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.
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-sexualâ€”read: “will hump anything with a pulse”â€”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 heroineâ€”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 sweetâ€”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.