Book Review

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

B

Title: It Happened One Autumn
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Publication Info: Avon 2005
ISBN: 0060562498
Genre: Historical: European

It Happened One Autumn in seven sentences and one acronym:

Sassy American heiress meets high-in-the-instep English earl.

Sassy American heiress immediately rubs high-in-the-instep English earl the wrong way.

Sassy American heiress gets to rub high-in-the-instep English earl the right way, grrrwoof.

Sassy American heiress snipes and spars some more with high-in-the-instep English earl.

Sassy American heiress rubs high-in-the-instep English earl again.

Rinse and repeat until marriage proposal.

Impecunious aristo buddy of the high-in-the-instep English earl turns out to be a villain and gets ass kicked, but he’s OMG HOT and gets his own sequel.

HEA.

So: Does It Happened One Autumn break new ground with the romance novel, in terms of plot or subject matter? Nope, not really.

Is the story rather clunky in spots? Oh, definitely. A pretty good joke about Sisyphus ended up being just a tad overwritten and falls flat as a result, for example, and that business about the magic perfume, which came out of nowhere and pretty much went nowhere, could’ve been cut out without hurting the story one whit.

All that doesn’t matter, because ultimately, the book was a whole lot of fun, and Kleypas bludgeoned some new life into some tired old romance standards, i.e. Chaos Personified meets Mr. Anal Retentive. And while Marcus and Lillian bicker and clash quite a bit in the first half of the book, the arguments are rarely acrimonious. Kleypas does a great job of showing us how they’re having a whole lot of fun while they’re sparring, even if they’d rather be hung, drawn and quartered before admitting how much they enjoy each other’s company.

The two main characters are handled with a deft touch. Lillian is stubborn and outspoken and the stereotypical gauche American girl in just the right way. In fact, she reminds me quite a bit of Lily, the heroine of Then Came You, whom I also really liked. (Actually, given that the two of them are slim, dark-haired firecrackers with remarkably similar names, I can’t help but wonder if the resemblance was intentional or completely unconscious.)

Marcus has been featured in quite a few of Kleypas’s books, starting with Worth Any Price (a.k.a. That One Historical in Which the Characters Sweat a Lot), continuing with Again the Magic and Secrets of a Summer Night. I liked how he was different from the typical romance novel hero in appearance: short, stocky and not particularly attractive. I also like how he’s not hyper-sexual—read: “will hump anything with a pulse”—the way many romance novel heroes are, and it makes his constant horniness around Lillian that much more endearing at the same time it makes it less convincing. Because while experience and the logical bits of my brain say “Eh, a dude with a moderate to low sex drive will always have a moderate to low sex drive,” the dreamer in me says “But it’s DIFFERENT! He’s in LOVE! He was waiting for the right sexy vixen to unleash the ravening beast of lust within his breast!” Which is cheesy as all hell, but a powerful fantasy when tapped into the right way. God knows romances have used this particular trope this over and over again with the frigid, tightly-controlled, asexual heroine—not to say that Marcus is any of these things, it’s just that he seems a lot less humpy than the average romance novel hero until he meets Lillian, then BANG FIZZ POW hey babe let’s totally get to third base in the secluded butterfly garden wooooo.

But by far my favorite part of the book is the scene in which Lillian gets crazy stinkin’ drunk on pear brandy in the library. That scene? Charming and sweet as all hell, and I’m a big sucker for charming. Yeah, some of the innuendo involving Lillian trying to extract the pear from the brandy bottle was obvious, it still made me giggle. I’ve already re-read that part several times, and it’s a real stand-out in the book. I’ve read some reader reactions that indicate this scene squicked them out because Lillian was drunk and Marcus was sober; however, personally, I thought it was funny and revealing.

But the character I liked the most in this book is also the character I liked the most in the prequel, Secrets of a Summer Night. I’m talking about Daisy, Lillian’s younger sister. She’s sensible, minimally angsty, funny, mischievous, good-natured and yet not sickeningly sweet—in short, someone I don’t find very often in Romancelandia. I can’t wait to read her story. It looks like it’s going to be the last book in the series, though, because the sequel, The Devil in Winter, is going to be Evie Jenner’s story.

It Happened One Autumn is akin to home-made mashed potatoes: the flavors aren’t particularly complex, but they’re still pleasing and comforting. And just like when I’m confronted with a plate of home-made mashed potatoes, I gulped the book down in record speed. It’s not Kleypas’s best, but it’s definitely one of her better efforts.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lisa says:

    Yep, that was my assessment of it. But sadly, despite the predictability and lack of plot movement, it was still a fun read. Go figure.

    It either says something about the quality of romance these days, or that my tastes are degrading, since 5 years ago, I’d never have finished this book.

  2. 2
    Robin says:

    I agree with your review, Candy, although I’d probably give the book a B+ just because it was so FUN to read.  And because I think Kleypas’s writing has become so much less awkward, so much smoother, and clearly so much more mature.  Like Jo Goodman, Kleypas has, IMO, really grown as a craftsperson in her writing, and god knows the Romance industry hardly demands that of a writer.  So when it happens, I’m thrilled.  My personal joke with Kleypas is that her book, “Suddenly You” is a perfect summation of her early writing style, where so many of her sentences started with “suddenly”.  Now I think I can count them on one hand in her books (this is definitely one of those overused Romance words, IMO—I mean, come on; if it’s sudden, then announcing it that way sort of defeats the purpose, right?).

    I actually liked the aphrodisiac element of the book, but only because it was part of Lillian’s talent for identifying fragrances and scents.  I loved it when she identified Westcliff’s smell as like dry hay (I think this was roughly her description), and I wish that Kleypas had developed this characteristic in Lillian more fully, because it set her apart and gave her numerous opportunities to provide sensory detail that, IMO, we don’t get in Romance (beyond all the perfumes and other scents that always make me think of people trying to disguise body odor). So I agree that Kleypas doesn’t really go anywhere with the “magic perfume” bit (although she does, at least, carry it to the end of the book), but I actually wanted more along those lines, not less.

  3. 3
    Candy says:

    Yes, Lillian’s sense of smell did add an interesting aspect to her character and the story—and like you, it would’ve been interesting if Kleypas had taken it further than she did. It could’ve been done without bringing in the aphrodisiac perfume, though—it just added a rather silly woo-woo almost-supernatural moment to it when the wishing well covered that base more than adequately.

    As far as Kleypas improving as a craftsperson: I’ll have to re-read her older books and compare, but by and large, her older stories like Only With Your Love and Dreaming Of You still manage to capture my attention and imagination better than her newer work, though her Wallflower series has been tremendous fun.

    Is it my imagination, or is Kleypas using more and more ellipses nowadays? They really drew my eye in this book, and 99% of the time they were used as ersatz commas and semi-colons.

  4. 4

    I’m more intrigued by the peek at the next book up than I was by this one.  The storyline and H&H in It Happened One Autumn were too much “been there, done that” for my taste, but because it was Kleypas, it was still a fun read.

  5. 5
    Denice says:

    I agree, I was much more eager for the next book, than I was excited about this one.  It was a good enough read though. 
    PS your site got me into trouble yesterday – too lazy to write it again…it’s on my site if you are interested.

  6. 6
    fiveandfour says:

    Hmm, sounds like I might enjoy this one at some point when I feel inclined to read again (my stack of started then discarded books – good books, mind you – just keeps growing), so I’ll add it to my list.

    As for “Eh, a dude with a moderate to low sex drive will always have a moderate to low sex drive,” I always give books a little grace with the hormonal pizzazz bit because I experienced it myself.  During that period when my husband and I were falling in love things kicked up a few notches for both of us from what I think is a relatively normal sex drive level on both our parts to somewhere around porn movie level.  From what I’ve heard from friends, we weren’t the only ones this happened to.  So I do think there’s something about falling in love that, at least temporarily, changes people’s sex drives.  Maybe not all people, but at least some – and that’s enough for me to lap it up when I come across it in books and sometimes even go back for seconds.

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    MMM….I love mashed potatoes.  If “been there, done that” is done fun, that I think it’s still fantastic.  “Comfort” may not be the next big thing, but it’s still comfort.  And sometimes, nothing else will do.  I have this one since I enjoyed Secrets of a SUmmer Night and can’t wait to be in the mood to read it.

  8. 8
    Arethusa says:

    Yes, this mirrors my reaction to a tee, by and large, and that drunken scene in the library is a favourite. The perfume thing was completely wtf for me—I was scratching my head about it the entire time.

    I’m intrigued about the next, only because I couldn’t stand St. Vincent (was that his name?) by the end of the novel, so I’d like to see how she manages to turn my feelings around.

    Kleypas has been an enduring favourite for me. I started reading romances seriously when I was..14 and my auto-buys can now be counted on one hand. I’ve read somewhere that she’s trying her hand at a contemporary soon, and I’m hoping that I enjoy it. Most of my auto-buys were dropped because they switched genres completely (usually to romantic suspense, when that made a splash in the 90’s).

  9. 9
    Amanda says:

    I’ve been hit & miss with Ms. Kleypas’ books & I’ve waited to see what you thought before running out & getting one. I like mashed potatoes & brandy so maybe I’ll give this one a try.

  10. 10
    Robin says:

    It could’ve been done without bringing in the aphrodisiac perfume, though—it just added a rather silly woo-woo almost-supernatural moment to it when the wishing well covered that base more than adequately.

    To me, the point of that whole “magic perfume” bit was that there was NO magic involved, unless, of course, you consider the particular alchemy of two people who are chemically, as well as emotionally drawn to one another (did the Victorians know anything about pheremones?).  So the “secret ingredient” turned out just to be the existing attraction, de-mystifying the whole “magic” element Lillian kept trying to identify.  I liked that Westcliff’s practicality triumphed when he understood the “secret” and Lillian didn’t.

    As far as Kleypas improving as a craftsperson: I’ll have to re-read her older books and compare, but by and large, her older stories like Only With Your Love and Dreaming Of You still manage to capture my attention and imagination better than her newer work, though her Wallflower series has been tremendous fun.

    Just read for style and for Kleypas’s command of her prose, and I think you’ll see the difference right away.

    Is it my imagination, or is Kleypas using more and more ellipses nowadays? They really drew my eye in this book, and 99% of the time they were used as ersatz commas and semi-colons.

    I didn’t notice, but it’s certainly possible.  Now, however, I’ll have to go back and look!

  11. 11
    charity says:

    I just read this book.  If I have any criticism, it’s that I am always more interested in the hero of the next book. 

    When I read the first book in the Wallflower series, I thought the romance between Annebelle and Simon wasn’t as interesting as the obvious (soon to be) romance between Marcus and Lillian. 

    While reading this story, I found myself almost rooting for St. Vincent to steal Lillian away because he seemed more interesting that Marcus.  Although I will say she did a better job with this story than the first. 

    She’s doing a great job of setting up the next story but she seems to be doing it to the detriment of the story she is telling right now. 

    Oh, and the well wasn’t the only magic part.  Don’t forget about the fingers in the glasses.  Evie gets a poor groom (St. Vincent) and Daisy spilled two of the glasses (what the hell does that mean?).

  12. 12
    Alyssa says:

    I still have to read the first one in the series. I do typically like Kleypas, though.

  13. 13
    Chris says:

    The reason I was interested in reading “It Happened One Autumn” is because of the comment Lillian said about Marcus being a “whale sized catch” in “Secrets of a Summer Night”. I believe she said “If he (pertaining to Marcus)is such a whale sized catch, I can’t wait for someone to harpoon him” ~~ hehe 😆

    Ironically, we all know that Lillian and Marcus would end up together… (as it was SUGGESTED by Ms. Kleypas in “Secrets of a Summer Night”).

    I agree “It Happened One Autumn” is a fun read. But for me, her earlier work, specifically “Only With Your Love”, is still my favorite :red:

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