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Books Read in 2014–SECRETS OF A SUMMER NIGHT by Lisa Kleypas

Monday, January 27, 2014

Secrets of a Summer Night (Wallflowers #1) by Lisa Kleypas
Audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor

Book Blurb:
Secrets of a Summer NightFour young ladies enter London society with one common goal: they must use their feminine wit and wiles to find a husband. So a daring husband-hunting scheme is born.

Annabelle Peyton, determined to save her family from disaster, decides to use her beauty and wit to tempt a suitable nobleman into making an offer of marriage. But Annabelle’s most intriguing and persistent admirer, wealthy, powerful Simon Hunt, has made it clear that while he will introduce her to irresistible pleasure he will not offer marriage. Annabelle is determined to resist his unthinkable proposition, but it is impossible in the face of such skillful seduction. Her friends, looking to help, conspire to entice a more suitable gentleman to offer for Annabelle, for only then will she be safe from Simon and her own longings. But on one summer night, Annabelle succumbs to Simon’s passionate embrace and tempting kisses and she discovers that love is the most dangerous game of all.
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My Review:

Story: 2.75 stars
Narrator: 3.75 Stars
Overall: 3.25 stars

      Goodreads bookshelves: books-read-in-2014, historical-romance, audiobook
      Read from January 15 to 25, 2014

I’ve been wanting to read a Lisa Kleypas book for a while. She seems to be a prolific writer and several of the romance review blogs I follow rave about her books.

After reading the descriptions of the first book in each of her “major” series, I chose to read this book, the first book in the Wallflowers series, as the premise sounded great to me. Four young women make a pact to help each other find husbands. Not only did it seem to fit my liking for a lighthearted tone in a romance novel, but I love historical romances that feature friendships between women and not just rivalries. So I should have loved this book.

Except that I couldn’t stand the heroine, and the hero was largely absent intellectually and emotionally, so I never connected with him—yet, even so, I still thought he was too good for the heroine. And that’s not how I want to feel at the end of a romance novel.

Technically, Kleypas is a moderately good writer. I was continually critiquing her style in my head, though, as she tends to head-hop quite a lot—but in a way that’s probably only noticeable to another writer who’s been dinged on it time and time again in critiques.

Storywise, however, is where this novel was lacking for me. Annabelle, our “heroine,” is petulant, spoiled, snobbish, and snotty—with absolutely no right to be. I know that Kleypas wanted us to see her as part of the down-on-their-luck gentility, those on the fringes of aristocratic society, who would have only socialized (and married) within that sphere. But the truth of the matter is that Kleypas never really gives us a solid explanation of how Annabelle’s family is tied to the aristocracy and why, if they’re so poor that her mother is having to prostitute herself to a disgusting old lord of something or another, Annabelle is even accepted into aristocratic society. She has no title, no dowry, and no future. In reality, people like this weren’t typically invited to social functions with earls and viscounts, much less courted by men at that level.

Yet Annabelle’s driving motivation is to marry a peer—someone with an inherited title and A LOT of money. But . . . this is set in the 1840s, which happens to be one of the times of transition in England when a lot of the peerage were hemorrhaging money as the Industrial Revolution was beginning to pick up steam (ha-ha) and the economy was changing and leaving most of them behind. It was the rising middle class—men like Simon, our hero—who were emerging as the movers and shakers in society. And while it really wouldn’t be until after the Great Exhibition in 1851 that this class of wealthy entrepreneurs would really start taking their place in society, Kleypas set up Simon as one of these: an independently wealthy (filthy rich, apparently) son of a butcher who rubs elbows with some of the highest echelon of the aristocracy. Again, not really realistic, but, for the sake of suspension of disbelief, we’ll let her run with it.

Annabelle and Simon meet in the prologue and he steals a kiss. Chapter one opens a couple of years later, at which time Annabelle hates Simon and doesn’t want anything to do with him. The problem is that she’s in her early 20s, the Season is almost over, and she has NO marriage prospects. Her younger brother may have to leave school and go to work to support her and her mother if she can’t find a rich husband.

Simon is still obsessed with this girl from whom he stole a kiss, and so he’s been trying to pursue her by stalking her—I mean asking her to dance at all of these society balls that both of them are inexplicably invited to all the time. Annabelle knows that he’s rich—everyone does—yet, strangely, she basically tells him that he has a snowball’s chance in hell of ever getting her to dance with him, much less let him court/marry/sleep with her.

Let me explain—she’s to the point at which she’s starting to think she’s going to have to take an offer from one of the titled gentlemen to become a mistress just so that she and her mother don’t starve. Yet she continually spurns the attentions of a VERY wealthy man, just because he’s a butcher’s son and not a peer of the realm. Because snob.

So she and the three other girls she ends up sitting in the wallflower corner with at all of these balls suddenly start talking to each other after months and months of ignoring each other. They decide to help each other find husbands. Since Annabelle is the oldest, she’s first. The other girls (well, Lillian, who’s the most outspoken) also hate Simon for being “common” (though Lillian and her sister, Daisy, are upstart wealthy Americans, so that’s really a pot/kettle situation there).

