Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DREAMING OF YOU by Lisa Kleypas

DREAMING OF YOU (Gamblers #2) by Lisa Kleypas

Mass Market Paperback, 373 pages
Published May 1st 1994 by Avon Books
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 5 stars
I enjoyed Dreaming Of You for many reasons: for the love story (which is so challenged and hindered by all kinds of obstacles, including the male protagonist's refusal to form any emotional attachment with any woman), for the romance and the sensuality  (although the male hero will resists any emotional or physical connection with the heroine for a good part of the book), for the heartwarming 'happily ever after', but most of all for the powerful characterization of the male hero. 

“A man of ruined potential”: this is how Derek Craven  is described by  his trustworthy and loyal factotum, Mr Worthy. The strength and the depth of this male character, his personal quest from rugs to riches, his loneliness, the hardships he has to face due to his low origins, are so compelling that for me they overshadow even the love story between him and the heroine. Derek has  accumulated wealth beyond belief, achieving a status of power that would make the bluest and most ancient English bloodlines pale in comparison. And yet, he is the most lonely and scarred men on earth.  

The beauty of some historical romance novels (and Ms. Kleypas is a master in this field) is that, beyond the storyline evolving around the matters of the heart,  they provide a surprisingly clever analysis of the social issues related to their historical background: the rise of a new social class as a consequence of the industrial revolution (the self-made men, outsider heroes of many a novel by Lisa Kleypas), the new role of the aristocracy in a climate of profound social and economic changes, the “wealth within reach” offered by the New World,  a new set of moral patterns and values shifting from the restrictive stiffness of the upper classes to the much more liberal and unrestrained social behavior of the new comers, not to  mention the new position of women in society.
The social shifts defining the British Empire during the 1800s were of such a magnitude that, in the fictional but plausible world of  Ms. Kleypas’ historical romance Dreaming Of You, even a man without a past, without roots or education, without blue blood or family wealth, born to a prostitute and abandoned in a drainpipe at birth, raised by other compassionate prostitutes in bawdy houses, nursed on gin, and put to work as a chimney sweeper at a very young age, gigolo for necessity, can turn into an extremely wealthy, incredibly powerful and tremendously ruthless man of consequence. Yet, the immense wealth he has accumulated is not enough to erase his humble origins and what is worse, it is not enough to numb his self-disgust. He remains an outcast in the eyes of a society that welcomes his money and enterprises, but will keep him at distance. He denies himself every chance of real emotional connection, because he considers himself undeserving of love.
What a challenge to create a romance around such a strong and impenetrable male character ! Not the usual aristocratic knight in shining armor or the good-hearted reformed rake, Derek is the hardest, roughest, darkest, and most edgy “hero” you could encounter in a romance novel. Ruthless to the core, embittered by a life of brutal deprivation, alone since he was an infant, he will open up and yield only to a woman “strong, wise, and patient enough to qualify for sainthood”. And here comes Sara, Derek’s only chance of redemption. She is untouched by vice and sin, an angel (like he uses to call her here and there throughout the book) fallen in the filthy backstreets of his gambling club to rescue his body from a horrible disfigurement, if not death, and his soul from isolation and spiritual numbness.
The highest moment of the novel (***LITTLE SPOILER HERE***), the final family scenes: Derek holding his woman after the fire that has destroyed his club, him doting on  his beloved daughter in a moment of  utter tenderness, his soul finally in peace with himself and the world.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

THEN CAME YOU by Lisa Kleypas

THEN CAME YOU (Gamblers #1) by Lisa Kleypas

Mass Market Paperback, 371 pages
Published June 1st 1993 by Avon 
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 4.5 stars
Lisa Kleypas delivers this story with her signature style: utterly descriptive prose, a riveting plot, highly nuanced characters , including the  secondary ones. What impressed me the most, though, is the fact that everything seems to be heightened, magnified, overloaded: a  plot  featuring the abduction of a child and a blackmail, the protagonists’ personalities with their extreme behavior, their initial antagonism, their love/hate relationship, somehow the length and the complexity of the novel itself. 

The most remarkable features of this novel are the plot and, of course, the heroine’s personality. Headstrong and charming Lily Lawson possesses a vibrant beauty (not your usual English rose), the vocabulary of a seaman and a taste for unconventional behavior, sometimes so extreme that she’s almost disturbing. It will take a while for the male hero Alex to understand the real reasons for such  recklessness.

The character I have loved the most, however, is Alex Lord Raiford. He is a man good to the core. Apparently restrained and moderate, clad in an armor of bitter isolation, duty, and loneliness, he is able of an awe-inspiring temper and steel resolution, ready to move mountains in order to protect the woman he loves. Alex and Lily are alike in their pride, temper and obstinacy: despite the rough beginning of their relationship, theirs is actually a match made in Heaven. When two souls are meant for each other like Lily’s and Alex’s are, a man who had died inside can “rejoin the rank of the living”, and a woman with an untamed spirit “can wake the dead”. Responsible and compassionate Alex turns into an unusually devoted husband and surprises Lily in every possible way: he is gentle when she was expecting him to be brutal, he is a generous lover when she feared  he would be abusive, he is capable of an incredible depth of feelings when she thought him cold and unkind.  She can’t but fall in love with him and so do I.

And then came the unfathomable Derek Craven…if I wasn’t aware that there is  a chance of  redemption and happiness for him in the second installment of the Gamblers series, I would feel completely uncomfortable with such wily and  crude character, even sorry for him,  because “the  brutal deprivation of his youth had crippled his heart in some terrible way” and is now preventing him from revealing the true nature of his feelings for Lily.  Thank Heavens for Kleypas’ thriving creativity, he will have his chance in Dreaming Of You.

Monday, January 23, 2012



Mass Market Paperback, 506 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Pocket Star 
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 4 stars
This was my first Teresa Medeiros novel and I had great expectations, considering her fame and the excellent reviews. But something about the first part of this book made it really difficult for me to get into it. Over the first one hundred pages I have been tempted so many times to put it aside momentarily and get back to it later on. I couldn't warm up to it and to the main characters, Clarinda and Ashton. But I decided not to give up and I am glad I did: things get more interesting and the pace picks up speed in the second part of the book. I started to like the two protagonists only at the very end when extremely painful secrets and memories about their past relationship come to the surface. What really caught my interest was the storyline involving the two secondary characters, Poppy and Farouk, with their love for good food, the gratification they both found in eating pastries and their similar taste for poetry and experiences as bullied kids. So sweet and romantic...I rather wished the main plot evolved around them and their relationship: can you imagine the incredible  sensuality and connection between love and food, not to mention the incredibly hot scenes you could create with the aid of sugar, honey and custard cream? All in all, I always appreciate a love story with a happy ending. I look forward to seeing Max in the sequel The Temptation of Your Touch. 


RAINSHADOW ROAD (Friday Harbor #2) by Lisa Kleypas

Trade Paperback, 308 pages
Published February 28th 2012 by St. Martin's Griffin
Genre: contemporary romance novel, fantasy
Rating: 5 stars


This is the review of an Advance Reader EditionI have received through Goodreads First Reads.

I am a huge fan of  LK historical romance novels: some of them are actually my all-time favorite in this genre. Rainshadow Road  is my first LK contemporary novel so I didn’t know exactly what to expect, except for her “trademarks”: the smooth and flawless narration, the incredibly accurate descriptive style, the fully nuanced characters, the heart-wrenching plots, the well-portrayed family dynamics, the perfect balance between sensuality and emotional connection. Rainshadow Road features them all as a further proof that Ms. Kleypas is a great story teller and a consistently good writer. This is what I love about her writing, it never disappoints me, never lets me down.

In my opinion this contemporary novel doesn’t top her historical gems (see Devil In Winter, Again The Magic or Where Dreams Begin), but still, I thoroughly enjoyed it, I found it very pleasant and  heartwarming.  And, as it usually happens with her books, LK has the ability to get you into it since the very first pages, no dull moments or superfluous dialogues. I started reading and in no time I found myself halfway into the book and it all went down smoothly like one of those glasses of wine the characters happen to drink here and there.

