RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

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Title: Love and Other Scandals
Author: Caroline Linden
Publication Info: Avon July 2013
ISBN: 978-0062244871
Genre: Historical: European

Book Love and Other Scandals This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by JW. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Historical Romance category.

The summary:

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?

And here is JW's review:

Love and Other Scandals begins with an eight-year-old Joan Bennet receiving a red rose from Tristan Burke and thinking, “A flower was lovely, but if he’d really wanted to thank her, he might have brought a teacake at least.”

So I hope you will understand when I say that I have a massive crush on Joan.

I mean, in the beginning of the book, she charges into her brother’s flat on an errand, meets (un)cute again with Tristan and this happens:

“Are you trying to wake the dead?”

She considered it. “Perhaps. But if he is dead, I have to kick his body personally to be sure. My mother will insist.”

But while Joan is witty and fearless, when the novel starts, she’s also a spinster who’s been through multiple demoralizing Seasons and is penned in by her overbearing mother.

In a lot of the Regencies I’ve read recently, often the novel will focus more on the hero getting over his emotional hangups/Dark Past, so I was really pleased that the majority of Scandals is actually about Joan’s growth as a character and, even though Tristan had an unhappy childhood, he does absolutely zero brooding or dithering around. (Although, is it some law of the romance novel that the hero must have a sad past? They’re like Disney princesses sometimes.)

There are also some excellent female friendships in this book. Joan has two close female friends and later finds a mentor and role model in her unconventional aunt—who is sent to chaperone her when her mother is struck by a Mysterious Illness and leaves for Cornwall.

Speaking of Lady Bennet though, my own mother is quite domineering (on a scale of 1 to Amy Chua, she is like a 6.7), but she means well, so I really identified with Joan’s relationship with her own mother. Especially at one point when Tristan accuses her of being afraid of her mother and she says:

“…I don’t fear my mother.” She paused. She didn’t, truly she didn’t… she was just a little nervous about telling her mother certain things.

I was also impressed by how Linden portrayed the relationship without being heavy handed and making Lady Bennet villainous. Instead, she’s depicted as not necessarily being wrong, but just not having the right answers for Joan. And, in turn, Joan’s rebellions do end up having their own consequences too.

Joan’s other problem is that the fashions of the day really don’t suit her body type and she spends part of the book discovering flattering clothing. (Although the fashion geek inside me kept rooting for her to discover anti-fit and begin showing up to balls dressed in oversize linen overalls.)

But while there’s a lot of talk about gowns, I liked that Joan’s fashion problems don’t completely consume her character. It is just that, partly because her clothes don’t suit her, she begins the book not feeling attractive or desirable but wishing she could be.

Which is where our eligible bachelor comes in.

The romance is your classic girl meets boy, they argue and swear to have nothing more to do with each other but then each can’t stop thinking about making out with the other kind of thing.

In fact, it actually reminded me a little of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Partly because Joan and Tristan are extremely witty and scathing to each other, but mostly because they both begin with negative impressions of each other that are largely incorrect until they slowly come to understand one another. In this case, he sees her as a “Fury” (i.e. a meddlesome, demanding woman) and, in turn, she thinks he is a dissolute rake.

I’m generally pretty skeptical of “reformed rake” plots, but while Tristan is not entirely well behaved, it’s pointed out several times that Joan’s brother leads about the same sort of dissipated lifestyle and his status as a rake has a lot more to do with society’s perception of him. Tristan is also the era’s equivalent of a tech enthusiast and at one point is more interested in an updated gas burner than the woman who has literally thrown her panties at him.

Although there is still the requisite “But he’s the biggest rake in London” conversation. (Sometimes I wonder about all these “biggest rakes” wandering the landscape of romance novel Regency England. Maybe they should form a society or something.)

When I was taking notes while rereading this book in preparation for writing this review, I wrote the word “subtle” in all caps and underlined it twice. And I think that’s what really elevates this book for me. (Although the fact that the heroine and her friends also spend a lot of time and energy trying to procure and read an erotic serial is a close second.) In Love and Other Scandals, Linden hits the Goldilocks zone on basically everything, along with writing a truly great heroine.


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  1. 1

    Now this is a fury: http://camphalfblood.wikia.com/wiki/The_Furies
    “The Furies are described in Classical Mythology as winged women with snake-like hair, with whips and snakes wrapped around their bodies, and wearing dark robes.”

    (The wikipedia entry had fairly nice-looking ladies. I prefer the devil-batwing-avenger look that Rick Riordan draws from.)

    I still have this sitting on TBR shelf. I really should read it, not least because I have a person close to me named Tristan ;)

  2. 2
    Diana says:

    Great review.  But, on a slightly related note…

    This may sound weird, but does the heroine have frizzy, thick and unmanageable red hair?  Along with freckles and/or spectacles?  The spinster and the rake is one of my favorite tropes, but while on a glom of rake/spinster novels, I noticed a really irritating trend…  90% of the “unattractive” spinster heroines had curly/frizzy red hair, glasses and freckles.  Like it was some sort of short hand for plain and awkward.  As a red haired lady myself, I just can’t with that.  It’s also just lazy shorthand, imo, and I’m sick about reading the exact same heroine in every. single. book.

    Please tell me Joan is different?????

  3. 3
    Caty B says:

    I loved your review, JW! I just finished one of the other historicals, and it fell into that category you mentioned where the hero has a Dark Past (well, he thought so – I wasn’t convinced) which he felt entitled him to Righteous Rage. It made me twitchy. So when you said

    even though Tristan had an unhappy childhood, he does absolutely zero brooding or dithering around.

    I was sold.

    @Diana – I’ve noticed that same thing. I still remember the first romance I read with a frizzy, red-haired heroine, and then I read another, and another…

    I think I’ve reached a point where I prefer very little physical description because of the lazy shorthand thing, or the “here’s the complete set” thing – here’s the book in a series with the blonde! and the one with the mousy-haired brunette (but don’t worry, there are chestnut tones buried in there that she never appreciated!) and the one with the redhead! and the one with the siren-like black tresses! (I’d say black hair is most often described as ‘tresses.’ Blonde is ‘locks.’) Characterization has really suffered when you finish a series and it’s easier to remember the often-mentioned hair color of each heroine than the plots of each book.

    Ahem. Apparently I had more hair!rage than I realized.

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