Simply Scandalous
by Tamara Lejeune, historical (2005)
Zebra, $3.99, ISBN 0-8217-7973-7


Oh my, I have to hand it to Tamara Lejeune for one thing: I laugh so hard until I hurt while reading her debut historical romance Simply Scandalous. This book is a really silly madcap farce that pairs a truly obnoxious and ugly brute of a lummox with the childish yet determined miss who is the only one who can bring him under control.

Geoffrey Ambler, Lord Swale, is stupid. Really. He doesn't even know what "to press suit" means, insisting that his suit is pressed well enough for him. His appreciation of Shakespeare knows no boundaries.

"So that's Hamlet, is it? The man's mother marries his father's brother - have I got it right?" asked Swale. "Fairly beastly, what? I must say, I can't approve. English people ought to behave better, set an example for the world, even in our plays."

The Family Cary did not what to say.

"Ancient Rome, yes, obviously. And the Greek chap who married his own Mamma - Octopus or Edifice or what is it?"

"Oedipus," Horatio said contemptuously.

"Well, foreigners, after all. But one expects better from the English race, by God."

"They're not English, you ridiculous man," said Juliet severely. "They're Danes."

"They're what?"

"Danes. The play is set in Denmark." Juliet shook her head, almost unable to credit the extent of his ignorance. "For heaven's sake, it's called Hamlet, Prince of Denmark."

"Which explains his rather poor grasp of the English language," said Swale. "Such an obvious Dane, Hamlet. That part about the old shoes following the dead fellow's body around the place, all teary-eyed - "

Juliet angrily picked up the book. "A little month or ere those shoes were old," she read, "With which she followed my poor father's body/Like Niobe, all tears - "

"Is that good English?" Swale wanted to know. "I ask you, even in Denmark, are those lines to be considered the King's English? Hm-m-m, Miss Wayborn? I think not."

Juliet slammed the book shut. "And what will you do for us, my lord?" she inquired, tilting her head to one side. "Sir John Falstaff, perhaps?"

Swale regarded her blankly. "Sorry?" he said. "Thought it was Shakespeare night."

"Don't you know any Shakespeare at all?" cried Juliet, appalled.

"Shakespeare, my dear infant," he informed her while scratching Sailor's tummy, "is the name of the horse that won the Lincolnshire in '03."

Swale is also very bad-tempered, having brawled in public, kicking his victim's ribs and all. He is not the smartest man around and he is also described as ugly brute. Every other character in this book makes it clear that he puts Barbary apes to shame with his uncouth ways and I guess it is only his lack of brainpower that bestows on him the unshakable confidence in his superiority over other people that allows him to keep his head high without any dents made in his self-esteem. Make no mistake, in this story, Swale is really an uncouth brute.

Meanwhile, Juliet Wayborn is, shall we say, unconventional. At 19 to Swale's 25, she is the only sister of Benedict, a scarred one-armed fellow who runs the family, and Cary, the dandy who is currently the undisputed champion of curricle races in town. (Yes, there's a Cary and there are people with the last name of Cary in this book, which can be confusing if you're not paying attention.) As a result, she's somewhat responsible and somewhat reckless. The recklessness is in full bloom when one night Cary is beaten very badly by a couple of thugs while returning home from his club. The thugs supposedly say that the beatings are "compliments" of Lord Swale. Believing that Swale had her brother beaten up so that Cary wouldn't show up to race against Swale the morning after, Juliet decides to show up in Cary's signature dandy outfits and beat Swale in order to show him who the boss is around the place. She wins the race, but at the cost of her reputation and Swale's dignity - and good name - flushed down the drain.

Not that Swale's father, the Duke of Auckland, is too upset. He's upset, but he's not against a wedding between Geoffrey and Juliet if that is what it takes to mend the reputations of both the man and woman.

"Lady Serena Calverstock. I know her father, the Earl of Ludham, when he was alive."

"She, at least, has some beauty," Swale said grudgingly. "I suppose I could marry good old Serena, though she is older than I."

