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CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

Cover for Lessons in French by Laura KinsaleDear Readers:

It has been five years since we've had a new Laura Kinsale book to read, and Lessons in French is quite a departure from her last book, Shadowheart.

Callie, or more properly, Lady Callista Taillefaire, is a 27-year old thrice-jilted heiress who wants nothing more than to live in relative peace – and raise her prize bulls. She believes that the only real attraction she possesses is her fortune, that her coppery hair, shy disposition, and agricultural passion are not only unfashionable, but also downright repellent to any man of worth. And especially to one man, in particular, whom she hasn't seen in ten years but who regularly stars in her imaginative daydreams.

Trev, or more properly, Trevelyan Davis d'Augustin, Duc de Monceaux, fled Shelford and Callie after her father, the earl, found the two of them hidden in his carriage, practicing more than the French Callie had been supposedly learning from Trev's mother, the duchesse. It was one thing to politely tolerate displaced French émigrés as neighbors, but quite another to tolerate one's daughter being ruined by a young, handsome, wild, and clearly unworthy young Frenchman. Now that the duchesse is so ill, however, Trev has returned, a wealthy man, with the happy news that he has won back the family estate as Monceaux.

Trev has done nothing of the sort, of course, having spent the past ten years in a somewhat itinerant and disreputable series of roles, from French prisoner to military translator to boxing promoter. It is the last that has made Trev's fortune as well as his fate, which at the moment is not looking so optimistic. For unbeknownst to Callie and his mother, Trev is not even supposed to be in England, else he be hanged for a forgery it matters not whether he actually committed.

But he is happy to take the risk, not only for his mother's sake, but also for the happy surprise that Callie is still in Shelford and still unmarried. And it is very clear to the duchesse (and likely even the village goats, who "very properly kept their opinions to themselves"), if not to the thrice-rejected Callie, that Trev is in love with the young woman with whom he shared so much youthful passion and so many harebrained adventures.

So what's one more?

Callie's cousin, the new earl, gambles away Callie's beloved Hubert, a bull of such fine conformation that Callie is planning on taking him straight to the upcoming county exhibition at Hereford. When Trev's plans to buy Hubert back from Colonel Davenport (who has wanted Hubert for quite some time, and who also plans to show him at Hereford), go awry, Trev and Callie find themselves falling right back into their own companionability, with Trev thinking this will be his last indulgence before leaving England for good, and Callie thinking she will spend three days with the one man she truly loves before retiring to the country as a spinster heiress.

The farcical adventures that follow implicate nearly everyone in the novel, from Major Sturgeon, one of Callie's three suitors who has returned to re-win her hand, to a mysterious woman from Trev's past, to Trev's clever, ailing mother, to the newly-minted fiancée of Callie's younger sister, Hermione.

Janet:

There's a point in the novel where Trev tells his mother that Callie "is a little heroine: she is all heart," and that's basically how I felt about the book as a whole. I found it a very emotional read, even though the tone was often quite light and even a bit cynical, at times. Callie and Trev's loneliness was so palpable to me as a reader, and it reminded me of several other, darker, Kinsale books, especially My Sweet Folly and Seize The Fire. Callie seems much more like Olympia or Folie to me than Merlin from Midsummer Moon, the book to which people seem to be comparing Lessons in French. And Trev felt much more like Robert Cambourne, or S.T. Maitland, or Sheridan Drake, without so much angst and past trauma. Despite the whimsy and wit, there was a definite thread of regret in the narrative, too:

It was not that she sounded disappointed, or miffed, or offended, the way any number of women of his past had sounded when he had tactfully refused their very agreeable offers. She didn't weep or withdraw. There was only that single small syllable she spoke, but he heard all the damage, the hurt they must have given her, those bastards who had left her standing at the altar or alone in the line of chairs against the wall, all their excuses and lies, those blind, blind, stupid bastards who never saw what was right before their eyes.

I don't know if it's a common timeframe among certain books, or Trev's somewhat cynical romanticism, but I loved the sense of longing portrayed in both Trev and Callie's characters; it gave the novel as a whole a poignancy that felt a bit darker rather than lighter to me.

