SB Sarah has said it's really hard to write a 'meh' review, and 'meh' sums up my feelings about The Wicked Wallflower by Maya Rodale. It wasn't bad, it just wasn't great either. Maybe if I'd been really starved for a Regency, I would have appreciated it more.
Basically, The Wicked Wallflower is about a nerd heroine looking for a quiet life who falls in love with a rakish duke. The premise is great, and I enjoyed the characters, but there a few points in the novel where I found myself questioning the character's actions. Those moments of doubt were enough to pull me away from the text and prevent me from really enjoying the book. I read romance to escape my day-to-day (among other reasons), and it's hard to immerse yourself in a book when you keep going “huh?”
Enough bitching, on to summary. Lady Emma Avery is in a pickle. She's been out for three seasons, and her family can't afford a fourth. If she doesn't marry soon, she'll be facing spinsterhood. Emma is stuck with the unfortunate nickname “the Buxom Bluestocking” due to her love of reading (and presumably her boobs). She's also been voted Least Likely to Misbehave by some of the bitchier members of the ton. All of this adds up to a less than alluring catch for Society's eligible bachelors. Emma doesn't really mind all of this. She's got her eye on Benedict, a quiet, unassuming young man who shares her love of books. The problem is that Benedict needs to marry an heiress to keep the family afloat, and Emma isn't rich.
So one night, after drinking too much sherry, Emma and her friends write a letter announcing her engagement to the most eligible bachelor of them all, Blake, the Duke of Ashbrooke. The letter is just a joke, but it's lost, and then–gasp–mysteriously printed in the newspaper. Emma is ready to die of embarrassment when something remarkable happens–the Duke, who she doesn't know, shows up and confirms the engagement in front of a parlor full of people.
What the hell, right?
Blake is like any good Regency duke. He's smarmy, really hot, has good teeth, and he sleeps around more than James Bond. Seriously, Blake's brain should be melting from syphilis. But since romance heroes are immune from STDs, we'll ignore that and move along. So Blake has a problem. He's rich but not super-duper rich. And he needs an investment of £90,000 to build his dream invention, the Difference Engine. Basically, it's a calculator. People from Back Then used to use little cheat books to figure out math problems. The books weren't always accurate (neither were people's calculations) which created a slew of problems. And Blake's parents died when a shoddy building collapsed on them because the builder's math was wrong, etc, etc, you get where this is going.
Blake could go to his family, but they don't really like him because he spends a lot of time deflowering twins and shit like that. His Aunt Agatha has more money than God, but she disapproves of his ways. Every year Agatha, who is old and infirm, hosts an event called The Hunger Games where the gentry fight to the death… Oh wait, different book. She hosts The Fortune Games where her family spends a week at her country estate. Agatha changes her will at the end of the week, leaving her heaps of money to whichever relative she basically deems the most deserving/least irritating. Blake thinks he might win if he shows up with a nice, least-likely-to-misbehave fiancée on his arm.
He explains his scheme to Emma, and tells her if they win, they'll split the money. Then she can marry Benedict, and he can build his Difference Engine.
So Blake and Emma go to Agatha's estate for a week of hijinks, and you can figure out what happens next.
The premise of the Fortune Games was fun, and I liked Blake and Emma, so this story should have worked for me. But I couldn't really focus on the story because stuff kept bothering me.
That stuff includes:
1. The fact that Agatha (who is awesome, BTW) has to die for this plan to work out. It's kind of ghoulish, and even if it weren't, there's no guarantee either one of them will get the money. Regardless of the money, the plan is Emma dumping Blake in the end; her engagement to him will have piqued the interest of the ton and increased her chances for a happy marriage, which leads to:
2. Emma and Blake spend a shit load of alone time together. They travel alone together. They stay at an inn, with adjoining rooms. Even if Emma dumps Blake, won't everyone assume she's been ruined? The guy has a reputation for humping anything that moves. If the Duggar kids can't spend alone time with their fiancés in a hotel room, then I can't imagine a woman back then could either.
3. WTF happened to Benedict? Even as Emma and Blake start to feel the stirrings of true love, I kept saying 'Okay, but what about Benedict?” Benny isn't a cad or jerk. There's no nefarious plotting behind Emma's back that the readers know about but she doesn't. He's a nice, stable guy and he loves Emma. She didn't even tell him she was fake engaged when she and Blake left for the country. Eventually he's just sort of written off in a really WTF moment very reminiscent of Sarah's review of One Night with a Cowboy.
I liked how Blake and Emma finally come together in the end, but getting there was a little rocky. The Wicked Wallflower wasn't a bad book by any means, but with so many Regencies out there, it failed to stand out from the rest of the pack.