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Why, hello there. This is your spoiler alert for Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas.
Welcome back to the mad ramblings of a woman trapped in the strange world of Lisa Kleypas novels. I’m not sure how I got here. I usually binge authors like Terri Blackstock, Colleen Coble, and Francine Rivers. But then the stupid library deleted ALMOST EVERY Francine Rivers audiobook right in the middle of my binge. I’m still recovering. Like, seriously, I thought there was something wrong, and I was devastated. I have pretty much read every interesting Christian fiction audiobook, which leaves me wandering in the jungle of secular fiction.
There’s a lot to learn here, especially since my current project walks the line between the two. And weirdly enough, a teeny, tiny fraction of Kleypas’ writing makes me feel close to God. I’ll maybe do another nature revelation post later, based on yesterday’s trip to soak my feet in the Bow River while listening to Chasing Cassandra. Obviously, I’m not talking about the misogyny and debauchery. But there’s just something about the artistry of these books. The love between the characters, how close the family members are to each other. Kind of like Karen Kingsbury families, where no matter who clashed with whom in the beginning, everyone ends up mellow and getting along in one big extended clan. Both the Kleypas and Kingsbury literary universes have “troubled” heroes and heroines who eventually just languish in their happily-ever-afters after they get married, and their cameos in other books often don’t make full use of their personalities and interpersonal conflicts. But, especially after reading Someone Like You by Karen Kingsbury, I can say that Kingsbury’s 2020 novel makes significantly less use of the ensemble of past characters than Kleypas’. Both released in the same year, I think that Someone Like You is probably Kingsbury’s worst, most annoying, and least satisfying book, while Chasing Cassandra actually had a lot going for it. Even if it did flop.
And I’m just so sad, because I had such HIGH hopes for Chasing Cassandra. My heart breaks.
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I was enthralled by this book. I was absolutely in love with Tom’s character. The way he’s written is funny, engaging, and empathetic. He’s just so different, and it was interesting seeing how he navigated the world in his unique way. But I think Kleypas might have used up a lot of her characterization tokens on him, because Cassandra’s character was sooooo boring. When it was her point of view, I was just kind of waiting for it to go back to Tom. Now that I’m reading Cold-Hearted Rake, the first Ravenels book, I definitely like 19-year-old Cassandra better than 22-year-old Cassandra. In her namesake book, her personality just seems to be trying to mold herself to everyone else’s expectations. I think she’s come untethered now that Pandora is gone, and she’s desperately trying to find someone else to imprint on, so she lurks around and tries to find a new host. Whether it’s Lady Barak, or however it’s spelled, or Lord Rippin, and now, Tom. She’s always ready to help, whether it’s fixing the plumbing, pinning a cuff, or delousing an orphan. She’s definitely adaptable, even when plans and events are interrupted. But she just kind of floats around and doesn’t do anything unless something else happens.
Tom, on the other hand, makes things happen. While Cassandra is crying about the scandal that her scorned ex-beau drags her into, Tom is ripping out hearts and taking names in the world of mergers and acquisitions, buying a newspaper company for the sole purpose of avenging Cassandra’s honour. And I’m not saying it’s bad to be distraught when someone you trusted betrays you and publicly humiliates you. But I loved how this over-the-top action on the part of Tom contrasts with his motivations at the beginning of the book, which were to “acquire” Cassandra as his wife. Now, he just wants to take care of her, whether she wants to be with him or not. But the only problem is that this is the only real climax in the book, if you could call it that. This novel was like a slightly sloped line that just kept going up.
The problem is, again, the male love interests seem to have at least two different personalities: Their regular personality, and then their sexual personas. And this persona is pretty uniform across the books I’ve seen so far. Infantilizing, paternalistic, extremely experienced, and instructional. Because the women so far are all virgins, or severely sexually inexperienced. To the point where Cassandra doesn’t even realize what Rippin intends when he pulls her into the closet. The males are always promiscuous and “roguish,” claiming that they never want to be married. Always. Until they meet their special girl, then they forget all about their original motivations and dreams. Marriage. happily ever after. Probably kids. The end. I’ll let you know if this pattern is broken. But so far it looks like my forth book, Cold-Hearted Rake, is following this pattern almost to a T. Except that Kathleen isn’t quite a virgin, but Devon still has years more experience relative to her cold, loveless, and abusive three days of marriage.
