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REVIEW: Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

Dear Ms. Kleypas,

10476063.jpgI realize I’m probably the last person in the solar system to read this book, but read it I did. It took me a while to get to it because I was disappointed in the previous entry in your Wallflowers series, It Happened One Autumn, so I am happy to say that I enjoyed Devil in Winter very much.

Evangeline “Evie” Jenner is shy, prone to stuttering, and the daughter of an ex-boxer and gambling club owner, so despite her considerable fortune, no gentlemen have offered for her. Evie lives with her mother’s nasty relatives, the Maybricks, and now the Maybricks have decided to keep her father’s fortune in the family by marrying Evie to her cousin Eustace. Not only is Evie not even a little attracted to Eustace, she knows that she will never get out from under the Maybricks’ thumb if she marries her cousin. And getting away from the Maybricks has become imperative: Evie’s father is close to death, and the Maybricks’ won’t let her go to him.

So Evie takes matters into her own hands. She escapes the Maybricks’ home and goes unchaperoned to see Sebastian, Viscount St. Vincent, a notorious rake who kidnapped Evie’s friend Lillian because she was an heiress and he desperately needed to marry into money. Evie figures that if Sebastian is that desperate, he won’t sneer at the idea of marrying her instead.

And indeed, Sebastian, once he’s done getting over his surprise, agrees to Evie’s proposal. He will marry her for her fortune and free her to visit her father at his deathbed. There is one condition of Evie’s that Sebastian doesn’t care for: they will consummate the marriage to make it legal, but after that, no sex. Evie doesn’t want to fall in love with a man who is sure to become a philanderer.

Sebastian and Evie journey to Gretna Green together in miserable, snowy conditions. They marry, and that consummation scene? Hot, hot, hot. Once back in England, the newlyweds move into the gambling club. Evie nurses her father while Sebastian takes stock of the club. He realizes that its worth isn’t as much as Evie and he had believed, so he throws himself into the work of turning the club around. For Evie, her now hard-working husband is a temptation, and she wonders if she should allow their marriage to become real.

What Devil in Winter proved to me is that as tired of rake-and-virgin pairings as I sometimes feel I am, an author with a talent for creating chemistry between her main characters can still find gold in that much-mined vein.

Chemistry is one thing the pairing of Sebastian and Evie has plenty of. Sebastian isn’t quite the devil of the title, but he has a languid and slightly dangerous demeanor that makes him magnetic to Evie. Intellectually I know that a stuttering virgin like Evie should not attract a rake like Sebastian, but when I read their scenes together, I can feel the attraction between them, almost as if I were in the same room with a couple who can’t look away from one another, and that makes all the difference.

Another aspect of the book I liked was its gambling club setting. It was a welcome change from the London houses and country mansions where so many nineteenth century historicals take place.

My main quibbles with this book are twofold. First, I felt that the characters’ transformations were too easy. Evie loses her stutter and finds her confidence without much of a struggle, and in Sebastian’s case, his overnight transformation from bored pleasure-seeker to an industrious club owner should have left me in disbelief. That I was having too much fun to care is a tribute to your ability to make the interactions between Sebastian and Evie sparkle. Second, I felt that the book wobbled a bit when the other wallflowers entered the stage. Anabelle, Daisy and Lillian’s presence felt obligatory at times, and in particular, Lillian and her husband Marcus’s forgiveness of Sebastian for kidnapping and threatening to rape Lillian felt much too quick.

All of this made me aware that the people I was reading about inhabit a happily-ever-after world that doesn’t bear much resemblance to this one. But again, my thoughts on these are just that — thoughts. My feelings, on the other hand, were completely engaged when I read the book. This was the most fun I’ve had reading one of your books in years. B.

