books

Lisa Kleypas

Books

Dreaming of You (1994)

The Wallflowers: Devil in Winter (2006)

Hathaways: Mine Till Midnight (2007), Seduce Me at Sunrise (2008), Tempt Me at Twilight (2009), Married By Morning (2010), Love In The Afternoon (2010)

The Ravenels: Devil in Spring (2017), Hello Stranger (2018)

 

Dreaming of You (1994)

Set in historical London some time after pistols but before trains

There was so much I liked about this story, yet so much that I found problematic about it.

Sara Fielding is the author of a famous novel about a fallen woman, and is in London researching a gambling hell for the new book she wants to write.

Derek Craven was born in the gutter, lived as a street urchin and fought and struggled his way to become one of the richest men in London and owner of one of the most exclusive gambling hells.

First, I loved Sara–she was doing something dangerous but she wasn’t utterly stupid–she attempted to protect herself as best she could.

Second, I liked the idea of Derek very much–a self-made man mad hard by his childhood and past. But his implementation remained problematic throughout the story.

Derek describes his childhood in poverty and living on the streets. He didn’t start to make his fortune until he was a teenager at the earliest. So every time he is described, I have a tremendous disconnect: “he was a large, powerfully built man” is just never going to describe a man who grew up starving on the streets. He might have developed strength, and if both his parents had been unusually tall, he might have been lucky and achieved average height, but to be a tall and muscular man after a childhood of deprivation and disease (including being a chimney sweep)–I just can’t accept that as probable.

Then there was the sexual assault. The heroine is violently assaulted twice in the story: Once on the streets and once in her bed. Neither even seems to have any affect at all on her mental well-being. That is just simply not reality based. If the heroine wasn’t supposed to be as damaged as the hero, then having her be assaulted–I know it was a different time and all, but… no. (This actually didn’t pull me out of the story as much as the hero’s healthy physique did, but the more I think about it the more it bothers me.)

And then there was this paragraph:

“How much of Mr. Craven’s profit is earned by the house wenches?” she asked.

“He takes no profit from them, Miss Fielding. Their presence adds to the ambiance of the club, and serves as an added enticement to the patrons. All the money the house wenches make is theirs to keep. Mr. Craven also offers them protection, rent-free rooms, and a far better clientele than they’re likely to find on the streets.”

He’s a good man at heart, I can accept that. But ALL of that? That’s just over-the-top ridiculous.

Which was frustrating, because there was a lot to like: Sara’s parents were lovely. Sara managed to rescue both the hero and herself at different points in the story. The “bad guy” is obviously damaged in a way that makes their actions understandable if not acceptable. Sara’s relationship with her intended back home is also a nice touch. But the things that bothered me seem to have outweighed the good, leaving me very unsatisfied in general with this book.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 5.5/10


The Wallflowers


Devil in Winter (2006)

Set in London in 1843

Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent is an unrepentant rake whose only interest is pleasure. But he’s also broke, and needs a rich wife immediately.

“Do you ever think of anyone other than yourself?”

The question seemed to pull him out of his absorption, and his face became inscrutable. “Rarely, my love.”

Evangeline Jenner has escaped from her Aunt & Uncle’s house before they can force her to marry her cousin, so they can get her hands on their fortune when her father dies. She needs a husband strong enough to stand up to her relatives, to protect her from them.

“When was the last time you ate?” he asked.

“Yesterday m-morning… I think—”

One of his tawny brows lifted. “Don’t say the family was starving you?” He glanced heavenward as she nodded.

He concluded the speech with an irritated motion of his hands.

Unfortunately, Evie had been conditioned by too many encounters with Uncle Peregrine to discern between angry gestures and the beginnings of a physical attack. She flinched instinctively, her own arms flying up to shield her head. When the expected pain of a blow did not come, she let out a breath and tentatively lowered her arms to find Sebastian staring at her with blank astonishment.

Then his face went dark.

The fact that Sebastian is enraged by the way her family treated her allows one to overlook his self-absorption to some degree. He might be self-centered, but he does know what is right and what is wrong.

