Shelf Love

Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Short Description

If you’ve always wanted to hear about a romance that takes place within a traveling circus and features a telepathic tiger, hang onto your trapeze bar: Emma from the Substack Restorative Romance and the Reformed Rakes podcast is here to talk about Susan Elizabeth Phillips' “Kiss an Angel,” a contemporary romance that feels like a historical and features an arranged marriage that leads to circus life. In a highly contentious conversation between rival podcasters, the one thing we can agree on the importance of conflict and character flaws in creating a compelling story.


contemporary romance

Show Notes

If you’ve always wanted to hear about a romance that takes place within a traveling circus and features a telepathic tiger, hang onto your trapeze bar: Emma from the Substack Restorative Romance and the Reformed Rakes podcast is here to talk about Susan Elizabeth Phillips' “Kiss an Angel,” a contemporary romance that feels like a historical and features an arranged marriage that leads to circus life. In a highly contentious conversation between rival podcasters, the one thing we can agree on the importance of conflict and character flaws in creating a compelling story.

Discussed: Kiss and Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Guest: Emma, a law librarian and writer at Restorative Romance on Substack, and a member of Reformed Rakes.

Substack | Reformed Rakes Website


Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to Shelf Love, a podcast about romance novels and how they reflect, explore, challenge, and shape desire.

I'm your host, Andrea Martucci, and on this episode, I am joined by Emma, a law librarian writing about justice and romance at the Substack Restorative Romance, and also one third of Reformed Rakes, with whom Shelf Love has a really intense romance podcast rivalry. So we are here today to discuss Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Emma, thank you for coming here today to rumble.

How are you? Who are you? How did you find yourself in this romance podcasting space?

Emma: I'm good. I'm so excited to be here. I have nothing but love and rivalry between Shelf Love. It's a loving rivalry.

So romance podcasting, I guess we started about a year ago. So it's me, Beth, and Chels, and we mostly do historical romance. That's our thing. And historical romance is my sub genre by a large amount. I always say 95 percent of what I read is historical romance.

But I've been reading romance now for about four years, three and a half years. And I started in law school. This is a pretty common experience. I think this is why a lot of romance authors are lawyers is that law school is miserable and romance novels are not.

So I knew a few mentors who kept telling me like I needed to get a hobby and this is the one that I landed on and I'm no longer in law school but I remain obsessed with romance novels.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and as you said, you normally read a lot of historical romance. Reformed Rakes is exclusively about historical romance. So when you told me about this book that we're going to talk about today, which is a contemporary romance, I was like, Ooh, perfect. Because I don't want to like tread on the turf of Reformed Rakes.

Emma: Yeah, this would not be, we would do a bonus episode on this, or sometimes we do like recommendation episodes, where we will make each other read books that are outside of our normal genre, or normal interest. And both times that has happened, Beth and Chels both make me read a contemporary romance because they know I won't pick one up unless someone tells me to.

There's a few people whose recommendations I trust implicitly that they're not going to steer me the wrong way, and Chels and Beth are both among them. And so when Chels said, I would like this book, I trusted them and I adore this book, even though it is a contemporary.

Andrea Martucci: Even though it's a contemporary. We're going to come back to your interest in historical romance and why you like it, and maybe some of the places you struggle with contemporary romance in some ways, but first, the reason we started talking about this book is we were at dinner after the John Ennis event because we had both traveled to this event and had coordinated knowing we would see each other there. And so afterwards we went out to dinner with a few other people including Nisha sharma and Jodie Slaughter, and Brianna Bancroft.

And you like leaned over and you were like, have you ever read Kiss an Angel? And I was like, no, what is this? And you started describing it to me, and I was like, what? What the heck is this? And by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and I'm not a Susan [00:03:00] Elizabeth Phillips connoisseur, but, I definitely used to read a lot of her books.

Nobody's Baby But Mine is just burned in my memory. I was surprised I had never heard of this book, and you just made it sound so tantalizing that I went home and later that weekend just read it.

Emma: You read it so fast. I have never recommended a book and gotten someone to finish that book so quickly as Andrea with this book.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So let's reenact you describing what this book is about.

Emma: A contemporary with like historical trappings. So there are lots of tropes that are present in historical. So it starts off with an arranged marriage. This young girl, she's a party girl. She's an illegitimate daughter of a very wealthy man who used to be a ambassador or diplomat to the Soviet Union.

So she has connections to Russia through her father. She was raised by her mother, who was a model and gorgeous and has very recently passed away in a very violent boat accident, but she's gone through all of her money and she needs to rely on her father now for a trust fund. And he says, you cannot have access to the trust fund unless you're married because being married will settle you down. You're living too much like your mother. You're too wild.

He picks her husband. She knows nothing about her husband. When they first get married, she's like, this is going to be a business arrangement. We're going to do this for six months. And then I'm out of here. And even offers to pay him some from her trust fund.

And he says, no, I'm a man of honor. I owe this debt to your father. You're coming with me.

Where they go is a traveling circus. Her new husband is in charge of a traveling circus, and he does all of the traveling circus things he tames tigers and lions, and he's in charge. He does payroll. He does the whole thing.

And they travel through mostly the southern United States. They start in South Carolina, and then they go up to Allentown, Pennsylvania, up the East Coast. And they're doing circus life. And she has no idea what she's gotten into.

It's like the simple life. It's like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie going to the farm except they're going to the circus. And she has to take her like sort of New York high society know how and apply it to the circus, all while not really knowing that much about her new husband, who has a big secret.

Andrea Martucci: Also, did you tell me about the telepathic tiger?

Emma: I think I maybe mentioned that she has telepathy with a tiger. Yes, there's a tiger who is very much a metaphor for her new husband. Who inexplicably she has a telepathic connection with. And she has no friends at the circus, obviously. 'cause they're like why is she here? Except the tiger who befriends her in like a detente threat of violence sort of way.

And they're speaking to the tiger and when she needs advice, she walks in front of the tiger's cage and he tells her what to do.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I think you had me at like circus and telepathy with a tiger. I was like, okay, sure. Cool.

And so this book was published in 1996 and I was looking up the chronology of Susan Elizabeth Phillips's books. I think she started publishing initially in the mid eighties and she did two historicals and then she seemed to be doing these like Judith Krantz esque women's fiction [00:06:00] novels for a little bit and this book comes early in her romance career and just before Nobody's Baby But Mine.

So this was 96, Nobody's Baby But Mine was 1997.

Anyways, I had never heard of it. So I just, I dove in and after I read it, I immediately texted you to let you know that it was, amazing. And I think what really struck me about it was that it was funny, I was laughing, I was enjoying myself, I was fully immersed, and even though I saw a lot of the plot points and the Black moment from a mile away, I still, when it got to the emotional crescendo, I was crying. I was laughing, I was crying, I was like, what the fuck is this? And I had all the emotions. And

Yeah, I feel, that's what we go to romance for, right?