The Duke looked at him gravely. "She has violet eyes, Geoffrey."

"Does she?"

"What if your son should inherit his father's hair and his mother's eyes? Violet eyes, Geoffrey, and red hair. Hardly a desirable combination. Why, the child would be a freak! The idea is to improve the Auckland countenance through careful breeding."

"Is it?"

"In case you haven't noticed, what our bloodline needs is a truly fine nose. The Calverstock nose turns up at the end."

"What do I care if her nose turns up?" Swale wanted to know. "She's far and away the prettiest woman in London."

"If you have a creditable nose, which you don't, or unexceptional hair, which you don't, I shouldn't mind in the least if you married her," replied his father. "But, unfortunately, you have the nose of a prize-fighter, and only half of it at that."

"I got it from you, sir," Swale reminded him. "Along with my hair."

"That is no excuse," said the Duke. "Over the centuries, the Ambler family has accumulated land and wealth and titles. Now, it is our turn to enrich future generations of Amblers."

"We're going to accumulate a nose?"

The Duke nodded. "The moment I saw this nose, Geoffrey, I knew we had to have it. It had the most astonishing effect on me."

"Did it make you sneeze, Father?"

"I am perfectly serious, sir," the Duke said coldly. "The Ambler profile is profoundly weakened by this snub nose of ours. Yours, at least, has a high, sturdy bridge - Maria's is positively a pug! I want my grandson to have a nose worthy of our position in Society."

Guess whose nose the Duke is talking about.

Geoffrey at first decides to show Juliet that she is not too good for him like she claims by making her fall in love with him and then breaking her heart, but he quickly abandons his plan when he realizes that he just cannot win when it comes to her, heh. Seriously, as Juliet tells her friend most accurately, the man is like a baby when it comes to women, with him so easily manipulated underneath his brutish exterior. Indeed, Geoffrey's own actions have people assuming that he's chasing after Juliet like a lovestruck suitor, much to the two characters' dismay, and it goes downhill from there.

Simply Scandalous is full of foolish tomfoolery on both the parts of Geoffrey and Juliet, let me warn you, but I personally find the whole thing a total hoot. If my daughter announces that she's marrying someone like Geoffrey, I'd personally drag her to the nearest psychiatric ward for a much-needed evaluation, but I find him too funny for words here. That man is a complete brute, but at the same time, I find him somewhat like an ugly bulldog who is all mean and nasty until one pats him in the head, then he's all wagging his tail and being eager to please. Juliet is childish and as silly as Geoffrey can be, but there's no doubt in my hand that she's going to do fine reining in that big gorilla she's in love with. I especially love it when she gives the smackdown to Geoffrey's bitchy sister Maria.

"Oh, no one cares to see pictures of other people's relatives," said Juliet. "Lady Maria can have no more interest in our pictures than we have in hers."

"Indeed," Lady Maria returned smartly. "There is no comparing ancestors with me, as I am sure you must know, Lady Wayborn."

"I have had occasion to look up the Aucklands quite recently," Juliet admitted. "The Amblers came over with the Hanoverian Elector," she whispered to her aunt before returning to Lady Maria with a bright smile. "To which of the many tribes of Germany did the Amblers belong, Lady Maria? That information seems to have been left out of the latest edition."

And throughout the relentless tomfoolery in this story, I have a good time laughing at these silly people's antics. The secondary characters, from the Duke to Juliet's aunt Lady Elkins with all their so adorably comical aristocratic snobbery, are a riot. But sometimes, it's so unexpectedly sweet when Geoffrey finally admitted to his father much later that Juliet's nose is indeed something or when Juliet starts imagining having red-haired ugly kids and finding that fantasy a most pleasant one.

Sure, sometimes these characters, especially Juliet with her silly misunderstanding in the late quarter or so of the story, can really test my patience, but they do make up for their silly ways by entertaining me so much and making me laugh. Ms Lejeune, if you keep this up in your future books, I think I'm going to be one very happy person.

Rating: 88


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