Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Your Scandalous Ways

Your Scandalous Ways
Loretta Chase
Published 2008

So, I have to admit. I haven’t really read many romance novels. I mean, I’m not exactly like ewww…sex or yuck, stupid girl emotions– it’s just my escapism has always focused more on a galactic scale than a personal one. You know, I usually like my life just fine; I worry more about the planet, or the state of education, or how the gov’ment is corrupt. That’s why I like science fiction and fantasy- that brand of escapism allows me to live my own life, which I love, but in a different universe – cause I never felt like this one was that hot. It doesn’t have dragons.

Regardless of my reasons, my romance reading has been limited. When I would run out of suggestions for romance readers at my bookstore, there was one website I knew I could count on, easily my favorite out of the many, many romance readers’ websites: Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The reviews are witty and interesting, and I had faith that I would be able to find something tolerable if I followed their advice. And I was right. They love Loretta Chase and now I do too.

The book I read was called Your Scandalous Ways, and it features the requisite romantic scene with flowy locks and tangled sheets and deep looks into each others’ eyes on the inside of the cover. The main characters’ name is Francesca Bonnard and she is a courtesan and is not ashamed of it. She was cheated on by her British, noble, fancy-pants husband who divorced and humiliated her when she retaliated in kind. Shamed and friendless, she stole incriminating letters from her husband and fled to Venice and decided love was for suckers. From then on, she was a courtesan to the rich and famous, living a glamorous life and eagerly writing letters to her husband each time she gained a new, higher-class lover.

Enter James. James is a world-weary agent for the British government, and wants nothing more than to return to England and marry a sweet, innocent young maiden. You know, the kind of girl romance novels are usually about. Before he can do that though, he has one more mission: get the letters proving Francesca’s husband was a spy for the French from Francesca. James is the only pro who can do this because the tool he employs the most is not a set of lock picks or a sword. If you know what I mean. He seduces the ladies. The tool is his…penis.

So he is looking for the letters, the husband sends a madwoman to look for the letters as he is thinking of trying to worm his way into being prime minister, and Francesca really doesn’t care about the letters – she just keeps them to flaunt them in her ex-husband’s face. She and James battle wits and wills, as – of course – neither is used to dealing with someone who is as seductive as they. It makes for an amusing read.

I liked Francesca more than I would have liked a traditional romantic heroine. An odd thing though – a lot of people were offended by the idea of her being a prostitute, even people who don’t mind steamy sex in their novels. One Amazon reviewer even said that she likes her heroines innocent and wide-eyed before they meet the hero because that way they feel they can identify with them more. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I like to see that a lady knows what she likes. But, it is something to think about when recommending this book.

I think that my favorite thing about it was the dialog. Chase just knows how to make things laugh-out-loud funny–not what I expected from a historical romance. For example, when Francesca jumps into a canal to distract a villain and climbs out with all of her clothes clinging to her:

“You’re creating a diversion all right,” he said, “You’re wearing a shift that’s soaked through. You might as well be wearing nothing. And everybody’s looking.”
“That will never do,” she said, “I’m a harlot. They must pay to look.” (252)

There are many other instances, but this is the one that woke up Mark when I busted out laughing in the middle of the night. The great thing is, a lot of fans say that they don’t see as much of Chase’s “zing” in this book as in others. So I have some zingier titles to look forward to.

Though I did like the book a lot more than I expected, it wasn’t perfect. The villains were cartoonish, with absolutely no depth and no illustration of their motivations. They never really make clear why Francesca stole those letters or how she knew about their existence. Also, the ending is sappy. But I still think this book would be a great recommendation for any historical romance reader, or even as a cross-over for a historical fiction reader looking for a beach read.

Appeals are easy to name – characters are a big plus because women will like this heroine, though a smart librarian will ask a patron if they mind the heroine being a courtesan before recommending it. Setting is another appeal. The story takes place in Venice in 1820, and the canals and salons of the romantic city are well-realized and idealized. Can sex be an appeal when it’s a romance novel? There is a lot of sex in this book. It is not for someone who likes “sweet” romances. Though it has its flaws, I think the best recommendation I can make about this book is it made me, a non-romance reader actively expecting to dislike it, like it, and want to read more.


  1. I read a book by the Smart Bitches called "Beyond Heaving Busoms" - it's a great read if you want to understand the appeal of romances and their history. Plus it's funny. I haven't checked out their site, but it sounds like a good tool for reader's advisory.

    Great annotation - it made me laugh-out-loud :)

  2. Sounds like a great site - we should at it to our read-a-like forum.

    I too have not really read romances per say. But this review has be intrigued and wondering why I have not.

    I think I'm just too cynical about love would argue with the text more than I'd appreciate it. :)