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In the second instalment of Maya Rodale's Bad Boys and Wallflowers series, Lady Olivia Archer is dreading the upcoming reunion at Lady Penelope's Finishing School, because she will be one of the very, very few graduates who have not yet married. It's one thing to be labeled a "wallflower" but it's entirely a different thing to be labeled a "spinster" and a "failure" -- but, just as she and her friends start thinking of an outrageous plan to get her married, Olivia meets Phinneas Cole, Baron Radcliffe -- and it's love at first sight for both of them.
I thought Maya Rodale's set-up for Olivia's story was exciting: she sees him from across the room and their eyes meet -- and then, sparks. Rodale captures the magical moment so vividly that I was swept away into the romance of the moment as Olivia meets Phinn for the first time. Then the author makes it even more exciting when, on the morning after, Olivia receives a proposal of marriage from a secret admirer, who turns out to be Phinn!
The Mad Baron -- who was indeed a corpulent elderly man with a dark scowl of disapproval -- loudly cleared his throat of phlegm. Olivia did not conceal her shudder of revulsion. The thought of sharing a bed with this man strengthened her resolve immeasurably.
She would not marry the loathsome man who looked so dismissively at her. She would not have him touch her. Honestly, she should have drenched a bottle of perfume on herself as well.
The other man -- his solicitor, presumably -- stepped forward and provided more of a heart-stopping shock.
She recognized his captivating green eyes and his mouth, which she had almost kissed.
The scar she had noted in the candlelight was far more foreboding in the daylight.
"Lord Radcliffe, may I present my daughter Lady Olivia," Lord Archer ground out. "I have no idea what has gotten into her. Or on her face."
But it wasn't the corpulent old man with the beady eyes who stepped forward. For a second Olivia felt relief. That is, before the truth of it dawned upon her.
Lord Radcliffe -- the man she'd presumed to be the solicitor, the man who was her handsome stranger -- fixed his gaze on her raccoon eyes and bowed slightly. A tremor of fear rocketed up her spine.
She had nearly kissed a murderer! Thank God she hadn't.
-pp. 38 - 40
It would have been fun to read this as a story of mistaken identities -- but, Rodale takes Olivia and Phinn's story in a different direction: Olivia discovers that Phinn isn't exactly "Prince Charming" but is actually known as the "Mad Baron" and rumoured to have killed his first wife. I have to admit I was a little surprised with Olivia's reaction to Phinn's proposal and I needed to see a clear reason why she would reject it without any serious consideration or thought. I worried for Olivia because I didn't think she knew what she wanted and what she was walking away from:
1. Is Olivia worried about Phinn's reputation as the "Mad Baron"? I think this is partly the reason for Olivia's reluctance, and Phinn didn't help clear this up by being deliberately vague about his role in his late wife's death. I would've thought that Emma's husband's trust in Phinn would have calmed Olivia's worries a bit (Phinn is helping the Duke of Ashbrooke build his Difference Machine) -- but Olivia was really, genuinely concerned about ending up dead. (A bit too extreme, IMHO.)
2. Olivia discovers that the reason why Phinn wants to marry her is because he thinks she's mild, meek, and biddable -- all the qualities that Olivia has been chaffing against her entire life. While she cannot deny her attraction to Phinn, Olivia does not relish the prospect of living the rest of her life as a well-behaved and proper lady.
Olivia's heart sort of broke with happiness for Emma that she should have the steadfast and eternal love of this man. And she was so glad that he was so good as to extend his kindness to her friends. And to her dismay, she was jealous. Oh, she didn't covet Ashbrooke, but she coveted the sort of love they possessed.
That was what she wanted. That was what she'd never have with the Mad Baron. Not when he'd spend all his time at work on his bizarre machines, leaving her to manage the servants and embroider. That is, before her [sic] murdered her.
- p. 137
I thought this was a very valid point for Olivia, and I saw how acting out scandalously would scare Phinn off, but I wondered if Olivia really thought beyond the outrageousness and see what damage she could do to her reputation.
Be careful what you wish for. Olivia and her friends had dreamed of making a match and getting married -- and, now, Olivia is finally getting her wish, but it is not without strings attached. He's handsome and titled, but he also wants her for all the wrong reasons. Instead of wanting to marry, Olivia is now scrambling to get out of marrying. There's nothing wrong with thinking and acting on her feet, but I worried about the long-term, life-altering implications of Olivia's decisions. (And I honestly thought all of her worries could have been addressed with a sincere, authentic conversation with Phinn.) I think this is something that Rodale wanted to address in Wallflower Gone Wild: Phinn and Olivia both struggled to express themselves honestly and took advice from everyone, which led to disastrous results. The message the author sends out is clear: what might have worked for Emma and the Duke of Ashbrooke would not necessarily work for Olivia and Phinn. (And Rogan's advice and "help" was not helpful at all.) In that, how our stories and relationships unfold are all individual and unique. It's when Phinn starts listening to his own heart that he's able to show Olivia the truth of himself.
While I think I understand the thesis behind Wallflower Gone Wild, I think the author could have done a better job of presenting Olivia's dilemma more clearly. (For the most part, Olivia's behaviour appeared a bit childish.) The middle part of the story was hampered by Olivia's indecisiveness, but the ending proved to be satisfying and enjoyable, thanks to Phinn and Olivia's epiphany.
Rules, rules, rules! She knew them all too well. They took up too much space in her brain. They kept her all bound up, restrained, and squeezed into the old of Proper Lady until she couldn't breathe. ... there was only one rule she abided these days.
Make your own rules.
With a smile on her lips, Olivia picked up her needle and selected a vibrant pink thread. She started to stitch and kept at it until Phinn arrived.
- p. 303
Wallflower Gone Wild is book 2 in Maya Rodale's Bad Boys and Wallflowers series. To find out more about Maya Rodale and her books, click below: