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REVIEW: Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

Dear Ms. Kleypas:

I’ve never fully understood the phrase “two sides of the same coin”, but my feelings toward Love in the Afternoon perhaps gives new meaning to the saying. This is two books in one which could be a boon except I liked the first book (the first half) far better than the second book (the second half). I'm reading this book and nodding along, loving it. Loving the drama, the agnst, the wait…what is this? Oh no, Beatrice is now Heidi. Or Snow White and all of the animals of the forest not only love her but come to her call. She appears to be able to gentle the most ferocious of beasts, namely alphaous maleous.

love in the afternoon by Lisa KleypasNow, I know that Beatrice is a woman of the forest from previous stories in the Hathaway series and I am not opposed to that storyline. It would be an outright lie to say that trope never appealed to me, lover that I am of Julie Garwood stories. And it’s fairly standard romance fare for the heroine to be a friend of the beasts. The problem was that the first half of the book was so out of the ordinary that when juxtaposed to the ordinary second half, the trope of tra la la-ing Snow White in the wilderness stood out starkly.

Let's acknowledge the superior in this book first. The letter writing is exemplary and I am a sucker for epistolary romances. It's hard to write letters that appear clever, touching and real without the exchanges becoming too banal. And yet you conveyed the horrors of war and the changing character of a once pleasure seeking dandy in just a few strokes of the pen. Mighty, indeed. Christopher Phelan was a lover of fine things and Beatrix Hathaway was not a fine thing. In fact, Beatrix overheard him saying to another person that she was a girl “more suited to the stables than the drawing room.”

Christopher joined the Hussars but was picked out to be one of the Rifle Brigade and goes off to fight in the Crimean War. War does thing to men and it remade Christopher into someone else. He writes to Prudence, a friend of Beatrix’s, and begs her for a letter in return. Prudence has no time for letter writing but acknowledges that Christopher did look splendid in his uniform. She fobs the letter off onto Beatrix and begs Beatrix to write Christopher, pretending to be Prudence. At first Beatrix refuses. Why would she want to correspond with a prig like Christopher but upon reading the letter, Beatrix realizes it cannot go unanswered. The sender is too hungry and too lonely to be ignored. And so Beatrix embarks on a Cyrano-like deception trading missives with Christopher that become increasingly romantic. The letters are so well crafted with Christopher swinging from one violent mood (I wouldn’t presume to ask you to wait for me) to another (wait for me…. I swear by the starlight . . . I will not leave this earth until you hear those words from me.)

As with any deception, this can only end badly. Christopher survives to return home and seek out…Prudence. After all, it is Prudence who has written to him. Prudence who had become his only hope in the darkest of nights. Prudence whose correspondence was the one good thing in his life for all those dreary months. And Prudence is all too willing to take credit for the letter writing, to be the love of a new hero of England, and to the newly minted heir to a wealthy estate when his eldest brother takes ill and passes away.

Beatrice, sworn to secrecy by Prudence, and believing that silence is the most correct thing hugs her love for Christopher close.

The rough velvet of his voice was a pleasure-stroke against her ears. Fascinated, bewildered, Beatrix stared at his guarded face.

To Christopher Phelan, she was a stranger. But the memories of his letters were between them, even if he wasn't aware of it.

When Christopher and Beatrix meet again, Christopher insults her, bringing up memories of his stinging criticism that she belonged in the stables.

Bad enough to love a man who didn't love her. But it was exponentially worse to love a man who actively disliked her.

This unrequited love was palpable particularly faced with Christopher’s mistaken disdain. I wanted to scoop Beatrix up, punch Christopher in the face, and pour red juice down the front of Prudence’s gown. All at the same time.

As the lies unravel, as they always do, the tension got even stronger. I was reading as fast as I could at this point. What could possibly happen next!?!

But once the lies resolved and Christopher and Beatrix were making a go of it, the book’s tension and drama dropped precipitously. Worse, I felt that Beatrix turned into the aforementioned Snow White character. She was able to heal not only Christopher’s PTSD, but also a fellow soldier’s PTSD and he turned into an able suitor for a friend of Bea’s. As one of my friends related to me, she expected Beatrix to break out in the Whistle While You Work song at any minute. (Said friend was “all kinds of sad” when it didn’t happen). Family acrimony that had existed for decades was resolved with a kind word here and an understanding message delivered there. Whatever poignancy existed in the first half was swept away with a gallon full of sugar. Even Christopher’s battered, ugly dog is rewarded in a spectacular fashion.

Christopher was never fully actualized. He didn’t ever apologize for his stable comment and while he came to love and appreciate Bea’s way with animals, I did expect some acknowledgment that prior to the war, he was a real asshole. I felt like Christopher hated the person he had become (due to PTSD) more than the person he was.

In the end, I thought the book was half Pixar and half Disney. The first part was Pixar with its poignant, delicate storytelling and the second half was pure Disney where everyone was happy, every problem was solved, every person was paired off, and even the dog is recognized. B

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

14 Comments

  1. Luci
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 05:47:17

    I essentially agree with your review and your rating. The book was a four star book for me. It was enjoyable and well written as is usual with Lisa Kleypas books. I am not a fan of books with letter exchanges but these were so well written I loved them.

