26 July 2013

Love and Other Scandals (Scandalous #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Joan Bennet is tired of being a wallflower. Thanks to some deliciously scandalous—and infamous—stories, she has a pretty good idea of what she's missing as a spinster. Is even a short flirtation too much to ask for?

Tristan, Lord Burke, recognizes Joan at once for what she is: trouble. Not only is she his best friend's sister, she always seems to catch him at a disadvantage. The only way he can win an argument is by kissing her senseless. He'd give anything to get her out of her unflattering gowns. But either one of those could cost him his bachelor status, which would be dreadful—wouldn't it?

Miss Joan Bennet is just “too” – too tall, too plump, too witty, too badly dressed, and too tired of rakish gentlemen. One gentleman, Lord Burke, in particular. When Joan arrives at her brother’s townhouse to extract a promise to attend a ball – at their mother’s behest – the door is opened by a shirtless Lord Burke, given name Tristan. The two trade dozens of barbs as Joan extracts a written promise from her hung-over brother, Douglas, to attend the ball. Douglas, who has no desire to attend a ball/find a wife, begs Tristan to go after Joan and retrieve the paper from her. Tristan tracks Joan to a bookshop, intending to seduce the paper from her, only to find that Joan’s sharp tongue deftly blunts his swagger. When she flees without waiting for her purchase, Tristan agrees to deliver it…providing him with a weapon: Joan was purchasing the latest installment of “50 Ways to Sin”, a scandalous pamphlet certainly not intended for gently-bred unmarried ladies. Thus begins a round of flirtation and temptation as Tristan teases (or blackmails, depending on viewpoint) Joan over the pamphlet. His bachelor status is in no way threatened by such a dowdy Fury…but soon Tristan finds Joan’s witty conversation and sharp mind much to his liking. Once Joan finds a modiste to properly dress her and a new hairstyle Tristan is more or less struck by scandal – the scandal of a rake in love!

Joan is the stronger of the two characters. She is a well-developed and strong heroine who embodies that wonderful reality where, as a full-figured woman, once she realizes that she must wear what makes her look and feel good – as opposed to what is “fashionable” - she is that much more comfortable with herself. Her determination to learn about sensuality in the face of spinsterhood, hence the “50 Ways to Sin” pamphlet, is very relatable. Tristan is a good match for Joan, but he doesn’t seem to have as many dimensions. I would have liked a bit more exploration of his entrepreneurial side – the scene where he takes Joan through the house he is renovating was excellent. The resolution of the marriage plot is very sweet, a characteristic of Linden’s books that I like very much. I love suspenseful historicals but sometimes you just want to see a couple come together without the threat of imminent death to force the issue.

This novel has one weak spot and it comes early in the plot. Douglas is sent to oversee repairs at the family estate and the Bennet parents are forced to seek out Bath for Lady Bennet’s health leaving Joan behind in London. With her father’s “scandalous” sister Evangeline, who introduces Joan to a male modiste. And Douglas gets Tristan to promise to entertain Joan/look out for her in his stead. It’s an elaborate, and overly-contrived, set-up to get Joan and Tristan a lot of page time together and allow the family to return and express “rake disapproval” later. I think Linden could have done with just the parents leaving – since Douglas wouldn’t have been considered much of an appropriate chaperone given his own behavior – and got some mileage out of the conflict between Douglas and Tristan as Tristan-the-established-rake falls under Joan’s spell. Love and Other Scandals is the first novel in a new series from Caroline Linden – I hope we see a book for Douglas next!

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