Narrated by Carmen Rose
Do You Want to Start a Scandal is both the fifth book in Tessa Dare’s Spindle Cove series and the fourth in her Castles Ever After series as the protagonists are Miss Charlotte Highwood (sister of Minerva from A Week to Be Wicked) and Piers Brandon, Marquess of Brandon – the marquess who didn’t get the girl in Say Yes to the Marquess. Fortunately, however, the book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to Ms. Dare’s work or to either series could start listening here quite easily. Some characters from the other books make brief appearances (notably Charlotte’s sisters and Piers’ brother), but they are incorporated in such a way that the newbie won’t feel adrift.
Charlotte Highwood is twenty years old, pretty, vivacious, intelligent – and being driven slowly mad by her mother’s constant attempts to throw her into the paths of eligible men. The ladies are at a house-party at the Nottinghamshire home of Charlotte’s best friend, Delia Parkhurst, and when Charlotte discovers that the wealthy and eminently eligible Marquess of Granville is also in attendance, she takes it upon herself to assure him that she has no desire to marry him. He’s rather surprised by her statement, but it doesn’t faze him one bit and he quickly shows himself to be possessed of a dry wit and sardonic sense of humour. He’s also gorgeous, but even if he weren’t completely beyond her touch, Charlotte isn’t interested in finding a husband right now, as she is planning to go on a tour of the continent with Delia as soon as the pair of them can secure their parents’ permission.
Unfortunately, however, Charlotte’s attempt to warn Piers they should stay well away from each other is interrupted when an amorous couple stumbles into the room. To avoid being caught in a compromising situation, Piers whisks Charlotte behind a curtain, where she spends the next few minutes attempting to subdue a fit of the giggles by burying her head against his manly chest as the mysterious couple gets it on just a few feet away on top of the desk. When all is clear and they venture out, it’s only to be yelled at by their hosts’ eight-year-old son, who screams “MURDER!” at the top of his lungs and then proceeds to give a very accurate rendition of the odd squeaks and grunts he’d heard coming from the room to an ever increasing audience of house guests. Being the consummate gentleman that he is, Piers steps in to save Charlotte from complete ruination and declares that they have just become engaged to be married.
While she is well aware that Piers has saved her reputation, Charlotte is adamant that she will not marry him. For one thing, she has other plans for her immediate future, and for another, she wants to marry for love, something which Piers naturally dismisses as unimportant. Charlotte suggests that instead of rushing to the altar, they should team up to discover the identity of the mystery lovers (or tuppers as Piers would have it) and thus prove that it wasn’t the two of them engaging in a round of vigorous rumpy-pumpy on the desk. Piers is resistant to the idea, however. He believes the best way for Charlotte to avoid ruin is to marry him, but she won’t be dissuaded and forges ahead with her investigation. What she doesn’t know is that Piers is at Parkhurst Grange for an entirely different reason than to just attend a house-party, and that he is concerned that by making enquiries she might be putting herself in harm’s way. So naturally, he has to keep an eye on her.
As a method of throwing the hero and heroine together, this is undoubtedly a bit silly and I admit to having rolled my eyes a bit. But Ms. Dare makes it work by virtue of the fact that she has created a couple of extremely engaging protagonists and in the way she combines light comedy with darker and more serious elements to make a story that, while light-hearted and fluffy for the most part, isn’t without its more poignant moments.
The chemistry between Piers and Charlotte is utterly delicious and it’s clear from the get-go that they are perfect for each other. Charlotte makes a comment about the fact that there is an age gap between them, but we’re not made aware of how large it is, and to be honest, that’s not something that bothers me. The important thing is that Charlotte is clearly able to keep up with Piers intellectually, she understands his dry sense of humour and gives as good as she gets. She comes to know and understand him, and realises that there is something behind the suave, witty exterior that has caused him to close himself off emotionally. Piers has never met a woman like Charlotte, one so open and guileless and who doesn’t want anything from him; and no matter how hard he tries to maintain a distance, he just can’t do it. It’s evident that he falls for her from almost the moment they meet – even though he doesn’t realise it – and I loved the way Ms. Dare shows this normally self-contained, highly controlled man coming unglued around Charlotte because he simply can’t help himself.
My one criticism of the story, which is otherwise delightful, is that the author’s attempt to give Piers a bit of a dark side isn’t completely successful. He’s haunted by a tragic event from his childhood which we’re led to believe is the reason he’s walled-off his emotions, but it’s too much of a cliché and I wasn’t convinced. Ultimately, however, that flaw didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story in any way, and I’m pleased to say that, after a couple of lacklustre books, Ms. Dare is back at the top of her game.
Carmen Rose has narrated the other titles in the Castles Ever After series, and returns to narrate this one, with – predictably – mixed results. Her strengths lie in her lovely voice, excellent diction and her ability to portray an attractive, masculine hero. Her interpretation of both central characters here is very good, and Piers is, in general, every bit as swoon-inducingly sexy here as he is on the page. All the other characters are well differentiated and characterised according to gender, age and station; Sir Vernon Parkhurst sounds bluff and hearty, Charlotte’s two sisters, Minerva and Diana, are easily distinguishable from both Charlotte and each another and Mrs. Highwood sounds suitably harried and matronly. But once again, I find myself talking about Ms Rose’s sometimes odd intonation, speech rhythms and breathing patterns. Admittedly, they aren’t so distracting here as they have been in some of her other performances, but there are still words and phrases where she places the stress incorrectly, or where it sounds as though she doesn’t know what is coming next. Most of the time, she captures the dry humour in the text – which is often very funny – but there are places where it seems to pass her by completely, and the result of all this is an uneven narration overall. This is one of Ms. Rose’s better recent performances but I confess that I couldn’t help thinking what a great job Carolyn Morris would have made of it.
Do You Want to Start a Scandal is a terrific, feel-good story, and one I’d certainly recommend. My personal preference would be to stick to the print version, but if audio is your preferred medium, then it’s worth a listen, although I think some of the wit and emotional nuance has been lost in translation.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Harper Audio
Do You Want to Start a Scandal was provided to AudioGals by Harper Audio for a review.