They all finagle invitations to a country house party. There’s a plain, weedy, weak, overly intellectual, nerdy (choose your negative adjective) lord there whom all the unmarried female guests (from the descriptions of them, it seemed like there had to have been at least 50 of them) are after because he’s one of the few single titled men left. Instead of flirting with him, the way they all do, Annabelle takes the approach of trying to appear disinterested in him romantically but interested in his pursuits and passions—which seem to mainly be droning on about the flora and fauna of Hampshire. Yes, we get it. He’s a big bore. But a big bore with a title and, we assume, money.

For some reason, he takes a liking to Annabelle. The Wallflowers decide the best way for Annabelle to win him is to get into a compromising position with him (just to be alone together in this time period was compromising enough, to be seen kissing would have sealed it for sure) and they’ll come by and witness it so that he’s forced to marry her. Although Annabelle has a few qualms about this idea, she goes along with it.

But . . . plans are put on hold due to a health issue. This is the point at which Simon actually starts looking like a hero. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last long.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Simon and Annabelle end up getting married—voluntarily—about two-thirds of the way through the book. And from there on, it’s just sex, sex, sex, interrupted only by his buying her extravagant gifts, like a five-carat diamond ring—which, of course, prompts more sex. And it’s not even good sex. It’s awkwardly written and stuff I would have skipped past if I’d been reading a print version and not listening on audio. The scenes didn’t add anything to the characterization (made her look worse, as a matter of fact) nor did they add anything to the plot or development of the relationship.

Annabelle continues to be snobbish and mercenary even after she’s voluntarily married Simon, even to the point of offending his family. This is the woman who knew her mother was whoring herself out to pay the bills, yet she’s going to look down her nose at the family of a successful merchant who lives in the same neighborhood where she and her mother could barely afford to live?

It takes another massive (and highly implausible) crisis right at the end of the book for her epiphany moment to come—and even then, it’s not enough to redeem her character and the way she’s been throughout the rest of the book.

I’ve read tons of reviews that drool all over Simon as the perfect hero. Um…no. Not only does he stalk Annabelle for a couple of years until she agrees to marry him (and the only thing she really has to offer is the fact that she’s supposedly so beautiful every man who sees her instantly wants her), there aren’t enough scenes from his viewpoint to really give us a reason as to why he’d want to marry her (other than the insta-lust he felt the first time he saw/kissed her) for me to be able to determine if he really does have qualities to qualify him as a “hero” in the truest sense. He’s handsome. He’s wealthy. He’s kind…to a point. In the beginning of the novel, he actually thinks about whether he’d marry her or just make her his mistress! That’s not hero quality, for me.

Now, all of that said, I may go ahead and read the second book in this series, because I hope that Kleypas can actually follow through on the sparks/fireworks hinted at between Lillian and Lord Westcliff.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ruth permalink
    Monday, January 27, 2014 3:45 pm

    I’ve got another friend who just loves Kleypas, so she’s on my radar to try this year…maybe she has gotten better since 2004 when this was first published? This same friend says the Hathaways series is even better than the Wallflowers, and the first book there was pubbed in 2007…here’s hoping. πŸ™‚

    Like

    • Monday, January 27, 2014 3:59 pm

      I just can’t get over the number of 5-star reviews this book has, even on Goodreads, which is usually lower/harder than on Amazon. On Goodreads, anything with hundreds and hundreds of reviews that averages over a 4.0 is usually a masterpiece. πŸ˜‰

      Like

      • Ruth permalink
        Monday, January 27, 2014 7:30 pm

        Oh the joys of trying to understand consensus in the book reviewing world. πŸ˜‰ BTW…this is maybe your best and most detailed review yet!

        Like

        • Monday, January 27, 2014 8:18 pm

          Thanks! I didn’t set out to write one this long, but, obviously, I ended up with a lot to say about this book.

          Started Stephen King’s The Stand this morning. The audiobook is 40 hours long! But it’s highly regarded as one of his best books. And since I enjoyed Under the Dome so much, I figured it would be worth the time.

          Like

  2. Monday, January 27, 2014 3:49 pm

    I have to agree, Kaye–I didn’t like this book in the series. But I really liked the next two–It Happened in the Fall and Devil in the Winter. The fourth book wasn’t to my liking either.

    Or try Julia Quinn–she does a great job with characterization.

    Like

    • Monday, January 27, 2014 3:57 pm

      I’m five or six books into JQ’s Bridgerton series. So maybe that colored my reaction to this book, too—the fact that JQ’s writing/storytelling style is much more to my taste.

      Like

      • Monday, January 27, 2014 5:13 pm

        I’ve read her later books–What Happens in London, Ten Things I Love about You, Almost Heaven. And yes, I enjoy her books a great deal more than Kleypas’s.

        Like

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  1. What Are You Reading? (February 2014) | KayeDacus.com

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