Friday, December 17, 2021

REVIEW: The Perks of Loving a Wallflower (book) by Erica Ridley

The Perks of Loving a Wallflower is the second book in Ridley's The Wild Wynchesters historical romance series. I bought it brand new.

This review includes major spoilers, which I warn about just before discussing. If you'd like to read this review with spoilers hidden, I recommend my cross-posting on Goodreads or LibraryThing.


In the previous book in this series, which I haven't read, Miss Philippa York was betrothed to a duke who fell in love with that book's heroine instead, and married her. Thankfully, Philippa wasn't in love with him and doesn't mind, and she and Chloe, the woman the duke married, are friends. However, Philippa understands that she does still need to marry someone. Because of an inheritance, she doesn't need money, but it would help her father's political ambitions a great deal if she married someone with a title. The problem is that Philippa is a bluestocking who'd much rather host her reading circle than moon over some duke, and she's well aware that marriage could spell the end of all the activities she enjoys.

Thomasina Wynchester is a master of disguise who regularly assists with the cases her family takes on. Although she previously never had trouble charming ladies into her bed, now there's only one woman who interests her: Philippa. Unfortunately, she can't even bring herself to have a normal conversation with her. The best she's managed is to attend Philippa's reading circle disguised as Chloe's slightly senile "great-aunt." With some encouragement from her family, however, she does finally manage to talk to and flirt with Philippa...disguised as Baron Vanderbean.

As the Wynchesters help Philippa with a case involving an old manuscript and a man taking credit for the work done by one of Philippa's reading circle friends, Tommy wonders if she can somehow win Philippa's heart as herself and what will happen to the two of them if she succeeds.

This was an impulse purchase, inspired by a random trip to my local Walmart and spotting it in the tiny books section that's sadly the largest source of new books in my town. The cover is inaccurate in multiple ways, but this is one of those times when the message is more important than accuracy. It doesn't matter that Tommy, the brunette, never dressed as a young lady on-page as far as I can remember (I don't count the one brief flashback that I assume happened in Book 1). What matters is that, generally, when two people are depicted on the cover of a romance novel aimed at adults, those two people are the couple, and in this case that couple is a pair of women. On the cover of a physical book sold in a Walmart in my conservative Texas town. Kudos to whoever made that happen.

I went into this wanting to love it, but I was initially frustrated at the way Philippa was depicted. I don't know how often Philippa thought about her "cold, dead heart," but it was a lot. I got really tired of it, especially since Philippa's behavior didn't seem to match up with her assessment of herself - she certainly seemed to enjoy Baron Vanderbean's company and think about him a lot. I assumed the author was setting up for a clumsy scene in which Philippa discovered that the Baron was actually a woman, at which time her heart would miraculously cease being cold and dead and she'd realize she was a lesbian. In reality, although the word was never used, the author actually intended to indicate that Philippa was demisexual. I'm not the best person to judge how well that was accomplished, but I can at least say that it didn't really work for me.

Tommy was fun - very charming, particularly when she was pretending to be Baron Vanderbean and indicating her interest in Philippa. I loved the scene where Philippa attempted to bat her eyelashes flirtatiously, and Tommy was delighted even though she failed miserably. Tommy adored Philippa, which could be both nice and annoying. I winced at one scene in which Tommy allowed Philippa to accompany her on a mission and they almost messed everything up because they were too into kissing each other. 

Oh, FYI, it would probably be more accurate to call this a nb/f romance rather than f/f romance - same as "demisexual," the word "nonbinary" was never used and Tommy didn't mind being referred to as "she," but a couple conversations made it clear that she didn't really consider herself to be either a woman or a man.

I could definitely tell that I was missing out on some events and character info by starting this series with Book 2, but Tommy and Philippa's story still worked fine on its own. More than likely, every Wynchester is going to get their own book, and the ones I'm most looking forward to are Graham and probably Jacob, although his hordes of expertly trained animals of all kinds might be a bit much in a full novel. In general, some of the Wynchester quirkiness was almost too much for me. This is the sort of series I'd have to save for when I'm in the right mood.

I wasn't sure how the romance could possibly work out. Philippa needed to marry a man with a title. Tommy could pretend to be Baron Vanderbean, but she didn't want to spend her entire life as someone else. In order to solve this problem, the author did something I thought was very interesting, although I was a bit disappointed that she didn't completely follow through. Major spoilers from here on out.

Like me, Philippa assumed that her and Tommy's HEA would be accomplished by her marrying Baron Vanderbean. "Baron" wasn't as good as "duke" in her parents' eyes, but she figured it'd be good enough. However, instead of going through with it because she adored Philippa, Tommy refused. Temporary disguises were fine, but she didn't want to have to become Baron Vanderbean for the rest of her life.

Philippa then realized that if she wanted to be happy and live her life with Tommy, she'd have to risk disappointing her parents and being cut off by them. In many, many other LGBT romances I've read, this would be the point where Philippa's parents would discover she was a lesbian and maybe initially be shocked and disappointed but then become accepting. Ridley didn't exactly subvert this, but she did do something that got me to thinking about the expectations for stories like these. 

Philippa's parents never actually found out the truth about the Baron, or Philippa's relationship with Tommy, but they accepted that she wouldn't be following the path they'd hoped she'd take and let her go. They didn't cut her off, but there was no mention of them in the book's "several months later" final chapter. Even though it would have upset Philippa, I kind of wished that Philippa's parents had been harsher in their final scene, because it's so rare to read (or watch) romance stories in which characters with toxic parents realize that sometimes the only way to achieve their own happiness is to move on and accept that they will never make their parents happy. Philippa did this, in a way, but it was softened by her parents' mild reaction.

Overall, I enjoyed this and would like to read more of the series. Also, here's hoping that spotting clearly LGBT romances on the New Books shelves at Walmart will become a more regular occurrence.

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