Despite the word 'Christmas' in its title, this isn't a Christmassy book at all. Nor is the 'scandal' in the title particularly accurate, as although there's a small potential scandal in the book, nothing much comes of it. The scandal is the fact that our heroine, Maggie Pierce, has had to do something rather shocking in order to supposedly reduce her father's prison sentence from five years to one.
Unfortunately for Maggie and her mother, it seems that her father will indeed be in prison for five years, and they are no longer welcome in American society because of the shame. Not only that: Maggie's fiancé has thought better of it and broken off the engagement. Maggie and her mother, Harriet, are virtually penniless.
Fortunately, they have enough money to travel to England to stay with Maggie's
friend, the Duchess of Bellingham.
Maggie once again meets Edward Hollings, Lord Hollings, apparently an Earl although
he doesn't seem to be the Earl of anywhere. She encountered him previously in Newport, and at this point
I realized that there was a previous book in the series which clearly included these characters
but which I haven't read. The rest of the book felt a little like I had broken in upon a conversation halfway through,
having missed the initial meeting - and, in fact, the initial falling-in-love - between these two.
Edward doesn't want to get married, and Maggie believes that she couldn't marry him
regardless because of the shocking thing she had to do back in New York. She proceeds to try to win herself an older and safer man as a husband while
coping with her mother's erratic behavior and their general lack of money and prospects. The first two-thirds of the book
proceed rather slowly with various scenes between Maggie and Edward, which consist of them not talking directly but gazing longingly at each other.
The final third of the book picks up considerably with Maggie undertaking a trip on her own back to America before all is resolved. I was disappointed by the writing of an aspect of her sea voyage which could have been
otherwise interesting. Likewise, the book doesn't really reach a crescendo but more blunders to a stop, with all the foregoing events just sort of fizzling out.
At least there is a bit more action in the final third, even if much of it begins to focus on Edward's sister Amelia, undoubtedly the subject of the next book.
Although the story is set largely in England, the American heroine adds a slightly different angle to the usual Victorian story. I found it rather difficult to like Maggie.
She spends much of the first third of the book lying to people; she seems to act very selfishly and to try to attract men although she doesn't really like them; and she seems to have very little care for her mother or her best friend
whom she is visiting. In fact, she's egocentricity personified. Edward is a much more appealing character, although the author, being American,
often stumbles in describing English character, behavior and speech.
Despite the Victorian setting, I didn't get much of a feel for life in England or in America.
Neither did I warm to any of the characters in particular, apart, perhaps, from Edward. However, A Christmas Scandal is a good enough book to while away a few hours at an airport or in front of the fire at home.