Book Review

Suddenly You, by Lisa Kleypas

C-

Title: Suddenly You
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Publication Info: Avon 2001
ISBN: 0-380-80232-5
Genre: Historical: European

I swear I’ve read Suddenly You before. I even think it was on my BnF queue and I had it in the house. I remember seeing the cover on my foyer table, in the old house. But did I remember the plot? Not at all. Which is odd; usually I can remember a Kleypas plot. She’s one of my solid-B writers, an author whose books are usually replete with good dialogue and interesting plots or curious arrangements of characters (especially as pertains to social (in)equality).

Suddenly You is the story of spinster writer Amanda Briars, who hires a man-ho for her 30th birthday so as to divest herself of that annoying virginity of hers. She visits a local madam, who arranges the man-ho, and promises to have him on her doorstep at the appropriate hour.

But of course, this is no ordinary man-ho; he is Jack Devlin, the hero of our story. And he’s not even a man-ho. He’s a cutthroat publisher man, owner of a large printing and bookselling empire that grows larger by the minute owing to his predilection of selling books in cheap serial publication so the poor plebians around him can read and enjoy book ownership as well as the rich. Jack is there to discuss a professional matter with Amanda, but quickly figures out she has a different sort of professional matter in mind. Despite her protests that she’s changed her mind and wants him to leave, he seduces her into mindless pleasure and leaves without taking his own (what a man!), wishing her a happy 30th birthday as he goes.

When they meet again, and she realizes he’s not at all a man-ho, but instead a wildly hot and wealthy businessman, one who has bought her first manuscript and is intent on publishing it with or without her approval, she is furious, but also intrigued. Did I mention, he’s hot? And a publisher? You see the attraction, then.

I read this book over the week prior to my own 30th birthday, and while I am married and pregnant and definitely not a virgin (the baby just kicked me as I wrote that – HA! says Baby Bitchlette) I can relate to 30 being a milestone that tends to shock one into evaluating the past 30, and the next 30. It is something of a gateway into true adulthood, that big “3” at the start of one’s age. So I can understand Amanda entertaining the idea that, as a spinster, she has nothing to lose by losing her virginity, as she sees no option to marry in her future. She spent her eligible age caring for two invalid parents, and she’s reached such a level of intellectual success with her novels that no man would want her, as she is both too old and smarter than they are.

I have to say, I enjoyed the idea of Amanda taking matters into her own hands and divesting herself of her virginity, giving herself the sexual experience she’d never had, and I love the misunderstanding that conspires to give her a night of memorable climax with a man who already appreciates her intellect and isn’t going to be intimidated by her sizable creative brain.

I liked Amanda, as well: she’s practical, clever, and very intelligent, and while she recognizes that she’s been dealt a short hand by being dismissed as the spinster aunt by her own siblings, and left to care for her parents without a bit of help from them, she also is very proud of herself and her accomplishments. She’s a shade of Jane Austen – a popular writer who examines the society around her and has plenty to say about it in the context of her fiction. I’m also a sucker for romance novels about writer heroines, as I find writers writing about writers to be a most interesting character challenge.

I somewhat liked Jack as well, in so much as he was a tortured hero with a horrible childhood, looking for a way to his own success, and making sure he brought his friends with him as he rose to his goals. He works hard, and he’s shrewd, clever, and knows exactly how to make good money with his publishing ventures. In short, as a hero goes, he’s good looking, smart, savvy, rich, and wants to make the heroine happy at any cost.

I bet you saw that “BUT” coming down the road three paragraphs ago. There is a very large and irratating “BUT” in this novel, and it’s something of a spoiler. However, I’m not sure I can discuss why this book left me with more of a sneer than a smile without discussing this plot and character decision in detail. So if you’re not interested, I’ll end here with the following: This book is a lively story with characters that I liked, though they didn’t have much to struggle against on the whole. Despite the one flaw that I found throughout the story, which some readers might not even notice, I did enjoy reading about Amanda and Jack, almost to the end of the book.

