Book: Married by Morning
Series: Hathaways, #4
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Reviewed by: Danielle
Rating: 5/5 stars
Lisa Kleypas is by far my favorite romance writer. She has a gift for storytelling, for sweeping her readers off their feet, and for making Regency England come alive so much so that you wish you could go back in time and experience it yourself. You want to fall in love while dancing a waltz with a man who’s wearing a cravat and pantaloons and brooding over the fact that he can’t rip off your corset then and there and “take” you. (Or maybe that last bit is just me.) With all the romance novels out there today, you would think the genre would have become stale and too predictable by now; not so with Ms. Kleypas. Her stories are fun, absorbing, and also character-driven. This last is the major reason why her books are so successful: her heroines are women you root for and admire, strong yet vulnerable, independent but passionate. But let’s be honest: it’s the heroes we truly care about, and Kleypas knows how to create the most swoon-worthy, sigh-inducing gentlemen. From the dashing Simon Hunt to the brooding cockney Derek Craven to the delectably charming Sebastian St. Vincent, Kleypas has a knack for making you fall in love all over again with each book. It’s a testament to her talent that she can create completely different but equally endearing heroes.
There’s one more hero I can now safely add to the list above, making it a formidable foursome that isn’t likely to be surpassed: Leo Hathaway of the Hathaway series. I must admit, having read the Wallflowers and Gamblers series and loved nearly every book in those, the Hathaways series was a bit underwhelming. Part of the problem was my high expectations, but I found something in each of the first three books to nitpick at and so couldn’t quite enjoy them as much. The series revolves around the Hathaway siblings, an eccentric but lovable family that gains an unexpected inheritance after the death of their parents. Elevated to a new aristocratic status, the siblings must learn to navigate the tricky waters of upper class London and also their hearts.
Once again, with this series Kleypas shows off her skills at drawing unique characters, even if not all of them are up to her usual standards (I’m looking at you, Ms. Amelia Hathaway). Together, the Hathaway siblings form a charming, humorous group that is easy to love; separately they each of course have their own eccentric personalities and obstacles to overcome. These obstacles were a bit overdone in the first three books: Amelia’s hesitancy to marry Cam Rohan, the man she quite clearly loves, Win and Kev Merripen’s continual start and stop tango, and Poppy and Harry Rutledge’s odd start all contributed to my disappointment thus far with the series. Although the exasperation level grew just a bit too high at times, there were of course parts I very much enjoyed. With this series, Kleypas chooses to go beyond the upper class circles of London and introduces the gypsy world to us through Cam and Kev. It was interesting to read about their troubled beginnings and also their views and how those contrasted so heavily with the aristocratic way of life. Gypsies are “free” in a way gadjos can never be, with an immense appreciation for nature and community. In one of my favorite scenes, Kev finally comes to his senses and “kidnaps” Win from her bedroom at night, a (very sexy) wedding ritual that the gypsies often perform as opposed to standing in front of an altar. Moreover, I still found each of the three heroes attractive in their own way, owing to Kleypas’ brilliancy in articulating her male characters’ thoughts and feelings and dialogue.
There was, however, one aspect of those first three books that stuck out more than the rest: Leo Hathaway and his evolving relationship with the family’s governess slash chaperone, Catherine Marks. Like Colin and Penelope Bridgerton of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, you’re aware from their first introduction that these two are just waiting to ignite. It’s set up so nicely and with each passing book you grow to care about them individually and as a couple more and more. I like this technique a lot: of introducing us to certain characters but treating us to only little snippets here and there of their relationship, that by the time they get their own book readers are dying with anticipation. Leo and Catherine hilariously begin as “archenemies”: whereas she is seemingly prudish and stiff, he is charming and rakish. The two constantly bicker and insult one another, unafraid of hurting the other’s feelings. Despite the fact that Leo is her employer, Cat does not hold her tongue nor does she stop herself from giving an opinion that is usually diametrically opposed to Leo’s. The scenes that we get with them before the fourth book are enough to hold us over; they are funny but brimming with tension.
Finally, though, we are treated with Married by Morning, the best of the series and one of my favorites in Kleypas’ collection. Leo Hathaway is one of those characters who, the more you discover about him, the more you grow to love him. Of course, he’s attractive, witty, and absolutely charming, and his banter is some of the best Kleypas has created, but he also transforms over the course of the series. When we meet him in the first book, he is a drunk, cynical man, scarred by the loss of his fiancée to scarlet fever a year ago. He remains haunted by her, refusing to let her go, racked with a grief so powerful that he nearly commits suicide. In the second book, after a trip abroad to France with his sister Win, he comes home a reformed man, ready to take on his responsibilities as a viscount and the head of the Hathaway family. However, he has promised himself that he will never fall in love again because (get ready to swoon) he “loves like a madman” and believes no woman would ever be able to manage him. Instead, he becomes a notorious rake, charming as ever but unwilling to go much deeper. Enter Catherine Marks. She has a dark and painful past of her own, raised in a brothel and very nearly forced to become a prostitute herself. As a result, she has never known what it’s like to be a part of a family and refuses to place her trust in anyone. Hence, her reasons for coming off as stiff and unapproachable. For Leo, however, her demeanor only makes him more curious and attracted.
Both Leo and Catherine make a great transformation over the course of the novel, but it’s never shallow nor is it rushed. They slowly gain one another’s trust and love, and it’s so completely satisfying that your heart feels full afterwards. It’s clear their transformation only comes because they open up to one another; they bring out each other’s depths and nuances. As Leo explains to Harry, they speak the same language.
But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Some of the best parts happen before the rainbows and hearts. Their dialogue and banter is fantastic; whether Leo is purposefully provoking Cat or she is putting him in his place, their interaction is sweetly funny and always feels genuine. Eventually attraction builds, changing their relationship from tense antagonism to a more meaningful friendship. There are so many scenes I want to point out, such as when Leo calls Cat “sweetheart” for the first time, or when she holds his hand, willing him to trust her in taking care of him when he falls ill, or when he tells her that he will love her more because he was only a boy when he was previously engaged and now he’s a man. All such heartbreaking moments, but I realize you’re just going to have to read the book. The love scenes, too, are some of Kleypas’ best, and that’s saying something. She has always written these parts excellently, but here there is a tender and aching vulnerability between Leo and Cat. They have to learn to trust one another, first with their bodies and later with their hearts. As Ellyce pointed out in her Spindle Cove review, there is a perfect balance between the emotional and the physical, adding a genuineness to the novel that elevates it from others in the romance genre.
Needless to say, Leo and “Marks” (as he fondly calls her) are one of my favorite Kleypas couples. Their journey is rich and moving and believable. They aren’t hampered by melodramatics, although there are plenty of sickly sweet moments to go around (and I mean that in the best way possible). Their interaction is honestly as good as St. Vincent and Evie’s in Devil in Winter, and if you’ve read that book you know that’s not an easy feat. I remember countless times smiling at something Leo said in all five of the Hathaway books, and for him alone I’d recommend reading the series. Married by Morning is a captivating love story and demonstrates why Ms. Kleypas is at very forefront of the historical-romance genre. Now if only we could convince her to come back.