Shelf Love

079. There's Only One Heart: Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant (Crossover with Boobies & Noobies)

Short Description

You've heard of "there's only one bed" romance trope - are you ready for: "There's Only One Heart"? Kelly Reynolds from Boobies & Noobies invited me on her show in October 2020 and we discussed Austin Chant's Caroline's Heart. Plus, learn a bit about Shelf Love's exciting new research project.


crossover podcast, scifi and fantasy romance

Show Notes

You've heard of "there's only one bed" romance trope - are you ready for: "There's Only One Heart"? Kelly Reynolds from Boobies & Noobies invited me on her show in October 2020 and we discussed Austin Chant's Caroline's Heart. Plus, learn a bit about Shelf Love's exciting new research project.

Show Notes

Shelf Love:

Book: Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant

Guest: Kelly Reynolds from Boobies & Noobies Podcast

Learn more about Shelf Love's Bridgerton Research project:



079. There's Only One Heart: Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant (Crossover with Boobies & Noobies)

[00:00:00] Andrea Martucci: Welcome to episode 79 of Shelf Love, a podcast that unpacks romance novels with nuance. In conversations with scholars, readers, and other experts, Shelf Love contextualizes, the popular romance genre within the broader critical discussion of identity, culture, and love.

I'm on hiatus and I asked Kelly from Boobies & Noobies if I could run an episode that we originally recorded back in fall 2020 for her podcast series called Cocktober, which was October 2020. So please enjoy this episode, which is about Caroline's Heart, a book by Austin Chant.

Kelly Reynolds: You're listening to Boobies & Noobies brought to you by the frolic podcast network.

The podcast that asks novice romance readers to think outside the dick in a box and brave the unbridled world of erotica. I'm your host Kelly Reynolds and today marks the start of Cocktober 2020. Who better to celebrate the start of my favorite month of the year than with my podcasting pal and fellow romance reader, Andrea Martucci.

As you probably already know, Andrea is the host of shelf. Love the podcast that uses romance novels as the text to discuss identity, relationships, and ultimately how the modern romance genre continues to evolve. You might remember her from a 12 Days of Boobsmas episode, last winter, and now she's back just in time for PSL season. Please join me in welcoming my good friend, Andrea.

Andrea Martucci: Oh, what an introduction. Thank you, Kelly. I'm honored to be here again. What a fantastic introduction, thanks for having me.

Kelly Reynolds: I'm always happy to have you for, from one holiday to another,

Andrea Martucci: yeah. And as we were talking about, I like Halloween marginally better than Christmas.

Kelly Reynolds: I think I had somehow put it out of my mind that you weren't like a big holidays fan.

I definitely remember the last time we talked, discussing the fact that you're not into sweets and that [00:02:30] you like to exercise, but I don't know why I like set apart the bit about Christmas.  I'm glad though, to know that Halloween is slightly more appealing to you.

Andrea Martucci: I think I like fall.

I live in new England, so we have a very distinct fall season.

Kelly Reynolds: Yes.

Andrea Martucci: And I think I dislike the holiday season and the Christmas season in particular. Cause it, it just seems to drag on so long and it's so consumerist and I am a giant buzzkill. There really is something about Halloween though, as celebrated here in the U.S., where children just dress up and they're having such a great time and maybe not this year with coronavirus but it's much more limited.

Marker [00:03:15]

Kelly Reynolds: Andrea tell everybody about Shelf Love and what an amazing podcast it is, please.

Andrea Martucci: Shelf Love. What an amazing podcast -

Kelly Reynolds: Boom, done, we can move on. (we laugh)

Andrea Martucci: So great. Yeah, it's changed a lot in the first year. So you were there at the beginning.

You're one of my earlier guests on episode 10. And at the beginning I was being really light and fluffy. And then as I kept going, I was like, I think I really want to like, dig deeper. And and I started getting more into romance research. And so now that I'm in season two, I'm having a lot more like romance scholars and I'm reading  journal articles and really trying to dig deeper into the scholarship around romance.

And really, I'm just trying to answer all of life's questions through romance novels. And I'm positing a lot of theories that are driving people a little mad on Twitter. I like to put out really vague tweet polls where I'm like, oh gosh. I like to put out like a random question that is not explained at all. And then just the answers are like, yes and no. And then people are like, what does it mean? What does yes mean. And I'm like, (mysteriously) I dunno, what do you think it means?

Kelly Reynolds: Were you hoping to find out from putting out this question? I don't know. You'll have to wait and see won't you.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. And  basically every question I ask is like a Rorschach test where I'm like, Ooh, that's - Oh, that's what you saw in that question.

Interesting. And then I'm just like taking notes, like furiously.

Kelly Reynolds: I love it though. That's one of the things that I not only love about Shelf Love, but I also think makes your podcasts so unique from other romance novel review podcasts like my own, is just that it's so much more focused on the academic and the theories and the story behind the [00:05:00] stories.

And I love that and I think anybody who's a romance reader will enjoy that because it does go beyond the books. And I love talking about the books. That's what we do on this podcast. But that's because I know I have people like you, that I can listen to your podcast that really dives deep and I love that too. I think if you're a reader or especially, I think if you're a writer too , you would find some of the information shared on Shelf Love to be invaluable because you talk to so many writers, too.

