Review: Hello Stranger

Review: Hello StrangerHello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Not as good as DEVIL IN SPRING, but the unique heroine makes this book. Both outside of the typical aristocratic world, Garrett and Ethan have a sweeter romance than I expected.

THE STORY: Dr. Garrett Gibson is the only woman doctor in England and has made herself independent and finds herself just a little annoyed that Mr. Ethan Ransom keeps popping up watching over her. Ethan was formally with Scotland Yard but now works in the shadows. Although he knows that he should stay away from the intriguing Dr. Gibson, Ethan cannot. Garrett is determined to have a love affair if nothing else, but Ethan brings with him deadly danger from someone plotting a terrorist event.

OPINION: This book has an unlikely pairing — the first woman doctor in England and a spy. Garrett and Ethan meet periodically as Ethan first comes across her in his work. But even though he knows that there is something special between them, his work does not allow him attachments. He cannot avoid, however, watching over her and the two end up meeting again and again.

A funny way to begin a romance, but Garrett and Ethan bond over strange and practical things. While their meetings are prosaic at times, there is an intense underlying sweetness between them. They are so obviously perfect for one another, but Ethan’s job is dangerous and any attachments are dangerous both to him and to anyone he care about. I loved how the two are with one another and how Kleypas keeps the importance of Garrett’s job at the forefront of the story.

This is the story of equals. Garrett knows that she wants Ethan and is determined that somehow she will make things work. She has agency in this story. Her choices, her decisions are her own. And she will not allow Ethan to make the decisions for both of them.

With the description of this story, I expected more intrigue and drama, but the book wisely keeps centered on Garrett and her choices and this makes this book more personal and intimate and sweeter as a romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: For fans of West, he has a prominent role here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HELLO STRANGER is the fourth book in the Ravenels series. While this series has a different couple in each book, this is the story of a family and thus the books have overlapping characters and in this case, the romance between Garrett and Ethan actually begins in MARRYING WINTERBORNE and continues in DEVIL IN SPRING. While this book catches the reader up, I think it is better to read the series in order to know all the characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Stranger in My Arms

Review: Stranger in My ArmsStranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas
Published by HarperCollins e-books on October 13th 2009
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

“Lady Hawksworth, your husband is not dead.”

FINAL DECISION: An enjoyable read that had a Gothic feel to it. The story was more intellectual than full of heart, but I enjoyed the experience of Lara’s uneasiness to the man who has returned to her and the two of them falling in love.

THE STORY: After two years of a miserable marriage, Lara was happy to see her husband go off to India. When she learned of his death, she was finally able to live her own life. Now a year later, she is told that her husband has returned. Lara is at first convinced that the man must be an impostor. But he knows things that only her husband could know. He is, however, not the man who left her. Hunter claims that his near death experience has changed him. The question is whether the man who returned to her is her husband or a stranger.

OPINION: This was an interesting book. A story that raises the issue of whether someone can change and whether a woman can begin to dream again.

This book is clearly an exercise in twisting back and forth over whether Hunter is actually Lara’s husband or an impostor. But it also raises the issue of whether it is possible for a person to change and become a “stranger” to his old life.

This book feels more Gothic than I expected. Who is this man? What is his purpose? Or is this actually Lara’s husband and her doubts and lack of trust are just blinding her to his identity. I liked the intellectual and mysterious elements in this story. And this is a book that I really recommend reading without spoilers.

The best part of the book for me is Lara’s indecision and how she realizes who Hunter is — not in the simple sense of a name but rather as a man. By using the uncertainty she has over whether or not he is her husband, a discovery anew is permitted. Lara finds out who her husband was and is.

Because Hunter remains mysterious for most of the book, the story feels more intellectual that emotional and maybe I’d not like all of my books in this model. But here it works for me.

WORTH MENTIONING: Do not read ahead in this book. Enjoy the way the story develops.

CONNECTED BOOKS: STRANGER IN MY ARMS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Where Dreams Begin

Review: Where Dreams BeginWhere Dreams Begin by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on November 26th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 373
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was an enjoyable book, with parts that I really enjoyed, especially the hero, but it felt uneven and the plot didn’t flow as well as I would expect. I was annoyed by the heroine’s reasons for rejecting the hero and that was the entire reason for them being apart so it made a difference to my enjoyment of the story.