Sincerely,

Janine

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character-driven books. Examples include novels by Shana Abe, Loretta Chase, Patricia Gaffney, Cecilia Grant, Judith Ivory, Carolyn Jewel, Laura Kinsale, Julie Anne Long, Alison Richardson, Nalini Singh and Pam Rosenthal. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, "Kiss of Life", appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com. or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

26 Comments

  1. Robin
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 21:14:35

    My appreciation for this series diminishes in the order the books were published, but I totally agree with you, Janine, that the chemistry between Sebastian and Evie was palpable, and that such was the real strength of the book. Had Kleypas been able to sustain that level of tension and emotional crackle throughout the book as a whole, this one would have been a standout for me. But the easy transformations, as you pointed out, really undermined the work Kleypas had done to build Sebastian into a credible villain in earlier books, and made Evie less interesting to me as a character.

    One thing I did really like, though, was the way Kleypas made Sebastian a character who’s real “badness” lay not in a malignant energy or desire to hurt others, but rather in a completely self-absorbed malaise, which seemed both so much more realistic and far more human in its negative consequences. Because of that, I didn’t feel — as some readers did — that Kleypas betrayed Sebastian’s character by “reforming” him, as I think he remains somewhat self-absorbed, even after his “redemption.” For Sebastian, appearances were everything, IMO, and when he changes, it’s not so much that he loses that quality as he simply focuses it in more productive ways, IMO.

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  2. Sybil
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 22:40:15

    must… resist… the power… of the reread….

    Robin that is sooooooo great! I totally agree with your take on Sebastian. He is a totally self concerned bastard, knows it and thinks of it as his job. That is who he was born to be. And as he said… he was excelling at his part but his daddy fell down on the job.

    I didn’t view the change as quick because I thought both characters were moving toward where they end up in DiW starting with the first book. But I have to say I enjoyed the whole series more than I think you did *g*.

    And even more so on the second read after I finished Scandal. So that prolly plays into it. I am pretty sure this is my top historical read for 2006.

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  3. Robin
    Jan 02, 2007 @ 22:53:55

    And even more so on the second read after I finished Scandal. So that prolly plays into it. I am pretty sure this is my top historical read for 2006.

    I forgot that part about how Sebastian felt that being self-concerned (that’s a good way of putting it) was his occupation — how true that was. I was really disappointed in SIS, though. I finally got past feeling that Daisy was too much of a child to have a grown-up romance, and who does Kleypas hook her up with but that milquetoast Matthew Swift. Blah. My favorite of the series is definitely Secrets of A Summer Night (I onlly wish Kleypas didn’t sweeten Annabelle up so much in later books), and my top historical read for 06 was probably Shana Abe’s The Smoke Thief, which absolutely blew me away — I read it three times back to back.

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  4. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 00:04:12

    The Smoke Thief was a 2005 release, but I also read it in 2006, and it was awfully good.

    I liked Secrets of a Summer Night too, and I think it had a lot of strengths, but The Devil in Winter is the one I’ve enjoyed most in this series thus far (I have not read Scandal in Spring yet).

    In reading the earlier books, and some of Kleypas’ others from the last several years, I have sometimes felt that I could see the author putting her characters through the requisite steps: first kiss here, disagreement there, love scene here, happy ending there. Some of my emotions were disengaged as I read those books.

    With The Devil in Winter I had more of that elusive sensation of being swept away by a good book, and I think it was because the palpable attraction between Sebastian and Evie made the book feel almost like a living organism, rather than a plotted course, if that makes sense. Though I could see some of the book’s weaknesses, they did not irritate me the way they might have done in a different book.

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  5. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 00:10:38

    Just to add a quick note, I love your insights into Sebastian’s character, Robin and Sybil.

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  6. Robin
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 00:31:06

    The Smoke Thief was a 2005 release, but I also read it in 2006, and it was awfully good.

    Well, shoot, because now I’m at a loss for my favorite historical of last year. Was Beauty and the Spy a 2006 release? I liked that one, too, but not as much as TST. Pam Rosenthal’s Slightest Provocation was definitely a 2006 release, though, wasn’t it? I loved that one, even though I thought it was uneven. The strengths of that book, though, were similar to the strengths I found in TST — characters who play against type and a relationship portrayed in a way that’s true to the characterization. TSP probably deserves my top spot simply because of its ambition, even if I wasn’t as passionately in love with the book as you were, Janine. I loved Chase’s Lord Perfect, too — was that a 2006 release? See, I read so many older books I hardly ever know when anything’s published. I wish Kinsale would get her new one to press. And has anyone figured out if there were actually any changes to Ivory’s re-release besides those little ones in the first few pages (many of which I thought were unnecessary)?

    As for your description of Kleypas’s recent books, I remember an entry she wrote on Squawk Radio this past year in which she outlined her writing process, and it reminded me of your description, Janine, in that it seemed to be more situationally driven vis a vis the characters and the progression of their relationship. I agree that some of her recent books feel more formulaic than her older ones.

    Although I think Kleypas got derailed during her Robin Schonesque period of erotic Romance, I admire how her craftsmanship as a writer has grown over the years. She may not take as many risks as she did in some of her very earliest books (her time travel Romance is one of my faves, as is Forever, My Love), but I think she’s mastered the language of Romance. I used to cringe every time I read the word “suddenly” in her books (and when she wrote “Suddenly You” that title had a double meaning for me!), because it seemed to be her favorite transition. As up and down as I found the Wallflower series, Kleypas’s status as a strong writer has finally been secured for me. There is a confidence and a flow to her most recent books that I’ve been hoping would eventually match her ability to deliver an emotionally satisfying read. I really hope that she has the room to grow further as a writer with St. Martin’s, and even though I’m not a big fan of most contemporary Romance, I enthusiastically look forward to her new book. Dare I say that I’m relieved she’s left Avon (and am weeping that Loretta Chase has joined them)?

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  7. Tara Marie
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 09:27:07

    This was my favorite of the Wallflower series. Why? Robin and Sybil both hit on it–Sebastian self absorbtion is fascinating and I loved that Kleypas didn’t feel the need to redeem him too far, it’s more that he finds his niche and Evie fits within it perfectly.

    Lillian and her husband Marcus’s forgiveness of Sebastian for kidnapping and threatening to rape Lillian felt much too quick.

    How much was there really to forgive, he had a certain amount of vague detachment during Secrets of a Summer Night, which completely fits his self absorbed nature. I found the obnoxious, mother/true villain much more over the top.

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  8. Phyl
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 09:53:38

    I really hope that she has the room to grow further as a writer with St. Martin’s, and even though I’m not a big fan of most contemporary Romance, I enthusiastically look forward to her new book. Dare I say that I’m relieved she’s left Avon (and am weeping that Loretta Chase has joined them)?

    I’m with you, Robin. I’m anxious to see how a new editor and publisher will impact her work. She’s such a talented writer and I always look forward to her books, even if they occasionally disappoint.

    BTW, I have about 50 pages to go in Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation and am finding it an absorbing read. I love the introspective aspect of the characters. This would be one of my top picks for 2006.

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  9. seton
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 11:21:13

    It’s funny but both THE SLIGHTEST PROVOCATION and DEVIL IN WINTER fell into what I call the Pizza category (even when its bad, its good).

    If DIW existed in a vacuum, I would have liked it a lot more but I thought the reformation came much too soon considering how bad-ass StVincent seemed in the previous books. Mrs Giggles captured my feelings about DIW far better than I can as usual.

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  10. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 12:03:09

    Robin, yes, Beauty and the Spy was a 2006 release, as was Julie Anne Long’s Ways to be Wicked. And yes, Lord Perfect was a 2006 release as well. There were also Abe’s The Dream Thief, and as you mentioned, Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation.

    From what I understand only the first few pages of the Ivory book were rewritten. I try to keep track of new books during the year, but I also read mainly new books.

    As for your description of Kleypas’s recent books, I remember an entry she wrote on Squawk Radio this past year in which she outlined her writing process, and it reminded me of your description, Janine, in that it seemed to be more situationally driven vis a vis the characters and the progression of their relationship.

    How interesting. Regarding Kleypas’ craftsmanship, I have not made a comparison between her earlier books and her recent ones, but I am more likely to notice writing quirks when my emotions are not deeply engaged. In the first two Wallflower books (especially the second), I noticed that Kleypas used a lot of gerunds and that I was starting to get tired of them. With Devil in Winter, I was swept away by the story to a point where I hardly noticed this quirk, and could not say whether that was because Kleypas varied her sentence structures more, or whether it was because I fell under Sebastian’s spell to a point where I didn’t have the detachment that makes that kind of analysis possible for me.

