Friday, March 12, 2010

"Dreaming of You," by Lisa Kleypas

The Chick: Sara Rose Fielding, a.k.a. "S.R. Fielding." A novelist famous for writing about the underprivileged of London, she accidentally rescues the owner of a gambling hell from thugs, and sees a grand opportunity to guilt him into helping her research for her latest book.
The Rub: She'd rather do a little more intimate "research" on the criminal "underbelly" - as long as that criminal is Derek. Too bad he wants nothing to do with her!
Dream Casting: North and South's Daniela Denby-Ashe.

The Dude: Derek Craven. He brought himself up from the gutter to become the richest man in England. He knows first hand that the slums of London are no place for a naive country girl.
The Rub: He quickly comes to love Sara, but pushes her away because he believes he has nothing to offer her - nothing but piles of money, stunning good looks, and the anatomical blessings of a bull.
Dream Casting: Johnny Depp.

The Plot:

Derek: Ah! My pretty Alpha Male face is threatened by thugs!

Sara: Anachronistic Twit to the rescue! *kills thug*

Derek: Are you here by yourself?

Sara: *eyes sparkle* Oh of course, everyone is so nice, what could possibly be unsafe about walking down dark alleyways in 19th century London by myself? *sparkle sparkle*

Derek: You're a moron. And an inexplicably attractive one to boot. GO AWAY.

Sara: *sparkle sparkle* How dare you refuse my naive and blundering advances! *wears pretty dress, gets drunk* Look at me, I'm a seductive worldly woman!

Derek: You're still a moron. *gropes* GO AWAY.

Sara: *sparkle sparkle* Fine. I'll go and marry my almost fiance, who's a real man! *sparkle sparkle*

Perry: No I'm not.

Sara: DAMMIT.

Crazy Whore Ex-Mistress: I'll get you, my pretty, and your little virginity too!

Derek: *saves Sara* Guess we have to get married, now.

Sara: Um...thanks?

Crazy Whore Ex-Mistress: *crazy evil bullshit*

Sara: Wow, you make me look organized in comparison! Can we have our happily ever after now?

Derek: ...

Sara: *sparkle sparkle*

Derek: Okay.

Sarah: HOORAY! *sparkle sparkle*

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Too Angsty To Live Hero

1 Too Stupid To Live Heroine

1 Crazy Whore Ex-Mistress

2 Smug Marrieds from Previous Kleypas Books

Several Easily-Won-Over Servants

1 Rapist for Hire

1 Lookalike Hooker

1 Romantically Lacklustre Rival

The Word: I'm sorry, but Lisa Kleypas and I? We are done. I'm not picking up her option, we're going in a different direction, it's time we see other people, yadda, yadda, yadda. But we are done. I'm taking her books off my shelves, and after Lent will probably trade them in for better, used books. I've tried. Really I have. Some of her books have been diverting, especially when I was starting out as a romance reader, but I just can't read her books anymore.

In romance, there is an element of fantasy, for when it all comes down to it, everything (at least everything that matters) works out for the hero and heroine. However, there is a wide spectrum concerning the amount of fantasy in a romance novel and, as I've repeatedly discovered, Lisa Kleypas sits pretty darn close to the "full out fantasy" end of the field.

Lisa Kleypas Land: Reality - Not Welcome.

Her heroes are pretty much always richer than God - or end up richer than God by the end of the novel. Sure, some of them aren't aristocrats (*maidenly gasp*) but they are all rolling in money and tend to be physically interchangeable - huge and dark and ugly and hot, or huge and blond and pretty and hot. Her heroines are "feisty" and "quirky," by which I mean they act like 21st century girls after a summer spent cloistered with the full collection of Jane Austen's works on DVD: full of modern enlightenment, tolerance, saintly goodness, and great tits.

The heroines are perfectly good - but their main draw is their pillowy-soft innocence that lures our heroes (used to the dried-out charms of bus-station-toilet-paper ladies) with the promise of Charmin. Our villains are perfectly evil in as many ways as it is possible to be evil and are soundly vanquished in the end - or worse, are retroactively neutered into goodness by becoming heroes in a sequel (et tu, Sebastian?). Her writing style dedicates the majority of her description to letting us know how wealthy and grand and classy the setting is by overusing words like "rich," "sumptuous," and "succulent" - without actually describing the settings in any great detail.

Once the protagonists start having sex, they go at it like they're stockpiling it for the upcoming Sexpocalypse. Precious narrative time is spent on shopping trips, spending sprees, and general romantic gestures on the part of the hero, by which I mean, the hero spends an obscene amount of cash on the heroine. Then some random dude shows up at the end waving a gun and our hero gets to prove he's a man for free.

*sigh* I'm sorry, but I need some substance with my cotton candy. I need some nuance, and some subtlety. I need Lacklustre Romantic Rivals who aren't cartoons. I need sex scenes that have narrative purpose. I need heroines who have spine and don't wander around like doe-eyed sheep looking for a hot shirtless shepherd. I understand why readers love Lisa Kleypas, but I also understand why I don't.

Dreaming of You, considered by many to be Lisa Kleypas' masterpiece, is just the final nail in the coffin of my fandom. The book opens on one of the worst examples of TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) behaviour I've ever read. Our heroine is Sara Fielding, a writer who rose to literary fame with the publication of Mathilda, a novel about a reformed prostitute (possibly a reference to Defoe's Roxana?). She prides herself on her meticulous research, which involves walking through some of London's worst neighbourhoods by herself at night to interview people, her only protection the pistol in her purse which she's never learned how to aim. She goes alone, of course, because her family - oh, they just wouldn't understand. Neither can I, honey.

She comes across a man being set on by thugs and fires a warning shot - into a thug's neck. Nice. The surviving thugs flee, and Sara helps the injured man back to his place of business: an infamous gambling club. Turns out the man is Derek Craven, the club's owner. Sara is delighted. Her next novel is about a gambler, so she figures this is an excellent way to gather more research.

Frankly, by this point I'm surprised Sara can read, much less write bestselling, socially-conscious novels about prostitutes and criminals. She's a walking contradiction. She's simultaneously described as a naive country bumpkin glowing with purity who rarely travels beyond her precious little village of Greenwood Corners - and a globally-thinking, anachronistically open-minded crusader. She apparently has no knowledge of or common sense regarding how to act and behave in London's seedier neighbourhoods but still somehow manages to write dark, profound works of fiction a la Charles Dickens. She's a pure creature of fantasy - pure and sheltered and shy and virginal and yet still somehow knowledgeable enough to make thought-provoking commentary about society.

Our hero is also a fantasy creation, albeit one less grating and less obviously fictional than Sara. Derek Craven was born in the gutter, raised by prostitutes and even worked as one himself (but only on the ladies - which of course makes him sexier instead of realistically damaged, like Gabriel St. Croix), until he eventually clawed himself up to become the obscenely wealthy man he is today. He tosses and turns in his gigantic, overly-symbolic bed, wondering why money and power don't make him happy.

To quote the folks from Team America, there's an emptiness that Derek needs to fill, and only one emptiness will do. Sara, the Sugar-Free Marshmellow of Goodness, charms the hearts of all the jaded people in his club through her sheer purity, Derek included. The novel tells us that Derek falls for Sara because she is the saintly bleach to his dirty, sexy stain but what the novel shows us is that Sara unintentionally blackmails Derek into falling for her.

How? Every time she makes overtures that Derek refuses, she goes out and does something stupid and nearly gets killed. When Derek refuses to kiss her, Sarah disguises herself and gets shitfaced at a party filled with hookers and rakes. When Derek refuses to have sex with her, she runs off with a complete stranger and nearly gets gangraped during a riot. I think Derek somehow senses that unless he puts a ring on her finger, the next time he says "no" she's bound to throw herself down a well.

There's also the cartoonish villain, Lady Ashby. I'll admit it's refreshing to have a novel where the hero is stalked by a crazed, possessive ex-lover, but she's not a character, she's a collection of evil traits sewn up in a bag of skin and blond hair. It's not enough to have her be jealous of Derek. No, the author has to make her a sexual deviant so kinky she makes even the jaded Derek blush, who has countless abortions because she doesn't want to get fat, who ruins debutantes' lives for the fun of it, etc. I'm sure Lisa Kleypas would have written in a scene where she kicks puppies if it wouldn't have strained the novel's wordcount.

The novel loses its Stupid around the midway point - Sara learns a bit of common sense from her near gang-bang - but makes up for it with a surplus of Boring. Derek mopes and sleeps with Sara lookalike-hookers. Sara tries to make it with her fiance, Perry - who sadly morphs from a gentle but boring lad into a full-on condemning mama's boy. Oh, yes - heaven forbid the romantic rival should be a good, consistent, or realistic character. That would suggest that there is a sentient, reasonable human male in the world who finds the heroine undesirable! That cannot be borne! Any man who doesn't want to marry the purely pure candy floss Sara must be wrong in the head, evil, and/or gay!

The novel dissolves into scenes of shopping trips, Craven's sickeningly cutesy Smug Married friends meddling where they're not wanted, over-the-top evil Lady Ashby antics, lots and lots of pointless sex - and an 11th hour climax. Not a word of which was unexpected. I suppose the fault is mine in supposing that Dreaming of You might be different from Lisa Kleypas' other books, that if I just keep reading, I'll eventually find the Kleypas book that fulfills all the promises her fans make about her storytelling ability. But the fact is, like C.L. Wilson and Nalini Singh - I just plain don't like her writing.