Andrea Martucci: Right, and it's interesting because you would think that writers would always have the most insight into, let's say, reader's psyche or their characters, and obviously this is highly dependent on the writer themselves, but it is interesting where: writers think about writing. And I think that as much as many writers try to anticipate how readers will interpret or respond to their work, I think a lot of writers do it very intuitively and may not necessarily be able to articulate things the same way that I, as a reader, I'm not always able to articulate what I really enjoy about something.

And there are so many times where I'm just like, Did you mean to do this because you're doing it, yeah. So I think writers are great. I think readers are great. I think academics are great, but I really like pulling all of those different points of view in, because I think every point of view has something different to offer.

Kelly Reynolds: Oh yeah. And they're all valid for sure.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. Exactly.

Kelly Reynolds: So is there anything coming up on the podcast specifically that you want to promote or put out there for us to look forward to?

Andrea Martucci: Let's see. Okay. So one thing that will be recurring in season two is exploring problematic favorite tropes.

Kelly Reynolds: Oh my God. That's I feel seen let's talk about that, oof.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah.  The first conversation that I have recorded, and the only conversation so far I've recorded, is with Jodie Slaughter. And we talked about alphaholes.

Kelly Reynolds: Love it. Yeah. I love Jodie, love alpha holes. So I'm here for this entire conversation.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And so those are gonna be at the lighter episodes in the season, they're going to be like a little bit shorter conversations where we really just like dip into a particular problematic favorite trope.

And I think my theory is, and I think this question differs depending on the nature of the trope itself. But sometimes I think we like the problematic things in spite of the [00:07:30] problematic thing. There's something we like about the setup that is problematic at its core, right?

Sometimes a trope just tends to be accompanied by problematic elements. Like the way it's executed is problematic. And sometimes we actually like the problematic part

Kelly Reynolds: I like it in spite of it. And then also I like it because of it.

Andrea Martucci: Exactly. Yeah. And that was actually, that was, I think the gist of one of my Twitter polls was like, do you like this because of, or in spite of, and of course everyone's like, it depends.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Everybody loves to take a position somewhere in between, right?

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, of course we can't choose one or the other. That's no, too definitive.

Andrea Martucci: That's the example of one of those things where I asked the question, I throw it out there. People give their reasoning and I'm like, Huh. I can see how, if you had that trope in mind, you like this part of the trope, but not this problematic element. Whereas this other person, no, you actually liked the problematic part,

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. That's a good point. I'm like, I'm trying to think about all of the tropes that like I consider to be problematic and how I feel about them in that context, because I think most of them, I would say with certainty that it's, I like a story in spite of the problematic trope.

Andrea Martucci: What's your favorite problematic trope?

Kelly Reynolds: Yikes. Yikes, on bikes.

Andrea Martucci: Yikes on bikes, motorcycle clubs.

Kelly Reynolds: That, honestly, that's probably it.  And that is, and honestly with that one, that would probably be a case of that, I do like it because of the problematic trope, because there's something that draws me to a man in leather, riding a motorcycle and it's -

Andrea Martucci: all that power.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, there's just something.  And I'm not usually as into an alpha hero, but there is something about that particular one. Whereas when I think about billionaire romance and all the problems associated with billionaire romance, I like it in spite of the fact that these people are billionaires, because I love a good female billionaire. We just don't have enough of them in books.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yes. And I've listened to your episodes on the female billionaires.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And now that you're saying that, it's funny because in episode 60 of Shelf Love with romance scholar, Jayashree Kamble, one of the things she talks about, like the rise of the marrying the CEO books in the eighties was basically this rise of global capitalism and how  the heroine in these books would always symbolize the like mom and pop little advertising agency. And then the hero would come in and he's the [00:10:00] CEO. Corporate takeover, they're this giant corporation that's just going to eat up this little thing and she's like, Oh no, I'm going to lose my job.

And they're at odds for a little bit. And then they fall in love and Oh, guess what? Now she gets to quit her job and she just marries the CEO. And it's not a problem anymore. But wait a second. What happened to her mom and pop advertising agency she worked for?

Kelly Reynolds: What happened to her passion for her position? What happened to her agency? Both the one that, she was running, but also her female agency.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. And and obviously we're talking about like heterosexual pairings here in, in this trope, and the way Jayashree commented on it, was like, how do I make capitalism work for me? And it's a very selfish way of making it work for you. Like you haven't actually solved the problem of global capitalism. However, you have just made yourself not a victim of it by sidling up to the powers that be.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And I think it's interesting when you think about that in context with the 21st century billionaire, right?  50 Shades of Gray type that, that obviously kicked off a lot of these, vague billionaires where you're like how do you make your money?

Kelly Reynolds: That's it right there. And that was something we talked about in our Bluewater Billionaires episodes was, I was like, I think my favorite thing about these women is that I get to see them actually do their job and be good at their job, as opposed to, I just always think of there's one scene specifically in the film adaptation of 50 Shades of Gray, where he's on the phone and he's just like, "that's unacceptable. Get it done, make it happen. I don't want to hear it anymore." And I'm just like, what do you do? What do you do, sir? This is the most vague conversation I've ever heard in my life.