Now, let me deliver the straight dish:

The minor problems with this book are indeed minor, and slight quibbles. In the book, there was no major conflict for Amanda and Jack to struggle against, except that she thought he was too wild and unsavory a match, considering his ruthless reputation. Professionally speaking, they were perfectly successful at the start of the story, and there was no danger to either of their successes, except that they might, God forbid, have more. Their struggles were internal for the most part, and as such didn’t amount to much. Their disagreements were either resolved midway, or addressed and dismissed after a few pages. So I never got a good sense of what the big deal was as to why she and he resisted one another for 375 pages.

The biggest problem I had with this book, however, appeared over and over as I read, and towards the end, as I mentally tabulated what grade I’d give the novel, I kept having to knock the grade down as again and again this problem appeared. I’ve seen it in other novels, too, and it bugs the shit out of me:

Heroine: Oh! A real and honest problem! An emotional difficulty, a deception, a fear, a real problem!
Hero: Here! I shall make sweet love to you so that you will escape this worry through orgasm and not really deal with it!
Heroine: Oh! But we must FACE this problem! I am practical and pragmatic! We must address, discuss, and manage this problem that is giving me fits!
Hero: Come here! I shall play with your woman parts and you shall stop making this noise about problems!
Heroine: Oh! But… Oh Oh OH!

Yeah. Jack’s a big one in the sack and every time there’s a plot twist that gives Amanda a bit of worry, out pops Jack’s jack to pump her problems away. Avoidance much?

From the manful “claiming” of Amanda through sexing her up, with passionate variations of “Say my name,” which are in this novel centered around the “Who do you belong to?” variety (I kept thinking Jack was going to ask her next, “Who’s your daddy? WHO’S YOUR DADDY?!”) to the steamrolling over her very real and valid anxieties over their relationship and subsequent marriage, Jack did little to perform as an equal partner in the relationship, except where sex was concerned. And that kind of control over her, where he used her sexual pleasure to secure her acquiesence, got old with me really fast. Jack even uses their sexual intimacy against her, threatening to publish news of their sexual adventures to the entire world should she try to leave him. Ugh, I say.

But the worst part was the very end:

 

Amanda gets pregnant, causing more “big misunderstandings” and the screwing over of a very kind, respectable, and genuinely nice suitor, who of course she has no real passion with, and in the end, suffers a miscarriage. She withdraws from Jack, convinced that he only married her because of the pregnancy, and is devastated by the loss of the baby she did indeed want to have. Jack goes barmy trying to figure out ways to reach her, so of course he goes back to his old bag of tricks, bringing a tray of food and the jack-in-his-pants to woo the sorrow right out of her – three weeks after her miscarriage. He whips out his magic bag of sex and procedes to throw her legs over the arm of her chair and go down on her, despite her protests that she’s not ready. There’s even fruit involved in the kinky sex play, and really, the whole scene made me look at the book with an expression of horrified fury. The hero dismisses the heroine’s agony, and proceeds to override her desire for him to stop, and I’m unable to adequately express my horror and revulsion at the entire scene.

 

At the end of the book, prior to the Worst Oral Sex Scene Ever (TM Candy), Amanda says, “You’re a bully.” And Jack replies, “And I’m bigger than you.”

Wow. What a man. It was quite irritating really: I wanted to like so much of this book, from the way Amanda comes to the decision to live her own life in consideration of nothing and no one but her own desires and happiness, to the professional element of the story wherein she’s a writer and he’s a publisher, and they’re working on an updated edit of her first novel together. But Jack spent too much time seducing the real issues of their relationship out of the way, and while Amanda got all that hot monkey lovin’, I was left to read about it in cold disgust, and since Jack didn’t save any of that sexx0r for me, this book gets a much lower grade than I thought to give originally.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Robin says:

    Although I noticed exactly the problem you articulated with SY, it didn’t bother me as much as it did you UNTIL I read your review.  You’re absolutely right; the sexual control is a MAJOR flaw in an otherwise shallow but somewhat enjoyable story. 