Emma: Yeah, it's definitely widespread. the goofiness of, and the absurdity. I feel like sometimes we talk about romance in the sort of derisive way where we go for the goofiness, right? Like people will describe a book in its outlandish terms and we're almost reading it as like a camp object. This is so crazy that this genre tries to pull this off, but so often the books that I love do pull it off, right?

It is this camp plot element, but if you buy into something and you go in with it, not looking at it as something to laugh at or to mock, you can get swept up really easily by a great writer, and I think that's what Susan Elizabeth Phillips is and I think also the fact that people still read her books from, 30 years ago is a testament to that.

But the emotional beats of this book are so moving that I would recommend it to anybody because I feel like it's so fun. It's so moving. And it just works.

And these are two characters that I I can't think of of other characters that are like this couple, and anytime that a romance does something that I feel like is unique, I'm like this is a hallmark for me because it stands out where I can't think of a heroine who's like Daisy Devereaux.

Andrea Martucci: Okay, so let's talk about the main characters for a second. You've already described Daisy's situation a little bit from kind of like a party girl but she has a secret, because what? She's a virgin! And

Emma: She's a virgin and she's secretly very smart.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, secretly.

Emma: so one thing I love about our perception of her, I think reader and Alex, who's the hero's perception of her, are very colored by the way that people describe Daisy to her. And that's one of my favorite things that happens with a character in romance, where they have a self perception that is not aligned.

So we think that she's kind of a bimbo, we think she's a party girl because she's reporting to us how people view her, and her father obviously has some damage from her mother and her party days. Lots of Daisy's personality has been crafted in opposition to this woman who dated much younger men, who was always traveling around the world.

This is why Daisy is still a virgin. She is not actually interested in sleeping outside of marriage. She's not interested in short term love affairs, because that's what her mother did. She's like I rebelled by being really conservative in this area.

So Alex and her father are projecting this like image on her. And as the reader, you're like, [00:09:00] okay, that makes sense. She's like a trust fund baby in New York who's never gone to school really. And she, she's wasted all this money. And then it's revealed, it's she wasted all this money because of grief over her mother. She was on a spending spree because she lost the one parent who actually cared about her during her life and cared about her in these sort of remote ways, and it's just like you peel back the layers and she becomes a more complete person, both for reader and for her love. Interest.

Andrea Martucci: I personally find people who are irresponsible with money really aggravating, and from the beginning, I was like, oh my god yeah, she just seemed like she lacked common sense, and this is just like a me thing, I was like, oh boy.

And then she adapted to her surroundings really quickly and also seemed to have this deep well of emotional intelligence that I think you can attribute to being related to how she was raised, right?

She's figured out how to survive in these situations and it seems like whatever situation she found herself in because of her mother's lifestyle, she adapted and formed relationships and learned from people like whatever they had to teach she would learn from.

So I do think it's interesting that then when she comes into the circus and she's obviously a fish out of water she doesn't have a lot of practical skills and Alex sets her up in this dilapidated trailer that smells and is dirty and he like expects her to cook and also work odd jobs at the circus and also become part of the circus act.

And so everybody expects her to fail, right? And then there's some misunderstandings which we can talk about that kind of drive plot and misunderstandings in their relationship, but she starts to form these emotional relationships, and even when people are mean to her, she understands why they're doing it.

And I think that's something I appreciated about this book. And I think this is maybe a hallmark of Susan Elizabeth Phillips is that even characters where you're like, I hate that person. Like they're terrible. You meet them and you're like, that person is an irredeemable villain. And then by the end, they've been fleshed out and are more of a human being.

They're not always redeemed in a way, but they're human, they have failings, they're forgiven by the book for those failings and able to evolve in the reader's eyes and I think if Daisy was more of a holding a grudge type character that would really make the later changes in the other characters more difficult, and I guess also the hero, but anyway so who's the hero of this book?

Emma: So the hero is Alex, who at the beginning of the book, all we know about him is that he works in the circus. He sort of inherited this traveling circus from one of his mentors. It's the Quest Brothers Circus, but there's only one Quest and this man, Mr. Quest, whose first name escapes me, he partly raised Alex and we learn later that Alex has been Alex has been placed with the circus in part because of Daisy's father rescuing him from his own uncle's service where he was abused as a child.

And so Alex has gone to school. And then now he's continuing the circus life. And he is [00:12:00] This is the thing that makes it feel like a historical. He's a scoundrel. He is, he's a rake. Women love him, men want to be him. He likes fast living. And he thinks that he's going to scare Daisy away with giving her all these duties.

And he's not interested in an emotional connection, so he doesn't really tell her anything about his life outside the circus, and one of the jokes is that she's continually guessing what he's doing seeing if he has any special skill sets. At one point she fakes an ear infection to see well, it's like, if he cures my ear infection, he's either a doctor or a veterinarian and maybe that's what he does, because she knows this is seasonal work, and he doesn't seem to want for money or to really rely on the circus for money. So she knows he does something else. And he's uninterested in revealing that to her.

And then it's eventually revealed that he's an art history professor at a small college in New England, which is kind of adorable because she keeps thinking that he's like something of like very I guess like masculine, very typical, and it's like, no, he he has a PhD from NYU not that that's not masculine, but she's totally surprised by what what his career is,

Andrea Martucci: yeah like she thinks he might be a rancher at some point

Emma: Yeah, he, he's very physically fit and has a good way with the animals. And so she, she keeps trying to figure out like what he is and he's just, he's a stone wall for her. And it's not until he wants to chip away at himself that he reveals more to her.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah and then his big secret is which I think this is where it gets into the camp is that he's actually a descendant of the Romanovs.

Emma: Yes. He is the great grandson of Nicholas II. And how this works exactly is not particularly explained. I think they imply that he is Alexei's grandson, the little boy, which it's like that's not, that's, out of all the children, that's not the one that I would pick as the ancestor, but they'd have to explain away the fact that he does not have hemophilia and so it's carried through the women, I was descended on the other side, and we're like, okay so he, he's Russian, and this is part of his circus performance, is that he was, like, raised by Cossacks, and I guess this played better in the early 90s, I can't imagine going to a circus and being like the Russian like mythology of it all.

But I, I do remember vaguely from growing up in the nineties, that people were obsessed with the Romanovs and like the claims of Anastasia's survival. And all that. And the the Anastasia movie came out in the nineties. So I think it was maybe a bigger moment for people. Maybe they had more fun with it, but it is a little ridiculous.

But he's not interested in ruling. He's like, it's probably true your father, who's a diplomat, has discovered the paperwork to prove that it's true, but I'm not interested in that but it's also revealed that her father, who is this diplomat to the Soviet Union, is obsessed with the monarchy and so he really wanted a dynastic marriage between his daughter and Alex. Because I guess father's family is also like old Russian oligarchy.

It's revealed.

Andrea Martucci: And if you want to have a dynasty, you gotta, get the bloodlines trickling downhill,

Emma: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: Which, this is the plot twist. This is the black moment that I saw from a mile away.