    It will be interesting to see how Kleypas’ writing evolves at St. Martin’s. BTW, Loretta Chase is not the only author moving to Avon. Julie Anne Long is headed there too.

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  11. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 12:13:27

    Tara Marie – I agree that Sebastian’s self-absorption was unusual and at times riveting.

    How much was there really to forgive, he had a certain amount of vague detachment during Secrets of a Summer Night, which completely fits his self absorbed nature.

    I agree that Sebastian wasn’t the terrible villain in the earlier books that he was made out to be, but I think that from the point of view of Lillian and Marcus, he tried to separate them forever and threatened to rape Lillian after kidnapping her and tying her up. I think that in real life, a couple would be much slower to forgive someone who did such things to them, if they forgave at all. In my opinion, they’d be too angry to consider his motives and the fact that his actions were a result of self-absorption rather than malice would not necessarily mitigate that kind of hurt and anger.

    For me, the forgiveness works if I say to myself “This is a romance, and I don’t have to take it too seriously.” But I prefer it when I can take a romance seriously as well as enjoy it on the level of fun. DIW was plenty enjoyable, but it did have that “I don’t have to analyze this too much” factor.

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  12. sybil
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 12:28:47

    [quote comment="18083"]
    I agree that Sebastian wasn’t the terrible villain in the earlier books that he was made out to be, but I think that from the point of view of Lillian and Marcus, he tried to separate them forever and threatened to rape Lillian after kidnapping her and tying her up. I think that in real life, a couple would be much slower to forgive someone who did such things to them, if they forgave at all. In my opinion, they’d be too angry to consider his motives and the fact that his actions were a result of self-absorption rather than malice would not necessarily mitigate that kind of hurt and anger.[/quote]

    ahhh I see your point but in my mind is has a ton to do with friendship

    For lillian this works two ways. The wallflowers are an extended family, which I think is something that can often happen with women and deep friendships.

    She cares very much for Evie and I think see early on that even though she worried about the match – evie was much better off with him than her family.

    At the end of the novel she saw how much she loved him and the fact that he did what he did to put his own life in danger meant he shared the feeling. So for evie alone she would want him to live.

    And then there is the Marcus factor. He had a history with this man. They had a friendship as boys that played out to them becoming men. Marcus was not a warm fuzzy person. He didn’t have friends to spare.

    So that all played apart of it in my mind…. but I am odd like that and have SERIOUSLY over thought this book.

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  13. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 12:31:36

    Phyl, I too am very curious to see how Kleypas’ new editor and publisher will affect her writing. I’m so glad you are enjoying the Rosenthal book! :-)

    seton, I like your “pizza category” concept and am glad you enjoyed both books even if they weren’t perfect reads for you. BTW, I thought of you when I reviewed Putney’s Christmas Revels.

    I read Mrs. Giggles’ review of DIW a while back and what I vaguely remember thinking at the time was that Sebastian never seemed that bad to me in the earlier books.

    In fact, one of my disappointments with It Happened One Autumn was that I had hoped Sebastian would have more teeth in that book. If anything, he seemed almost harmless to me, despite his kidnapping and threatening of Lillian.

    My expectations for Devil in Winter were lowered by IHOA, and it may be that for this reason, I liked DIW more than I might have otherwise. In any case, I enjoyed DIW much more than I thought I would. While Sebastian never came across to me as truly menacing in either book, I felt that in DIW he had some of the aura of danger that for me at least, he had lacked in IHOA.

    Obviously, you and Mrs. Giggles had a different experience with these two books.

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  14. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 12:47:30

    sybil, I understand what you are saying about friendship leading the way to forgiveness and I agree that that is possible, but I think that first there would be more hurt and anger, not less, precisely because of these friendships.

    For a stranger to marry a man who kidnapped and threatened to rape you is one thing, but for one of your closest friends to do it is another. Ditto for one of the few friends you have to attempt to force the woman you love to marry him.

