Janell: I am not well-versed in Lisa Kleypas. I read one of her books in another series recently that I found charming, so when this was on sale, and it had the word Wallflower in the subtitle, I bought it. I like the wallflower trope.
I keep checking the publication date on this, because, 2004? Really? This book has such an old-school flavor that I find it hard to believe it’s not a reissue from 1989. But I’m no book researcher so I’m going by the date on Goodreads.
Jen: I didn’t just love this book. I. LOVED. This. Book. The kind of love that makes you ignore your real life and stay up past your bedtime because you can’t put it down. It features one of my favorite tropes –a historical romance where the hero is too far below the heroine’s social status for them to be together. And it plays out to perfection.
Janell: Lady Aline, 18ish, is in love with McKenna, also 18ish, a stable boy on her family’s estate. They were raised together, given the parental affection that they both lacked by a maternal housekeeper. But Aline never saw McKenna as a brother, no. He’s her other half. She kisses him one day, and even though he knows it’s a bad idea because they can never be together, he kisses her back. They spend a summer making out and doing lots of things that won’t get her pregnant, until her father finds out.
Aline is desperately in love with McKenna, but she doesn’t want her father to ruin McKenna’s life, so she bravely volunteers to convince McKenna to leave for good. Aline tells McKenna that he was just a lark and she never truly loved him because he’s a servant. McKenna believes her because it’s what he’s told himself every day. Don’t these kids know the power of true love? Alas, McKenna leaves, heartbroken. And Aline stays behind, heartbroken.
Aline is so heartbroken, in fact, that she doesn’t eat and she wastes away until her maternal housekeeper steps in with a sandwich. But then! There’s a tragic kitchen accident! At this point I was thinking the book was riffing off An Affair to Remember, which is fine, just old school, as I said.
Jen: Janell, you are killing me here. I love this angst. I love this trope. Not the accident, necessarily, but the hopelessness of it all. They knew they couldn’t be together, but their love was real! Even after a dozen years apart!
Janell: Twelve years later. How has Aline spent those years? By hiding away from any relationships because she has grotesque burn scars covering her legs and no one can ever love her because of them. How has McKenna spent those years? By befriending a rich American and becoming a very rich pseudo-American. Also by plotting revenge on the woman who broke his heart. Like you do. (Cary Grant didn’t do that.)
Finally, McKenna and his rich American entourage come to stay at Aline’s family estate (now run by her brother, because Daddy Dearest died) to discuss investment opportunities in locomotives. The former lovers reunite awkwardly. Aline plans to be the consummate hostess and let McKenna go on about his life. But McKenna plans to bed her! And not wed her! Aline is tempted by this offer, and with a little advice from her gay fake boyfriend, she figures out how to do it without revealing her hideous, horrible legs. Props to McKenna for being so focused on revenge and lust that a nighttime tryst against a tree works for him.
So, of course McKenna knows that Aline is Hiding Something. He tries sniffing around the estate but the servants are too darn loyal to their mistress. And Aline is oh so stoic. No one must ever see her legs, for they will be consumed by pity for her and then never treat her the same. She’s fine, okay?
Jen: OK. Opposing view. These two broke my heart. McKenna is such a swoon-worthy hero. He has loved this woman for 12 damn years. Despite all of his success, he can’t be happy without her. For goodness sake, Alina told him she would never love anyone else. She would never marry anyone else. And she didn’t. He was it for her. She was it for him. Even when they hurt, their love endured. You are made of stone.
Janell: There’s a nice side plot where Aline’s sister falls for McKenna’s rich, drunk, American friend. I liked drunk guy. He didn’t give a crap about anything. And the sister was all, “I think sex with a drunk American is just the thing to bring me out of my self-imposed exile after the death of my fiancé and the miscarriage of my illegitimate child.”
Jen: I didn’t love the sister’s side plot as much, but only because I wanted more Aline and McKenna. I also liked the drunk guy, but McKenna won this book for me
Janell: This book has the phrase “plentiful maleness.” A kiss creates “a seal of moisture and heat and erotic suction.” And here’s McKenna pondering the possibility of getting Aline knocked up:
The thought filled him with primitive satisfaction. To see her big and helpless with his child, overtaken with his seed, dependent in every way on him… yes, he thought grimly.
Yes, that’s…romantic. Helpless, overtaken, dependent, and grim are definitely some words about pregnancy that really cast joy upon the whole experience.
Jen: Rival quote:
“I want morning and noon and nightfall with you. I want your tears, your smiles, your kisses… the smell of your hair, the taste of your skin, the touch of your breath on my face. I want to see you in the final hour of my life… to lie in your arms as I take my last breath.”
Janell: You know what the worst part was? The ending. McKenna’s on a ship, about to sail back to America, after he offered his heart to Aline once again and she stomped all over it once again. Her brother gets to be the voice of reason, telling her that just maybe the primitive grim guy will still love her despite her cosmetic flaws. Aline’s all, “You think?” So they rush to the ship, and she basically tells McKenna, “If you love me, get off the ship this instant, because I have important words to say to you that will finally answer all of your questions, but I can’t just tell you on the ship, or even on the dock, or even in the carriage, because I need to draw out your heartbreak and suspense for another hour while we drive silently across town to a hotel. And then it’ll just take a sec to show you, ‘kay?” Once again, props to McKenna for putting up with that. He gives her a little grief for ruining his life for twelve years and then ruining it again, but he gets over it. Good luck with Aline the drama queen if she ever gets all big and helpless, dude!
This was kind of a fascinating hate-read for me. I give credit to the author for carrying it out like this, in this century. I’m wary of the other Wallflower books, though.
Rating: B for pulling it off, D for everything else.
Jen: I loved it like chocolate. Like Chris Hemsworth covered in chocolate. I’m sorry, Janell, we can’t be friends anymore.
Click to purchase: Amazon
Again the Magic
by Lisa Kleypas
Release Date: January 24, 2004