An imperfect but immensely worthwhile read
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on 14 May 2013
Those of us who devour romances with ridiculous frequency have probably run into many, many, MANY(!) charming, witty, adorably vulnerable, semi-reformed rakes. I don't automatically love that type of hero, but Leo Hathaway emerged as one of my favorite characters from the first entry of this series. He was (and remains!) not just among my favorite Kleypas characters, but among my favorite male characters of any novel...and I've read an insane number of romances. For whatever combination of reasons, it was love at first read for me. So my Leo-loving self deliberately saved this volume of the series for last, like the literary equivalent of dessert. :)
What I Loved:
1) Perhaps I've mentioned that I have a fondness for Leo?! He and Beatrix are by far my favorite Hathaways. Win, Poppy and Amelia are all likable but comparatively bland to me. It's just personal preference, of course: I like my romance characters to be vibrant, quirky and colorful. Leo is very flawed, but that makes him far more compelling and interesting to me than some of his siblings.
Sometimes a series' beloved supporting character mysteriously becomes less interesting when he becomes the hero of his own novel, but despite a few minor "I wish he'd been written a little differently here..." glitches, overall I closed this novel feeling as enamored with Leo as I did when I started. Generally speaking, I'd guess that Leo fans will emerge with their affection for him intact or even increased, while those who never liked Leo are unlikely to change their minds.
2) Based on previous installments, I hadn't expected to love Cat as a heroine. I was happily surprised by how much I liked and related to her in this one.
3) The writing is...well, it's Kelypas-esque, which is high praise. Lush, poignant, and almost as funny as it is dramatic. Kleypas turns a phrase so beautifully that her novels always give my Kindle's highlight button a workout. Tessa Dare writes sparkly fun romances, Courtney Milan writes sneakily thought-provoking romances, but of the modern romance authors I read it's Lisa Kleypas who writes the most emotionally rich and evocative romances. Vibrant characters, lovable pets, swoon-worthy prose, and a an undefinable magic that makes her books so eminently engaging and unforgettable to me. The emotion feels earned rather than cheesy. And she writes romances that I genuinely find...well, romantic! That's not a given :)
4) I really love family-centric series, and the quirky but extremely close-knit Hathaways are a true joy to spend time with. I mean it as more of a compliment than an insult when I say that in many ways her family relationships resonate with me more than the romantic ones.
What I Didn't Like:
1) As fellow reviewers have mentioned, the plotting and pacing range from solid to bumpy and uneven. Her novels, like most other modern romances (in my opinion, of course!) feel a bit too long. A tighter page limit would do wonders for the plotting and pacing issues here. Characterizations, dialogue and prose happen to be more important to me than plotting and pacing. But if a novel's plotting and pacing is crucial to determining whether you enjoy a book, you might want to keep your expectations lower when you pick up this one!
2) Cat/Leo were the classic "love/hate" couple, and sometimes it seemed the emphasis was on the latter. We all have different romance tropes that do or don't resonate with us, and couples who spend most of the novel fighting and bickering over and over tend to grow tiresome for me. I know that's supposed to pass for chemistry, but for me it just makes me wonder if the H and h are annoyingly incompatible rather than "soulmates." So while I know romance novels need to rely on conflict to drive the story and even found some of the arguments between Leo and Cat genuinely amusing, I personally would have wanted a little more connection and a little less clashing, especially because those moments of connection were so very sweet and sigh-worthy :)
Beatrix's story, Love in the Afternoon, remains my personal favorite of the series. (And ranks among my top five romance novels ever, just to give you an idea of my taste!) But I loved this one in spite of its flaws. There's something special about most of Kleypas' historicals, and now that a few days have elapsed I'm pleasantly surprised to find that I truly "miss" this book---it stuck with me more than I'd expected to, and the romances I've tried to get into since have paled by comparison. Even if you're not as ardently pro-Leo as I am, I sincerely believe it's well worth reading. The Hathaways have emerged as one of my all-time favorite fictional families, and this series is on my surprisingly short list of books that I plan to reread again...and again!
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