So Daisy's a virgin so she's never had sex and everybody except her mother who knew she was a virgin and made fun of her for it. Everybody assumes that she's like sexually promiscuous, [00:15:00] including Alex.

But the stepmother takes her to her gynecologist and fills the birth control prescription personally, and I'm like, oh, okay yeah, that's birth control pills, sure. It's just like classic let's make the heroine completely innocent of any wrongdoing here, but then maneuver the situation so that this guy who vows to never be a father because he would be terrible and he can't love anyone.

We got to have a oopsie baby, right?

And and it is explained by the father's obsession with creating this merging of the bloodlines and then having a grandchild who's like a Romanov in some way, right?

Let's talk about the emotional relationship that gets to this point where Daisy finds out that she is pregnant after Alex has been insisting I never want to be a father, I can't love you, I can't love a child, all of this.

How did this moment hit you? Because the emotional relationship has been ramping up, but he's still like, no, I can't love. I don't know how.

Emma: Yeah, again, this feels very historical to me. I mean, I guess this happens in contemporary, but the the level of dynastic trauma associated with the hero and that, his explanation of can't love, that feels very duke to me. And I just, I'm a sucker for it every time when someone is saying I can't love you, I can't love you. I'm giving you this warning all while they're falling in love with him. Like, It's so obvious that Alex is in love with Daisy, and everyone at the circus knows it.

The moment that really gets me is when Daisy says that she loves him without any caveats she just, she's like, I know you've said this to me, I'm not asking for anything in return, but I I love you, so I'm gonna say it, because I say what I think.

That's the moment that just endeared her to me forever, because so often that moment would be hedged, or she would ask for something from him in that moment and realize like he has to come to it on his own. She's not even asking for him to return that moment. And so even though this, I've read probably two dozen books that have this plot where the hero feels like he can't love because of some childhood trauma, but hits every time for me.

Not every time. If it's well written, it hits every time.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.

Emma: There's the moment where she tells him and he says we're going to go away tomorrow. And then when you come back, there won't be any baby.

Andrea Martucci: Right. Yeah.

Emma: That's probably the part that I think people if I were to recommend this to someone, I would be the most worried about, because it does come across as very cruel.

Cause he says "even though you don't have a trustworthy bone in your goddamn body, you decided you knew best," because he thinks that she's trapped him with the baby because he thinks she's been on birth control and she's been telling him, I'm on birth control. We don't need to use condoms.

And he's like, Oh, you stop taking your birth control because you love me. And you think if you had a baby that would make me love you until he feels trapped.

But then he confronts her father and her father was like, yeah, the birth controls are fake. And he and Alex feels very chagrined because he's like, I accused her of lying, which he also has previously accused her of lying because she's been set up by some of the circus people to look untrustworthy. So this is a thing for them. [00:18:00] And so Alex has to like really come with his tail between his legs when he sees Daisy again.

Andrea Martucci: Like we know that Daisy's innocent. We know that Daisy loves him, did not trick him, is a very honest character, and so every time Alex makes an assumption about her, it feels like an assumption about not just like what people do, but this is what women do.

Women can't be trusted, or especially women like this, like beautiful women. Women try to emotionally manipulate and like trap men or use sex to trap a man or whatever.

Alex has this idea in his head and projects it onto Daisy even though there's a lot of evidence to the contrary, especially by like later in the book on this.

And I feel like the book makes pains to ensure that Daisy is never culpable at all for any of the misunderstandings or conflict in this book.

And I think it's interesting because I think this book does really work and it is really fun and also emotionally affecting, but if you really try to think about what is the actual conflict in this book? What is the emotional conflict that these two characters have to like, work out? It's that Alex doesn't believe he can be loved or can love, and then Daisy just loves him and believes in his ability to love and keeps marching forward despite all of these abuses that he and the others lay at her feet and she just keeps marching on until he threatens her child, right?

At which point then she's like, Nope, this is it and gets out of town.

Because she is legitimately scared that he is going to force her to have an abortion.

And also there is like this really sad scene where she's become part of this circus act where he like whips things that like, that she's like holding in her teeth or like holding in her hand.

And because they've just had this very emotional moment he accidentally, whips her stomach, or her breast, so it's they've had these incredibly intense moments, and she goes away, and he really has to grovel.

And I guess now that I'm thinking about it with some distance, because like I read this book, whatever, weeks ago at this point, and now I'm just remembering, like I think if I was like to step back and be like, what is the kind of romance I want to read? Oh I want to read about emotional conflicts that are very real and really just about these two people figuring out together how to make a relationship work with each other, and that's not what this conflict is really about it feels like much more metaphorical and symbolic than about two real people.

Emma: Yeah, I mean, I I think that's one of the reasons I like it. I was, I was thinking even with, Alex feeling trapped by Daisy with the the pregnancy, because he feels like she's tricked [00:21:00] him. She's not tricked him in the past. Sometimes she does think she knows better, and she endangers herself with taking care of the animals, I think that's the Daisy sort of emotional arc, because I think she has this chip on her shoulder of trying to prove herself to her father, and so she sometimes over course corrects too much, and thinks I can do anything on my own, and it's like, actually, you do need to ask for help, and you do need to have boundaries and set limits because that's what Alex keeps pushing her to do, he keeps giving her more work at the circus, thinking at one point she will, you know, say no to something. And I think that's what Daisy contributes is that she doesn't have like a line for what people will do to her or give to her.

And he feels trapped in the pregnancy. It's like, yeah, throughout the whole story Alex is the tiger, right? Alex is trapped in a cage of his own making at the circus and his own identity, and he's allowed people to define him, he's allowed Daisy's father to define him and that relationship it gets revealed throughout the book, but the level of involvement with Daisy's father in Alex's life always surprises me when I reread this book. Because at the beginning it really seems like he just picked a strapping young Russian man. But it's actually he like saved him as a child, has funded his education. And has held this largesse over Alex's life for so long, that's why Alex agrees to the marriage, is that he really feels like he owes Max, Daisy's father, like a life debt.

He's like, I have to do anything for Max because I literally wouldn't exist without him. So I think that, yeah, that sort of metaphorical, like how do you work out things? Because all the connections between them and interactions with them are fundamentally absurd, right?

Andrea Martucci: Mhm. Yeah. And I guess to come back to the question you had, like, why do you enjoy this given it's a contemporary and normally you really enjoy historicals and struggle to find contemporaries that you like. Do you think it's that anachronistic maybe today feeling of how they're interacting where like it feels very gender stereotypical? They're interacting with each other like Man and Woman,

Emma: yeah, I think that's part of it.

This is the thing I have with historicals is that I feel like when you're looking back on a period and you write that period, it's easier to be critical of that period. And I mean that like that historicals don't have a monopoly on like gender dynamics, right?

But when I read contemporaries it's like, I live now, and there are gender dynamics now that affect my life, that affect my relationships, but it gets pushed to the wayside sometimes in contemporary, and I'm like it still exists, right? It just is not being called out.

But when we're looking back on writing a historical 100 years later, 50 years later, you're looking at it and you're thinking, okay, like, how do I problematize this? How do I answer the question of a relationship that inherently has a power dynamic because of the gender or the class of the people.

It's like those power dynamics exist now, just contemporary sometimes doesn't take them up. So I think that's part of it.

I also think that the stakes and stakes, I don't initially mean like high drama stakes. Stakes of the way that the relationship has to be solved. This is the way I've been able to parse my own interest in historical over contemporary is that sometimes when I read a contemporary, it really gets to that point where I'm like this problem would be solved if you two went to therapy and had a [00:24:00] conversation. And for Alex and Daisy, the problem is so deeply ingrained, because they have these blood ties to Daisy's father, like they have this sort of dynastic pressure on them.

There's also like, Alex doesn't tell Daisy about his life. But Alex has no reason to tell Daisy about his life. He thinks she's using him to get money for her trust fund. So it's like, why would he trust her at the beginning either?

So anytime that there's like these higher stakes where like the relationship has to be solved, not just on the romantic level, like this also has to work where Daisy's not particularly interested in cutting off her father, even though he's done this like very controlling thing to her because he's the last part of her family.

So they have to solve their relationship in a way that satisfies Daisy's father, they have to satisfy the circus. They have all these other stakes. And historicals, what that looks like is that you have to figure out, like, where are you going to live? Whose house are you going to live in? What's the land going to do? What's the inheritance going to do? What's society going to do? What's the ton going to do in response to this relationship? You have all these sort of structural problems that you can't get out of a historical without solving.

And I feel like this acknowledges that there are sort of these structural things that exists outside of a romantic connection between people, which I think, again those also exist in real life, just I feel like so often in contemporaries, the issue that I have is Alex's issue of oh, I can't love, it's the male hero is I'm not ready for a relationship, and that's the plot of the book. I'm just not interested in reading just that, that arc over and over again, there has to be something going on, it's not even external conflict: it's other things that have to be solved.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. In preparation for this conversation, I picked up my copy of Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women, which was this anthology of essays by romance writers. "romance writers on the appeal of the romance." It was edited by Jane Ann Krentz and came out in 1992.

And so Susan Elizabeth Phillips has an essay in here, and it's called "The Romance and the Empowerment of Women." And basically like the gist of it, and these are all very short essays, and they're not like scholarly, they're more like personal essays with a little bit of like thinking about romance.

She's like, when I stepped back from my career when my kids were young, I was in this very suburban American neighborhood and I was like the feminist in the neighborhood and I found another feminist woman in the neighborhood and like we would read books together and we loved talking about romance and we never found it at odds with our politics, right?

Like we were feminists and yes, we enjoy these romances with. male characters who act in a way that they would never accept with their male partners. And, basically, her theory that she puts forth is the reason that readers, in particular women, the reason women enjoy these books is because explicitly they're relaxing because they know that all the problems are going to be solved and they're big problems like bigger problems than what even, these people, these women are [00:27:00] experiencing in their own lives but that really what it's getting at is the reason you have to have this big, domineering, asshole, misogynist guy and a heroine who's like standing toe to toe with him and, not gonna let him walk all over her is because then when she conquers the tiger in a cage and, now she has all of that power on her behalf that it wouldn't be satisfying if he was a little kitten, right?

He has to be a big, powerful guy who that when she tames him she's now got all this power at her disposal and no reason to fear anything ever again, right? And so anyways, like that's the gist of it. And of course everything in this book is like really just like deeply gender essentialist, right?

But one of the things she says is, " by the end of the book, the heroine has brought him under her control in a way women can seldom control men in the real world. The heroine has managed to change him from an emotionally frigid Neanderthal into a sensitive, caring, nurturing human being. It is even tempting to say that she has turned him into a woman, and a case might be made for this, were it not for the fact that our hero still maintains his warrior qualities."

And then she goes on to say "It has produced the new male: strong and intensely physical, but possessing all the sensitive, nurturing qualities of the female. And it has produced a new female, a heroine who possesses all the softer qualities traditionally assigned to women, but who has none of the woman's physical limitations because his strength now belongs to her."

And she wrote this four years before writing this book, right? And I'm like, reading it, I'm just like, oh, I see that in the book she wrote, right? But, and I kind of want to like, not just get too caught up in the gender essentialism and try to focus on what I think she's trying to say, which is it's a fantasy of both men and women, people in general, not being stereotyped by their gender and being both emotionally capable and having power. I think that's what she's saying?

Emma: Yeah. I guess I could see how the person who wrote that quote wrote this book, I guess I'm not totally unsure if that's the appeal of the book because I just think I see Daisy as having more of an arc than just transforming Alex.

Where it may be a journey of self discovery and less like responsive to him, I don't know if she changes in her relationship to him, but I think it's still a journey that she goes on and it's not just one of responsive curatorial efforts on changing his personality.

Part of Alex's secret though, is that a little bit of the circus thing as a persona, right? That he does it so that he can be taken seriously by the circus folk. This is the guy who is an art history professor.

Which wish the first time I read it, I had picked up on this more. He references art history pretty frequently when he's describing things.

And I was an art history major and I still was like, surprised what his career was at the big reveal. But part of this book. I think the journey is that they're putting each other in a box, like he's thinking of her as one way, she's thinking of him as one way, [00:30:00] but it's the idea of that a human being is infinite, and when you add two human beings in a relationship, that's two infinities of possible emotions or possible reactions and I think they learn that together, and I think that's the appeal of romance to me, is that the there's infinite permutations of what it looks like for two people to work through coming together.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, and when you're talking about Daisy's arc, And this, feels true to a lot of romances that feel satisfying to me, the primary protagonist whose happiness I think you're supposed to care about the most. And in romance, especially MF romance, this is usually a woman, right?

I don't know if this is true, but I'm going to put it out there. Often going from a limited, almost childlike or youthful way of looking at the world, right? Being very like, defined by how others and, especially parental figures or society is defining you and breaking out of that and finding independence and, even if they're married or whatever else is going on in the plot, like figuring out how to stand on their own and come into their own.

And again, yes, they're like in a relationship with somebody because this is a romance novel, but that's what it feels like becoming an adult.

A what is that called in Bildungsroman?

Emma: Bildungsroman. Yeah. But yeah, my, one of my favorite parts with Daisy is she's talking to Alex about her career aspirations and he's learning that maybe she is more than meets the eye. And she's like, I'd love to be a kindergarten teacher. Like I love children. And he's like, well, why don't you do that?

Like that, You don't need to go get a PhD for that. Go do that. And she's like, well, I never went to college. And by the time I graduated, I'd be 30. And he's like, well, how old would you be if you didn't go to college in four years? You'd be 30. And Daisy it's new information to her almost that she's oh yeah, like time will pass. I will age. Independent of like how I live my life.

