Secrets of a Summer Night, by Lisa Kleypas

>> Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Secrets of a Summer Night (extras), is the first in Lisa Kleypas' Wallflowers series, which will continue in October (according to amazon.com, at least) with the release of It Happened One Autumn.

Four 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.
Yay, Kleypas is back! I found her latest couple of books a bit disappointing, as I thought her efforts to write more erotic romance was making her stories less interesting, but this is back to the Kleypas I loved. I had some trouble with the last quarter or so of the book, but the rest was so good that my grade is a B+.

What I enjoyed most about reading this was Annabelle. Sometimes a book, while still being a romance and being about a relationship, still focuses a bit more on one of the characters, and this was the case here. This was very definitely Annabelle's story, and it's just fine that it was because I really enjoyed this character. I get tired of cookie-cutter martyr heroines who would prefer to just die rather than marrying for other reasons than love, so Annabell's touch of materialism was welcome. I especially liked how Annabelle wasn't perfect and had some very real flaws. She was a bit of a snob (so much more interesting than all those heroines who are best friends with their maids!) and had some moments of self-pity and unabashedly plotted on trapping a man into marriage.

And about that: she and her friends were very definitely women with a mission: catching a husband. I knew this before I started the book and, a priori, I guessed I'd be irritated by them, by their single-minded pursuit of such a goal. It offended my feminist sensibilities, I guess. But the way Kleypas wrote this, I felt sympathy for them, anger that this society would force them into circumstances in which, like for Annabelle, the only "honourable" way out is to do this, and yet, society derides her for having this goal. And these smug men, like Simon's friend Wycliffe ... argh!! Am I supposed to despise Annabelle for being willing to trap a man into marriage by arranging to be found in a compromising position? This society has made its own rules, rules which have Annabelle trapped in this position. Can't blame her for trying to use these rules for her own advantage.

Simon was ok, but his character was a bit overshadowed by Annabelle's. Probably because while she's so different from the usual, he is a type Kleypas has done a few times before, a rough, self-made man, in the vein of Derek Craven / Zachary Bronson. I felt he was less of an individual than Annabelle. Maybe it would have helped if there had been more scenes from his POV. I really liked him, though, and I enjoyed that he saw the real Annabelle and instead of judging her, he admired her for the way she fought for what she wanted.

For most of the book, I was riveted to its pages. The first three quarters or so were really compelling, with the tension of Annabelle's desperate circumstances and the way she unwillingly felt drawn to Simon and this kept distracting her a bit from her goals. They had a wonderful chemistry together, and Kleypas was able to build some very steamy sensual tension between them.

There were also some very interesting things going on outside of the Annabelle - Simon relationship. I enjoyed reading about the Wallflowers' friendship. Historicals (and contemps, for that matter) are usually lacking in female friendship, so it's always fun when the heroine has good female friends. Even if, in this case, the immediate intimacy between these girls felt a bit too quick... after a 5 minute conversation in a ballroom they are already confiding their deepest wishes and deciding they'll be best friends forever.

And I found Annabelle's mother (at least in these first 3/4 of the book) a fascinating character. It would have been so easy for the author to make her either a shrew, horrible to her daughter because of what she felt forced to do, or a perfect martyr. She was neither. She tried to make the best of things, but couldn't always keep a happy facade. And while she wasn't telling Annabelle that everything was going to be all right and she should just marry for love, or some unrealistic rot like that, neither was she trying to sell her daughter to the highest bidder. She wanted her daughter to make the best choice for herself... a sensible choice, but one she would be able to live with all her life. All in all, a very well fleshed-out secondary character.

Kleypas' take on the mood of the times was also intriguin. There's a lot here about the slow death the aristocracy seems to be experiencing, and about the barbarians at the gate, so to speak. Simon is one of those barbarians, and seeing his take on what the future would bring was interesting.

So, up until we were nearing the end, the book was very solidly in A territory for me. And then Annabelle and Simon get married and bam! the book suddenly becomes almost tedious. Up until then, I could hardly bear to put the book down and when I had to, I kept thinking about what was going to happen. After this, however, it took me over a day to finish reading. There just was very little tension and conflict left, nothing that kept me coming back. And the ending! ::sigh:: Oh, what a predictable way of making them confess their love to each other! It's also one that Kleypas has been known to use before, and I didn't like it any better then. This whole part was only slightly better than average. Luckily, the rest of the book more than makes up for it.

A little foolishness to end this post: Kleypas has a Which Wallflower Are You quiz at her website, and apparently, I'm most like...

Lillian Bowman
You are high-spirited and stubborn to a fault, but also loyal and extremely loving. You secretly long for a man whose strong will is a match for your own. People tend to tread lightly around you, to avoid provoking your infamous temper.

You would rather have a few, very close friends rather than a wide circle of lesser known acquaintances. However, you will go to any length to protect and help the ones you love. And when the right man comes along, you and he will be the most powerful pairing imaginable. Get ready for fireworks!

Best trysting place : outside in a rose-filled garden
Most flattering color: blue
Best Feature: your long, well-toned legs
Oh, yeah, long, well-toned legs indeed! The infamous temper does sound a little more like me, though ;-)

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