Tempt Me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What can I say about this book? After reading the last pages of this novel, at approximately 1 am, I set it down, knowing I couldn't possibly be ready to write a coherent review. Reviews are like soups or dishes with tomatoes and hearty seasonings. They should sit and rest, letting the spices and the tomato paste mingle together, so that the flavor can be maximized. Accordingly, I let myself ruminate in a bovine fashion about what I would write in my review of the latest historical by one of my favorite authors, over the far too short weekend.
First and foremost, Ms. Kleypas wrote yet another wonderful book that cements her place on my keeper and favorite author shelves. Secondly, she took a concept that I thought I was familiar with, but managed to surprise me, and keep me on my toes as I read. I thought I had this story all figured out, by some of the comments from my Goodreads friends, and in Amazon.com romance forum discussions, and my own preconceived notions based on the blurb, and what I know about how Ms. Kleypas writes books. But, I was still surprised.
Harry Rutledge: This is a hero that is very hard to define. At times, frankly, I disliked him. I thought, he's not a nice man. He's very cold, and he's ruthless. But I loved him, at the same time, for being all the things I mentioned. He is definitely a standout for me because of the complexity of his nature. And I loved how Ms. Kleypas was unstinting in showing Harry in the worst light possible. She didn't go the heavy-handed route, in steering us into loving him because he was the hero of the story. And I respect her for that. In fact, I am glad for the naturalistic approach she adopted. Because, as I read this story, the man that Harry is, deep down, the man he wants to be, shows through. And for that, I have to give this author a high five. Harry is a carefully engineered survivor. What he went through in his childhood is not even close to the worst I have read about in fiction. However, for this admitted idealist who believes children should be loved and cherished, valued and tended carefully like the creations of beauty and worth that they are, it was pretty awful for a child to suffer that way. Harry grew up priviledged, but he was neglected in all the ways that count. If that wouldn't make a social maladroit out of a person, I'm not quite sure what would. But, at the same time, Harry managed to make something of himself. He didn't become a shiftless dilettante who did nothing but drinking, fornicating, and spend other people's money. He became a brilliant inventor, businessman, and empire-builder. Even a few of his enemies respected him enough to name their children after him. To be able to do that, I have to respect him. He was a monolith of admantine will, but so vulnerable in some ways, that few were privy to. In truth, only Poppy, that I could perceive, reading this story.
When Harry Met Poppy: We all have defining moments in our lives. Harry had several. But the one that would change the course of his life irrevocably, was when he encountered Poppy. Ever wanted something so very much, the fierce desire for it burns like thirst in a parched throat? That's how Harry wanted Poppy. And that motivated him to do some very lousy things. In his mind, it was okay because Michael Beyning didn't deserve her. I think that he was right about the last part. Beyning didn't deserve a woman that he wouldn't fight for to all the heights and depths of his available resources. He barely even tried for her. And Harry's actions proved that. In medical terms, he performed an elective surgery that was more agressive than needed, but achieved results that no one could argue weren't successful. Yet, there were some significant side effects. For one, Poppy married him with the cold precision of a general going to war, and told him that she would never love him. Not the ideal way to start a marriage. Yet, in Harry's unfathomably analytical mind, he didn't care, because all he needed was her as his wife. The ends justified the means.
What does a man do with a wife? What does a wife do with a husband that didn't fit her expectations of the husband she always wanted? Harry and Poppy had to learn these things. He couldn't put Poppy into a little cubbyhole to take out and amuse himself at his limited leisure. He couldn't wind her up like an automaton. Poppy was a living, breathing, force of nature, that would settle for no less than what she deserved. At times, Poppy came off as immature, in a sense. Hanging onto a fairy tale dream of marriage. But, I had to admire her for sticking to her guns about what she would and would not tolerate from her husband. She needed to do that, because Harry was very used to getting exactly what he wanted, by using the powerful force of his personality, and threats, if necessary. And Poppy did show that she could compromise and surrender in the ways that were important to make a marriage work. It's about meeting each other half-way, and they both had to learn to do that. I liked the dynamic between them, how they danced around each other, getting to know each other as husband and wife. Although the circumstances are purely out of romantic fiction, I think that aspect of marriage is very true to life. A young couple has unrealistic expectations of what they will experience in marriage, and the first year is a wakeup call, as they realize that real life isn't as cut and dried. Marriage takes compromise, time and energy, and lots of communication. You could see this being played out between Poppy and Harry. This is one deeper level that took me by surprise, although, knowing Ms. Kleypas, it probably shouldn't. She writes extremely romantic stories, but there is always some degree of realism in the intricacies of interpersonal relations that play out in her stories. I think she writes married stories very well, but then, she's been married for a long time, so she probably draws on the bank of that experience to develop such a rich narrative.
Family, the Beauty of it: I realize that the Hathaway books aren't high on the list of some of Ms. Kleypas's fans. But, I love this series. It was like going to visit some friends in their family home, and seeing their family interactions, reading this book. So intensely familiar, and heart-warming. I was immersed in the love and the chaos that is the Hathaway family, which is ever-expanding. I got the opportunity to visit with some characters that I easily grew to love in prior books: Cam (he is such a show-stealer), Amelia (the mother hen), Beatrix (how adorable she is with her animals, and her sharply- perceptive understanding of human nature), Kev (intense and forthright, as always), Win (sweet, loving, and peaceful), Leo (who is really coming into his own, has a wonderful sense of humor, and a surprising strength of character that I love), and Catherine Marks (she is shaping up to be a very tortured character who has me very intrigued).
Rounding up my thoughts: Tempt Me at Twilight turned out to be a very satisfying but hard to define read for me. There is something seemingly basic about it, compared to some of Kleypas's other books, but complicated at the same time. This book really is a book about marriage, and about letting the fairy tales go, and embracing the beauty in what is real, and accepting that your destiny doesn't come in the pretty packages that you shop for. Also realizing that the pretty possession that you wanted so bad, comes with a cost, and takes an emotional price in return. I feel that this book presents a deeper message about how your destiny comes exactly the way it's supposed to, although it may take growth on your part, and the partner that fate has decreed for you, to fully realize the potential that is there. As usual, Ms. Kleypas nails the Victorian period with the beauty of an Impressionist painting, not heavy, bold strokes, but with a light, careful, bright, and dreamy touch, that is all the more captivating to me as a reader. The end of this book marks the beginning of the next arc of this story. I am full of some reservations, and fears that my gentle heart is going to face some anguish ahead. I have questions and theories that have been brought to life by the conclusion of this story, if you can call it that. I suppose I will have to remember the adage to all readers of series: Keep Reading. I trust that I will be in for another delightful reading experience if I am able to do exactly that.
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