I decided to read this one because I very much enjoyed the story about Evie and Sebastian’s son, in The Devil in Spring. Interestingly, I found this story quite lacking in comparison to that one.

Yes, I liked seeing Cam starting out, and I liked Evie’s strength and her caring for her father and those around her.

And I found the bits about the rebuilding and running of a a gaming establishment to be fascinating.

But I didn’t find the story and the characters anywhere near as compelling as I did those in other books.

Publisher: HarperCollins
Rating: 7/10



Hathaways


Mine Till Midnight (2007)

Set in England in 1848.

Amelia Hathaway has been holding her family together since her parents died, but after scarlet fever leaves her family in even worse shape, holding things together becomes almost too much for her.

Especially when her brother, the head of the family, seems interested only in drinking himself to death.

“We shall begin by eliminating the places Leo would not go,” she said. “Churches, museums, places of higher learning, and polite neighborhoods are naturally out of the question.”

Cam Rohan is a half Gypsy who has been living in London for years working as the factor for a gambling house. But he wonders if his current malaise means he’s been ignoring his Gypsy side for too long.

One of the things I particularity liked about this story was that Amelia’s family were as important to the story as she and Cam were: her brother, her sisters, and her adopted brother were all main characters with their own problems and crises.

One day she complained that the window was so dirty, she could barely see through it, and it made the sky look grayish. So from then on (he) always kept the glass spotless. Sometimes he climbed a ladder to wash the outside, and you know how afraid of heights he is. You never saw him do that?”

“No,” (she) said with difficulty, her eyes stinging. “I didn’t know he did that.”

“(He) said the sky should always be blue for her,” Beatrix said. “And that was when I knew he … are you crying?”

The other thing I particularly liked was how Merripen fit into the family. He wasn’t quite a sibling, but he was clearly important, and a family member in some way.

I quite liked how the story encompassed the entire family. Lots of boinking, of course, but the importance of the family relationships more than made up for it.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 8/10

Seduce Me at Sunrise (2008) 

Set in England in 1848

Kev Merripen was found beaten and ailing by the Hathaway family, who took him in and treated him as one of their own, despite his obviously being a Rom. He’s stayed only because since the day he laid eyes on her he has been in love with Win Hathaway.

Win and her brother Leo almost died of scarlet fever, and were saved only by Kev attempting a treatment he remembered learning when he was on the road as a child. Leo recovered physically, but Win did not, so after her sister married the wealthy Cam, Win and Leo went to France so she could attempt to recover her strength.

I have really complicated feelings about this story.

I very much liked Kev and Win. I got that Kev didn’t trust himself, and feared he would destroy Win. I also wanted to know more about Kev’s story and whether he and Cam were related.

What I didn’t much care for were the bits of plot seemingly thrown in to confuse the story, all circling around the handsome doctor who returned with Win from France. I mean, really? WHY? Could he have been any flatter? Could he have had less reason for his actions? WHY?

It would have been a much better book had it simply been about Kev and Win coming to terms with Kev’s pasts and Win’s recovery and the uncovering of the relationship between Kev and Cam.

And as far as THAT goes, the end felt entirely too pat.

Which is too bad, because the parts of the story that weren’t aggravating were quite good.

But I’m glad I borrowed this one from the library, because it was pretty much required to read if you wanted to finish Cam and Amelia’s story, but so many elements of this plot were just aggravating.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 6/10

Tempt Me at Twilight (2009) 

Set in England in 1852

The third Hathaway sister, Poppy, is at the end of her third season, and is hoping for a match from the son of a viscount. But an unexpected meeting with the owner of the Rutledge hotel changes everything, when Harry decides that he wants her, and nothing is going to stop him from having her.

It’s strange how we tend to ignore just how circumscribed the lives of women were for so much of the eras we tend to romanticize.

Not for the first time, Leo reflected how unfair it was that men were allowed to get away with so much more than women.

This business of manners, for example . . . he had seen his sisters struggling to remember hundreds of inane points of etiquette that were expected of upper-class society. Whereas Leo’s main interest in the rules of etiquette was how to break them. And he, as a man with a title, was unfailingly excused for nearly anything. Ladies at a supper party were criticized behind their backs if they used the wrong fork for the fish course, while a man could drink to excess or make some off-color remark, and everyone pretended not to notice.

I quite liked that this came from Leo, the brother. That he realized just how lucky he is.

It also helps to further redeem him, since he was really awful in the first book. (I really like that his redemption has been slow–and also that his sisters have loved him throughout, regardless of how terribly he has behaved. And because his redemption has come less through his thoughts than through his actions towards his sisters.

Poppy buried her face against his shoulder. “I’m going to die of humiliation,” she said.

“No, you won’t,” Leo replied. “I’m an expert on humiliation, and if it were fatal, I’d have died a dozen times by now.”

“You can’t die a dozen times.”

“You can if you’re a Buddhist,” Beatrix said helpfully.

“You should know, Rutledge,” Leo said in a pleasant tone, “that I had planned to kill you right away, but Rohan says we should talk for a few minutes first. Personally, I think he’s trying to delay me so he can have the pleasure of killing you himself. And even if Rohan and I don’t kill you, we probably won’t be able to stop my brother-in-law Merripen from killing you.”

Cam and Merripen are the outwardly bloodthirsty characters, but it’s quite clear that Leo is just as protective when it comes to his sisters. Additionally, it’s clearly not Poppy’s reputation that concerns him, but her feelings.

So, yeah, Leo is kind of the hero of this book, far more so that Rutledge.

But strangely, for all the awful things he does, Rutledge isn’t irredeemable, and he isn’t over-the-top horrible.

It was clear he was indifferent to the fact that she now knew him for what he was. Harry wanted neither forgiveness nor redemption . . . he regretted nothing.

Well, mostly.

I also really liked the secondary characters in the story–the ones who were not related to Poppy.

(S)he needs a husband.”

“She has a husband,” Jake protested.

The housekeeper’s eyes narrowed. “Have you noticed nothing odd about their relationship, Valentine?”

“No, and it’s not appropriate for us to discuss it.”

Monsieur Broussard regarded Mrs. Pennywhistle with keen interest. “I’m French,” he said. “I have no problem discussing it.”

I quite liked this one–and the slow unfolding of Leo’s redemption and Marks, the governess’s history.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Rating: 8/10

Married By Morning (2010) 

Set in England in 1852.

This is the fourth book in the series. And I really enjoyed this one.

Leo Hathaway, Lord Ramsay, spent several self-destructive years after the death of his fiancee. It took him several years to forgive Merripen for saving his life, and it was only being sent to accompany his sister Win to rehabilitate in France that saved him.

Leo, for his part, was trying to make amends for the way he had failed his family. And above all, he was determined to avoid falling in love ever again. Now that he was aware of the fatal depth of feeling he was capable of, he would never give another human being such power over him.

After Leo became Lord Ramsay (and after Leo and Poppy headed to France) the Hathaway family hired Catherine Marks to help his sisters Poppy and Beatrice to properly come out in society. Since the two first met, they argued and bickered and generally disdained each other.

Arguing comes to you as naturally as breathing, doesn’t it?”

“No, it doesn’t,” she said immediately.

I think what made this story so strong is that we’ve had three previous books to learn Leo’s weakness–as well as how much he loves his sisters. And it makes passages like this argument with Catherine’s half-brother (who is married to Poppy) all the more amusing.

“I understand. I even sympathize. I can’t imagine what it would be like to face a man who’s compromised your sister, how difficult it would be to keep from murdering him on the spot. Oh, but wait…” Leo tapped a forefinger thoughtfully on his chin. “I can imagine. Because I went through it two bloody months ago.”

“I’ve fought my way in and out of every gaming hell and tavern in London—” He faked a jab with his left and followed with a swift right hook, making a satisfying impact with Harry’s jaw. “And aside from all that, I live with Merripen, who has a left uppercut like a kick from a mule—”

“Do you ever stop talking?” Harry threw a counterpunch and stepped back before Leo could retaliate.

I especially like the way that bit ended. Harry (justifiably) feels guilt over how he failed to care for his half-sister when he learned about her, which makes him over-react when he feels protective.