There was so much buildup in Chasing Cassandra. So much setup. A few mini-climaxes. But then the story just kind of…stopped. And then we go to the epilogue. Which was pretty awesome, but that was the only payoff. And it was admittedly a small one, compared to what the story seemed to be working toward. I got to the end and I was like, “That’s it?” I got a sneaky suspicion near the end that the whole book was winding down, because there were the classic summing-up/parting-with-the-reader scenes, and was shocked when I saw that there were only 10 minutes left.
So. The main big conflicts are Cassandra’s newspaper scandal, and then near the end, the orphan Basil gets kidnapped for two minutes, and then Tom gets beaten to hell. He spends a bit of time in the hospital, and then that’s it. It wasn’t even detailed hospital and recovery scenes like when Pandora was stabbed in Devil in Spring. The whole thing just happened, and then there was nothing. Sure, this is when Tom says that Basil is “his boy” and that no one will take him from Tom, and that’s supposed to be growth because Tom struggled with accepting responsibility for Basil, and then resisted letting him be part of the family. And now he’s officially claiming the boy as his own, when he was concerned with letting anyone in his heart. Oh, and now he doesn’t mind that Cassandra’s new dog is on the bed, when having a dog at all was a HUGE point of contention between the couple earlier. Then, he says that he loves Cassandra, when his whole thing was not believing in love, and considering it to be useless. So a few little things that might have been great if there had been something else before it. It feels like the ending was rushed, and there was something missing.
For example, maybe Basil actually gets properly kidnapped and taken away. Actually, Tom gets kidnapped too, and he has to fully go back to the street roots of his youth, and combine it with his adult education, to try and get the two of them out. To tie this into the rest of the story, Rippin has arranged this kidnapping as a new way to get Cassandra’s attention, because he’s still burningly lusting after her. Or maybe it was his creepy father. Ugh. Gross old white men. Can’t get enough of them. In any case, this may be more convoluted and actiony than Kleypas’ usual style, but bear with me. So, these two aristocratic assholes have made quite the plot to get Uncle Batty to kidnap Basil and draw out Tom. Father Rippin (I don’t remember his name, and it’s too hard to try and go back in an audiobook to try and find an instance of his name) tells Son Rippin that he needs to kill Tom so that he can have Cassandra, as well as take revenge on Tom for buying the newspaper and ousting Big Rippin’s anonymous slut-shaming editorial. We’ve established that Little Rippin is stupid and entitled enough to fall for this, and it would explain where he’s been the whole time. Big Rippin’s plan is to get Cassandra to the holding location, then make it seem like he’s trying to rescue Basil and stop Little Rippin from murdering Tom, so that he can try and be the hero once again, and apologize for the horrible article he wrote about her. He thinks she’ll marry him if she’s distraught and desperate again, much like his first plan. While Basil and Tom are being held prisoner, though, they try to work out a plan to get out of there, including trying to trick either Uncle Batty or Little Rippin into letting one of them out. I’m not sure what all else will happen, but it would be nice if Cassandra is ultimately the one who cleverly solves the problem, maybe by tricking the Rippins into their own trap, because she basically does nothing active, other than trying to force Tom to dance with her forever. Then the rest of it with the puppy and the love you and whatever else would feel a lot more earned, and more like a satisfying denouement, and the Jules Verne thing would be…tied in somehow. Honestly, that whole thing was cool, but a little weird, because the fact that Tom is so rich he can literally afford anything is a little overdone. I think there would need to be a much better reason for them meeting Jules Verne other than “just because Tom can afford it and they both like his books.” Or just have a different epilogue.
Either way, something needs to happen.
