~ ABSOLUTELY DELIGHTFUL AND (TO MY SURPRISE) MY FAVORITE HATHAWAY BOOK (5 stars) ~
Lisa Kleypas' latest novel is absolutely delightful; she has woven a wonderful and rich tale of love, and has done so with a great deal of skill and depth. I've been a great fan of the Hathaway clan and their stories, but for some reason was never very much interested in Beatrix's. The sneak preview at the end of MARRIED BY MORNING completely changed my opinion and I was ecstatic to only have to wait a month ... as well as a little nervous - my anticipation for MARRIED BY MORNING had been (like every other sane romance reader out there) almost unbearable and had ended in something of a disappointment. That was *not* the case with LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON!
It all starts innocently enough - Beatrix Hathaway's (23) friend, Prudence Mercer (a horrid girl), has received a letter from one of her suitors, Captain Christopher Phelan (29). Prudence finds the letter boring and tedious and has no intention of replying. Beatrix has no great fondness for the man: he's somewhat shallow and conceited, and she overheard once at a picnic a very rude comment he made about her. However reading his letter makes her feel an odd connection to the man who has written it and when Prudence refuses to write him back and urges Beatrix to pretend to be her and write a response, Beatrix decides that she will. After all, he's in a war zone and he's found a dog with behavioral issues ... what else is a compassionate and animal-loving person to do?!
One letter becomes two, which become three, and before she knows it, they are exchanging what almost amount to love letters. What started out as a desire to help has turned into something completely unexpected, and Beatrix feels guilt over the kept-up pretension that Prudence is the one writing the letters and is conflicted with love for this man whom before she only felt dislike for. When Christopher returns a war hero, hailed by all society and having newly inherited substantial property, Prudence becomes interested in him once again and though their friendship ends with difficult parting words, both she and Beatrix agree that neither will reveal the truth to Christopher and the masquerade will continue.
Christopher comes home a broken man, having survived two years of intense war and now forced to deal with the reality of his older brother's death. He has changed from the foolish, vain, and shallow society-darling he used to be. The one thing that has kept him going through all the difficulties has been the thought of "Prudence," the woman he's been exchanging letters with. She is in London when he finally feels ready to reengage with the world, but before he is able to leave and see her he has several encounters with his neighbor Beatrix Hathaway - who is annoying, frustrating, contrary, odd ... as well as intriguing, compelling, attractive, and undeniably appealing.
He remains committed to meeting the woman of his dreams though - the woman who wrote him such beautiful letters and whom he is determined to marry. He therefore travels to London to meet this paragon and is confused when, after spending some time with Prudence, he finds it increasingly difficult to believe that she is the woman behind his treasured letters. If not she, however, then who? Was it all a game, some prank that was being played on him? And if it is the woman whom he has begun to suspect ... Well, she *could* be everything that he had hoped for and dreamed of, but does he deserve her? After everything he's been through and done in this horrible war, will he ever truly be happy?
MAIN CHARACTERS, Beatrix (23) and Christopher (29):
This book tackles the very serious issue of the difficult war experiences soldiers have and what we now refer to as PTSD. Christopher and Beatrix both feel like outsiders; they watch others at a distance and feel their difference when compared to the rest of society. Christopher has changed so much and bears so much guilt, sadness, and despair, that he is no longer sure where - or if - he fits in. Beatrix has always been unusual - even for a Hathaway! - and is more interested in animals than people. She also used to have a problem with kleptomania, though this was dealt with mostly in the series first book.
Christopher and Beatrix each remain their own person, but they are essential to one another and exactly what the other needs - and neither of them resists admitting this, which was **SUCH** a welcome change in this historical romance reader's opinion! To not have to wait till the last page for both people to say "I love you"? Now that's just MasterCard priceless. A lot of times with romances, we're hankering at the end for more of the happily-ever after and have to content ourselves with the epilogue, if the author is kind enough to include one. Here, even though they still have the very large obstacle of Christopher's PTSD and his fear of hurting/sullying Beatrix because of it, they readily admit their feelings for one another. Once they're "together," all the exchanges between them read so smoothly that it feels like they've been together forever, understand each other extremely well, and best of all - you've had a front row seat to the whole thing!
The intensity of emotion between Beatrix and Christopher *leaps* off the pages and is somewhat similar to Merripen and Win, though not with such intense physicality. Don't get me wrong - although there is not as much going on as early in the book as Kleypas usually writes, the chemistry and tension between Beatrix and Christopher is fabulous throughout. Their connection also has a deep emotional and almost spiritual quality, which is often hard to find in romance books and I'm sure even harder to write, so hats off to you, Lisa! The way that Christopher talks about Beatrix - both the letter-writer and the woman - will have you swooning and grinning like a madwoman. Her passion and feelings for him are equally intense and ... well they're just so perfect for one another!
This truly is a fabulous book - the two main characters are intriguing and complex and their relationship comes alive within these pages. Also, there were thankfully no errant murderers on the loose, no gun-crazed kidnappers, no evil almost-mothers-in-law who try to pawn off the unwanted heroine on a possible rapist who ends up being a hero in another book (I love St. Vincent as much as the next Kleypas fan, so before you revolt, that was not a slight towards him!). There's a little surprise twist at the end, but in this case it was not at all superfluous and helps deal with one of the big issues that has been dominating the entire book.
That the masquerade doesn't continue on until the end, but is instead revealed far before that, was simply perfect in my mind. Christopher and Beatrix have already fallen in love with another through words on a page, but for a real relationship to work they also have to deal with the actual human being and everything out in the open. Kleypas realizes this, and as a result, doesn't make the letter-writing charade the central figure, but instead truly makes it a love story about Christopher and Beatrix finding one another, both literally and figuratively.
THE HATHAWAY FAMILY SERIES:
Book 1 - MINE TILL MIDNIGHT, Amelia Hathaway and Cam Rohan (4 stars)
Book 2 - SEDUCE ME AT SUNRISE, Winnifred (Win) Hathaway and Kev Merripen (4.5 stars)
Book 3 - TEMPT ME AT TWILIGHT, Poppy Hathaway and Harry Rutledge (3.5 stars)
Book 4 - MARRIED BY MORNING, Leo Hathaway, Lord Ramsay and Catherine (Cat) Marks (3.5 stars)
Book 5 - LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, Beatrix Hathaway and Christopher Phalen (5 stars)
(1) ENGLANDS PERFECT HERO (Lessons in Love, Book 3) by Suzanne Enoch - hero suffers from PTSD (5 stars)
(2) THE RAKE (Davenport Family, Book 2) by Mary Jo Putney - hero has to overcome alcoholism; heroine is a misfit (5 stars)
(3) THE MATCHMAKER (Maker Series, Book 1) by Rexanne Becnel - hero suffers from PTSD and alcoholism (5 stars)
(4) LORD OF ICE (Knight Miscellany, Book 3) by Gaelen Foley - hero suffers from PTSD (5 stars)
(5) TILL NEXT WE MEET by Karen Ranney - hero and heroine first fall in love through their letters; hero is not writing as himself (5 stars)
(6) SEVEN SECRETS OF SEDUCTION by Anne Mallory (4.5 stars)
(7) And of course the rest of the Hathaway series if you haven't read it already (the Hathaway family characters are heavily featured in this book)
I loved this book. Just to add my two cents to Juliana K's extensive and excellent review, this was so much better than the previous book in the series(Leo and Catherine's story), and one of Kleypas's more emotionally intense stories. Which is not what you would expect, because the younger Beatrix and her animals played sort of a comic relief role in the earlier books. She grows up to be a true original and I loved the way her and Christopher fell in love just through the written word. I also loved how he instinctively recognizes, even though he can't figure out how it happened, that Prudence could not have been the woman who wrote the letters to him. Yet he does feel that inner connection to Beatrix even though he tells himself in the beginning that he doesn't like her. I give it 4 1/2 stars. The little drama at the end of the book, which I will not give away, came out of nowhere and was not very well developed, so that kept it from being a perfect 5 stars.
It was a lot of fun to see some of the other Hathaways again, and I'm sorry there won't be more books about them. Oh, and I also loved the hero's dog, Albert. He was quite a character. I'm not quite ready to put this one on my bookshelf, I think I'll have to read it at least once or twice more.