Recommended Read, Review

Review: Some Like It Scandalous by Maya Rodale (2019)

Gilded Age Girls Club, Book 2

Heat Factor: Their first kiss is distinctly underwhelming, but don’t worry! It gets much better.

Character Chemistry: Completely believable, as enemies and as friends and as lovers

Plot: Our parents want us to get married, so let’s have a fake engagement to get them off our backs! Seems like a solid plan.

Overall: Fun AND fabulous AND feminist! Definitely worth reading.

Sometimes, when I read historical romance featuring a really overtly feminist heroine, I find myself frequently annoyed at the anachronisms. Obviously, yes, there have always been women who have shunned the dictates of society – but how many of them have done so thoroughly, and then also married Dukes? (Maybe this is a question for the Duke Project.)

In the case of Some Like it Scandalous, however, the feminism absolutely works, because Rodale balances the activism of her heroine (and friends) with discussions that they have about respectability and the importance of reputation. The women here are absolutely breaking boundaries, but they acknowledge the importance of working within the dictates of society. They won’t just throw off their chains willy-nilly – partially because doing so would make life more difficult, but partially because doing so would make their activism more difficult. It’s much harder to dismiss the respectable wife of a prominent clergyman than it is to dismiss a woman on the fringes.

Let’s back up a bit. Daisy Swan is twenty-five, and almost finished with her degree in chemistry from Barnard. In a year, she will be hopelessly on the shelf, and therefore free to live the life of a spinster and pursue her dream of starting her own business. However, fate intervenes – or, more accurately, her mother does – and she finds herself pushed towards marriage with one Theodore Prescott the Third, a young man about town who jumps from one scandal to the next, and who Daisy happens to loathe with the fire of a thousand burning suns. After all, Theo saddled her with a nasty nickname when they were kids, and even though a dozen years have passed, people still quack at her in ballrooms. You see, this Ugly Duck sadly never became a Swan.

Theo is none too happy about the match either. He doesn’t actively hate Daisy the way she hates him, but he doesn’t much care for her, because he feels like he’s always judging him for being pretty and insubstantial. (Honestly, she probably is.) She makes him feel inferior, just because he likes society and gossip and making people laugh and pretty things. But his father thinks that marriage to a sensible girl will help Theo settle down, because that last scandal was just too much. And if Theo doesn’t – well, he doesn’t need that trust fund any more, now does he?

So Daisy and Theo have a believable backstory as to why they dislike each other. Neither of them wants to get married, but they both face enormous parental pressure to do so. Their solution: pretend to be engaged, so that her mother and his father will leave them alone, and use the intervening time to figure out an alternate solution to their various family woes.

Daisy’s big plan to get out of marriage is to start a business selling complexion cream. She may not be very pretty, but she does have absolutely fabulous skin, so she knows she has a good product. (Old Family Recipe + Training in Chemistry = Magic, I guess.) If she can make a go of it and actually support herself, there’s no need for marriage. The only problem is that it’s a hard sell. Only actresses and ladies of the night wear stuff on their face. A Lady might use a concoction made by her maid, but would NEVER be seen actually purchasing it.

Enter Theo, who jumps at the opportunity to go into business with her. If he can prove himself to his father by becoming a successful entrepreneur, then he won’t need marriage to settle him down. And his skill set is uniquely complimentary to Daisy’s for the purpose of selling beauty products. She is a great chemist, but he knows how to make things appealing to women – he is good at things like pithy taglines and pretty packaging and getting people to like him. They are ideal complimentary business partners, and working together gives them a believable transition from mutual dislike to mutual respect to mutual desire and affection.

Let’s circle back around to the question of feminism, because the business angle is where the feminist discussions really work. Since, given the time period, no respectable woman would wear make-up, how can Daisy sell this product and remain respectable? This leads to some impassioned debates among her friends – a society of progressive women, determined to change the world – about the demarcation of women’s space and how to press outward from the boundaries set around them by men. And perhaps make-up, which may make the wearer feel more confident in moving about in public, is one tool in the feminist toolbox.

Theo’s participation in the business also leads to some less overt feminist musings about what industry and entrepreneurship mean, as he confronts the fact that his father – a macho stereotype who, in another romance novel, would be the romantic lead, with his rugged good looks and his steel buildings and his oodles of money and his imperious ways and his dead wife (Erin would love him!) – doesn’t see any benefit to a product that caters to women.

Since this is a romance novel, I should probably comment a bit more on the actual romance. First, I thought that Rodale did an exceptional job of slowly transitioning our hero and heroine from disliking each other to loving each other. Second, I deeply appreciated the fact that Theo and Daisy had to practice a bit before things really gelled for them physically. To be blunt: Daisy trains Theo to pleasure her the way she wants to be pleasured, which is how it works if you want a good sex life. And finally, I did start getting worried at about the 75% mark that Daisy and Theo would end up married through inertia, as they can’t really come up with a good plan to stop the wedding, and neither of them really wants to at this point, and Daisy’s mom is running full steam ahead on the planning – but doing so would mean that they never actually had to fully talk about or embrace their relationship. Luckily, Rodale has some tricks up her sleeve (without resorting to unrealistic melodrama), which meant that the resolution had Daisy and Theo together fully of their own volition.

There are a few hiccups in the writing early on which make the early chapters a bit repetitive. For example, Daisy lists examples of other successful women three times in the first few chapters – “And those were just the ones that Daisy knew” (repeated almost verbatim in Chapters 1 and 3). However, once the story gets cracking and Daisy and Theo start snarking at each other (“How are we going to not get married?… I should think it’s easy. We just don’t do it.” / “You shouldn’t think. It doesn’t suit you. It’ll give you wrinkles on that pristine and perfect forehead of yours.”) and then actually talking to each other and working towards a common cause of mutual disentanglement, I stopped noticing repetitions like this because I was too busy having fun with the story.

Bottom line: it’s fun. So much fun. I had a blast reading this book.

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

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