Welcome to Dueling Reviews.
Moderated by Ingrid, the Voice of Reason.
Heat Factor: If you’re into the whole dynamic where a shy virgin teaches a sexually experienced hero how to “make love” with her magical vagina, then it’s pretty sexy
Character Chemistry: Please ignore Helen’s personality transplant
Plot: High melodrama thanks to a ridiculous and honestly unnecessary plot device
Overall: SO DISAPPOINTING. This is the book that made me give up on Lisa Kleypas
Heat Factor: There are a couple of sex scenes, but it’s mostly angsty pining
Character Chemistry: They don’t spend a great deal of time together, but somehow I still felt they had great chemistry
Plot: Angsty unworthiness and unsolicited advice all around!
Overall: LOVED IT. Kleypas heroes are basically my kryptonite, and Winterborne was no exception.
Holly, summarize the book.
Holly: Basically I read this book and said I’m never reading another book by Lisa Kleypas ever again.
That’s how disappointed I was.
Holly, so PLOT-WISE…
H: It’s about this couple. They were engaged, then they weren’t engaged, now they want to be engaged again. Their main problem is that they come from different backgrounds and our heroine is very shy so they have a lot of miscommunication. Or rather, that was the issue in book one of the series, where we first met them. And now in book two, the heroine is like, JK, I’m not going to be like that anymore. So now our issue is going to be that she’s the secret illegitimate child of someone. WHOOPS.
There was actual interpersonal conflict they could have had, but instead Kleypas used “I have evil blood in me” nonsense.
Erin: She always has that though, with the villainous external threat.
H: Another thing I didn’t like about it was that it felt basically the same as her stupid Roma books, but that’s a whole seperate thing.
Erin, book summary:
E: Um. *Long pause.* Egomaniac male accustomed to getting everything he wants has to bend over backwards for diminutive female because love. True love.
*Holly barfs. Holly coughs.*
Question from Holly for Erin: One thing I have learned from consuming other forms of popular media is that having a thing for orchids is a sign that a character is also a sociopath, or at least has sociopathic tendencies. (ex: James Spader in Secretary.) What impact does this information have on your view of Helen?
E: Absolutely none. Although, apparently orchids are very difficult to–WAIT. HOLLY. You said this to me before. So yes, none. That’s the answer to your question.
Question from Holly for Erin: Winterborne = Dollar Store Heathcliff. Discuss.
E: Oh my god. I just can’t with this right now. Heathcliff is not a romantic hero.
H: I KNOW THAT BUT LISA KLEYPAS COMPARES HIM TO HEATHCLIFF NOT ONCE BUT TWICE IN THIS BOOK. AND HEATHCLIFF IS NOT A ROMANTIC HERO. So Winterborne is just like him except just more boring.
E: He’s only referred to as Heathcliff once. The other time it’s in the context of all these ridiculous heroes in novels. And when he is referred to as Heathcliff it’s in a way that is also mocking Winterborne. So the thing about Winterborne…he’s my kryptonite. Totally arrogant, “I get everything I want”, rich, rugged, alpha male. Which I guess Holly doesn’t like.
H: I seem to be in the minority about this.
E: I do NOT like Healthcliff because he’s too angsty. And Winterborne isn’t necessarily angsty…so the other thing about him which is my kryptonite is that he’s closed-off. He’s like, “business is business, I don’t have time for feelings,” whereas Heathcliff is wallowing in feelings.
H: I accept this response.
What were your expectations going into the book?
H: I had really high expectations because I read Cold Hearted Rake (Ravenels, Book 1) and didn’t particularly like it. But! I thought that both Winterborne and Helen were interesting characters and I was looking forward to seeing what Kleypas would do with them, because the interactions–you could see where the tensions were going to be.
Then she went with this illegitimacy nonsense partway through the book.
Maybe my expectations were too high?
But even without my expectations, she still introduced a new conflict halfway through.
E: Relatively low. Cold-Hearted Rake was the first historical Kleypas published in years, but I wasn’t sold on it, and I never read it. Then this book came out and I think I was looking for something that I would actually like because I ran out of books by my favorite authors. I picked it up thinking “oh, this might be good” and had few expectations.
H: I’d like to add that although I had high expectations for this particular book, I think Kleypas has always been hit or miss for me. I don’t really actively seek her out; I’m not a Kleypas super-fan.
What was the scene that clinched your opinion of this book?
H: So I know that I’ve mainly focused on the plot issues, but actually, I will say–the scene where he was like: “Ok, if you really want to get married, I’m going to compromise you in my office right now.” And she was like, “Ok it’s a deal.”
Because, are you kidding me, one week ago he kissed you and you freaked out, and you’re all like, “Someday, if I don’t marry you I’ll marry someone who won’t listen to me.” And I’m like really?? This guy who runs roughshod over you is going to listen to you more than your hypothetical future spouse?
At this point, Helen is like just kidding, everything you know about my character, I’m going to change. I’ll just have a personality transplant and our relationship is going to be cool.