Andrea Martucci: He yields power Kelly. That's what he does. He yields power, or I'm sorry, I'm saying - wields. He wields power, not yield. She yields, he wields.

Kelly Reynolds: That should be the new tagline for 50 Shades.

Andrea Martucci: It really should, but I, but it's not coincidentally, perhaps that era happened after that was like around the 2008 crash. Or, even if it was after the 2001 crash, how many, there's so many crashes to choose from.

Kelly Reynolds: That's a good point.

Andrea Martucci: The themes that emerge in romance and really resonate with people are often a reflection of the anxieties that we have both individually and as a collective, right?

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. One of my more recent reads - rereads, I should say , was Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey [00:12:30] McQuiston and I think that's like the perfect example of what you're saying, because  if you read Casey's author note at the end of that book, she even talks about how she was writing this book in a pre-Trump administration and the book takes place in 2020, during the election, it takes place in a world where Trump was never elected.

Andrea Martucci: I'm crying.

Kelly Reynolds: I know. And she says in her note that she actually had to stop writing it at some point during the 2016 election, because it wasn't a world she had imagined, and then basically had to reflect on what was going on because of the Trump administration and then take her feelings from that and put it into her books.

It was really interesting that it was like half-written before the election and half-written after the election. And I found that so fascinating. And also I just marveled at the way that she was, that anybody is able to finish something , at that time, I just remember how difficult it was to be alive

Andrea Martucci: ...function?

Kelly Reynolds: 2016 in November, 2016. I've never been somebody diagnosed with like anxiety or depression. Although I feel I find myself to be anxious a lot more lately, but -

Andrea Martucci: I wonder why.

Kelly Reynolds: I'm facing a lot of similar feelings I did in November 2016. Let me tell you,  that was the most heart-wrenching time that I had experienced in my life. Which probably just says a lot about my own personal white privilege, but it was, it was a difficult time. And so the fact that she was able to finish that book is just beyond me.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that, we continue to be in the midst and perhaps will never not be in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I would not be surprised if we saw a resurgence of zombie themes?

Kelly Reynolds: Sexy doctors too. I could be on board with sexy doctors -

Andrea Martucci: Eh, they have to wear so much PPE. You know, that's like

They whip off their mask and you're like, no, put it back on.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. Yeah. I am curious. Are you going to be doing an episode at all that discusses where you stand on quarantine themed or pandemic themed romances, because I know that Skye and Sarah covered this recently on

Andrea Martucci: Quick N Dirty ?

Kelly Reynolds: Quick N Dirty. Yes. Yeah. And they took people's submissions that they had given them about, how do you feel about this? And it's quite a mish-mash of like ideas. And so I'm [00:15:00] very curious where people stand on a quarantine themed romance.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So in episode 55, Nicole Falls was my guest and she actually contributed to a collection that came out let's say in April 2020, or somewhere thereabouts. That was a collection of short stories that were obviously written early in the pandemic before I think any of us, all of us truly had an understanding of the scope of what it would be.

And several people wrote things early in the pandemic.  I'm sure that they're still coming out, but they're not being talked about as much as they were because when some of them first came out, there were a variety of reactions. And the discussion that we had in that episode, I mean is basically around the idea of look, people, process things differently. And also this is a thing that's happening. If you write contemporary romance, this is the thing that's happening. And I think you can judge the merits and the execution of each iteration separately.

The same way that you could have a novel about war that is exploitative and gross, you can have a quarantine novel that's exploitative and gross, and you can also have one that's like really lovely and speaks to the human condition and, or is really sexy and speaks to the human condition.

I'm not saying it just has to be sweet, but there's also the possibility that you share the message that like life goes on, and as much as there are tragic things happening, people keep living their lives and you shouldn't feel like you can't find joy or happiness in a trying times. I guess it's fair to say that I'm definitely on the side of don't police the idea of quarantine romance. I think obviously again judge every book on its merits.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, no, I think, and I think that's absolutely valid.

Marker [00:16:52]  I'm pleased to say that today we'll be discussing Caroline's Heart by Austin Chant. Do you say Chant?

Andrea Martucci: I think it's Austin Chant,

Kelly Reynolds: so this historical romance novella was published in October, 2017. It's available on Amazon for just a dollar 99 Kindle edition. What a steal. And I will mention that Austin Chant was a new to me, author. I think both Andrea and I have had him on our to be read author list for quite some time now. I know it was a while ago, I remember seeing Austin spotlighted on a in, in some article, in [00:17:30] some publication you can tell, I do my research, about own voices authors, LGBTQ authors. And so I had added Austin as somebody to follow, but I, until reading Caroline's heart, hadn't had a chance to yet. So I'm excited that this is the one we went with.

Andrea Martucci: Yes, I am as well for several reasons.  It was a delightful story. I didn't actually realize until I opened it, that it was going to be such a quick read. It's under a hundred Kindle pages or something. It's about one sixth of a Duke by Default. Which

Kelly Reynolds: Is that how you measure your book lengths?

Andrea Martucci: Yes. A Duke by Default is about 360 mass market paperback pages and about 600 Kindle pages.

Kelly Reynolds: I love that you just know that.