Joan:

I've actually had a hard time going back to Lessons in French for a reread, the same way I do for Seize the Fire, precisely because it's a little bleak, and shot through with longing and loneliness. The comparison with Midsummer Moon is coming from Kinsale herself, and although Lessons in French does indeed have what Kinsale terms "hedgehog humor" here and there, the fact that Hubert is in fact a huge lumbering bull, rather than a little spikey hedgehog, has symbolic relevance to the book's feel. The humor is there in the characters' banter with each other, but it's doesn't inflect the overall feel of the book itself.   The underlying emotion of the book is melancholy – nostalgia for a lost time and place that wasn't all that great to begin with, regret for lost innocence that wasn't all that innocent anyway, yearning for a companion without being sure that someone to share things with would actually solve anything.

Janet:

I agree, Joan, and this issue has me reflecting on the whole idea of Callie as an "anti-kick ass heroine,' which I've seen around, too. I don't, actually, like to think of Callie in those terms, because the quality in her that seems so prominent is the way she copes and endures the powerful losses she's suffered, the way she remains optimistic and good-hearted.

On the one hand there is the way she uses her daydreaming as a substitute for what she cannot openly wish for:

It seemed worse than a disgrace now, it seemed a betrayal to be here with Trev, to want him beyond anything else, and yet be entertaining a proposal from another man. But it was not as if Trev had asked for her hand. Indeed, he said he was going away back to France. And he had said nothing to suggest that he desired to wed her and take her home to his estates. She might indulge in a great number of fantastical daydreams, but that was one fantasy that she ruthlessly denied to herself.

. . .

Callie tried to make a daydream for herself. It was what she always did when she could not quite bear what was real. She was, as most of those who knew her had informed her with some exasperation at one time or another, quite capable of becoming so lost in her thoughts that she did not hear any words spoken to her. But this time she could find no way to lose herself in any reverie-’or delusion, as they all seemed.

And then there is the way the unfolding of the story finds her in a very real adventure, one that makes her unable to use her old coping mechanism and immersed in a reality that exceeds both the fear and joy of her daydreams. In any case, the happiness is suffused with loss and the tragedy is infused with comedy, such that in my opinion they are really inseparable.

I think that's why I found the first love scene so powerful; it's like Trev is bringing Callie fully into the present, fully into herself, fully into her awareness of both of them as a couple. at least in that moment:

He held himself over her, his mouth hovering just above hers. "You want it all?" he breathed. He felt wild now, unreasonable. "You want me?"

She made a faint nod in the darkness. He wanted her with a need that had the blood hammering in his veins. He felt her lips part. Her body was delicate and soft beneath him, freed of all the petticoats and corsets and limits….

He turned his head down and kissed her temple, holding himself still inside her. He wanted to move so badly that he was shaking, but he waited in exquisite torment. "Je t'adore," he whispered. "Je t'aime. Do you want me?"

Her tension softened. Her hands opened across his back. "Oh yes," she breathed.

He pressed into her. She whimpered, but it was a sweet passionate sound, frantic, her body closing and squeezing around him.

"Do you want me?" He drew back slowly, torturing himself.

"Yes." She arched up, taking him deep as he pressed again. A moan escaped her.

Trev arched his head back, his eyes closed. "You want me?"

Because this is a Romance, of course, this uncomplicated space cannot last. But I think it's those moments in the text where we get the emotional payoff for enduring all the yearning and longing and loss we readers experience on behalf of the characters.

Joan:

Which is not to say that Callie and Trev aren't as fully realized as any of Kinsale's other heroes and heroines. They are and both are delicious. And if this were a character-driven book, it would be truly, deeply, wonderful. But Kinsale's weak point has ever been plotting and the raft-load of coincidences, machinations, and deus ex machina that brings together the loose ends begs a little more suspension of disbelief than I'm willing to grant.

Janet:

You know, I really felt that the plotting of Lessons in French was much tighter than in previous novels, especially books like My Sweet Folly and Seize the Fire, both of which I felt echoing faintly through this book. But perhaps because of that, it felt that there were too many coincidences that acted in concert to facilitate the ending of the book. A figure from Trevor's past shows up just at the right time; Hermione's new fiancé proves useful in exactly the right way at the right moment; an old suitor of Callie's returns to catalyze a whole series of revelations and connections previously unknown, etc. And while I appreciated one very clever turn related to Callie's three failed engagements, even that felt a bit contrived, as you suggest in the deux ex machina mention.

I'm usually willing to tolerate some deux ex machina results in farce, but this novel was so much more than that, I agree with you that it undermined the strong character-driven elements of the novel.

Joan:

I was also impatient with the pacing of the revelations. It took me a while to get into the book. I know stuff is hidden, especially about Trev's life, but it took too long for the reader figure out what was going on. Once I was let in on the book's secrets, it was a much quicker, more engaging read.

