Book Review

Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas

In Chasing Cassandra, the sixth book in the Ravenels series, railway magnate Tom Severin finally gets his turn to be the hero. I have been hoping for a book about Tom since he was introduced in the first book in the Ravenels series. After all, I love to read about a Sad Historical Businessman brought low by love! Unfortunately, while I enjoyed this book, it also pained me because I felt like it could have been so much more.

We open on the wedding of Pandora and Gabriel, who were the main couple from a previous book in the series, Devil in Spring. This wedding is where Tom and Cassandra meet. Tom is basically instantly smitten with Cassandra, but he’s also afraid of how intensely she makes him feel. Cassandra is charmed by Tom, but wants to marry for love, and Tom claims to be incapable of that. Most of the book describes their quite entertaining will-they-or-won’t-they quasi-courtship over the course of many months. There are plenty of accidental meetings, meddling relatives and secretaries, an adorable orphan child named Bazzle, one or more humorous lice infestations, and, of course, a Big Scandal. It’s all mostly quite light and fun.

As in pretty much all Lisa Kleypas books, the dialogue is amazing: it’s witty, sharp, revealing, and insightful. And not just for the hero and heroine; most of the major players of the past books of the series appear here and they all get to have zingers as they banter with each other. I couldn’t help but laugh at this exchange where Devon says:

“Furthermore, in the past two years, it’s been made known to me that women are intelligent, sensitive beings with hopes and dreams.”

“I can afford Cassandra’s hopes and dreams,” Severin said promptly. “All of them. I can afford hopes and dreams she hasn’t even thought of yet.”

I do think that the heavy inclusion of all the series main characters does make it harder for this book to stand on its own. Dr. Gibson is a big player here, as are West and Devon Ravenel. You’d be able to follow the plot without having read the other Ravenels books, but I don’t think it would be nearly as enjoyable. Half the fun of this book for me was seeing so many of the characters from previous books and how they had settled into their own HEAs. (There is a particularly heartwarming scene between West, Phoebe, and Phoebe’s son Justin).

However, the best part of this book for me was Tom. I found him to be a satisfyingly complex and dynamic character. He’s smart, rapacious, charming, somewhat cold in affect, and ruthless. On one hand he can run circles around everyone he meets, and on the other hand, he struggles with a lot of the basic premises of human relationships, which I found strangely adorable and heartwarming. At the beginning of the book he’s basically suffering from the malaise of a man who has achieved his dreams and is now bored. West tells Tom when he initially wants to marry Cassandra,

“For you, disappointment is inevitable. As soon as you obtain the object of your desire, it loses its power to enchant you. Knowing that, do you think Devon or I would ever allow you to court Cassandra?”

This does not mean he’s a mean person; even at the beginning of the book he has a fundamental sense of fairness and he does seem to want to treat people well out of principle if not empathy. However, he lives most of his life in the realm of the cerebral and claims he has suppressed all of the emotions that aren’t “useful” to him. He initially approaches Cassandra as though he’s making an investment or an acquisition: one that he will appropriately value and care for, but not one that he will love. 

Falling for Cassandra forces him to confront a lot of truths about himself, such as that he’s not as ruthless as he thinks he is and he does want love and acceptance. Basically, love totally unravels him in a way that is very satisfying to read. While it is invariably a nightmare to deal with in real life, I love characters in romance who are all “AAAAH! AN EMOTION!!!! WHAT DO I DO!? HOW DO I GET RID OF IT!?” And the lengths that Tom ultimately goes to in order to protect and cherish and love Cassandra are pretty moving, actually.

I did not really remember Cassandra much from previous books. This may be because she has almost no personality. Or at least, her personality is not very…compelling? I was not actively irritated by her, but she is also my least favorite heroine of this entire series thus far. (Helen may not have been that bombastic, but at least she had a Dark Secret).

