Saturday, February 28, 2009

Stranger in my Arms; Lisa Kleypas

I reread this for the Reread Challenge, link also on sidebar. I’ve had this book on my keeper shelves for so long I completely forgot what it was about. How it survived last year’s keepers purge I don’t know, but I’m really glad it did. You see, I live in a very small duplex with two teenagers, my husband and our dog, not to mention the college student who’s here over breaks. It’s a bit crowded. In an effort to do my part and reduce the clutter (gulp) I decided to weed out my keepers to provide a little shelving room. I told myself that I should only keep the ones where I can remember the plot or why I loved the book, even in a very general sense: it made me laugh, it made me cry, an unusual hero or heroine, etc. I turned a whole bunch of books in to my local library for their monthly ‘friends’ sale. It was painful, but necessary. I don’t even recall who I traded, to be honest.

Somehow, Stranger in my Arms made it through the purge. This title was written by Lisa Kleypas and published in 1998. Childless twenty four year old widow Larissa, dowager Countess of Hawksworth, is abruptly informed that her supposedly deceased husband, Hunter, has shown up in England hale and quite alive. The male relative who had taken his place is understandably suspicious. Hunter and Larissa were unhappily married and were living separate lives when Hunter sailed for India. It was thought he’d died in a shipwreck.

Before I go on, can I just say that I find the probability of a man in the English aristocracy being christened Hunter so improbable as to be ridiculous? And that his wife would refer to him by his first name (as opposed to his title or Hawksworth) in public? The other annoying issue is that her name is Larissa, but everyone calls her Lara- even in situations where she should be called by her title or at least my lady or something similar. Why name your heroine one name and then call her by another? For some readers these issues would be minor, but for me they were annoying. My biggest problem with SIMA is that Larissa was shunted off into a moldy rundown game keepers cottage on the estate with very little money and no servants or chaperones or a companion- yet she was the dowager Countess. Am I to believe her family was so unconcerned with her future security that this would have been allowed in her settlements or otherwise?

I continued to read though, because the crux of the whole book came down to this: does one seize a second chance at love or does one shun the proffered crown because of ideology? Hunter is not who he claims to be. Larissa, while doubtful, comes to appreciate this man for how he treats her even while her own doubts assail her. When she finally learns the truth, Larissa must decide: carpe diem or stand alone on the plinth of ideology? It is no small thing, this deception of ‘Hunter’s’. To take on the identity of another and fully take over his life. Yet, I rooted for him, for her, for them.

Larissa for her part tends toward the Mary Sue: naïve, willfully innocent of many things a Countess should not be, unworldly, compliant and submissive to the point of impoverishing herself, yet ending up on her feet despite a situation that would’ve daunted most women. As the book goes on Larissa shows some backbone and stands up for what she believes in, demands that Hunter respect her person and her needs. She learns to push back against Hunter more than she was able to before he reappeared. Larissa deliberately sets Hunter up in an embarrassing public confrontation, partly out of pique but also to show him that he cannot simply trifle with her.

Ms. Kleypas made all of these conventions come alive for me, even while I had some serious issues with the details. I’m glad I kept it.

Image found on Fantastic Fiction


Renee said...

Wow, this one of LK was totally under my radar!

While I love most of her books, some of her older ones are a bit hit or miss with me. Also, for some reason the long lost lover (son/daughter/wife, etc) returning, with the "Is it really him/her?" mystery rarely works for me. Is LK able to pull this one off?

I have ideas of finishing her backlist, one day. :-)

Marg said...

This is one LK book that didn't work for me. Guess I just wasn't able to suspend my disbelief to really buy into the story.

Of course, LK's didn't quite work is often a lot better than many other authors best!

nath said...

Honestly, I've never heard of this one. Not that I have a good grasp on LK's older work... However, you made me a bit curious :)

Lori said...

With her older titles, even when the story doesn't work for me (as in this one, and oh - how I wanted this story to work for me!), the characters work so well, I can completely overlook the story not working. So I still love this book. Unfortunately, I can't do that with her books anymore. I wish I could.

Lori said...

Wow. And looking at what I just wrote, I realize it makes no sense whatsoever, LOL! Hopefully y'all get what I mean, though :)

Bookwormom said...

Renee~ I can't say if it'll work for you, honestly. Every reader is different & I'm new to this challenge & the readers who participate. You might be able to find it on Paperback Swap or Book Mooch though. Kleypas books are hit & miss with me too & I don't know that I'll continue to keep this one or not, TBH.

Marg~ It did require a goodly bit of suspension of disbelief, but I kept going waiting for 'the big reveal. 'I have to agree, her *meh* novels can be much better than others' best efforts.

Nath~ I thought I should pick a name people would recognize, but maybe a title that was older- get people thinking about her backlist.

Lori~ You're spot on, IMO. The characterization was good, particularly on his part. Her books have always been hit & miss for me. I usuually only buy her at library sales or in the ubs. I'll be stopping by later on to read everyone's reviews.

nath said...

Well it was a good idea :)