I also like that Leo is perfectly aware (having four sisters whom he loves) just what marriage means to a woman of the time.

“Think of it this way,” he said. “Marriage would change hardly anything between us, except that we would end our arguments in a much more satisfying way. And of course I would have extensive legal rights over your body, your property, and all your individual freedoms, but I don’t see what’s so alarming about that.”

It really was appalling, the lack of rights that women of the time had. And I very much appreciate that Leo is the one who points it out all the time.

But best of all, we get Leo’s continued banter with his family.

(A)s the lord of the manor, his duty was to act as host and dance with as many women as possible. “This is the worst thing you’ve ever done to me,” he told Amelia.
“Oh, not at all, I’m sure I’ve done worse things to you.”

Leo considered that, running through a long list of remembered offenses in his mind. “Never mind, you’re right.

I’ll be honest, sibling bickering is almost always one of my favorite things, if it’s done well.

I do not recommend reading this if you haven’t read the previous book, not because you won’t enjoy it, but because having the well-built relationships between the Hathaway siblings from the previous books makes it all the more enjoyable.

I’ll also note that Win and Merripen don’t make too much of an appearance here. Although I like both characters very much, they are the quietest of the group, and I think that made their book more difficult, and I think it also made adding the characters into other books more difficult, since neither is outspoken (unlike the rest of their family).

Regardless, it’s a lovely book and I very much enjoyed it.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 8.5/10

Love In The Afternoon (2010) 

Set in England in 1854.

Beatrix is the youngest Hathaway sister, and the least tame of the family, preferring to spend most of her time with animals. But when a friend is going to dismiss a letter from a soldier without responding, Beatrix asks to reply in her friends name, feeling that the gentleman desperately needed a response.

Captain Christopher Phelan is a second son, and a bit of a rake, living for pleasure while leaving the responsibilities to his older brother. But when he is moved to the Rifle Brigade, and sent to war in Russia, his life changes dramatically, turning him from a wastrel to a soldier.

This was actually a very sweet story.

As I was reading, I kept fearing it was going to go into one of those bitter and angry places that I really don’t like stories to go, and although it veered that way a couple of times, it did NOT go there, which was lovely.

First, the misunderstanding. Bea acts out of kindness. Christopher returns home angry and traumatized and wanting the woman with whom he corresponded. This bit I think made a huge difference to how things went.

Audrey shook her head slowly. “There is something I want to tell you. But it’s going to become more obvious over time. And you wouldn’t believe it if I told you, or at least you wouldn’t want to believe it. This is one of those things that must be discovered for oneself.”

I also think that the reaction of Christopher’s family is important as well. PTSD was definitely not a thing back then, and men were expected to act as if nothing was unusual when they returned to England. That his mother is suffering from the loss of her son doesn’t excuse her, but it does explain why Christopher was the way he was when younger.

“It’s not decent,” Mrs. Phelan said heatedly, “this lack of respect for him. Your brother deserves to be mourned, or at least be given a show of it, by the man who has profited so greatly by his death.”

Christopher had stared at her in disbelief. “I have profited?” he had repeated in a low voice. “You know I never gave a damn about inheriting Riverton. I would give everything I have, if it would bring him back. If I could have sacrificed my life to save his, I would have.”

“How I wish that had been possible,” she had said acidly.

I also loved the bits thrown in for those who’d read the previous books.

“It’s personal,” Christopher said quietly. “And it concerns your sister.” He looked from Cam to Leo. Ordinarily there would have been no question concerning which one of them to approach. As lord of the manor, Leo would have been the first choice. However, the Hathaways seemed to have settled on an unconventional sharing of roles.

“Which one of you should I talk to?” Christopher asked.

They pointed to each other and replied at the same time.

“Him.”

As I said, there were several points where I thought the story was going to go to an angrier place than it did, but both characters managed to talk about their problems, and to respect each other, and understand that Christopher’s problems were not going to be solved overnight.

I think that last was most important. The realization that only time and patience can solve some problems.

So it was a lovely conclusion to a lovely series.