THE STORY: Lady Holly Taylor is a widow with a young daughter. Entirely proper in every day, Holly is shocked when she encounters a man in a darkened room who, mistaking her for someone else, kisses her passionately. Even more shocking is when she realizes that the man is Zachary Bronson. Bronson is a commoner and a self-made man who is extremely influential but barely tolerated by society. Captivated by Holly, Bronson is determined to spent as much time with her as possible. When he makes her a scandalous offer of employment, Holly is tempted.

OPINION: There was a lot I really enjoyed about this story. The cross-class romance was quite wonderful as Holly begins to see something different that how she was raised and expected to live. She begins to question things about her own life.

I also loved, loved Zachary who is so sweet in how he falls for Holly. He is so taken with her almost immediately but treats her with such respect. His interactions with Holly’s daughter are also adorable. I also liked how he treats Holly as a flesh and blood woman and not as a status symbol. So often this story might be him deciding that he wants to improve himself by marrying into society and trying to coerce her, but that is not how this story works.

The drama is about Holly’s own reticence and that is where I had the problem. Holly is too concerned about what her husband would want and expect from her. I certainly understand that she might be concerned about how she was raised or society’s view, but I don’t get turning over your life to a dead man. There was just too much of that for me.

My second problem is with the secondary crisis in the book towards the end. It seemed manufactured because everything is really resolved and then we have chapters left to finish so we need a new drama — but since the two have already declared themselves to one another, it just didn’t feel that it moved the story forward in any real way.

Despite this, I really liked Holly and Zachary together. They had a sweet romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: A minor character, Dr. Linley, has his own romance in the novella “Against the Odds”.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHERE DREAMS BEGIN is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Crystal Cove

Review: Crystal CoveCrystal Cove by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor #4
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on February 5th 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Paranormal
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: My favorite book of the series because it works as a complete story and the magical elements blend perfectly with the romance. The intense focus on the couple made me really enjoy this one.

THE STORY: Justine Hoffman, the owner of a successful Bed and Breakfast hotel in Friday Harbor, has known that her life is missing love. What she never understood is why she can’t feel love. Then she discovers that someone cast a spell upon her to stop her from loving. When she breaks the enchantment, she doesn’t realize that something more dangerous might be in the offing. Jason Black, a successful video game creator has come to Friday Harbor to build a retreat complex — and also for his own mysterious purposes related to Justine.

OPINION: This book avoids the main issue I had with the other books in the series (apart from the first novella): this book manages to marry the personal journey of the heroine, the romance and the magical elements.

The magical elements work because the series goes full-blown into the paranormal without apology. Jason is a man without a soul and Justine is a hereditary witch. There are no conflicts between the straight contemporary story and the magic. This book goes for the magical elements with a whole heart and the book is better for it.

This book also focuses primarily on the romance between Justine and Jason and takes part in the personal journey of Justine only as a part of that story. So there are not chapters and chapters about her personal problems that have no impact on the romance. Here everything is well integrated and connected. Justine’s drama comes from her relationship with her mother and while this story is a part of this book, the focus remains on the romance.

And I loved the romance. The story was so different than what I expected when I read that Justine was going to be involved with a man without a soul. The story was well worked out and things fit in nicely that I got to focus on the characters relationship which was the highlight here. Jason had depth and humor and a sweetness that I didn’t expect.

The book goes a little stronger into the bedroom habits of the couple (and I never expected to end up reading two book about Japanese rope art in the same year) than I usually read with Kleypas’s books, but it works because there is less internal drama with the characters, so things are kept a little more spicy with the external parts of their relationship.

I had only a few small complaints about the story. First, I really thought that Justine would have made Jason pay more for his actions in the book. Or maybe, I wanted her to be more angry and make him grovel a little more. Second, this book and the series really needed something to conclude it. An epilogue or another book. I believe that there was intended to be more of the series, but since there isn’t I really missed seeing how everything worked out for all the couples.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book seemed to set up another book in the series that was not written.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CRYSTAL COVE is the fourth book in the Friday Harbor series. While there are overlapping characters, this book can be read as a complete standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Dream Lake

Review: Dream LakeDream Lake (Friday Harbor, #3) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor #3
Published by Piatkus Books on August 7th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Paranormal
Pages: 336
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I struggled and struggled with how to rate this book because I loved the couple, but ultimately felt that the story didn’t do them justice. I would read parts of it again because some interactions were amazing, but it didn’t work for me as well as a whole.

THE STORY: Alex Nolan is the youngest son of a pair of alcoholic parents and that has made him cynical and jaded and on his way to following in his parents’ footsteps. After his divorce, Alex recognizes that he will be alone. And then he is not alone when he finds that a ghost searching for his identity and his past attaches himself to Alex. Zoe Hoffman is gentle and sweet and everything that Alex knows he will destroy if the two get involved. Zoe, however, sees something good in Alex that calls to her even as her own life has challenges dealing with her elderly grandmother.

