by Jane Goodger, historical (2009)
Zebra, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-0379-3
A Christmas Scandal is a pretty generic title, but this historical romance is actually a pretty interesting one in that it is the heroine who experiences character growth here without any overt influence from the hero. In fact, I often wonder what the heck the hero is doing in this story, but I'd get into that later.
Margaret Pierce's idyllic life as a wealthy banker's daughter in New York comes to a screeching halt when her father is arrested and sentenced to seven years of prison time for embezzling funds from the bank. Maggie decides to do something drastic without telling her mother Harriet - she surrenders her virginity to an unpleasant acquaintance of her father in exchange for an oral promise that her father would only spend a year in prison. As you can imagine, when the story opens, she realizes that her father is going to spend seven years in prison anyway so her precious vee-vee is gone forever, lost in an unwise business transaction over the office table.
A brief respite arrives in the form of an invitation from the husband of Maggie's friend Elizabeth. Elizabeth recently married an English nobleman, and now that she's about to deliver her first brat, her husband would like to invite his wife's close friend to be by her side. Maggie and her mother take off for London, where Maggie is bullied, cajoled, and manipulated by her mother into agreeing to look for a suitable husband to solve their money and housing problems. Of course, Maggie has a thing for Edward, Lord Hollings. You may be wondering what the problem is here since he's wealthy and she's gorgeous, but you know how main characters in romance novels can be.
For Maggie, she believes that just because she is no longer a virgin, she can never marry. Never. Trust me, she can be a very naïve character in this story and there are many times when I want to strangle her myself. It will be easy to call her mother Harriet a manipulative villain, but I find it hard to demonize Harriet when I'm actually on her side. Maggie's grand plan is to become a governess, a plan that Harriet knows will only come to a tragic end as Maggie has never dealt with children before. Harriet knows that Maggie's only solution is to marry well, and indeed, Maggie does just that - marry well - so at the end of the day, Mommy Dearest is right. I don't blame Harriet for trying to steer Maggie away from the iceberg looming ahead of them and I wish more parents of romance heroines are this savvy.
Maggie makes some decisions of really dubious wisdom - turning down attractive and eligible suitors who adore her because she doesn't love them, despite her situation, and running back to America to confront her evil cherry-popper, for example - but fortunately for Maggie, her plot armor protects her from receiving a tragic end. Ms Goodger actually conspires to make things very easy for Maggie in this story. But it's all good, because by the last page, Maggie has grown as a character. She becomes wiser, stronger, and more confident. Following her to that good place in her life is not the easiest thing on my blood pressure, but in the end it's all good, really.
My problem with this story is Edward. Just what did Maggie see in this man? He's so passive and emo, I can't stand him. It's all about him. He actively take pains to avoid Maggie because apparently he tends to feel too much and therefore he doesn't want to be hurt from feeling Maggie too much. Or is it feeling for Maggie too much? Whatever, he's a weenie king. And then, when he decides that he's in love with Maggie, he gets so hurt when Maggie tells him that she can't marry him (no hymen, so no nuptial) that he crawls back into his lair, avoiding her and behaving like a churlish baby. He is such a dreadful cry baby, I don't know what to make of this guy. Is he supposed to be an adult? It is Maggie who has to chase him down and get him to marry her in the end, and when she reveals to him why she can't marry him, he doesn't even have the grace to feel even a little embarrassed for assuming that she's an ice queen with a heart of stone. Everything has to revolve around Edward in his little world. Because Maggie grows as a person by the last page, Edward's stunted little cry baby personality stands out like a sore thumb and reinforces my opinion of how mismatched these two are.
And then there is a secondary romance involving Edward's sister and an American performer who plays a cowboy in one of those circus-like shows. I'm still amazed at how Edward eventually allows his sister, a daughter of a peer, to run off with some nobody showman from Texas, but then again, this is Edward we are talking about here. He's a walking New Moon soundtrack.
I like reading A Christmas Scandal and I also enjoy how the author develops the heroine as a character who grows into a stronger person in the end. I even admire the sneaky Harriet. I'm just not sure about the romance.
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