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: 8.5/10


The Ravenels


Devil in Spring (2017)

Set in London in 1876

Lady Pandora Ravenel doesn’t want to marry. She wants to make board games and live on her own, because women lose all their right as soon as they marry. But when she’s found in a compromising position with Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, he is forced to propose, and she has to decide if her independence is more important than well-being of her family in light of the impending scandal.

“What does in flagrante delicto mean, exactly?”

“The literal translation? ‘While the crime is blazing.’”

This was an incredibly sweet book.

Pandora is a wallflower–for very good reasons. She can’t dance, has issues with the dark, and generally prefers to spend her time planning and creating board games. She also has absolutely no desire to get married. For extremely good reasons.

(I)f I marry you, everything I have, including my company, would immediately become yours. You would have complete authority over me. Every shilling I made would go directly to you— it wouldn’t even pass through my hands. I’d never be able to sign a contract, or hire employees, or buy property. In the eyes of the law, a husband and wife are one person, and that person is the husband.

People tend to forget about things like that in historicals.

She also have a family who loves her and wants to protect her.

“Lady Berwick told me there’s no choice. If I don’t marry, the only other option is to hurl myself into the nearest live volcano. Wherever that is.”

“Iceland. And the only way you’ll marry St. Vincent is if you can convince me that you’d prefer him to the volcano.”

Gabriel is not looking for a bride. He has a reputation as a rake–one of the things he inherited from his father as well as the title of Lord St. Vincent, so he’s kept his head down. He is a genuinely nice guy, who feels the pressures of society, and still wants to do well.

They even had lovely and supportive families.

“Did you tell your sister about my problem?”

“Only that you have difficulty dancing. I didn’t tell her why.”

“Oh, thank you, now she thinks I’m clumsy.”

“We’re in a large, basically empty room,” Phoebe said from the piano. “There’s no point in whispering, I can hear everything.”

I kept waiting for the grave misunderstanding, but it never came–the second half of the book was actually a short mystery that allowed you to see how the two came to terms with the compromises they have to make.

It’s a delightful book, with no angst or emotional misery, just two people coming to know each other, and learning to compromise.

Plus the mystery bit at the end.

Publisher: Avon
Rating: 8.5/10

Hello Stranger (2018) 

Set in England in 1876

Dr. Garrett Gibson is the only female doctor in England, and has spent so much time proving she’s good enough, she’s spared nothing for herself.

Ethan Ransom is a Ravanel bastard, former detective for Scotland Yard, and secret agent for the government. He’s also extremely unhappy about the power wielded by his boss and mentor, a man who fully believes that the ends justify the means.

Garrett gave him a skeptical glance. “Are you a truthful man, Mr. Ransom?”

He laughed quietly. “With my job?”

I particularly liked her colleague, Dr Havelock. He respects Garrett’s skill, but he still worries about her. He also does the right thing, even though in the story it feels like the wrong thing.

“As you’re well aware, girls are taught from early childhood that any interest in the workings of their own bodies is shameful. A young woman is praised and admired for her ignorance of sexual matters until her wedding night, when she’s finally introduced to intimacy with pain and confusion. Some of my female patients are so reluctant to discuss their own anatomy that they have to point to an area on a doll to tell me where it hurts. I can scarcely imagine how difficult it must be for a woman to take responsibility for her physical health when she’s always been told she hasn’t the moral or legal right to do so.

I think I appreciated that coming from the male doctor all the more than if it had come from Garrett. It’s a reminder that yes, things were awful for women, but not all men were part of the problem.

“Our existence, even our intellect, hangs upon love— without it, we would be no more than stock and stones.”

In addition to the romance, the story has–not a mystery per se, since we know who that bad guy is–but action and adventure, as Ransom attempts to stop the plotting of the man who taught him to be an agent.

I also enjoyed the medical bits.

“You may wish to look away, Mr. Ravenel,” Garrett murmured, “and keep making a fist.”

“Call me West.”

“I don’t know you well enough for that.”

“You’re draining the life essence from my median basilic,” he pointed out. “I’m on a first-name basis with women who’ve done far less to me than that.

I also really liked that Garret was based upon a real-life historical doctor, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.

Lots of boinking, but I did quite enjoy the story.

Publisher: Avon
Rating: 7.5/10