Monday 21 December 2015

#CBR7 Book 140: "Diary of an Accidental Wallflower" by Jennifer McQuiston

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Lady Clare Westmore is pretty certain that she's well on her way of securing the affection of Mr. Charles Alban, the next Duke of Harrington. Every sign seems to suggest that with just a bit more time with him, he will propose marriage by the end of the season. When she manages to sprain her ankle violently, she still insists on going to the evening's ball, as passing up a chance to dance with Mr. Alban is unthinkable. However, the pain is such that she can barely stand, and she ends up in the corner with the wallflowers, shocked to discover that her so- called best friend dances and flirts with the duke's heir instead. She's rather rude to the young man who approaches her, assuring her that he is a physician, wanting to treat her injured leg. Dr Daniel Merial nonetheless manages to persuade her that he can help her, so Clare limps to the library in search of her mother, who's there as her chaperone. She receives her second shock of the evening when she finds her mother in the arms of a young man.

Mortified, Clare mainly allows Dr. Merial to examine her ankle, hoping that his doctor-patient confidentiality will prevent him from gossipping about her mother to anyone. She's extremely upset when he concludes that she will need to stay at home, resting her ankle for the next six weeks. That will completely ruin her chances with Mr. Alban! One of the most popular girls of the season is suddenly taken completely out of the running, and with the time she's left to spend at home, Clare is also forced to consider the many things that are clearly disastrously wrong in her parents' marriage.

While she's actually a very intelligent and well-informed young lady, Clare has created the perfect image for society of a carefree, slightly flighty beauty, perfectly behaved, dressed and with friends who have all the right connections. She despairs of the wild manners of her young brother and unconventional and spirited sister, who is due to debut in society soon. Once she's home bound, her siblings admit that they strongly dislike the persona she's created and she is forced to acknowledge the duplicity and fickleness of her so-called society friends.

Dr Daniel Merial came to London to perfect a device to administer anaesthesia, and when he's not working in the hospital or attending the dying Lady Austerly, he works on experiments at night, trying to make it work. He is in desperate need of other rich clients as his pay at the hospital isn't enough to fund his invention. So he's quite glad to be asked back to treat the cranky Miss Westmore, as he really does need the money. The more time they spend together, the harder it becomes for him to keep a professional distance. That her younger siblings both adore him as well and are eager for him to visit, makes it even harder for him to stay away.

The longer Clare is away from the cut-throat world of the season, the more confused she becomes about what she really wants. Mr. Alban comes to visit her, but they have none of the chemistry that sizzles between her and Dr. Merial. Yet Clare is the daughter of a viscount and though Daniel is a very promising young physician, whose invention, if he manages to complete it, could make him substantial amounts of money, there is no denying that there is a big social divide between them. As Clare discovers more of her parents' marital troubles, she understands that there are several secrets being kept, that if they were to be revealed, could mean complete social ruin for not only herself, but her siblings. Securing a marriage with a future duke could be the best solution to all their problems.

This is the first book I've ever read by Jennifer McQuiston, and I really liked her take on a high born heroine and commoner hero. Daniel Merial is a great hero, and he's determined to revolutionise medicine not out of desire to make himself wealthy, but to save as many lives as possible. He's an idealist, but also realises the necessity to make enough money to make ends meet. Although Lady Austerly pays well, he's also genuinely concerned about her, considering her a friend and he despairs at her continuing insistence on throwing social events, even at the risk of her already ailing health. He initially tries to keep a professional distance from Clare, but when she keeps going on about her wishes of a future match with Mr. Alban, he gets irrationally jealous and realises his feelings for her.

It's not actually all that common that marital problems are addressed in romance, even among secondary characters. I therefore felt that the growing rift and distress suffered by Clare's parents was an interesting addition to an already slightly unusual book. Add to that her younger siblings, who were both socially unprepared for their future duties, without getting too annoyingly quirky (although the tomboy sister occasionally comes close), who make a fun and believable supporting cast. Clare is a good heroine, initially blinded as to what she needs to make her truly happy by what she has been raised to believe she should aim for.

I got this book in an e-book sale after seeing it recommended on some romance blog or other. I will absolutely be seeking out more of her books.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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