What I loved the most about RR is the choice of topics LK made: the heart-wrenching experience of being cheated on and abandoned, the betrayal within your own family ( by the way, Lucy’s and Sam’s are both dysfunctional families), the difficult childhood and the emotional issues caused by abusive and alcoholic parents, unexpected love after a heartbreak. Everything sounds so real and it makes you look back into your own life.
The characters (you’ve got to love Lucy’s overzealous/super-sweet friends Zoe and Justine, the Bikers, Sam and his brothers, even troubled Alan) are never a flat imitation of life. As for the male hero, Kleypas did it again…there’s more to Sam than meets the eye. Under the armor he built around himself, underneath the surface of his handsome looks, lay hidden depths and extreme vulnerability that make him even more appealing and interesting. Layer after layer, you will get to know the abused kid with no family structure except for a wonderful and loving couple leaving next door,  the geek bullied in school, the math genius, the nurturing soul of a vine grower, awesome uncle and, despite himself, generous lover. 

Another great thing about the book: the sensuality, always steamy without being blunt and obvious, never off-key or awkward, always emotionally charged, is the natural result of an emotional connection that builds up  page after page, telling sign of that  love Sam and Lucy are so afraid to admit feeling for each other.
As far as regards the magic element, I really don’t  know what to make of it and where to place it. I think I would have liked RR even without it, because I believe it not to be essential to the development of the events or to the depiction of the characters’ personality. There is already a magical aspect in Lucy’s and Sam’s talents (she’s a great glass artist and he is a vine grower in deep connection with Nature), and this is enough to portray Lucy and Sam as special and unique human beings. Not to mention the magic and the healing power that a new wonderful  love can bring  to wounded souls like theirs. That’s the real magic.

I would love to see more  of the Nolan family and their emotional issues (Alan’s addiction to alcohol, most of all), their need for the healing power of love, the renovation of Sam’s beautiful Victorian house as a way to restore a reassuring family structure that was always missing as the Nolan brothers grew up.
Looking forward to the sequel, Dream Lake.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


CHRISTMAS EVE AT FRIDAY HARBOR (Friday Harbor #1) by Lisa Kleypas

Hardcover, 211 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by St. Martin's Press 
Genre: contemporary romance novella
Rating: 4 stars
For as much as I love Lisa Kleypas’ novels, and when I say “ love” I mean that among her works there are some of my all-time favorite, I hate to say that Christmas Eve At Friday Harbor was slightly below my expectations.
I am particularly fond of her historical romance novels and skeptical about contemporary romance novels in general. But when I read her latest Rainshadow Road (my first Kleypas contemporary), I was so surprisingly pleased with it that I decided to go back and read the first installment in the Friday Harbor series, expecting it to be at least as good as the second one.
Despite the great potential provided by the interesting characters and the romantic setting , CEAFH falls short of everything that usually makes LK novels so riveting and appealing: the storyline seems to be underdeveloped and rushed at the end, the romantic tension is lacking, the characters too tame…
I gave CEAFH 4 stars anyway, in light of what it could have been: the premises for a heart-wrenching romance a la Kleypas were there…let’s say it was an appetizer for some great new books to come.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A LADY AWAKENED by Cecilia Grant

A LADY AWAKENED (A Blackshear Family #1) by Cecilia Grant

Mass Market Paperback, 346 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Bantam 
Genre: historical romance novel
Rating: 5 stars plus
Two thumbs up! 5 stars plus! When Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas meets When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn (two of my all time favorite historical romances) the result is A Lady Awakened, the superb debut novel by Cecilia Grant. 
Beware, this is not your ordinary historical romance: from the prose true to the historical period, to the choice of an original plot, to the absolute lack of romantic involvement between the protagonists (at least in the first part of the book), ALA stands out as unconventional and fresh. Despite the initial slow pace, the lack of emotional and physical connection between Martha and Theo, their relationship evolving from a mere business transaction to mutual admiration and finally love, is mesmerizing.
Great story, deep insights in the characters motivations, beautifully told! Reading this book has been like watching a beautiful flower blossom, slowly but relentlessly. I particularly loved Theo's character, a reformed rake with a big heart. He just needed to find a real purpose in life to awaken his true generous and giving nature. He is a lovely and sexy hero, endearing and able to melt even the hardest of hearts, Martha's.
Just one and not that relevant complaint: it feels like the conclusion of the book is a little rushed. Or maybe it just feels that way because the general pace of the narration has been slow up to that point. However, I wish CG had focused on the happy outcome of Martha's and Theo's relation even with the addition of a brief epilogue, showing how their union turned out to be a splendid love-match, a real friendship and a great business partnership. I look forward to CG next great novel A Gentleman Undone.