I was strictly ‘meh’ on The Wicked Wallflower, the first book in Maya Rodale’s Wallflower series. As has been my experience, the second book in the series Wallflower Gone Wild is so, so much better. It’s a charming, funny romp and it makes me say things like “charming, funny romp” like I’m an asshole reviewing a Julia Roberts movie. It’s so good I was willing to ignore that horrible wig the woman on the cover is wearing.
Basically this book is about looking past the labels society gives a person. In the heroine’s case, that label is London’s Least Likely to Cause a Scandal.
The series centers around three friends, Emma, Olivia and Prudence, who all are facing spinsterhood despite having graduated from a prestigious finishing school. In this book Lady Olivia Archer’s parents have made it very clear that this is her last Season. They can’t afford another and she’s been groomed for being the perfect wife since childhood.
The problem is, Olivia can’t find a husband. This is probably due to the fact that all that “wife grooming” stuff has left her with little more to talk about than watercolors and embroidery. Also her mother, who gives Mrs. Bennet a run for her money, is always hovering around being a helicopter parent and telling her that ladies drink lemonade not punch.
So anyway, with things looking dire Olivia’s dad arranges a marriage to Phinneas Cole—a man known as the Mad Baron. There are rumors that Phinn murdered his first wife. He even has the desolate Yorkshire estate required of potential Gothic heroes.
Olivia doesn’t want to marry Phinn. She’s never met him and he might be a murderer. And after being the perfect child/debutante she’s all, “Fuck this noise.”
And that’s where this book gets really good. Olivia and her friends enact a plan to drive Phinn to break off the engagement. She breaks all the rules she’s lived by. She comes downstairs to meet Phinn for the first time caked in rogue and kohl, like a little kid who got ahold of mommy’s makeup.
She gets drunk at a ball (Prudence is kind enough to spike the already spiked punch). She arranges for her gown to strategically tear and reveal too much bosom and leg. She eats two cookies at tea. Two goddamned cookies, people!
Probably the best scenes were when she awkwardly flirted with known rakes and scoundrels at parties. She sort of had this nervous “How you doin’?” thing going on.
I loved how she tried to sabotage her engagement, I loved the joy she felt in not being the good girl, and I loved that she had girlfriends willing to help her. Books with strong female friendships are great, and the Bad Boys & Wallflower series does have that in spades.
Phinn originally arranged for a marriage to Olivia specifically because she was sweet and bland and biddable, everything his previous wife was not. Basically he’s looking to avoid the drama. And he’s really not a Gothic, brooding hero. When it gets down to it, Phinn is kind of shy and nerdy. Part of what I loved was seeing Phinn as he truly was (and falling in love with him) and seeing him as this terrifying Gothic villain through Olivia’s eyes at the same time.
The more ridiculous and unpredictable Olivia gets, the more in love with her Phinn falls. Eventually she realizes he’s not a monster and they do marry, and part of this book is about navigating life married to a stranger.
There’s a funny scene where Olivia’s mother shows up after the wedding and finds a naughty book one of Phinn’s friends left on the table as a joke (it pays to mention that they’ve waited to consummate the marriage until they know each other better):
“I cannot believe you have polluted Olivia’s tender sensibilities with this…” Words failed Lady Archer.
“A young lady ought to be obliging to her husband,” Olivia said demurely, which sent both him and her mother into a coughing fit. Lady Archer dug around in her reticule before removing a bottle of smelling salts. She held them to her nose and inhaled deeply. Phinn had half a mind to do so himself.
Olivia was…sometimes the perfect lady. Sometimes the perfect minx, and occasionally the devil herself. He wanted her all of the times. Always.
“Olivia,” her mother began patiently whist holding the book between her thumb and forefinger. “Ladies do not do this.”
Phinn tilted his head to see precisely what ladies did not do. It seemed they did not lift their skirts whilst bending over a settee while a gentleman takes her from behind while pleasuring her with his hands. God, he hoped Olivia was not a lady.
The sexual tension in this book was really well done, and I loved the slow and organic way that Olivia and Phinn looked past “London’s Least Likely” and “The Mad Baron” to fall in love with the actual person they were married to. Reading about both of them coming out of their shells was a delight.
The reason this book didn’t get an A+ was that there was some conflict easily avoided by talking, and a bit where Olivia doesn’t realize she’s kissed Phinn because he’s wearing a mask (and he doesn’t tell her) that I found a little ridiculous. Still, all of that was minor compared to the rogue-wearing, gin-drinking, bodice-tearing goodness.
So how good was this book? Well, it made me go over my time on the treadmill and that never happens, people. I’m eagerly awaiting book three in the series.