Andrea Martucci: This is kind a running gag on Shelf Love.

Kelly Reynolds: I love, I'm going to have to think about this. I think if there was a book length that I have to measure all my other romance novels against it would be Artful Lies by Jodi Ellen Malpas because her books are like dictionaries.  I want to say the Kindle version is also like 600 ish pages.

Andrea Martucci: But I have to say that  the reason Duke by Default was chosen- it's a great book, but also because I happen to have both the print copy and the Kindle edition.

Kelly Reynolds: Okay. Okay.

Andrea Martucci: So it's just a yard stick that existed for me

Kelly Reynolds: I love it. I should have been giving, I apologize to our listeners. I should have been giving measurements like this for all previous reads.

Andrea Martucci: You must quantify your enjoyment Kelly. (nerd voice)

Kelly Reynolds: Oh my gosh. Let me give everybody the brief synopsis for Caroline's Heart, because it is very brief. I actually appreciate that considering that the book is so short. "Cecily lost her soulmate years ago, leaving her with nothing but the clockwork heart that once beat in Caroline's chest. They say it's impossible to bring back the dead yet Cecily's resurrection spell is nearly complete and grows more powerful by the day.

But when a cowboy she barely knows is fatally injured, the only way to save him is by sacrificing an essential piece of the resurrection spell and all possibility of seeing her lover again." That's it. And you know what? That's very precise, very succinct. I really, I do appreciate that synopsis.

I think that accurately reflects the plot of the novel without giving too much away

Andrea Martucci: Or burdening it.

[00:20:00] Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. Sometimes I feel like we read synopsis that cover every single plot point in the entire book. And to the point where you wonder do I need to read this now?

Andrea Martucci: Mmhmm. Sometimes my husband and I watched trailers for movies and he's like, turn it off because I want to watch the movie and I don't want to know everything that happens.

So yeah, this book it is a delightful, spare, efficient, sweet, lyrical, and imaginative novella. Yeah. That's how I would describe it.

Kelly Reynolds: There's the quotation that's going to go on the back cover right there. Done.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. That's I just listed a bunch of adjectives. Those are adjectives, right? You're a teacher.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. Yeah. Lyrical. I, you had me at lyrical. Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: I think the writing in this story is really beautiful.

Kelly Reynolds: Beautiful. That's exactly the word I wrote down too. I said beautiful descriptions, flowery language. Because I feel like. I feel like so often when we read romance, especially it's very dialogue, heavy, very dialogue based, which I love.

I'm a screenwriter, I love dialogue, but there was something about Austin Chant's writing that was just so enchanting. And for a magical story, a story that's literally about magic, it felt so appropriate.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I think particularly the language of the magic. Yeah, it was so beautiful because I think that when you're reading about magic, you want to be immersed in that magical feeling and you don't want it to become too physical maybe because it's not like even though maybe physical things are happening, you want to be imbued with the feeling of what's happening.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And and I think that there were some times when I was reading a scene where something magical was happening where I was like, I don't actually really know physically what's occurring, but it doesn't matter. And I don't actually care because

Kelly Reynolds: yeah.

Andrea Martucci: It's really not about understanding exactly where in the room this object is,  it's about understanding what the magic is doing and what she's trying to make it do.

So I think it was like, it was very interesting. I never quite understood like the frames, but again, I don't care.

Kelly Reynolds: I didn't either. Although I was definitely, it had me intrigued, like start to finish with this whole idea of like, there's these interconnected like frames and the frame is holding the heart.

And then there are vines growing out of the frame and around it.  I didn't understand it, but you don't have to understand it. It's magic. So I was into it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. So I had this highlighted. "The idea [00:22:30] of keeping him around, having to see him every day in exchange for scraps of Carolyn's resonance is nauseating. Cecily feels sure it would confuse her, corrupt the spell. His eyes would haunt her every time she manipulated the frame." it's just so evocative and every sentence in that was emotion.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, this was I highlighted a passage early on too, because what I find really impressive about anybody who writes science fiction or fantasy or anything that's of another world. Another time, an imaginary land. Like to me, the fact that they're able to like, create such vivid imagery and set the scene and define the rules of that world. That's something I always look for when I'm reading fantasy and sci-fi. And so I thought this one early on stood out to me because this was, I think one of, I think this might've been the first time that we saw magic being used in this scene.

Here's the highlight. It says. "But then he sees it. A seam of light cutting its way across the bare wall, like a shooting star. Roy stands stock, still staring at the light. He's filled with a giddy fear. Like the kind he used to get from his pa's candle light stories. The heat is dizzying, past intolerable, the air swelling urgently around him. Roy blinks sweat out of his eyes, watching the light's progress as it traces a rectangle the size of a door." And I was like, Oh, okay. Because I also

Andrea Martucci: That's  the first appearance of magic too.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. That's when Cecily first makes her entrance, which by the way, what a character entrance, you like carve out a magical door of light, like

Andrea Martucci: in the middle of the barn, yeah.

Kelly Reynolds: Like you win. That is like the character entrance of all entrances. But yeah, whenever I read something where there's mention of magic and witches, like I. I know that can be interpreted a million different ways. And I'm curious to see as well, like how it's interpreted in the varying books we're going to read during Cocktober, but this specific one, I was excited to see it come in so early on and just define okay, this is what magic looks like in this specific story.

