Where Dreams Begin, by Lisa Kleypas

12 Jul

WhereDreamsBeginI am feeling very frustrated about my reading right now; even though I’m enjoying the Immortals After Dark quite a bit, I’m having trouble concentrating on any one thing. *cue frustrated scream*

So when someone mentioned this title, I realized that I had not re-read it in a good long while, despite the fact that I like it quite a bit. In fact, I really like many of Ms Kleypas’ historical romances, but I’ve only reviewed two of her books. Which just makes no sense, so here we are.

Reader beware: there is sex on the page.

Where Dreams Begin, by Lisa Kleypas

This is that rare beast, a fully stand alone novel. It also has a widowed heroine who not only loved her husband, but was sexually satisfied by him–this is even rarer in romance. She’s also a lady, a member of the ton, long on manners and pedigree, short on cash. The hero is one of those trade magnates, a nouveau riche who wants to purchase respectability, and acceptance in society, through his fortune. Hijinks, inevitably, ensue.

Here’s the (inaccurate as always) blurb from my paperback copy:

Zachary Bronson has bult an empire of wealth and power, but all London knows he is not a gentleman. He needs a wife to secure his position in society–and to warm his bed in private. But one alluring, unexpected kiss from Lady Holly Taylor awakens a powerful need within him beyond respectability.

An exceptional beauty whose fierce passions match Zachary’s own, Holly always intended to play by society’s rules, even when they clashed with her bolder instincts. But now a dashing stranger has made her a scandalous offer that does not include matrimony. Should she ignore the sensuous promise of a forbidden kiss…or risk everything to follow her heart to a place where dreams begin?

Basically, Holly has lived her entire live cossetted, first by her parents, then by her husband, and, after his death, by his family. Which would be swell if she were a doll that they can sit on a pedestal to admire, and think of how well her existence honors their memory of dear George. And to be fair, for the first year or two after losing him, Holly had felt like a lifeless doll whose only joy is in the daughter they created together, so that existence wasn’t too terribly taxing.

Eventually, however, she starts chaffing at all these expectations. She must be above reproach at all times; she must be fragile and utterly dependent on George’s loving family. Above all, she must never question her brothers-in-law’s judgement. When, after a fortuitous first meeting with Zachary Bronson leads to an offer she cannot refuse, she soon learns exactly how conditional their regard and support was.

As for Zachary, he needs to marry into society, both to advance his business aims, and to secure a decent match for his younger sister. He knows that he cannot offer marriage to one such as Lady Holland Taylor, and hope to be accepted.

However, he can offer her financial independence beyond her dreams, and a promising future for her (and George’s) daughter in the form of a large dowry set in trust. In exchange, Lady Holly will spend one year in his household, and instruct him and his family in all the things people of first society grow up knowing, from household management to deportment, from reading between the lines in social situations to how to make a good impression, even among those predisposed to look down their noses at them over their origins and fortune.

Now, in a romance, I really need to like the characters for the book to work for me. If I don’t care for them, then the book failed for me. This book succeeds beautifully on this score.

Holly’s decision to accept Mr Bronson’s proposal may seem too rash–bordering in TSTL. After all, she didn’t have to worry about survival, and she wasn’t treated like the poor relation at her in-laws. However, it was a stifling environment, and Rose’s prospects for the future were…well, not good.

Holly knows perfectly well that she risks damaging her reputation beyond repair, both by accepting employment from the infamous Mr Bronson, and by living in his house for a full year; after all, the presence of his mother and sister has been no obstacle for his outrageous behaviour up to now, why should hers be? However, she reasons, even if society shuns her for a decade or more, by the time Rose is ready to come out, it will be an old scandal, and securing her child’s future is worth any price.

What she doesn’t count on is having to explain to Zachary the most basic rules of gentlemanly behaviour, such as the fact that he cannot bring loose women to the house while she and her daughter are in residence. He can “bed his harlots” elsewhere, but not in the house. At first, he is amused by her reasoning as to why sexual abstinence would be good for his health and such, but his indignation, when he realizes that she means business, is just too funny.

And that’s just the beginning; at one point, they have this exchange:

“A gentleman does not boast of his sexual conquests,” Holly had said, flushing at the information.
“I wasn’t boasting, I was stating a fact.”
“Some facts are better kept to yourself.”

