I've said before that there's no such thing as a bad Laura Kinsale book and with Lessons in French the streak continues! I got my hot little hands on this book Monday and couldn't put it down. Ah well, getting enough sleep is overrated... especially when the alternative is a delightful cover-to-cover read of the latest Kinsale.
It's pretty bold of me to attempt a review after only one reading (a Kinsale can rarely be fully appreciated without at least two readings) but I'm gonna give it a go.
ETA: Ah, the hubris! You really can't do one of these after just one reading and now that I've finally finished my second read-through I'm back to make some changes. Actually, additions as it feels like cheating to change what I originally said but I think my interpretation was off. It's part of the spoiler stuff though so I'm adding it at the end of the post under cover, scroll down and highlight if interested.
Title: Lessons in French
Author: Laura Kinsale
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (2010)
Callie is a shy and awkward heiress more comfortable with cattle than with people. She's been engaged three times and each time her fiance has backed out. She's accepted her future as a Singleton and is happy enough in that role as long as she has a place to keep her animals. Trev, her childhood sweetheart (and partner in mischievous deeds), has returned to England after a nine year absence to care for his ailing mother. Callie has kept close ties with Trev's mother and continues to help upon his return. When the pair find themselves partners in yet another scheme (involving a wayward bull, local law enforcement and the county fair) their feelings for each other are rekindled. But Trev has secrets he must keep and neither of them are who they were nine years ago so they are each determined that this will be one final escapade together before they part again.
The chemistry between Callie and Trev is fantastic! It's immediately obvious that they had a strong bond as children and completely believable that they would fall into their old patterns again. Trev is delightfully charming (*sigh* yet another Kinsale hero to love:) and still knows just the way in which to bring out Callie's wit and sense of adventure. I loved Callie - in fact, I know Callie and she's immediately rocketed to the top of my Kinsale heroine list for that reason. She is so real; I have friends like Callie! She's not flashy or anything but she's smart, loyal, and pragmatic. She's the kind of person that has a lot to say if it's the right conversation. She's got little use for random shit that means nothing, probably making her seem dull to some, but she's kind and so very witty that I found myself so impatient for her to talk to Trev (or her sister, actually) again so I could read more of her awesome quips. I laughed out loud so many times at the two of them. (And Callie's daydreams are friggin' hilarious! The very first one where she's the shepherd's daughter had me giggling and saying, "oh i'm gonna to like this girl":)
I think Trev's character is best described by a scene early in the novel when he goes to visit Callie at her home (where he was not welcome as a boy). A short quote: "He waited a very long time, cooling his heels on the stoop, trying not to feel seventeen years old again..." And that is really the crux of his problem. He's come back to a place that holds a lot of guilt and shame for him, justified or not, and he finds himself falling back into that. This, I feel, is another stroke of characterization genius making his character just as real as Callie's. Who doesn't recognize that feeling when they visit their hometown or family? You're years beyond whatever has happened but those feelings are very much alive within yourself and you find that you're responding to situations as the person you were before and not the person you are now. I observed this in Trev several times. Especially in that he often wouldn't confront his feelings or anger head-on but instead stirred up some kind of ancillary trouble allowing him to express his feelings.
In addition to the great chemistry between our protags we're treated to an awesome environment and secondary cast of characters. The little village of Shelford serves as an excellent backdrop to the crazy livestock-related antics and the townsfolk work very well within the story. My favorite secondary character is Trev's mom. She's totally effing cool and watching her interact with Trev makes it abundantly clear that the apple didn't fall far from the tree in this case.
I'd say more about the story but it has so many fun and unexpected turns that I don't want to spoil anything - I despise even minor spoilers so I would hate to be responsible for any myself. There were a couple things that made me go Huh? that I'd like to mention, though, so I'll hide those and you can highlight if interested: Several things occur that make Callie decide that she can't marry Trev even if he were to offer. They make sense for the most part and so I don't quibble with them. Also, due to their feelings being not much altered from when they had a relationship as teenagers I can absolutely believe that Callie is hopping horny and would like to sleep with Trev. But these two things together just did not work for me. She's not only the daughter of a farmer but a breeder of animals herself. She's no innocent that might blunder blindly forward as a curious and eager teenager (and Trev even brings up the kiddie problem). She's an adult that knows all the business of procreation and I just can't buy her risking that (let's all take a moment to be grateful for modern methods of birth control). And again later, the two of them are having an argument about the good luvin' and Trev seems to imply that yeah, he's knocked it out a couple times since they've been apart but that he's never been able to allow himself to, er, release his inner Trev because he was hung up on Callie. Uh, wha???? I'm supposed to believe that a 27 year old man has been in the sex act multiple times but never let it all go? Maybe he had an oral-only policy or something but that just didn't work out for me. And one other tiny little thing. Callie's first jilt comes back for a second chance. He's a great character and I wouldn't give him up for anything as he was the cause of so many funny scenes but really? Breaking an engagement was a huge deal back then and it seemed odd that he'd come all the way back after doing such a dishonorable thing - and later when you find out why he did it it seemed even less likely to me that he would come back no matter how rich Callie was.
A few more comments before it's time to go back for a re-read (writing all this out just makes me want to go read all the awesome again). I love the cover of this book. It's damn sexy. I don't give a tiny rat's ass that it's not historically accurate. It's hot and I fucking love it! And the title! Huzzah! So often titles can have little to nothing to do with the book but this one is dead-on. And it brings such imaginings to my mind anytime the "french lessons" are mentioned that I get the shivers. Totally rad! And lastly, this book is funny! This book is laugh-out-loud funny and the dialogue kicks ass. There're no off sections either. It's well-paced and the humor continues throughout (let's just say I'll never think of "vex" the same way again) so you just never know where your next belly laugh is coming from but you know it's coming.
rating: 4 of 5 stars
[ETA cont.: I said above that I didn't believe that Trev would not release his "inner Trevs" but I'm now pretty sure I misinterpreted what he was trying to say. It wasn't that he was in the midst of the sweaty tango and then couldn't follow through but that he had the opportunity to enter the fray, so to speak, but could not bring himself to due to his being hung up on Callie. Now this I can believe and it works well with the characters and story. Kinsale continues to be a master of characterization and my hasty foolishness reminds me that I am not. :)]