OPINION: Some books are challenging to read and some are challenging to decide what I think of them. This book started out really slow for me and I thought it might be worse than the second book in the series which was okay but not fantastic.

But when we got into Alex’s struggle with his drinking and his relationship with Zoe begins to develop, I just fell in love with these characters and their relationship. The gentle way that Zoe overcomes Alex (who doesn’t recognize or want to acknowledge that he longs for commitment and love) was just magical. I loved their interactions which felt real and frank and some really amazing character development.

That middle third to half of the book was amazing.

But the resolution was too quick and too contrived for me. Zoe and Alex deserved something better. I just didn’t buy it. And that might have something to do with the ghost story which didn’t work that well for me.

This book was a mixed bag for me, but the characters are ones that I will continue to think about and those middle pages are ones that I will re-read. But ultimately, the whole of the book meant that I couldn’t give it more stars. I liked the book, but while the characters were amazing, the overall story was only okay.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book takes place at the same time as the second book in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DREAM LAKE is the third book in the Friday Harbor series. It is not really necessary to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one although the overlapping characters and timeline make this book better after reading the other two.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Rainshadow Road

Review: Rainshadow RoadRainshadow Road (Friday Harbor, #2) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor #2
Published by Piatkus Books on February 28th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Paranormal
Pages: 308
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was a fine story and parts were really good, but I thought the first half was better than the conclusion and nothing about it was really memorable.

THE STORY: Lucy Marinn discovers that her live-in boyfriend of two years has dumped her for her younger sister. Lucy asks herself why she keeps getting involved with the wrong kind of man. When she meets Sam Nolan, owner of a local vineyard, she knows she bad man streak continues. Sam is a nice man but he is upfront that he never intends to marry and any relationship with him can only be physical. The two cannot seem to avoid one another, however, as accidents, matchmaking and coincidences keep bringing them together.

OPINION: I wanted to really love this book, but I only ended up liking it and that was primarily because of the characters. In some ways this felt like a book made up of jumbled genres. Contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and paranormal just didn’t work together in this book.

I loved the characters and wish this was more like a true contemporary romance. Instead, this book has a women’s fiction feel where the story is more about Lucy’s personal growth than the romance. We don’t get enough about Sam and Lucy together. In fact, much of their story ends up taking place in the space of a couple of paragraphs noting that they spent months together as a couple.

I liked the characters and the story, but I thought the romance ended up a bit disconnected even though it had great potential.

The book also has paranormal elements that seemed to have no real purpose in the story. They were weirdly placed and didn’t really contribute to the story. They were neither fully integrated into the characters nor significant enough to the story to make their placement worth breaking the contemporary romance rules.

Parts of the book were really good. I loved the parts where the deep emotions between Lucy and Sam are allowed to be the focus, but those moments were only enough to make the overall book likable.

The book feels like an experiment that I didn’t find entirely successful.

WORTH MENTIONING: I think the blurb for this book doesn’t really describe the story in this book as it suggests that Sam and Lucy get together because of her ex’s interference. That is just not true.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RAINSHADOW ROAD is the second book in the Friday Harbor series. It can be read as a standalone although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor

Review: Christmas Eve at Friday HarborChristmas Eve at Friday Harbor (Friday Harbor, #1) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Friday Harbor #1
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 26th 2010
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 221
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: A good Christmas story if a bit simplistic and lacking the emotional depth and humor of other Kleypas books. I enjoyed this book but I’ll keep it in my holiday reads rather than my keepers.

THE STORY: The last thing Mark Nolan expects is to take on raising his niece Holly, but when his sister dies in an accident, Mark realizes that no one else will do it. Even as he and his brother take on caring for Holly, Mark realizes that Holly wants and needs a woman’s presence so he thinks about getting engaged to the woman he is dating, but he can’t stop thinking about Maggie Collins. Maggie has come to Friday Harbor after the death of her husband and she plans never to love so much again because it almost destroyed her before. But the sweet Holly and her uncle are something she can’t resist.

OPINION: I enjoyed this book, but it certainly reads more like a shorter holiday novel than the complex romance I expect from Kleypas. This story started out incredibly well but just at the time that Mark and Maggie recognize their feelings for one another, the remained of the story becomes simple and easily resolved.  The truth is that there is not enough conflict between these characters or the situation in the beginning. So when the situation with Mark’s current girlfriend is resolved, there is really nothing keeping them apart and all that is required is the happy ending.

I thought the book was well written and enjoyable as a simple holiday read. The characters are well constructed and I enjoyed seeing Mark become a father to Holly. There was nothing that I didn’t like about this book, it just wasn’t a particularly deep or complex story.

WORTH MENTIONING: There was a television movie made of this book entitled CHRISTMAS WITH HOLLY.

CONNECTED BOOKS: CHRISTMAS EVE AT FRIDAY HARBOR is the first book in the Friday Harbor series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Devil in Spring

Review: Devil in SpringDevil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on February 21st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 370
Goodreads
five-stars

“You do not want to marry me, my lord. I would be the worst wife imaginable. I’m forgetful and stubborn, and I can never sit still for more than five minutes. I’m always doing things I shouldn’t. I eavesdrop on other people, I should and run in public, and I’m a clumsy dancer. And I’ve lowered my character with a great deal of unwholesome reading material.”  Pausing to draw breath, she notice that Lord St. Vincent didn’t appear properly impressed by her list of faults. “Also, my legs are skinny. Like a stork’s.”

FINAL DECISION:  So rarely does a highly anticipated sequel live up to expectations.  While not as good as DEVIL IN WINTER, this book is a worthy successor.  Will take a place on my favorites’ shelf.

THE STORY: Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent has accidentally compromised an unusual young lady, Lady Pandora Ravenel.  Neither, however, wants to marry — Gabriel because he sees that Pandora is completely unsuitable to be the type of dignified wife he needs; Pandora because she has no intention of allowing any man to control her fate and life.  Gabriel is fascinated with Pandora and finds himself drawn to her.  Pandora finds in Gabriel a man who listens to her and respects her opinions, but the risk of becoming essentially his to control is something she doesn’t want to risk even as she falls for him.

OPINION:

“No matter how she had tried to make herself want what she should want, she knew she would never be happy in a conventional life.”

Pandora is an amazing creation.  She is neurotic, opinionated, intelligent, oh so clever and yet sweet in a unique way.  I loved just about everything about her.  She is a different kind of wallflower.  A woman who is so brilliant that she has difficulties with the social niceties that society demands. Always the odd person in the group, she has managed to forge a future for herself as a game designer. (I absolutely loved her devotion to her budding career).  Everything about her character felt fresh and new and oh so lovely, especially for all of us who feel out of step with what people expect from us.

Gabriel is a hero who is so different from his father and yet has the best qualities of both his parents. He manages to be so incredibly caring and supportive of Pandora.  She is a special person and Gabriel knows exactly how to care for her. He is kind and so so dreamy.  Sexy and definitely a man in charge, he also has the gentleness of his mother and the benefit of having grown up in a loving family. He is a man who doesn’t need to be reformed to be a wonderful man — he just is.

“Your problem,” his sister continued, “is that you’re too good at maintaining that facade of godlike perfection. You’ve always hated for anyone to see that you’re a mere mortal. But you won’t win this girl that way.” She began to dust the sand from her hands. “Show her a few of your redeeming vices, dear. She’ll like you all the better for it.”

I rarely love a book as much as I loved this one primarily because Gabriel was such a warm loving man and he made it his mission to balance out all the jagged edges of Pandora’s life. His giving nature and willingness to put his own needs and desires aside to help fulfill Pandora was so wonderful to read about.  He finds Pandora incredibly charming and she brings something to him that makes him want to protect her.  And yet, he cannot crush her by forcing her to conform and be “safe”.

“It was insane to let a creature so perfectly beautiful and artlessly spirited and vulnerable as his wife venture out into the world that could crush her with casual unconcern, and he had no choice to but allow it. For the rest of his life, he would feel a stab of dread every time she walked out the door, leaving him there with his heart wide open.”

I loved this book and if I liked it a smidgen less than the book on Gabriel’s parents it is only because the timeless trope of that book — wallflower and rake — is probably my favorite.  But this one is original and fresh and very wonderful.

“Their marriage would be a partnership, just like their waltzing…not perfect, not always graceful, but they would find their way together.”

Just incredibly lovely!

WORTH MENTIONING:  I would buy this book for the Prologue alone where Evangeline and Sebastian from DEVIL IN WINTER are most prominent.  One of my all time favorite books and the prologue shows why.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DEVIL IN SPRING is the third book in the Ravenels series.  This book is much better if read as part of the series, but a new reader should also include DEVIL IN WINTER which is from Kleypas’s Wallflowers series.  This book is a direct sequel from that book as it tells the story of the son of the DEVIL IN WINTER couple (who make appearances of their own).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: I Will

Review: I WillI Will: A Christmas Novella by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Capital Theatre #2.5
Published by Avon Impulse on December 13th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 144
Goodreads
three-half-stars

“She was pure. He was tarnished. She was honest. He tailored the truth to fit his own purposes. She was self-disciplined. He had never restrained himself in any regard. She was calm and serene. He had never known a moment’s peace in his life. Andrew envied her, and so he had mocked her mercilessly on the few previous occasions when they had met.

“Now Caroline hated him, and he had come to ask for a favor — a favor he desperately needed.”

FINAL DECISION:  Enjoyable followup to BECAUSE YOU’RE MINE about the younger disreputable brother.  A reformed rake story, this is sweet but a little rushed as a novella.

THE STORY: Andrew, Lord Drake, dissolute rake, has been disinherited by his dying father.  In order to regain his inheritance, Andrew devises a plan to court a thoroughly respectable woman in order to demonstrate to his father that he is reforming his life.  The only woman he can imagine helping him is his friend’s older sister, the proper Miss Caroline Hargreaves.

OPINION:  This was a very enjoyable read, but I think it is better as an add on to the previous book in the series. To truly understand Andrew’s journey, I felt I needed to know what he was like in the previous book.

I did like the relationship between Andrew and Caroline (although I wish we had seen more of their developing relationship which occurs mostly offstage).  There is a long distance for Andrew to travel to be a good man.  This novella has some quite funny moments, including Caroline’s Christmas wish which might be one of my favorite moments I’ve read in a while.  Funny and a sense of justice.

I’m glad that Andrew got his redemption and it is even better that it is as a result of his own attempts at outsmarting his father.  Instead he managed to get his own comeuppance.  This book had a little flavor of DEVIL IN WINTER (a superlative book).  This novella doesn’t reach the heights of that book, but the rake who finds his schemes with an innocent woman resulting in him wanting to turn his own life around to be worthy of her is very similar here.

I enjoyed this story especially for readers who enjoyed BECAUSE YOU’RE MINE.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This novella was previously published in the anthology WISH LIST.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  I WILL is book 2.5 of the Capital Theatre series.  It can be read as a standalone, but is better after reading book two of the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this novella 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Because You’re Mine

Review: Because You’re MineBecause You're Mine (Capital Theatre, #2) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Capital Theatre #2
Published by HarperCollins on February 8th 2005
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The strength of this story is the compelling Logan Scott — a self made man with deep conflicts and desires.  The sweet but strong Madeline is a match for him. I loved their story.

THE STORY:  Lady Madeline Matthews is on the verge of being married off to a lecherous old peer by her father. Determined to avoid that fate, Madeline runs away to London intending to meet with the famous actor Logan Scott and become his lover. In that way, Madeline intends to make herself marriageable and thwart her parents ambitions.

OPINION:  Kleypas has a wonderful way in depicting men who are self-made.  While Logan Scott isn’t up the standards of the marvelous Derek Craven, I found Logan a compelling character.  I was fascinated by his rise from a farmer’s son to the most celebrated actor and theatre owner in London.  Such a journey has taken ambition, talent drive, discipline, determination, dedication, desire and will.  Logan’s hard focused exterior hides a man who has been deeply hurt in his life. Abused by his parents, betrayed by the woman he loved, Logan has opened himself up only on stage in his characters.

Things begin to change, however, when he meets the sweet and innocent Madeline who appears honest and open with nothing to hide.  But, of course, Madeline has much to hide. As she begins to discover the real Logan, she feels guilty about her deception. Madeline is a bright and generous woman who faced her own emotional abuse at the hands of her parents who are cold and do not understand their lively daughter.

This book is divided into two parts which makes a nice narrative break because there are truly two relationships between Madeline and Logan — before and after the revelation of Madeline’s secrets.  I loved how each of the parts worked as its own story and yet they are part of a whole journey for these characters.

Some books just hit the right spot and for me I loved the setting of the story (regency theatre), the character of Logan (and this book is really his story) — a good, forward thinking, damaged, self-made, brilliant man — and the love story between Madeline and Logan which is filled with sweetness, angst and drama.  When you fall in love with the hero, it is often easy to really like the book.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For readers of the first book in the series SOMEWHERE I’LL FIND YOU, there is a nice update on the couple.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  BECAUSE YOU’RE MINE is the second book in the Capital Theatre series.  Although there are overlapping characters, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars