Before starting this review, I have to admit that I could not finish this book, not because it was a bad book, but because it was a good book that kept going when it should have ended. I really enjoyed Kleypas's voice, the characters, and the fact that it was set during the Victorian Era instead of the Regency Period, which seems to have flooded the historical romance shelves for the last decade or so. However, I can't help feeling as if this book should have ended much earlier than it did. Most books consist of a beginning, middle, and end, but this book should have ended a good 100 pages before it did. Not only are the characters happy, but they're already engaged and all the conflict is over. Had the book ended earlier, I probably would have given it a much higher grade because up until that point it was a really good book.
Love in the Afternoon is the story of Beatrix Hathaway, a member of an eccentric family that had a membership in the Victorian Aristocracy thrust upon them very suddenly, and Captain Christopher Phelan, a soldier sent to fight in the Crimean War. At the start of the book, Christopher is still out fighting, the only thing keeping him sane is the letters he receives from the beautiful, Prudence Mercer. The only problem is that Prudence hasn't written him a single letter; the real scribe was Beatrix, having taken on the task when Prudence showed her a letter he wrote about a dog. Prudence doesn't understand why Christopher is so preoccupied with being a soldier and fighting for Queen and Country, and she no longer wants to have anything to do with him. However, she doesn't want to give him up, either, because he is proving to be the ultimate accessory, so she asks Beatrix to write to him and sign the letter in her name. Beatrix, being the kind soul she is, agrees. It is only supposed to be the one letter, but after Christopher replies, she can't help writing to him more and more until it gets to the point that they are in love with each other.
When Christopher gets back to England, all he wants to do is find Prudence. Not realizing that the woman he knew before the war couldn't possibly be the person he was corresponding with despite the fact that Prudence has the emotional depth of a sponge (one that isn't of the squarepants variety because he has stunning depth for an invertebrate), she is the only thing he can think of. However, it doesn't take him too long to figure out that she was not the person he thought she was and it takes him an even shorter amount of time to figure out that it was Beatrix that he really wanted.
This is about the point where I felt the book should have ended. Their "Happy Ending" was pretty much guaranteed the moment he found her in the barn and it wasn't necessary to go any further. They loved each other and they were getting married. The rest of the book was about how the Hathaways are unconventional and that was something that Christopher really liked. Cool.
Despite this, there were a lot of things I really did like. I loved Kleypas's prose. She has a way of drawing the reader in and making it hard for them to want to stop. Up until the point I closed the book for good, I was laughing at things the characters did or said.
I also really liked the way she handled Christopher's PTSD. This isn't something we see a lot of in historical romances and when we do, it tends to be cured by the magic of love. Love can do a lot of things, but curing PTSD is not one of them. I am really glad that Kleypas didn't go that route.
What I would have liked to see instead of The Hathaway Saga was Prudence going all Fatal Attraction on Beatrix and Christopher. It is alluded to that Pru's grip on reality was slipping a bit after Christopher dumped her for Beatrix, and it would have been fun to see her going after Beatrix and her menagerie. Maybe she does. I don't know and I'm not going to find out.
P.S. Kuddos on the soap opera shout out--Soaps, the original "Love in the Afternoon."