    To my mind, Lillian and Marcus would, in real life, first feel deeply betrayed that these supposed friends would take these kinds of actions. Likely the closer the friendship, the greater the initial feelings of hurt and betrayal. With time and distance, perspective might come, and the affection of friendship might eventually return, but I have a difficult time imagining it happening as quickly as it did in this book. Of course, that is just one opinion.

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  15. sybil
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 13:02:18

    [quote comment="18089"]To my mind, Lillian and Marcus would, in real life, first feel deeply betrayed that these supposed friends would take these kinds of actions. Likely the closer the friendship, the greater the initial feelings of hurt and betrayal. With time and distance, perspective might come, and the affection of friendship might eventually return, but I have a difficult time imagining it happening as quickly as it did in this book. Of course, that is just one opinion.[/quote]

    Very true.

    I think the whole omg he is prolly gonna die! Thing was kleypas’s way of speeding of the healing process *g*.

    Who knows… either way it is fun to talk about.

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  16. Robin
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 13:06:21

    BTW, Loretta Chase is not the only author moving to Avon. Julie Anne Long is headed there too.

    Why, why why?

    I know this is completely unreasonable and unfair, but I have a mental image of Avon as this automatic cannibalizing behemoth of homogenization — like one of those chocolate blending machines that specializes in taking all the separate ingredients and whipping them together until the parts are indistinguishable from each other.

    After I tried to write one of those “letters to the publisher” to Avon, and had it land with the wrong person, I posted it on AAR in the midst of a thread on historical Romance diversity. Julia Quinn very graciously (and on her own steam) forwarded it on my behalf to someone else at Avon (a mucky muck there), who responded directly to me with an assurance that she would have the Avon submission guidelines forwarded to me so that my MS would reach the right editor. I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t even respond. What was I supposed to say — gee, I guess I’m the one in a million readers who DOESN’T want to write a Romance novel and did you actually read my letter? But the way my letter was sort of subsumed into the machinery of Avon — like one of the many unpleasantries in Bree Van De Kamp’s world, glossed over with a smile and basket of freshly baked muffins — I felt like I and my hope for more ambitious Romance had been brilliantly and effectively neutralized.

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  17. sybil
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 13:18:23

    [quote comment="18095"]

    BTW, Loretta Chase is not the only author moving to Avon. Julie Anne Long is headed there too.

    Why, why why?

    I know this is completely unreasonable and unfair, but I have a mental image of Avon as this automatic cannibalizing behemoth of homogenization — like one of those chocolate blending machines that specializes in taking all the separate ingredients and whipping them together until the parts are indistinguishable from each other.[/quote]

    You know… it could turn out that Cam book will blow and Chase and Long’s next books are the bestest thing ever.

    Stranger things have happened. We all have to remember at one point Avon was the shit. And where it is hard to find diamonds there now any min the tide could turn. So chin up and think positive! Hell who knows maybe all three will rock the house *g*.

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  18. Robin
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 13:30:11

    You know- it could turn out that Cam book will blow and Chase and Long’s next books are the bestest thing ever.

    I hope that Chase and Long continue to develop as independent authors under Avon — my jaded view of Avon is not nearly as important to me as reading great Romance. Does Avon want to go back to being the publisher who launched authors like Kinsale? NOTHING would do historical Romance more good, IMO. As for Chase’s older books under Avon, though, I’ve had a really hard time getting through them, even the beloved Lord of Scoundrels. Miss Wonderful was the book of hers that won me over, and it’s still my favorite of that series.

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  19. Tara Marie
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 16:37:55

    To my mind, Lillian and Marcus would, in real life, first feel deeply betrayed that these supposed friends would take these kinds of actions.

    I never got the impression Sebastian would have actually followed through on the threat, more that he wanted to see how the whole thing played out. Given the initial situation I’d have been much less forgiving of the mother.

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  20. Tara Marie
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 16:40:58

    Janine, I just realized you meant Evie and Sebastian getting together. Not the initial betrayal in SOASN. I think you’re probably right–Lillian is so quick to judge you’re probably right she probably should have been more judgemental–wait until you read the next one, she gets more pushy when pregnant–LOL.

