[1852 - Hampshire and London, England]
So here it is! The long awaited romance of "Marks" and Leo! I know I'm not alone when I say that by the end of the second Hathaway book, SEDUCE ME AT SUNRISE, I was sensing that they would be matched up in the future and was already anxiously anticipating it.
Many readers have been counting down the days till this book came out, and that same pressure and excitement also made me nervous - would it be able to live up to our expectations? I'm very conflicted on what my answer to that question is and cannot give a straight yes or no (hence the middling rating of 3.5 stars). One thing I will say is that I don't think this book should be read on its own, for two reasons: 1) reading Hathaway Books 2 and 3 will allow you to enjoy the Marks and Leo relationship *that* much more, and 2) see my CONS section.
Catherine Marks (23) has been the governess and now-companion for the two youngest Hathaway girls for three years and during that time, the antagonistic relationship between Cat and her employer, Leo Hathaway, Viscount Ramsay, has only grown stronger. Leo (30) has changed from the drunken wastrel that he became following the death of his fiancee, however he is still irreverent and enjoys nothing more than a good argument with the pinch-faced eyeglass-wearing "Marks" (as he so "affectionately" calls her). They are like night and day: the relaxed, charming, devil-may-care facade aristocrat and the closemouthed, rigid (though NOT unkind!), somewhat stern governess.
The normal routine of their relationship - one of constant fighting and teasing - changes drastically one afternoon when Leo finally gives in to the urge and kisses Cat ... and she kisses him back! There is no going back from the desire and attraction they have now been forced to admit they feel for one another, and each must face their own issues before any HEA can take place. Leo struggles with his increasingly resolute decision to pursue their relationship, while nonetheless wanting to avoid falling in love at all cost, not willing to put himself at risk of suffering another heartbreak. Cat has really only ever known solitude and loneliness in her life, and she is hiding a mysterious past that has left her in doubt of her own worth and wary and mistrustful of men.
Throw in Cat's concerned brother who also happens to be Leo's sister's husband, this mysterious past coming back to haunt her in the form of a vile 40-year-old lecher whose fixation borders on obsession, two people who wish our heroine ill, and a will that says Leo must marry within a year and produce a male heir or they will all have to leave Ramsay house, and you'll find yourself MARRIED BY MORNING!
Leo is a fabulous hero, though granted I've had a soft spot for him from the beginning ... well maybe not the *very* beginning, when he was somewhat of a selfish lout, but almost :-). I've always loved that he calls Cat "Marks" and you can't help but smile when he's teasing and trying to get a rise out of her. We see a decent amount of all members of the Hathaway clan in this book, which fans of the family will enjoy, and the repartee among the Hathaway siblings and their respective partners is wonderful to read and often very humorous. Cat was intriguing and I'd been curious about her back story since we're first introduced to her; it doesn't disappoint, though how it plays into the book might (see CONS).
One of the strongest things about this book is that you really feel the characters of Cat and Leo belong together; you can see how they just fit right and actually picture them as a real-life couple. They are both what the other one needs and are extremely strong individuals in their own right, but made all the stronger - because they're made vulnerable - with the other by their side. We see their growth - Leo, over the course of the series, and Cat, in this particular book. Leo is finally able to gain the peace and happiness he deserves and Cat is able to let herself be vulnerable and rely on another person. (And did I mention I *LOVE* their kissing game, lol - so cute). Their banter is fabulous, the arguing/teasing is wonderful, and their tenderness and care for one another is adorable (and makes one oh so envious, ::sigh::).
When I started the book, it was a rocky beginning and I was afraid that I was not going to be able to get into the story. It improved, but it really wasn't until the second half that the central relationship began to feel authentic. Part of the reason for this is that everything happens too quickly right at the beginning: much of Cat's "mysterious" past comes to light (by chapter three), she and Leo face their attraction, Leo begins intently pursuing her, etc. If someone starts starts the series with MBM it will definitely be jarring, but even for me, who has read the other 3 books multiple times, I felt like we were thrown into the story headfirst and blind. Yes, it's been building up for a few books, but even so, those previous interactions and passages don't do enough to smooth the way. Additionally, THIS is the book featuring Leo and Marks' story, so it's in THIS book that I want to see the full development of their relationship, (as much) start to finish (as possible).
Although at times the chemistry between Marks and Cat was sizzling, for the first half of the book I did not feel it AT ALL - Kleypas' skill in writing the passages was evident, but it just wasn't believable to me (which I think is a result of my criticism above). I also felt - again, especially at the beginning - that much more of the story was told from Leo's POV than from Cat's, so although Leo was very accessible, Cat remains an elusive character for quite awhile. It drove me crazy that she kept on "my-lording" him so far into the book; even the second time they sleep together, Cat says "my lord" while they're in bed together!
Finally, the mystery-villain subplot seemed contrived. Why would this man from Cat's past be obsessed for so long? Echoing another reviewer, Kleypas seems to have a penchant for certain evil subplots: particularly villainous men with an unhealthy fixation on the heroine (this book, Worth Any Price, The Devil in Winter, SEDUCE ME AT SUNRISE, Because You're Mine, etc.) and kidnappings (most of the ones previously mentioned, plus Dreaming of You, TEMPT ME AT TWILIGHT, etc.). The other side of Cat's past involving her family was interesting and unfortunately not too hard to imagine, though one thing that kept driving me nuts was that these family members were supposed to be of the lower class and not very sophisticated, yet they spoke perfect English and had an admirable vocabulary.
(Note: LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON comes out June 29! Two Kleypas books in two months: the HR goddesses are smiling on us!! And although I wasn't looking forward to Beatrix's story because she's always seemed immature in previous books, reading the excerpt at the back of this book has me VERY intrigued.)
1) Mine Till Midnight - Amelia and Cam
2) Seduce Me at Sunrise - Win and Merripen
3) Tempt Me at Twilight - Poppy and Harry
4) MARRIED BY MORNING - Leo and Cat ("Marks")
5) Love In The Afternoon - Beatrix and Christopher
It's an enjoyable read and although I can't bring myself to give it 4 stars - I had too many issues, particularly with the first half of the book - I don't regret visiting the same bookstore twice in one day to finally get my hands on a copy or staying up late at night to finish reading it. If you haven't read the other Hathaway books, I would definitely urge you to do so before approaching this one (they're wonderful, so it's no hardship, I promise!).
For those readers like myself who don't like the hero or heroine to have had someone whom they truly loved before their HEA-partner (oh we're horrible!): although Leo did honestly love Laura, there is no vying for affection here and he is fully over her by the time this story takes place.