Janet:

Me, too! The first time I read the book, I really had to work to get through the first hundred pages. It felt slow, even lazy, much like Hubert! Now the second time I read it, these pages went much more quickly, probably because I already knew how things unfolded and could pick out all the hidden clues and half-expressed significances.

Joan:

Re-reading what I wrote above, it seems harsh. Any other book with these issues would get a C rating. But this is still the incomparable Laura Kinsale, who can write a book in Middle English and get people not only to understand but also to adore it, who can write about sadomasochism in Renaissance Italy and win a freaking RITA. Lessons in French is a tour de force that in any other author would have us singing to the skies with praise and wonder. But this is the first Laura Kinsale book in five years and had incredibly high expectations. So, while it’s not her personal best, IMO, it's still stunning and amazing and brilliant.

Grade: B+

Janet:

There is must so much I love about this book. I love that it's a pastoral; I love Callie's affection for Hubert and the fact that she feeds him Bath buns (this may be partially because I love Bath ;D); I love Callie's agricultural ambitions and her canny understanding of the social dynamics she must negotiate; I love Trev's romanticism, and I swooned at the very impassioned speech he delivers to Callie when she tries to insist for like the hundredth time that they are merely friends; I love the care that's obvious in drawing the picture of this not quite idyllic story-scape. And I think the novel deftly balances the tragic with the comic in a way that does not erase the tragic but still allows us to celebrate Callie and Trev's ultimate happiness. While Lessons in French is not my favorite Kinsale, its poignancy has stayed with me ever since I read it, making it a strong B+ for me, too.

Best regards,

-Joan/Sarah F. and Janet

This book can be purchased at Amazon
(affiliate link), Kindle (non affiliate link). I looked at Books on Board and Fictionwise, but the title does not appear available there.

FTC disclosure: This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free.

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

54 Comments

  1. gitane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 08:35:08

    Thanks for the review! I feel like I’ve been waiting for this book forever. Now I really can’t wait to get my hands on it! Since I have so much love for Sherry and S.T. and I’m an angst hog, this story sounds right up my alley. And of course, it’s a KInsale.

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  2. Tae
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 08:49:38

    I read my first Kinsale a few months ago, can’t remember the title, but it was the quaker heroine and the duke hero who has a stroke. It was a fantastic book, but I felt so uncomfortable reading it for some reason. I felt physically uncomfortable with the emotions that the book pulled out of me. I don’t know how else to explain it. I had to read it slowly and it took much longer than my usual books. I definitely want to read more Kinsale books, but I feel like I need more time before I tackle the others.

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  3. gitane
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 08:55:56

    @ Tae The title of the book you read is Flowers from the Storm.

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  4. TKF
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 09:28:56

    Re-reading what I wrote above, it seems harsh. Any other book with these issues would get a C rating . . . But this is the first Laura Kinsale book in five years and had incredibly high expectations. So, while it's not her personal best, IMO, it's still stunning and amazing and brilliant.

    I guess for me the fact that an author is a favorite or a best seller means that I find the kind of issues you're pointing out MORE egregious, rather than more forgivable.

    But to be honest, I’ve never been able to finish one of her books. I couldn’t make it past the scene with the fluffy kittens in the garden in Flowers from the Storm. It was too cloyingly cutsie for me. And I got farther in that book than in any of the others I've attempted. Perhaps I'm simply not a reader who appreciates “hedgehog humor” (whatever that is, cause clearly I've never read that scene either).

    Sadly, I know I'll try this book too, cause I just can't seem to stop myself from attempting to figure out why people like her books so much.

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  5. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:15:59

    @Tae: This is actually a good book for you to try, I think, in your quest to read more Kinsale. It’s not nearly as angsty or uncomfortable at FftS (and I know EXACTLY what you mean), but it’s still Kinsale being brilliant.

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  6. RStewie
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:20:04

    Great review. Of course I’ll be getting the book, but this review will make reading it that much more involved.

    @Tae: I would suggest My Sweet Folly as a follow-on, it’s not quite so intense, but is still classic, engaging Kinsale, or her “comedy”, Midsummer Moon.

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  7. RStewie
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:21:22

    @RStewie: I cannot edit to fix that.

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  8. Barb
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 10:22:16

    Ladies
    Thank you for a much more articulate version of what I wanted to say about LESSONS IN FRENCH. I loved Callie and Trev, but I got impatient with the slapstick (the bull in the kitchen scene) and oh boy, you sure nailed the problems with the ending. However, I agree with your grade. Not my favorite Kinsale (that’s The Shadow and the Star), but a lovely read.

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  9. Suze
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:34:18

    Good lord. I didn’t realize the book was out yet, I was expecting February. So I checked Books on Board, searched all their Kinsale titles, and it wasn’t there. Same thing at Fictionwise. Found it at Sourcebooks, the publisher, but only after much futzing, because a search for Kinsale turned up ZERO titles.

    Finally, I went back to Books on Board, and browsed Romance e-books by release date (because you can’t browse by author), and found it on page 9.

    Why do they make it so hard for me to give them my money? Why, WHY is the first Kinsale in 5 years not in their Featured New Release batch?

    I’m baffled. Excited about getting the book, but baffled. Now I’m off to read.

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  10. Ros
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 12:44:14

    @Suze: I completely agree! I won a free digital copy of this book from the Smart Bitches and even with a direct link to it, it took me ten VERY frustrated minutes to work out how to find the book after logging into the site. Searching ‘Kinsale’ was useless.

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  11. Robin/Janet
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 14:30:15

    @Barb: While I was reading LiF I kept thinking about the last few Loretta Chase books I’ve read, because I think she’s another author known for combining comedy and tragedy.

    But for me, her last few books have privileged the comedy, making the books seem thin or unbelievable, because the more serious or tragic aspects are IMO brushed over.

    So it was both a pleasure and a disappointment to see the way LiF ended, the neat tying up and coincidental events.

    As for the slapstick, yes, it got a bit tiresome; the chaos at the exhibition was the pinnacle for me, and it actually made me feel a bit disconnected from the narrative at that point.

    My favorite points of humor were often those delivered verbally between the characters. The sly wit and the subtle sparring between Trev and Callie, Trev and his mother, etc. Sometimes it felt contrived (like Trev’s mother’s use of the wrong English word every once in a while), but a lot of it worked quite well for me.

    If only the resolution had felt less contrived, LiF probably would have been an A read for me.

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  12. Robin/Janet
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:45:51

    One more thing I didn’t really address in the review but that has been dogging me in my thoughts about this book: I think anyone who is familiar with the sentimental novels of the 18th century will recognize a great deal in LiF. From Sterne to Defoe and Fielding (and even Richardson), straight through to Fanny Burney’s Evelina and the like.

    I haven’t really thought about all the ways that generic pedigree shapes my interpretation of LiF, but I thought it was worth mentioning, especially for fans of that 18th century literary tradition.

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  13. Ros
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 15:59:10

    @Robin/Janet: Yes! I agree exactly. There is a real feel of the romp about this, even if it’s not quite on the grand scale of Tom Jones or Tristram Shandy.

    Joan, you said: But Kinsale's weak point has ever been plotting and the raft-load of coincidences, machinations, and deus ex machina that brings together the loose ends begs a little more suspension of disbelief than I'm willing to grant.
    And I agree, mainly, though plot is not a thing that matters much to me as a reader. But I have to admit that I loved the revelation of the blackmailer.

    This was my first Kinsale, and I would certainly read more of hers. But oh, what is it with Regency writers and choosing the most unlikely names? If I had picked this book up in a shop and seen that the heroine was called Lady Callista Taillefaire, I’d have put it right back down again. Callista I’ll buy (for this period), but Taillefaire? For the daughter of an English duke? Not a chance. Especially, now that I think about it, in a book where there is supposed to be a split between the French and English characters and where Callie’s Englishness is an important part of the plot.

    Also I’m struggling to believe Trevelyan as a first name, especially of a Frenchman (though possibly a Breton, I suppose). Every time she calls him Trev, I can’t help thinking he must be a Trevor.

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  14. L
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:03:00

    @Robin/Janet: Do you mean 19th century? Being the 1800′s??

    That’s the LiF I read….

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  15. Ros
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:14:25

    @L: Lessons in French is set in the 19th century, but it doesn’t have the style of a 19th century novel (think Bronte sisters, Mrs Gaskell, Dickens). It’s a romp, in the tradition of 18th century novels.

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  16. Robin/Janet
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:31:04

    @Ros: I also loved that blackmail revelation, even though it was pretty contrived, too.

    @L: Sorry for not being clear. I meant what Ros said, namely that the novel itself is set in very early 19th C, but that it reads more in the tradition of the 18th C novel.

