Summer of Scandal is a romance that takes place in a made up town “located in a fictional island in the Spanish Caribbean.” It is set in 1911. The unusual setting, the Hispanic and Caribbean cultures, and the time period make for an appealing and refreshing romance with a couple of odd problems.
Here’s the plot: Emilia Cruz is the secret author of a series of scandalous stories, including The True Accounts of a Former Courtesan. She has a younger sister, Susana, and an extremely alcoholic father. Emilia and Susana are introduced to two summer visitors: Ruben Torres and his friend Luis Rojas.
Luis immediately hits it off with Susana, but Ruben is worried for Susana because Luis tends to be fickle in love. Since he assumes Luis will eventually break Susana’s heart, he keeps trying to break them up. Emilia, who doesn’t know about Luis’ past affairs, wants to get Luis to propose to Susana before the end of the summer, so she’s constantly pushing them together.
Since Ruben and Luis are usually together, Emilia has to spend a lot of time with Ruben. Emilia and Ruben start arguing about literature within seconds of meeting each other. After inadvertently dunking Ruben into various bodies of water (it’s a very funny running joke that takes a sexy turn later) they laugh about it and become friends, albeit friends with a lot of secrets.
Ruben is the literary reviewer for El Diario Nuevo. Generally Emilia loves his reviews, but he loathes her stories (not knowing who writes them), finding them “sentimental.” Meanwhile, the editor of a tabloid, Blanco y Negro, writes under a pseudonym. This gossip rag is as far removed from the self-consciously intellectual El Diario Nuevo as possible. No one knows who the editor is. My goodness, I wonder who it could be? It does not a take a literary critic to figure out that eventually Emilia and Ruben will unmask each other and that they will fall madly in love.
Interestingly, Emilia does not plan to marry, even after she and Ruben have sex and declare their love for each other. She wants to keep writing, and knows most men won’t want her to do so after marriage. It’s not that she’s opposed to marrying; it’s just not high on her agenda. Ruben doesn’t plan to marry either because he has Daddy Issues that make him believe that Love Cannot Last. I liked Emilia’s matter-of-fact stance and the fact that a lack of desire to marry doesn’t mean she can’t have a lover, as long as she is discreet about it. Ruben is just a dork. After a while, waiting for him to resolve his Daddy issues and propose became annoying instead of suspenseful.
I felt that this book started strong and then lost its sense of direction. Susana and Luis are not fleshed out. They are our adorable ingénues, and they wander around in the moonlight looking attractive. Emilia and Ruben are a little older and more cynical. The combination of conflict and comfort between them reminded me of a younger version of Hepburn and Tracy in The Desk Set. As long as the book stays focused on their character dynamics, it’s great.
Unfortunately, as the story progresses, it becomes overstuffed with characters and melodrama about halfway into the book. Suddenly new relatives show up, there are sudden entrances and exits, there’s confusion about marriage, and new villains arrive, then there’s blackmail…it’s a lot. Truly, this book is at its most delightful when Emilia and Susana try to make jam, or when everyone sits on the porch drinking tamarind juice. There’s such a great sense of place and of companionship that all the plot mayhem seemed shoved into the story unnecessarily.
Emilia and Ruben do great banter and develop a comfortable friendship as well as a passionate attraction. The mysteries of who is writing what, and Emilia and Ruben’s conflicting attempts to interfere with Luis and Susana, provide fun tension. Emilia is the kind of character we don’t see often – a pragmatic woman whose decision not to actively pursue marriage gives her financial and sexual freedom. There’s a lovely sense of atmosphere and culture, and some great clothes to enjoy vicariously. I just wish that the story had continued to be a comedy of manners instead of a melodrama.
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