by Caroline Linden, historical (2013)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224487-1
Caroline Linden usually serves up stories with angst and sad faces, but Love And Other Scandals is a change of pace. The angst is minimal, and the focus is on the hero and the heroine trying their best to thumb up their nose at one another.
Joan Bennet's brother, Douglas, is a good friend of Tristan Burke, a viscount who happens to get his title because his late uncle had no male offspring. Douglas and Tristan knew each other from way back, and Joan remembers that one particular holiday season when Tristan visited with Douglas and those boys raised so much havoc that her mother refused to let Tristan grace their home again. They were boys then, and... well, Joan may tell you that they are still boys, as those two still gallop around town with song and strumpets as their main reasons for existing.
Joan and Tristan really start to exasperate one another when he stays at Douglas's place while waiting for renovations on his home to be completed. He considers her a Fury, a strong-willed hoyden used to getting her way, and she thinks that he's an annoying rogue. The whole thing just piles up until you know it's love just waiting to explode on everyone's faces.
Love And Other Scandals is one of those historical romantic comedy that focuses solely on the couple's antics. There are no murders, spy plots, ex-girlfriend drama, and other distractions to clutter the story. The result is a most charming tale of two twits, admittedly childish at times, putting on a marvelous show as they fall in love.
Joan seems like a stereotype on paper: she's dowdy, her looks are on the unfashionable side (too tall, too curvy), and she plays the dutiful daughter even as she secretly reads and enjoys naughty serials like 50 Ways To Sin. But she's more than that, actually. Ms Linden's approach to Joan as a character makes Joan a realistic person instead of another bluestocking miss. Joan has healthy relationships with her parents (including her rather controlling mother) and her brother, which is not something I usually find in stories of this sort, and even her "going wild" feels realistic. She doesn't run wild into gaming hells or anything like that. Her "going wild" is more emotional - or even carnal - in nature. It's more about sexual awakening than wanting to be a tomboy.
Tristan is another rare sort of character: he's said to be a rake, yes, but he's a rake that comes with minimal angst. Yes, he has a sad childhood, but he doesn't dwell on it to the point of overkill. He's that guy that chooses to do things instead of brood, and oozes some charm while he's at it. I like that his past isn't used as the main justification for the heroine to fall for him. Tristan is never cruel or anything, he's just naughty, heh, and Joan likes him because of what he is, not because he has a sad past so, oh, he's actually a huggable teddy bear so she'd love him. This makes their love story more believable to me.
Those two are so much fun together, so it's great that they get to bicker and banter without any distractions in the way. The secondary characters are pretty good too, because most of them manage to go against the grain in their own ways. The mother, for example, is more than a controlling hag, and the father is more than the easy-going absent-minded stereotype. The "scandalous" aunt actually shows some concern over the heroine's antics with the hero instead of going, "Go, go, go, ruin yourself - it'd be amazing because true love is even more amazing!" like a plot device. Most of the secondary characters are subversions of the stereotype, and they fit into the story amazingly.
Love And Other Scandals is a charming uncomplicated read that offers a memorable lead couple playing the fool for love in oh so wonderful ways. The pacing is right, the comedy works, and everything is magical. I like this one. It's just right, in all the right ways.
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