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  17. Janine
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 16:42:50

    I am close to halfway through the book (at the point where Callie has just arrived at the fair). It has been very slow going for me, though I appreciate the fine writing very much.

    I’m not sure if it’s the book or me, but my experience is different from yours, Robin and Sarah. The characters’ loneliness isn’t palpable to me with this book, and that is something I adore about several of Kinsale’s other books. The humor is only tickling my funny bone a little, and I’m also not sure why someone like Trev would be drawn to Callie, since she is inclined to fade into the woodwork. Maybe if I had more flashbacks to their teenage romance I would have a clearer sense of it.

    I really wish I felt sucked in, but the book has yet to really grab me, although I’m hoping that will change.

    Having said that, I still would probably give what I have read so far a B- or so, because the prose is sparkling and the characters well-drawn and those two things, prose and characters, are usually what make or break a book for me.

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  19. Robin/Janet
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 17:17:41

    @Janine: There are a couple of scenes later on in the book where Trev explains pretty explicitly what he loves about Callie. I wonder if you’ll find those convincing or not. If the chemistry just isn’t there for you, possibly not.

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  20. Kaetrin
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 18:57:45

    @ Suze – I just went to Books on Board and I couldn’t find it anywhere – even in new releases or upcoming releases – how much are they selling it for and can you post a link?
    I so want to read this book – I love the more melancholy of Ms. Kinsale’s stories – this sounds right up my alley. thx!

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  21. Robin L. Rotham
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 19:36:07

    Ach, thank you, Joan! You said the magic word…melancholy. This is moving immediately from the top of my TBR pile to somewhere down toward the bottom. I’ll read it in the summertime, when the sun is shining and the twelve-foot snowdrifts have melted into pretty flower gardens and I’m not already inclined to heave great sighs of despair.

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  22. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 20:04:50

    Oh piffle diffle.

    You guys are making it sound so gloomy!

    It is NOT a gloomy, melancholy book. Fer pete’s sake. Quite a few people think it’s laugh out loud funny (though humor is totally subjective so I can only hope for that).

    I’m enjoying the discussion, and I’m fine with “poignant,” but “melancholy”–no.

    Just. No. Anybody who picks up this book expecting a tragic tear-jerker will be misled. A romp, slapstick, silly, stupid, fine.

    But the author is going to behave badly and draw the line at melancholy. ;P

    (LOL I feel like somehow I’m doomed and even when I DELIBERATELY write a light fluffy nothing, it’s called deep and tragic, arrrgh.)

    PS–in fact I will offer proof:

    Illustration of a scene from Lessons in French

    Now, how could that book be melancholy? ;)

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  23. Mireya
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 20:41:13

    I am going to rant: I go to Sourcebooks to get this. I thought I did something wrong and end up purchasing the book TWICE. NEITHER of the links works. This is why I don’t buy ebooks from print publishers’ websites. This is the last time I do so. It happened to me in the past,with another print publisher’s website, a couple of years ago.

    I emailed them and they better do something. $14 dollars tossed into the trash, that’s how it feels like.

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  24. Sarah Frantz
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 20:43:41

    @Laura Kinsale: I don’t think you’ve EVER written a tragic tearjerker. :) I wouldn’t read your books and adore them if you had.

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  25. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 20:49:01

    @Mireya:

    Definitely let me know if they don’t respond. They are being very pro-active on issues they pick up on Twitter, and if I have your info I can direct your problem to them. Please email me if you don’t hear from them.

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  26. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 20:51:39

    Sorry about double post above, I was fighting the valiant anti-spam knight.

    @Sarah Frantz:

    Whew, thanks! I was gettin’ worried there. ;)

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  27. MS Jones
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 21:39:36

    I am so looking forward to reading this book.

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  28. Dishonor
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 22:52:10

    As a diehard Kinsale fan, I absolutely can’t wait to read this! I love the air of nostalgia you paint about it in your review, and even if it’s not “melancholy”, as noted by the amazing authoress herself, I’m beyond excited.

    That first love scene excerpt looks pretty incredible, by the way. Laura Kinsale is perhaps one of the only authors who can make my heart pitter-patter with her beautiful prose alone.

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  29. Ros
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 02:58:35

    @Laura Kinsale: I agree! I think it’s interesting how different people perceive things but I would definitely say that the book as a whole has the feel of a light-hearted romp, and it’s lovely. But it’s not a light, fluffy nothing. The characters are deeply real, and like all real people, they have flaws and sadnesses. I think it’s your skill in showing us those – even sometimes at the same time as making us laugh (I’m thinking of some of Callie’s daydreams) – that makes this such a great read.

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  30. Mireya
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 06:53:00

    @Laura Kinsale:

    Thank you very much for the offer. :)

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  31. Troutqueen
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 20:08:26

    @Suze: Thanks for this tip. I’ve been trying to find a non-Kindle ebook copy and was gnashing angrily over not being able to find it. WTH does it not come up at BoB when I search by author OR title?

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  32. Troutqueen
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 20:43:05

    @Mireya: Well heck. I also tried to buy from Sourcebooks since I was irked that BoB made it hard to find. Purchase was fine (no double billing that I’ve seen), but DOWNLOAD LINK IS GIVING ME EVIL ERROR MESSAGE AND IT’S PAST SUPPORT HOURS.

    So dilemma: Buy from BoB so I can start reading tonight and hope Sourcebooks will refund my $$$, or wait for Sourcebooks to answer and NOT START READING TONIGHT.

    When will publishers start getting the idea that they need to make buying ebooks streamlined and easy?? Or are they going to give me that “We don’t support Macs” bull?

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  33. coco
    Jan 28, 2010 @ 22:48:00

    ARGH! I’ve been waiting for this forever and Amazon.co.uk say it won’t arrive for me for another two weeks.

    Sourcebooks sell only within USA and Puerto Rico.

    Books on Board have her lost in the date published section on p9 (thanks for the heads up Suze!) but have no formats I can actually purchase.

    Clearly, they don’t want my custom.

    Again, argh.

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  34. Jennie
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 01:32:50

    I gave it a B+. Overall, a very good book, but it didn’t feel very “Kinsale-ish” to me. I’m not sure if I can quite put my finger on why. Maybe it’s just that her books are so few and far between now that I don’t really have a sense of their tone any more. Maybe it is that it was lighter than I’m used to my favorite Kinsales being. I did enjoy the h/h dialogue – I thought that sparkled.

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  35. dominique
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 05:05:42

    @Suze:

    I’m Dominique Raccah, the publisher of Sourcebooks. First, I love Laura’s books and loved Lessons in French! And this was such a cool way to read a review. A Conversational Review. Way GREAT! Really could hear people’s voices.

    Also, really sorry to anyone (Mireya, Troutqueen) who had problems downloading the ebook off of our site. Please personally write to me ([email protected]) if you need anything. I’m also sending all of this over to everyone on our team.

    We worked diligently with EVERY e-book site to get them Lessons in French early. EVERY one. In the end, the two where it’s easy to find are: All Romance e-books (who are seriously great people…met them for the first time at dbw this week) and amazon kindle.

    Last thought, I didn’t really experience the novel as melancholy, more filled with longing and beautiful. Loved the characters. Loved getting to know them, loved their angles. And could really see why they would love each other. And laughed a lot…you know, in that joyful way when good things happen to people you really like.

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  36. Robin/Janet
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 12:03:18

    Thank you, @dominique, for offering assistance to readers trying to download the book from Sourcebooks. Reading in digital can be daunting, sometimes!

    And yes, the review was fun to write; I don’t think the style works for every book, but in this case I think it worked well.

    I know we’ve kind of winnowed things down to one word here, but I do think the review and comments have done a good job at detailing the many aspects of the novel, from its wit, humor, and farcical elements to the longing and love and emotional depth of Callie and Trev’s romance.

    In fact, one of the things I’ve always loved about Kinsale’s books, and one of the reasons I think they appeal to a diversity of readers, is that they’re truly multidimensional, making different connections with different readers. I’ve even found that on re-reads I’ve had different responses. And having already read LiF twice, that’s been my experience with this book, too.

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  37. Troutqueen
    Jan 29, 2010 @ 12:08:32

    @dominique: Thank you for the offer!

    Just reporting back that this morning, Sourcebooks fixed the issue with the link and I was able to download the books (RELIEF!) and received a very nice email from Laura at Sourcebooks explaining what happened. They have also kindly refunded my money (NOT at my request). This is wonderful customer service! I’ll likely go out when the Great Southern SnowPocalypse is over and purchase a paper copy to gift to a friend.

