2008, European Historical Romance (1840s [Victorian])
St. Martin's Press, $16.95, 224 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312533780 Part of a series
When the wind is cold and the snow is high, and you have too many presents left to wrap, it's nice to have a comforting book to take to bed with you. If you loved Lisa Kleypas's Wallflower books you will enjoy this peek at the heroines' married lives. Though the main love story could have been more restrained, I enjoyed this comfy tale, most of which takes place during a Christmas house party.
Hannah Applegate, unpaid companion and poor relation to her flighty and aristocratic cousin Natalie, receives an order from her uncle, Lord Blanford, to match Natalie with Rafe Bowman, a wealthy American businessman. Hannah, who loves her cousin, disapproves of the plan on principle. How could vulgar American wealth take the place of culture and refinement in her uncle's ambitions? Surely he must realize that an American with money could not possibly be worthy of Natalie's refined company? Not that she minds Americans you understand, it's just, well,you know.
Hannah's opinion of Rafe is not improved on meeting him. He begins his acquaintance by shaking hands, a strange American custom. Then, he points out that an unpaid lady's companion situation might be inferior to that of a paid servant. When Rafe makes a pass at Hannah and kisses her, Hannah is sure that she has the perfect argument to convince Natalie to ignore his suit. But Natalie, who is well born, rather than truly refined, takes Rafe's behavior very lightly. Hannah is left with growing feelings for the American whom everyone expects to marry her cousin.
Rafe Bowman wants to marry Natalie because his father has made it a condition for allowing Rafe in on a joint business venture. Rafe is the brother of Daisy and Lillian Bowman, two wealthy American sisters were the heroines of the previous Wallflower books Scandal in Spring and It Happened One Autumn. He is one of those heroes who needs to prove something to his father and carries a kind of scar for never having done it. When he meets Natalie, he likes her a lot. But the more he sees of Hannah, her companion, the more attracted he is to her.
Then Natalie is invited for a Christmas visit with Rafe and his family and Hannah is giving marching orders to convince Natalie to marry Rafe. Everyone seems to know that the unstated purpose of this visit is to allow Rafe and Natalie to get to know each other, and perhaps become engaged. But Rafe is not one to let duty get in the way of pleasure. From the time that Hannah and her cousin arrive at the house, Rafe strives to seduce Hannah. Hannah's feelings go from angry to miserable as she watches the public courtship of Natalie and Rafe. In the meantime the other "wallflowers" whom we met in the previous wallflower novels, have small secondary stories. One is pregnant. Another is worried about her husband's affections, a third is full of advice. None of these stories is particularly suspenseful, but it was nice to get more than the usual cameo appearance from old heroes and heroines. Reading about the Wallflowers is like a pleasant visit with old friends, a bit more dramatic than an epilogue, but not much more.
The principal flaw in this story is that Rafe's behavior toward Hannah goes too far. If Hannah were a maidservant or if she were married or a widow, Rafe's actions would be offensive, but not taboo. Hannah, however, is both a gentlewoman and her cousin's closest friend and confidant. Why doesn't Rafe see this? Even an American, unschooled in the ways of the English upper class would realize that seducing the impoverished cousin of his potential fiancÚ is the height of bad manners. At one point Rafe suggests to Hannah that she become his mistress. Later on he takes the seduction so far that I found it hard to believe that he was as ambitious and as intelligent as he was supposed to be.
Given the setting and relationships in the book, I found myself wishing that the book's sensuality had been subtle rather than warm. Some things are just not right and heavy petting with your supposed girlfriend's cousin is one of them. This was one case where two people looking longingly across the room at each other, would have been sexier than the same couple making love.
At 16.95 for 224 pages A Wallflower Christmas is little pricey but the cover is lovely and it would make a nice gift for someone who loves Kleypas. Despite a few problems, I enjoyed A Wallflower Christmas and recommend it, especially to readers who enjoyed the Wallflower series.
-- Robin Uncapher
Order this book from Amazon Books
To comment about any of these reviews on our reviews forum