Cbr10bingo Brain Candy
For the “Not in my Wheelhouse” square on my bingo card, I reviewed the romance novel The Hating Game, a CBR favorite but not one of mine. In that review, I indicated that I had read another romance novel that I disliked even more than that one, and ladies and gentlemen, here it is. Secrets of a Summer Night is an historical romance, and I thought that the historical part would make up for some of the romance parts that left me cold, but I was wrong. So wrong.
Secrets is book one of a series featuring four young women in mid-19th century London who need to get married. They are women who either come from the right families but have lost their fortune or, in the case of the American sisters, possess great fortune but lack family name or title, and thus lack entree into London society. While sitting at a ball, waiting for dance offers that never come, the four young women make a pact to help each other get husbands. Annabelle Peyton is their top priority due to her advanced age. She is 22 and this is her last season so if she doesn’t snag someone, she, her mother and younger brother will end up impoverished or Annabelle will have to resort to drastic measures and become a mistress. The thing is, there are plenty of eligible young women at these balls, and those who have wealth and a family name are way ahead of Annabelle and company. To give credit where it is due, Kleypas does a good job explaining how the British aristocracy is experiencing financial decline, and even those families who seem to have security are dancing on the edge. Maintaining estates is expensive and doesn’t bring in the cash the way it used to, but being innovative and dabbling in industry is considered gauche. Enter the dashing hero Simon Hunt. Hunt is from the lower classes, the son of a butcher who has made his own way and great fortune through smart investment in industry. He is invited to various society parties despite his outsider status because Lord Westcliff, a wealthy man who recognizes the value of modern industry, respects Hunt’s intelligence and financial success. Hunt is a dashing rake, tall, dark and handsome, and he has his eyes on Annabelle. In fact, he and Annabelle have met before. Not only is Hunt’s father the butcher to Annabelle’s family, but Annabelle and Hunt had an amorous encounter several years back. This encounter is the opening to the novel and is very creepy and cringe-worthy, IMO. He basically gropes her and forces himself on her in the dark at a panorama show after paying the entrance fees for Annabelle and her little brother when he saw that she was short of cash. So he’s a gentleman for paying but then is entitled to grab her? I think this is supposed to be sexy? Ugh. Anyway, fast forward to Annabelle’s last season and Hunt (as well as everyone else) knows that Annabelle has no money to bring to a marriage. He makes it clear to her what he wants, and manages to find ways to get her alone to demonstrate that, but Annabelle, despite being terribly physically attracted to Hunt, is quite emphatic that he is unacceptable. She needs a man of her class to take care of her and her family. Hunt won’t take no for an answer though, and the pursuit is on.
Plot-wise, this book is like a mash up of several classic love stories. We’ve got the handsome profiteer with a heart of gold a la Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind; the girl from a good family fallen on hard times and desperate for a good marriage (Austen, P&P); a mother who has had to resort to letting her deceased husband’s business partner have his way with her in order to be financially supported, and then the man goes after her daughter as well (Doctor Zhivago). The action takes place mostly at society parties, some held over weekends where everyone stays at the estate. This leads to lots of chance meetings in hallways, groping behind curtains, trying to set up encounters with unsuspecting lords in the hopes of tricking them into marriage. There’s also this thing that came up in Hating Game, too, and I wonder if it is a typical romance novel plot device: the female protagonist ends up ill and is doctored back to health by the male protagonist. I guess the point is to show that while this guy is kind of a stalker/perv who can barely keep his pants up, he has a sensitive, compassionate, nurturing side? Another thing I noticed with the two romances is that there is a lot of description about the way the male protagonists smell. Like, it comes up more than once and is quite detailed. They all seem to smell like pine and soap and mint and musk. It made me think of this. Sorry.
Overall, the problem I have with Secrets is the same one I had with Hating Game. No doesn’t mean no when a woman says it, and hate and lust are interchangeable. The stuff Hunt says and does is supposed to be sexy but it’s kind of horrifying when you consider that Annabelle has made her intentions clear. I guess it’s supposed to be ok because Annabelle doesn’t really know what she wants? Or because Hunt deep down inside is a good guy and not a rapist? I’ll give Kleypas credit for incorporating pretty good historical detail in her book. The information about class stratification, the declining fortunes of some of the upper class and rising fortunes of some of the lower classes, and the conflict that ensues is addressed well. The American sisters are interesting characters. One might think they’d be highly desirable due to their wealth, but their ignorance of matters related to class is an impediment and so they need patrons of a sort to get a foot in the door. And of course the subordinate position of women is at the center of the story. Women were expected to marry and care for families. Other than becoming a governess or mistress, not much else was available for middle and upper class women. The next three books in the series deal with Annabelle’s three fellow wallflowers, including the American sisters. Maybe they are better than this one, but I think I’ve had enough brain candy for now.