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  38. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 00:21:32

    A bit late for comments here but I got a copy of this update in the mail from my editor at Sourcebooks and thought I’d copy it here:

    (N.) and (L.) worked together this morning to identify all of the customers having issues with their ebook downloads. They identified seven customers, and (L.) has responded to each one of them with a new link for their ebook download or to confirm that the original link should now be working…

    We also let these seven customers know they would be receiving free copies of the print versions of Lessons in French and the three backlist titles. (L.) and (E.) shipped those out today along with another letter from (L.) that mentioned the release of Uncertain Magic later this year and with a coupon for 10% off any future web order at sourcebooks.com.

    @Ros: Oh and I had wanted to explain to Ros my reasoning about the character names. I totally agree that Trevelyan isn’t French! I mentioned in the book that he was named for the Welsh sea captain who smuggled his mother out of France just before T was born.

    Taillefaire is “Tolliver” in English. I tend to think a lot of the old aristocracy was proud of their Norman roots and kept the French spelling, so that was my reasoning there.

    I was thinking more about this discussion, and for some reason the movie Shakespeare in Love came to me–that’s a pretty slapstick movie which also has a sort of sadness about it, so if that’s the sort of thing you mean, I get it! And I love that movie–probably one of the only movies w/o a happy ending that I love.

    With LiF you get the happy ending! Win all around. ;)

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  39. Robin
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 11:05:23

    @Laura Kinsale: Yes, I think SiL is a very good example. On the one hand you have all this joy between the lovers, and all this broad comedy, but because you know what will happen in the end with them, there’s a sadness that hangs over the movie.

    LiF is the opposite, in that you know Trev and Callie will have a happy ending, but the sadness comes from the things they have suffered in the past and are still suffering from, even if they are moving toward happiness with each other.

    One of my favorite scenes in the book illustrates this for me. It’s the one where Callie is feeding the orphan calf in her beautiful dress, with muck boots and apron and hat.

    On the one hand you have a relatively absurd picture Callie paints in this get up, combined with the more humorous aspects around her relationship to the animals (feeding Hubert Bath buns, for example). But then you have the fact that she’s crying over the imminent loss of Hubert by someone who has total control over the estate and her tears over that loss. I mean, she really, really loves Hubert and it’s just one more thing she loves being taken away from her (Trev, her father, Hubert, promises for a respectable marriage). And then you have Trev witnessing this whole scene, and feeling that stirring love for Callie as well as that desire to be a hero and get Hubert back for her.

    In one sense the scene is an opportunity for Trev and Callie to establish that old intimacy, a step toward their romantic reuniting, in another it’s a funny scenario and is connected to other funny elements in the novel involving Hubert and black henna, and then you have Callie’s sadness and the reality of all she and Trev have endured and lost over the last ten years.

    As a reader I felt all those things acutely and at once, not just in that scene but throughout the novel. It didn’t mean that I didn’t laugh out loud at many points or relish the happiness in Callie and Trev’s relationship, but I also didn’t feel like these two people were unscathed by life, and so there was more poignancy in their relationship than there would have been for me if they had never suffered or lost anything important.

    Does that make sense?

    ETA: the whole notion of Trev recapturing the family properties, and thus the family name/history/dignity/prominence, etc. also lingers for me as one of the more poignant aspects of the novel, especially at the beginning when his mother is very ill and she is so happy at the idea that Trev succeeded in getting his grandfather’s legacy back. That I know a bit about this historical moment in France and England adds to my reactions, too. Again, things end very happily, but let’s face it, the Terror was no picnic. ;)

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  40. Ros
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 12:01:23

    @Laura Kinsale: Thanks for answering! I was wondering about Taillefaire/Tulliver too, actually. And you’re right that there are a few Norman names that retain their French spelling in English (Beauchamp is one of the most common). But Trevelyan isn’t Welsh, it’s very distinctively Cornish.

    I think Shakespeare in Love is a good comparison. It’s a real romp, but there is genuine sadness in the characters’ lives.

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  41. Laura Kinsale
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 16:31:46

    @Ros:

    LOL you are right, Ros, it’s Cornish. Mea culpa I did say the captain was Welsh.

    Maybe his family came from Cornwall but moved to Wales? ;) I’ll admit I just like “Trev” as a hero nickname.

    Totally agree w/your comments Robin and understand what you mean. It’s one thing I did realize well AFTER finishing LiF, that the one thing all my books have in common, light or dark, is they are “emotional” reads. And generally with a high level of emotion, you are going to be dealing with heart-tugging of some sort.