Like all the characters, her dialogue is clever, but otherwise her main personality trait seems to be that she is incredibly warm and nurturing. She also comes across as quite passive for a lot of the book, and when she did put her foot down on anything, it was generally about doing some more nurturing. For example, she insists on having a dog to take care of. She insists on taking care of the Plot Moppet of this book, the young street urchin named Bazzle. When it comes down to it she even insists on marrying Tom, fundamentally because she wants to take care of him. This all felt a little weird to me because Cassandra felt uncomfortably like a stereotype of a “good” woman–warm and giving above all, not too assertive or aggressive, smart but not smarter than her prospective husband. Basically, she lacked dimension.

The only thing I found particularly interesting about Cassandra was her love of novels, which, #relatable. There’s also a hilarious running bit wherein Tom misses the point of every novel he reads because he’s far too literal.

Because Cassandra was a little on the boring side, I found myself occasionally wondering why Tom was so obsessed with her. This is never a good thing in a romance novel. This was exacerbated for me by the fact that so much of the book is devoted to talking about how unbelievably beautiful Cassandra is. It started to feel weirdly like a value judgment, like her beauty makes her a more worthy person to love. So I would say I was only about 60% sold on the romance between the two of them.

In spite of Cassandra being kind of a milquetoast, Tom and the sparkling dialogue did keep me entertained throughout most of the book. However, the biggest issue with Chasing Cassandra, and the reason why I could not in good conscience give it a grade in the B range, is that there is no actual conflict in the book once Cassandra agrees to marry Tom. This is only about 70% of the way into the book, so that’s, uh…a pretty big problem.

Once they got married, I kept thinking they were going to have some kind of big conflict (or at least some kind of legitimate obstacle). After all, they have some decidedly different value systems. While Tom is interested in fairness and honesty, he’s not intrinsically generous and he’s fundamentally pragmatic. On the other hand, Cassandra is not very pragmatic at all but wants to shower love and care upon the entire world. These conflicts aren’t just abstract: at one point, Cassandra expresses that it is important to her that Tom spend time with their eventual children, and Tom says he does not really like children and is not interested in spending time with any. This is sort of waved away by Cassandra with “it’ll be different when they are your kids!” Meanwhile I was going Y I K E S y’all want really different things.

But whenever it seems like a real, blowout conflict is about to happen between the newly-married Cassandra and Tom, Tom just…capitulates. To whatever Cassandra wants. Yes, I will adopt this plot moppet! Yes, I will dramatically change my long-standing business plans to Do Philanthropy Instead! His easy agreement with whatever Cassandra wants is incredibly unsatisfying and it robs the last 20% or so of the book of any momentum.

I wanted Tom and Cassandra to actually address how different they were and work through some of those differences in a way that allowed them to remain close. Instead, it feels like Tom will make concessions for Cassandra, but Cassandra won’t change at all for Tom. This left me feeling like Tom and Cassandra were not actually compatible, which, again, not a good sign in a romance novel.

Overall, even though I did enjoy reading most of this book, I was left feeling kind of lukewarm due to the stalling plot and not quite satisfying romance. I think if you have been reading and liking the series so far there is plenty to like here, especially if you are interested in spending more time with the characters we have already been introduced to. But it’s certainly no Devil in Winter or Dreaming of You. (It’s not even Marrying Winterborne, which at this point remains my favorite in the Ravenels series and has a more satisfying Sad Historical Businessman romance).

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Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas

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  1. 1
    Star says:
    1+

    It sort of sounds like you’re supposed to be thinking that Cassandra is such a beautiful warm snuggly nurturing paragon of a woman that obviously she doesn’t need to change at all, which seems… questionable? Especially questionable if she’s inclined to dismiss any inconvenient feelings he has (like the part about the kids), because that right there is definitely an indication that she has some growing to do, too.

