Desert Isle Keeper
Lisa Kleypas is an auto-buy author for me for her historicals and Travis contemporary series. So I eschewed reading the other reviews of this book so as to maintain a pristine reading experience. And I was richly rewarded. I am so glad to see her return to her roots and do it well despite the long gap in between Cold Hearted Rake and her last historical romance five years ago.
Reading this book was a joy and reminded me of this quote by poet Adrienne Rich: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truth they can tell each other.”
Kathleen is the widow of the late Earl of Ravenel, whose cousin Devon has now inherited the title. Along with it, Devon has inherited a large, virtually bankrupt estate with no visible means of sustenance, much less enduring profitability. He burns his bridges with Kathleen upon his arrival.
“Who will care if the earldom goes extinct?” Devon said.
“The servants and tenants might object to losing their incomes and home,” West said dryly.
“They can all go hang, I’ll tell you what’s to be done: First I’ll send Theo’s widow and sisters packing; they’re of no use to me. Then I’ll find a way to break the entailment, split the estate apart, and sell it piecemeal. If that’s not possible, I’ll strip the house of everything valuable, tear it down, and sell the stone….”
Ouch! Way to make yourself into a damn-your-eyes villain, right? As I read along, I thought this theme would develop more and sustain more of the tension between him and Kathleen. After all, reconciling yourself to such bad luck is tough. However, Devon has one scene where he consoles Kathleen out of her sorrow and guilt over her husband’s death, becomes very interested in her, and does a U-turn on his feelings about the estate. All in a short amount of time.
Likewise, Devon’s brother West undergoes an abrupt transformation from drunken devil-may-care sot to earnest, hardworking, lovable young man. One sharp exchange with Kathleen and he turns in his rakehell card. Such fast turnarounds of long-standing patterns of thoughts and behaviors have a discombobulating effect on me and stretch my ability to suspend my disbelief. But I forgive Kleypas much, because she delivers on the emotional guts of a story.
I even forgive her the reddening of cheekbones of every hero she’s ever written during their love scenes.
There are moments of sharp wit in the book that I enjoyed very much. And I enjoyed the frankness of the exchanges between the characters without either one getting tiresomely miffed.
He stood and strode to the door. “Is this what it’s like to have a family?” he asked irritably. “When the devil can I do as I please and not have to account to a half-dozen people for it?
“When you live alone on an island with a single palm tree and a coconut. And even then, I’m sure you would find the coconut far too demanding.”
I appreciated how well-researched the book was. There’s a scene where Kathleen is putting her Arabian horse Asad (unfortunate name) through its paces and the small,small details made the scene come alive for me, like I was right there at the fence with Devon, watching.
But the most important aspect of the story was how romantic it all was. The little gestures, the thoughtfulness, the desire to give joy…it all made for heartwarming reading.
There is some creep of modern conversational patterns, but I turned the other cheek for this first book, given Kleypas’s recent experience writing contemporaries.
I’m bemused over the current vogue for writing write cascading books. Using choir terminology, there are no rests (end-of-book pauses), just continuous no-breath stories, where one begins in the midst of another book. This makes tightly-interlinked books easier to write and easier to read in terms of the chronology of events, but it does cause the reader to constantly switch contexts between the couple of the current book and the couple of the next book. And since the focus on each couple is full-on, i.e., the secondary couple doesn’t get a cursory treatment, it gets difficult at times to figure out whose book you’re in.
Cold-Hearted Rake shows us all sides of a relationship in sharp detail. Almost unwillingly, the two main characters find themselves being vulnerable to each other and in so doing fall in love, where the emphasis is on falling. It is terrifying to them both in the beginning. Due to multiple reasons, they are not able to open up to the other as conscience dictates, but as time goes on, they find themselves being more and more honest with themselves and with each other. As time goes on, being in love seems not as terrifying to them. Trust is a precious, precious thing and seeing it unfurl in the story was wonderful.