047. Rose Lerner Double Header with Shelf Lovely Jess
Jess, my guest, is Shelf Love's first and most prolific listener contributor, and minted the term Shelf Lovelies, so she's basically a legend around here.
We normally choose one book to discuss per episode, but we couldn't decide between Rose Lerner's novel Listen to the Moon and her novella All or Nothing, so we decided to do a double-header episode. Between these two historical romances, we explore topics ranging from feeling out a polyamorous marriage, adulting and boundaries, daddy issues, Jewishness, and the big question: does it violate the laws of escapist reading to read about servants in a time period where there is so much manual labor involved? There is so much dusting, and it's somehow still so good!
Jess, my guest, is Shelf Love's first and most prolific listener contributor, and minted the term Shelf Lovelies, so she's basically a legend around here.
We normally choose one book to discuss per episode, but we couldn't decide between Rose Lerner's novel Listen to the Moon and her novella All or Nothing, so we decided to do a double-header episode. Between these two historical romances, we explore topics ranging from feeling out a polyamorous marriage, adulting and boundaries, daddy issues, Jewishness, and the big question: does it violate the laws of escapist reading to read about servants in a time period where there is so much manual labor involved? There is so much dusting, and it's somehow still so good!
- Sign up for the email newsletter list | Website | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads | Email: Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com
- 58 Romance Novellas For A Quick Hit of Hope
- Check out Shelf Love’s updated website including the transcript for this episode
Modern Romance Canon Nomination(s)
- Jess made her first major appearance in episode 2, which was actually the first episode that was recorded. This was the Jennifer Crusie episode.
- Jess's voice first made an appearance in episode 15 when she shared a Write This Book.
- Behold: Jessica (Sunfire #6). Here's a list of more Sunfire romances.
- This was my tween romance series: my favorite was The San Francisco Earthquake, 1906 (Historical Disasters #2) by Kathleen Duey. I got all the dates just slightly wrong in the episode - for shame. Coincidentally given our discussion in this episode, the heroine in this was a maid!
- Snowpiercer (2013 film); John Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946 film)
- Rose Lerner on Journeys of Romance episode 24 but it's also possible I was mostly remembering things I heard on episode 350 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books or perhaps even episode 84 of Wicked Wallflowers. I'm not a meticulous researcher (unlike Rose Lerner).
- Sugar Baby Series by Rebekah Weatherspoon
- Georgette Heyer was an Antisemite and Her Work is Not Foundational Historical Romance by Felicia Grossman on Romance Daily News
Andrea: Hello, and thanks for listening to episode 47 of Shelf Love. Every week, we use romance novels as the taxed to explore identity relationships and the society we live in. I'm Andrea Martucci, host of the Shelf Love podcast. And today I am joined by Jess. Jess is Shelf Love's first and most prolific listener contributor, and she mentioned the term Shelf Lovelies. So she's basically a legend around here. I cannot wait for you to get to know her more.
We normally choose one book to discuss per episode, but Jess and I couldn't decide between Rose Lerner's novel, Listen to the Moon and her novella All or Nothing. So we decided to do a double header episode between these two historical romances.
We explore topics ranging from feeling out a polyamorous marriage. Adulting and boundaries. Daddy issues. Jewishness. And the big question does writing a romance about servants and the Regency subvert genre conventions, and the audience's desire for fantasy?
Find out on episode 47, starting now.
So Jess, is it fair to say that you were Shelf Love's first fan and, and wrapped up in that question, how did you even hear of the podcast? Because I swear you were somehow around before the podcast even launched.
Jess: I don't know if I was the first fan, but you could probably say I'm your most over-invested fan. I appreciate that you put out a lot of structured polls that I can answer. That is definitely a level of engagement that, I can get really into. I think I heard about it cause I was on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books maybe, and they were promoting it because I think Amanda was your first guest. And you asked about Jennifer Crusie, who is one of my loves and you were looking for opinions and man, do I have opinions and no one who wants to hear them. So I had to get in touch.
Andrea: Well, obviously I wanted to hear them and here we are. That probably was like July or August of 2019 so almost a year ago. Yeah. And you contributed to, I think that ended up, the Crusie episode was episode two, even though it was actually the first one we recorded, and you sent in the story of the first romance you ever read. I have audio recording of us reading this, but can we get the story of your first romance straight from the source?
Jess: You, I'm assuming were imagining a one sentence answer or maybe just a title. And I sent an essay about my deep, deep passion for the Sunfire teen romance series. So I think when I was, I was probably a preteen, maybe around 10 and. My favorite thing to do was haunt every secondhand bookstore in the greater New England area.
And I was mostly looking for historical fiction because I had been really interested in the Little House on the Prairie books. And, I got really into an author called Anne Rinaldi. And then when I had read all of that, it was like, what's next? And I came across this series of young adult historicals.
It was a series, but they weren't connected other than sort of on a thematic level. Where there was a teenage female protagonist and she was living through a momentous time in American history and she was torn between two loves, usually the guy who represented tradition and the guy who represented the future.
And she almost always ended up with the guy who represented the future. And it was a really interesting way to learn snippets of historical details that might not be covered. I think they did one about the Pony Express, and there was one about Jean Lafitte, the Pirate King of New Orleans and all this stuff that would be kind of glossed over in history class.
So it was perfect for a 10 year old because the heroines were like 16 to 17, which is old enough to be aspirational but not so old that you couldn't ever imagine being 25. It was very chaste. So there was nothing that like a 10 year old would be uncomfortable reading about. So, it was a really good fit and I sought them out.
There's the treasure hunt aspect cause you had to find them in all these random bookstores. So that was probably when I realized I liked romance as a genre as opposed to books that were more focused on events with romance in the background. This was really romance in the foreground.
Andrea: I think I looked up the covers of these and they did look familiar because I also have spent a lot of time in like secondhand bookstores, and I love discovering, you know, books series like that where you're like, Oh, this looks super interesting and here's 20 more.
Jess: Yes, yes.
As someone who read like all of the boxcar children, having a whole lot of things to dive into is very appealing.
Andrea: I had a very similar series when I was a teen or a tween, and I can't remember the name of the series, but it was like around these disasters in history where
Jess: Was it "I survived."
Andrea: No, I mean, it was kind of like that, but like romance for young adults, and it was like, you know, the great San Francisco earthquake of 1916 let's say, and the, you know, The Chicago Fire of 1888 I, I think if I get these dates right, I mean like,
Jess: It's entirely due to these books. Yeah.
Andrea: There's one about the Hindenburg.
Andrea: I need to, I have these books in my home because they, they have that much meaning to me. Do you still have the Sunfire books or did they get lost through time?
Jess: I had to winnow down the collection over years of moving, but I do still, like, for example, I still have Jessica, which was a pioneer girl in Kansas. And, there was another one. Oh, Sabrina. She was in Charleston during the revolution and working in her uncle's apothecary shop, and he was also a spy.
Uh, so, and she falls for obviously the, the guy who's out doing the spying, but she's also has another, boyfriend who is a British sympathizer. So that's very complicated. so, so I still remember
Andrea: Yeah, You know he's to be the baddie, right? Or will not the baddie, but you know, she can't end up with a British sympathizer.
Jess: They are very focused on American history, so I don't think they'd let that happen. But it's, it's amazing how vividly I remember some of these books, considering it has now been almost 30 years since I read them.
Andrea: Oh my God.
