St Martin’s Press, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-312-94982-2
Historical Romance, 2009
Okay, so it is Tempt Me at Twilight instead of Boink Me by Breakfast. No matter, not everyone in this world can come up with great titles from romance novels like I can, after all. This latest installment in Lisa Kleypas’s series about the Hathaway clan is, like the previous books in this series, so twee and sentimental that I’m surprised the book doesn’t start glowing with heart beams and sunshine drops by page 50.
Poppy Hathaway, the motormouth heroine, becomes hotel owner Harry Rutledge’s wife after he engineers some coercive maneuvers that brand him as “dark hero worthy of love”. If a woman did to a hero what Harry did to Poppy, she’d be branded as the hateful whore of the century and be lynched by a mob of enraged romance readers. But no matter, the rest of the story is basically sunshine and bunnies and ponies and a bucket full of love as Poppy slowly shows Harry that he isn’t made of ice and he can be loved. Oh, there are some padding scenes designed to get people to buy the next book, some issue about Poppy’s boyfriend that wasn’t meant to be, and some oral sex on the honeymoon night to demonstrate how manly and alpha Harry is, but the bulk of the story is the psychoanalyzing of Harry using banal and vacuous tropes like how he had a sad childhood and therefore he couldn’t help being a dark woobie and how he will change for the better if the right woman puts out to him while being patient in the face of his nonsense until he comes to his senses.
The problem I have with Tempt Me at Twilight is that the author made it way too easy for both Poppy and Harry. Harry is supposed to be this lumbering lummox with a dangerous edge – and he does behave like a ridiculous Harlequin Presents lummox from Greece toward Poppy – but he has a bunch of hotel staff who will voluntarily reassure Poppy that Harry is a wonderful man if he can be taught to love. These happy serfs even contrive to engineer matchmaking scenarios. So which is which? If Harry is an asshole, how can his staff be so certain that he will make a wonderful husband for Poppy? This plot device may work in the Walt Disney adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, but that’s because the staff in question comprises singing teacups, teapots, clocks, and candelabras. And also, those singing things have a vested interest in seeing the curse of the Beast broken – they want to turn back into human forms too, after all. Here, Harry’s Happy Hotel is just being such an obvious plot device to force down Poppy’s throat the message that Harry is a woobie needing a dose of love. As a result, Poppy very quickly becomes patient and understanding and Harry doesn’t have to do much groveling to earn her love.
This lack of compelling internal conflict between Harry and Poppy results in a by-the-number woobie-redeemed-by-love story that feels too easily resolved and therefore, too contrived. The rushed appearance of a villain for some obligatory action late in the story doesn’t improve matters much.
Still, Ms Kleypas hasn’t lost her touch when it comes to scenes of family interaction. Even as she blatantly sows the foundation for future books, these scenes are still very readable even if it’s mostly angst on the part of sequel baits while characters from previous books are very busy reminding everyone of how disgustingly perfect their marriage is.
Too much sunshine and too much contrivances, too little suspense and genuine emotion – Tempt Me at Twilight is an overly sweet and artificial paint-by-numbers romance pretending to be a dark and angst-ridden tale.