    I think Kleypas actually could have used the sexual domination/conflict avoidance device to the book’s advantage, using it to consciously mark a power struggle between Amanda and Jack, thereby giving them a real obstacle in their relationship rather than the weak (and somewhat tired) ones they had instead.  Especially since the sexual control-as-avoidance aspect of Jack’s personality speaks of an insecurity I don’t think Kleypas wants to explore or even suggest in the book as written.  Now I understand a little better why I was really bugged by the way Amanda, despite her intelligence, tenacity, and pragmatism is constantly brought to heel by Jack’s sexual prowess, especially since she is the far more interesting character.  If Kleypas had chosen to explore the issue of Jack’s sexual domination of Amanda (rather than using the tired device of the heroine chipping through the hero’s “calcified heart”), the book would not have been so lighthearted, but IMO a more interesting read.  As it’s written, though, and as you talk about it, the sexual control thing does really undermine a lot of the intelligence and independence of Amanda’s character, thereby empowering a far less interesting and complex hero (and a lot of otherwise stereotypical plot devices).

    Oh, well; one more reason I believe the Schonesque direction her books began to take with SY weakened her character development and plotting.  I know a lot of people hated Secrets of A Summer Night, but that book was a welcome change for me, becuase at least it seemed to be about something (the death of the aristocracy and the rise of industrialism in Victorian England).

  2. 2
    Stef2 says:

    This is funny to me because I read this book quite a while ago, and what I remember of it was that it didn’t leave me with my happy little Gee, that was a great romance sigh at the end.  I couldn’t figure out why – and I’m not necessarily agreeing, simply because I just don’t remember enough of the details.  Too bad I’ve already given the book away, as my curiosity is piqued.

    Question from the techno-challenged: In white spaces, I’m assuming spoilers, how does one read what you’ve written and ‘hidden’?  Have I missed the boat entirely?

    Stef

  3. 3
    Alyssa says:

    Stef, just click at the first part of the white space and scroll down to the bottom. This essentially highlights the space and allows the text to be visible.

    As for Suddenly You, I have the book but haven’t read it yet. I guess I won’t be in too much of a hurry to do so.

  4. 4
    Nicole says:

    Hmm…Secrets of a SUmmer Night and Suddenly You are the only Kleypas books I have and I haven’t read them yet.  Should I try something else to try her out the first time?

  5. 5
    FerfeLaBat says:

    I think that plot was from an Amanda Quick book?  Damn this is going to bug the hell out of me.

  6. 6
    arp says:

    Mmm, a) WTF was Kleypas thinking throwing something as completely un-escapist-fantasy, un-romantic, un-goddamn-I-don’t-want-to-relive-THAT-experience-again into a novel that women, including mothers and women who’ve miscarried, may read? There’s this whole “establish and protect your reader’s trust” thing that I thought was important to romance authors, but whoa did she ream the concept of reader trust with a massive pole. And b) did she even do the tiniest bit of research into the after-effects of a miscarriage? Hello, 3-4 weeks of blood & tissue loss, doctor’s-orders no-sex-or-tampons. Mmm yum, that’s erotic – and what a tender and solicitous hero, who needs doctor’s orders, sanitation, physical or mental health.

    Funny how easily authors can land on the “Never will buy” list.

  7. 7
    Sarah says:

    The thing that absolutely kills me about the post-miscarriage scene is that it really does violate the trust offered to the reader. Candy said she read that scene and could almost hear the sound of women who had gone through similar experiences chucking the book as hard as they could across the room. You are right – it is a total violation of that trust.

    I wonder if it is akin to putting mention of 9/11 in a book, almost like yanking the reader in an unpleasant fashion from the safety of the romantic fantasy back into the often-painful sensitivity of reality.

  8. 8
    Robin says:

    “Mmm, a) WTF was Kleypas thinking throwing something as completely un-escapist-fantasy, un-romantic, un-goddamn-I-don’t-want-to-relive-THAT-experience-again into a novel that women, including mothers and women who’ve miscarried, may read?”