So here's what I remember about what you sent into us to read. All those many moons ago in what ended up being episode two is we're reading it. I was just like, Oh my gosh, like the, the word usage, the prose, the details. I remember Amanda Diehl and I, we were just like, wow, this is some A-plus writing.
My favorite Jennifer Crusie novel is Welcome to Temptation and Jess gave a wonderful intro to Welcome to Temptation. So: "a woman from a long line of con artists tries to go legit and a charming small Ohio town. When she falls for the ultra respectable mayor, will her plans be derailed by her shady sister, the porn star they're making a movie with, or the series of mysterious murders that seem to follow in their wake?" That's.
Amanda Diehl: I mean, it's a lot going on.
Andrea: Jess, maybe look into a copywriting career
Amanda Diehl: If you're not already.
Andrea: If you're not already, maybe you are
Amanda Diehl: We don't know you, Jess. We would like to know you.
Andrea: We'd like to know you. Thanks for filling out our survey. We really appreciate it.
And, I will insert the clip where we say something about this, but we're like, we're like, Jess, you should be a copywriter. Obviously as our acquaintance has deepened and blossomed into a deep-abiding friendship, I now know you are not a copywriter, but, what should we know about Jess
Jess: Okay. I'm from New England, born and raised many generations back and I love reading about emotions. I would prefer not to have to see them demonstrated in real life. So this is where I get, get that emotional hit is from, from fictional people. I like red wine and white couches. So that's my personal tragedy.
Not yet a copywriter, but I'm keeping it in my back pockets. if you're looking for my, my romance opinions and, and tendencies, I would say that my favorite tropes are fake relationships, marriage of convenience, forced proximity, good banter. And, if you can work in a fun scam or a con or a heist that's really going to put it over the top for me.
The things I don't like, I'm, I really am against second chance at love and, anything that's sort of over the top angsty, usually is not my thing. Bad banter will get me to put down a book faster than anything else. Those are probably the most pertinent details.
Andrea: I feel like your, your things you really like could have been my list of things I really like except better articulated because I never think to like sit down and write down what I actually like. And then people are like, what do you like? And I'm like, I don't know. Who could say.
Jess: And the tricky thing is there are exceptions. I read a couple, I think it was a series of novellas by Rebekah Weatherspoon that started out with the premise being the hero and heroine met on a sugar baby website, basically, where it's a young woman looking. And if you had told me that I would enjoy something that started that way, I would have laughed in your face.
And boy did I read all of those with a quickness. So, so any trope can be well done and an exception to the rules, which makes it harder to say what you do and don't like, because I would, you know, I would say, Oh gosh, I'd hate that, except that I loved it and would recommend it to almost anybody. So it's a, it's a complicated, a complicated field.
Andrea: it's so true. It's so hard to create any hard and fast rules about likes, dislikes, or whatever, because yeah, there is always some author who can do it well in a way that you truly enjoy. I want to talk about how you don't like second chances in romance. Now what do you think the core of why you don't gravitate towards second chances.
Jess: I think the part I really like is the getting to know you phase and they find out all the things about each other that they're interested in or attracted to. And in second chance, they've already done that and then it went wrong. And I guess I hate the idea that it went wrong, even if the ultimate goal is they're going to come back together in the end.
I like things that work right out of the gate.
Andrea: That's interesting.
Jess: But in general, it's all those like, Ooh, this is new and exciting, tingly feelings kind of thing, but that I really enjoy.
So, so it tends to be the, like, the, let's save our marriage kind of plots that I, I'm like, nah, you don't, you don't have the new tinglies like, so,
Andrea: Yeah, the new tinglies.
so, are you ready to talk about Listen To The Moon?
Jess: I am so ready because I love this book.
Andrea: Okay. And now we actually are doing a double header. We're going to talk about both Listen To The Moon and All or Nothing. And Listen to the Moon is a novel and All or Nothing is a novella. So we're probably gonna focus more time on Listen to the Moon, but don't worry, dear listener, all or nothing is coming. Both of these are by Rose Lerner. It's basically a Rose Lerner double header. I guess.
Jess: I - I - I love her so much. Why are we not always talking about Rose Lerner?
Andrea: I have to say, I think that's a very good question. By the way, I was talking to Rose Lerner online because,
Andrea: Yes, yes,
Jess: This is my in.
Jess: All I want want in life is to be friends with Rose Lerner. And you are my stepping stone.
Andrea: Okay. All right, so we're going to make this happen. So I'm, I'm embarrassed to say, I had posted that we were going to talk about this, and so she messaged me and we were talking a little bit and I was like, listen, I know I read some of your books a couple of years ago, like, did you write a book about blah, blah, blah?
And but like, is it not available now? And she's like, I never wrote that book. And I was like. Oh, so I, I think I was under the impression that I had read Rose Lerner books before, and obviously I heard so much about them that like I was, it felt like I had read them. But I think this actually was my first foray into Rose Lerner and,
Jess: What a treat.
Andrea: Oh my God, seriously what a treat.
So do you want to describe Listen to the Moon? Here's my big headline for it: daddy issues.
Jess: Definitely. Definitely a part of it on, on both sides though, which is refreshing. I feel like usually it's, it's just one person, and in this case, it's both of our protagonists. So here's my stab at describing the plot of Listen to the Moon. Okay.
When John Toogood, a valet and gentleman's gentleman from the highest echelon of the serving class and Sukey Grimes, made of all work from the lowest, enter into a marriage of convenience in order to secure new jobs, will their compelling physical attraction and their intention to be good partners be enough to nurture their relationship? Or will it dissolve under social and economic pressures?
Andrea: Wow. That was succinct and perfect. I mean, yeah, that's what, that's what it's about. A plus.
Jess: Thank you. Thank you. That's how you keep me coming back is small amounts of affirmation. Yeah.
Andrea: There's a lot of things that are interesting about this book, so it takes place in - are you a stickler for time periods? I never think before I start recording to actually look up when these things take place. I assume Regency or thereabouts.
Jess: Yes, yes. I believe this one takes place in 1811 or 1812 so, yeah, the Regency era.
I think there are some books where the time period really matters. And there are times when it's enough for you to have sort of a general feel. So I'm not sure that this one would change, notably if it was set in Victorian times or, you know, Georgian times. But the, I'm really interested in the idea of class difference between people and how that changes a relationship. So it was important for this book to be set during the time of sort of strict class, divides, but not necessarily that it has to be this particular moment in time.
Andrea: Yeah. And the one thing about the time period that I think drives home a lot of the themes of this book is that it's early enough in the 1800s that a lot of the technology advances haven't happened yet that would make housework easier. So. Like there's no running water, interior running water.
There's no, there's no heated water. There's no electricity. I don't even know what other advances came later, like in the Victorian period. But like every single task that has to happen in this household has to be done by people.
Jess: At great physical expenditure, I guess. You know, you really get a sense in the book of how hard everything is. Like you said, all the things we take for granted, heating water is a huge never-ending task and someone has to do it. which makes for one of the most romantic gestures I've ever read later on.
Andrea: It's true. So we're talking about two people in the servant class, and obviously they're at different echelons of that servant class. But, does it violate the laws of escapist reading to read about servants in a time period where as you said, like everything they do is just like physical exertion to keep the house warm and have water present.
Like everything is so hard. There is so much dusting in this book.
Jess: I love that in your email where you're like, why is there so much dusting and why is it still so good? So I think this is a great question. I would say on the continuum of escapist reading, this is very low down because it is so realistic about all of the things that get glossed over in what I like to call Duke books.
So, so in a Duke book, someone you know, wants a meal, they go down to the kitchen and there it is and they just have a meal, or, someone needs their dress cleaned and it just happens. Whereas this book gets into the nitty gritty. so. Sometimes I guess.
Jess: Yeah, yeah. Quite literally. but sometimes I want an escape from escapism.
You know, once I've read five or six Duke books in a row, they all start to blend together and I start to think, why are these people making so many problems for themselves when they already have all of the privilege? Uh, so it's, it's escapist in that it's very far from my current life. But, it doesn't have that, princess billionaire, vast wealth type of escapism that I think is what most of us think of when we talk about escapist reading.
Andrea: Right. And I think historicals in particular start to take on the, as you said, like, what would you say the princess billionaire?
Just complete fantasy. Like I wear pretty dresses or pretty whatever I think is like the most attractive clothing and like, you know, I don't have to worry about, getting a degree or, going to work tomorrow.
It's like, the problems I think do start to become very much about like marriage or romance. Everything kind of boils down to that romantic plot and happiness.
Jess: And sometimes I just need a pallet cleanser. To kind of set the reset button where I'm like, if these two people would just talk to each other about their feelings, we could all go home. And that's not really the attitude you want to bring to these books that you're supposedly reading for fun. But then you, I feel like I can read something like this where I think they do a great job talking to each other honestly about their feelings, even if they don't resolve everything right away.
And you can see that there are real economic concerns about should they be together, should they take this job or that job. And, you know, if, if Sukey decides not to marry John, there's a very real risk she is going to end up penniless and homeless and living in a work house. So should she marry someone she doesn't know very well?
Even if she marries him, he could leave her and she could end up in the same position. So I guess it sort of helps me recalibrate between, between higher escapist scale books, to read something, closer to true economic concerns.
Andrea: There's stakes, like there's real stakes in this story, and. Yeah. And I think that's, that's what you're speaking to, right? It's like in the Duke books, you're like, what? What are the stakes here? Like you're going to be more rich or less rich, but like still rich?
Jess: Right. Right. You marry the guy you really love, or the guy who's just fine, and those are very real stakes, but it's different from you have a job and something to eat or you end up in abject poverty.
Andrea: Yeah, and you know, I always feel this, this is a little off topic, but I always feel in those books, where I actually want the characters to be more practical, where I'm like, are you effing kidding me? You're going to hold to your standards and you're not gonna marry the guy who would make sure you are economically secure when your family is facing whatever, like, like I'm just like, are w what? That's a really stupid decision.
Jess: Yeah. Or at least it's sometimes it's presented as you're really only making the, the one correct choice. Whereas, you know, both of these are viable options with consequences. Are you going to marry the guy who's probably good enough and is here right now and wants you, or are you going to hold out for something that might be better that might not ever come along?
Andrea: That makes me think of Pride and Prejudice.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, there was a time when I think I kind of condemned Charlotte Lucas for compromising on someone that no one really liked, but when the alternative would be a penniless spinster once your parents pass away and you have no practical way of making your own living, oof that's not such a clear cut choice.
I actually, I think maybe the closest analogy, if we want to do a modern day example, might be college. Like, do you go to the state school with the full ride scholarship or do you take out massive loans and go to your dream school? And what's that going to do to you later in life? You know, you can make arguments for both sides.
Again, maybe still escapist, but a closer economic analogy to reality as opposed to marry the billionaire, which can still be very fun.
I don't want to, I don't want to bash those books because I certainly read a pile of them.
Andrea: Right. But I think what you said earlier, you want all of those things, like sometimes you want to read the pure escapist, we don't have to think about these things. And then this book is really interesting because you do look at these things and I think, there's a question of like, what's subversive about telling this story?
And I have an answer. I'm curious what you think. I'm starting with the premise that it is subversive. What do you think?
Jess: I would, I would say it is subversive to, to present compromise as a good choice when usually in this type of story, what is, you know, promoted is not compromising. It's holding out, and then all of a sudden the perfect thing does come along and you live happily ever after. But the idea that maybe you don't have a lot of good choices or you don't have the time to wait for the perfect situation, and that you can still be happy, is subversive.
What do you think?
Andrea: I mean, I think that's very true. I was even just thinking like on a macro level, presenting, telling the story from the viewpoint of people who are usually invisible in these stories and, and presenting them as they were as complex human beings who have their own wants and desires, and who deserve love and who could have love.
And even though there are a lot of things about their situation that are not super like glorious and romantic, that they could find romance and happiness and that just because probably the rich people who employ, you know, people like John and Sukey, think that their lives must be sad, that there are these moments of joy and that they do have desires other than to serve their masters and, and all of that.
Yeah. Even just understanding the depth of what their lives are like, and it's, it's not just the moments when you see them like laying out a dress for, you know, the lady of the house, they have these rich inner and outer lives that have nothing to do - I mean, even if they, they are as a result of the needs of the people of the house, you know, they have their own shit going on.
Jess: That is such a good answer. I wish I'd said that. I really, I really liked that because this is the third book in a loosely connected series. And one of the other books is when John Toogood's master and one of the ladies that Sukey was a maid of all work for fall in love. And they are both higher ranking and more powerful socioeconomically than John and Sukey.
And John and Sukey are very much background characters. Not in necessarily a dismissive way, but you know, certainly not the focus of the story. And to get a story where they are first and foremost. You're right. It is very subversive.
Andrea: What's interesting is there's actually a scene at the very beginning of this novel where, John is with his former employer. I forget, one of the Dymond boys, whatever his name is, who cares? And, the, his former employer is almost like, like, what, you know, how can I help you? Like, sorry, I can't employ you anymore.
Like, I'm very poor now. And John has this moment of like, I'm richer than you now. Because even though his former employer still has this air of "I have privilege" and he does like, you know, he still has a lot of privilege just because of his class, even though economically he doesn't really have money.
Jess: Yeah. He's cash poor.
Andrea: Right. But he somehow still is elevated in this weird way and still thinks himself superior to his former valet who truly has more money in the bank than he does now.
Jess: Right. Yeah. It's very interesting. And, but at the same time, he's like, I think John offers him a drink, and he sort of casually tosses back two glasses of wine, and I'm like, John might have more money now, but he doesn't have a job.
It just seemed like a very callous wasting of someone's resources when he's still looking for his own employment.
Andrea: Right, which he has to do as a result of the choices of his former employer.
Jess: Right. Yeah. It's a, it's a very complicated scene and I think they both would wish each other well, but, but you can't deny that.
Andrea: They're just coming from completely different places. I think John probably sees his former employer's prospective way more than vice versa.
Jess: Very true. And, and you know, John is older. He watched the Dymond boys grow up cause he was a servant in their household before he became their valet. And, and I think age is an interesting factor in a lot of these relationships.
Andrea: Yeah. I want to talk about work in the context of this novel, but let's talk about, let's talk about age for a second, because John is 40.
Sukey like 22.
Andrea: And she thinks he's very handsome even from the beginning. Like she's like, Oh, he's hot. And not like in a like silver Fox, like.
She doesn't really think of him as being that old necessarily, even though she sort of notes his age. And you know, he thinks that she's pretty and spirited and all of that, but, there's a lot of very explicit conversation in this book about daddy issues where he is like, am I trying to be her dad? Slash does she think of me as her dad? And also he has his own daddy issues with his father. And then she has an absent father and then she's like, am I trying to replace him with John? And I'm, am I acting like a child with him and so it was like a Russian nesting doll of daddy issues.
Jess: Okay. I was glad that they made it text that the characters actively interrogate their own inclinations. And I think in some ways that diffused the situation for me. If they had left this unexamined, I probably would have spiraled off on my own thinking, he's 40 and she's 20 what about when she's 40 and he's 60 and you know, how is this going to carry on into the future, and is this a viable relationship, age gap?
But, but the fact that Sukey was asking herself, you know, I had this beloved father who willingly left me when I was a child. Am I trying to fill that void? Even just asking the question is kind of revolutionary. I, and I don't think a lot of other authors would have directly addressed it.
And also to have a significantly older man ask himself is my libido going to be able to keep up with her libido?
Andrea: I will only be able to pleasure you once per night.
Jess: Right. and if you go back to the, you know, the, the origins, I guess, of romance novels, that this was, I think, very standard where she would be, you know, maybe 18 maybe, and he would be a powerful Duke in his forties and no. Yeah,
Andrea: mean like, I don't want to yuck anybody's yum, but I think there, there's a power differential there where it's like, you're barely an adult. You've just started making decisions for yourself. I've been an adult as long as you've been alive and have all of this vast experience, there's a power differential, and if you're not kind of aware of that and able to interrogate that in the text, it is icky.
Jess: Right, right. And I think even though John had more money, more social standing, you know, more experience. I never felt that Sukey was being taken advantage of. I always felt like she was engaging fully in their relationship, which I think, makes the situation much more palatable for me than if that wasn't happening.
Andrea: Yeah. And I think that they do have very explicit discussions where he realizes that, there may have been a level of coercion in her initially agreeing to marry him, knowing that she was literally facing, like on the one hand, he was presenting a solution, but on the other hand, she had no other choice.
She, if she didn't marry him, she very likely would either need to move in with her mother or go to the workhouse or, or whatever. I mean, she had, she has no money, no options, and she can't like rely on her mother to be able to support her and help her through a tough time.
Jess: Right. It is a, it is a razor thin level of economic viability that she and her mother are walking and they, they've got to be thinking that, you know, in another five or 10 years, Sukey is going to have to have a way to support her mother. Otherwise, her mom will end up in the workhouse, or, or who knows where.
I'm not sure if I would call it coercion because I don't feel like he leaned on her in any way. He, he presented this as somebody as something they could do together, but it was very much the only solution available to her. so.
Andrea: I think he, it's like he didn't, he knew that, but then he also, like upon thinking about it later was like, Oh yeah, even though she had choice. And I, meant it with the intention of helping her. I also was like super eager for her to say yes because I wanted to have sex with her and, and she may have wanted to have sex with me, but also was it a true choice when she couldn't, she didn't really have another option, you know? And like I just, I appreciated the nuance there - I think they're very honest with kind of where they were while also acknowledging like it was kind of a shitty situation.
Jess: And, and we made the best of it. And the job that they found as a married husband and wife servant team was probably much better than anything a serving girl who didn't speak in an elevated way or have a whole lot of high level cleaning experience. Like I get the feeling Sukey wouldn't know how to wash a silk dress.
You know, she's much more of a scrubbing the floors kind of person. So, so this is a, you know, very good job for her to get into. But it does come with this expectation that you will be married to this man til death do you part, which is not a small thing to promise. Til death do you part or until he leaves, which is something she has experienced as the daughter of somebody who was married to her mother and just took off.
Andrea: Exactly right, marriage. Just because you have the ring on the finger doesn't mean they're going to stick around forever. She has like abandonment issues. For real, like real abandonment issues. And I think that this is, that's explored really well in this book.
Like, I'm no expert on abandonment issues, but there is, you know, there's a lot of this sort of like, I will push you away before you can push me away. And I can't deal with conflict. And, you know, I think that's explored really interestingly, in this story.
So John basically becomes the Butler who's like the manager of all the other people in this house. I was like, Oh my God. I will admit, I have always thought of servants in books like this as like , how much decision making is really going on. Like they just have to like clean the house and like do the stuff, right? Like people are asking them to do things and they just do it. But you really see this whole enterprise of running a household as there's a manager and then there's these individual contributors and like, it's like a case study in motivation and organization.
I mean, there's just all these things that I think are just so applicable to the, the modern office work environment
Jess: Right. It is. It's very much like an office that you also have to live in and you eat all of your meals with these people.
Andrea: and you work 18 days
Jess: Yeah, you get one half day off a week. He and Sukey sleep in the Butler's pantry. Like they don't even have a room that is theirs. You know, at night when it's time to go to sleep, they unroll a mattress in the Butler's pantry, and that is where they sleep.
That level of detail I found fascinating. And I thought it was very interesting that John had watched his father be Butler of a, you know, a very large household. He was the Butler to an Earl, I think. And, had decided that he didn't want that level of responsibility. He didn't want to be the boss.
So he went into the, the valet side of, of serving things where you serve one master and you don't have to tell anybody what to do. And then to find himself changing careers. I mean, in some ways, I guess it's a midlife crisis book where he's saying, do I still want the job now that I wanted when I was 20.
Andrea: right. He has that mentor who was like the older, the man, let's say 20 years, his senior who went through the path of being the valet, like the professional gentleman's gentlemen who's very fashionable and knows stuff and kind of is fun, like the fun uncle,
Jess: And has a lot of spare time and yeah, you know, it gets to go to town, gets to, you know, he probably gets his master's old clothes when he's done with him, so he's, you know, more fashionable. He get, he has time to read, you know, when his gentlemen is out doing gentlemen things he can be reading a book,
as opposed to,
Andrea: has Zoom meetings all day.
Andrea: never has time to get his own work done. He's constantly dealing with personnel issues.
Jess: Right. He's managing everybody else's crisis.
Andrea: Have you seen Snowpiercer the movie?
Andrea: I don't want to like spoil the movie for anybody, but, people kind of become part of the machine and are running it. I thought about that as reading this, like, like thinking about them, like sleeping in the Butler's pantry they're all just like finding these like little curvy crevasses and like, they just are like congealing and becoming part of the house, with with like how many hours they work and just like how crucial they are to the functioning of the house. I just, I honestly did start to feel this sense of like them growing into the house.
Jess: Right. Or, in the, the John Cocteau Beauty and the Beast when they're like, these arms holding candelabra is coming out of the walls. You know, I feel like that's the way, the way people, you know, the, the owners of the house and think of it where all of this stuff just gets done. And they know people are doing it intellectually, but they never really think about it.
And, and this book, that's all you can think about is, you know, are they going to get all the silver polished in time? Are they going to be able to pull off a dinner party? Oh, that's not a big part of this book, but, you know, they have to plan menus and, that kind of thing, which is very invisible in other fiction.
Andrea: And, so I'm going to ask you next what your favorite part of the relationship was in this book. But I do just want to note for anybody listening to this, I think like you could have maybe a whole other episode, even just talking about all the work that Rose Lerner does in this book to show the world of Regency England in a more diverse way.
So. There was a woman blacksmith, Mrs. Khaleel, the cook is Indian.
Jess: Yeah, it sounded like there was a British family living in India and she worked for them, and then when they came back to England, she came with them.
Andrea: Right. And so, so I think like sort of addressing, you know, British colonialism and how there would be brown and black people in England at this time. Like there's various street vendors who are Black. And Mrs Khaleel is like a very, big secondary character.
