Review: Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas

Publisher: St. Martins
Pub Date: July 2010
332 pages
ISBN: 9780312605391
Format: Mass Market Paperback

I am rarely moved by a historical romance anymore. Most are either too light and superficial or too dark and depressing. But Kleypas's Love in the Afternoon was funny, moving, poignant and best of all, memorable.

Beatrix Hathaway is considered a bit of an odd duck. She gathers wounded animals around her that are shunned by others. She eschews the ton gatherings in favor of staying in the country, and while admired by many men, she has yet to meet one she would consider marrying.

When Beatrix Hathaway discovers that her friend, Prudence, is not going to write to one of her suitors (Christopher Phelan, a soldier at war who had written begging for words of encouragement) Beatrix asks that she be allowed to pose as Prudence and write the letters herself. Despite the fact that Christopher had once called her "peculiar" for bringing a hedgehog to a picnic and said she belonged in the stables.

Through their letters, Christopher and Beatrix fall in love. But things become much more complicated when Christoper returns home, eager to find Prudence, only to discover that she was not the person her letters made her appear.

There's something about correspondence during war time that tends to strip away artifice. Anyone who has read War Letters edited by Andrew Carroll would find this written courtship utterly believable. Kleypas does a terrific job varying the tone and content of the letters. Some of the letters are heartbreaking. Some are mundane.

I loved how thematic this book was. Letters and messages play an important role here. As does Beatrix's fondness for physically and emotionally damaged creatures

The humor is much more subtle in this book than it was in the last book in this series. I adored how finding out about a mule named Hector was what finally convinced Christopher that it was Beatrix, not Prudence, who had written to him. Because that name had belonged to a mule from his childhood and he had written to Prudence about it.

And the bit about the fornicating squirrels was especially hilarious. Yep. I said fornicating squirrels.

The conflict in this book is never really about admitting feelings or confessing to love. Christopher, in particular, already knows he loves the person who wrote those letters. And Beatrix knows the same. She writes her feelings down in a letter she never intends to send. And then that letter accidentally gets sent anyway.

"I'm not who you think I am.

I didn't mean to send love letters, but that is what they became. On their way to you, my words turned into heartbeats on a page.

Come back, please come home, and find me."

Instead, the conflict is about Christopher finding out who wrote those letters, then believing he is too damaged for a marriage to anyone. Too troubled by things he did or didn't do in the war. And too afraid he would physically hurt his wife in a moment of madness. What modern experts would call a form of PTSD.

I really enjoyed this one. It's funny without being frivolous. I loved the characters, the writing, the plot. This is the first historical romance this year that is going on my keeper shelf.

My Grade: A

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