E: I also thought that it was weird that she freaked out to the extent that she did after her first kiss with Winterborne. …The reason their engagement is broken is because Helena’s sister-in-law broke it off for her, because she goes to bed with a migraine after kissing Winterborne and is like, “I never want to see him again”. I was a little annoyed with Kathleen for interfering, so I actually liked that Helen was like: this is the first day of the rest of my life and I’m not going to let people make decisions for me anymore, and I’m always going to tell you (Winterborne) the truth. She’s totally a demure, miniature, blonde. The epitome of what an English rose would be. And Winterborne is this rough, coarse giant. It’s intentionally built to be this juxtaposition. So I bought into the power dynamic and personality shift because he was so madly in love with her. In real life, Holly is probably right and an overbearing man wouldn’t be the man who would suddenly listen. But in reality I wouldn’t want to be with the kind of man I like in romance novels.
Holly, did you think the characters had chemistry? In other words, were your issues plot based, or did you think they also had bad chemistry?
H: Decent chemistry. Don’t love the “experienced man discovers magical vagina” thing. Some stuff around their sexual experiences were not my jam, but in general good chemistry.
Erin – is Holly’s description of Helen’s magical hoo-ha accurate?
E: Yes? It’s alpha male submits to demure, non-dominant female.
He likes rough sex and he’s coarse because he comes from the lower class, so with upper class women he’s accustomed to this “sleeping with the help” fantasy, but with Helen he has to be so gentle because she’s a fragile flower. It’s a little ridiculous and I eat. it. up.
I’m going to read some other reviews and see what you guys think. Erin, here’s a negative review:
“What a snooze fest. Please listen to all the reviews that say there is no chemistry between the hero and heroine. I guess I should have read the first book where they were introduced but this book standing on its own is a snoozer. There is no wit or romance”
E: They’ve already had their courtship, so those sorts of relationship things got resolved in the first book. Then the conflict with the illegitimacy does come into play. For the first portion of the book, a lot of the chemistry is centered on this somewhat coercive engagement where Winterborne says, “If you’re going to marry me, we’re going to have sex.” And he says it because 1. He wants to, and 2. Her cousin won’t consent to the marriage without something drastic because of Winterbourne’s bad behavior when the sister-in-law broke off the engagement. It’s how they’ll be able to get married. Then the relationship conflict is about the drama of the illegitimacy. If you weren’t willing to buy into the courtship having been conducted off book, or the coercive sexual beginning of this book, it would be very hard to enjoy this story. They don’t spend a lot of time together, so it’s not about what’s IS there, it’s about what’s NOT there.
Holly, here’s a glowing review:
“I accidentally discovered a new author and I adore her. Ms. Klepas’ writing is riveting and because it is set in Victorian England, I am also learning an interesting history lesson about other countries (including Wales) without the dryness. This the third book I have read in as many days and have stayed up until dawn to finish each book. Her characters are likeable, intelligent, progressive and sexy. The intimate scenes are graphic without being lewd. There is more than enough romance to satiate all of us romance readers. I especially like the continuation of characters from one book to the next. Thank you for sharing your talent and I’m very glad I found you!”
H: Well, there are a couple things happening in this review.
First, I’ll acknowledge that Kleypas does write pretty good sex scenes. If you can get past the virgin thing. I’ll admit that.
I’ll say…learning about Welsh history might be a bit of a stretch…Lisa Kleypas is not Elizabeth Kingston. I don’t know. There are plenty of authors who do plenty of research, or more in-depth research than this, where after I read the book I start looking things up.
Then there’s this thing about him being progressive. In our preemptive trash-talking, Erin sent me a screenshot of her highlights, presumably things that were swoon-worthy. One of the highlights was about Winterborne being like, “My workers need a good place to live and I agree with reformers.”
That’s good, but you know who else felt that way? Virtually every single big business magnate in the US. Company towns were a thing. So if you actually know anything about the time period, you can see that Winterborne wanting to provide his employees with housing is not out of the norm. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily progressive because providing housing is a means of control. So this is an easy thing to throw into the book that sounds progressive for us, but 1. It was standard for the time, and 2. It wasn’t actually that progressive.
I agree that there were a couple really romantic scenes–like when he builds the orchid house. That scene reminded me of the moment when Belle is given the library by the Beast. Winterborne gives someone he loves something he doesn’t really know anything about as a grand gesture. But those scenes don’t counteract the stuff that’s in there that’s just really…ugh.
H: I will say that re-reading it this time, because I knew what to expect–I could appreciate some of the romantic moments that happened at the end of the book, where the first time I was so annoyed I didn’t even remember they happened after the fact.
So…yeah, basically my closing argument is that I still don’t understand what the hype is about. People freaking love this book (It’s made All About Romance’s list of top 100 romances compiled in 2018), and if I were to write my own review, I’d call it a rant. Talking to Erin, I think, maybe it’s just that Winterborne is not close enough to my ideal book boyfriend that I can overlook the other stuff.
E: Having read it for the third time, and the second and third time in relatively close succession–I noticed more eyebrow-raising things about it. Like, Holly’s comments about him being such an amazing businessman are spot on. I think Kleypas does a really good job of providing context that makes various otherwise questionable situations acceptable or at least understandable. But Winterborne is extremely dominant, so I think that part of the appeal of the book is that Winterborne and Helen are a juxtaposition of light and dark. Helen is hyperbolically good, and Winterborne isn’t hyperbolically bad but he is arrogant and demanding and selfish and comes from coarse beginnings. So a lot of the story rests on that very metaphoric relationship. There are moments when everything could be too much. Too much controlling, too much domineering. As Holly said earlier, Winterborne in real life is not going to let Helen speak for herself. But in fiction life they find a middle ground where she’s a counterbalance for him, and that’s what I enjoyed about the story. Also Winterborne is my kryptonite.
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