Friday, September 9, 2011

REVIEW: A Hopeless Romantic by Harriet Evans

Laura Foster is a hopeless romantic. Her friends know it, her parents know it - even Laura acknowledges she lives either with her head in the clouds or buried in a romance novel. It's proved harmless enough, even if it hasn't delivered her a real-life dashing hero yet. But when her latest relationship ends in a disaster that costs her friendships, her job, and nearly her sanity, Laura swears off men and hopeless romantic fantasies for good.

With her life in tatters around her, Laura agrees to go on vacation with her parents. After a few days of visiting craft shops and touring the stately homes of England, Laura is ready to tear her hair out. And then, while visiting grand Chartley Hall, she crosses paths with Nick, the sexy, rugged estate manager. She finds she shares more than a sense of humor with him - in fact, she starts to think she could fall for him. But is Nick all he seems? Or has Laura got it wrong again? Will she open her heart only to have it broken again?

As a hopeless romantic myself, I could not help but be mesmerized by Ms. Harriet Evans' book covers. In fact, another friend bought her book also because of the pretty. We just had to have it. I eventually managed to tear my eyes from the covers, and with titles and little summaries like these, who can resist what hopes to be a good read, yeah? This is a long post, and spoilers of course, so beware.

[I wanted to like Laura Foster, I really did. However, in Part One, it seemed like all I wanted to do was bludgeon her into actually seeing how foolish, selfish and irrational she's being. Every time I see Dan's name on the page, I had the urge to shove someone out the window or something. I don't care how in love you think you are, it doesn't excuse you for your intentions and actions. It's not just your life you're ruining, you know (yes, no matter how contemptible that "tiny detail" Amy is -- this is why I had a difficult time charging through with the story, the affair part of it). Laura's fall from grace was warranted, as she had let her life spiral out of control for months before actually putting a stop to the madness. How to redeem this character? Fortunately for her, she has good people around her, with her friends cutting her some slack, not judging but quietly supporting (Jo/Hillary/Yorky/Chris).

When she met Nick, I had that feeling of relief, that I can actually breathe now, that here's a good guy for Laura, you know? Of course he has his secrets, of course he's got his own baggage, and I know it's enough for someone to be wary, let alone Laura who claims that she's already learned her lesson, so I understand the hesitation. It made the whole falling in love process even sweeter. I really liked Part Two of the book. (Yup, started to like Laura as soon as she didn't let herself be used anymore.) The one where I saw Laura's honesty shine (it was refreshing and it was funny, and she had me laughing out loud quite a few times too), her vulnerability and her good heart. I liked her concern for Charles, all her questions and comments about the supposed marquis, all the while directed to Nick (does anyone need to wonder what's going on internally with Nick?). No wonder Nick relished his time with her, all those moments that he was just another person, instead of a person of title. As for Nick's hiding away his true identity aside, I truly felt that he was sincere in his feelings for Laura, and that one cannot help but fall in love with him despite of it. Lucky that they found that kind of connection with each other, the one where you feel that you've known the other person since forever when it has really been days, lucky to be able to share a glass of wine and good conversation without being the least bit concerned with judgement or hidden agendas.

When things become more real (meeting the family and becoming aware of all that entails) -- they part ways. Well, Laura takes the cowardly way out. No, it's not over Cecilia, Nick's purported girlfriend (although yes, that plays a part, and no, they don't drag this out (for which I'm glad) into a Big Misunderstanding because truly she means nothing to Nick). Thinking to herself that it wouldn't really work out, that they're too different from each other . . . . she gets it in her head that she doesn't belong with him. For someone who says they're turning over a new leaf, Laura's thoughts expose the truth: Best it ends like this,a lovely memory, a beautiful summer interlude, like something out of a book. Leave it there, recognize it for what it is. Still mightily influenced by her books and romantic side, waiting for the romantic hero set-up and all. Oh, Laura. Because she's trying to change, because she wants to be a different person, she says no to The One and walks away, precisely because she's already fallen in love with him.

