At last!! Another Kleypas novel - now we all just have to survive the wait for the story we've all been waiting for: Leo and "Marks" (or Catherine/Cat, which we learn in this novel is her first name). I completely agree with the reviewer Luckee that this book was definitely satisfying and enjoyable, but there was just a little something missing. Is it worth rushing out to your nearest bookstore and buying though? Yes. Will you be left feeling giddy after you read it? Yes. And are there the classic characters we all love, the chemistry Kleypas excels at writing, and the humorous and witty scenes we adore? Yes. So basically: yes, buy it, steal it, whatever, but read it!
MAIN CHARACTERS, Harry Rutledge and Poppy Hathaway:
Harry (early 30s) is a wonderful hero - the kind of bad-guy-whom-we-love-to-love hero that Kleypas created for Dreaming of You, The Devil in Winter, and Where Dreams Begin. Harry is ruthless, complex, very emotionally closed-off, and will stop at nothing to get what he wants - which usually comes very easily to him now. However he's also fair, humorous, extremely hardworking and intelligent, intense, passionate, loyal, and can be extremely tender and sensitive.
Here LK has created a "hero" à la Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent (from DEVIL IN WINTER), because as Harry himself says in the scene that was being used as the teaser-excerpt: in this story, it's the villain of the fairy-tale who gets the princess, not the prince. Harry definitely does some questionable things, though I would say that Kleypas does a very good job of having her character toe the line, but never quite crossing it - and writing him in such a way that one can't help but understand why Poppy is so attracted and drawn to him, because frankly what woman wouldn't be?! Basically, you know him ... he's the bad/cold guy who just secretly (even unconsciously) wants to love and cuddle / be loved and cuddled but was - surprise, surprise - just waiting (even if he didn't know it) for the right woman to come along. Let's not even pretend that we don't all (or okay, to be fair, *most* all of us) absolutely **LOVE** this type of hero, lol.
Poppy (23) is a great counterbalance to Harry - as he so eloquently puts it in one scene in the book when he compares her to a clock mechanism ;-). She's charming, friendly, outgoing, loving, intelligent, and a wonderful conversationalist (sounds like a mundane attribute, but really isn't in this case) who is interested by almost everything and everyone. All Poppy has ever wanted is a calm and quiet life - something not often found in the Hathaway household - with a partner whom she loves, and though she thinks she has found this in the form of Michael Bayning, Harry maneuvers everything so that ... well, let's just say that path becomes somewhat obstructed for Poppy.
I liked Poppy's freshness and honesty - there is no guile with her and it's easy to see why someone like Harry (or anyone, for that matter) would be drawn to her. One of the things I loved best about Poppy was that she wasn't written as being so perfect that it was almost hard to like her or feel any kinship with her; she has flaws - though admittedly not as many as Harry, lol - and there's one scene in particular where after speaking with Leo about something, she decides that she was in the wrong and is going to apologize. If you want to know what other LK heroines she's most like, I would probably say a combination of Sara Fielding (DREAMING OF YOU) for her honesty and friendliness, Daisy Bowman (Scandal in Spring) for her simplicity and positivity, and Charlotte Howard (Worth Any Price) for how her relationship with the hero is portrayed and in the way that he needs/wants her.
We see lots of the whole Hathaway clan (and are given great teasers about Leo and Marks, see P.S. for more details) and the staff of the Rutledge Hotel are great additions to the book. They really add to the story, as well as giving further depth to Harry and the relationship he develops with Poppy. They also provide some wonderful humor, which is always a great thing for any romance book, and this book definitely has some of the LOL scenes that I always come to treasure in LK's novels - one of the greatest ones is when the hotel top-staff are in the kitchen discussing the intimate side (or lack thereof) of Harry and Poppy's relationship and the chef is making all these vegetable metaphors. :-))) Couldn't stop laughing!
The "there's-something-missing-but-I'm-not-exactly-sure-what" factor is hard to describe because, yes, I'm not exactly sure what it is. The whole relationship feels somewhat rushed to me and takes place over a shorter period of time than I feel is usually used in Kleypas' books (at least in her historicals). Because they know each other for so little time and the period (time-wise) that the book covers is somewhat on the short side, I think that the development of their relationship seems a little rushed or stilted, not containing as much plausible depth as some of Kleypas' other main characters, and problems that dog the story and their marriage seem to conclude almost too quickly right before the end.
Also, although the chemistry between Harry and Poppy is definitely there, it's not AS shimmery/practically-tangible as in some of her other novels. Compared to a lot of other authors out there, it's still absolutely wonderful and excellently written when it is there and you definitely will NOT feel like you were short-changed on the romance part - however compared to the first two Hathaway books (Mine Till Midnight and Seduce Me at Sunrise), it just was not as "charged."
Finally, most authors have to include some mystery/villain twist at the end and LK provides this obligatory plot twist. I myself thought it seemed a bit superfluous and could have been done without, but no more details since then I would have to include spoilers.
It's still a great read, and I definitely do NOT regret rushing out this morning and buying it at the nearest bookstore (my apologies, Amazon.com). We're teased at the end that Summer 2010 will see - get this - TWO NEW HISTORICAL ROMANCES by LK. Yes, I know, take a moment to sit down, take a deep breath, and collect yourself (... or was that just my reaction?). They are the remaining two books in the Hathaway series: MARRIED BY MORNING and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON.
P.S. FOR ALL THE LEO AND MISS MARKS FANS (i.e. everyone in existence who is aware of them):
The rumor is that MARRIED BY MORNING is Leo's story (and Marks/Catherine/Cat's, because really, it's just too cruel to even IMAGINE she's not his heroine) and will be the next Hathaway book released - I don't know about the rest of you, but even the thought of the Leo/Cat story has me jumping up and down like a kid in a candy store (but no pressure LK, lol). As other reviews mention, this book is choc-a-bloc FULL of little teasers and further developments in their relationship (plus some new and *very interesting* disclosures about Cat's past - though still not everything, of course). Whenever their book finally DOES come out, it will be an absolute must to reread the previous Hathaway books first so the anticipation can really build ... and then we can just wallow in enjoyment, lol. I can (seriously) barely contain my excitement - good to know I have a whole ~10 months to work on it ::sigh::.
For mini-micro-spoilers about both books (though really mini when it comes to LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON) go to this interview with Lisa Kleypas that was posted the day after this book came out (Amazon took out the link, so I posted it in the comments section). Thank you to L. ROACH for the post about it; the spoiler for MARRIED BY MORNING is absolutely great and is a definite must-read if you're left wondering about a certain exchange between Leo and Cat at the end of the book.
UPDATE, 6/4/2010: Reread and am changing my rating to 3.5 stars; agree with my criticisms and saw all these points as way more of an issue this time. I think the first reading I was somewhat blinded by my excitement to have a new Kleypas book.