Candy once said that Lisa Kleypas is her romance novel crack, and I can see why. Even as my brain questioned the possibilities and the circumstances of a happy ending for the two protagonists, I smiled and read along anyway, because her historical romances are comforting and happy in the way that soft flannel and hot cocoa are reassuring. I know the story isn’t going to demand too much of my brain or toss me into a hot maelstrom of overblown emotional angst.
I wouldn’t call Kleypas novels my crack, however. More like my brain candy. But not candy like “Oh, it’s 3pm and I’m starving and in the grocery checkout and hey that Twix bar from God-knows-how-long-ago looks pretty tasty” candy. More like Cadbury imported (random trivia: Hubby’s favorite Cadbury bar is called “Whole Nut” and he can’t eat one without giggling like a 12 year old boy). Or those really rich sweet candies made from real sugar and not high fructose corn syrup – the kind that are swirled into really fragile lacy shapes and come wrapped in individual bits of paper at the holidays. Yum.
Anyway, as I was saying, Kleypas = candy. Not the Malaysian kind or the crapass grocery store chocolate kind, but the kind of candy that you stop and devote a good few minutes to enjoying, doing nothing else but savoring the calories that add nothing to your life nutritionally but make you feel happy and indulgent.
I started Mine Till Midnight (and by the way, the title has minimal to do with the story, and those who are sticklers of historical detail should ignore the lace up strapless dress on the cover) last night, and thanks to Baba O’Riley having a bottle and then a long nap on my shoulder, I finished it today in about two hours. The book left me in a happy, mellow mood, and sometimes, most of the time, really, that’s exactly what I want from a historical romance.
Amelia Hathaway is the managerially inclined sister of the new Lord Ramsey, aka her brother Leo. She also has three sisters, Win, Poppy and Beatrix (sequels ahoy!) and since her brother has sunk into a dark party of alcohol, drugs, and depression following the death of his fiancee, Laura, Amelia has taken charge of the family. And by “taking charge” I mean she manages every detail of their new lives as a titled family with a new estate with a relentless “can-do” attitude that would come across as completely annoying as hell if it weren’t for the humility of her character. Amelia doesn’t get off on bossing her family around – she recognizes that she’s the only one who can take care of everyone, and so she steps up and does so, even if it causes her pain as she realizes that some of the problems of her family are somewhat insurmountable, and that her managerial years have put her on the fast track to spinsterhood.
Cam Rohan, the hero, was last seen in the Wallflower Quartet books as a red-hot dark-haired temptation to Daisy and the factotum to the gambling club owned by Evie and St. Vincent. Cam is half-Gypsy, and as such occupies a miserable border between society and the nomadic, tribal life of the Romany. He’s accepted by some out of fear, intimidation, or, in a few cases, respect, but that acceptance has firm boundaries: because he’s Rom, he’s never an equal, no matter how high he ascends above servant or employee status.
Amelia’s first meets Cam while hunting down her wastrel brother in one gambling hell or brothel or another, an after an illicit kiss, she assumes she’ll never see him again. Never see him again? This is a romance novel, silly woman. Of COURSE you’re going to see him again!
Imagine Amelia’s surprise when she learns that her brother’s new estate borders Lord Westcliff’s, and since Westcliff is married to Lillian (It Happened One Autumn) who is best friends with Evie, who, with her husband, owns the gambling hell that employs Cam (The Devil in Winter), they cannot help but run into one another.
Cam tries to resist his attraction to Amelia, and in doing so focuses on the freedom he’s lost from spending too many years in the company of non-Roma society. Convinced he will be cured of his attraction to her if he leaves English society and returns to his own tribe, Cam keeps trying to leave- only to find that he can’t bring himself to do so. Amelia, no matter how well she may think she has her family’s multiple troubles in hand, needs his help, and the chemistry between them makes it equally difficult for her to stay away from him.
Therein lies my biggest problem with the book: can I truly believe in the happy ending for Cam and Amelia? Because this seems to be a continuing arc involving older stories from the Wallflower Quartet (though it was enjoyable to see those characters again) and a new arc that may follow the courtships of Amelia’s sisters, the answer to that question may lie in future books – and really, I want the answer to be in THIS book. Unfortunately, it’s really not. No matter how devoted to one another they may be, Cam is still half-Gypsy, and by choosing him, Amelia is electing to occupy that rather frosty border of polite society that doesn’t 100% accept her husband, and in turn won’t 100% accept her. Even though her family is new to the peerage and skirts that chilly border of society on their own terms, being married to a half-Gypsy exposes her to a great deal of prejudice and rejection, and it’s hard to believe in their happy ending as a result.
The other complaint I have is that there are times when characters speak or ruminate on facts of Roma society, language or culture that sound less like actual people talking or thinking and more like a lecture on Romany life. I tagged those pages with the thought, “Tidbits of research ahoy!”
However, no matter how stilted the dialog may have been at points, Kleypas clearly did her research, and it makes for a rich and layered story that touched on Irish and Romany legends and folklore, and the prejudice and violence that Romany tribes endured at the time. In addition, there’s a touch of the paranormal in the plot that, instead of taking over the story and making it into some kind of historical romance-caper, add to the larger story or stories that will be told with the likely issue of each sister’s romance.
Wait, no, there’s one more thing I have to say – and I’m really only getting this out of the way so I can talk about what I did like about this book – and that which I liked I liked a LOT. This may be the first time I’ve griped about a sex scene or scenes, but it seemed that during every sexual encounter between Cam and Amelia, he was in control and orchestrated the entire sequence of their intimacy. While having the hero remain in control of the sexxoring can be very delectable for me, having him control things every time? No thanks. Not only did it get repetitive but it didn’t ring true for Amelia’s character. I kept waiting for her to try to take charge of their sexual adventures in some way, or at least show some of the spunk and relentlessness with which she approached the other parts of her life, but it didn’t happen. Except for a scene where she hides in his bed, Amelia never got to climb in the saddle first, so to speak, and take the reigns of their sex life, and I wish she had.
Now for the good parts. The one thing that Kleypas does consistently well, and that makes for the comfort factor in her books that I mentioned earlier, is her development of heroines and their friends and sisters. Kleypas is brilliantly skilled at writing loving, caring, supportive relationships between women. They’re not all perfect visions of perfection having perfect superficial friendships that consist of shopping and tea. From the earlier quartet of friends to a new family of sisters who lean on each other in a realistic and truly caring fashion, Kleypas’ heroines are profoundly likable, and that makes reading about them more than pleasurable. I, as a reader, like them, and more importantly, they genuinely seem to like each other. Really, I don’t know many women like the ones she writes, in romanceland or in real life. Even if the sisters in this novel don’t fight nearly often enough, the ways in which they take care of one another is truly touching.
There is one scene I read three times in which Amelia is horrified to see her brother offending their host at dinner, and before she can divert attention from her brother’s conduct, her sister’s pet lizard escapes his home in her dress pocket and starts meandering down the dinner table. Not only is it hilarious, but the lecture Amelia gives her sister immediately afterward had me giggling out loud.
Most often I read romances to witness that spark and start of a loving relationship between the hero and heroine, but the growing skill that Kleypas demonstrates in writing loving relationships between sisters and female friends adds an entirely new type of relationship to follow and enjoy. Loving families, even dysfunctional, slightly daffy and troubled ones, are rare in romanceland, and when I find one that is genuinely rendered and pleasing to read about, I am more than comforted and definitely happy.