So, what is a girl who fled from the love of her life to do? When Laura goes back to her reality, she works hard to set things right and her efforts are not wasted. She gets back her job she earns it back. She tries to remedy the damage done in her personal relationships, with her awesome friends and her family.

Speaking of family, Mary, her grandmother, is awesome and supportive and chock-full of wisdom for Laura (Don't run away from it, just because it's difficult. Don't."). We meet her brother Simon, and witness his changing relationship with Laura as they go through somewhat parallel tales of love. She closes the chapter of her life that includes scum Dan. Her fresh start is not without its failings, as Laura, who is still grappling to find that delicate balance of being in love without being hopelessly so (she goes to extreme, denouncing love, calling it a fairy tale, and saying things likefairy tales aren't real), and though she tries to be strong, goes through a few more stumbles and falls, all of which left me with that dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach. Oh, yes, Part Three has me rooting for Laura and her growth as a person, as well as for her and Nick to get their HEA. :D

By the time I reached Part Four, I just really, really wanted the both of them to get over the fears/insecurities/doubts/any other naggling feeling each had about committing to a relationship. Quite clear that they just ... fit. With their comfortable interactions, him with his protective gestures and allowing herself to be open to her, to confide in her, and her with the concern about his well-being and both with theirlove. Le sigh. Eventually Laura has an understanding of the thing that she was striving for all this time, "she'd finally recognized that she needed a balance, the balance between being hopelessly head-in-the-clouds about everything, and being Mrs. Danvers for the rest of her life, dour and dressed in black and frowning on anything enjoyable." She takes a chance again, and decides to take Nick up on his invitation. Hey, did we talk about the awesome friends/family yet? Because Charles certainly is one, and yup, the debacle notwithstanding, he was filled with good intentions. I loved that he had the guts to do what he did, and for reminding Laura why she's "special." It was good for Laura to see Nick through other people's eyes (come on, girl, this is what you're going to give up??:P) but it was also the most hilarious thing when she thought that she "couldn't bear another long exposition from yet another person about why Nick was just the greatest person in the world ever, since landlords, lords and even land were invented." Niiiiice.

Chapter 48 is made of love. From the metaphorical long/dark/gloomy room and the portraits of past Needhams looking down on them, watching, to the small/intimate/romantic gestures and whatnot. Ugh. These are the moments I have been waiting for, and for sure I will enjoy it! Damn, I miss the banter. I miss the quiet moments. Like this one:

He looked so dreadfully alone in his black jacket, the hollows of his cheekbones dark in the moonlit room, his eyes unreadable. She stared at him, drinking in the sight of him, her heart clenching as she thought how vulnerable he was, despite everything he had.
She went over to him. "Not my business," she said, and shivered. "I'm sorry."
He looked down at her. "What for, Laura?" he said, smiling. "What on earth for?" and he took her left hand in his right hand and put it in his jacket pocket, then did the same with her right hand, his fingers losing around hers, so that she was facing him. He said quietly, "So. I thought we weren't speaking to each other."
"You were quite horrible to me last time I saw you, in London," said Laura.
"Laura, shame on you." His hands, in their pockets, tightened around hers. "You were the last person I was expecting to see there. That was a good day, that day, and you came along and ruined it."
"Charming!" said Laura.
"I mean," he said, his mouth close to her ear, "that was the first day I hadn't thought about you. Constantly. And then there you were. Having a really bad day. And I was trying to make it better, but I didn't know what to do -- what to say..." He trailed off.

I love that they're openly talking about It now, although yes, they still do get interrupted (out of their control). Nick's declaration about who Cecilia really is to him, and his confession to Laura and imploring her to open her eyes and *see* who she truly is to him ... le sigh. Happy Book Noise, serious giggle/sigh combination.

"Nick," said Laura, putting her hands up, "really -- it's none of my business."
"Isn't it? he said, his voice reverberating in her ear, his lips close to her hair. "It's nothing to do with you, is it?"
"No," said Laura, shaking her head and looking up at him, bemused. "Nick -- you're the Marquis of Ranelagh. I'm nothing. Well, not nothings, but...You can do what you want, I don't--"
"You still don't see it, do you?" said Nick. "Seriously, you still can't see it?"
"What?" said Laura.
He ran his hands through his hair and, not looking at her, said, "What if being with you was the first proper conversation I'd had with someone for years? That I felt like the person I really was, for once?" he backed away, gripped his tie, loosening it. "God, Laura. Don't say that, not you, especially not you."
"What do you mean?"
"You can't see it, even now?" he said tiredly. "I'm not the Marquis of Ranelagh, that's not me. That's the thing I inherited, just like you inherited your total stupidity from some family member of yours, I don't know who."
Laura gasped in outraged, and he smiled wickedly at her in the darkness. She shivered.
"Silly girl. I'm sorry. You're cold." He looked at her appraisingly, then took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders.
"Thank you," she said.
"My pleasure," he replied, mock-formally. He took a quick breath, and said, "We seem to have been going around in circles, haven't we? But let me just say this." His voice was softer. "I'm not the marquis. I am sometimes, of course. But I'm still the person you met this summer, before it all got confusing, bogged down with all that other crap."
"People bowing, asking the same questions all the time. It's my responsibility. I have to deal with it, and I don't mind, in fact I'm proud of it; but you -- you made me feel like a real person for once. And I -- I wanted to do the same for you. I wanted you to feel better about yourself, to realize how completely, totally wonderful you are, Laura."
He took her hand and kissed her palm gently, his forehead touching hers.

This man ... oh man, straight from the heart; straight to my heart. And speaking of hearts, and the interruption, we knew it was inevitable, but it wasn't any less sad, when Laura's grandmother passed away. Her letter to Laura clarified a bunch of the mysterious comments she had told Laura previously, the one that affected her mother and aunt both. Also, the letter neatly tied-in Nick's mother's story. At the end of her grandmother's admission is the simple reminder of Laura's capacity to love. (sniff) It doesn't end in heartbreak though, as even after death, Mary was able to forge (influence?) a reunion between Nick and his mother (hooray for Nick!). There's also Laura's epiphany that she is truly happier now than she was ever before (and it really had nothing to do with Nick, but with her finally being comfortable with who she is). (Sometimes fantasy was better than reality. In moderation, as she'd assured Yorky. Obviously.)

The Declaration of Love. I was laughing and crying and swooning. Seriously, so worth it. Hahaha. Nick's impatience at Laura's bewilderment at his presence. Hee. The cheek and the boldness and confidence and the loooove. And it doesn't matter if she says no, because hot damn, he will spend the rest of his life trying to convince her otherwise. Because they should be together. THEY matter. That's all. ;)

"I'm here to tell you I love you," he said matter-of-factly.
"What?" said Laura.
"Yep," Nick said. He nodded. "I wish I didn't, most of the time. But I do."
"Yes," said Nick calmly. "It's a really pain." He pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her. "You are a thorn in my side, Laura." He bent his head and kissed her. After a few seconds he lifted his head, still holding her tightly. "An annoying, gorgeous thorn in my side. And I can't seem to get rid of you, of feeling like this. So that's why I'm here. I'm in love with you, and I know whatever you say, I always will be."
He kissed her again.
"I thought you should know," he said, his voice a little hoarse.

So. Even though it was rocky at first, I'm glad I didn't just put away the book because of that one situation the heroine got entangled in. It was a good journey for her; the transformation that was at times painful was believable. I truly fell for the hero, and his struggle was well-represented too. Their romance was at times sweet, at times achingly difficult, but it was real, and hot damn, they deserved the HEA. The supporting cast of characters of awesome as well, as even their plight was genuine and heartfelt and you cannot help but root for their HEA's too. :)

(The moments. Mmmm. The first kiss. The date. The picnic. The scarf. The hand holding (plural). The jacket. The Declaration of Love. Hmmmmm.)

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