Oh well.
C-

25 comments:

  1. It's been a long time since I read this--and I know I read this because, like you pointed out, it's Kleypas' masterpiece. And that Derek Craven is *the* hero to end all heroes.

    And I remember feeling like something was wrong with me because I totally couldn't get the Craven Lust.

    But that's all I remember. Huh.

    Also, glad to have read this post. You were near-hysterical with your vitriol on Twitter, haha.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous12:05 AM

    "retroactively neutered into goodness"

    Sigh. How true it is. -- willaful

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have been decidedly underwhelmed by several highly favored Kleypas offerings as well, including this one and Again the Magic, which I think set you off as well.

    It's too bad that you didn't read either of my keeper Kleypas novels (as far as I know) before calling your moratorium. I think that you might have actually enjoyed Where Dreams Begin or Worth Any Price, although the signature Kelypas melodrama is still well accounted for.

    ReplyDelete
  4. *heavy sigh* It seems you didn't 'feel' this one or Lisa Kleypas in general. Alas. But that's what makes the romance reading community so interesting. One person's A is the next persons C.
    Although in DoY's defense - if I may *g* -it was first published in 1994, sixteen years ago now, and was slightly revolutionary for it's time - a non titled hero.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Please tell me your heart didn't melt a little when Sara finds out Derek kept her glasses in his pocket and the way they kissed in the garden?

    I love love love this book. It's all about Derek and his inability to see how special he is and he can be loved and the woman who comes along and turns his world upside down.

    Not even the ending where Derek thinks Sara is dead didn't make your heart go pitter patter?

    Don't read Devil in Winter then. Sebastian is much worse than Derek.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow Animejune - tell us how you really feel! LOL!!

    Once again, an excellent review - I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read it or it would have cleaned my sinuses.

    I tried one historical Kleypas book ages ago. I can't remember the title but it was one that had been repackaged and somewhat rewritten and re-released. I hated it. I skimmed through it to see if it got better. It didn't. It was set in New Orleans I think, and the heroine had hidden in a boat/skiff to get away from a nasty family situation (I can't now remember what)and was discovered by the hero and taken into the family home where the hero's mother hated her. I have a vague memory of the name Vallerand, but that might not be right. (I think I've wiped the rest from my memory banks with sandpaper.) I didn't understand the attraction at all. But then, it seems it may have been her first (or one of the first) book she'd written so maybe she got better?

    I have read 2 of her 3 contemporarites. I really enjoyed Blue Eyed Devil (the 1st one I read). Sugar Daddy was okay but not great. I'm looking forward to Smooth Talking Stranger though and have high hopes for it.

    I am reluctant to check out the historicals again though.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anonymous8:29 PM

    I haven't read this one, but the Lisa Kleypas books that I have read have all been either wonderful or horrible. It's the wonderful ones that keep me coming back.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sasha --> Derek Craven didn't annoy me, but he didn't really grab my attention the way Kel-Paten from Games of Command or ST Maitland from Prince of Midnight did. He sort of just walks around spewing a lot of completely empty threats and seemed to accidentally fall in love with Sara during his numerous attempts to keep her from killing herself. I never got a lot of angst from him or reflections on his backstory apart from a couple of exposition-heavy scenes.

    So Craven didn't really do it for me either. :)

    Anonymous --> Yeah, Sebastian softened up WAY too quickly in that book.

    Tracy --> Again the Magic was was started the downslide for me. They just fight and fight and have a MILLION sex scenes like they're trying out for a combo move. I've still be interested in Lady Sophia's Lover and Worth Any Price, but not enough to buy the books. Maybe if I see them at a booksale or at the library.

    KristieJ --> Yes, that's exactly it. I just don't mess with Kleypas' particular brand of storytelling. I don't like Nalini Singh or CL Wilson either. I don't see how revolutionary a non-titled hero is if he STILL as crazy-rich as every other aristocratic hero. If Kleypas had given us simply a well-off middle-class hero, THAT would have been news.

    Katiebabs --> It didn't - mainly because I wasn't convinced of Derek's feelings for Sara when he took the spectacles in the first place. The majority of the first half of the novel is Sara Disobeying Craven Because She Is A Moron and Craven Trying To Keep Sara From Being Killed. He spends more time babysitting her than actually interacting with her as a person so I never got the emotional connection. When he took the glasses, I actually said, "Wait, WHY? You guys haven't DONE anything??"

    For a book that's supposed to be all about him, I felt it didn't really dwell on him ENOUGH. We get an exposition on his backstory on page 24 by Worthy, but we don't see Derek dwelling on his past in any great detail, except for blanket statements like "I've lived a bad bad life." And when he expounds to Sara about it, it's inconsistent. This is a dude who thinks graverobbing is worse than murder.

    I never understood why he needed her beyond her supposed "purity". He's so dark, she's so light - that's it? He can't even READ her books! She doesn't demonstrate any intelligence! He barely knows her beyond her Mary Sue ness. That's always at the heart of romances I don't like - I just don't buy the romance. So I didn't feel too much when Derek is all "I NEED YOU." Especially since his "grief" is Standard Alpha Male Emotional Outlet Behaviour: Drinking, Yelling, and Hitting People.

    I did read "Devil In Winter" and found it sugarcoated. I liked Sebastian more than Derek, to be honest, but still - I thought Evie's transformation from mouse to confident WAY too fast and similarly, Sebastian COMES INTO the novel already nice, instead of making a thorough transformation himself.

    Kaetrin --> Well, I have one more Kleypas on my TBR - a contemporary. Maybe she's better when writing within a setting her readers can actually identify.

    Anonymous --> I get that. That's how I am with Laura Lee Guhrke. But Kleypas' novels have never been wonderful to me - they've been Pleasant, and Horrible.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I read this book about a year ago and I didn't get the hype over it either. Kleypas is either brilliant or terrible, but I still have faith in her. Her historical "Tempt me at Twilight" was pretty good.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I liked Derek more than you did - which is how this one got a C+ from me :) But yeah, the heroine didn't do it for me (the masquerade ball = Wendy's head, meet desk) and the Evil Other Woman is a serious hot button for me the older I get.

    But.....

    Like Kristie mentioned, it was published in 1994. And I'm a big enough person to admit that had I read this book around that time period? Oh yeah - I would have loved it beyond all reason. But reading it around 2008-ish (or maybe it was 2007)? It just didn't hold up. For me at least.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Her heroines are "feisty" and "quirky," by which I mean they act like 21st century girls after a summer spent cloistered with the full collection of Jane Austen's works on DVD: full of modern enlightenment, tolerance, saintly goodness, and great tits.

    HA!! Even when I don't agree with you, you crack me up something fierce. Don't ever stop tearing them up.

    ReplyDelete
  12. While I disagree (I loved Dreaming of You) I thoroughly enjoy your reviews!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Heh. OK, this review made me laugh, all the while disagreeing with you.

    Dreaming of You is not my favorite Kleypas historical, that would be Again the Magic, which I'm begging you, PLEASE DON'T EVER READ!

    But your review made me laugh. What I like about your reviews is that you don't hold back. If you love, you love. If you hate, you do it passionately. LOL!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Kati --> Um, too late: http://gossamerobsessions.blogspot.com/2008/09/again-magic-by-lisa-kleypas.html

    ReplyDelete
  15. Nancy D2:59 PM

    Your reviews are hilarius. Thanks for putting this blog together. You're very entertaining.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Kati --> Um, too late:

    *dies*

    I honestly am not even going to read it, in order to curb my compulsion to debate every negative point you make (all valid, I'm sure).

    My defense of my most loved books is legendary. As Ana what happened when she hated on The Windflower. :biggrin:

    ReplyDelete
  17. Oh well, Different strokes. I LOVE this book. Now I'm fighting not to find it to read all over again. Sorry she doesn't float your boat.

    ReplyDelete
  18. You might have just become my new favorite person with this review. *glows* I love it.

    KB - stop bring up the spectacles. HE TOOK AWAY HER ABILITY TO SEE! How is that sexy???? Cripes.

    heh

    PS. Kristie(j) - I still love you. *bg*

    ReplyDelete
  19. Because Sara can't see, she falls into Derek and they have wild sex. Works pretty well on both ends.

    And he didn't boink the whore.

    ReplyDelete
  20. he totally boinked the whore.

    ReplyDelete
  21. is that what you kids are calling it these days?

    ReplyDelete
  22. Never said, Derek stuck his swivel stick into her weeping womb. So I stick by what I believe.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Wow...I LUV LK's books and I especially loved this one! Oh well, I admit I do make reading lists based on your A and B lists...this has just shown me that I need to glance through the C lists as well!

    ReplyDelete
  24. I know this was written AGES ago but I must comment because I just read this book and was like, "KWAT?!" Because NO. So many people have been giving this book rave reviews and I was flabbergasted when I finished the book. Not seeing it. And I had the EXACT same reaction to his stealing her spectacles because WHERE DID THAT COME FROM?! Where's the love? Where is it? I wasn't buying any of it. Also, I damn near cried with laughter at the part where the prostitute who conveniently looked like Sara comes to tell her about Derek's "special request"!!!! Was that supposed to be romantic? Because I thought it was incredibly pathetic. What a douchebag! Anyway, thank you for this. FOR REAL.

    ReplyDelete