Malcolm & Isabel
When Julie Anne Long wrapped up her much adored Pennyroyal Green series with The Legend of Lyon Redmond, she did a rather odd thing. The final pages of the book–a DIK for us–leapt forward in time to an epilogue set in the year that book was published (2015). Readers suddenly found themselves reading about a young woman named Isabel Redmond, an American, who’d come to Pennyroyal Green to find out more about her recently discovered family.
As the epilogue begins, Isabel is standing underneath an ancient oak, taking in all that is modern Pennyroyal Green, when, startled by a motorcycle, her cell phone shoots out of her hands and lands directly in the path of the man driving said cycle. He, an exceptionally attractive GP named Malcolm Coburn, stops his bike, returns her phone, and, over the next 30 or so pages, chats with Isabel about Pennyroyal Green’s famous forbearers. The fates of Olivia, Lyon, Elise, Lavay, Jonathan, Miles, Cynthia, Colin, Madeline, and many of the other characters from the series are quickly covered as Isabel and Malcolm share stories.
I liked but didn’t love the epilogue and was intrigued by Malcolm and Isabel. I’d heard Long was going to begin writing contemporary romance and I hoped their story would be next. It wasn’t. Instead, Long wrote about the Northern California community of Hellcat Canyon, a world with nary a Redmond or an Eversea.
Now, however, before she returns to historical romance–Lady Derring Takes a Lover comes out in February of next year–Long has written Malcolm and Isabel’s story. The 145 page novella begins exactly–and I do mean exactly–where The Legend of Lyon Redmond ends.
Isabel, a woman of 30, was raised in a series of foster homes and didn’t discover her Redmond-ness until just a few months ago. Now, not only is she a Redmond, she’s in possession of two of the Redmond family heirlooms: Olivia Eversea Redmond’s diary and Lyon’s gold pocket-watch. Isabel has read and re-read Olivia’s diary–and it so speaks to her that she’s rented a flat in Pennyroyal Green for the next three months.
Malcolm, on the other hand, grew up in Pennyroyal Green, and is now one of two overworked physicians tending to the town’s citizens which still include Duggans, Everseas, Falconbridges, Hawthornes, and O’Flahterys. (Everyone still drinks at the Pig & Thistle and the vicar is still “dishy”.) He’s a lovely man, dedicated to his work and to his town, and, prior to meeting Isabel, would have said he was content with his life. But Isabel
…tipped his world ever so slightly on its axis. Just enough to dislodge any certainty he’d felt about his satisfaction with his existence prior to meeting her.
Isabel is equally taken with Malcolm and when, on her first night in her new place cuts her finger badly enough to need stitches, it feels like kismet. These two, to steal a phrase from Jerry Maguire, complete each other.
This isn’t one of those love stories where there are lots of barriers keeping our lovers apart. Isabel and Malcolm fall fast and hard for each other. Like many of Long’s contemporary characters, both adore obscure music and one of the book’s greatest joys is a plot about a band called Heliotrope whose biggest song is called Your Kiss Broke Time and whose lead singer Sir Clive Dunkirk–think a knighted Pete Townshend–is distantly related to Isabel. Malcolm and Isabel spend just as much time talking as they do having the best sex of their lives and Long writes both with her trademark skillful wit and charm.
The cast of characters around them is wonderful and, despite the brevity of the book, fully realized. I especially liked Declan Duggan, a musician with an outsized talent and personality, as well as Poppy Allgood, Isabel’s wonderfully self-satisfied neighbor.
What keeps this from being a DIK for me? It’s, ironically, the reason for the story. Long makes a rather heavy-handed case that Olivia and Lyon’s story is integral to Malcolm and Isabel’s and that just didn’t do much for me. Perhaps it’s because I found the story of our modern lovers to be delightful on its own. I loved this last (?) look at Pennyroyal Green and I think most readers will too.
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