Keeper Shelf: The Carlisle Series (Truth and Measure & Above All Things) by Roslyn Sinclair

Tara: When this duology was announced two years ago, I was not okay. I’ve been equal parts terrified and thrilled since then, because my favorite fanfic of all time was being turned into original fiction. Could it hold up? Truth and Measure is THE definitive Mirandy (Devil Wears Prada [DWP]) fic in a still-thriving fandom. I’ve probably read it a dozen times in the last 5 years and I’ve often referenced it as one of my favorite books, because at 300,000ish words, that counts (to me, anyway).

I was thrilled and delighted to learn that Susan is an equally huge fan of DWP fanfic and of Truth and Measure. I was even more thrilled when she agreed to review these books with me. One word of caution before we begin: neither of these books stand alone and they must be read together.

Susan: And I’m overjoyed that Tara invited me, because I need to squee about these books. I’ve been a huge fan of Roslyn Sinclair’s fiction since I was new to fandom altogether, so seeing my favorite of her works getting a new form is fantastic.

Tara: When Truth and Measure opens, Jules Moretti has been Vivian Carlisle’s executive assistant for around a year. She knows all of her boss’s tastes and moods, the ins and outs of how Vivian runs Du Jour magazine, and is the absolute boss of Vivian’s schedule. But when Vivan learns she’s unexpectedly pregnant thanks to one last hurrah with her soon-to-be-ex husband, Jules’s involvement in Vivian’s life goes to a whole other level. Being pulled even further into each other’s orbit means they can’t help but fall in love — even if it’s the worst possible timing.

In Above All Things, Jules is no longer working for Vivian. They’re navigating a romantic relationship, with regular challenges thrown their way like Jules’s new job, Vivian’s workaholism, and that small matter of a baby arriving soon. While their chemistry and care for each other is abundant, they have to figure out how to prioritize each other if they’re going to get their HEA.

So, let’s get one thing out of the way immediately, because I know some of you are wondering: yes, Jules is still working for Vivian when they first get together. I know this can be an immediate turn-off for some readers, so if that’s on your never-read theme list, this series may not be for you. However, I found the characters were very sensitive to both the optics and the actuality of their situation, especially Vivian. She doesn’t want to be the predatory boss and knows how bad it can be for some women in the fashion industry. However, and this is major for making it not feel gross to me, Jules maintains agency the whole way through both books. I especially loved seeing how she worked with the bizarre, hilarious compromise that Vivian proposes so they can be together while toeing the line (I won’t detail the compromise here, because it’s truly one to be experienced and not have spoiled, but it’s one of my favorite scenes (I’ve ever come across in romance).

Susan: I absolutely cracked when I got to that part, so I’m with Tara on this. On the employee/employer front, for me it also helps that Jules has seen Vivian at her worst; not just her persona as a heartless goddess of fashion, but also the situation with the soon-to-be-ex husband. There aren’t any illusions about what they’re both getting into! It does get into the wealth disparity as well, so if that’s one of your squicks it might be okay.

Tara: Those are some excellent points. If anyone knows Vivian, it’s Jules.

Jules and Vivian are my all-time top couple in romance. The whole story is told from Jules’s perspective, so we’re able to see the way she changes over time as her perception of Vivian changes from mere boss, to boss Jules would desperately like to bang, to the only person for Jules. Her pining for Vivian is delicious, especially when she doesn’t believe Vivian feels the same about her.

Susan: It has the single best use of “Oh. Oh.” I have ever seen. That entire section is delicious and painful, I love it.

Tara: It really is the best when Jules figures out that Vivian feels the same, isn’t it?

Vivian’s used to being an ice queen, cold and demanding to those who work for her, and doing whatever is needed to ensure the magazine’s success, and therefore her own. And yet, when it comes to Jules, Vivian thaws over time. I found myself slowing my reading every time we see Vivian soften a little, because she only ever does it for Jules. The very first page even includes a clue that Vivian already perceives Jules as more worthy of her respect and attention than most.

To me, they work so well because their power balance shifts as the story goes along. Although they begin with a boss/employee relationship, Vivian grows to need Jules on a soul-deep level, in a way that she’s never needed anyone else, ex-husbands included. So, Vivian gives up much of the power she’s typically held with Jules and makes space for Jules to be an equal partner. And because Jules also understands that she has value and deserves a significant place in Vivian’s life, Jules pushes back when Vivian’s busy schedule threatens their relationship.

Susan: The negotiations Jules and Vivian do around their relationship are delicious. Jules and Vivian want to do everything for each other! Vivian wants to wield her power *on Jules’ behalf* to get her publishing opportunities, whereas Jules wants to prove herself by building her own career without Vivian smoothing the way; Jules enjoys being involved in every aspect of Vivian’s life as her employee and girlfriend, where Vivian is uncertain about it… I’ve joked that the relationship hinges on their mutual obsession, but is it a joke if it’s true? My point is that they both do so much work on the page to negotiate and renegotiate, to show love without overstepping, and it’s *incredibly* satisfying to read.

Tara: The mutual obsession is what kept me coming back to the fic again and again, so I’m relieved that it’s still there!

Something else that really sets The Carlisle Series apart for me is that, by the end, I had no doubts about the future of their relationship. Telling Jules and Vivian’s story over two books means we see them get together, weather some pretty major early challenges (like Vivian’s boss trying to push her out of the magazine), and choose each other every single time. As much as I could have happily read more pages about them, I was completely satisfied by the time I was finished.

Susan: Despite the painful wait between getting hold of Truth and Measure and Above All Things being available?

Tara: Well, that was horrible. Luckily that won’t be a problem for anyone else, since both books are available now!

I have zero complaints about The Carlisle Series. However, because they don’t stand alone, reading this will require a significant financial investment. F/f romances from small publishers already cost notably more than other romances and I don’t take it lightly that I’m suggesting spending $20 for one story — and that’s just for the ebooks. Between the characters and truly seeing them through to an established HEA, however, I believe it’s worth it. If that’s more than your book budget can bear, I recommend either asking your local library to stock them or to subscribe to the publisher’s newsletter, since they have regular sales.

Susan: My only concern is that I have no idea how this would read going in cold, because Tara and I have both read the fic version so many times. I think everything is done well enough that it shouldn’t matter, but I would love to hear from people in the comments who’ve only read The Carlisle Series and not the DWP fic.

For me, the balance of old and new material is seamless, and Jules and Vivian are perfectly drawn characters. I love getting to see Jules get to be competent and invested in queerness in the fashion industry! I love getting to see Vivian adoring Jules and working to equalize them! But most of all I love that The Carlisle Series did the impossible and let me read one of my favorite stories for the first time again.

Tara: I’m so relieved that my worries were for nothing. In fact, the books became my favorite story immediately. Hands down, no question, direct to #1 position on my Keeper Shelf. All of the elements and moments I loved about the fanfic are there, all the stuff I didn’t care about was cut, and all of the new content positively delighted me. I’ve already read this twice and can safely say, I’ll never read the fanfic again. The Carlisle Series is wonderful and gives me that special something that I’m excited to re-experience again and again.

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