    She sounds like a Tyrannical Paragon in the making. You know the type? The sort of person (almost always a woman, almost always very traditionally feminine) who manages to control everyone and everything around her by the virtue of being so Nice and Warm and Loving that failing to give her what she wants seems akin to puppy-kicking, until you sit up and realise that she has everything she wants, while everyone else around her is quietly miserable because they’ve spent all this time capitulating, even when it was important to them, out of a sense that they would be unreasonable not to. In reality, Tyrannical Paragons aren’t actually kind or nurturing, and they really don’t care about how anyone else feels at all, but they’re so good at faking it that everyone else feels obligated to accept the lie. So the people in their life all end up feeling horribly guilty, because they each believe that they’re the only one who secretly wishes the Tyrannical Paragon would get eaten by bears, and what kind of monster could think such a thing about someone so Good and Nurturing and Lovely? No one ever compares notes, and the Tyrannical Paragon’s reign of pleasant terror continues.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:
    1+

    Star: did you coin the term Tyrannical Paragon? Because that’s brilliant. Chillingly familiar, and brilliant.

  3. 3
    Escapeologist says:
    1+

    @Star, I have met women like that, one was my boss and it took me YEARS to figure her out. Thank you for articulating it so well.

    One thing I’ve realized – I’m a sucker for a kind-sounding voice. Male or female. It lulls me into a false sense of security, like we’re besties, and it takes glaring actions from that person to break the spell. Like my boss of several years asking “what’s your last name” and “where are you from”.

    In my experience, people who work in Marketing are particularly good at this. Stay vigilant, my friends.

  4. 4
    Goldie says:
    1+

    Isn’t “Bazzle” just how Brits pronounce the name Basil?

  5. 5
    Arden says:
    1+

    Isn’t “Bazzle” just how Brits pronounce the name Basil?

  6. 6
    Ruth says:
    1+

    Why is it that so many historicals have anachronistic costumes on the cover? This one looks like a prom dress.

  7. 7
    Veronica says:
    1+

    I agree about the lack of conflict in the book, ultimately, but I think that part of the issue of Cassandra’s seeming lack of growth is the fact that she does a lot of growing up and decision making in the earlier books. The trauma and neglect/abuse that the Ravenel women were subject to is discussed quite a lot in the other books, which is why I think it isn’t explored specifically for Cassandra. It seemed pretty obvious to me that Cassandra has dealt with her trauma relatively well, and she is determined to not repeat a cycle of neglect and abuse, which is why she is so hell bent on nurturing everyone. I think it would have made for a much better climax if Cassandra had done something counter to her and Tom’s contract and the couple actually had to deal with it, but I still thought the book was a solid B/B-, if just for the boiler scene alone.

  8. 8
    Lindlee says:
    2+

    I strongly disagree with you on Cassandra.

    But first let me say, I do agree there should have been some sort of conflict after the marriage to show us how Tom and Cassandra would navigate their differences. I loved the contract and that they spent all day negotiating on it. But some follow up on how that would work in their marriage would have been nice.

    So Cassandra. To recap what you said, she’s kinda boring. Her only defining characteristic is being nurturing. I feel like this is a common attitude to characters like her and frankly it’s been bothering me for awhile. I tend to be a quiet person. I’m an accountant (aka the profession that is used as shorthand for boring more times than I can count). On a personality test, I was nearly 100% Harmonizer. Meaning I want everyone around me to be happy. I am a nurturing person. I am aware that my personality type doesn’t show up much in novels because it’s not easy to write my story and make it interesting.

    I know in the past all “good” women were nurturing. And if all of Lisa Kleypas’ heroines were like Cassandra, I would say that’s a problem. But can we be okay every now and then with a woman like Cassandra? It’s frustrating when characters like her are completely dismissed as not being interesting.

    I say all this not as a criticism but more as sharing feelings that I’ve felt for some time. Good girl. Accountant. Nurturing. They’re boring. Yeah, well, that’s me.

  9. 9
    Carla says:
    1+

    Lindlee, from one nurterer to another! I love stories with strong, nurtering women (probably why I love Mary Balogh so much, as her books abound with nurtering women). The ones who keep their heads when the world is falling around them. I suspect I will like Chasing Cassandra for the same reasons I liked Marrying Winterbourne, Secrets of a Summer Night, Mine Till Midnight, and so many of Kleypas’s other books.

  10. 10
    Deborah says:
    1+

    @Lindlee: +1 on your opinion of Cassandra and the attitude toward “nice” heroines. (I can’t +1 on identifying as nice myself. I’m not nurturing, kind, thoughtful, etc.) I also agree that seeing more of the contract post-marriage would have been interesting. There is one scene where Cassandra grows irate because she thinks Tom might be violating the contract’s terms, but that kind of fizzles to him capitulating on a Big Thing and her understanding his need for space.

    I do think Kleypas overlooked (or underdeveloped) a couple of aspects of the story that would make Cassandra more interesting to the “I like my heroines edgy” crowd. First is that she’s a product of the same twisted parenting that produced Helen and Pandora. Both of those heroines got to own the damage done to them in their childhood. Cassandra is never given the opportunity to explore it. Instead, that opportunity goes to Devon and his bitterness over the trio of taxidermied goldfinches under glass. Don’t steal her pain, dude!

    The other issue is the aggression Helen faces as a consequence of her beauty. I think Kleypas shows this (she’s mean-girled, sexually assaulted, and slut-shamed), but — judging from this review and the comments — this isn’t making an impression on readers because Helen isn’t introspective and self-pitying or even understood by the other characters to be under attack. I compare her experience to that of Lily Lamprey from Pretty Face, and I wish Kleypas had done as excellent a job as Parker at eliciting the reader’s sympathies for the heroine.

  11. 11
    Deborah says:
    1+

    Wrong Me: “…the aggression Helen faces”

    Right Me: “…the aggression Cassandra faces” (d’oh)

  12. 12
    Ellen says:
    1+

    @Arden – Yes, the changeover from “Bazzle” to “Basil” was somewhat of a bit in the book but for most of the book he identifies and is described as “Bazzle” only.

    @Lindlee — I want to be clear that my problem was not that she *was* nurturing. Lots of human beings are nurturing in at least some contexts, making it, frankly, a pretty vague personality trait. My issue was that Cassandra was not a dimensional character and her predominating personality trait being “nurturing” was a symptom of that. She had little to no growth or change throughout the book. She has basically no internal conflict or struggle of *any* kind, because even when she marries Tom she’s clearly not giving up on or questioning her dreams of a love marriage, which is what makes her boring.

    In combination with her flatness as a character, the way she was valorized in the text for typically “feminine” characteristics in addition to nurturance, i.e. her beauty and her ability to “reform” Tom with her love, were troubling to me. No main character should be presented as such a paragon (again, boring) but it’s especially bothersome when that paragon aligns perfectly with toxic, restrictive normative ideals of femininity.

  13. 13
    Ellen says:
    1+

    @Deborah–I don’t agree that any of those things are a *result* of her beauty. Women everywhere are slut-shamed, assaulted, and mean-girled for reasons that have nothing to do with their “beauty” and everything to do with patriarchal power and internalized misogyny. Regardless, bad things happening to Cassandra “because” she is beautiful does not somehow negate of the amount of page space spent lauding Cassandra’s beauty in a way that implicitly or even explicitly links beauty to a woman’s value. The book fails in this regard because it does not sufficiently question the premise that beauty is inherently valuable for women, which is why Lily Lamprey *works*.

  14. 14
    Chemchik says:
    1+

    So, in Little Women terms: she’s a Beth who looks like an Amy and some of us wish she had a little more Jo?

    As an outsider-feeling Jo myself, I always wish I had a bit more Beth in me. It sounds like this might be a case of writing yourself into a corner—have previous books given the character context that doesn’t seem to come across clearly in her own story?

  15. 15
    Star says:
    1+

    @SBSarah – Thank you! Yes, I did. My mother has some tendencies in this direction (though she’s not an extreme case), and one tends to attract people similar to one’s parents, so… I’ve thought about it a lot.

    @Escapeologist – You’re welcome! and what you say about voices is so true. I think we all tend to overlook how much people’s voices influence our feelings about what they’re saying. Similarly dangerous: people who have the gift of sounding “reasonable” (even if they’re saying something completely irrational) or of sounding confident.

    @Lindlee – You are not boring. Really. You’re not.

    I don’t think it’s the case that quieter types of characters are inherently boring at all, but rather that authors can’t cheat so easily writing us, so it’s just much more obvious when the author hasn’t fully developed the character. It’s on the author to give characters richness and depth and development, and if the author only really gives them a single, static personality trait, then the character — any character — is flat. If the character in question is the sort of person who yells a lot, then they can become sort of pseudo-interesting simply because their one trait creates drama, and that propels the story, but with a quieter character, that doesn’t work.

  16. 16
    Ellie says:
    1+

    I just kept waiting for the bombers from Garrett and Ethan’s book to show up. I thought they would show up after the wedding and things would get interesting. Nope.

  17. 17
    Laurie says:
    1+

    I enjoyed Chasing Cassandra, but did leaving me wanting. I was really hoping that there would be something that brought her out of sister Pandora’s shadow. Looking forward to listening to Mary Jane Wells’ interpretation on the audiobook.

  18. 18
    Adularia16 says:
    1+

    I really enjoyed the book, but that was because I was changing the story as I was reading it myself inserting myself in place of the heroine and imagining Tom as my husband but in 2020 although we are really living in the 1800s. Not sure how that’s possible but that’s where I went with my imagination.

    That fantasy out of the way, I was quite disappointed in the book. I’ve actually been disappointed in all of her books since she wrote Marrying Winterbourne. There is no tension between the couple, no sense of real intimacy and buildup. Tom falls for her the first time he sees her and it’s not clear why. It doesn’t seem that we have an introduction to Tom in his own novel but we have to rely on all the bits and pieces we have of him from previous novels. It just didn’t make sense why he would fall for her when we literally knew very little about Cassandra. The characters were not fleshed out and while Tom was more so it just seemed like a basic character profile, Without really delving into anything emotional or deep. If the author had gone deeper and there was plenty of material in which she could’ve gone deep or wet, it would’ve been much better.

    I was also disappointed to see that the novel took place during the same timeframe as the last 3 to 4 novels. You don’t see any growth or progression in the any of the other characters and it seems that a lot of stuff happened to a lot of people in the same family in one year.

    I did enjoy Tom’s take out a lot of novels. But I was also perturbed that Cassandra’s version of what the point of famous was seemed to be the only valid point of view. I actually liked Tom’s analysis quite a bit and felt it was perfectly valid.

    What I did like the most is the gorgeous cover art.

  19. 19
    qqemokitty says:
    1+

    I’m a huge historical Kleypas fangirl. I pre-ordered this as I do all her historicals. So I was quite perturbed to be annoyed by three things within the first couple pages.

    1. Infinite scrolling not available for this book. Ugh what, why not.
    2. Tom seems kind of awful?
    3. The phrase “ancient Jacobean house” used twice in one page was irksome.

    I haven’t read further yet … Which is weird because normally I devour a Kleypas the instant it arrives.

    I will persevere.

  20. 20
    Bret Foster says:
    1+

    I have also been disappointed in her books since Marrying Winterbourne. After having just reread the Hathaway series I realized that the intimacy amongst the couple and family is just missing in these later books. I am also unreasonably annoyed that at no point does anyone mention Helen’s little sister that they rescued from an orphanage and also hated getting clean. Cassandra helped take care of her so that could have been a clearreason for being so caring about Bazzle.

  21. 21
    Ellie says:
    1+

    There was also no reference to Pandora’s brush with death, which clearly wold have affected her twin. Ethan’s shooting and recovery was mentioned, but not the one that would have affected Cassandra the most. And yes I did go and try and figure out the timeline to make sure I wasn’t confused about when it happened.

