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Joan Bennett has always followed the rules of society (and her mother) -- diligently and obediently observing what is proper and fashionable. But, at heart, Joan isn't the typical society miss. She has opinions and ideas, and she secretly reads the scandalous pamphlet 50 Ways to Sin, which she shares with her friends, Penelope and Abigail Weston. She's encountered Tristan Burke several times in her life, and, while she found him handsome, she never considered seeing Tristan as anything more than her brother's partner-in-crime. But being good and proper hadn't won Joan any admirers or proposals.
When Joan's mother falls sick, her scandalous Aunt Evangeline, is called in to chaperone her. Then Tristan Burke, at her brother's behest, enters the picture as well. This is when Joan realizes that there might be more to life than following the rules.
Joan is a mix of perceptive and guileless that makes her so relatable. We've all been there: falling victim to fashion trends, thinking we know the way of things, but actually don't. This fallibility makes her so, so human and such an endearing heroine. I love the contradiction within her: she's so perceptive about everything and everyone, but so incredibly clueless about her own wants and desires. When she's finally given a chance to step outside of her role as daughter and sister, she discovers a different aspect of herself.
Tristan Burke is a great match for Joan. He isn't afraid to speak his mind and doesn't suffer insincerity. I love how well he handled the situation with his aunt and I loved even more his conversations with Joan. Tristan provides Joan an unfiltered view of the world. There's a lot of focus on Tristan's backstory, and it's with good reason. Orphaned very young, the unwanted heir, the lonely childhood, the indifferent aunt and uncle -- it's a tragedy in the making, but Tristan refuses to be pinned down into that stereotype, or to any stereotype. He's a very curious character, because he's not really a rakehell or a rebel, but also not a model of good behaviour or a gentleman; he's not really alpha, but not quite beta.
Neither of our characters know much about love -- Tristan's parents died when he was young, and Joan's parents aren't really very affectionate with each other (although, when Joan's mother falls ill, her father is incredibly attentive), and none of their friends are married -- so this is a first for them. And it's so exciting to read how they puzzle out their attraction to each other. (I was smiling the whole time I was reading this book.) As with all things, the other shoe eventually drops and, in Joan and Tristan's case, it's in the form of Joan's mother and Tristan's aunt and cousins. They can't see past Tristan's reputation and try to warn Joan away from him. Joan is caught between listening to others or listening to her heart.
I thought Caroline Linden's characters were perfect, but the story isn't without flaws. It begins with a scene from Joan's childhood, when she first encounters Tristan. I thought it was a great opening and really established Joan's personality. Up to Chapter 8, I had expected this to be a best friend/little sister story, but the plot takes a sudden shift when Joan's mother gets sick and leaves. I didn't think anything was wrong with Joan until her aunt shows up, and we realise the extent by which Joan was being controlled/managed by her mother. This is not to say that Joan's mother is the villain in this story -- she's really very well-meaning and sincere, and just didn't know how to dress Joan properly. The story then becomes about Joan's metamorphosis and Tristan's reaction to this change.
It's hard for me to pinpoint how exactly this story works, despite the loose ends (Is Joan's mother fully recovered? Does she have tuberculosis?) -- it just does: the wonderful mix of great characters, snappy banter, and interesting situations still come together so well. (I enjoyed this book so much that I went on and bought book 2, and read that one in one sitting.)
Love and Other Scandals is the first book in Caroline Linden's Scandals series. To find out more about Caroline Linden and her books, click below: