Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-235866-0
Historical Romance, 2016
As the youngest son of the Earl of Hutton, Jeremy Cleland’s road has been mapped out by the control freak father of his since he was a brat, and that road leads to a vicarage in Rosemead, Devonshire. However, he is summoned back to London when the story opens. You see, with the naughty Prince George and his friends ruling the court these days, the virtue-thumping Earl is finding himself increasingly sidelined when it comes to political influence. The Earl has a plan to gain favor in everyone’s eyes, though: he’d expose the identity of the Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the hottest erotic series in town.
Jeremy agrees to do all the work needed to discover who the Lady is, because he is trained to be obedient to his father more than he is to God. I wish I’m kidding, but we are talking about a vicar who isn’t a virgin, has no problems pulling his pud (in fact, he has done it many, many times), is a fan of the Lady’s books which he has a complete set of, is bored with his vicar duties, and is looking forward to getting down and dirty with the ladies that capture his attention. There are three, in fact: the Lady whose books give him a hard one, our wallflower heroine Sarah Frampton makes him tent out, and the mysterious Golden Lady (whom he meets and tongues in a naughty party) makes him burst out the confetti and cry glory, glory hallelujah. Luckily for him, all three are one and the same, or else the poor guy will probably end up with a sprained wrist and a broken crank.
Unlike the previous two loosely related books by Eva Leigh, Temptations of a Wallflower has the most believable girl power message so far. Sarah is a virgin who writes as a way to express herself, both emotionally and sexually. Let’s overlook the fact that we have a virgin who can write steamy scenes out of her imagination to such a sexy degree that everyone raises a lighter to her name – it is possible, I’d imagine, but probably unlikely; still, if we dwell on this, it will be impossible to get into the rest of the story. Back to Sarah, the question of her having her right to express herself and be her own person is a strong and more significant girl power message than the vapid “Girls are better than boys, smash the patriarchy!” nonsense in the previous books – especially when this conflict is an integral aspect of her character, rather than a crutch to put her in a position of weakness or a ludicrous kind of lip service uttered by a heroine who still needs a man to solve her issues anyway at the end of the day.
This issue is in the forefront of the late third of the book, and, unsurprisingly, I find this part of the story the most hard-to-put-down and even heartrending one. It is a shame that much of the earlier parts is just silly games and courtship dance that have been done many times before in stories of this kind, and Jeremy’s horny horn feelings are nowhere as interesting to read as the author seems to think. Still, this late third has a flaw: no matter how I look at it, the message is delivered in a very contemporary manner. The route Sarah chooses would most likely end up with her and Jeremy living outside the fringes of respectability, but the author wishes her characters to have their cake and eat it too, so instead we have a very conventional happy ending where you can be independent and feisty in that era but still enjoy the trappings of respectability. As a result, the whole girl power thing still feels insincere; tacked on for the sake of making a statement at the expense of the believability of the story – at the end of the day, you still need wealthy and powerful friends in order to be independent and feisty, so hurray for girl power, snort.
But that’s nowhere a disappointment compared to Jeremy. Characters who are religious are rare enough in romance novels outside of inspirational romance, so to have a vicar hero who could have easily held any other job or title is such a waste. He’s not convincing as a religious person – he masturbates a lot without guilt, he actually loves his erotic stories, he looks forward a lot to getting laid even before he marries the heroine, and he acts like his vicar job is a burden. And yet, the author doesn’t make Jeremy an unapologetic corrupt vicar, which would have actually improved the man as a character. Instead, Jeremy is supposed to be a very open-minded vicar. How did that happen? How did a man of that time turn out this way? Well, it just happens – you just have to love the narrative and overlook the inconsistencies and implausibilities of the story.
So, we have a vicar who does those things with his crank, naughty books, and fantasy women. He also believes that women are capable of enjoying sex, he says that women are stronger than men, and so forth – poor Jeremy seems more like a one-dimensional mouthpiece clumsily put together to sprout banal girl power messages so often. His modern day attitude about sexuality, which would have made him the perfect modern-day Ken doll to the fourth-wave feminist Barbie who takes gender studies at the Mattel University, makes the poor man seem anachronistic and, worse, hypocritical and even a fraud at times.
The hypocrisy is cranked up in the late third, which actually makes me feel some degree of relief as it gives Jeremy some much-needed flaw to make him less of a walking Tumblr scree. Still, I have to admit that him denouncing the morals of a writer whose stories he enjoys spanking his misbehaving monkey to is quite annoying to follow, although it does lead to some emotional moments in this story.
At the end of the day, I wish the author has cut down on some of the earlier scenes of those two bonding and doing the same old courtship dance that I have read many times before. I wish the hero has been just some goody-two-shoes guy who has married a wife without realizing that she is the author of his favorite pud-pounding stories. No vicar gimmick, no daddy wanting him to snoop around, nothing of that sort. Let Temptations of a Wallflower focus on the real emotional drama, cut away the unnecessary subplots, and this one would have been an amazing read.