    I practically forgot the miscarriage part of the book, because it’s less than 20 pages from the event itself to the end of the book, and quite a few of those pages are the horrid oral scene Sarah referred to in her review (I checked the book to see).  I don’t know whether Kleypas couldn’t decide whether to go lighter or darker with the book and ended up with a bit of each, or whether the way she structured the plot forced her into the miscarriage device, but in general, she handles it with very little depth and basically uses it (along with the sexual domination thing) to convince Amanda that Jack really does love her.  And for whatever darker elements are in the book (Jack’s horrible childhood, the miscarriage, the sudden jilting of the decent suitor), the book doesn’t seem to be written with a whole lot of seriousness, at least to me.

  9. 9
    arp says:

    Maybe she thought that since she didn’t go into great detail and dwell upon the tragedy for lengthy duration, it was acceptable. Not sure, haven’t (and won’t) read the book to give it a fair evaluation. But in general it sounds like she didn’t know what she was talking about regarding any aspect. Sexual domination doesn’t create or force trust, it evolves from trust—otherwise, it’s rape and emotional abuse & manipulation. Likewise, it doesn’t replace conversation or respect of an individual’s emotional needs.

    Candy would’ve been hearing that book-against-wall sound accurately, Sarah, and probably not just a little bit of horrified shock mixed in with the outrage. I checked Kleypas’ credentials, since I don’t know anything about her, and she’s no newbie—you’d think someone with 16 books under her belt wouldn’t have made that kind of a writerly mistake. Then again, you’d also think readers would’ve expressed shock at the content before now too—and maybe they have, but I don’t frequent any review sites but this one.

  10. 10
    arp says:

    Also – earlier, I mentioned this discussion and that oral sex scene to my ex, whose response was “that’s rape.” If a man can recognize it…

  11. 11
    Alison S says:

    I haven’t read the book either. But it seems to me that sexual domination in books is one thing – it may not float everyone’s boat, but it does float some peoples’, and stuff that actually would not be at all a good thing in real life can be arousing when safely on the printed page in fantasyland, for those that are wired that way. I wouldn’t mind the “I’m bigger than you” bit at all. But the miscarriage bit – no, no, no. I’ve never had a miscarriage, but I’ve seen enough of the deep grief it’s caused many of my friends that, as others have said, it would shake me right out of that pleasant pink trance back into the real world. I think that including such a scene was a cruel mistake. There are some things that just don’t belong in women’s escapist literature, and the loss of a child, at any stage, is one of them. It’s something too powerful to use lightly.

  12. 12
    bam says:

    A friend of mine miscarried and she was absolutely devastated. For months, she was like the walking dead with this “dead fish” look in her eyes. She wouldn’t even let her husband touch her. She made him sleep in the other room.

    I haven’t read “Suddenly You,” but now, I don’t want to. When I read about the oral sex scene, I was absolutely horrified. If the heroine were saying, “no! no! I’m not ready!” to the hero

    before he “went to town”, that’s so totally rape, it’s not even funny.

  13. 13
    Robin says:

    “Maybe she thought that since she didn’t go into great detail and dwell upon the tragedy for lengthy duration, it was acceptable. Not sure, haven’t (and won’t) read the book to give it a fair evaluation. But in general it sounds like she didn’t know what she was talking about regarding any aspect. Sexual domination doesn’t create or force trust, it evolves from trust—otherwise, it’s rape and emotional abuse & manipulation. Likewise, it doesn’t replace conversation or respect of an individual’s emotional needs.”

    In general, Kleypas is a writer I trust, and IMO, at least, the “domination” was not aggressive or authoritarian, as much as playful (at least I think this is how Kleypas was writing it).  I have real problems with some of Linda Howard’s alpha males (don’t even get me started on Dream Man) because they seem no more than Romanticized bullies, and I wouldn’t put Jack Devlin in that category at all.  I guess I’d say it’s a gentle domination, albeit an avoidance and an overtaking of Amanda’s will. I actually think Kleypas was using it to boost the sensuality rating of the book and to show self-proclaimed plain Amanda (and the reader) that she was utterly yummy to Jack.

