about some random, innocuous subject, and all of a sudden Jesus joins the conversation.  And it isn’t even Jesus, really, it’s your version or her version of Jesus, and maybe those versions don’t match up.  All of a sudden, instead of being able to listen to one another and continue your formerly give-and-take conversation, you’re caught up in a battle of right and wrong (your opinion invariably representing the side of Right and your interlocutor’s opinion invariably representing the side of Wrong).  Ugh–I hate it!

I so hate talking about religion with people whom I do not yet trust to control that oh-so-human instinct to do religious battle at the drop of a hat, that I often hide my participation with my church until it seems safe to give it a casual mention.  After a year of knowing someone, if the topic of music comes up, I might mention that I sing in my church’s choir.  If a conversation happens to veer towards leadership or service, I might mention that I serve on my church’s vestry (as an aside, I didn’t know what a vestry was until I joined mine, so this mention tends to be safe due to general obscurity).  For the most part, however, I hold to a scrupulous silence about everything even remotely connected to religion.

Why?  Well, the fault is mine, really.  Religion tends to be viewed as a Serious Subject about which one should not joke, and I just can’t help but find parts of it funny, even while I believe in it.  I have offended more than a few people with my manner, an odd mix of irreverence and sincerity.  When I am glib about Serious Subjects (like the Eucharist, the Bible, God the Father, the Apostles, the Holy Ghost, etc.), folks who feel strongly about those subjects tend to reason, unsurprisingly, that my mortal soul might be in peril.  I don’t particularly like it when other people try to save my soul, so I tend to get even more snarky and glib, and it may be that I hold grudges.

This year, though, I have challenged myself to stop doing things just because I’ve always done them.  So I’ve had a problem in the past with people misunderstanding me… Since when do I have the right to control how other people view me?  Why in the world should I allow the potential for misunderstanding to justify my not being myself at all times?  Do I really have to be so damn neurotic all the time?  (Answer key: since never; I shouldn’t; no, ideally.)

On Saturday, I attended the Diocesan Ministry Fair for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, along with a host of clergy and old people.  (Seriously, out of a few hundred, there were probably fewer than 20 under the age of 35.)  It isn’t exactly accurate to say that I learned a lot–most of the plenary session seemed to be pitched towards the clergy and other folk who keep up on their modern theology (I don’t), so I spent at least the first half hour trying to figure out what the speaker’s topic was, what she meant by “Emergence Christianity” or “The Great Emergence”.  She seemed to presuppose that we would have a passing understanding of those terms, and it was my first time hearing them.

Once I caught on, I learned that we are on the cusp of a great cultural shift between the before and the after.  Advances in science and information technology have created a new world and a new culture, and people who are 45 and younger tend to accept these changes as a fact of life, while people who are 46 and older view them as scary change that is best resisted.  Quite aside from (or perhaps in concert with) these cultural changes, Christianity is changing as well.  The Emerging Church (which is apparently not the same thing as the Emergent Church, but hell if I know what the difference is) focuses on narrative and the power of story and will not be content with the simple sales pitch of traditional Christianity (believe in Christ or go to hell).  The Emerging Church wants to know about the Holy Spirit.  The Emerging Church believes in many paths to God.  The Emerging Church believes in mission, outreach, social justice, doing good in the world, and serving the Kingdom of God in all its many forms.  That last is, perhaps, the most important point about the Emerging Church: rather than believe that the Kingdom of God is encapsulated in the universal Church (the small-c catholic church), the Emerging Christians believe that all churches (all religions, perhaps?) are encapsulated within the overarching and universal Kingdom of God.

These are big thoughts, and I would never have expected to encounter them at a Diocese-wide event for an established Church.  Honestly, it was amazing (awesome, almost, in the real sense of the word… not awesome like hot dogs) sitting there hearing my secret thoughts about religion amplified around the room by a voice with a charming Tennessee accent (Phyllis Tickle.  You can look her up here: http://www.phyllistickle.com/index.html).

I have always felt vaguely heretical for believing that there are many ways to reach and serve God, for refusing to believe that I have magically stumbled across the right answer to the big questions of life.  What are we doing here?  What’s the point?  Those are big questions, and I really don’t believe that any human being has the ability to even comprehend the answers.  Maybe we aren’t even asking the right questions.  So it turns out that I’m a quasi-Emerging Christian–decidedly un-evangelical–and that there are millions worldwide who entertain similar thoughts about religion.  Goodness!

As an aside: for a blog about reading, I haven’t talked about books in a while.  I’ll have to fix that.