Bow down, motherfu*kers. The Queen is in the house.
Go look at my list of books by author. Note that one author has TWENTY-THREE entries on it. Lisa Kleypas is my historical romance genre gold standard. Hers are the books I place on the “keeper shelf”, have re-read the most, and will recommend to anyone who will listen. As is my wont, I read one of her best books first and then went back and devoured everything else I could find. Her earliest work is a bit rough, but she started gathering steam with Dreaming of You (CLASSIC) and forged ahead from there. She has a few connected series, but The Wallflowers and The Hathaways are the strongest.
Kleypas specializes in rakish, sardonic, self-made men, otherwise known as my catnip. One of the things I find particularly enjoyable is that the men have either worked their way up from virtually nothing, or are making their own way in the world despite inherited privilege.
The Wallflowers, Annabelle, Evie, Lillian, and Daisy, are four young women out in society who bond over their mutual rejection by eligible men. After spending time on the side lines of many a ballroom, they decide to work together to find suitable husbands. There is a lot of cross-pollination between the stories which means you get to visit the characters multiple times.
Secrets of a Summer Night – Simon (Rake) and Annabelle
I’ll never be asked to rank my favourite heroes, but if I did, oh, if I did (and I might on the drive home tonight) Simon Hunt is near the top of the list. Simon is the son of a butcher who, through sheer intelligence, hard work, and drive, has become one of the wealthiest men in England. Moving along the fringes of the aristocratic society he rejects, he has had his eye on Annabelle Peyton for quite some time. Living on the razor’s edge in genteel poverty, she is a great beauty, but her lack of a dowry makes her more eligible to be a mistress than a wife; in fact, the sharks are already circling as she nears the age of being put on the shelf. Simon is one of the sharks. He wants Annabelle for his mistress very badly; however, she wants to marry and stay within her own class, so she fights the profound attraction she feels for Simon. It’s a race between finding a “suitable” husband and acknowledging that the perfect one is standing right in front of her.
Annabelle and Simon get married, but the book continues as they work towards “I love you.” I try not to over analyze these things, but I liked it that they got married and then there was kind of a “Now what?” They’d both spent so long working towards their joining that they arrived in the marriage not really knowing each other.
As the first book in the series, the novel takes some time setting up the women’s friendship and characters. Kleypas even recreates certain scenes in the next book to show it from other players’ perspectives.
It Happened One Autumn – Marcus (Protector) and Lillian
Marcus Marsden, Lord Westcliff, appears in several Kleypas books, his family home is the setting for many of them as well. He’s a supporting character in an earlier novel featuring his sisters (Again the Magic, or, as it’s known in my mind, The One With the Far More Compelling Secondary Love Story and, Good Lord, Gideon Is Hot and Deserved His Own Book), and also figures in the Bow Street Runners series. Marcus also has the distinction of being number one on the Wallflowers’ list of eligible men. He is not the Adonis that either Simon or Sebastian are, rather he is an honourable fortress of a man. I have to admit that I don’t really like him as he crosses some autocratic line for me (which I normally, shamefully, enjoy). Ironically, I’m not sure I like his heroine either: Lillian Bowman is the outspoken daughter of an American Industrialist living in London with her sister, Daisy, trying to make an advantageous marriage: his title, her money. Lillian’s character borders on strident and although it is clear she is exactly what someone like Marcus needs to balance him, she can be a bit grating. This novel also has a truly ridiculous subplot involving a love potion, but it’s minor and ignorable.
Make no mistake, not-fantastic Kleypas is still very damn good and this book has several scenes I adore.
The Devil in Winter – Sebastian (The Rake to End All Rakes) and Evie
5 Stars, XOXO, plus some hearts, and a drawing of a flower
Sweet Jesus. The one, the only, the supreme romance novel hero: Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent. This hero, along with the other ultimate Kleypas dreamboat Derek Craven (Dreaming of You), is virtually guaranteed to show up on any Top 10 list of historical romance novels. Gorgeous, charming, seductive, he’s the total package.
Despite a massive fortune from her father’s gaming club, Wallflower Evie Jenner is overlooked. Living with abusive relatives on a death watch for her father, Evie is a horribly mistreated resulting in a complete lack of confidence, a withdrawn demeanor, and a stutter. She’s an exotic beauty who has managed, even with “the reddest hair he had ever seen”, to avoid notice. To escape her awful relatives, and avoid marriage to an odious cousin, Evie presents herself to Sebastian with an offer: her money, his protection. Sebastian’s father, a profligate Duke, is running out of money which means Sebastian is, too.
The Devil in Winter opens with Sebastian and Evie’s elopement to Gretna Green and the consummation of their marriage, then works towards mutual declarations of love. In the meantime, Sebastian finds that running a gambling club is the perfect match for his charms and abilities, and Evie ties him into knots. Given the rakish reputation established for Sebastian in the preceding books, Kleypas wisely establishes Evie as his
romantic sexual equal at the outset. He is a man of plentiful experience and strong appetites, an uptight woman was not going to fit the bill.
Scandal in the Spring – Matthew (Protector) and Daisy
How do you follow up on one of the best romance novels ever written? You very wisely tone everything down. Tired of waiting for Daisy to find a perfect match (his title, her money), her father issues a deadline and tells her that if she fails to find a husband, she must marry his assistant, Matthew Swift. Daisy remembers Matthew from years ago and not kindly. Matthew, well, Matthew has been in love with Daisy the entire time. When Matthew comes back into her life, fully-grown, successful and kind, Daisy fights between what she desires and what she feels forced into. Marcus and Lillian, and Sebastian and Evie, appear in the book, although Sebastian and Evie never interact or speak with each other which is kind of odd.
This is a sweet book with a little sturm and drang thrown in for good measure. The whole series gets wrapped up with a bow.
A Wallflower Christmas – Rafe (Rake) and Hannah
Let’s be honest, no one bought this novella for Rafe and Hannah. He is the brother of Lillian and Daisy, but the love story is shoe-horned in around visits with the sisters, Annabelle, and Evie. Sadly, Sebastian appears in just one chapter. It is the only part of the book, other than those 5 seconds of Simon Hunt, that I ever go back to. Frankly, A Wallflower Christmas is awful. The story feels as perfunctory as the publishing obligation and clever marketing it no doubt represents. Its treatment of the Wallflowers undermines the other books and is diminishing to the characters. There’s a ridiculous subplot involving accusations of Marcus cheating on Lillian (as if) and since it is set at their home, they feature the most heavily. This novella is for Kleypas completists only, of which I am one.
A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.
Tagged: book reviews, classic romance, Devil in Winter, historical romance, It Happened One Autumn, Lisa Kleypas, romance reviews, Scandal in the Spring, Secrets of a Summer Night, Victorian romance, Wallflowers