This is what what Cecily has the power to do in this story. Like she can keep a heart beating ready to,  bring back her lovers. She can carve out a door with magic and like suddenly go from Oregon to Texas. Like [00:25:00] I'd mean,

Andrea Martucci: yeah,

Kelly Reynolds: I liked the rules that Austin did a really good job of setting up from the beginning.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. The world building was beautiful and it's very unique as well because it was, it's almost like a alternate historical like a magical history because it does take place in what we would understand to be the America of the, I don't know, mid 18 hundreds, mid to late 18 hundreds, as you mentioned, between Oregon and Texas, like Roy is on a ranch and it's very much like a Western environment for some scenes, but then yeah, you get immersed into this magical world. And I would say that like the Portland scenes were much more of that sort of magical like gardeny feeling of like a little seaside town.

Kelly Reynolds: And I was, into it. It. I was so so into that. I would live there.

I was very into it.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I would live there even in maybe the 18 hundreds.

Kelly Reynolds: I know, especially this town that Cecily lived in, everyone seemed. Very supportive and very happy to have a witch in their midst

Andrea Martucci: Exactly, unlike Austin, Texas, come on, get it together. Get it together cowboys. Witch candles.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. I know Austin keeps it weird, but it's like even in 2020, I don't know if I'd feel comfortable being a witch in Texas.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Yeah. No, it was the world building was beautiful.  And. Just very unique. Cause I think there's a lot of like urban fantasy that's written where it's sort of like the world we live in now, but like magical.

And then there is fantasy that is like an actual alternate world, is that called high fantasy? Where there's like elves and stuff like that. I don't actually know the terminologies of these distinctions, but, and also, did you notice that it was written in third person present?

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, I did. I actually made a note that present tense, I feel is already difficult enough to write in. And then the fact that it's also written in third person from dual perspectives, I was like, wow. Okay. We're just going to go in for all of it here.

Andrea Martucci: I have no strong opinions, but I, yeah I actually don't, I have no feelings about it.

It was just one of those things where I noted it while I was like, wow, interesting, cool.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. It's different because I feel like that's not what we're used to reading. I, and like I said, I it's third person, but I feel like we get very clear dual perspectives of each of their [00:27:30] inner feelings that they're experiencing and everything like it's. It was definitely different from what I'm used to reading as far as romance goes. So it didn't really stand out to me until I was closer to the end thinking about what I just finished reading.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I wonder thinking about - so both of our main characters are trans, so Roy is

Kelly Reynolds: and queer too. They're also I don't know if they say specifically that they identify as bisexual, but we do know that they've both been interested in men and women. So I loved that.

Andrea Martucci: Something that I thought was interesting to play with is when you are creating a world very explicitly, this is not the world of the past. It is not a fully magical world. It's like it's half familiar. So when you have two trans characters in historical setting I think a lot of readers assumption would be that this would be like a terrifying existence. And I think that Austin does a really great job of balancing both realistic concerns. Roy does not want to necessarily be discovered or othered. Roy just wants to be accepted and understood to be a man by everybody he encounters.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: But there was a reasonable amount of fear of discovery without that overtaking the story. This is a beautiful love story. It nods to, I think,  realities as we understand them in the world that we live in. This is not a world where trans people are necessarily understood to be trans and accepted for being trans,  so I just, I thought it was like a very interesting thing to play with.

And I was thinking of recently, I can't remember what tipped this thought off specifically, and I'm not the first person to have thoughts about this particular thing, but I was thinking about this idea of romance novels being this fantasy of being seen and known completely with every part of you celebrated by another person.

And it like this complete sense of having yourself validated. And the reason I say it's a fantasy is because -I'm not necessarily like a cynical person about love, but I just recognize that like, when you have two or more individuals that you can never truly know another person. Like we never truly know ourselves, you know, you could share every thought with another person and they could never truly know you. And, you know, it's kind of unfair to assume somebody can just like pick up everything about you, but this is like the fantasy of romance [00:30:00] novels, that, in a lot of romance novels, this idea that this, your sexual partner just knows what you need, just inherently.

Kelly Reynolds: It's great. They just know.

Andrea Martucci: And it's, and that's, it's a fantasy, it's a fantasy that somebody else sees you, validates your existence.  They both see and appreciate your entire complete self.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And I think that this romance novel does a fantastic job of showing that fantasy. And I think that identity is obviously such a core concern for trans people.

And I assume I'm not trans, I assume something that is thought about often, and  I was reading some articles that Corey Alexander wrote. And Corey Alexander sadly passed away very recently. But they were an advocate for queer people, trans people, disabled people  and the kink community. And so many intersecting marginalities and really wrote very thoughtfully and beautifully about what good rep looks like for those things. And explained for those of us who maybe don't live those experiences and validated those things for people who do live that experience, like broke it down so well in so much of their writing  and their website just is a wealth of resources and, I was reading some pieces that they wrote about I think in particular sex scenes, with trans characters. And I was thinking about the sex scene. It's really like one scene.

Kelly Reynolds: It's the culminating scene at the very end.

