I jumped right into the second book in The Wallflowers series with It Happened One Autumn. I didn’t love it as much as I did book one but it is still addictive reading for romance fans. Read on for my full book review!
The second in the series focuses on Lillian Bowman, the most obnoxious of the two American heiresses, as she takes her turn to ‘catch’ a husband. As heavily signposted in Secrets of a Summer Night, Earl Westcliff is to be her love interest. We’re well in the trashy romance novel genre here, specifically the Regency-Victorian era niche, and some of the things I struggle with in this one are unfortunate, depressing, tropes of the genre. I am, of course, talking about all the forced kisses and dubious consent.
It was the first time in Lillian’s life that a man had ever kissed her without asking for permission. She wriggled and strained until Westcliff secured her more firmly against his body.
I do not find this romantic, I find this scary and it is actually assault?
The first book, Secrets of a Summer Night, had its fair share of questionable consent but this one went beyond my comfort level. Every sexual encounter they have is initiated by him and, at least at first, unwelcome.
Worse still, the first time they have sex Lillian is drunk, and he knows she is drunk and it would be taking advantage of her…
His beleaguered sense of honour protested that he was not the kind of man who would take an inebriated woman to bed. She was helpless. She was a virgin. He would never forgive himself if he took advantage of her in this condition—
And yet a few paragraphs later that is exactly what he does – no matter how much she asks for it, or how romantically it is written – it had been firmly established how drunk she is and I was so uncomfortable reading all of this. It doesn’t matter how cool she was about it the next day, that was not romantic and she was not in her right mind to consent. It made me feel very icky.
Lillian is not a character type I enjoy, and she is easily my least favourite Wallflower. She’s loud, inconsiderate and often rude… and is always making a scene. Most of the time I found her hard-headedness annoying and unrealistic. Particularly when she decided to risk her life horse jumping for no good reason.
The decision to – as a guest – essentially steal and drink a whole bottle of her host’s fancy pear brandy in their library was baffling, especially in this era (even “for an American)”. So rude and inappropriate. I think we are supposed to believe she does it because a forthcoming proposal from someone other than Lord Westcliffe unsettled her so much. This seemed like a weakness that I felt was out of character as well, as didn’t feel fitting for the time period. I have to say Kleypas lost me a bit in those scenes.
As much as I don’t enjoy Lillian, I didn’t hate her (except for when she bullied some servant boys into risking their jobs because she wanted to play rounders!) and I was still invested in her relationship with Westcliff (when she was a willing participant). She does have some satisfying growth towards the end as she gains some empathy for him and learns to compromise.
Your objections to marrying me are predicated more on the idea of being forced, rather than deriving from any personal prejudice?’ Absorbed in the pleasure of his caress, Lillian gave him a bemused glance. ‘Hmm?’ A soft laugh escaped him. ‘What I’m asking is, would you consider becoming my wife if I promised that you wouldn’t be forced into it?’
Earl Marcus Westcliff
As much as I have complained about his tendency towards sexual assault, I did like Westcliff. I blame Kleypas more for the way she chose to write those scenes rather than the character himself. I think it was supposed to demonstrate how such a measured and controlled man was losing himself to his passion for ‘Not Like Other Girls’ Lillian, but written with the most clumsy tropes of the genre.
I enjoyed Westcliff for how sensible he is, and he’s generally thoughtful and capable. I saw him as an Anthony Bridgerton type but with a significantly worse set of parents and more childhood trauma.
Lord Sebastian St Vincent
A new character introduced was Sebastian St Vincent, who initially I really enjoyed for his easygoing fun. He was a nice breath of fresh air after the rather stuffy Westcliff and Simon Hunt. That was until he turned out of nowhere into a full-blown villain. I thought this was a spectacularly bizarre choice, to push him as far as kidnapping and the threat of forced marriage and rape (and some real arch-villain dialogue), and then set him up for the love interest of the next book?!
‘Sorry,’ St Vincent murmured in her ear, not sounding at all penitent. ‘You shouldn’t tug at your wrists, pet. You’ll bruise them needlessly.’ His warm fingers closed over her icy fists. ‘An interesting toy, this,’ he murmured, a fingertip slipping beneath the metal cuff to stroke her wrist. ‘Some women of my acquaintance have a great fondness for it.’ Turning her rigid body in his arms, he smiled as he saw the angry bewilderment in her expression. ‘My innocent . . . it will be a great pleasure to tutor you.’
