Wallflower Most Wanted
Book 3 in the Studies in Scandal series
Author Manda Collins
Narrated by Beverley A. Crick
Publication date May 1, 2018
Running time 8 hrs 24 min
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
A dedicated painter, Miss Sophia Hastings is far more concerned with finding the right slant of light than in finding Mr. Right. But when an overheard conversation hints at danger for another local artist, Sophia is determined to get involved. Even if it means accepting help from an impossibly good-looking vicar who insists on joining her investigation—and threatens to capture her heart . . .
Reverend Lord Benedick Lisle knows that Sophia is no damsel in distress. But he won’t allow her to venture into peril alone, either . . . especially since he finds Sophia’s curious, free-spirited nature so alluring. But protecting her from harm is becoming more difficult than the vicar could have expected as he and Sophia confront their fiery mutual passion. Who could have known that the art of love would prove so irresistible?
Contains mature themes. https://tantor.com/wallflower-most-wanted-manda-collins.html
I decided to listen to this book because Sophia is a painter who often depicts societal issues. Collins does a good job explaining Sophia’s process for developing a painting. One of the paintings described in the book reminded me of a piece, L’Aube (1875), by Charles Hermans (Belgian 1839-1924) I had seen at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. It contrasts a group of dissipated revelers leaving a party at dawn with respectable, but probably poor people on their way, at dawn, to work. When I saw AT DAWN it was described as part of a socialist movement and points to the well-off living large and consorting with women of questionable virtue. when honest, hard-working people had to get up to go to work or school. Hermans, who was well-off didn’t agree with the interpretation. Artists are not responsible for the way their work is seen by the individuals who see it though.
While the work described reminded me of the picture painted by Sophia of a dead prostitute lying unnoticed while people leave the opera, is not the same, there is something thematically similar. I spent most of an evening searching for that painting online.
Another one of Sophia’s pictures depicts a child dead of cotton lung, a disease caused by exposure to air-borne dust and fibers common in textile factories.There are many paintings of dead or dying children and I looked to find the one I used in this post’s featured image.
What was really interesting in the book was how women were not supposed to see, or know about such things, and certainly, shouldn’t paint pictures depicting social inequity so graphically. Women were supposed to paint pretty little scenes (windmills, trees, shepherdesses) and not worry themselves about STDs or child labor.
There is just one reference in the book to the king being carried in a litter in his younger days. But, since there is also talk of paintings purchased during the French Revolution, and only one to the defeat of Napoleon (1815) before Ben was at university, the time setting for the book would probably be during the reign of William V (died 1837) or as early as George IV (reign 1820 – 1830). This places it between the middle and the end of the industrial revolution. The role of aristocratic women in positions where they were to think, study any academic subject, or interpret the ills of society, were firmly in place even as women and children of the lower classes were working in hazardous situations.
The story is at a time in the crossroads of the industrial revolution, social unrest that frightened the heck out of the monarchy, and women getting antsier in their proscribed roles. By keeping women with social standing and money in limited roles there was less chance they would be able to make changes. Sophia and her fellow heiresses are unusual women. Sophia, with an actual interest in and in wanting sex, is already a maverick.
This brings up a point bout the book in the Studies in Scandal series — it’s okay as a standalone, but there was a definite loss in context because of missing backstory.
I have listened to most of this book twice. I wanted to understand why I didn’t like WALLFLOWER MOST WANTED. I thought it was the plot, but now, I think it is the predictability of the love story line, the tossing out of the vicar’s expectations for a wife due to attraction, the historically inaccurate use of language (one such example, “Gobsmacked,” doesn’t appear until the mid to late 20th century (see website: “Idiomation:” Gobsmacked ). I also found the book stretched to fit the title when the handsome vicar, Ben, uses it as an endearment for Sophia as she is forced to sit out all the dances at a ball because she has a sprained ankle. But, she is far from being the unpopular character we commonly see in romance novels; she is extremely pretty and popular with a coterie of beaus. I also thought the timeline of the story strange and inconsistent and some of the “facts” as well.
I also did not like the narration, although Crick does a decent job with the characters by gender and age, her tone is just too prissy and her modulation is overly singsong for my taste. I could choose not to listen to books with this narrator but, she is often the narrator on Regency Romance and I like the genre. This story has a lot going on: roles of women, social ills, a mystery, and steamy romance.
I think Collins is onto an interesting theme in this book, but the genre limits her ability to explore the social themes in favor of the romance. Is my interpretation too deep for the “It’s just a romance novel” argument. In the constant battle over the value of the genre as a form of titillation and entertainment rather than as books requiring thoughtful processing, I choose to go with them as foils for deeper subjects. As I say above, no artist or publisher can control the way a work is interpreted.
PAINTINGS: AT DAWN by Charles Hermans https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charles_Hermans-A_L%27Aube.jpg
and DEATH of AN ORPHAN by Stanisław Grocholski https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grocholski-Smierc_sieroty.jpg