Scandalous
by Donna Hill, contemporary (1995)
Arabesque, $4.99, ISBN 0-7860-0148-8


I absolutely love Donna Hill's A Scandalous Affair and it is with great anticipation that I read the 1995 prequel to that story, Scandalous. Scandalous also combines Black politics with romance, but at a less aggressive front than in A Scandalous Affair. When it finally gets down into humanizing Vaughn Hamilton and her man Justin Montgomery after their sickeningly sweet courtship, it surpasses even A Scandalous Affair when it comes to reeling me in emotionally. Wow.

But for the most part, Scandalous is like a slow, sedate look at two perfect, beautiful people courting. It's not unpleasant, but it's not interesting either.

Vaughn is a state assemblywoman of Virginia at the verge of winning a Congressional seat. She aims to represent women and fight for their rights. At a fundraising bash, she meets millionaire Justin Montgomery and like they say, the rest is history. Cue beautiful music as they meet and kiss and dance around each other in a perfect courtship affair. Complications arise when Vaughn's family starts having second thoughts about backing her and the secrets they hide from her, and this secret will used by her opponents to blackmail Justin into running against her.

Scandalous boasts its greatest strength in the charismatic characters of Vaughn and Justin. No matter how much contrivances the author hangs on them, their winning and commanding personality shines through. I can believe Vaughn as a leader - she is dynamic, commanding, and resolute enough. And best of all, she is allowed to lead and still be admired, not called a ball-breaking bitch, by her peers. There are also hints of events here that will only be resolved in A Scandalous Affair (I think a rereading session of A Scandalous Affair is in order soon).

Hence, when things come to a climax in the last few chapters, I'm hooked completely. Ms Hill has hooked me completely into rooting for Vaughn and Justin that I need to know what will happen to them. And the payoff is very satisfying indeed, actually more so than in A Scandalous Affair.

But why am I not giving this book a higher rating than A Scandalous Affair? Well, I think the author's attempts to drive home Vaughn's beauty (and strangely enough, not Justin's - are we trying to win a male audience here?) go overboard especially in the first half of the book. In the first chapter we have Vaughn looking into the mirror and telling us how gorgeous her naked body is. I kid you not. And when the author starts waxing lyrical about Vaughn's "showgirl legs" I think things are heading to the Twilight Zone. Showgirl legs?

Perky breasts, tight tummy, and taut buttocks I can take. But when Vaughn then look at that tiny, eeny-meenie scar on her face and consider, oh, shall she undergo some cosmetic surgery, I feel like screaming. Hello, can we quit the Tyra Banks Showgirl Hour show and get on with the love story?

The overemphasis on Vaughn's breasts, thighs, and tummy as well at times give Scandalous a mediocre soap opera feel. And how come there's no reference to Justin's presumably Chippendale thighs and stuff anyway? It is a good thing that when Scandalous is good and not pretending to be the new fashion magazine, it is very, very good.

Rating: 84


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