October 2005, European Historical Romance (1840s [Victorian] England)
Avon, $7.50, 400 pages, Amazon ASIN 0060562498 Part of a series
Marcus Marsden, the Earl of Westcliff, has been a supporting character in several of Lisa Kleypas' previous novels. He finally meets his match and gets his own love story in this second entry of the Wallflower series.
The nouveau-riche Bowmans, manufacturers of scents and soaps, have been unable to break into the very stuffy New York City society scene, and so have brought their daughters to England, part of the wave of rich Americans trying their hand at snagging titles for their daughters. The Bowman girls are not having much success in London either, having spent the last Season as wallflowers, though they have made good friends with some other girls while sitting on the sidelines of every ball.
Lillian Bowman is a sharp-tongued, cynical woman with a biting humor, but she is also fiercely loyal, especially to the Wallflowers. Marcus, while an exemplary man and excellent brother, can be a bit domineering, manipulative and arrogant. As these words can also be used to describe Lillian, it is inevitable that the two have clashed when they've met in the past. Lillian sees Marcus as a stodgy, pompous autocrat, and Marcus believes her to be a reckless, ill-bred hellion. And they're both right. Now that they are much in each other's company at Marcus's house party, during which he hopes to do some business with Lillian's father, the air practically seethes around them. Everyone but them can see that their antagonism masks a potent attraction. But will they kill each other before they admit it?
This was such a fun read, with much more humor than one expects to find in a Lisa Kleypas novel, who specializes in yummy tortured heroes and angsty relationships. Marcus has pain in his past, a demanding tyrant of a father and an uncaring mother, but he has risen above it to become a very good, if stodgy, man who doesn't take his ill-treatment out on others. Indeed, he has become all the more caring because of it, becoming a reformist in Parliament, a loving brother to his sisters, and a good friend. Marcus has never been a slave to his passions and so it is a delight to see him wrestle with his attraction to the unsuitable Lillian and fail miserably as he can't seem to keep from kissing her when they are alone, much as it - and she - vexes him.
Lillian is a smart, irreverent, physically active, independent woman who frequently acts before she thinks and has very little patience with the seemingly inane rules of society. She is just as befuddled as Marcus to discover when he murmurs, "I want to kiss you everywhere…", that she would like nothing better. Kleypas does an excellent job of gradually changing their angry bickering to more of a mutual teasing, from being mean-spirited to a friendly one-upsmanship of kindred spirits. At the beginning of the book, there was no way I could envision these two being together without one of them eventually killing the other, but I ended it assured that, though their lives together would never be dull, they really are perfect for each other and would be truly happy.
Add to this enjoyable scenes of playing rounders (an early form of baseball), fun girlfriend gossip, magic perfume, a memorable dinner entrée straight out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, some hot love scenes and you've got a winner. So why the A-? The ending got a tad melodramatic with an out-of-left-field heroine-in-danger plot that seemed unnecessary and didn't fit in with the rest of the story. But this is a small problem and doesn't last long or take away from my overall enchantment with It Happened One Autumn.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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Don't miss Lisa Kleypas's DIK review of The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale