“Ah, yes, the old love-isn't-actually-love approach to erasing lesbians from literature and history. Just look right at some inconvenient fact and pretend it isn't there, or if that fails, claim it can't possibly mean what it so obviously does mean. It's passionate friendship or chaste devotion or two lonesome single gals sharing expenses, or whatever. Sometimes she just laughed at the ridiculousness of it all, but not this time.”
Alex is thrilled when she is chosen as the Brokenbridge scholar, a fellowship which allows her to not only study but actually live in the former house of her favourite poet, the famous Artemisia, in Yorkshire. Alex hopes to to prove a lesbian relationship between the late poet and her friend and companion, Lady Melissa and win the coveted seven hundred thousand pound Prandall Prize, not to mention maybe a tenured professorship. In the process she becomes sucked into the drama of modern day Bramfell. She is embroiled in a love triangle with the Artemisa Foundation director, Rosamund, and Cam, the local handy woman, and finds herself at the mercy of a match-making ghost. If she does find love she will have to figure out what to do when her scholarship ends and her visa runs out and she is forced to head home to America.
I was attracted to this book by the gorgeous cover, and it did not disappoint. It's a modern day romance, but with a historical twist. Inspired by the story of the discovery and decoding of the secret diaries of Anne Lister, a real life lesbian Regency lady similar to Artemisia, whose own actual life was like something out of a Sarah Waters novel.
I'm impressed by the attention to detail in getting all the Britishness right, from the poor visiting American being alarmed that British ginger ale actually contains ginger to the Yorkshire dialect spoken by Cam and the other villagers. The author did a great job at showing the culture shock Alex must have felt to be suddenly living in a small English village, despite having visited the country before and considering England the “home of her heart.”
The romance between Cam and Alex, with each teasing the other and numerous misunderstandings and pitfalls, made for entertaining reading. I laughed out loud at the scene when a box full of Alex's books splits open and the book that lands squarely in the lap of her love interest is a copy of "Satan Was a Lesbian in all its gaudy scarlet glory, featuring a leather-clad, whip-cracking bunette menacing a not-at-all-unhappy looking blonde in black underwear while Satan himself looked down approvingly.” I mean, we've all been there, right?
The love scenes are tastefully and skillfully written, featuring more conventional sex with nary a whip in sight. There is nothing gratuitous, just a realistic developing relationship.
Romance by the Book is a beautiful story of love transcending barriers of class, nationality and society's expectations. I will look out for other books by Jo Victor an other Bold Strokes Books authors.
Rated: ★★ ★ ★ ☆
Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary copy of this book by Bold Strokes Books, Via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.