4 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
A very solid start to my favorite Kleypas series, Secrets of a Summer Night is strong enough to be enjoyed as a standalone novel as well. It has a multi-faceted heroine who is relatable despite being a gold-digger in desperate need of a wealthy husband, and a genuinely interesting hero who struggles valiantly, trying to convince himself he’s merely in lust, before finally succumbing to love. Kleypas’s settings and side characters are artfully developed and believable, and it’s a wonderful historical romance. That said, I will admit it’s probably my least favorite in the series: the prologue was unnecessary and a poor start for an otherwise strong book, and there were small moments where it dragged – still, no book is perfect, and for me, all the novels in the Wallflowers series are not merely readable but repeatable.
Annabelle Peyton is a beautiful young woman who has been raised to expect that she will make an eligible match – yet after the death of her father, and a series of financial setbacks, her family has fallen on hard times. They’ve sold their jewelry, cut back on even small luxuries like sugar, and her mother has entered into a questionable relationship with a former friend (sex in exchange for bills being paid). Everyone seems to know that they are desperate, and with creditors nipping at their heels, many of the so-called gentlemen of the town are waiting. They believe that Annabelle will be unable to make a match, and will soon become mistress to the highest bidder – and why marry when you can enjoy an illicit affair instead?
Fairly early in the novel, Annabelle meets and befriends Lillian and Daisy Bowman, as well as Evageline Jenner (all of them strong, interesting characters who are undesirable wallflowers for a variety of reasons). They decide jointly that as they’ve had little success husband-hunting on their own, they will band together and help each other out. The Bowman sisters contribute gowns and ideas, while Evie tends to be the supportive voice of reason.
In the background of all of this is Mr. Simon Hunt, a butcher’s son who has become exceedingly wealthy, and has plenty of contacts within the British peerage. He is instantly attracted to Annabelle, and initially seeks to make her his mistress – an idea that Annabelle is against not only because she still believes she can marry, but also because she prefers a peer and would like to stay within the social circles in which she was brought up.
Their story is a compelling one – their attraction and to some degree, mutual understanding of one another makes their eventual love seem believable. There are some awkward moments in the novel, which makes it less enjoyable to me compared to the rest of the series, but as I’ve said, Kleypas is a master of her craft, and this is well worth the read. Ultimately, I would say the characters are better developed in It Happened One Autumn, and the journey feels more passionate in Devil in Winter, but it’s hard not to feel nitpicky when saying anything bad about a novel this good.
Other Things to Know:
This is the first book of four in Kleypas’s Wallflowers series. The four Wallflowers are: Annabelle Peyton, Lillian Bowman (rich, but American and high-strung in Wallflowers #2: It Happened One Autumn), Evie Jenner (rich, but insanely shy daughter of a gamester featured in Wallflowers #3: Devil in Winter) and Daisy Bowman (rich, but overly romantic heiress in Wallflowers #4: Scandal in Spring), are friends who initially bond together to try to assist one another in finding husbands.
There’s a fifth book that is slightly longer than a novella but shorter than the main books, following the Bowman sisters’ older brother Rafe Bowman (A Wallflower Christmas), a prequel-like novel following Westcliff’s two sisters: Aline and, to a lesser degree, Livia (Again the Magic), and eventually one of the side characters from Devil in Winter gets his own novel (and spin-off series) as well.
You don’t need to read them in order to enjoy them, but this is probably my favorite historical romance series ever, and I believe the core four books are well worth reading and owning.
Comparisons to Other Authors:
Lisa Kleypas is a best-selling author, and though she has focused more recently on modern romance, she is one of the queens of the historical romance genre. Compared to Stephanie Laurens, Kleypas tends to have more individualized characters and a better supporting cast, but less sensual/erotic love scenes. Also, whereas Stephanie Laurens almost always has a murder/mystery element, Kleypas’s villains are generally bad, but not quite criminal (there are exceptions, but not in the Wallflowers series). Kleypas also tends to be less funny and her characters and scenarios are far less light-hearted than Julia Quinn or Julie Anne Long, but she her characters tend to have a greater degree of physical attraction/sensuality compared to Quinn’s.