Scandal of the Year’s main problems (outside of the book itself) are reader expectation and Agency pricing. I expect to love a Laura Lee Guhrke book. I resent not loving one far more when I’ve paid the full Agency freight. In order to detail what I didn’t like about Scandal of the Year I’m going to have to spoil some major plot points. So let me say here that it is better than Wedding of the Season and does not depend on knowledge of that book for it’s plot. There is every chance you will love it. Do not read on if you think you might wish to read this book free from plot details. Make your buying choice without me. It’s better for both of us.
(Well that’s out of the way. You’ve only yourself to blame from here.) So in the prior book, Aidan was an uptight dude who totally had contempt for the married Julia’s free for all ways. She was a madcap blithe spirit who rubbed his fur backwards, the in-law he least looked forward to acquiring from his shiny new fiancee Beatrix. Now Aidan has lost a second fiancee (off camera) because he was caught naked with Julia by her estranged husband and was named in the divorce. (Ok, I’m cool with that.) The problem is, Aidan didn’t really hate Julia – he just told himself he did because he met her umpteen years ago when she was 17 and …. I know, right? Already the first book is starting to fall apart. Why didn’t they mention this before? Why would he marry the cousin of the women he was obsessed with? What could be so awesome about that meeting… it doesn’t improve upon inspection. Not only did he meet Julia for like, five minutes, but she had also recently found out her fiance was dead (barely a hitch in her stride) and was being forced to marry someone else. There are three different books being shoehorned into one to force a Sleeping Beauty theme here. You’ve got star crossed childhood sweethearts (but not really), lost love regained (but not really) and the uptight dude meets the free spirit that unlocks him all going on at once.
Now how much would you pay?
But wait! If you call right now you also get emotional shut down from an abusive relationship. Julia is the life of the party with the sad heart of a clown. She smiles to keep from crying. I have a problem with that part of her backstory as well. It’s not that her husband is a crazy violent rapist, it’s that for a time he finds a mistress who likes that sort of thing and he leaves her alone. So which is it? He was romantically obsessed with her and only enjoys raping women, or he’s a BDSM freak who can’t play vanilla? It’s not the same thing. A true BDSM fan isn’t into rape, and a true rapist isn’t into willing mistresses. I’m all about the vanilla and I know that. So Julia’s powerful story of overcoming socially condoned rape is tainted by the question of perceptions. Was he chalk? Was he cheese? If he was chalk, why did he let her go at all? If he was cheese, why didn’t he let her go sooner? It doesn’t fit.
But back to Julia. I liked that she dealt with her own problems, I liked that she knew she was emotionally damaged, I liked that she confronted her all consuming (and so trendy) debt without apology or a desire for self exploration. I liked that she was imperfect. (I think the subtext of this series might be imperfect characters.) I liked that she did bad things for her own reasons, but owned it. I liked the way she hid from reality when she could. I liked her not quite as much as I did in Beatrix’s book, but that’s probably because I wasn’t grateful to her for giving me someone other than Beatrix to read about. If Aidan really had not liked her, if his disapproval was real but slowly eroded through understanding her, I would have loved them together. Aidan hating her to resist loving her just annoyed me. It makes no sense to the character of Aidan and it makes no sense to their prior interactions. There’s no reason for it but hormones.
And yet. Aspects of Scandal of the Year are fantastic and original. Julia’s sense of independence, Aidan’s quiet responsibility, tennis games instead of boxing matches, so many details creating a fresher whole. It’s that much more frustrating when the details need scotch tape to hold them in place.