5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase:
A great example of the genre, with characters that are extremely well-developed: powerful, attractive, and intelligent, but still flawed enough to feel layered and relatable. Though Kleypas is adept at writing character-driven historical romances, she hits just the right amount of sensuality in this novel: it’s a well-paced, amusing opposites-attract story between a brash American heiress and a traditional, straight-laced earl. It’s a wonderful mixture of wit and sex that also serves as a nice introduction for characters who will be developed in later novels… and it’s a great example of strong characters, who struggle falling in love because neither wants to give up the independence that comes with being in a relationship nor are they willing to surrender to the vulnerability that comes with falling in love. A wonderful read that is completely repeatable and memorable.
Lillian Bowman is a strong-willed, stubborn American heiress whose parents have come to England to form business relationships and marry their two daughters into the British peerage. Marcus Westcliff is from one of the oldest and most-respected families in the realm – and he is as arrogant as he is titled. Being two strong personalities, Lillian and Marcus take an immediate disliking to one another, but are thrown together (perhaps a little predictably) by a series of mishaps (a rounders/baseball-like game, a calf’s head being served at a dinner table).
It’s one of those stories where everyone else sees how perfect the two main characters are for each other except them, and where the initial thrust of the story is driven by coincidence and an undeniable sexual attraction, which both the protagonists seek to deny.
Yet despite the many stereotypes the characters conform to, these are two very enjoyable, and ultimately fairly modern, characters. Though both are more or less filthy rich, they are both intelligent enough to challenge and seek to change the establishment in their own unique ways. Lillian, being the American outsider, quite rightly questions some of the rules and regulations she’s asked to conform to, wondering why using a particular fork is so earth-shatteringly important. And Marcus, though he tends to take himself a little too seriously at the beginning of the novel, is shown to be fairly liberal minded in terms of social issues, and is portrayed convincingly as a loyal friend and brother. Despite being set in a regency/historical era, the fact that these two protagonists are so forward-thinking and independent makes them uniquely relatable and more relevant to the modern reader.
Though many of the scenarios are fairly amusing, Kleypas’s weakness is delving too much into the fanciful/corny/humorous side of things. The opening scene, in which Lillian is depicted as being especially attuned to scents and asks a perfumer to help her concoct a magical love potion is undoubtedly the weakest in the novel. Her characters are better at being brooding, with occasional glimpses of levity, than silly – and there are a couple of scenes where it feels as though Kleypas tries too hard to be entertaining.
Overall, the novel is carried on the strength of its well-developed cast of characters, with just enough sensuality in the love-making scenes to entice the reader to continue. It’s my favorite in the Wallflower series (more on that below) and probably close to my favorite of all the Kleypas historical romances.
Other Things to Know:
This is the second book of four in Kleypas’s Wallflowers series. The four Wallflowers: Annabelle Peyton (poor but lovely, the main character of Wallflower #1: Secrets of a Summer Night), Lillian Bowman (rich, but American and high-strung), Evie Jenner (rich, but insanely shy daughter of a gamester featured in Wallflower #3: Devil in Winter) and Daisy Bowman (rich, but overly romantic heiress in Wallflower #4: Scandal in Spring), are friends who initially bond together to try to assist one another in finding husbands. Though the friendship is a little more than a side note by the ending novels, it’s a nice series overall.
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), and also later, a prequel-like novel following Westcliff’s two sisters, Aline and (to a lesser degree) Livia (Again the Magic).
You don’t need to read them in order to enjoy them, and if you were to only read one, it should be It Happened One Autumn.
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. She’s less funny and her characters and scenarios are less light-hearted than Julia Quinn, but she her characters tend to have a greater degree of physical attraction/sensuality compared to Quinn’s.