I was so addicted to Secrets of a Summer Night that I read the whole book within 24 hours! While it is not my go-to genre, sometimes I just need a good romance book, and this one was so satisfying. This is a solid four stars, please read on for my full review!
Four “Wallflowers” aka rejects of the Regency-era marriage season (think Jane Austen and Bridgerton) who always find themselves with empty dance cards at the balls, decide to team up and help each other find a husband. Their first project, the subject for Book 1, is Annabelle who is desperate to secure a wealthy husband to save her family from complete ruin. She has her sights on securing an aristocratic husband but must fend off the attentions of the bold and brash (but filthy rich) “commoner” Simon Hunt.
Annabelle is not really what I would consider a Wallflower, not in the sense that their sitting on the sidelines is due to her having a shy personality or any anxiety. She is not a shrinking violet and has no problem with conflict or speaking her mind, or chasing down her goals.
She is very practically-minded about the reality of her destitute family and what that means for her future. I wouldn’t say she has a lot of character beyond the typical “feisty” protagonist of this genre. She has no interests outside of finding a husband and then having a husband.
Love was a luxury she had never allowed herself to hope for—a distinctly superfluous issue when her very survival was so much in question.
She has some growth in that she goes from being snobby about “commoners” to embracing Simon and his family, and appreciating there may be more worth in work than loafing around all day living off your ancestral wealth.
The other wallflowers will get their novels, but for now, we also have two American heiresses – both lively and confident – and a shy, emotionally abused Evie who has a stammer. Evie is the true Wallflower and she has very little to do in this book really, she fully disappears for the final section.
Simon Hunt is your typical ruggedly handsome, all-muscles and dark-hair, love interest. He speaks his mind, he’s a bit rude.. think Mr Darcy type but he’s a wealthy entrepreneur, not a landed gentry. I have to say his motives towards Annabelle I found quite murky – we get a mix of his and her perspectives. He has been in love/lust with her from afar for years but she keeps turning him down. Yet he still only appears to be interested in sex and not in marrying her – which he knows she needs – so I found this quite confusing.
When exactly he has his change of heart from just wanting her as a mistress to proposing I am unclear – I just really didn’t understand what he was playing at! There are a lot of mixed messages as he has many thoughtful actions such as gifting her boots, or preparing her private feasts – acts of love – while at the same time asking her to name her price as his mistress… What do you want Simon?!
On both sides, I would say that the emotional progression towards love and marriage was disjointed, and a little nonsensical in places (I mean it’s so obvious that Simon is the answer to all her problems). But then this is a romance book and if characters had fully functioning brains and could communicate they’d be 50 pages.
“Oh, all right,” she said balefully, beginning to shake all over. “I’ll admit it—I want you. There, are you satisfied?
I want you.”
“In what capacity? Lover, or husband?”
Annabelle stared at him in shock.
The writing is very engaging, I did read this in a day! The author is American writing British characters which does show – she is more favourable to the American characters (of which there are a surprising amount) and her writing of the servants is frankly bordering on offensive (I write this as an English person)!
“Take my arm, please, miss,” the younger of the two said, extending her forearm for Annabelle to take hold of. “Yer not quite steady on yer feet looks like.”
“Me ma allus says ’tisn’t good to bathe when yer ill,” the maid told her dubiously.
I’m sorry, what now?
I just chuckled at this, enjoyed an eye-roll to myself and moved on as I enjoyed the rest of it so much!
One point that I didn’t think the author resolved is that she built up some conflict with Westcliff (Simon’s closest friend/business partner) hating Annabelle without ever explaining the reason for this. At one point he warns Simon off –
“You should,” the earl said emphatically. “Miss Peyton is a selfish jade if I’ve ever seen one.”
But I have no idea why he thought this. So much is made of his dislike it was strange that it was never developed – I expect we’d find out there had been some kind of misunderstanding, but no.
Vulnerability of women
Without a husband’s money to protect her a woman is incredibly vulnerable, and without a father’s money for a dowry, a woman has no worth as a marriage prospect. Annabelle’s family is destitute, her mother is already selling her body, to a disgusting predatory “family friend,” and soon she might have to do the same. This is something she wrestles with for much of the book.
The alternative, living in virtuous poverty and taking in sewing or washing, or becoming a governess, was infinitely more perilous—a young woman in that position would be at everyone’s mercy. And the pay wouldn’t be enough to sustain her mother, or Jeremy, who would also have to go into service. It didn’t seem that the three of them could afford Annabelle’s morality. They lived in a house of cards . . . and the merest agitation would cause it to collapse.
They are also under all kinds of arbitrary rules for how they look, act and dress in uncomfortable and impractical skirts and corsets.
“Then they should take up needlework, or do whatever it is that proper women do to enjoy themselves,” the earl growled. “At least they should find a hobby that doesn’t involve running naked through the countryside.”
Through the Bowman sisters, they fight against this a little, with their rounders match, but this is the world they live in so the four girls are mostly resigned to their fates.
Blue Blood is a depreciating currency
The three other “Wallflowers” are unwanted because while their fathers have money but it is not the right kind of money – it was not inherited wealth with a title, but earned (through industry or running an “immoral” business).
At various points, it is commented on that the members of the peerage are largely lazy and poor businessmen who are wasting their family’s wealth.
Unlike the silver-fork novels that depicted countless peers losing their wealth at the gambling tables, the reality was that modern aristocrats were generally not so reckless as they were simply inept financial managers.
Simon and Westcliffe have business in the railway industry and are held up as being better (physically and personality-wise) than all the other men there are not any other male characters – Lord Kendall is barely sketched (as the opposite of Simon, sweet but soft) – aside from these two. Most of the other Lords, if we see or hear from them at all, are disgusting pigs.
Given the fact that the Bowman sisters and Evie’s family are wealthy “commoners” I think means this theme is going to recur through the series.
Love is action not words
The strength of this book for me is that the most romantic moments are in how Simon shows his love through very thoughtful actions, and there are no grand declarations of love.
The shoes he sends her are incredibly romantic.
Something like a book of verse, a tin of toffee, or a bouquet would have been far more appropriate. But no gift had ever touched her as this one had. Annabelle kept the ankle boots with her all evening, despite her mother’s warning that it was bad luck to set footwear on the bed. As she eventually dropped off to sleep, with the orchestra music still washing lightly through the window, she consented to set the boots on the bedside table. When she awoke in the morning, the sight of them made her smile.
Caring for her in ways that show he was thinking about her as a person, is so much more romantic that the typical heroic, masculine acts like carrying her three flights of stairs.
He is not good at saying the right thing, but he is very good at doing the right thing.
Recommendation: 4/5 Hearts
I did blow through this so fast, I loved it. It was exactly what I needed, sometimes these formulaic romance books are what I want, and this one is very well written. There is some comfort in knowing what is going to happen next.
If you are a romance fan, especially this style of Regency romance you’ll love it. If you enjoyed Bridgerton on Netflix and those books, you’ll love this!
Read all my reviews for The Wallflowers series
Have you read Secrets of a Summer Night 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!