And I love that moment because it hints at like, when you think about what would happen to Daisy if the marriage with Alex doesn't work out? If she's not able to access her trust fund that her father has set up. I think at the beginning of the book you're told by Daisy and people around her, she's going to fall on her face.

She's not going to be able to come out of this.

And she thrives at the circus. Like she's able to do work that nobody else can do. Like he's giving her the hardest tasks, the most work. In order to try and break her and get her out of here, and she takes it with aplomb, and it's like, okay, maybe with a little push, maybe with one person believing in her, and thinking like, well, why couldn't you go to college, which very clearly no one in her life has told her before, Daisy could do most things if she set her mind to them and so I think that makes sense where it's like she's breaking out of what this projection that people have had on her.

And it's so sad to me that her dad doesn't think that she's smart, She mentions, dad loves to mention that I'm not well schooled. She's like, yeah, but I learned about British royal history from Princess Margaret. Like I I've learned things. I'm a sponge. I take things up. I've just been around a lot of people. I just have not attended school.

Alex totally takes that part and parcel. He believes that [00:33:00] she's stupid until he meets her and she's incredibly intelligent.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah not that she was a lump of clay at the beginning of this but it's like she needed to open her eyes to recognize the value of who she was and what she had learned and see herself as a capable person, see herself as somebody who can go be a non traditional college student and become a kindergarten teacher.

It's not too late, just because you've had the life you've had up to this point you can still change and make it what you want

And not that everything that has happened up to this point is a waste like it was all valuable even if you didn't recognize it at the time, right?

Emma: I think Alex's arc is also similar where he's learning that he doesn't always have to follow his duty. Like he's in the circus business because of this duty he has to Quest. And it's this deathbed promise he made. He has this, he's in the marriage with Daisy because of the duty he has to Max.

And I think both of them are floating through life until they meet each other. And then they go on similar arcs, but they don't realize it until they are together. Oh, yeah, we both, we both landed in the same place together.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah I'm still noodling around if I think about broad patterns of what I see in historical and like how that's different from what is happening in contemporary, to go back to my earlier thesis, I do think that something contemporary romances struggle with is allowing the characters to still have a lot of room to grow.

I think that there are a lot of times it's like, particularly heroines, there's a desire for her to be like a fully fledged, emotionally mature, totally knows what she wants, and knows how to get it everything, whatever, even if she runs into some sort of external obstacle in her path, she doesn't doubt that she can like, get through it, and it just cuts off the opportunities in the book for her to need to jump the track a little bit and rethink things because it's like things are so different in the contemporary world and like this is not factually true right

But we have this idea of like well we don't have the same barriers anymore of gender inequality so therefore we can't rely on these sort of gendered power dynamics or societal limitations.

There's still societal limitations that I think they've just moved underground a lot more.

Emma: Yeah. And I think a lot, I feel like my sense of when I read contemporaries, sometimes,

I guess mostly heroes, because I think contemporaries do still tend to focus on, in MF, they focus on the female as like the character who we are with. Sometimes the male main characters will do something that in a historical, they would have to grovel for.

But because the author is almost afraid of letting a character do a bad thing, it's like the book is telling us actually it wasn't that bad. They didn't actually have to apologize that much. And so it's this framing where it's like, they've done a harm. The harm is not the problem.

If you're in a relationship with someone, you two will be causing harms to each other. But the book is afraid to [00:36:00] like, what's the phrase? I have call an egg an egg. That can't be the phrase. Call a spade a spade. Egg. Why did I think that?

Andrea Martucci: I like it.

Emma: Where it's, I'm speaking specifically of the latest Emily Henry book, where the hero did something that I thought was, like, an unforgivable act in historical romance that would be forgiven if the hero found a way to be forgiven.

That's, so many books are like, someone does something so bad, how do you come back from it?

He said something that I thought was so cruel. And it's never framed that way. I was like, where are we going with this? I thought that was going to be the issue. But it just seems like he can't actually do anything bad.

Because why would she go back to him? If she's a woman who has her own job, if she has supportive friends, if her parents aren't pushing her to marry, if she's not on the shelf, why would she go back to someone who's harmed her? Ever. And so it can't actually be a harm.

In real life, sometimes you have fights with people. Sometimes people do something that's harmful to you. And you forgive them.

Andrea Martucci: They recognize that they've done something wrong and accept it and take ownership for it, right? And that is the thing, right? I mean in this book, Kiss an Angel, Daisy knows that Alex out when he's scared, right? And she has gotten through cycles of that with him before, but this was kind of a like, I'm not gonna let you act like this, especially if I think you're gonna follow through on this, right?

And yes, he recognizes the wrong that he committed. He recognizes why she went away and was scared that he was gonna follow through, even if he's kind of like, well, I wasn't really gonna, I instantly regretted it. And it's like, okay, yes, you need to recognize, and you also need to change going forward, like you can't keep going through this cycle.

Yeah, you'll make mistakes, we all make mistakes, but you can't keep going through this same cycle.

And, I think what you just said about, the Emily Henry book, that makes a lot of sense because there does need to be a conflict, but if the author is scared to have their character do something, the greater fear is that the character will do something bad but then the in my opinion like the greater sin that then is committed is the gaslighting of the reader that you're talking about.

Kiss an Angel is like wow Alex, fucked up.

Emma: He did something so bad. And if I was giving Daisy advice, if she was my real friend, I'd be like, let's get you the hell out of the circus. What are we doing? But also, you have to trust both that Daisy is a person who can choose to forgive someone if, yes they're characters on a page, but also if we're doing the conceit of fiction, which is that these people are people, Daisy can make the call of whether to forgive Alex or not.

And also, reader can make the call of whether this works for you or not. They're definitely historical romances where sometimes the grovel is not good enough for me. Or it doesn't work. Or there's some things that I'm like, I think this that was unforgivable and we can't come back from it.

But that's, you got to put it in your book and put it out there. Otherwise you're gonna write a boring book. In fiction, don't write a boring book. It has, there has to be tension. [00:39:00] And that's the risk of writing a book about a relationship is that sometimes people aren't going to be rooting for the relationship.

If there's tension in it, but that's the gambit.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I mean, I think this is like authors getting in their own heads about it. And like maybe publishing and then maybe also different reader attitudes about this stuff, there's other forces, but what comes through on the page is that I do think historical authors are like, okay.

I am writing in a different time. And yes, I'm gonna bring some of my time with me but there is also this reader expectation of going to a different world and building a world where things are different and so there's a suspension of disbelief when the world has been equalized too much by the author because of a desire to like, make a kick ass feminist heroine and a kick ass feminist hero or whatever.

It really does lessen the tension if you're not gonna let your characters either have historically appropriate attitudes about things or be influenced by historical societal beliefs and whatnot. Or also just be like humans with failings where, they don't always act in a way that aligns with their values. or have, have messed up values.

Emma: With books that try to do either historical or contemporaries, where they put in this glaze of our characters are feminist, our characters are enlightened. It's like, have you ever dated a male feminist? They can have great politics and still be bad boyfriends.

This is true whether they're like a noble duke or like a veterinarian in contemporary, like people do bad things to each other with good politics. And I think in historical sometimes that take up that oh, we're gonna be evolved, we're gonna do representation of, like we're not gonna do the old school stuff.

It's like, okay, that doesn't get you out of like human conflict. Because if true, it would be a lot easier to date now, right?

Or contemporaries, it's like the conflict still exists, and there has to be conflict, yeah, you can harm a woman that you're in a relationship with, or a man you're in a relationship with, even if you have perfectly evolved politics.

It's frustrating when a book doesn't have any tension in it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah, I feel like this is coming up so much these days because I don't want to put older problematic romance on a pedestal because it is problematic. And so I think what I'm continually thinking about is I'm like okay, we like it. And it's problematic. And I know it's problematic. And I'm also at the point where I can acknowledge the problematics and also find this book entertaining. That doesn't mean I'm endorsing this book or everything in it, right?

But it feels like we the readers, we're asking for these things to change, right?

Don't have the hero rape the heroine anymore. I don't want to read about a, asshole misogynist. Then the books on the [00:42:00] whole kept moving further and further, away from that because I think there is a desire for characters to reflect like healthy relationships I mean, bold statement here, I feel like Romance has almost always been about unhealthy relationships

Emma: You have to solve the problem, right? There are things that happen page 100, that if they were happening page 400, it would not be problem . It's happening not at the end of the book. We're waiting for the book to end. They're going to figure it out.

The issue I have, the example I always use, and I've written about this before, is Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas.

Because I think the Ravenels is the beginning of her trying to move towards contemporary not contemporary genre, because she writes it after she writes her contemporaries. Contemporary notions of historical romance. There are scenes in that book that, in an earlier Kleypas, would be much closer to a non con scene, where the power dynamic is there, where it's like, can Kathleen really consent to Devin? He's like looming over her he pulls at her skirts, and all the surrounding language is telling us that this is not a rape scene.

But Lisa Kleypas has to have this sort of like dubcon moment where it's like, okay, looming hero, looming out, like alpha whole hero, is chasing after this woman. But now it's like, because she can't write it the way she used to write it it's missing the context of calling it what it is.

And so readers do still want it, they just don't like when it's called what it is. And I think as a reader myself I would rather call it what it is, be like, it's a problem that he's soliciting a woman who is living in his house and would be homeless if he kicked her out. That's an unkind thing to do on the level of like consent politics.

But it's weird that we can't call it that. You can't point to Cold Hearted Rake and say there's a dubcon scene in there because nothing in the book is telling us that. You have to, you're picking out the pieces of it. And so that's one of the reasons why my taste leans older but I mean, that doesn't mean I don't like newer historicals as well.

I just think yeah, like you said, unhealthy relationships, because we're working to it. If it was healthy at the beginning, there wouldn't be a book. That's, there has to be a plot.

Like when people complain about third act breakups or miscommunication, like what do you want to read? There has to be a plot of the book. If they're not miscommunicating, what is going to happen?

Andrea Martucci: Cause we're going to the book to solve a problem. So there has to be a problem that has to be solved. If you start with a non problem and then you get to a non resolution, or you start with a problem but you refuse to call it a problem and then everything's fine afterwards. It's not satisfying?

Emma: And there's contemporaries where it's solved with or a couple conversations or one conversation where it's like, information is revealed. And oh, this is why he can't commit or this is why he thought she was cheating or whatever. It's one conversation.

I knew what was going to solve this was one conversation. It wasn't a big action. It wasn't anything. There's so much miscommunication in this book, and I'm a huge miscommunication defender.

Because, again, I ask people to think [00:45:00] about their own interpersonal relationships. What causes conflict in them? It's when you can't communicate. That's the problem. And I think that this book does a good job of they're talking past each other frequently. They're not not talking.

This book actually, it reminds me so much of one of the Alice Coldbreath books I can't remember, I think Substitute Wife for a Prize Fighter, have you read that one?

Andrea Martucci: Yeah,

Emma: The traveling fair,

Andrea Martucci: the traveling fair, yes.

Emma: This book reminds me so much of that, not just because of the setting.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, yeah, and this comes up in therapy all the time for me, right? Where I'm like describing something, I'm like, and then she was like, blah, blah, blah, and like, my therapist is like, did she actually mean it like that or is that just how you heard it?

And I'm like, hmm.

Emma: right. the nature of to communicate is to miscommunicate. It's like you are so sure that the words that you were saying mean something to someone else, but there's no guarantee of that and the tone and all this nonverbal body language. So it reminds me about Kiss an Angel and Substitute Bride for a Prize Fighter by Alice's Coldbreath is that I always recommend that to people who say they don't like miscommunication. Or they're always saying just have a conversation.

Because the couple in that book, like Alex and Daisy, are talking constantly. Like they're constantly checking in with each other. They just don't have all the information yet, because they also don't know what information to share with each other that will get them on the same page. Because when you start a relationship with someone, they don't know everything about you. You don't know what is going to be the thing that pushes them away or makes them understand you. You're solving that out.

And for both of these books, if you were to say, Alex and Daisy just have a conversation, 250 pages in, what would you ask them to tell each other? They don't know what they need to tell each other that will solve this problem. They have to work it out.

That's the back half of the book.

Andrea Martucci: We don't know what other people's experiences are and what has shaped them. And like you were saying, sometimes you just don't know what you need to share. Like you're not withholding, it's just you're like, I didn't think that needed to be said because in my experience or like, I thought you knew this about me, or why would you think that? Because it does not occur to me to think that because I didn't go through life the way you went through it, right?

It also feels like these big societal problems too, where I feel like when everything boils down to well good people don't believe that? I've had to unlearn so many things that what I was raised in this was just the natural way of things and like you don't question it and even if it didn't feel good like things that don't feel good we still accept are natural, right?

As people we're all just going through life trying to figure it out. There's no guidebook. Everybody's growing up in this mishmash of like weird experiences and cultural forces and everything and I feel like some of the failings of people, where they make assumptions about other people based on signifiers yeah that's unfair and that's wrong and whatever, but we all do it.

We all do it all the time, and people who want to pretend they just have this internal [00:48:00] barometer that instantly course corrects whatever societal forces have influenced them, you're full of shit. and I'm not saying, let's not call that stuff out.

Call it out, but give people room to grow instead of, I think this is what feels like is happening in books is, like they have to come into the story not having any of those issues.

They can't grow into that.

Emma: in this book if Alex started and was like, oh your dad bullied you into this. That's unfair. I trust women. I believe women when they say that their fathers are assholes. Not only would there not be a plot in the book, also she would not fall in love with Alex.

There would be no connection for them to work through. And Alex has this sort of inherited misogyny where he doesn't trust Daisy because her father doesn't trust Daisy.

There's a character he's had an affair with previously, Bathsheba who's a high flyer. She's like a trapeze lady. But also she has done harm to him. It's not like he just mistrusts all women. It's like the other woman character did something incredibly cruel to him when he was a young man. So he's working through that, but he has room to open up and trust Daisy.

But also then she gets accused of stealing money out of the till. And she's like, why don't you trust me? And it's like, I know that Daisy didn't do it, but she's the newcomer. The money is found in her suitcase. There are all these reasons why it makes sense why Daisy's the one to have done it. And so you can't just be like, Alex, why don't you trust Daisy?

Would you trust Daisy at this moment if you were not inside of her head? It's like readers forget sometimes that you have access to information the other characters don't have because they're not reading the book.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Like we're omniscient in this story, right? That's emotionally affecting, right? Cause we're like, that's so unfair. And it's getting a rise out of us because it's supposed to,

Emma: Mm. Yes.

Andrea Martucci: It's not an accident. That is what is taking that misunderstanding and miscommunication and making it compelling for us as readers.

And I think it's also pleasurable because we don't have access to other people's thoughts all the time, right? So we get to go into this situation having a very clear understanding of what's actually going on, that's where the safety of it comes in, because we're able to experience the injustice for Daisy in a safe way, where yes, we feel it, but we also have access to the information Alex, he doesn't actually have a reason why he should believe her so we also have access to like, Alex isn't a complete villain here,

Emma: It's something that's grown on me, and I think it's as sure as I've read older books older books that do this, because some older books never do it, and I think more contemporary books do it, and I don't like it even in contemporary historicals is that sort of very quick shift between POVs.

I'm very used to like, I think that the norm is like chapter by chapter flipping back and forth. And sometimes when I read a newer book that does this quick flipping of POVs, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips doesn't just go from the two main characters. Sometimes we jump into side characters thoughts as well.

Sometimes I read that and I think, oh, you're being lazy because you can't figure out [00:51:00] how to have that character tell me this information. We're jumping into a tertiary character or secondary character because you haven't done the structural work to figure out how to get this plot off with two POVs.

Beverly Jenkins does it some. She still doesn't make two main characters, but she does very loose slips between female main character and male main character. It's not divided by chapters all the time. And she does it very well. And I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips does it really well with a cast of characters, where you're just slipping in people's minds and it doesn't feel inorganic, or okay now we have to go over here to find out this plot point, and then we can get back to Daisy and Alex.

It just makes sense like, why we're flipping through these people,

Andrea Martucci: yeah. I keep thinking about this conversation I had with E. E. Ottoman a few years ago, and whatever we're talking about, I was like, I think romances are about gender. And he said, I think romances are about power. And I was like, yes, it's about power. And traditionally, it's about power imbalances between genders based on stereotypical gender dynamics, but it is about power.

And if you strip away the power dynamics of a situation. Maybe every story, I don't know, definitely in romance, I think it just takes the bite out of the conflict and makes it not an interesting story, even if it's a healthy relationship.

And maybe the fact this was written in 1996, which is almost 30 years ago there is, I think, an acknowledgement in the book of inequality between genders that is accepted and is spoken of very frankly. I do think that a lot of contemporary romances today are creating a world where even if there's like microaggressions, gendered power dynamics are really, I don't want to say absent, but they're not driving the plot forward because I think the authors don't want to like rely on that or they believe that we live in a post feminist world or whatever.

Okay well, this is why you've got romantasy with these fantasy worlds with gendered power dynamics. And this is why you've got dark romance, where you're just taking the power dynamics and dialing up to like, 15. Readers are going elsewhere to find that, because I do feel like that is the drive.

But sometimes it feels like you're reading a temporary romance and you're like gaslit about the world the way it is, where as a person living in this world, as a woman living in this world, it's like this stuff is still happening.

I feel it.

Emma: Right.

There's I guess a divide amongst readers, and I don't think there needs to be, but are romances an escape? Are they supposed to be this reflection of real life?

I don't think it's either or, but also I think you can have an escape in a book and have the real world reflected back on you.

That's possible. And it's, it's not like I'm craving an escape into a post feminist world, because I read so many historical romances, where I see the gender dynamics, where the misogyny is legally built into everything. And, most of the [00:54:00] books I read are pre Married Woman Property Act.

The fantasy part, at least for me as a personal reader, because I don't think you have to read romances as an escapist fantasy, is that in these worlds where this exists, romance still thrives. Human connection can still exist. We still see these things solved amongst a couple.

If it can happen there, it can happen now. It's like if you talk to each other, if you have interest in each other, if you care about each other, you can problematize the world. And you can come to a reconciliation, you reconcile all these different vectors that are against your relationship, the power dynamics of your gender, property issues, societal judgment like hangups from a conservative world.

All those things are solved and it's like, oh that's the goal. And I think it's just, it's dishonest to write a book where those things just go away ever.

Andrea Martucci: yeah, what's your takeaway then when you're thinking about reading other contemporary romances like in thinking about the way you enjoyed this book what does it make you think is a requirement for contemporary romance for you to enjoy it And I'm not saying this is like a real hard and fast rule, but

Emma: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: where'd you land?

Emma: The ones that I like, my two favorites are this one and Sunshine and Shadow by Tom and Sharon curtis, which also reads like a historical, like there are so many things about that, that it could be a Duke and a chambermaid. Because it's a, it's the Amish one. So he's a movie producer and she's Amish. And so there's all those like different worlds.

And I've read some sports romances that Beth enjoys a lot. I think I just like when characters are fully fleshed out and have personalities and do harm, like that do something bad.

So there was a tweet going around that was growing up is realizing that Tom Hanks is a terrible partner in You've Got Mail. Lists all these things that he does to Meg Ryan that are mean.

And my friend who writes about rom coms and movies a lot, quote tweeted, and it's like, the movie is good because he is mean. That's the problem with rom coms now is that nobody does anything bad ever. There's no conflict. The movie is good because Tom Hanks is doing all these bad things to Meg Ryan.

And it's like, if you watch that movie and enjoy it, and Tom Hanks is mean, come to the middle, figure out why. Yeah, I it's interesting to watch people or read people do things to each other. That's the conflict of romance. And I just, when I read contemporaries, I just don't feel like I get a sense of the personalities or because you have to have conflicts somewhere, right?

We have this mandate of happily ever after. We know how it's going to end. Because of that, it has to come from somewhere else, and so it has to come from the stuff in the middle, the relationship, it has to be there.

And I've been writing a lot about wallpaper romances, and that sort of, wallpaper romance can mean two things, where they either say it's everything except the wallpaper is contemporary, they're talking about historicals. Or the idiom could be the set dressing is pasted on like wallpaper.

And I think some contemporaries feel like that latter idiom, where like, the world is pasted on, and we just get these cardboard cutouts of people coming together. Most contemporaries I read feel like that to me,

Andrea Martucci: yeah, I [00:57:00] feel compelled to just be like, look, at the end of the day, a lot of this is about execution, right? And like there, there always have been, always will be books that are well executed and some books that are not. But it does feel like there are these kind of like subgenre differences, like historical versus contemporary, but then also in my opinion, books written like today, this is reminding me of the conversation with Whoa!Mance, but there's a fear of writing fucked up people making mistakes, and I feel that in historical, too,

Emma: Yeah, that's, that is the thing. I feel like I'm coming down hard on contemporary. I'm also speaking a lot about most historicals that are being published right now. I feel like I'm constantly trying to read new historicals and I'm unsatisfied with them most of the time, which makes me sad because I love this genre so much.

And I get disappointed in it more often than not. And I think some of that is wallpaper stuff, but what wallpaper means, is that some of that lack of conflict that they're borrowing from contemporary rather than ahistorical stuff, because like, I'm not a historical accuracy queen when it comes to historical romance.

It's not something I demand, but I do want there to be conflict.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Unless it comes to Newgate prison

Emma: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: in which case you do demand No, but I think the point you've made about Newgate which I think can be applied more broadly is there's so many more interesting things you could do with this. Like you don't have to be historically accurate but if you do understand the history you could do something more interesting, or if you wanted to comment on today, you could do something more interesting.

And, a lot of authors are not making interesting choices.

Emma: Yeah, I think that's the thing where we read a historical romance nowadays, and it just feels like it's an imitation of the imitation of an imitation. It's been so filtered

Andrea Martucci: A simulacrum, if you will.

Emma: Yes. and So I write a lot about Newgate for Shelf Love listeners, which is a prison in Victorian England that was closed down, comes up all the time in historical romance novels.

People write about it with almost no historical accuracy most of the time that they write about it. So in my opinion, they're not particularly saying anything interesting about incarceration in the Victorian period. But also, I find they fail to say anything interesting about incarceration now.

So like, why are you invoking this?

Why have someone start in Newgate if you're neither condemning or even considering what it was like actually during the time that this person would have been there or saying something interesting about what it means to incarcerate people now? It just doesn't make any sense to me. It feels like set dressing and prison particularly upsets me because I feel like prison is one of those things. I'm a lawyer, I was in criminal defense, I feel very passionate about the way that we talk about prison and not doing it lightly.

It feels silly to bring up prison, it feels disrespectful to bring up something that was such a terrible place, as set dressing.

And so that's like a moral quandary for me, but I think things that I feel are less immoral to do, it still feels like set dressing. like If you're bringing up the Whites Club, or like the Serpentine Pond, all this sort of stuff in London, like why this [01:00:00] place, why this piece of information, is frustrating in newer historicals.

And the answer is certain things have become part of the genre, have become sort of these token signifiers.

And it just makes for a boring read a lot of the time.

Andrea Martucci: I think we cracked this nut wide open. Emma, what are you working on now in terms of projects?

Emma: What am I working on? So currently drafting a historical romance novel as a my self edification process, because I was like, I should try and write one. So I'm doing a lot of research that probably will come out on my newsletter about the legal concept that I'm focused on which is the King's Proctor. Have you heard of the King's Proctor?

We talk about it a little bit in our Barbara Cartland episode. So this is a person, that was employed by the monarch, king or queen. So it was either king or queen's proctor so after your divorce is granted post divorce laws, 1837. So when you get divorced, you get something called the Decree Nici, which means you're not actually divorced yet. It will become a decree absolute in a year or six months.

And in that window, if you are found to have been colluding or not actually have a reason to get divorced, your divorce is no good. You're still married. is

Andrea Martucci: Your divorce is

annulled, therefore you're

Emma: You're still married. And one of the reasons that this happens your divorce could get annulled is if, mutual infidelity is not a reason to get divorced post 1837 in England. So if you accuse your husband of cheating on you, but then you cheat on him you you,

Andrea Martucci: to stay

Emma: have to stay married.

Andrea Martucci: It's so messed up

Emma: so we learned about this, Barbara Cartland got divorced and she had a king's proctor. The Reformed Ranks were like, this is such an interesting concept. And I was like, this sounds like a romance novel. So I'm currently doing historical research on King's Proctors.

I also, I just finished War and Peace.

So if you subscribe to my newsletter, you'll get something about War and Peace shortly because I'm, War and Peace is a historical romance novel.

Andrea Martucci: You heard it here first.

Emma: Actually, I will say Smart Bitches Trashy Books did write a blog post about War and Peace being a historical romance novel years ago, and so I'm not the first person to say it,

Andrea Martucci: You heard it here second.

Emma: and I think I have a slightly different angle than them, but it has been said. So that's the next thing that's coming, a shorter term for people

Andrea Martucci: What's it like now being part of the discourse TM?

Emma: Having people respond to what I say?

Andrea Martucci: So you started reading romance and then in the last year or so, you're on TikTok, you've got your sub stack, you've got a podcast. how's the experience different?

Emma: Yeah. It this is the first time I've ever really been in like a fan space. So unlike a lot of genre fiction readers, I think, I came to historical romance from Victorian novels rather than from other genres. And so I've never really had like community like this about what I've been reading.

And so that's interesting, the dynamics of people chatting.

But one thing I love about romance is that there's so much of it. It's disheartening sometimes when I go find old things. I'm like, oh, we were having this conversation 20 years ago. Because I love to look at old blogs and sometimes you see some of the same people who have become authors, who used to be bloggers and all that.

But it is nice the layers of discourse. It's out there on the internet. And now, now I'm a part of it. And hopefully people like what I say,

Andrea Martucci: hopefully that's what we all that's what we all hope hope

Emma: Oh, Chels runs the social media. So if you ever [01:03:00] have to yell at like if you're yelling at the Reformed Rakes, it's Chels, not me. So if you're mad at me, you have to find me on Twitter

Andrea Martucci: you have to you

Yeah thanks for coming today to talk about Kiss an Angel and also to put to rest all the rabid rumors about the rivalry between our podcasts and by put to rest there are no rumors and this podcast is meant to convince people there is a rivalry.

Emma: yes, we're starting the rumors. This was an entirely acrimonious record. I don't know if you can tell from our voices, but like, we're fuming at each other now.

Andrea Martucci: Fuming, absolutely fuming. And if you really want to catch up on why we're so angry with each other, you need to listen to every episode of Reformed Rakes and Shelf Love just to get up to speed.

Emma: You got to get the lore. Come on, guys.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. Emma, thanks so much for being here today!

Emma: Thanks so much for having me.

Andrea Martucci: Hey, thanks for spending time with me today. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate or review on your favorite podcast app or tell a friend. Check out for transcripts and other resources. If you want regular written updates from Shelf Love, you can increasingly find me over at Substack.

Read occasional updates and short essays about romance at Thank you to Shelf Love's $20 a month Patreon supporters: Gail, Copper Dog Books, and Frederick Smith. I have a great day. Bye!