I also was so disappointed by the turn the book took once Cassandra and Tom became sexually active. Since this is the third Female Virgin Deflowering book in a row, that whole student-teacher thing is also getting really old. Why not have two virgins learning together? Or a male virgin? Or both characters being experienced? There are many different sexual statuses that exist. Even in Cold-Hearted Rake, Kathleen was only married for three days to her abusive husband before meeting Devon, so I can only imagine that their sexual arc will still involve Devon teaching her about sex as a caring, attentive lover. And I’m placing my bet right now that there will be an everything-but-penetration sex scene before they are married which the characters will agree wasn’t really sex and doesn’t count. Sigh. We’ll see I guess. I’m still interested in the story, except for the fact that Devon is decidedly not cold-hearted. He’s frustrated, petty and overwhelmed for the first fifth of the book, but he very quickly becomes caring and kind, doing a 180 on his original position, approaching the Devon I first met in Devil in Spring. I really can’t wait to read Devil in Winter, because honestly, Sebastian is the only one so far who could really be called a Devil or Cold-Hearted Rake, based on what I know about him from Devil in Spring.
As a matter of fact, I think Chasing Cassandra should have been called Cold-Hearted Rake, because that’s what Tom has decided to make himself, and the whole flat arc of the book is his heart melting as he becomes more of a family man. And there’s honestly not any Chasing of Cassandra at all. Cassandra is the one who does the chasing, and Tom is actually running from her for a lot of it. He doesn’t even make a move until after he’s broken things off with his temporary love interest, and she’s broken things off with Rippin, so there isn’t even that brief conflict of one loving the other who’s involved with another. They are both just unattached and he’s ready to decide that it’s worth the risk to love her. And I’m not really sure that I remember why he decides this. He doesn’t see some wizened old businessman who was just like Tom and regrets that he let the love of his life go. I guess Tom reads Persuasion, but it’s pointed out that he doesn’t even understand the point of it. So we don’t really get a turning point of why he decides to let Cassandra in, other than he’s angry about what Rippin did, and in seeing Cassandra after coming to her rescue, he’s overcome by the sight of her and decides he has to be with her. Unless I’m missing something.
And then there’s the contract scene. Of course, I love love contracts, or just the general idea of an open, honest, negotiation of possible future conflicts in a relationship, and coming to an agreement of how to deal with them. Most importantly, showing commitment to the decisions made, or to be honest about the need for changes. And being committed to growing in the relationship either way. I loved this between Olivia and Max in Party of Two. As far as love contract scenes go, I did like that in talking about their contract for an entire day (the time was actually marked at each turn) the two discover new things about each other. Party of Two’s contract basically took maybe thirty minutes to negotiate, but the characters had already known each other and been together for quite a while. Max made the contract in advance alone, and Olivia made her initial amendments alone as well. With Cassandra and Tom, it was a lot more businesslike than romantic, partly because of Tom’s character. It was just more aggressive in general. But good for them for talking things out. Even though I think Cassandra basically made three amendments, and Tom dictated most of it. This was a scene that just highlighted the difference in their intelligence and worldly experience. Tom is kind of just taking candy from a baby, and we all know that Cassandra will really have to fight to get any concessions if she disagreed about more than three things. She’s just completely outmatched. I really wish Tom and Dr. Garett were the love interests here. I think it would have been really interesting to see how they would have negotiated. They could have initially fallen in love over Tom’s care for Basil. Tom would be impressed by the fact that he’s met his match intellectually, but is intrigued that Dr. Garett is so obviously intelligent yet still able to fully manage her emotions and relationships. Missed opportunity.
And I have the feeling that Kleypas is trying really, really hard to redeem her obsession with dubious consent. It’s actually kind of bad. It seems like Rippin’s character is mostly there to beat us on the head with what actual rape or attempted rape is, with very contrived lines about how Rippin believes he “deserves” Cassandra and how she deserved what she got because of the clothes that she wore. And then Big Rippin’s slut-shaming thing. Then both of the Rippins disappear after only existing for a chapter or two. Then, there’s the whole thing where Tom keeps saying that Cassandra’s body is her own, that she doesn’t owe him anything, and a whole bunch of heavy-handed feminist phrases. But then he still asks for sex after agreeing to adopt Basil. And there are still some scenes where Cassandra says she doesn’t want to try something, or she’s uncomfortable, and we’re right back to the patronizing, “I know you’ll like it if you try it,” and then going on until she gives in. Or, refusing to sleep with Cassandra because he claims she’s too sore from their previous encounter, even when she clearly wanted sex. Instead of saying that he didn’t want sex right then, or just asking how Cassandra feels. The consent/agency issues were very, very understated here, but in reading her previous books, it just felt like she was attempting some token gestures while still slipping in her predilection in smaller, ostensibly less noticeable doses.
Buy why, Kleypas? Just why?
The whole thing is just Cassandra scurrying and drifting around, either hunting for a new host now that her twin is married, or being defended from something, like on the docks when they start their honeymoon, and Tom gets angry at her escort for not defending her from the lurid attentions of other men. And Cassandra just kind of stands there and takes it, instead of taking matters into her own hands, and going back to Tom, or telling the catcallers to step off, like Pandora or Dr. Garett or maybe even Cold-Hearted Rake era Kathleen would have. Cassandra is just. So. Passive.
I really need to wrap this up, but there’s just so much to unpack here. I think I’ll end by mentioning how shocked I was by the casual treatment of child prostitution in this book. I had to make sure I was hearing it right. Again, for a book published in 2020, this was shocking. In the story, when Tom is trying to convince Basil to come live with him as Cassandra insisted that he should, Basil is worried that Tom might try to have sex with him, or prostitute him out to others. Tom just kind of laughs about it. Like, “Oh, kids and their silly ideas.” And he doesn’t even ask Basil why he thinks that, or if anything has ever happened to him in the past with any of his caregivers.
Why even bring it up if you’re not even going to talk about it for more than a few lines? Why pass it off as some sort of joke? Either leave it alone, or give it proper treatment. Proper horror and outrage. At least matching Basil’s level of horror. Especially since Tom constantly goes on about how he used to live the thug kid life and knows all about the streets and slums. Maybe he brushes it off because he’s repressing a memory of something he experienced or saw. But to treat Basil like he’s ridiculous for assuming a rich, powerful man might want a child sex slave? Why does that child even have that thought in his head?! This could have been another plot thread that’s picked up again during the kidnapping scene. Maybe a much simpler climax to the book. Basil gets kidnapped, and Cassandra and Tom must track him to the sex house to which Uncle Batty has sold Basil now that the boy has been well-fed, well-groomed, and taken care of, because he gets a good price. Maybe they get secret agent Ransom involved. Tom might have an idea of where to look because of his street childhood (which again, doesn’t really come into play in any plot-altering ways). They find a whole bunch of trafficked children, maybe about to be shipped off to some far off country, and pull out all the stops to save the kids. And Cassandra decides to use her “start whatever charity she wants” card promised in their love contract to start a rehabilitation and rehoming centre for trafficked children. Tom sees how much the children have been hurt, abandoned, and betrayed, and how they slowly start to let love and affection back into their lives. They help the children regain their childhood by reading them Jules Verne (I’m not sure if Around the World in 80 Days is a children’s book or not) and in the epilogue, all the children get to go on Verne’s yacht and talk to him. Oh, and the Rippins are also human traffickers, so Cassandra and Tom are able to put them away for good. Tom gets injured at the end for the rescue effort, and you still can have the dog thing and the I love you thing, and the whole thing about Basil being Tom’s boy. Maybe Basil is worried that Tom is going to love all the other kids more than him, but that’s when Tom says that line. Simple. Works with what has already been established. Exciting. Satisfying.
Lisa Kleypas, if you’re reading this, I’d love it if you hired me as your editor. I’ve been doing this since I was eleven, for kids and adults alike. I can help.
In conclusion, I was disappointed by how amazing this book could have been. It started off so strong, but it was a massive buildup with an itty-bitty release, so inconsequential I wasn’t even sure if it had come. The romantic relationship made the story worse, and I think the love interests were mismatched and incompatible. Some big final conflict was missing. There’s still a lot of borderline sexual offenses, and the attempted contrast between more clear-cut rape and the foggy consent/agency that these books are shrouded in was a little insulting. And the title made no sense. There were some good bones here, but let’s work on the execution and payoff. I would’t mind if you read this book, because there’s so much good in it, as long as you’re not expecting it to really lead to anything.
Continuing on with Cold-Hearted Rake, because I’m invested for now. Maybe I’ll even let you know how it goes!
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~ Romans 15:13