MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s CHASING CASSANDRA

Chasing_CassandraLisa Kleypas’s romances were some of the first I ever read upon returning to the genre after 30 years away. Derek Craven remains one of my favourite heroes and Devil In Winter, one of my favourite romances. (On the other hand, there were those Kleypas woo-woo books I’d rather forget.) Kleypas went the way of contemporary romance, I started reading a variety of new, interesting romance writers and somehow, our paths never again converged until the pandemic saw a certain publisher largesse and I scored an e-galley of Chasing Cassandra. I thought I’d encounter the usual Kleypas fare, overprotective hero, heroine in peril, intense love scenes … and, Chasing Cassandra has some of that, but they’re not what stands out. Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama.  

Chasing Cassandra opens with a wedding and ends with domestic contentment: the opening wedding being Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent (who, I realized with delight, is son to Sebastian and Evangeline of The Devil In Winter!) and Lady Pandora’s, the eponymous Cassandra’s twin. Sundry couples from previous five books people the opening, but I didn’t feel late to the party. Among the wedding guests is self-made man, railroad magnate, engineering genius, like Mensa-level if Mensa was around in 1876, Tom Severin. He is smitten by Cassandra’s beauty, grace, and humour at first sight and she returns his feelings.

Except he doesn’t have feelings, well, no more than five of them, and love isn’t one. Cassandra, on the other hand, is a savvy feeler: she wants to love and be loved. She’s funny, engaging, beautiful, and adrift after her sister’s marriage. She’s much sought after in this her second season, but yearns for MORE. Tom wants Cassandra from the moment he sees her, but he doesn’t want to let in any of the feelings. Famous last words, he’s in love with her, the fool. But, as a man who grew up with neither succor, nor love, who fought tooth-and-nail to be powerful and wealthy, he prides himself on his reason and hasn’t a a clue how to unfreeze his heart. Cassandra, with humour, beauty, grace, intelligence, and kindness, comes too close. Like a frozen limb, the sting is sharp when the thaw sets in. So, he runs. And runs. And yet, he can’t stay away from Cassandra either, drawn to her at social events. Sadly, the narrative pace, one of the novel’s first half’s weaknesses, doesn’t have much by way of building love between Tom and Cassandra. When they do see each other, Kleypas’s scenes are marvellous: funny, touching, a delight, like an ice cream cone on a hot day. 

I like this less melodramatic, deeper Kleypas. She drew me in with brilliant scene setting: a waltz, a kiss, banter … and yes, Cassandra and Tom are made for each other. Tom enters a chase-retreat pattern with Cassandra and Cassandra goes on yearning for family and love. She doesn’t brood, or hold the Tom-torch high, she goes on with life, never settling, always moving towards something. Circumstances conspire to bring them together in what Tom fools himself into thinking is a marriage-of-convenience. Can you hear the scoffing-reader-laughter? Frankly, there’s a fantastic scene of marriage negotiation and then, Tom proceeds to drop like a fly on every concession the moment he and Cassandra are in the same room, much less married.

Kleypas cleverly centres the novel on Tom’s awakening to love. Because Kleypas is doing new and interesting things, she focusses not only on Tom’s growing love for Cassandra, but my favourite character, the street urchin, Bazzle. Bazzle is a HOOT! (Really, up there with contemporary romance’s equivalent: Carly Bloom’s Henry in Big Bad Cowboy.) Bazzle’s Cockney accent, integrity, engaging, funny awakening to LOVE for Tom, for Cassandra, but never for “baffs” (he learns to tolerate them; read it and you’ll see what I mean!). Bazzle’s street urchin abandonment, reluctant taking-in by Tom, and his care, the battleground for love that Cassandra wages, are the novel’s most wonderful feature. I’m so happy to be back in new-old Kleypas territory. Miss Austen joins me in saying, we find, in Chasing Cassandra, “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Lisa Kleypas’s Chasing Cassandra is published by Avon Books. It was released in February and may be found at your preferred vendor. I received an e-galley from Avon Books, via Edelweiss+.

6 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s CHASING CASSANDRA

  1. I think you’d enjoy the others in this series too. Gabriel and Pandora’s book is delightful, and I liked Phoebe’s book best of all, I think, Devil’s Daughter.

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      • Devil’s Daughter is my favorite too. It’s my favorite Kleypas; I read it five times in one year. I would read it again if I didn’t have most of it memorized by now. The series has been uneven but in the last few books her sense of humor has developed and the characters have these arch, ironic quips that are immensely enjoyable. Her earlier books don’t have that.

        I am scared to reread Dreaming of You in case it won’t hold up. I tried to reread Devil in Winter (a favorite for many years) recently and it didn’t work for me. It’s sacrilege, I know, but now I think it’s the rose-colored glasses that are keeping it up at the top of many people’s favorite Kleypases list.

        That and the retconning of who Sebastian was in It Happened One Autumn. He is a bad boy that readers can love guilt-free. He goes from a would-be rapist to a lovable scoundrel and his past is not only disavowed but also denied (“he didn’t really mean that” etc never mind that he kidnapped Lilian and groped her breasts against her wishes). It always jars me that he is such good friends with Marcus in the recent books.

        But I liked Sebastian in Devil’s Daughter—he is much funnier and more charming there than he was in his own book.

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        • Huh, it’s funny you should say this about Devil In Winter. I listened to the audio and didn’t like it as much as when I first read it, when it enthralled me. I had a similar experience with Chase’s Mr. Impossible which used to be my favourite romance. But, again, when I listened to the audio, all the awful Orientalism came through and I couldn’t love it anymore. The genre has examined itself and what used to be favourites are no longer.

          Also, with apologies for the late reply. My spam folder ate your comment and I only saw it now! Yikes!

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  2. Oh Miss B, I loved this. It was my favorite of the series. (I haven’t read the first one yet though!)

    Nods to this: Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama.

    I don’t know if you reviewed it, but I found The Other Miss Bridgestone which was one my favorite, and the others in Julia Quinn’s Rokesby series, to have this same characteristic: deeper, funnier, more relaxed.

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    • Oh, Julia Quinn is another one of my abandon-all-hope ur-romance authors. I’m so glad you told me it’s good!! I shall wait for my little bonus points to come in and order it.

      One thing I didn’t talk about in my review, which I LOVED, and I’m sure you did too, was Tom’s reading progression and how Cassandra led him through it. She would make a GREAT English teacher, never telling, always letting him discover the novels’ themes as he grew too, emotionally. It was so good!

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