Book of the Week: Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas

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Lisa Kleypas is a master writer of historical romance — she can take an ordinary premise and turn it into a wonderful story. In Chasing Cassandra, she has crafted a memorable book.

Cassandra Ravenel is distraught and lonely. Her twin, who had never wanted to marry, is wedded to a wonderful man with whom she is madly in love. On the other hand, Cassandra, whose only desire was for love and family, is finding herself unable to meet a man to whom she could bestow her love and her hand.

Tom Severin is incredibly wealthy and owns a vast empire of companies — he even talks of building a town from the ground-up — that he has built through sheer dint of hard work, a punishing work ethic and the force of his personality and charm. His childhood was one of deprivation of creature comforts and affection. That experience has hardened him into severely repressing all emotions — he claims to have exactly five feelings. Naturally, he has convinced himself that he is unable to love another.  

Tom and Cassandra meet at Cassandra’s twin’s wedding and are immediately fascinated with each other. Convincing each other that marrying is the right thing to do takes some doing. But even that is easier than convincing her family.

All throughout her life thus far, Cassandra has thought she is a quiet person with modest ambitions — a cozy life in the country, dogs, children, and a husband who loves her and whom she loves. After meeting Tom Severin, she suddenly realizes that she truly hankers after the uncontainable and, possibly, the unreachable. This should scare her, but with him, and only with him, she is more than she had ever envisioned herself to be.

He never allows her to put herself down or to think less of herself. He believes she can do anything she sets her mind to. He sees more potential in her than she could’ve imagined for herself. As a result, Cassandra’s growth in confidence and assertiveness throughout the second half of the book, but especially towards the end, is wonderful to see as is also how exciting and fulfilling that is for both Cassandra and Tom.

For someone who is always used to leading and ruthlessly strong-arming all business dealings, the fact that Tom is willing to negotiate a personal and binding agreement with her tells Cassandra all she needs to know about how he sees her and how much he values and trusts her. And talking upfront about their values, compromises, boundaries and intricacies of the marriage they are entering into gives Cassandra the certitude that there won’t be any nasty surprises sprung upon her after the wedding, despite him being so vastly different from the aristocratic men she is used to.

I talk about trust in relationships in many of my reviews. How trust develops between two people reveals how they will treat each other in their relationship. Sometimes, trust develops organically or sometimes there is an inciting event. In this book, Cassandra and Tom choose to start off their relationship by promising to trust each other. Through their contract negotiations, they are engineering a relationship, and what better way to do so than to it on a bedrock of trust?

Books tend to show unrequited love as doomed. But Cassandra doesn’t see her, what she perceives to be, one-sided love as martyrdom, rather she sees it optimistically as a promise for better romantic prospects for her in her marriage. Modern-day intellectual Maria Popova says, “Our cultural mythology depicts love as something that happens to us, but the practice of love is a skill attained through the same deliberate effort as any other pursuit of human excellence.” And Cassandra hopes that by basking in the radiance of her love, Tom will learn to love her, bit by bit and with growing confidence, despite her family’s naysaying. Long before Tom says “I Love You,” he has shown Cassandra in every which way that he does.

The Ravenels is a powerful series from Kleypas and Chasing Cassandra is one of its highlights.

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