Andrea Martucci: Yes. It's a beautiful scene.

And I just thought, thinking about that idea of being seen as you see yourself by another person by your partner I think is played out so beautifully in  Caroline's Heart. The scene where Roy and Cecily have sex - the language is so affirming of their identities. In fact I wanted to share this one, quote. So Roy asks, "'can I ask you to do something for me?' Roy says, his voice hushed in the near dark. 'Yes.' Cecily says. 'Can you tell me you'll always see me for who I am.'" And she says, of course. And that is like how they enter their sexual relationship. And it's just

Kelly Reynolds: right.

Andrea Martucci: It's beautiful. I think it really is so meaningful for these two characters.

Then the way the sex is described is very affirming of their identities [00:32:30] and it's sexy. It's yeah, very sexy,

Kelly Reynolds: without it being so overtly sexual too.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that it, what it explores really well is like the psychological aspects of sex and and really reinforces like this sense of safety and affection and validation and communication.

Like they communicate throughout this scene, and there is physical stuff, but I think it really plays up how that sense of psychological safety and, understanding that this other person values you and sees you for who you are, is just present at every step of the way.

Kelly Reynolds: And I thought it was really interesting too as Austin, was writing to trans characters in this story, we, from the very get, we know that Roy is a trans man. Like , there's an opening scene where he's binding his breasts. He's secluding himself by the river so we can wash without prying eyes. I thought it was a really interesting choice that Austin made that we don't have that same reveal or knowledge when it comes to Cecily

Because we, I want to say it isn't revealed to us until Cecily is with Roy and they are about to be intimate and have sex that she actually makes the reveal to him. When she's asking him, will you love me no matter what, we're learning everything about Cecily at the same time that Roy is, which I thought was a really cool way, because I think by the time we get to that point, we're as invested in this love story as Roy is with Cecily. So we love Cecily's true self, just as much as Roy does.

Andrea Martucci: Roy never sees Cecily as anything other than a woman. I think that's just acknowledging that Cecily has a shared experience with Roy of going through a transition and having had that dysphoria at one point in life and having to contend with that transition.

And have a similar experience socially of, Cecily is a witch. Cecily has a bit more, power that she can wield to get herself out of what could potentially be a dangerous situation. Which I think explains why, when we're in Roy's head, Roy expresses a bit more like caution with the world.

Kelly Reynolds: Sure.

Andrea Martucci: Than Cecily because I think Cecily is able to harness that power to command the world to accept her.

Kelly Reynolds: Which is interesting. Cause that's not what I would've expected to have in a story about a witch in America, [00:35:00] like at that point in time the fact that she isn't persecuted more heavily was shocking to me, but maybe just a testament to her powers.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. I think that's set up in the world building, right? This isn't like a world where it is like true historical where we know that America has a history of persecution

Kelly Reynolds: right

Andrea Martucci: of, as most countries do I haven't done like all the research on witchcraft, but like basically people, particularly women accused of witchcraft, have been persecuted like around the world.

And pretty much all times, in human history, it's, I think that it was just like a very masterful creation of a world to explore some of these questions. And then it was like executed

Kelly Reynolds: Really beautifully. Yeah. The love story is gorgeous and you definitely, early on when we get the idea that Cecily is keeping Caroline's heart alive, Caroline being her ex lover, her ex soulmate, whatever you want to call her. And then Roy's injured and his heart is damaged. And so you know that, okay this is where this is leading to, but I

Andrea Martucci: There's only one heart.

Kelly Reynolds: There's only one heart. What do I do?

But I thought it was really interesting because I kept thinking as it went on, and again, this isn't a long book. So the fact that there's so much to think about the fact that I was thinking about, Oh my God, but what about. What about Caroline? What happens next with this? Because I feel like this story isn't over because beyond it being a beautiful love story, I thought the themes about grief and like dealing with grief were really beautiful because here you have Cecily who lost Caroline five years ago. It's been five years that she's kept Caroline's heart thriving in a picture frame in her attic that she doesn't grieve her. We don't see her grieve this loss until she has to make a choice basically between Caroline and Roy and she does.

It made me think about a couple things that I feel like people won't understand unless they read the book, but it made me think about the Babadook of all things. And it made me think about one of my favorite episodes of Black Mirror, where I forget who the actresses, but fantastic.

Her boyfriend, husband, fiance, whoever he is, he dies. And she orders this like recreation mold of him, where he's given all of his memories. He's given all of his his ideas there, anything that they [00:37:30] shared together. But as it goes on, she realizes this is great because now I feel like I haven't lost him.

But at the same time, this is a poor imitation of who he was, and that was the realization that Cecily came to was that, I'm trying to keep Caroline alive. I'm trying to bring Caroline back, but. When I do this isn't Caroline, this isn't Caroline. This is my idea of Caroline, fighting with myself.

It just, I found that really interesting, and I think that's such a thing people experience with grief. And again, just like anxiety or depression. I feel like people process grief in many different ways, but that is one way is to only remember the good about somebody and only want to think about certain aspects of someone.

