REVIEW: Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuiston
Dear Ms. McQuiston,
A friend recommended one of the books in your previous series to me, but since I’m anal about reading series in order, I decided to buy Diary of an Accidental Wallflower, the first book in your new series, The Seduction Diaries, instead.
The novel begins when Clare Westmore goes to the park with her younger siblings, badly dressed seventeen year old Lucy and the deliberately tactless, mischievous thirteen year old Geoffrey.
Clare is a viscount’s daughter in her second social season and she has set her cap for one Mr. Alban, an heir to a duke. Clare’s parents are estranged, though they still live in the same house. Her siblings misbehave and she feels that to compensate for their acting out, she must hold everything together.
Clare has emulated and befriended the two most popular girls of the season, Rose and Sophie, although it means deriding wallflowers and other unfashionable people, in the hope of snagging Mr. Alban. She reasons that if she can just win an offer of marriage from a duke, no one will be able to look down on her family even if their flaws come out.
When Clare spots Mr. Alban at the park while wearing dress she doesn’t want him to see her in, she freezes, and before she can decide whether to hide in a rhododendron bush, she is assailed by geese. In the midst of this avian melee, Clare twists her ankle and falls into the bush.
Mr. Alban passes by, oblivious, but the damage is done. Clare’s ankle hurts badly, yet – convinced Mr. Alban is close to making an offer for her – that night at Lady Austerley’s annual ball, Clare attempts to dance on it anyway.
Meanwhile, Lady Austerley’s young doctor, Daniel Merial, is present at the ball that night. Daniel came to be Lady Austerley’s doctor after treating her when she fainted in public one day, and he has since befriended the lonely, aging aristocrat.
Daniel, who, in typical hero fashion, is drop-dead gorgeous, usually treats poorer patients in St. Bartholomew’s hospital and at night he goes home to a small apartment in Smithfield and works on developing a chloroform regulator.
But despite his selflessness, Daniel is also trying to grow a private practice, and after failing to persuade the frail Lady Austerley that throwing a ball is the worst thing she could possibly do, Daniel agrees to stay at the ball in case she needs medical assistance.
A new opportunity appears on Daniel’s horizon when he watches Clare limp to the wallflower line, persuaded by her so-called friends to wait there for Mr. Alban, so that she won’t be constantly asked to dance.
Daniel tries to persuade Clare to allow him to have a look at her ankle, and even follows her to the library, where the two find Clare’s mother in a compromising position with a gentleman who isn’t her husband.
A horrified Clare allows Daniel to examine her ankle in her mother’s presence, and then she and her mother invite him to treat Clare until she recovers. Clare hopes that by engaging Daniel’s services, they will also engage his confidentiality on the matter of her mother’s indiscretion.
But Daniel tells Clare that she likely won’t be able to dance again for another month. And the more he visits her, the more Clare finds herself attracted to him – a struggling doctor and a man whose social station is below her own. Clare’s siblings, too, hit it off with Daniel, who convinces Lucy to stop dressing like a boy and Geoffrey to behave himself better.
When Clare’s ankle finally heals, who will she choose, the heir to the duke, or the struggling doctor? In a contest between a title and love, which will win?
I have a fondness for characters others don’t consider fully sympathetic so one of the things I appreciated in this book was that Clare’s early actions and motives don’t make her appealing right off the bat. It’s only as we get to know her that we come to better understand (even if not approve of) her initial willingness to join in Rose and Sophie’s mockery of others.
As the story progressed and Clare learned a painful lesson about joining in with mean friends for the sake of popularity, it becomes easier to sympathize with her, especially since we also see how much she cares for her family and how she struggles to do the right thing for them, and not just for herself.
Daniel was a different story. He was a good guy from the very beginning, dedicated to healing and helping others. I didn’t like him as much, though, mainly because he lacked a growth arc. He was pretty much the same guy at the beginning of the book that he was at the end.
He also had an annoying habit of chuckling at things Clare or her siblings said. It may just be me, but I associate the word “chuckle” with patronizing laughter.
Another thing about Daniel that bothered me was that he turned down opportunities to make money a little too easily for someone who was financially struggling. This aspect of his character didn’t feel entirely believable, and neither did another one – that so many of the women in the story had eyes for him.
While Daniel was attracted to Clare, I never understood what, beyond her beauty, drew him to her. I felt her attraction to him more than his to her, so the chemistry between the couple wasn’t 100% there for me.
Though on rare occasion it feels forced, you have an elegant voice that I like, as well as a sense of humor I enjoyed. The tone of your writing has a formality that suits the historical genre. There are excerpts from Clare’s diary interspersed through the novel and these provided an epistolary touch, as well as some insight into the changes in Clare as she wrestled with her attraction to Daniel.
The social mores of the time period were dismissed a little too easily in this book. For example, Clare and Daniel are on a first name basis quickly and at one point, while on an outing, he even introduces her and her siblings to a patient of his who up until very recently was a streetwalker. I was surprised that I was able to go with the flow and keep reading despite the number of times the rules and manners of the time were dispensed with. I put the fact that I was able to do that down to your appealing voice.
Where the novel really shines is in three areas. First, the unusual plot in which the heroine is required to choose between an aristocrat and a doctor. I haven’t read anything like that since Carla Kelly’s Libby’s London Merchant. And usually when I come across historical romances that feature a class difference trope, it is the hero who has the wealth and money, and the heroine who is a commoner. I loved that here this was reversed.
Second, I really liked the family interactions in this book. Daniel’s relationship with Lucy and Geoffrey reminded me a little of some Georgette Heyer novels (like Frederica) in which the hero takes the heroine’s younger siblings in hand and gives them food for thought as well as adventures. And I also loved that the heroine’s parents were still around, but instead of being orphaned, she had to deal with their marital difficulties.
Finally, there was Clare’s growth from someone to whom a title mattered above all to someone who recognized the value of love. I loved that her transformation wasn’t simply about falling for Daniel, though there was that, but also about her realization that the people she’d known and loved all her life weren’t entirely the people she’d always thought them to be, and neither was she.
Diary of an Accidental Wallflower wasn’t perfect, but I liked it enough that I’ll probably check out more of your books. C+.