Like, she's, she's like fairly important to the plot. But then even, even just like when representing other people who are part of sort of the world, I just really enjoyed how Rose Lerner, she fleshes out this world in a way that does not whitewash, you know, like our idea of Regency England is like, it's just a bunch of white people.
And it's not.
Jess: Yeah. It's, it's much more, and so much of our conception, I think of the Regency comes from, Georgette Heyer's novels in, I think she was writing in the thirties. And, you know, we kind of sunk our teeth in her vision of it and ran with it when, obviously, you know, if Britain was sending ships all over the world to bring, you know, British people there, they were also bringing things back with them.
And the idea that, that curry would be something that was served. It's not necessarily something you would think of until you think about it and you're like, Oh yeah, of course curry's delicious. It would have come back.
Andrea: That's like such a huge part of like British cuisine now,
Andrea: modern age, right.
Jess: But yeah, the diversity of that age is. Something that I, I think a lot of Rose Lerner's books address, and certainly the short story or novella that we read, looks at, you know, a figure that I don't think I've ever seen before, but is, she's so compelling, that I wish it had been a novel all on its own.
Andrea: Yes. What was your favorite part of the relationship in this book?
Jess: Oh, the, the romantic gestures in this book works so well for me, especially because you know, how much labor is involved in everything. Particularly the ones that John makes for Sukey. When he cleans her boots. And you see what a process that is, that you have to brush all the dirt off and you have to wipe them down, and then you have to let them dry, and then you have to coat them with wax so they'll be waterproof.
Andrea: But not too much wax.
Jess: But not too much wax. It's so much more meaningful, I think, then when a Duke buys a girl the dress, because all he has to do is throw some money at the seamstress, and particularly the bath when they have a spare evening because the man, the master of the house is, is out of town.
And he fills a full bath tub, heated by hand, all the water drawn by hand for Sukey. And she's never had a full bath before, wow. That has stuck with me. Learner shows you the labor involved in all of these gestures, which make them so much more meaningful than if it was just something that could be bought.
Andrea: Exactly. Yeah, yeah. I'm literally just thinking now of like every time, in, in this time period, like a heroine in a Duke book like, she's getting baths like every other night, and I'm like, Jesus, those poor maids having to
bring buckets of hot water up and down the stairs.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah. It's a ton of work.
Andrea: It's a lot of cardio.
Jess: Right. So, so that was probably my favorite part. And the other, maybe my, my other favorite part was Sukey's realization that John always asks her to spend their half day off together. And as someone who really likes to be by herself, the idea that you would have someone that when you had, you know your, your one free moment a week and you would choose to spend it with someone else.
I can't think of anything romantic than that.
Andrea: Yeah. And you know, I think this has actually explored in greater detail in all or nothing, but this idea of figuring out what you want and like how to get it. And Sukey really does enjoy her alone time, but she's like, you know what? We don't have to eat dinner with the other servants every night.
Or I forget if it was her or him who came up with that, but they
Jess: No, I think it was her.
Andrea: Yeah. And she's like, she's like, well, like, let's have dinner by ourselves some nights. That's us time. And then on our half days we can spend time together, but then also we can have some alone time. You know, there's like a balance there.
Yeah, it was a very interesting book from how they communicated with each other and how they work through their issues and like, how, even though they were married and. They're married fairly early on and like having sex fairly early on, but this is something that I also talked about with A Seditious Affair, where like the sex starts out like super hot.
And then as the book goes on, it's like the sex scene descriptions and frequency like really tapers down as their emotional intimacy goes up. Like. there's this quote, towards the end. I think this really drives home how there's this distinction between just because you're physically intimate with somebody doesn't mean you're emotionally intimate with them.
He's thinking about her. "It felt almost unseemly to see her with her bravado stripped away. No toss of the head or sly smile. Only words trickling painfully out one by one. How much more naked honesty was, the nakedness. Like they have seen all of each other's bits. And just really realizing that exposing their insides is much more vulnerable and intimate than, you know, getting freaky with each other.
Jess: Which they do, if any, if any listeners are wondering, there are some really good sex scenes. Yeah. And there was another small moment when they both had a really long and like physically draining day, and they go to bed and it kind of look at each other and they're both like, not tonight. And they kind of laugh about it.
And that's one of those building blocks of their relationship that they can, you know, they don't have to have, you know, a passionate, physical encounter to feel close to each other. So yeah. God, this book is good.
Andrea: It's so good. And she realized that whenever she wanted to feel close to him, but wasn't able to communicate well, that she was just like, let's have sex. Or like, like, let's not, let's not resolve this. Let's just have sex and we'll feel close again. And realizing that that wasn't it.
Jess: Right. It was a, it was like a get out of jail free card. You know, we don't have to have this conversation. We can, we can sleep together instead. so it is. And they're all good. I want to put a plug in for all of Lerner's oeuvre, so
Marker [00:44:48] Andrea: speaking of another bit of Lerner's oeuvre, All or Nothing, which is a novella. Yes. Oh, so good. Do you once again want to take the, the description of what this is about?
Jess: I really do.
When a broke bisexual architect is invited to design a folly for his former lover's estate, he brings his current crush, a gorgeous Jewish gaming hall hostess to the estate to act as a buffer. As the two of them spend more time together and their attraction grows, will their differences drive them apart or bring them together?
Andrea: Love it, I always, I always just like ramble on with the plot. I, I'm like, and then
Jess: I always end mine with a question.
Andrea: you do always end with a question.
Jess: I don't know why that's a whole other podcast.
Andrea: that's, that's to pique interest in the listener. That's a great copywriting tactic.
Jess: That's it. My vast copywriting experience coming into play.
Andrea: Exactly. okay, so the characters in this one are Maggie and Simon, and so the other notable characters are Meyer, who is Maggie's lover slash business partner?
Jess: Right. And friend, they are, they're very good friends as well as being lovers and business partners, but that is a lot to put on one relationship.
Andrea: Yes. And they are not exclusive. Even from, even from the start.
Jess: From the very beginning.
Andrea: They seem to have sort of like an open relationship where both of them engage in, in other, sexual partners. But I wouldn't say they engage In other romantic partners so much.
Jess: Right. And I wonder how much of that is because they are both Jewish trying to make a living on the edges of a society that doesn't really encourage that.
Andrea: Yes. Their sexual partners are usually, from what I can tell of a different class, like Maggie is having a lot of sexual encounters with the gentlemen who are frequenting their gaming establishment, who are like, you know, upper crusty guys.
Jess: right. And not necessarily the highest level of the, the uppercrust you get the feeling that, you know, of all the, the gaming Hells in England, there's is sort of smaller and might cater to the lower class of the upper class, but certainly these guys are part of the establishment and Maggie and Meyer are not.
Andrea: And they have money to fritter away and or, if they don't have money, they have credit.
Andrea: That somehow they are extended. And what I think is really interesting is like, I think we've, as, as readers of British historicals, I think we're familiar with like the gaming hell, that's like a club or like a, a big establishment.
This is an apartment It's just an apartment.
Jess: Yeah. It's like a room. I'm used to envisioning them like the, like the Caesar's palace of the era, and this is like someone's living room where they have a couple of decks of cards.
Andrea: Exactly. And I honestly, I don't know if I left this story fully understanding how they made money from this?
Jess: I would, I would assume because they are the house and the house always wins or at least wins more than it loses, that, that somehow they make a profit on, on some of the games. And maybe they get, you know, tips for dealing or that kind of thing, but, but it's, it's definitely a marginal economic enterprise, as you can see when they have to close down for a couple of weeks because Meyer has to go to his father's funeral and maggie is constantly asking herself, you know, do I have enough money? Will we be able to start up again? Will we have the funds to start our business again? What will I do if we don't start our business again? You know, they're not sitting on vast piles of gold.
Andrea: Right. I mean, and literally like, she doesn't want to stay in this apartment for two weeks by herself because
Jess: The creditors will be coming by and she'll be alone.
Andrea: Exactly. She's worried about her safety in that situation which is, it's a lot of realness. And so the, the, the other character that we should mention is Clement.
Jess: Oh, Clement. I think a lot of people have a Clement or had one in their life, not necessarily as a lover, but even just friends or maybe family members who are just so emotionally needy. So, so Clement is, We didn't do a good job introducing the character did we?
Andrea: I mean, I think, I think your description kind of hit a lot of the high points with, with, the, you know, Maggie and Simon, but.
Jess: Yeah. So I think, I think to introduce Clement, we need to talk about Simon because I very much identify with Simon in this. So Simon is the architect. he's from a very proper English background, but not necessarily a wealthy one. So he went to all the right schools and met wealthy people, but without necessarily the money of his own to support his opera going habit, if you will.
And, he developed this relationship with Clement when they were both, I think, 13 at Eaton, and it was both a friendship and became a sexual relationship. And Clement is much more wealthy. He is the heir to an estate. I want to say he's a Baron, or maybe maybe even an Earl, much richer, higher ranking, more influential, but also very emotionally needy and really wants to be the center of everyone's attention and wants to draw on Simon's emotional support when Simon is very tired of this and would like to be done with it.
Andrea: There's this great moment where Simon is thinking back to this point at which Clement confided in him that he had always sought out sort of the least popular people, boys, because they would be desperate for any attention and Simon's kind of like, yeah, you never stopped doing that. Like that's not just the thing you did when you were a child.
Jess: Yeah. And I, I felt, I felt this very deeply, because I think a lot of people get drawn into these relationships with very charismatic people who sometimes want more from you than you want to give. And they want, they want to keep, I don't know, drawing on someone's emotional energy.
Andrea: They're energy vampires.
Jess: Yeah. And the other person just doesn't know how to get out of it or, or taper it off or to say enough is enough. So I, I felt very deeply for Simon and that's one level, but Simon and Maggie, our gaming hall hostess, can connect on in that she is pretty good at setting limits and, and helps him with that.
Andrea: Yeah. You know, I thought this story was really interesting because. I will be honest, I didn't care so much about the relationship between Maggie and Simon so much as I cared about them as people in like a character study. And as much as I kind of cared about the boundary setting story and there's sort of a story about adulting.
Like just where, where he's 25 and she's 27, but they're both sort of like, how do I make more conscious choices about what I want my life to be at this juncture? And how do I let go of, what I've done in the past and just kind of move forward towards what I want to do now? And, how do I manage other people's expectations?
I really enjoyed those stories. I thought Maggie was fascinating. I thought, I thought Simon was interesting, but I mean, Maggie is, you know, I'm here for the ladies always.
Jess: Maggie is such a great character. And, and, in addition to that adulting, she asks herself, she's like, we do make money and I have made money and spent money and never saved any. How do I, how do I start thinking about that? And one of the most romantic things about Maggie and Simon is they both decide they're going to go to the bank together and like start, start saving money, which, you know, again, it doesn't always show up in a Duke book.
Andrea: Yeah. The way that Listen to the Moon normalized a love story between people who are in service and sort of fleshed out this cast of characters that included people of color and, you know, women in roles that we may not think women could have had in that time period. I'm again, I'm thinking about, there's a very small mention of a female blacksmith, and I was like, yes.
Jess: Where's her story? I want the female blacksmiths
Andrea: I think what this story does is it really normalizes this historical bi or pansexuality and polyamory. And, there's an element of like, role playing and or humiliation play, I don't know what you'd call it technically, but, this house party that they are invited to at Clement's house is basically just like a Bacchanalian orgy.
Jess: Yes. Yeah, yeah, very much so.
Andrea: And on top of that, they're mostly
Andrea: They're mostly men, they invite some women just so that nobody asked too many questions and none of the guys seem opposed to having female partners. But a lot of them seem to lean more towards male partners.
Jess: Yeah, it was, it was a very interesting depiction of, again, another part of society that wouldn't show up in a Georgette Heyer novel. You know, our perception of, of that time period. And I think it was also subversive, if you will, that neither Maggie nor Simon intend to give up having relationships outside of their relationship or alongside their relationship.
I think at the end they say something about, you know, what if, what if we define a marriage as something that's unique to us and it might involve other partners.
Andrea: Yes, I thought there was like an actually very interesting discussion. The conversation you're talking about at the end of the novel, is super interesting. At the end, they have this great discussion where they very explicitly say, "do you think that between us faithfulness might mean something other than strict chastity? I don't see why holding our own connection sacred should prevent us from possibly forming others. The truth is, Maggie, that I hope you won't expect me to go at the pace I've been going forever. You may want other company to satisfy you after a while." And so, I mean, they basically are like, we can be true to each other romantically, emotionally while still having sex with other partners.
It's unclear kind of like what their sort of relationship rules will be going forward, but they're having a very explicit conversation about expectations and boundaries and like what is our relationship? And like. I love you. And, and, or if I love you in the future, it doesn't mean the standard definition of like what marriage has to be.
And there was kind of this interesting thought early on where earlier in the, in the story where he says, "so you really never thought this might be forever. She shook her head. And then he says, then why are we wasting our time?" So part of it is sort of like a polyamorous conversation around like, is it not good if there's other people involved? Like does their relationship have to suffer if they also have other relationships?
There's that part of it and then there's, the sort of like, is forever the only good thing? Like can it not be good for a time if it doesn't go on forever?
Jess: Yeah, it was a conversation I don't think I've ever seen in a romance novel where the idea that we might not be the absolute be all and end all for each other forever, but there's still a value in our connection. And however long it lasts, or whoever else it involves. Which I, I find super fascinating and, I, they're just such good communicators.
I guess. I have a, I have a thing for people who are good communicators.
Andrea: I have a boner for their communication
Jess: Yeah. They're very, neither one of them is afraid to change their stance or to come back and say, Hey, let's revisit this conversation. I think Simon at one point says, I realized I tend to be kind of all or nothing, and that might not be great. Maybe we should consider things or think about it a little longer.
Maybe we don't have to end up engaged after, you know, two weeks at a house party, which, again, I find just so attractive.
Andrea: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think there's, there, this other quote that I saved was, "there was no one chance at happiness, no single destined person one either found or spent one's life missing." And I was like, yes, that is, that is such a fantastic realization where, I mean, so much of his reliance on Clement was like a, Oh, no. If I don't stay with Clement, I'll probably never find anybody else to love me. So even though this is a terrible relationship, I'm going to stick with it.
Jess: And that I've been in since I was 13 yeah. Yeah. Maybe the partner you find that 13 isn't going to suit you at 25.
Andrea: Exactly. And it led to him, I mean, he obviously resented Clement so much, but it was, it was just like this terrible relationship.
Jess: It was, and at the same time I felt Lerner was fairly generous to Clement in that he wasn't a monster. You know, he's, he's, he's not a horrible, evil person who's out to, you know, burn the orphanage to the ground and, and that kind of thing. He's just a very understandable, weak human.
And once Simon actually has the hard conversation that he has been avoiding for over a decade, Celement becomes a little more palatable.
Andrea: Yeah. I mean, he's basically an emotionally stunted man-child,
Jess: Right? He wants to be the center of attention. He wants to be the center of every gathering and the sun around which all of his friends orbit.
Andrea: And a lot of times, like if you just set boundaries with people, they do actually at least understand, like, okay, alright, I will stop bothering you about this because you've made it very clear you don't want it. Like most people can handle that even if they don't like it. And I loved that Maggie taught Simon that. What was it she said like, he might've thought this later, but basically got it from her. "If you don't say no with your mouth, you end up saying it with your heart."
Jess: Yeah. And it -
Andrea: I gave Jess a very meaningful look. Right now, by the way, I
Jess: Yes. But yeah, that rang so true there. There are so many things that I have agreed to in life that I didn't want to do. And then I ended up resenting the person who asked me to do it. This podcast is not one of them. Uh, yeah, I felt that very deeply. But if you don't say no out loud, then you end up resenting the person who asked you when you really did have a choice.
So it comes back around to your agreement to participate in your own misery, I guess.
Andrea: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, I thought towards the end of the novel, so you talked about how they made a plan to go to the bank together and
Jess: Ugh, I'm so hot for that.
Andrea: I, Oh my God, I'm so hot too. They decide they're going to like go to the bank together and they make a plan. Oh, you know what, actually this happened in both Listen to the Moon and All or Nothing where actually Listen to the Moon ends with her going and getting his little notepad to make a plan about like how they're going to do things.
And I was like. I feel very sure that these two are going to make it happily ever after like it, even though I didn't see it all come to fruition. I think particularly in All or Nothing where it's a novella, like we don't even see them leave this house party .
Jess: Yeah. This, this is a very small glimpse into their relationship.
Andrea: But it's so efficient at helping me understand how they're going to go forward from this point and be successful and why their relationship is going to work. So like obviously they, they hammered out kind of a good number of relationship issues and ground rules, right? Like, okay, we're probably going to be a polyamorous couple and a year from now I'm going to ask you to marry me, and I'm probably going to say yes and,
Jess: And we're going to save money.
Andrea: we're, and we're going to save money and Maggie is going to go like try to find some Jewish friends because
Jess: I loved that. I loved that so much. Yeah. So for our listeners, Maggie, Maggie immigrated to England from Portugal when she was very young. I think she was, you know, five or six. And it was only after coming to England that her mother felt safe and secure enough to tell her that actually their family was Jewish and they had had to go into hiding in that respect while in Portugal because Jews were persecuted.
And so Maggie has tried to uncover this whole side of her heritage that was hidden from her and she doesn't want to give it up. And one of her big worries is that, you know, if she's going to have a serious relationship with a Gentile, what does that mean for, for her Jewishness, for her children? And, and how is that going to work, particularly if she's going to marry the son of a vicar?
And, and she comes up with a plan for herself, and she writes it out and talks about, you know, finding other Jewish women to be friends with, which she'd always been intimidated of, which I thought was just so meaningful.
Andrea: Yeah. And I thought there was a really interesting and nuanced discussion about Jewish identity in the story where she is Jewish, but not super culturally Jewish because she has not been socialized in a great big Jewish community. And so part of why she's with Meyer in a way is because he is Jewish. He's from a Jewish community. He speaks Yiddish. And she thinks at one point she's like, "I've always had this stupid daydream that I'll marry a nice Jewish man and I'll go to synagogue with him and we'll celebrate all the holidays at home, and his family will take me in and love me and love our children. And then finally I'll really be Jewish. It's laughable. The truth is, no one is ever going to want to introduce me to his mother. I'm the one that's made a hash of my life."
Jess: And I thought it was so telling that when she makes this list, she titles it something like ways to be Jewish all on my own.
like the idea that she doesn't need Meyer and his Dutch Jewish family to make her Jewish, you know, she can find a way to incorporate the culture and beliefs however she, she finds it, and it doesn't have to be predicated on someone else's acceptance.
Andrea: I mean, there was some interesting nuance too, to the, is it the Anglican faith? I mean, where it's really more like a nonprofit than
Jess: Yeah. Or almost like a bureaucrat, like, you know, you, you have to, you have to sign all the marriage papers. You have to do the baptism. You have to, you know, keep, keep all the records, but it's not necessarily a deep spiritual calling for his father.
Andrea: Yeah. And his mother is, how did he describe her? But she sounds like an atheist.
Jess: Right. Yeah. And, and as long as she doesn't talk about it, it's fine.
Andrea: Right? so what happened is I think that she had this all or nothing understanding of, you know, these religions and then kind of realizes like, Oh, even though he's the son of like a vicar doesn't mean he's super religious or his family is super religious, super Christian, super Gentile, and I can be Jewish myself you know, Maggie, I can be Jewish without having to like marry into
Jess: a Jewish family. Yeah.
Andrea: devout Jewish family. Yeah.
Jess: I admire her so much for, you know, interrogating within herself where these impulses come from and, and finding ways to address them on her own, rather than trying to do it through somebody else.
Andrea: Yeah. It's very active. There's a lot of agency or she, she comes to a point of realizing that she has the power herself, which is really empowering.
Jess: And it's not a huge list. You know, I think she comes up with three things she can do, and she's like, well, that's what I can do for now. And I thought that was great.
Well, and I loved, I loved all of this because I mean, look, this is my worldview, love is an action. It's not just a thing that happens that you're helpless to do anything about, and it just exists. Like these people. Can find a way to be together. And I, I feel like I can see the actions that they're going to take to work well together and that they're not relying on like, well, we have a strong physical and emotional connection and that's going to save us.
Jess: Yeah. The, like I said, the, the, the communication boner that I got from both of these books, just off the charts.
Andrea: Yes. Oh my God, it was so good. And yeah, I think that reading these two books in quick succession was very interesting for me. I mean, realizing that I had never read Rose Lerner before, although I had heard so much about her stories. I was like. Wow. I know that she is a huge history buff.
I heard her on the Journeys of Romance podcast, episode 24 .
Jess: Oh, I'm making a note.
Andrea: I'll put it in the show notes. That's Jess Michaels' podcast. It's a really interesting episode. You know, she's talking about Hamilton and what is considered history, but then like all the things that are kind of like left out of. historical texts and like, that doesn't mean things weren't happening, but like a lot of people kind of cut things out because they didn't want it to be kind of part of the memory of a person or something like that. So I really have a lot of faith in Rose Lerner's, sort of historical -
or like her ability to like, research this stuff and, dig a little bit deeper into what is true history even, even if it's not like our best understood version of history. So I think it's just so interesting, like these two stories show very different perspectives from this very familiar feeling period of history.
Jess: Yes, I would have thought I could have told you all about the Regency from reading Georgia Heyer and Jane Austen and a waist-deep pile of Duke books. And then you read Rose Lerner and you're like, I have barely scratched the surface. And isn't that an exciting feeling?
Andrea: It is so exciting. You know, another thing to know, and Felicia Grossman has written about this, but Georgette Heyer was an anti-Semite, or at the very least infused that into her text. And so I think it is interesting, you know, thinking about like our understanding of history. This time period, particularly in romance, is so influenced by Georgette Heyer, and yet she's put her own point of view on that. Right.
And so I love, I mean particularly from an author who is herself Jewish and has, I think it's clear from her text, like a really interesting nuanced view of like what being Jewish is. I love being able to read this and understand the time period in a different way.
Jess: Yeah. And in such a well-written way, I think the prose style is superb. There's really good banter. All of these, all of these things, make all of her books so rewarding.
Andrea: I highlighted so I many, so many passages.
Jess: And then I went back through to read my highlights and in All or Nothing, they were all Simon's feelings about Clement. And in Listen to the Moon it was all about economics and the work. And there's a pivotal scene in Listen to the Moon where you know, just like in every romantic comedy you've ever seen, the mean girl throws a drink on our heroine.
Jess: And when you think about what that means for someone who only has two dresses, you're like God, that is just such a cruel gesture.
Andrea: What a bitch!
Jess: Yeah. She really was.
Andrea: By the way, I didn't ask you earlier when we were talking about Listen to the Moon, did you have a favorite line from that or All or Nothing that you wanted to share?
Jess: I think the, the line from Listen to the Moon that really summed up what I liked about it was, "she couldn't remember the last time anyone had taken so much care with anything to do with her" which I think just ties back into my, my love of, of the gesture, which is very much John Toogood's love language is gestures. He works a lot to get there with words because I think that's Sukey's love language is, you know, saying nice things out loud. But, but, but yeah, I was, I was probably more moved by the romantic gestures in Listen to the Moon than anything in recent memory.
Andrea: It's funny because, John is sort of verbally constipated at various points where he's having these very complex thoughts about their relationship in his head and, but then you kind of realize that he's just been like standing there and staring at her for a couple of minutes.
Jess: And he's trying, he's, he knows that his first instinct is always. To say something critical. So he's trying not to do that, but it does probably make me do a lot of awkward silences.
Andrea: I really appreciated that because I feel like he is my husband, who's only five years older than me. Uh, not 18. But it's, it's funny because his love language is like acts of love, and mine is like words of love and there's a lot of similarities there. So, yeah.
So Jess, what is your modern romance Canon nomination. And why?
Jess: Ooh. Excellent. So I have two, and you're going to have to bear with me because I think they are both worthy of entry into the modern romance canon. I'm going to start with Jennifer Crusie's, The Cinderella Deal, which I think is a book of hers that is underrepresented. It is a small town, contemporary with a fake relationship.
And at one point, there's only one bed. So, so it's got a lot going for it. To summarize it, I would say, the heroine is an unemployed creative with a dwindling bank account who needs a little economic security while she figures out her next move. And our hero is a right-brained history professor who is so close to clinching the tenure-track job of his dreams, but needs a wife for the department chair to take him seriously.
And so these two enter into a fake relationship and they're living together in a house. And at one point they have company and the company can't know that they're sleeping in separate rooms. So there's only one bed. And to watch these two very different people find things to admire and respect about each other with the trademark Crusie small town crazy shenanigans, and really good banter, is just the most charming small town romance that I can think of.
Andrea: The thing I always love about that storyline is like, have you ever worked anywhere where they give a crap about if you're like partnered up or, I feel like honestly, sometimes people love single employees because they have more time.
Jess: Right? Yeah. You can know when to go home too, so why not work 24 hours a day?
Andrea: Yeah. I know it's not true that like single people have more time, but like, you know.
Jess: That's, yeah, probably the perception. That's a trope all of its own is this weird provision in a will or a business agreement or something where you have to be married by tomorrow or you're going to lose your inheritance or you can't sign the merger or you're not going to get tenure.
Andrea: You can't teach history. Everybody knows that married people teach history better.
Jess: I would not be surprised if someone was looking at a man for tenure track and was like, Oh, great. He has a wife who'll do all the white things, so all he has to do is write his books.
Andrea: You know, that's very true. And, that was something that, Kate Clayborn and I talked about when we were talking about Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s, A Midnight Feast where being a married sorry, Astronaut,
Like, well, you need your wife to do all of these very critical tasks that we're not going to pay her for, but are critical to the functioning of
Jess: Of our projects. Yeah.
Andrea: Misogyny and patriarchy.
Jess: Who's going to press the uniform if you don't have a little woman at home? So, so, yeah, The Cinderella Deal is, is one of my nominations.
My second nomination, for the modern romance canon is Elle Pierson's Artistic License. And my summary would be, a shy sculptor suffers an asthma attack during a museum break in and is assisted by a gruff security chief.
She's drawn to his dramatic features and asks him to pose for her next work. The, the author who here is listed as Elle Pierson also writes the London celebrities series as Lucy Parker. So, everyone who's out there loving Act Like It, I think would also enjoy this. It's, it's got her trademark sparkling dialogue and is a, just a very, very charming study in opposites attracting.
Andrea: I just got this one. I just downloaded this because was it free or something? I don't know. Maybe it's still free. Y'all should go look for it. But I didn't, I don't know if I knew that that was Lucy Parker. All these authors with their like multiple prolific pen names.
I can't keep up.
Jess: Well, I got very excited because I love all the Lucy Parker books. And then I came across this one. So then I was trying to dig into the Elle Pierson back catalog. And I think this might be the only thing she ever wrote under this name,
Jess: is a loss to all of us because it's terrific.
Andrea: What's so great about this book?
Jess: Again, there's some very good communication that goes on between two very different people who are navigating a relationship that neither of them was actively looking for and might not be comfortable with. Man, this woman can channel charm onto the page like nobody's business.
You, you just love her characters so much. Both the, the gruff security chief and, this, you know, shy arts student who would probably have never met under any other circumstances. And then once they start spending time together, have to keep finding reasons to spend time together. It's terrific and it's set in New Zealand, which I think is an underutilized location for, for everything.
Andrea: for everything. Ah, we should, we should. Is, is Lucy Parker? Does she live in New Zealand
Jess: I believe she lives in New Zealand, and at one point was involved in, I think a theater company or program, which might be how she has such good insight into the London celebrities backstage shenanigans. But yeah, she's great and someone should chain her to a computer so she can just keep, keep pumping out my own personal brand of, of romance.
Andrea: I love that. That's, that's really like, bloodthirsty of you and I really like it.
Andrea: Well, thanks for coming on the show, Jess.
Jess: Thanks for having me. This is very exciting.
Andrea: At the end of every podcast, I'm going to make a comment about how long I said we were going to record, and then how long we actually recorded. So I was like, yeah, let's try to do it in an hour. But there's just like so much to talk about.
Jess: These are very rich texts. It could be its own podcast is, is me talking about Rose Lerner.
And now we're going to be friends cause you're going to connect us.
Andrea: Exactly. Yeah. I'm going to do it right now. I do. I do feel there was a lot of things that were very juicy in both All or Nothing, and Listen to the Moon that we just didn't even touch on.
Jess: Yes, but you got to leave your audience wanting more.
Andrea: That - copywriting gems right there.
That's what the question is, Jess. That's why you end with a question.
Jess: That's why I ended the question.
Andrea: So everybody should read these books?
Jess: Absolutely. Everybody should read all of Rose Lerner's outputs because they are all tremendously juicy and reward further examination.
Andrea: boom. Mic drop.
Thanks for listening to episode 47 of Shelf Love. Thank you so much to Jess. It was very exciting to get to chat with you after corresponding for the past year.
All the details for this episode can be found on shelflovepodcast.com, including a transcript for this episode. Look for episode 47, transcripts are new and I hope to have them available for all episodes going forward.
Thank you for joining me today. If you have thoughts on the show, I would love for you to reach out to me and you can send an email directly to me at Andrea@shelflovepodcast.com.
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