Lisa Kleypas is very well recommended around the romance community. There’s a friendly competition between many readers to decide which of two of her heroes is the best. One of the candidates turns up in book 3 of her Wallflowers series. Being me, if I was going to read it, I had to start at the beginning of the series, so I bought Secrets of a Summer Night a while ago and the random number generator picked it for me just at the time when a romance felt like just the break from other books that I needed.
Annabelle is running out of time. She’s at the end of her fourth season and she still hasn’t found a husband. Her family is well born but poor and this fact has stopped anyone from offering her anything so respectable as marriage – although there have been indications men are willing to offer her something less respectable. At balls, she finds herself a wallflower, sitting on the sidelines along with three other young women who, like her, are never asked to dance. The four of them, Annabelle, two American sisters Lillian and Daisy, and the shy Evie, form an alliance, planning to help each other find husbands. One man who has shown interest in Annabelle (but not in marriage) is Simon Hunt. He’s a self-made man, a butcher’s son who is grudgingly welcomed into society due to his wealth. But Annabelle is looking for a peer, not a commoner. All the same, she keeps coming into contact with Simon and slowly, finds herself developing an interest in him despite her plans.
I can see why Kleypas is well regarded. She tells a good story with great characters and she can take standard romance tropes and either take them in a new direction or tell them with a vigour and freshness that makes you forget you’re reading something you’ve seen in other books.
Her characters shine. Annabelle and the other wallflowers are a delight to read and their interaction is lovely. Personally, I’m not one for romances that focus so tightly on the hero and heroine that there’s no room for other interactions. In real life, that’s unhealthy, and while I acknowledge that generally romances have little to do with real life, I still like some authenticity if possible. Kleypas provides that here. The chapter that includes the flow of letters around the four women is delightful. Equally fun to read is the frequent banter between Annabelle and Simon. Neither is willing to bend, or not at first anyway, and their fencing in clever and witty.
As feelings between them develop, that banter continues, but there is an underlying concern for each other as well. Simon’s care for Annabelle when she is sick – and his uncompromising determination to help her himself – is a delight to read. This is a romance after all, and seeing the tough alpha hero showing his softer side for the heroine is a large part of the fantasy. A fantasy Kleypas writes with skill.
I readily admit this is a personal thing, but the frequent romance trope of a virginal heroine who has several blistering orgasms the first time she has sex drives me totally batty. I know it’s another kind of fantasy, but unlike the caring alpha hero, this one really doesn’t work for me. So I particularly noticed when Annabelle, while not having a bad experience, didn’t feel heaven and earth moving either. Thank you Ms Kleypas; that alone raised you high on my list of romance authors to read again.
Annabelle isn’t perfect in any way, but she came into her own during her honeymoon and as I read I looked at how much of the book there was left to go and found myself worrying. Clearly, with that many words left, something had to go wrong and things were coming together so nicely. Again, Kleypas impressed me. True, there is a misunderstanding between Annabelle and Simon, but it is a small and reasonable one that is reasonably worked out with time and experience, not something big, unrealistic and at bottom, stupid. The end of the book is a rounded resolution rather than high adventure and it worked beautifully for me. The problems are solved – or at least to the point that is reasonable within context – and the end comes neatly.
Another difference between this book and many historicals is that it is set a little later, in the mid 1800’s. This allows Kleypas to study the fading power of the gentry and the rise of the new industrialists. Simon is one of the latter and Annabelle, initially believing in the superiority of the former and looking for a husband among them, comes to see that there’s a new way coming. In the end, it is Simon and that future that she chooses to embrace and while the gentry look down on her for it, she comes to understand that she’s the one who has made the most forward thinking choice. And of course, she’s found her happily ever after, and that’s a huge part of why people (me included) read romance.
This change in Annabelle’s thinking is neatly described in this exchange with her brother Jeremy:
“Don’t be so severe on her, Annabelle. It wasn’t so long ago that you had the same disdain for those on the lower rungs.”
“I did not! I…” Annabelle had paused with a ferocious scowl, then sighed. “You’re right, I did. Though now I can’t see why. There’s no dishonor in work is there? Certainly it’s more admirable than idleness.”
Jeremy had continued to smile. “You’ve changed,” was his only comment, and Annabelle had replied ruefully.
“Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.”
I was impressed by my first historical by Lisa Kleypas and I strongly suspect I’ll be reading more. I wasn’t hugely won over by my first Kelypas novel, which was the contemporary Sugar Daddy, but Secrets of a Summer Night was very much more my kind of book. I think it was a case of one subgenre (historicals) being more my thing that the other (contemporaries) because Lisa Kleypas is an excellent author and one to which I’m sure I’ll be returning.
Secrets of a Summer Night
Wallflowers, Book 1
- Secrets of a Summer Night
- It Happened One Autumn
- Devil in Winter
- Scandal in Spring
- A Wallflower Christmas