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Hello Stranger was the book 4 of Lisa Kleypas’s brand new historical romance series The Ravenels. Even with some ups and downs along the way I’ve been enjoying her return to the arena of historical romance. I’m just glad she’s writing HR again and hoping that she’ll continue to do so for years to come. And TBH I’m simply blown away by this one! Hello Stranger, for me, wasn’t a highly anticipated release like some of the previous ones in the series but... Wow! Ethan Ransom!! I *heart*!!!
First a bit of background, which is how I like to do my review... Set in the Victorian-era, book 1 of the Ravenels is titled Cold-Hearted Rake. It gives you the intro to The Ravenel family, and its two surviving brothers Devon and Weston. The Ravenels are a rowdy bunch who had always had a penchant for self-destruction. They live wild; always drawn to the adrenaline rush and the danger, never bothering to think about the consequences. And they die young too, which has come to be known as the “Ravenel curse”. Devon and West, both have the same bend on self-destruction. They had no title or money but, regardless, Devon didn’t want a title stooped under a pile of debt and a dilapidating country estate on his shoulders. But when his titled cousin, the last direct heir to Lord Trenear, breaks his neck from a fall from horseback, he had no other choice. Now, not only he was bordered with the duties that came with the title, but also Devon found that he’s now responsible for Theo’s 3 younger sisters—Helen, and the twins Cassandra and Pandora. If that wasn’t the worse thing to deal with, he’s also now responsible for Theo’s widow, Kathleen. At first, their relationship was that of oil and water but soon it turned into something else. Devon and Kathleen found themselves in love (which did nothing for me unfortunately), so on and so forth. A family, responsibility and love did change both Devon and West to become more cautious about their lifestyle, spending it on more fruitful ventures. As a result, they finally found themselves with a thriving estate. Devon and Kathleen have married, had a child, their life seemingly fulfilled.
I wasn’t overly fond of book 1 mostly due to the h Kathleen. She was… let’s just say she got on my nerves more than a few times. She was annoying TBH. BUT I was so caught up in the budding romance between Helen and Rhys Winterborne that my grabby hands were itching to get a hold of their book ASAP!
Rhys was one of Devon’s close buddies and business partners. Born to low-class Welsh parents, Rhys has worked his way up and now owns the biggest chains of retail stores in London. He’s rich as Croesus, if not more, and so powerful that his background doesn’t matter these days. Well, only maybe to the Bon Ton. And to resolve that he needs to marry a Lady who would smooth his way in there as well. However, Helen didn’t come to him only as a solution to his problem, to be his ornament when he’s attending balls and soirees. They forged a bond when Rhys is gravely injured in a train crash that left Devon injured as well. That bond went a long way, and Rhys knew he simply needed Helen in his life, didn’t matter at what cost. Her platinum blonde beauty only complements his severely dark looks. They could do well together! But what caught Rhys by total surprise was the fact that Helen wanted him too. Here he thought she’s gonna despise him for his background, but that didn’t matter to Helen at all. On top of that, her innocence was intoxicating as well, especially when it was her who was trying to seduce him, not the other way round! The rest is, I should say history cause book 2, Marrying Winterborne, was marvelous. I loved it!
Book 3, Devil in Spring, was another highly anticipated installment because of its connection to one of LK’s most love,d novels, Devil in Winter, book 3 of the equally well-loved The Wallflowers series. The hero Sebastian St. Vincent has been our girl crush for many years, his h Evie just as lovely and beguiling in her own way. I even loved the prologue where they’re now in their 50s, still has the hots for each-other even after several children and grandchildren. :D But Devil in Spring is the story of Sebastian’s eldest son, Gabriel. He wasn’t ever introduced in any of the previous 2 installments so the whole revelation came as a surprise. I didn’t know Gabriel so had to make do with whatever I could find in his own book. Pandora, Helen’s sister, I quite liked her since the beginning but, TBH, I wasn’t sure who she was going to be paired with. So when I found out about her and Gabriel, I was most excited to discover just where he stands and how he’d be able to compare with his dad. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in that regard, and many other area of the story. Maybe my expectations were too high but Gabriel St. Vincent did NADA for me.
I won’t go into details since this one turned out to be my second least favorite of the series. The only boon was to see updates on Sebastian and Evie’s life. I was also very intrigued by the sub-plot surrounding Irish radicals and the assassination attempts made on Pandora’s life. I wanted to know more, to see how it played out in the next book, Hello Stranger, which turned out to be our famous Dr. Gibson’s.
Now, despite the fact I was NOT fond of her manly name, Garrett was a favorite character. I didn’t know her well enough, but I thought she was someone I’d like to get to know better. Not because she was the only practicing female doctor around that time, but also because she was interesting. We met her in one of the previous installments where she was recruited by Rhys as a physician for his employees at the Winterborne. He saw a gem and didn’t hesitate to recruit her with all possible haste. He also trusted Garrett with Helen’s well-being after she proved to be a quite brilliant doctor and a surgeon to boots while tending to Pandora’s wounds (story in book 3). Garrett’s life turned around completely because of Rhy’s generosity; also because the Ravenels and the Winterbornes now regarded her as a close friend.
I never thought Ethan Ransom would be Garrett’s hero because they only had a few passing interactions that didn’t really tell me much. Ethan, a former detective, has been investigating the assassination attempt on Pandora and Gabriel. However, in secret, he had other identities. One being a spy for an extremely powerful man in the Home Office; power that definitely didn’t come without a price, not to mention quite illegal. When we met Ethan, everybody who knew the Ravenels were rather shocked by his close resemblance to them; ink black hair and vivid blue eyes with the same facial structure that’s hard to dismiss. But Ethan seemed secretive and didn’t like bringing attention to himself or his good looks. Before in life, he’d done his best to stay in the shadows and lurk around, which was fine seeing how it was a part of his job. Now of course, after his introduction to the Ravenels (or shall I say the *official* introduction?) it was proving to be very difficult. The whole thing seemed rather suspicious to me and I knew something wasn’t quite right here.
Ethan was recruited by Rhys a few times for different reasons. Initially that’s how he met Garrett. And the first day he saw her, he knew he was in trouble. The depth of his longing for her scared the hell out of him and because of that, Ethan has tried to keep his distance. But from those meetings you wouldn’t even guess what was going on inside his mind. I didn’t! After that, he’d kept Garrett in his sight constantly, or as frequently as was possible for him. Especially on the days Garrett paid a visit to one of the seedier places of London to check on her patients, Ethan has had trailed her to keep her safe. It seemed she was never out of her mind, and yet he knew this brings a risk for him, and even a greater risk for her, because of his involvement with the above mentioned dangerous man who’d do anything to get what he wants and where he wants it. Ethan can NOT give this man any clue to his newest obsession, and probably the only vulnerability he’d ever experienced in his life.
Born to a poor family, Ethan’s life had been surrounded by sadness and misery, most especially when he grew old enough to understand that his mother was mistress to a man who fathered him but never openly acknowledged him until later in life when Ethan could care less about any sort of acknowledgement. His mother was fooled by the attention of a rich peer of the realm, remained so until she died. His childhood memories weren’t anything to be proud of and Ethan had always hated the Ravenel name with every breath of his body. He’s very much aware of his resemblance to them and hates that he can’t do anything about it. So far, he’d stayed far away from that identity and any questions or queries arising from that. But now it’s not so easy.
Though his mother married a man who’d given him his name and called him son, Ethan hadn’t really known the affection of a real father. This is where his boss came in and took advantage. This man who he’d thought as a father figure in his youthful, misguided way, had trained and shaped Ethan almost in his own image. He was also a peer of the realm and Ethan liked copying him to learn how to carry himself among the Ton. Those training were needed for their... missions. He’d blindly followed this man’s instructions, until the day he found out his treachery. That he’d sacrifice the lives of thousands of people for his own gain. Ethan couldn’t just sit there and let it happen. He had to do something, even if it meant certain death when he’s eventually found out.
Garrett’s background was much more positive than Ethan’s. Though she lost her mother at her birth, Garrett’s father had loved her and had taken care of her. I still don’t know how she conquered the odds of training as a doctor when women never did become one, Garrett was able to earn her father’s support, then acquire a scholarship to study in Sorbonne, France. A big chunk of it was the guilt from her mother’s death. Garrett felt if she could, she’d have tried her best to prevent it. She trained well and showed her brilliance in every step of the way. Now in her way, Garrett feels she’s helping people with her service, enjoying every bit of it. So far, apart from her father’s illness, her life has been uncomplicated, routine-bound. Even though she has had a kiss or two from rare beaus, Garrett has been resigned to the fact that because of her demanding profession, she’d never be able to marry or have a family. There was simply no man around who’d give her the freedom she needs. So she’d avoided any entanglement with men… until Ethan Ransom. Even then, I don’t think she had any crazy thoughts about Ethan until she got to know him real well.
It all started when one day she confronted Ethan of following her around, then promptly understanding that he’s worried of her safety. A realization that someone is so worried of her safety that he’d follow her around gave Garrett a new perspective. The feeling was too good to deny. Garrett was already trained in basics of some self defense techniques, but that was never enough for Ethan’s peace of mind. So he invites her to train with him....... and though that bit seemed a little far-fetched to me, I did so love the whole scene, with Ethan trying to hide his raging hard-ons try to show Garrett various moves. ;) Oh Lord, that was just so funny, and simply too good. :P
I don’t think Ethan and Garrett could’ve denied the crazy chemistry, the strong pull they felt for each-other, no matter how much they tried. Their ending up together was quite inevitable. Despite everything, Garrett loved the feeling of being desired by such a handsome devil and Ethan, though he knew of the risks he’s taking, couldn’t think of anyone else but her. There was no one but Garrett for him. But throughout their courtship (not sure what else to call it), Ethan has been trying to tell her that he can’t give her a normal home, and though Garrett resorted to proposing an affair, he was having none of it. He was ultimately scared of giving away too much cause he knew hired men of his boss maybe following him to keep tabs on him. And since Ethan had his own plans to deflect his boss’s nefarious ones, he knew too much involvement meant Garrett would be in extreme danger.
But all the precautions he’d taken wouldn’t be of any help for Ethan. Fate inevitably catches up with him when a blind follower/henchman of his boss finally strikes him down to become the next ‘chosen one’. Ethan was a favorite, but he knew that’d be so as long as he’s biding by his boss’s rules. However, his boss already knew of Garrett and has questioned him about her. All Ethan could think of how to keep her safe cause this wasn’t a good sign. That man wouldn’t hesitate to use Garrett to control him. But Ethan had already made his moves and while doing so, he’d made a mistake.... Now for him, there was no turning back. That part of the story sent chills down my spine. I was feeling miserable when the last thing on Ethan’s mind was Garrett and how much he’d have liked to see her once again. And how he was happy to be a part of Garrett’s affection even if for a short while...
Meanwhile, safe at her home, Garrett was oblivious to it all. She’d had a normal day, or as normal as she could have when Ethan was constantly on her mind too. She knew of Ethan’s plans. While he refused to confide in more than necessary, she knew the gist and was extremely worried about him. She didn’t know what to do, how to help him. She couldn’t help thinking of the irony; just when she’d finally found someone she could love and adore and dream of having a family with, would he be taken away from her? Her worst nightmares become reality when a carriage from the Ravenel house comes to her door, asking her to visit them ASAP due to an emergency...
The next few chapters were my absolute favorite! I won’t go into details but just that those showed the pinnacle of not only Garrett and Ethan’s relationship, which grew to be absolutely impenetrable because of what they went through together, but also showcasing how Ethan finally came to terms with his own heritage. To her utter amazement, Garrett had learned from Weston that if Ethan’s birth was legit, he’d have been the current earl of Trenear instead of Devon. I was surprised beyond words to learn that he was Helen, Pandora and Cassandra’s half-brother! That the Earl, in his final years, acknowledged Ethan enough to leave him a well-to-do property; an offering Ethan staunchly ignored until Weston made him see that he shouldn’t run from it any longer. Ethan learned that not Ravenels were the same, and the current peeps want him to be a part of the family. There were no appearances from either of the sisters in this book but I would’ve loved to see a reunion between them!
I’ll gladly admit that where others have failed, Ethan Ransom surpassed all my expectations where a hero from this series is concerned. I did love Rhys but Ethan was the first hero who gave me the feeling of a true Lisa Kleypas hero, the stuff that I felt I’ve been missing from the previous installments. He made my toes curl, his secret laughter and Irish brogue made me wanna go yes please! Never once did I feel that he and Garrett didn’t belong together. Yes, it was one of those pairings where you just know and cheer along with them!
Personally, I also think the series is just beginning to get better, even though I heard there are only 2 more installments left. West, the former dissolute rake, has come a long way and I already love him and his newly found joie de vivire. His ability of cracking a joke at his own expense. But I wouldn’t have imagined him ever having a lady love he’s still pining away for. :o Damn it Weston, but you never cease to amaze me bud! And to know she’s another one of Sebastian and Evie’s offspring...... my mind is whirling peeps! She has not been introduced formally in any of the previous installments so I have to form my opinion of her when I read their book, Devil’s Daughter, out next year. Oh Lord, did I say NEXT YEAR? :( But in any case, I can’t wait!!
Bumping my rating to 4.5 stars for Hello Stranger. Highly recommended for any LK fans and historical romance lovers.