And I found that really well-represented in this story and in a story that's less than a hundred pages. These are major themes that Austin Chant was putting in here.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. As you were saying that you know, it's interesting because yes, like on the one hand, I do believe that Cecily truly saw Caroline the way she now truly sees Roy, but the nature of a relationship is that you're always continuing to grow and evolve together. And her memories of Caroline were stuck in time

Kelly Reynolds: five years ago.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Caroline can never grow. Caroline can never respond to a new thing that Cecily says, can never marvel at a new thing that they do together. They cannot build new memories. It is, yeah. You can't recreate somebody from memories because they are not actually I don't know, like you want to get into the what is the nature of self,  or like souls or whatever.

I don't think that this is trying to make a point about that at all. But yes. I think also like this message of, are you going to live in the past or are you going to move forward with new possibilities? And Roy is obviously the new possibilities.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: And, And are you going to sacrifice those things for, this idea of something you had in the past that is gone and you can never get back.

And I think that, you know exactly what you're saying. This is how grief works, right? Obviously feel your feelings, but if you let your grief overshadow, the life you could continue to live then, yeah.  You're really cutting yourself off from happiness.

It's not a disrespect to the person that you lost.  They would probably [00:40:00] want you to continue living and not live forever in that past. Yeah,

Kelly Reynolds: And she, Cecily gets to keep a piece of Caroline, like the most important piece of Caroline, her heart and put it into yeah, that was that whole scene of her putting the heart into him was really interesting.

Andrea Martucci: Open-heart surgery.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah.

Andrea Martucci: Open heart replacement

Kelly Reynolds: and they're just like stitching back together. I'm like, I wish this was our reality.  Wish this was how things worked. But yeah I think that's a good. A good way to like wrap up, any ties that she had to Caroline was to bring a piece of her with her moving forward.

Cause that's not to say that she has to forget this love story that she had before, before she met Roy, she can take a piece of it with her because that's what we do. We don't just fall in love with somebody and then everybody else ceases to exist from our past.  They're a part of you, whether you like it or not.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And hope hopefully you have continued to grow because of, and since that experience,

Kelly Reynolds: That's the hope, but it's a beautiful story. Do you have any other thoughts before we get to our sexcerpt portion of the episode?

Andrea Martucci: No. Let's get to the sexcerpts.

Kelly Reynolds: Now. Granted, we have one scene because it does come.

Yeah, it does. At the end of the story, it's the final chapter. When we do see them finally have sex and it's a little PG 13. It's not very graphic in the grand scheme of things, but I think it was perfect for what this story called for. I think it, it fit the tone of the story perfectly.

So did you have a specific sexcerpt  that you wanted to share with us?

Andrea Martucci: Yes. And I think I want to highlight this portion of the sexcerpt specifically, because I think it really drives home the psychological aspects of their sexual union, as well as the consent that I think is very deliberate in here.

And I think that this shows a really, a nice way to show how consent and consensual language can be used really effectively throughout a scene. And it's still sexy. And maybe consent is makes it seem do you still want to have sex? Yes. How about now? How about now?.   I guess just mean that sort of checking in.

Kelly Reynolds: Are you still with me? Are you still, up for where we're heading kind of thing? Yeah, no, for sure.

Andrea Martucci: Okay. So  Cecily says, she murmurs. "I think you'll find it isn't really so difficult" because she just [00:42:30] found out that Roy is a virgin. "She brushes her fingertips over the closings of his trousers. "May I show you?" "God yes." Cecily tangles his legs up around her shoulders, his thighs thick and strong from squeezing the saddle.

She leans in and he's breathing hard even before she takes him into her mouth, licking him over until he's whining through his teeth, gripping fistfuls of the sheets and rolling his head back.

Then she stops to hear him gasp for the loss of it. It's been a long time since Cecily felt so merciless or so pleased." So I like that, that even though Cecily is the one giving pleasure in this moment, she is also feeling pleasure, and I like Royce thick thighs.

Kelly Reynolds: Oh, yeah. Thick from the -thick from the saddle

Andrea Martucci: and yeah, and I just, I love how gentle she is as the more experienced partner (says it again with a Western twang) pardner

Kelly Reynolds: partner

Andrea Martucci: in, in this coupling. And I thought it was just really beautiful checking in and yeah.

Kelly Reynolds: I'm also always one for a more experienced woman in the relationship and a virgin hero. I am a fan, so I love it. But I'm not even going to bother reading one because you literally chose the same passage that I did.

Andrea Martucci: It's a good passage. They're all good passages, but

Kelly Reynolds: yep. It is. It's a really good one. It's a great scene. And I want to say he does return the favor, so to speak, but it's one of those scenes too where,  I love  when we do see characters having sex and there isn't like this expectation of now that I've gone down on you, you must reciprocate for me, orgasm for orgasm.

You know, I mean, It's just, I loved that that was not a part of this scene between the two of them. Cecily was very much just as interested in giving Roy pleasure.  More interested in giving him pleasure than having any expectations for her own personal fulfillment. So I thought that was beautiful.

So it's a great scene. There's only one of them, but it's a great way to end the book, I'll say that.

Andrea Martucci: Quality over quantity.

Kelly Reynolds: Yes, exactly.

That brings us to the ratings portion of our episode. So I'm gonna ask you to give this book a few grades, Andrea, and we typically grade for heart humor and heat on the podcast. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the very best that it could be.

