I'm new to the romance genre, and I hadn't found any books that really got me into it. I was close to giving up, when I read "Secrets of a Summer Night."
"Secrets of a Summer Night" was utterly different from the other romance novels I'd tried to read. From what I gathered (and I'm still new to romances, so perhaps my perception is a bit off) the average romance novel consists of this perfect heroine--idealistic, spunky, good, honest...and of course, beautiful. And she and the dashing hero meet, but they can't be together for some reason. So the whole book is centered on the fight between their lust, and the thing that's keeping them apart. And then, it's magically resolved, they marry, and ride off into the sunset.
This novel still has some of the same things--Annabelle the heroine is, of course, still beautiful. However, she's not at all goody-goody or idealistic. Financially hard times have made her guarded and materialistic, and she has a woefully close-minded view of the world. Having such flaws, however, actually makes her seem more realistic than the average heroine.
The other thing I've hated about romance novels is how the hero and heroine meet each other, and next thing you know, they're professing their undying love. How often does that happen in real life? Kleypas doesn't do this here. Where most books end with the happy marriage, the author takes it further. It's clear that when they marry, it's probably more out of lust and the beginnings of love. They barely know each other. Annabelle even acknowledges it to herself shortly after she and Simon marry--she hardly knows him, she doesn't have a clear idea what he does for work, and she didn't even have any idea where he lived! (Their romance blossomed at a week-long party at the estate of a mutual acquaintance.) The meat of the book, instead of being how they finally marry and everything's happy, is actually about how they get to really know and care for one another after they marry, and how these two very practical, guarded characters finally acknowledge their love for each other, and this is a process that changes them both.
I also liked how there's a slight bit of the political/economic issues of the time thrown in, and how it's made use of. This book is not a history lesson, but the historical context is always simmering in the background, driving what the characters are and do, in more ways than just allowing our heroine to wear pretty nineteenth-century gowns and have a houseful of servants at her beck and call.
I stayed up late finishing "Secrets of a Summer Night," and the moment I read the last page, I nearly wanted to cry because there was nothing more to read. Finally, a romance novel about love instead of lust! The novel was so engaging and so satisfying that I couldn't wait to read more from Kleypas, and the very next day, I went out and bought two more of her books. If you're looking for a more realistic development of a romantic relationship between two characters, this would definitely be a book to try.