Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-234904-0
Historical Romance, 2016
Ugh, go away Elsa and Anna, and the person who came up with Do You Want to Start a Scandal as a title must surely know that my brain immediately goes there and now, that stupid song won’t get out of my head. The story here doesn’t have a randy snowman with a detachable phallic nose or anything like that, though. This is a story set in 19th century England, it has a Viscount spy and an inquisitive wide-eyed “I want pee-pee but the man the pee-pee is attached to ain’t never putting a ring on my finger even if we are compromised to hell and back!” heroine, so yes, it’s that story.
Or maybe not. Charlotte Highwood – whose sisters starred in two of the author’s Spindle Cove stories – is known as the Desperate Debutante because her mother does not know the meaning of subtlety when it comes to getting Charlotte a well-titled hubby. She pushed Charlotte into the path of an earl who was out horseriding, and Charlotte, taken by surprise, tripped. What resulted was a cringe-inducing traffic accident involving three carriages crashing into one another. The name stuck, and Charlotte finds most eligible bachelors giving her a wide berth. No matter, she has plans: after surviving this Season by putting on her best behavior, she and her BFF would convince their parents to let them go on a trip to the Continent. A break from her mother… that sounds like heaven on earth to her.
First, she has to warn a guest staying at her BFF’s house that her mother has her eyes set on siccing Charlotte on that man. She approaches Piers Brandon, Lord Granville, in private, but what happens is… well, it’s something you should probably read for yourself because it’s so ridiculous yet comical, no retelling here can do it any justice. Basically, someone comes in, and the two of them have to hide. The “someone” turns into a couple who then proceed to boink. When the coast seems clear, Charlotte and Piers are about to make a clean break but alas, their host’s eight-year old brat, drawn to the library by the not-so-discreet sounds of the boinking couple, finds them instead and starts screaming the house down. Oops, they are so compromised, especially when the brat’s descriptions of the “scary” sounds he’s heard made it pretty obvious to everyone that Charlotte and Piers must have had an enthusiastically physical romp in that room.
So they are about to be married. But Charlotte wants to marry for love, and she also wants to enjoy life a little without being tossed from an overbearing mother to who knows what kind of husband Piers would turn out to be, so she decides that the best way to extricate herself from the mess is to locate the actual boinking couple and… get them to confess to everyone, I suppose. Let’s just say that she is a romance heroine and leave it at that. Meanwhile, Piers is actually a spy and he was in the library hoping to go through his target’s papers when Charlotte interrupted him and… things then happened. So what now? Will it be marriage or bust? Oh don’t worry, he’s getting laid either way, because romance heroines may not want to marry without love, but they’d certainly put out to any hot guy that gets their hormones worked up. In a totally non-whore, non-skank way, of course, because, you know, romance heroines.
Piers is Piers – he’s basically a guy that spends his time befuddled by Charlotte when he’s not showing her what he can do to her with his fingers and more. Charlotte is the more dominant character here, and she’s a polarizing heroine, I suspect, because you would either see her as a so-stupid, please-die heroine or a completely artificial character designed just to poke fun at conventional, overused tropes. Many of Charlotte’s thoughts and actions here actually poke fun of historical romances set in England, with her often being confronted with typical situations and then cheerfully doing atypical things. For example, unlike her other counterparts that could end up in their twenties without experiencing any attraction to anyone, Charlotte would tell Piers, when he tries to assure her that the boinking they have overheard is something else, that she may be inexperienced but she is not ignorant. Quite often, she’d consider doing something that other romance heroines would do without thinking twice, only to then go, oh please, she’s not that silly. I’d be lying if I say that I am not entertained.
Still, our heroine never comes off as a well-rounded character. Sometimes she’s smart, sometimes she’s just bratty and immature, and I can’t reconcile these two aspects – a lot of times, Charlotte comes off like a blank slate, doing and saying things in a particular moment just because. I don’t see a coherent personality in Charlotte, in other words. Her happy ending with Piers is a hard sell for me because it sees him giving up a lot of things to humor her – let’s just say that our heroine is the kind who would throw a huge temper tantrum if the hero dares to lie to her even if he has to do so because it’s a matter of national security – so I am never convinced that she is emotionally mature enough to be married in the first place.
Also, the plot is boring. Charlotte trying to discover whom the boinking duo is is dreadfully dull where I am concerned, and her constant misadventures are basically a non-stop marathon of Piers coming to her rescue.
Thus, the first half or so of this book sees me entertained, but as it drags on, my interest starts to wane, and the identity of the boinking duo and the subsequent happy ending are all disappointingly anticlimactic. After all that build up, I expected something more than the mundane stuff I am served. This is one story that, I feel, should have become increasingly farcical to work, considering the over the top way the story starts out, but instead the author seems to be holding herself back.
Oh well. One half fun, one half dreary – I guess three oogies would be a fair score when I balance the ups and downs of this one.