So here in the heart of summer, I decided to dive into Mrs. Julien’s Shameful Tally, starting with her “Classics” and “Favorites” sections. I’m familiar, of course, with Courtney Milan — if a little behind in reading because I keep trying to “save” them for the perfect day — but I’ve been growing more interested in historicals and Mrs. J’s streamlined list of favorite titles and authors is exactly what I need to jump in. (How easy it is to piggyback on the work of others!)
Two of the four books in Lisa Kleypas’ “Wallflowers” series were particularly recommended: Secrets of a Summer’s Night (#1) and Devil in Winter (#3). Now, I started with the latter — it came up more quickly on my library queue. Having read both, I would have preferred to do the two more in order. Although they’re both standalone stories, the more thorough introduction of the individual Wallflower ladies and character building in the first book made the payoff for Evie retroactively better in the third.
It goes like this: Secrets of a Summer’s Night introduces us to a group of women who for various reasons aren’t considered to be the most marriage-able young ladies in society. Annabelle Peyton, the lead of this book, is strikingly beautiful, but her family’s former wealth has been dashed, leaving her without a dowry. The majority of the peerage, then, would rather wait to keep her as a salaried mistress than marry her. Despite her financial situation, Annabelle retains a bit of upper-class snobbery. She is only interested in marrying the nobility, though she understands she can’t be especially choosy about whom. Within the context of this novel, there are two eligible men of the nobility; however, one of them already dislikes her and she’ll have fierce competition for the affections of the other. Enter Simon Hunt, a shrewd businessman and financial savant. He’s not titled, so that makes him middle class, despite being vastly more wealthy than most of the peerage. Tying his lack of title and gentility to his more forward courtship and finding all subpar, Annabelle spurns his advances time after time… until, eventually, she doesn’t.
The heroine of Devil in Winter, Evangeline Jenner, is wealthy but middle-class. Even worse, she suffers from social anxiety: with a seemingly absent personality and a stammer, she’s not managed to charm anyone. On the other end of the spectrum, Evie finds herself unaided by her wealth. Compounding, and in fact probably fueling, her social timidity is her awful extended family who are responsible for her. With the threat of them marrying her to her awful-in-so-many-ways cousin, Evie more than ever needs to find a husband she prefers, and ideally one suitably titled so has to subdue her family. Enter the rakiest rake who ever raked, Lord Sebastian St. Vincent (that name!) He’s titled, obviously, but his father before him has squandered the family wealth, so St. Vincent could really use a wife with a substantial dowry and fortune. Evie proposes a marriage of convenience between the two, and after a quick trip to
Vegas Gretna Green, they’re married! But it’s not a love match. YET.
These were both well-written, clever, funny, and above all romantic, novels. Devil in Winter‘s rake/innocent pairing is a classic example of the trope, and though it requires a bit more willing suspension of disbelief, the romantic payoff may be a bit higher for some than that of Secrets of a Summer’s Night. After all, you already know Secrets Simon Hunt is interested, but to be able to fall in love with the rogueish Sebastian St. Vincent at the same time he’s falling in love? That’s quite the fantasy, no? That said, I may have still preferred Secrets on the whole. The romance between the two wasn’t quite as superlative as Evie and Sebastian’s, but Annabelle and Simon still had a plethora of swoon-worthy moments (including one in the first scene!) and I clicked more with the subplots and backdrop of the story. All together, a generous hat tip to Mrs. Julien and much thanks for the recommendations! After I catch up with Milan — I can’t stand waiting anymore! — I’m definitely trying more Kleypas.