You did not have to go as far as you did with that Kleypas, you’re asking your readers – and the characters in your books – to forgive too much!
Look, I have had some negatives to say but also, again, I read this in 24 hours. The woman can write a brilliant romance, I just wish she had used her powers for good and dialled back the atmosphere of sexual assault. Why couldn’t Lillian be into it? Why were his advances always unwelcome at first?
This passage really stuck with me, I thought this was a great piece of writing.
As always, when a conversation turned to the subject of Westcliff, Lillian felt thoroughly provoked, not unlike the way she had felt in childhood when her brothers had tossed her favourite doll over her head, back and forth between them, while she cried for them to give it back to her. Why any mention of the earl should affect her this way was a question for which there was no answer. She dismissed Daisy’s remark with an irritable shrug of her shoulders.
I know exactly the feeling she means.
This book was also significantly racier than the first book, with a lot more action from much earlier in the book. I have to say that the sex scenes – if those are your jam – don’t do a lot for me as once you have read one the rest are all the same performance.
The recurring theme that Good Men are Working Men
This was a very strong theme I expect to return to again in the series. Westcliff might be an Earl but we know he is a good person because he gets his hands dirty, he has businesses and he gets involved with politics. In contrast, Lord St Vincent does not work and is an idle womaniser, whose father has squandered the family fortune. He is bad.
All the other men that get portrayed positively are involved in the business. We actually get very little interaction with any aristocrats in this book other than Lady Westcliff, his mother, who is a truly awful, spiteful old snot and we also hear a lot about his abusive, cold father who was equally obsessed with the legacy of the family title.
Family Legacy versus Happiness
Lillian and Daisy are under pressure to marry into the peerage from their mother in particular, to improve the social standing of their family. There is no consideration for their wants or happiness.
Westcliff is pressured by his mother to marry a gentlewoman of “good breeding to continue their family lineage. His siblings all disappointments to his mother in marrying Americans, and she has even cut off contact with one daughter, but they all married for love and appear to be very happy with their choices.
Both Westcliff and St Vincent bonded as children over their awful fathers. Westcliff’s father was cold and mean, and abused him with harsh lessons to make him isolated and hard-hearted (literally locking him in a dog house to cure his fear of dogs; sending away anyone he was close to). His mother is no better and blames her own failings on her illegitimate daughter.
Westcliff and his siblings have taken care to break the chain of generational abuse, and foster strong relationships with each other and their own partners.
Wasted Potential of Women
Lillian has a prodigious nose for scents, and is most suited of all her siblings to help with the family soap business but because she is a woman none of that can happen. Lillian is also prevented from enjoying the sports in England in the same way she was allowed to back in New York – we get another “scandalous” rounders scene and references to the fact that women were now allowed to ride astride, but rather must use a side-saddle.
Once again though, while the author takes pains to have her characters bemoan their station in life they are also rooted in their time period and are resigned to their fates. The best they can hope for is that they can marry for love with a good husband.
My Favourite Wallflower
I just wanted to take a little moment for Evie, my favourite of the Wallflowers who gets relegated to the background as the wallflower of the Wallflowers! Her quieter, shy personality is the one that really speaks to me – I’m here for the quiet girls.
Waiting alone, her absent gaze fixed on a gold-framed landscape painting, Evie seemed lost in private contemplation. Her shrinking posture was that of an apologetic cypher. . . it was clear that she did not feel herself to be part of the gathering, nor did she wish to be.
This book ends with a shocking set-up and teaser for Devil in Winter, which is her book, and I cannot wait to get to know her better!
Recommendation: 3/5 Hearts
While there were a number of elements I did not like, and I really do not know what to make of the events in the final act, I still did overall enjoy this book and I read it in two days! If you enjoyed the first book I think you’ll like this one too. I am very excited to read book three and find out how Kleypas is going to spin St Vincent into a romantic lead…
Read all my reviews for The Wallflowers series
Have you read It Happened One Autumn or the others in The Wallflowers series?
Are you a romance book fan? Please share your thoughts with a comment below! I would also love any recommendations for similar books for next time I’m in the mood for some romance!