When handsome Southerner, Heath Rayne, rescues Lucinda Caldwell from an icy river in her home-town of Concord, Massachusetts, little does she know that it will change her life forever. With her father thinking that she is still away visiting family in another town, Lucy spends two days recovering at Heath's home. Even though their time together had been completely platonic, Heath and Lucy decide it would be best to act as strangers if they see each other in public, in order to save her reputation and her engagement to local attorney, Daniel Collier. Lucy has know Daniel since they were children, but Daniel's insistence on a lengthy engagement that has thus far lasted for years, is beginning to wear on their relationship. Even though Lucy continues to declare her love for Daniel and insists that she still has every intention of marrying him, she cannot deny her attraction to Heath, and he can't keep his eyes off of her.
I have been a big fan of Lisa Kleypas's work for some time now, so it greatly disappoints me that I cannot in all honesty give this book a higher rating. I literally had to force myself to finish it for review by reading it in small snippets. This is one of the first four books that Ms. Kleypas ever published, but unlike some other authors whose first works I have recently read, she did not hit a home run with me. The writing style in this book is so different than her more recent works that it is hardly distinguishable as being the same author. On Ms. Kleypas's web site, in response to a reader's question about whether these first four novels might ever be reprinted, she said, "My style has changed so much since then that I don't think it would be of much benefit to my readers for them to be reissued." Now I completely understand why she said this.
This book is very heavily character-driven. Although many events occur throughout the story, in the overarching plot, not much happens from beginning to end. There are no evil villains and no major plot twists or conflicts. It is basically like watching a relatively normal couple of that time period and social station simply going about their daily lives while building a relationship with each other. There are fairly lengthy passages of prose describing everything from fashion to home decorating and the newspaper business to the politics of Reconstruction. I love to be able to learn new things from the novels I read, but unfortunately these descriptions failed to spark my interest in these topics and in my opinion, made the story plod along at a rather slow pace. I found the dialog to be halting and disconnected due to the overuse of ellipses and the annoying habit of the characters to frequently interrupt each other. Also, the hero and heroine spent a great deal of time arguing about various things throughout the course of the story, with their anger often turning into passion which just isn't my cup of tea. Another bothersome thing was that Ms. Kleypas managed to create at least four different love triangles within this story, one of which came to nothing because one character wasn't able to reveal his feelings due to gentlemanly honor, leaving me feeling a bit sorry for him. I'm really not much of a fan of love triangles in general, unless one of the three characters is truly evil and deserves to loose, which was not really the case here at all. However, with so little else going on, I suppose it was a necessary plot device.
I had a very hard time relating to either the hero or heroine. Part of the time, Heath seemed like a decent and gentle man, but the rest of the time was too dominant, overbearing and stubborn for my taste. He withheld things about his past from Lucy, which caused problems for them later on, and I was very bothered by the author's choice to have Heath's sister and best friend convey this information to Lucy when he should have done it himself. On a more upbeat note, he was obviously a very intelligent man with strong progressive opinions, who had done very well for himself financially. As a Southerner living in the North after the Civil War, I, in some ways, admired his backbone in not giving in to the prevailing political climate. I would have to say that the best thing about him though was his ability to understand Lucy in a way that no one else seemed to, and more importantly that he admired and respected her intelligence when most men of that era wouldn't even think to discuss intellectual topics with women. Lucy could be just as stubborn as Heath though, in addition to being confusing and contradictory. She spent the first two-thirds of the story not seeming to know her own mind, which was a state that I found incredibly annoying. One minute she was acting like a feminist and the next she was being a meek and submissive fiancee to her first beau. In another instance, she exhibited strong passions for Heath which eventually ruined her reputation, but once they were married, she played the anxious, frightened virgin. Because of her contradictory stances, I found it very difficult to get any sort of grasp on her character. It wasn't until they moved to Boston, that she finally settled down into a more normal person, who no longer seemed to have multiple personalities. Both characters also frustrated me, because they withheld their feelings from one another until the very end of the book, causing all sorts of misunderstandings and strife between them, when a few forthright conversations could have cleared up everything.
The book contained occasional mildly playful and romantic moments, but for the most part they were only tiny sparks that never grew into a flame. This story definitely did not exhibit the same beautiful depths of emotion and soaring levels of passion that Ms.Kleypas has accomplished in her more recent works. Readers who prefer strongly character-driven stories or fans of the bodice-ripper romance style of the '80s may enjoy this book, but I would not recommend it to anyone who is new to Ms. Kleypas due to the significantly different writing style between this early book and her later works. Also, hard-core fans may wish to purchase the book to complete their collection, but I, for one, am glad that I borrowed this book instead of paying the current, rare, out-of-print price for it. I can see how this book may have appeal to some readers, but it just didn't do much for me. In spite of that though, Lisa Kleypas will remain one of my all-time favorite authors.
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