by Lisa Kleypas, historical (2006)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-056253-6
The characters in Scandal In Spring are too adorable for words and there are some very entertaining ensemble comedy moments here but Lisa Kleypas' plot in this particular book has the depths and sophistication of a twelve-year old girl's homework essay about her recent trip to her grandmother's house. Simply put, if Ms Kleypas is just a little more slipshod about her plotting, she would be channeling present-day Johanna Lindsey here.
The plot is very simple. Marguerite "Daisy" Bowman, the last of the author's unmarried Wallflower ladies, gets her man here. Daisy is always the whimsical and daydreamy romantic youngest daughter that vexes her very pragmatic father so. Since she doesn't seem to be making any progress in finding a British nobleman husband, her rich American father Thomas Bowman decides that he'd rather not waste any more time or money on what seems like a hopeless endeavor. He tells Daisy to get a husband by the end of the month or he'll find one for her: his favorite employee Matthew Swift who he is also grooming to be his successor over his own sons.
I know what you are thinking. Oh no, there will be potential family strife, right, as Daisy is torn between loyalty to her brothers who try hard to please their father and the new man in her life who is going to usurp everything from them? No. That is not a problem here. Oh, oh, I hear you say, how about the fact that the hero is described initially by the heroine as a gangly guy with parts of the body not in proportion with each other (eeuw, not like that, perverts)? Well, this Matthew turns out to be a typical good-looking hunk so an interesting hero with an unconventional appearance is not present here. There has to be a conflict, you say? Of course there is: Matthew is running away from his past. However, like the way the author handles her last few books, there is no conflict of any sort in the long run. Matthew may have been running from his past for years, but our heroine and her amazing League of Characters Past only have to mindmeld for a few chapters to solve our hero's problem just like that - seriously! - in time for the happy ending.
And despite the hero's reservations about loving the heroine freely (as he has since he first met eyes on her when she is a hot luscious babe of fifteen) these two flirt and soon hit the sack without batting an eye. Maybe they have been reading too many Stephanie Laurens romances. I know those books would be a bad influence on these hormonal impressionable kiddies. Only when the issue of Matthew's past conveniently crops up at the end for one last hurrah before I fall into a coma - and trust me, Matthew's "secret" turns out to be a rushed narrative of a Hallmark weepie-of-the-week sad story of his past rather than any dark secret that could actually provide any conflict in the story - well, like I've said, the heroine and her legion of friends manage to clear Matthew's name with unrealistic ease and speed.
A complete absence of a credible conflict aside, Scandal In Spring does boast some enjoyable scenes of the heroine bonding with the other Wallflowers as well as with their husbands. However, there are as many scenes that are too sentimental in my opinion - the overly-sugary lovey-dovey interactions of the previous Wallflower couples have Carebear qualities to them that make me want to hide under my bed in terror of the stumpy monsters with shiny belly buttons out to squirt me with heartbeams. There is a memorable scene where one of the Wallpapers goes into labor that is surprisingly adorable rather than too sentimental - that particular scene has me thinking that I never knew Lisa Kleypas can blend humor with poignancy this well. Likewise, I do get tingly all over at some of the protectiveness of the heroes of the previous three books towards their wives even if their stories bore me on the whole.
Scandal In Spring, therefore, is not a book to read if you want a good plot-driven romance or a romance with many layers of depths in the emotions of the main characters. This is a very fluffy story with the characters rarely deviating from who they are superficially. Daisy is a daydreamy heroine who ends up finding her romantic beliefs validated by the love she has found - in short, she's the kind of the heroine an author would create if the author wants her readers to closely identify with the heroine. Fanservice is the word here. Matthew has many admirable traits, such as his honesty about his feelings towards Daisy, his obvious sense of honor, his work ethics, and his easy camaraderie with the heroine. But he is also written as a hero with a past and that past turns out more to be a "Give me a break!" kind of revelation, so Ms Kleypas ends up sabotaging Matthew's character tremendously as a result since he now comes off as a badly-written plot device, albeit a very likable one.
I don't know. I don't find this book boring, which is more than I can say about the author's last few books, but I also find the vexingly shoddy plot and the anticlimatic resolution to Matthew's big secret too much of a dumbing down on the author's part. Just a little bit more "real" conflict would have made the story more entertaining. Just a little less too-convenient resolutions would have not made me feel as being patronized to as I currently do after reading this book. It is as if Ms Kleypas doesn't trust me to handle any complications or strife in her stories so she shoves ridiculously contrived and too-convenient resolutions to remind me of that fact. Why even put in the big secret thing if everything is going to turn out so silly?
Yet on the bright side, I enjoy reading many of the less sugary but still effective scenes featuring the ensemble cast. All the characters from the previous Wallflower books show up here and while the behavior of the Wallflowers can be too precious at times, they and the other characters around them interact to provide plenty of laughter and even sighs at times. The scene involving a bowling match would have been more amusing if Julia Quinn and Connie Brockway haven't used similar scenes in their books before.
Scandal In Spring is perhaps comparable to the Dynasty reunion special. Don't expect any great stories. As long as you are here to enjoy catching up with the characters you are familiar with, you will most likely enjoy this story because of your previously formed emotional attachments to these characters. Likewise if you just want to read about groups of friends and families interacting happily, although those readers with low tolerance for mawkish kissy-kissy scenes should proceed with caution. As long as you can overlook the insultingly stupid denouement and a complete lack of credible conflict in the story, you'll be fine.
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