Tag Archives: Lisa Kleypas

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour: what the?

I LOVE Lisa Kleypas. I have raved more times than is good for me about her gorgeous, passionate, sexy books. See here. And here. And here. Also here.

Yep. I love her.

But I am oh so confused by her latest release.

Her last four releases have been contemporaries. Sugar Daddy I haven’t read. Blue Eyed Devil and Smooth Talking Stranger were both pretty good, the latter more so than the former. But they didn’t sparkle for me like her incomparable Hathaway series. They were written in first person, and she seemed to take her move into contemporary as a chance to bite off bigger issues – which I’m not entirely sure was a good idea.

The first disconcerting thing about Christmas Eve at Friday Harbour was the look of it. It’s about half the size of a typical romance novel. Something about most genre fiction, and single-title romance for sure, is that the look and feel of the book is familiar.

So this slim tome was immediately alien to me.

Then the first chapter, which sets up the premise of the book, felt like the kind of summary an author might write for herself to figure out what’s going on and what’s coming up and how everyone’s feeling about it.

It didn’t feel like a living, engaging, right-now kind of story. There was so much telling and so little showing, that I hardly cared. The hero was ordered straight from Amazon (thanks Jenny Crusie!) – blue eyes, dark hair, not handsome, but rugged and good-looking enough that it doesn’t matter.

He and his brothers are being brought back together for the first time after surviving a turbulent upbringing and the loss of a sister. Which feels like nothing more than a by-the-by, “this is my character’s backstory”.

Again, like she’s writing notes, in summary, to herself.

I can’t help but wonder whether she ran out of time. Inspiration. Talent… Nah, ok, I wouldn’t go that far, because this is Ms Lisa K we’re talking about.

But a very odd, disconcerting experience all up.

Oh, and I forgot yesterday: The blurb is completely misleading. I understand that blurb writers can’t read every book they write blurbs for (or else that would be the best job in the world!), but surely they at least get the editor to OK it before it goes to print?

third-wave romance

according to the people who like to talk, coffee culture is up to its third wave. So in a completely unrelated aside, I decided that I have a theory about romance writing, and where it’s up to.

(I’m obliged to say that “third-wave” is considered a highly pretentious, silly term by actual coffee people. But it works for my theory, so it stays.)

There is old-school, bodice-rippers-of-the-70s romance. This is what lingers, and gives people the impression they have of the genre. This is what we snuck into the library and read as teenagers, with its “quivering mound of venus”s and “purple-headed warrior”s.

As skilful and beloved as Stephanie Laurens is, I think she’s an example of first-wave romance. Her heroes are alphas, her heroines are plucky, and whilst the heroine never finds herself suddenly turned on in the middle of being raped, she does quite often “leave the mortal plane” for hours on end after sex, before coming back to herself.

To me, that says old-school.

The second wave are the intelligent, funny, sexy and wise writers like Eloisa James, Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Kleypas – even Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Their books are complex and peopled with flawed, human characters. Sex isn’t always perfect. The writing is that epitome of genre writing: entirely transparent, like a window that draws you into a scene, without making you aware at any time that there’s glass between you and what you’re watching.

Then there’s third-wave.

I admit to only having read a tiny corner of what’s out there, but for what I’ve read, there are three writers bringing in the new generation of romance: Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Julie Anne Long.

Third-wave romance has characters that don’t only have three dimensions and believable motivations, and aren’t just sympathetic and flawed. They feel human. To the point where sometimes you feel like you’re intruding on a private moment between them and their beloved.

These writers are also pushing the kind of language that romance novels are written in. They’re using unique, fresh images and startling turns of phrase. Their characters are so well-drawn that we are only ever seeing the tip of the iceberg, in the best writerly fashion. Language is becoming a facet of the novel, in and of itself.

I wouldn’t say third-wave is best. In a way, second-wave makes for a more enjoyable read, because of its transparency – it doesn’t unsettle you, or leave you wondering.

I aspire to be the best writer I can be, but I maybe secretly aspire to the third wave as well.

could you stand to have a cuppa with your protagonist?

My original review of Love in the Afternoon is appropriately gushy, so I won’t go into how great the book is on re-reading.

Something that’s really struck me this time around – and maybe it’s in contrast to the ernest paranormal lot – is that Beatrix is just so damn likable. She’s genuine and original, warm-hearted and half wild.

A lot of authors tell us their heroines are those things, but Beatrix really is. It makes me realise, in contrast, just how many heroines annoy. And a huge part of her charm is that she truly does respect and stick up for herself – without losing her gorgeous sense of vulnerability.

I love unlikable characters, especially when their “badness” has integrity. But there’s so much to be learned from this wonderful novel about writing someone you would genuinely respect, admire and – yes – take tea with.


the Love in the Afternoon review

Here’s some praise: I looked forward to reading this book with almost stupid impatience after reading the teaser chapter last month. Yet the book stood up to all my expectations and more.

(A quick note on covers – I never bother imagining the characters the way they appear on the covers, and neither do I usually give them more than a passing glance. That said, I would be very sad to see an attempt at making the romance novel look sophisticated and lose its distinctive jacket.)

Beatrix is an eccentric, half wild girl who loves animals of all kinds – especially the wounded and alone. (I’m so jealous of her pet hedgehog. I want a pet hedgehog!)

Christopher Phelan is a dashing local lad who joins the cavalry and strides around looking handsome and calling Beatrix “that odd Hathaway girl.”

Then Christopher goes to war in the Crimea and writes his sweetheart a war-weary letter, longing for some quiet, warm place left in the world. His sweetheart is the girl so shallow she has hidden shallows, who has no idea how or desire to reply. But there’s a question about a dog, so she shows the letter to Beatrix, and Beatrix is immediately drawn in.