“You, sir, are a moral abyss.”
Rather than look shamed, he actually grinned at the remark. “And you, my lady, are a prude.”
“Thank you,” she said crisply.
“That wasn’t meant as a compliment.”
“Any criticism of yours, Mr Bronson, I will definitely receive as a compliment.”
page 120, mmpb

I like that Holly struggles with her own prejudice. The more she works with Elizabeth and her mother, and with Zachary himself, the more she discovers about herself. Up to this point, she has never questioned why things as trivial as how you hold your arms as you walk signal gentility, whereas a person’s actual character receives less consideration.

I like that Holly struggles with guilt over her enjoying her new life; as a well-born widow, she should have been content to drift through the rest of her life. And since she sincerely loved George, she feels guilty that she just wasn’t content to drift; she feels guilty that she is starting to feel desire again, that she is attracted to another man. Which would be bad enough by itself, but the fact that it is a low born social climber who is paying her to help him act like the gentleman George was…well, not easy on Holly’s conscience.

In short: I like that Holly is flawed. Yes, she’s intrinsically a good person, and it would have been easy for her to fall into insufferable Pollyanna territory, but there’s enough spark and joie de vivre in her to make her nice instead of saintly.

I like that Zachary is a good man, but his rough edges are not just a plot device; he is very attracted to Holly, though she’s not particularly beautiful, and he doesn’t really know why. He wants her in his life–hence tempting her with an obscene amount of money–but he’s not willing to become a mannequin for her. He has regrets and vulnerabilities that he doesn’t want anyone to see, and he has an incredible drive to make something of himself, something that society will not be able to ignore.

Now, there’s something that pisses some genre romance readers off: for a good chunk of the story, Zachary visits ‘the most famous/exclusive’ brothel in London, nightly. Yes, he’s falling for Holly pretty much from first interaction on, but he has decided that if he tries to seduce her, he’ll lose her company. Hence, sating those all-important ‘male needs’ elsewhere. Whether that works for any individual reader, I think, depends on how convincing s/he finds his reasoning. Me, I wondered more at his stamina–we are told that he works all day, parties all night, and barely sleeps; and that he’s been doing this for years. How on earth does he remain healthy?

I like that the conflict of the class difference between them is not magically solved; if Lady Holly married down when she wed Mr George Taylor, she would be stepping ten times lower to marry Zachary–this is not an easy decision for any of them, because it also affects the people they love. His sister and mother, Rose, even Holly’s sisters and parents.

The secondary characters are just individual and rounded enough to provide a sense of reality, without taking over the story, and while there’s just a touch of melodrama later in the story, it’s a lovely romance all in all.

Where Dreams Begin gets a 7.25 out of 10

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8 Responses to “Where Dreams Begin, by Lisa Kleypas”

  1. Miss Bates 12/07/2016 at 8:58 AM #

    Is this also the one where she’s terribly terribly ill about 2/3s of the way through? And he nurses her? Kleypas loves to have one of her two protagonists lie helplessly ill quite often! If so, it’s a much under-rated Kleypas, deserves more love! Lovely review: thank you for bringing it back to mind!

    • azteclady 12/07/2016 at 9:01 AM #

      She is quite terribly ill, but it’s a lot closer to the end–I’d say, it happens at about the 80% mark (that’s the bit of melodrama I referred to).

      And thank you! I’m struggling a lot these days to write them, almost as much as I’m struggling to read.

      • Miss Bates 12/07/2016 at 9:06 AM #

        Reading and writing our blog is such an up-and-down affair, isn’t it? A restorative niche you don’t want to lose, but sometimes it becomes too much. It so much reflects, if not in content, maybe in “production” everything else that goes on in our lives. The best thing is to ride it like a wave, do what you can when you can, not too much pressure, but enough stamina to keep you on it. 🙂

      • azteclady 12/07/2016 at 9:47 AM #

        Yes!

        One the one hand, I wish I could only write about reading. On the other hand, there is so much going on around the world that I have (so very) strong opinions on, and that (the outside world) takes its toll.

  2. bamaclm 13/07/2016 at 2:48 PM #

    I’d forgotten this book, so thank you for reminding me and for this great review. Time for a reread, methinks, despite the huge TBR mountain beckoning me.

    • azteclady 13/07/2016 at 3:41 PM #

      Yeah, the curse of the guilt-inducing TBR mountain warring the impulse to re-read all the great favorites on the keeper shelves.

      (And thank you)

  3. Bona Caballero 13/07/2016 at 4:07 PM #

    I know I have read this book, I’m sure. But I remember nothing of it. While I was reading your review nothing sounded familiar. Only the hero’s name. I wish I had my blog when I read all those Kleypas books. Nowadays so many other books interest me so I cannot re-read these oldies ones.
    You are right that when there are lots of things going on the real world, it’s hard to read. I hope everything improve for you in the future.

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