I'm going to go ahead and say that this is probably going to be one of those episodes where the humor rating is not applicable because it's

Andrea Martucci: it's pretty dry in the humor department, but it's [00:45:00] not going for that.

Kelly Reynolds: So yeah, on a scale of magic, I'd give it a pretty high rating.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. Exactly.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. So let's start with heart though.

The heart rating for Caroline's heart, it's in the title,

Andrea Martucci: but Kelly there's only one heart.

Kelly Reynolds: Just one, Just one.

Andrea Martucci: But I will give this book a 10 for heart. This book really tugged at my heart strings, it sewed a heart back into my chest and really  pieced me back together and made me whole.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, it was, as far as heart goes, I feel like it's gotta be a 10, both literally and figuratively, like there, I don't think I've ever experienced so much literal heart in a book before.

Andrea Martucci: Oh yeah. Yeah. This, that's so true

Kelly Reynolds: now you're thinking about it, right?

Andrea Martucci: I've never literally seen characters' hearts before on the page.

Kelly Reynolds: And we saw hearts being ripped out of bodies. We saw hearts being put back into bodies,

Andrea Martucci: ripped out frames.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. There's a lot of heart,

Andrea Martucci: maybe even 11.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. In more ways than one there's I think 11 crank it up to 11 is very accurate. So I must skip over humor and go to heat because this is. This is one of those stories where again, everybody's heat rating is differently is differently,

Andrea Martucci: is different calibrated.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. Like for some people it's that slow burn for some people they want, Bing bang, boom on every other page. And so, you know, I'm interested. What do you think?

Andrea Martucci: Okay. Look, I do not disagree that the scene that we read was hot.

However, I'm going to say that if somebody is looking for a super hot, sexy read, this really is not going to fulfill that need for you. Like it wasn't obviously it wasn't a closed door scene, so I'm going to, I'm going to give it a five. I think that the scene that we got was hot,  but if you're looking for a really spicy, erotic novel, this ain't it.

Kelly Reynolds: No. Yeah. I think that's. That's a really fair assessment. I gave it a five as well because the scene is great. I think it fits the book perfectly. I never found myself throughout the story necessarily missing any more intimate moments, because I think there is plenty of intimacy between the two of them and just this.

This it shows you all the great things about love without it having to also be sex. Like it shows you them getting to know each other and being interested in each other and sharing more and more pieces about [00:47:30] themselves with each other, which I also find sexy, but as far as a romp in the hay, not so much.  It's definitely on the tamer side.

Andrea Martucci: Yeah. There's no hot sticky sex here. This is pretty (sings Spice girls) "candlelight and soul forever, a dream of you and me to -" that's Spice Girls.

Kelly Reynolds: Does that go along with the Alyssa Cole book length measurement? You also have the measurement for sex scenes too, from hot sticky to Spice Girls?

Andrea Martucci: It's from... Yeah. Wait, shoot. What's that song? Oh God, I don't, I can't remember the name of that song, but it's not a, "tell me what you want, what you really, really want." It's not bawdy and yeah. I'm going to have to work on my Spice Girls scale.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah. I'm liking this whole idea of scales though. I think we definitely,  I need to have some more fun with my scales. So this is giving me. A lot of food for thought a lot of food for thought.

Andrea Martucci: That's what I'm here for is really just forcing people to question their very existence.

Kelly Reynolds: Yeah, exactly. What is  me? And we'll go from there.

As always, it's been a pleasure having you on the podcast, Andrea.

Andrea Martucci: This has been a 10 out of 10 pleasure experience. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I always have so much fun coming on here and I love what you do with the podcast and you're just, you're doing a great job, Kelly.

Kelly Reynolds: The feeling is mutual and I am super excited for all that you have in store for season two of Shelf Love. It's hard to imagine for me that this is just season two, because I feel like you're so far in it and you've done so much in just your first season that there's nowhere to go but up from here,

Andrea Martucci: God, I hope so.

Marker [00:49:10]

Did you know that 82 million households tuned into at least one episode of Bridgerton on Netflix the first month it was available? And did you know that Bridgerton is based on a romance novel series by Julia Quinn? Lots of people who have never picked up a romance novel before are dipping in as a result of the Netflix adaptation.

If you are one of those people who don't identify as a romance reader, but decided to read one or more of the Bridgerton novels as a result of watching the show, I am asking for your help. That's right. You.

I'm currently working on a research project to discover how Bridgerton fans are engaging with romance novels, and how they perceive the romance fiction genre.

And the reason that I'm interested in Bridgeton fans specifically is because this is a once in a decade [00:50:00] opportunity where a romance text is part of a larger cultural conversation, which means that lots of new people all at once are giving romance a try.

What I want to understand is how people get into romance or don't and how new readers perceive genre conventions.

So here's how you can take part in this research project. I have a survey that probably just takes about five minutes to fill out. You can find the survey and learn more about the research project by going to That's

You can also find more information on my website, That's or

I'm going to be presenting this research at the Popular Culture Association Conference in June, 2021, as well as discussing it on Shelf Love Podcast later this year.

  Thank you so much for helping with this project. I really appreciate you. That link one more time is