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Book Review: How to Start a Scandal

Soon-to-be spinster, Violet Lavell, faces a choice: either marry by the end of the season or become an unpaid governess for her sister’s wild brood. Violet is loathe to choose either option and decides on a third choice: expanding her career as a gossip columnist. Now she just needs to find something extra juicy to report on.

Seth Dalton has returned from the Napoleonic Wars a broken man - his body and mind seared with scars from the battles he’s faced. Worse, he’s got to deal with the mess left in the wake of his brother’s death.  His family and society expect him to pretend that everything is in the past, that he’s his old rakish self, and he’s decidedly not. When he sees his next door neighbor, and former crush, Violet, his feelings for her are rekindled. But how can he court her when he can barely stand to be seen in society.

First off as always, content warnings for those who need them: cw: parental abuse, cw: fatophobia, cw: body negativity, cw: period appropriate sexism, cw: graphic depictions of war, cw: body trauma, cw: panic attacks, cw: ptsd flashbacks, cw: parental neglect, cw: emotional abuse, cw: prior dubious consent, cw: frank discussion of depression/mental illness.

Note: All of these are handled well within the text but they do need to be warned for those who have triggers, I will be discussing some of these more in depth in my review.

I’ve never read anything by Madeline Martin before, and I will definitely be rectifying that in the future. This book was an absolute delight!  I admit I had some doubts, after all it’s hard to portray the effects of war and parental abuse well in contemporary fiction much less in historical when the terminology didn’t exist. I was happy to be proven wrong by this book, though. The author explained how things worked right off the bat, and the descriptions of the flashbacks, panic attacks, and hyper vigilance were on point. As someone with PTSD, it was nice to see the illness handled competently and delicately while at the same time making it clear that the person suffering from it was not someone to be pitied but someone to be understood and accommodated. 

And the effects of war were not the only hard topics hit in this book. As a Plus-sized woman in the very size conscious Regency era, Violet has been berated and forced to starve herself to meet society’s, and in particular her mother’s, expectations. She is not slender. She is not lithe. She’s curvy with a bosom that men can’t help but have conversations with – which I very much could identify with.  Is it any surprise that she’s a wallflower who finds solace in reporting the gossip of her peers?

Frankly I ended up loving the characters, they both have complete character arcs which are supported by the romance but not wholly dependent on the romance. Violet needs to find her confidence while Seth needs to figure out what he can handle. Both of them deserve a second chance – both for themselves and for their romance. They’d had mutual crushes on each other but circumstances worked against them six years ago… now they’ve changed and grown and have the opportunity to reconnect again.

I adored Felicity and her cat Hedgehog. I mean what story isn’t improved by a cat in a bonnet? Cute kids and cats aside, the other supporting characters were also nicely well-rounded. I really liked the courtesan, Lottie, and her advice on loving yourself being important. It was a women supporting women moment and I am 100% here for that. I also loved the hints of the romance between one of Seth’s friends and his sister. I want Rawley and Caroline’s book please!

Honestly, this book is lovely. It was a joy to read. And it’s a story I will be rereading again.

Five Stars.

If this is your jam, you can get it here.

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley

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