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  42. Ros
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 18:39:45

    @Laura Kinsale: You’re allowed to do what you like! I shall imagine his Cornish-exiled-to-Wales seafaring father and smile every time I read his name from now on.

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  43. Mireya
    Jan 31, 2010 @ 10:35:41

    @Laura Kinsale:

    (1) I received a working link for my download, as well as an additional email from your editor. It was very nice and I truly appreciate the prompt response.

    (2) I loved your book. Though I am quite familiar with your name, I admit I never read your work before. I am already making a wishlist to catch up with your previous releases.

    I found the book to be charming, engaging, and poignant without being sappy at all. I found it very well balanced as to that respect. The comedy elements were fun to read. The characters were extremely likable and they caught my interest off the bat, which for me, makes the book a winner from the get go. This book is definitely a “lift me up” type of read in every respect.

    ReplyReply

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    Feb 05, 2010 @ 22:53:33

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  47. Nan
    Feb 11, 2010 @ 21:41:40

    I am a voraciaous romance reader- but I have a weakness, I only like those romances where the guy has never been in love before and has no other children (with any woman other than the heroine) and I also like the girl to be a virgin and not in love before. Is this my own weird affliction or does anybody else suffer from it as well?

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  48. The Reader Responsibility to Author Direction | Dear Author
    May 25, 2010 @ 17:01:46

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  49. Jorrie Spencer
    Jun 26, 2010 @ 08:17:02

    Months later, I know, but I did want to say how much I enjoyed reading this conversational review after I finished reading Lessons in French. Thanks for that.

    I agree with most of this. I just adored Callie and Trev, I loved the mix of sadness and humor. While I understand how some of the plot points might be problematic to some readers, with this book I could just go with it, no problem. And, yes, I liked the epilogue and the final reveal quite a bit. I also enjoyed the way Trev’s backstory unfolded, like layers being peeled back. I feel like if I’d known more about Trev right away it would have been harder to accept Callie’s doubts about his feelings for her.

    An aside: I don’t really see much in common in Kinsale’s and Chase’s writing and I’m always surprised when they’re considered similar!

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  50. Robin
    Jul 04, 2010 @ 11:22:56

    @Jorrie Spencer: Stylistically I agree that Chase and Kinsale are very different writers, but the blend of comedy and tragedy in LiF, the places where Kinsale tries to lighten the emotional load with the humor, definitely put me in mind of certain Chase books (Not Quite A Lady, Your Scandalous Ways).

    LiF succeeded better, for me, in maintaining the balance such that the humor did not, IMO, diminish the deeper emotional resonance of the bad stuff that happens. But I would also not apply the comparison to the entire Kinsale oeuvre.

    I definitely agree with you about the “unfolding” of Trev’s character, though. It’s a difficult thing in Romance to make the reader suspend the knowledge that these two will be together, so the problems between them must be — to some degree, at least — resolved by the end of the book. And we certainly can’t believe that a shy, wonderful girl like Callie should end up with a jerk. Thinking back, months later now, I feel Callie’s naivete regarding Trev’s real feelings was a little contrived and drawn out, but I did so enjoy every opportunity Trev had to be the romantic that it’s ultimately okay. ;D

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  51. Polly
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 18:05:52

    SPOILER…

    Was I the only one who was really bothered by the miraculous recovery of the duchesse? Or that she was the one who had, for Callie’s own good, taken the extreme and humiliating step of causing her to be jilted? Three times!? I feel really cheated that that particular revelation was just thrown in and barely discussed, given how much we are shown the jiltings affected so many aspects of Callie’s life and emotional health.

    Also, I have to agree with the posters who call the book melancholy. I found it incredibly melancholy. Yes, there were moments of humor (though, to be honest, I found the bull in the kitchen bit forced rather than light-hearted). In fact, I found this book more melancholy than so many of the angsty Kinsale titles–the unacknowledged sadness the hero and heroine demonstrate, the heroine’s retreat into daydreams, made it difficult, for me, at least, to view this as a light romp or farce. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and I think Ms. Kinsale has a lovely voice and style, but light and fluffy it was not. At least not to me.

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  52. Sarah Frantz
    Jul 26, 2010 @ 20:37:48

    @Polly: TBH, I’m right there with you. That little epilogue bugged me SO much for precisely the reasons you say. So, no, you’re not alone at all. (Or at least, there’s two of us!)

    ReplyReply

  53. Review: Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale | Smexy Books
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