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  21. sybil
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 16:48:26

    [quote comment="18111"]Janine, I just realized you meant Evie and Sebastian getting together. Not the initial betrayal in SOASN. I think you’re probably right–Lillian is so quick to judge you’re probably right she probably should have been more judgemental–wait until you read the next one, she gets more pushy when pregnant–LOL.[/quote]

    You know her reaction in SiS is part of it I think. She cares so deeply she is an annoying twit you want to slap. And really I could see her turning into her mother if she isn’t careful. (I HATED their mother)

    Daisy is her blood but the other two are just a step away from being as important to her. Evie’s marriage meant she was able to stay in their lives. Anything else and she would have been out of their lives.

    And once she know she is in love. Knowing how she feels about marcus… she would fight for evie.

    BUT I agree… I never really saw the threat in Sebastian…

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  22. Janine
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 17:31:58

    I meant both betrayals. From Lillian’s perspective, I think she might find it hardest to forgive Evie for marrying Sebastian (and even Annabelle and Daisy might not be completely understanding of that). But from Marcus’ perspective, I think Sebastian would be harder to forgive, because even though I didn’t see much threat in him, I think Marcus did feel threatened when Sebastian kidnapped Lillian.

    So it depends on which character we are talking about, but in both cases, forgiveness would have been more believable to me had it been slower to come, and had there been some hurt and anger over Sebastian and Evie’s marriage first.

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  23. Ana / Annie Dean
    Jan 03, 2007 @ 21:59:05

    This book reminded me a lot of Dreaming of You but it didn’t have the same oomph. It was like a haunted echo. Likewise, It Happened One Autumn reminded me of Then Came You. I can’t remember anything about the Summer book and Spring was so dull I didn’t finish it.

    Overall, I felt like she’s been writing in one genre too long and has become a bit mechanical with it. So perhaps a genre jump will be a good thing.

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  24. Suisan
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 04:09:19

    I read this as my first Kleypas (with gentle nudges, ahem, from KristieJ) with no knowledge of the rest of the Wallflowers characters or plots.

    As a stand-alone book, I loved it. Really one of the best books I’ve read this year. (Along with Jullie Ann Long and some others.) Then I read Dreaming of You (Kristie may have also had something to do with that) and didn’t like it as much. Derek just seemed too tortured or too damaged or too, something, to be really trustworthy. I haven’t yet found a Kleypas that I like quite as much as DiW.

    Sebastian just really delicious in his arrogance and grace and self-absorption.

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  25. Janine
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 11:07:06

    Ana / Annie Dean, the gaming club setting was the main similarity I saw to Dreaming of You. It’s been many years since I read DOY but I loved it back then. I wasn’t reminded of Then Came You when I read It Happened One Autumn, but neither of those two books is among my favorites. And I actually thought thatSecrets of a Summer Night was fairly memorable. Kleypas’ subgenre switch should be interesting if nothing else.

    Suisan, I’m glad you enjoyed Devil in Winter. I would have to reread Dreaming of You to compare them, but DIW was, despite my quibbles, easily among my top twenty romances of 2006 and possibly even in my top ten (I haven’t figured out what they are yet).

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  26. seton
    Jan 04, 2007 @ 12:09:45

    I wrote that I thought Sebastian was “bad-ass” but that doesnt mean that I thought he was “threatening”. I agree that he wasnt. Just dissolute, lazy, amoral, etc. In some ways, rakes like Sebastian call back to “superfluous man” of 19th century Russian novels (Alexandre Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin is the most famous example of this type altho my personal favorite is Lermontov’s A HERO OF OUR TIMES — which i highly recommend, a fascinating novel) as well as the obvious example of Valmont in Laclos’ LES LIAISONS DANGERUESE. However, these novels never end well (hey! its Russian!) and I always kinda want the same thing for any rakes. I dont like rakes.

    Janine, thanks for thinking of me in regards to CHRISTMAS REVELS. Hugs.

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