Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Series or Standalone: Would-Be Wallflowers #1
Links: Amazon – Barnes & Noble – Goodreads
I feel like I went into this book with high expectations, but unfortunately, this book felt a bit flat. I didn’t hate this book, but I also didn’t love it – I guess what I felt was vague indifference. It took what felt like a long time to get through this book as it didn’t engage me with the romance, and I struggled to connect and like Cleo.
Miss Cleopatra Lewis (Cleo) is about to be launched into society by her grandfather, but she has no intentions of attracting a suitor. To help play the wallflower role, she visits Quimby’s Costume Emporium to pick the most unflattering dresses to not attract attention. However, when she enters the costume shop, she finds out it’s being purchased by Jacob Astor Addison, a powerful and charismatic American businessman, who wants Quimby’s to up and move to America. To save Quimby’s, Cleo offers to buy it, stealing it from right under Jake’s nose. So Jake strikes up a bargain with Cleo: he’ll design her a wallflower wardrobe while giving Cleo the chance to dress in him – in flamboyant clothing. Somewhere along the line, they strike up a friendship, and their hearts end up on the line.
Let’s start with the romance – this one just didn’t do it for me. Even though this is an enemies-to-lovers (one of my favorite tropes), the romance was incredibly lackluster. Part of the reason I felt that way was because I didn’t see any chemistry between Cleo and Jake. All their interactions were just kind of bland – there were no sparks or heart-tugging emotions for me when I saw them together. Their relationship moved really quickly – it felt like they barely got to know each other before they felt like they were in love. And one of the biggest issues with Jake and Cleo and their relationship was the lack of communication. Ugh – that can kill a story. If Cleo and Jake talked about what they wanted from the relationship and where it was going, the whole drama at the end could have been avoided. And speaking of the drama at the end, it felt like drama for drama’s sake as the third act break up happened and was resolved in less than a day. Not my cup of tea.
When it comes to the characters, I liked Jake, but I did not like Cleo. I really wanted to like Cleo, but she was all over the place. Cleo felt too much like a “not like other girls,” to the point I was on the verge of eye-rolling. She’s supposed to be this quirky, independent, strong woman, but it felt very forced and like James was trying a tad too hard to make her that way. Her actions came across as more childish than anything else to me as well as she’s very impulsive. She projects a lot of her feelings and insecurity onto Jake instead of actually talking with him about what is going on, which leads her to jump to drastic conclusions that lead to major miscommunication.
Meanwhile, I liked Jake, despite some of his flaws. He’s got strong principles as he was willing to leave his family behind because of their associations with the opium trade and forge his own path in life. He’s driven and ruthless in getting what he wants, and he brings that over to his relationship with Cleo. I loved that he admired Cleo’s business acumen and could understand her insecurities and flaws. However, I will say, he was a bit possessive. He almost felt entitled to Cleo’s love and affection because of his own feelings. However, I felt like he didn’t act too possessive, as it was more his internal thoughts that came across that way. His actions showed that this man was devoted. He clearly fell first and would do anything for Cleo, which I really liked. His relationship with Merry was also great and humanized him a lot.
While I only liked one half of our couple, I did enjoy the secondary characters in this book. From Cleo’s grandfather and his friend Byng to Yasmin and the Earl of Lilford, I really enjoyed their interactions. They felt fairly well-rounded, and I’m excited to see more of some of them in future books.
When it comes to the plot, I felt like the whole storyline around Quimby’s got a bit lost in the weeds. I know the story is a romance and focused more on Cleo and Jake getting together, but in the end, I was expecting some sort of resolution on what happened to Quimby’s. Did Cleo’s scheme work? It was a small detail, but it felt unresolved.
Overall, this book was a bit of a letdown. Eloisa James can be a bit of a hit or miss for me, and this one was leaning more towards a miss. I had seen many people gush about this, so I had high expectations and I think that bit me in the butt. I wanted more from the romance and would have liked to have been able to get a better read on Cleo. How To Be a Wallflower failed to hold and capture my attention, and I just wished for more than I got. However, I’m still interested in continuing with the series as I’m intrigued by the couple in the second book.