Secrets of a Summer Night (#84 on AAR's Top 100 Romances)
An AAR Top 100 Romance
originally published on October 3, 2004
Though I only recently discovered her books, Lisa Kleypas has quickly become one of my favorite authors. After enjoying her superb storytelling and meeting great heroes like Derek Craven and Sir Ross Cannon (my personal favorite), I thought I knew what to expect when I picked up one of her books. Sadly, her latest just does not live up to the greatness of her earlier books.
Impoverished aristocrat Annabelle Peyton is determined to marry a wealthy peer in order to secure her family’s future. Though any peer will do as long as he is wealthy and willing to marry Annabelle, her dowdy clothing and lack of dowry have failed to endear her to the Season’s bachelors. At the conclusion of another unsuccessful Season, Annabelle takes stock and decides to make the acquaintance of the other wallflowers who have been sitting out dance after dance beside her.
Annabelle and her three sidekicks – Evie, a shy heiress whose roots are deemed rather common, and the Bowman sisters, two title-hunting American heiresses whose manners are too brash for delicate English society – come up with a plan. They dub their little group the Wallflowers and decide they will take turns helping each other find husbands. Since Annabelle is oldest and in the most dire straits, she gets dibs on the first peer. Unfortunately for Annabelle, however, Simon Hunt seems bent on thwarting her pursuit of a peer. Though Annabelle finds him attractive, Simon is a commoner – and a butcher’s son at that.
The Wallflowers (and you will hear this name used by its four members ad nauseum) take action at a house party in Hampshire where they size up their quarry and start stalking. However, Simon Hunt is a guest at the same party and, as one might imagine, this causes the best laid plans of mice and Wallflowers to quickly go awry.
While this novel does have a few truly humorous moments, most of it is just ordinary as dirt. From an author of Kleypas’ caliber, I found this sad. As I endured the husband-hunting escapades, I kept hoping that things would spark to life, but they just did not. Annabelle and her sidekicks come off as vapid, shallow little twits. While Kleypas develops a tale of poverty and desperation to humanize Annabelle somewhat, she never became entirely likable nor did she seem to have much depth. She and each of the Wallflowers seemed more to exemplify stereotypes of character traits rather than existing as well-developed characters in a story. The result is not a horrible book, but simply an ordinary “wallpaper” historical with not much unique to recommend it.
In addition, the novel did not have much of a sense of place and time. While this improved somewhat in the second half of the book, I still felt as though the characters in the book were simply a gaggle of modern-day teenagers acting out their tale against a Victorian backdrop. Were it not for the opening line stating that the story took place in 1843, I would have been at a loss to even determine the time period.
Simon Hunt is perhaps the brightest spot in the novel. Though not my favorite Kleypas hero, he is well-drawn and easily the most complex character in the piece, though I was mystified by his attraction to Annabelle. I enjoyed his sense of humor and decisiveness and scenes with Simon made for much better reading than scenes without him. As with several other Kleypas heroes, Simon Hunt is almost entirely a self-made man and he exudes a strength that seemed to be lacking from most of the aristocrats pursued by the Wallflowers. This contrast between Simon and the aristocrats was striking.
Though it has a sound hero and some good humor, Secrets of a Summer Night lacks the lyrical storytelling quality of Lisa Kleypas’ best work. It saddens me to say that this book is merely average, but that is just what it is. I wish I could recommend it, but, instead, I would rather point readers to the author’s backlist. There are really too many treasures there to mention, but Where Dreams Begin, Dreaming of You, and Lady Sophia’s Lover would all be good places to start.