    I’ve generally thought of Kleypas as a sensitive and conscientious writer (wasn’t she among the first to write the non-aristocratic hero?).  So really, the insensitivity is anomalous here, at least to me.  Frankly, my biggest complaint about her books is that many don’t stick with me all that long after I read them. Then Came You, Dreaming of You, and Where Dreams Begin, and Secrets of a Summer Night are some of my favorite Kleypas books, and I’d recommend them to Kleypas newbies.  I also have a lot of respect for Kleypas because her actual prose writing skills have improved by leaps and bounds over the years.  When I read the title of SY, I wondered if she was making fun of herself for using “suddenly” so often in earlier books. Probably not, though.

  14. 14
    Maili says:

    When I read that bit in SUDDENLY YOU, I admit I was uncomfortable. The fruit? I laughed my head off because it’s so silly. That eased tension.

    did she even do the tiniest bit of research into the after-effects of a miscarriage? Hello, 3-4 weeks of blood & tissue loss, doctor’s-orders no-sex-or-tampons. Mmm yum, that’s erotic – and what a tender and solicitous hero, who needs doctor’s orders, sanitation, physical or mental health.

    In fairness, there are two things to consider: a) the after-effects vary from one woman to another [my first doesn’t fit your description as we discovered during a scan the mite was gone, and my second fits your description], and b) Victorian-era doctors would know this?

    Fuck, *my* doctor didn’t tell me, not even after I had the D&C of the first. So it depends.

    But with the hero’s actions? Fair point.  He’s not insensitive, just thick-headed. :)

  15. 15
    arp says:

    Hmm, I hadn’t realized it wasn’t a contemporary romance, so you’ve a fair point on Victorian-era doctors and medical knowledge.

  16. 16
    Candy says:

    I had forgotten about the Worst Oral Sex Scene ever when I wrote my Kleypas Lightning Reviews. I’ll have to go back and knock it down a grade. And while Sarah’s right about the way Jack handled a lot of the issues, like Robin, I interpreted Kleypas trying to show how Jack finds Amanda completely nummy and irresistible. It wasn’t until the last oral sex scene that my jaw dropped and I said “WHAT THE FUCK?”

  17. 17
    NancyJ says:

    Dear Candy,
    Don’t be dissin’ my Jack and Amanda.  We might have to tho down!

    I love, love, loved so much of the book that I just ignored the parts that annoyed me.

    And I could forgive my Lisa K. just about anything (except time traveling Russians having sex with their grandmothers).

  18. 18
    sleeky says:

    Speaking as someone who has had a miscarriage, yes that scene is VERY squicky for me. I don’t hate the book, but I reread very carefully.

  19. 19
    EmilyV says:

    awwwww, this review made me sad, as I actually loved this book and I reread it quite frequently.  Although I do understand some of the critques made, I thought that Kleypas wrote a different historical romance that played with the conventional aspects of the genre.  I think the miscarriage was an important part of the book not because she lost the baby, but because Amanda wasn’t all dependant upon Jack to help her heal, but she pushed him away and retreated within herself, in this, I thought Kleypas dealt with her grief very well.  It also made their relationship stronger and displayed that they were not just married and in a relationship because she found out that she was pregnant, but because they loved each other. 
    I also didn’t get the rape vibe from the scene where he gives her oral sex, but mainly because I didn’t really take their comments seriously, I just thought it was sarcastic amusing banter, and it sounds way less dominating in my head when I imagine him saying things jokingly than when I reread it with a serious connotation.  I can totally see how it can be taken that way though, upon rereading it.
    I also loved that Kleypas played with the idea of the hero being mistaken for a man who works as a prostitute, instead of the heroine (which happens ALL THE TIME!!) and that he was the younger man but it didnt turn into a creepy oedipal-thing, it was almost a non issue in the book until she found out at the end.
    Anyway, I just wanted to add in my own two cents because I actually really love this book and am a HUGE Kleypas fan!
    thanks guys!

    p.s. oh and I TOTALLY agree with you NancyJ about the time travelling russian bit—what WAS that??? I actually skipped that whole part in the book and pretended it didnt exist…..I think I also just forgive Lisa for everything….

  20. 20
    Morgana says:

    I just re read the book and that scene really was not as bad as you lot are making out. Fair enough this was not the best Lisa Kleypas book ever but it still was a good read.

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top