  22. 22
    WS says:
    1+

    Was not an enormous fan of this one, but I’m going through all of the other new releases and saving the Simone St. James for last, so I kind of knew going in that I wasn’t going to love it. I didn’t mind Cassandra; I wouldn’t classify her as a Tyrannical Paragon, because she’s not really attempting to get her way in everything. She’s saying what she wants and Tom is pretty much buckling. We’re supposed to assume because he doesn’t really know what *he* wants, deep down, until Cassandra expresses something, and he realizes, “Hey, I kind of actually do want that; go figure.”

    I agree that the conflict is pretty minimal, and I also cringed when the children issue was hand-waved away, “It’s different when they’re yours.” Well, yeah, it is– then you love them, find them incredibly irritating and frustrating, feel guilty about finding them incredibly irritating and frustrating, and you always know you’ve got them for life. “Different” is not the same as “better.” (In this case, we’re supposed to see how Tom supported his mother and sisters, and how much he cares for Bazzle/Basil and accept that, again, he actually does want children and doesn’t realize it. But I’m not entirely persuaded that message came across well.)

    I did very much enjoy Tom’s interpretations of the morals of different novels, though. Those were funny.

  23. 23
    Esme Brett says:
    2+

    I didn’t mind this book (although I didn’t love it); for all the reasons you lay out. However something I really can’t let go of is that Cassandra is written as plus size — or at the very least, not thin. Other characters offer unsolicited critique of her weight and food intake, and some men qualify her beauty by her weight. You know, the usual bs. But this book has a thin cover model. Am I alone in thinking that a huge publisher like Avon, with a huge author like Lisa Kleypas, could and should do better in this space?! I feel like if you’re going to profit from writing plus representation, you’ve got to have a plus model. Am I alone here!?

  24. 24
    Ellen says:
    1+

    @Esme – I had similar thoughts re: the cover, it’s not just you!

  25. 25
    Adularia16 says:
    1+

    Ellen/Esme, although I really like the cover I also thought that she could’ve been a lot more plump and curvaceous

  26. 26
    Deianira says:
    1+

    I got completely dragged out of the book when Lady Berwick informed Cassandra that an earldom “was created by Queen Mary in 1565.” I’m perfectly happy with imaginary titles, but I draw the line at not knowing that Mary I died, & Elizabeth I ascended the throne, seven years earlier than that. Maybe it was meant to be an authorial aside mocking Lady Berwick’s obsession with rank? If so, it backfired for me.

  27. 27
    sula says:
    1+

    Currently “reading” this one by listening to the wonderful narration by Mary Jane Wells, so that may color my reaction. So far, I’m quite enjoying it, even if it’s no Marrying Winterbourne (swoon). Put me down as one who actually likes a book without too much conflict and big misunderstandings. I’m looking forward to the last 20% more now knowing that I won’t have to endure such.

  28. 28
    Susan says:
    1+

    I just finished this and would give it a B. Mostly because of Tom. I loved his character and he totally made the book! I agree Cassandra was a little boring and would have liked to see more depth. I did like the fact that after she was pretty much assaulted she told Kathleen and Devon (in detail) what had happened. Big points for that! My biggest gripe is I would have liked to see more danger with the creepy Dad that wanted to marry her by any means necessary. What a great bad guy but he got very little time in the book! There was the conflict that was missed. Make Tom into a hero by saving Cassandra from the evil, creepy older guy. Bottom line… It’s not Marrying Winterbourne but it’s still Lisa Kleypas and I enjoyed it.

  29. 29
    Kayte says:
    1+

    I was really bothered by the scene between Cassandra and the second male lead at the art function. And then Cassandra blames herself for what happened in more than one scene. I wanted Tom and Cassandra to get together but not because she was sexual assaulted and need to be protected. Did anyone else have an issue with this turn of events? It bother me so much I DNF the book.

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