Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Laura Kinsale is back....finally! And this book was a breath of fresh air. I felt as though I was watching one of my beloved BBC period historical movies when I was reading this book (hint, hint). Instead of writing a historical romance in the modern style, Ms. Kinsale wrote a romance that reads like historical fiction. There is a strong romance here, but it is well-integrated into a story about two people who have led full lives, although their hearts have always been entwined since they were teenagers.
Callie and Trevelyan love each other. They always have. But, that doesn't mean that their road to true love runs smoothly. Trev has a lot of secrets, and he's a wanted man. He doesn't believe that he's worthy of Callie. Callie's heart is wary of love, because she's been jilted three times, four if you count Trev running off and leaving her. Callie is a rich spinster with a serious avocation for cattle breeding. That in itself was a refreshing touch. Usually you will read about a heroine in historical books who is horse mad, but Callie is more into livestock, particularly cattle. She has a nearly encyclopedic knowledge about animal husbandry. Her beloved prize-winning bull Hubert plays a fairly large, and humorous role in this story, and the things that Trev does for Callie regarding Hubert show his devotion, although his plans often go awry.
I liked the depiction of small town English life: the social hierarchies, the gossip chain, which was quite powerful, and the interesting (and humorous) characters all added texture to this book. Even Callie's suitor, Major Sturgeon, who happened to be the first man who originally jilted her, managed to show some layers. At first, he was courting Callie (anew) for her money, but he seemed to want more from their union, even though she was happy enough to marry him, allow him his affairs, and access to her money, as long as he didn't expect intimate relations between them. He had a past with Trev that makes their connections to Callie even more complicated, in addition to being rivals for the same woman.
I admit that I was frustrated with the obstacles that kept Callie and Trev apart, particularly their stubborn insistence that they couldn't be together. Trev didn't believe he could offer Callie a good life, even though he had money. His name was mud in England, and she is the daughter of an earl who once slashed his face with a riding crop and ran him off after catching he and Callie in a compromising position. Callie has been rejected so much, she doesn't think much of her looks and the ability for a man to love her, even though Trev says numerous times how much he loves her (even before she does). I wanted to yell at them to just take what they wanted--each other. Run off together, already!!! I just had to keep reading.
It's hard to say if this book will appeal to some readers of historical romance. The relationship between Trev and Callie is the lynchpin of this story, but their love story unfolds slowly through their interactions with each other and the various characters that they encounter in their complicated lives. For readers who like that sort of dynamic, a fuller story in which the main couple plays their roles, I think they would enjoy this book. It felt very authentic and period, which I am always happy about when it comes to historical romance. This was no modern love story wrapped up in costume drama. The characters were people of their time, with all the expected social values, expectations, and hangups. I loved the mostly subtle, but sometimes laugh-out-loud humor. Die-hard romantic that I am, I found the deep, intense love between Callie and Trev irresistible, and I felt their longing and frustration for them to be together, even though circumstances seemed to work against them at every turn. They were committed to living their lives apart, but it was clear their lives weren't complete without each other. Even though the love scenes aren't terribly detailed, I felt the passion between Callie and Trev. I really rooted for them, and I loved the end of this book. It wraps everything up very nicely, with a very happy ending for this couple, on many levels.
Lessons in French was a sweet, delicious, and unique love story. I'm glad that Ms. Kinsale took a chance and wrote something that is quite different from her other books. I'd nominate this one for a movie in a heartbeat!
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