    My main problem was tied to Christopher. Not him personally. i did not think he was hateful. But how did he switch from someone stating that Beatrix’s place was in the stables and not good enough for him to head over heels in love with her? I have no problem with the transition. its just that it happens so quickly that we do not even get to see it.

    He never acknowledges that his previous judgement of her had been rash and wrong. And that is what bothered me most.

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  3. Lizzy
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 05:57:44

    Yeah, the bit with the dog at the end was a bit much, I thought. It worked in the beginning and was nice, but at the end, I had a gag thing going.

    I liked this book more than some of the other Hathaway stories, but I agree, I was hoping for something else, especially since the book began well. Like Jane, I wouldn’t have minded if the letter-writing deception was stretched out a bit longer.

    Also, while I appreciate an author’s effort to bring a hefty subject such as PTSD into their novel (which has been discussed on this blog before), it doesn’t always work, and I don’t think it worked well here, for all the reasons Jane mentioned.

    I guess I didn’t like it when I felt like Christopher’s PTSD was basically used as a convenient way for him and Bea to get pushed into physical contact: Oh, a loud noise! I’ll have a traumatic flashback that will cause me to cover the heroine’s body with my own, leading to inflamed sexual tension.

    Blah.

  4. SarahT
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 06:01:54

    Thanks for the review, Jane. I’d been on the fence about reading ‘Love in the Afternoon’ as ‘Married by Morning’ didn’t work for me. This one sounds good, though.

  5. Jane
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 06:22:58

    @Lizzy The dog thing was emblemetic of the second half. It was the reverse of the Wicked Old Witch of the West saying “I’ll get you my pretty and your little dog too.”

    I thought that the way in which PTSD was described was well done but the way in which it was resolved was exactly for the reasons you mentioned & to show, again, how perfectly suited Bea was for him.

  6. Marie Force
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 06:23:20

    I loved this entire series, but agree with your assessment of this last installment. I also thought Prudence went away without a whimper when she could’ve been better used as an adversary for Christopher and Beatrice.

    No matter, Lisa Kleypas could write the phone book, and I’d still want to read it. She’s my favorite!

  7. Jane
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 06:23:57

    @Luci Right, he wasn’t hateful but he was a jerk and his failure to acknowledge his past words to her or even feel uncomfortable about them made you wonder whether Kleypas was trying to show that Bea was wrong in her behavior somehow.

  8. Jessie
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 06:29:22

    I guess I agree with what you’re saying, but the Disney part of the book didn’t really bother me that much (although I do acknowledge the first half was far more beautiful and poignant). I just really appreciated that there was a valid reason why there was distance between Beatrix and Christopher. In most romance novels where the hero is trying to hold himself back, it’s usually from some half-assed, woe is me reason that he uses as an excuse to treat her terribly (a plot Kleypas has used). Christopher, on the other hand, has a legitimate problem that keeps him from being truly emotionally intimate with the woman he loves. But, yeah, then Beatrix swoops in like music to tame every savage breast and it’s a little ridiculous.

  9. Jane
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 08:29:25

    @Jessie – I still enjoyed the book, it’s just that the first half was so good that I felt a let down with the second half.

  10. meoskop
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 10:10:56

    I completely agree. In fact, when she says “Oh, you’re an eagle, aren’t you!” my slapping hand was twitching. Love in the Afternoon started as a five star, best book, omg you must read this and then turned into a book where I hated the heroine lots. I wanted Christopher to turn to her and say “Wow, you’re really annoying right now.” or at the least for her reaction to “You shot my husband!” to be something other than loving compassion and a nice warm bed. There’s saintly and then there’s stupid.

    But part one is some of the best romance writing ever.

  11. Laura Wilson
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 11:24:07

    This was actually a DNF for me. I thought the first part was great and I stopped reading at the wedding night. I thought Married by Morning was the same. The drama of him going to fetch Marks when she ran away was enough; she didn’t need to be kidnapped as well.

  12. KMont
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 12:20:11

    You’re much more forgiving than I. If I’d liked half the book, the second half was that bad I’d probably knock it down to a C. I bought the one prior to this (haven’t read it yet), but from the sound of things, it seems I won’t be getting this one. The Hathaway Christmas book in 2008 was a little too syrupy sweet for me. Wonder if this has always been Kleypas’ way, and it’s just not noticeable till one’s read her for a while.

    Also, I’m not a big fan at all of the hero basically getting away with assholish behavior. It’s called character growth/development – getcha some, fictional peoples.

  13. Meriam
    Jul 22, 2010 @ 15:05:28

    The first part was Pixar with its poignant, delicate storytelling and the second half was pure Disney

    Ha! Perfectly put. I lovedloved the first part but gradually felt my enjoyment diminish as the book progressed into the last third. The exact same thing happened with Married by Morning.

    All the dramatic tension was gone, and even though I liked the characters and enjoyed the writing… that unputdownable feeling was gone.

    I’ve enjoyed this series overall, however. I’m grateful to Kleypas for singlehandedly maintaining my interest in historical romance this year.

  14. Kim
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 14:33:48

    There’s a giveaway of all the books in this series:
    http://www.romanticcrushjunkies.com/2010/08/spectacular-september-book-bananza.html

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