So Beatrix replies instead, pretending to be shallow-girl, and the two fall in love via letters. Then Christopher comes home…

Great premise, no?

In the Married by Morning review I talked quite a lot about how Kleypas does chemistry like no other. Again here. These two characters are absolutely magnetising. Their love is absolute and intoxicating and just a little bit wild.

The obligatory danger/action at the end of the book is my only hesitation in calling it perfect – it just seemed a little tacked on. But really, with a book this great, who cares?

Love in the Afternoon is the fifth and final book of the Hathaway series. The books are linked by all being about the same family, but can be read separately. Seriously though, read them all. It’s the best romance series I’ve read, I think. (Followed closely by Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses and Essex Sisters and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Princes.) The whole family are so gorgeous, and they all remain throughout each other’s stories.

Because Kleypas’s website is hopeless, here is the series and book order:

Mine till Midnight

Seduce Me at Sunrise

Tempt Me at Twilight

Married by Morning

Love in the Afternoon

every romantic hero is a superhero; every superhero has his kryptonite

One of the things I love about romance fiction – and I think it’s true for most genre fiction – is that the protagonists are superheroes. That includes the women, by the way, I just thought that “every romantic hero/ine is a superhero/ine; every superhero/in has his/her kryptonite” didn’t make for a catchy title.

Each character is absolute in their own specific way and it makes them infinitely powerful. Take Edward Cullen, the hugely popular romantic hero: his vampire nature is as unchanging as the granite his body resembles, so when he makes the great shift of falling in love with Bella it is absolute and forever. And, not only will his love for her never abate, he also has the superhuman capacity to feel things with extraordinary intensity and depth.

See, superhero!

In old-school romance, I think the superpower is quite often the characters’ incredible beauty, which is a kind of lame superpower, really.

My favourite one, I think, is Leo from Lisa Kleypas’s Married by Morning. He’s explaining to Catherine why he was destroyed by the death of his first love and he says: “I love like a madman.”

Leo’s superpower is the way he can love. Pretty seductive, no?

Now to the kryptonite…

I think it’s most often the person they fall in love with, which is entirely fitting. Such a great example of this is in the book I’m reading right now, Gaelen Foley‘s Lady of Desire.

Lady Jacinda Knight meets Billy Blade when she gets lost in the London rookeries, where he’s king of the local gang. She meets him in his element, at his full, wild power. He is physically and psychologically potent.

There is an incredibly touching/powerful scene when he follows her back into her London, all the way to Hyde Park, and she has no choice but to socially cut him before the society lads with her take him on. Then Blade re-takes his rightful position as an earl and braves the public humiliation of wearing purple when it is not the done thing, just to see her again.

What makes this plot work so very well is the vulnerability Jacinda creates in Blade. He follows her to a place where he loses all his power, because his longing for her works against all his instincts, to the core of who he is.

Then there’s the quite literal example of this more metaphorical idea. In the film Hancock (spoiler alert) two superheroes/gods are destined to love each other for all eternity, but whenever they come physically near each other they begin to lose their powers. That is always when they are most vulnerable.

Cryptonite takes away the alien superman and puts a human in his place. Someone flawed. Someone fearful. Someone immensely lovable.

the Married By Morning review

And I thought I was going to gush about Soulless…

Reading this book is like being back among beloved family you’ve been longing to see. No, scrap that. It’s like falling in love. The deliciously agonising kind.

I didn’t realise how few books have grabbed me like this recently until I was hugging the book to my chest and grinning – even in the agonising bits.

One of my gripes with Ten Things I Love About You was that I didn’t get the characters’ chemistry at all. Married by Morning starts with a kiss too – and my God did I get it! These two characters are so magnetic that you long for every single kiss as much as they do.

Okay, let’s be honest, probably more. That Kleypas sure can write a sex scene! And I love what she says on her website about writing them: “If done right, they’re crucial in showing the development of the characters and their relationship.” It’s such a brilliant approach to take, and it works. You can’t just skip through the hot bits if you’re not that into them (I can’t imagine doing this – I thought those bits were the whole point of romance novels (ok, sort of), but it’s true, lots of women have told me they don’t read the sexy bits), because then you miss a whole important part of the relationship development.

She also talks about spending a long time thinking about the words, to make sure she avoids cliche. I think this is at the heart of what I love about a Kleypas sex scene – she’s just as non-graphic as Julia Quinn, but so much more specific to her characters, so that it’s not a general sense of the amazing like, say, the earth moving, but a specific sense of how her characters are moved/challenged etc.

eeep! Already so many words and I haven’t even gotten past the rude bits yet!

This is the fourth book in the Hathaway series, which is an amazing series. The third book, Tempt Me at Twilight makes my top three romance novels of all time.

Usually in these kind of series the books are meant to also be able to stand alone and be read out of context. I think MbM would still be highly enjoyable on its own, but she definitely dives right in at the beginning without much set-up, so I would highly recommend reading the others first to get the build-up of the relationship. Because, to be honest, Leo and Marks (Catherine) kind of steal the show a bit when they appear in the first books

Which brings me to another thing Kleypas does so well – the characters of the proceeding books don’t just appear in “happily ever after” cameos so favoured by romance authors. Okay, so we definitely want to know that those couples we invested hours of our lives in have indeed turned out as ridiculously happy as we hoped they would. But it can make them feel a bit irrelevant. Or over somehow, like everything unexpected they were ever going to do has been done. The whole Hathaway family remains alive and involved in every novel of this series.

Oh, and possibly the very highest praise I can give it is this:

My very tired, very sceptical husband arrived home last night and picked up the book where I had put it down and started reading. He didn’t stop for four pages, when dinner interrupted him.

He looked up at me and said the unimaginable: “I was quite enjoying reading that, actually.”