Dear Ms. Kleypas:
After reading the first two lackluster books in your Hathaways series, I was thrilled to jump back into one my favorites with A Wallflower Christmas. I was a big fan of Secrets of a Summer Night (The Wallflowers, Book 1), an even bigger fan of It Happened One Autumn (The Wallflowers, Book 2) and a crazed-read-it-a-dozen-times-fan of The Devil in Winter (The Wallflowers, Book 3). Scandal in Spring (The Wallflowers, Book 4)? Ehhh . . . not so much. Although not as good as the first three, I found A Wallflower Christmas to be an enjoyable, albeit flawed, story.
A Wallflower Christmas introduces us to Hannah Appleton. Hannah is an intelligent girl of little money who has been acting as the chaperone for her spoiled and self-involved, but generally kind-hearted cousin, Lady Natalie Blandford. The book opens with our former wallflowers discussing the arrival of Lillian and Daisy Bowman’s older brother Rafe, and his prospective engagement to Lady Natalie. Reading this scene with its comfortable charm and easy wit had me reminiscing about the books I enjoyed so well, happy to be back reading about such beloved characters. I could almost imagine myself sitting there with them, chatting and scheming away. And when they decided to set their matchmaking skills on Rafe, I had a clear picture in my mind of them as they grew older, matchmaking for their grand children and great-grandchildren. However, as much as I liked the Wallflowers, they almost took up too much of the book. They pop up quite frequently, nudging our hero and heroine closer to their happily ever after, but ultimately leaving an insufficient amount of page time for the romance between Hannah and Rafe. Some of my favorite scenes were the ones with The Wallflowers. The problem is that I ended up looking forward to those scenes more than the Rafe/Hannah scenes.
Rafe Bowman is frank, intelligent, hard working, successful, and quite the rake. He had a lonely childhood, growing up separated from his brothers and sisters. His father constantly pushed him to excel in all matters only to find him lacking each and every time. His relationship with his father is the defining aspect of his characterization. As Rafe grew older he rebelled, striking out on his own and achieving success. Despite said success, and a great deal of wealth and independence, Rafe wants nothing more than joint proprietorship of the Bowman Company’s European operations. His father has informed him that the only way Rafe will become a joint proprietor is to marry Lady Natalie. So what does Rafe do? Despite all his prior rebellion and despite despising his father for the years of solitude and misery he was forced to endure, he agrees to go to England to marry Natalie. Occasionally, he reminds his father that he hadn’t actually yet decided to marry the lady in question, but other times he evidences a sort of apathy towards marriage and seems inclined to accept his father’s demands.
One of the problems with the story was a lack of a credible conflict. This was due, in part, to Rafe’s character development. On the one hand, he’s had absolutely enough of his father, and won’t put up with him any longer. But on the other hand, he’s going to put up with him just this one last time because he REALLY wants that joint proprietorship. I just wasn’t convinced that Rafe, who had grown tired of being ordered around by his father and who had consequently struck out on his own, would then turn around and allow his father to dictate who he would and would not marry. I thought Rafe would have had it out with his father at the first hint of a coerced marriage. Forget going to England. Rafe should have told his father where to stick it and stayed in America. Of course, we wouldn’t have much of a story, but at least that scenario would have been believable. As it was, though, Rafe, and the conflict needed some revamping.
Upon hearing about the possible engagement, the Wallflowers decide that Rafe needs to know more about Natalie. Accordingly to the Wallflowers, English ladies don’t reveal their true nature until after the marriage so they invite Hannah over for tea to quiz her on the future bride. Hannah, quickly deducing that this is more than just a social visit, isn’t exactly thrilled. She’s convinced Rafe is nothing more than an unprincipled, lecherous rake. She also knows, however, just how important it is to Natalie’s father-her uncle- that Natalie marry someone very rich. Apparently, your average rich chap won’t do. Instead, Natalie’s husband must be filthy rich so that dad won’t have to worry about her when he’s gone. Hannah reluctantly agrees to go, but remains convinced that the marriage shouldn’t take place. Upon meeting Rafe, she is instantly drawn to the handsome and charismatic man. She and Rafe exchange some words (not that many, actually), a couple barbs, and only a few pages later, he’s Kissing her with a capital K. The whole love/hate, or distrust/lust thing usually works for me- when there’s time to flesh it out. In fact, I think it’s done particularly well in one of my favorite books, The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn. Unfortunately, Ms. Kleypas’ story suffered from not only being very familiar (see the aforementioned book) but from being too short and rushed to allow this relationship blossom as it needed to. The story itself flows pretty quickly, especially when the Wallflowers are in it, but it was a story that could definitely have benefitted from a larger word count. Hannah goes from blindly disliking Rafe to meeting him to kissing him to falling in love with him all within a very short amount of time, and I just felt a little taken aback by her very abrupt change of mind.
Maybe there was just too much going on. It seemed that Ms. Kleypas was trying to give us enough of the Wallflowers to make us happy. And I truly enjoyed most of the Wallflowers’ scenes, particularly one towards the end involving a certain letter. I also loved the part about Rafe’s toy soldier- it may be my favorite aspect of this book. But between the too rushed romance, the conflict over Rafe’s dictatorial father, Hannah and Natalie’s disagreements about Rafe, and the Wallflowers frequent appearances to help things along, there were too many things going on given the book’s short length. In fact, a conflict is introduced between Lillian and Westcliffe, but that too doesn’t get much time and is resolved so quickly I wondered why Kleypas even bothered. Much of the conflict is resolved the same way: too quickly. Barriers to relationships seem to just disappear. Characters who wanted one thing no longer have a problem with just the opposite. And in the end, we get our rather unsatisfactory happily ever after. The story is certainly enjoyable, but the existent flaws on top of the more expensive hardcover price may leave some readers wishing they had waited until it came out in paperback.