A Summer for Scandal
It’s 1911, and while Emilia Cruz and Ruben Torres are both authors, he’s a literary darling and newspaper publisher, while she uses a pseudonym to write The True Accounts of a Former Courtesan, an explicit and swashbuckling adventure serial. When their paths cross and Ruben learns Emilia’s secret, he faces multiple dilemmas. Revealing her identity would be the scoop that could save his paper, but it would ruin her life and their burgeoning relationship. Additionally, what if she discovers his secret: that he also writes as the newspaper critic who’s been excoriating her writing?
It’s true that I’ve seen these secret-author stories before, but I do enjoy them. It’s nice to see a heroine taking action to fulfill her dreams and find financial independence. The content of Emilia’s serials – escapist, melodramatic adventures of a courtesan pursued by a duke and a sultan – is totally consistent with the fiction from the 1910s I’ve read. As a reviewer, I appreciated that Ruben has thoughts about writing quality instead of content, critiquing Emilia’s sentimentality and characterizations as areas for improvement. The characters spend a lot of time debating reviewing, its purpose, and its effect, but I wish the author had included the third party in the reviewer-author triangle: the readers! I also felt that while the revelation of Emilia’s secret was nicely done and well-timed, Ruben’s secret was spun out too long, and the resolution of both that and a second concern at the end were pat and easily predicted.
I loved the setting and its originality. I mean, how many books have YOU read set in the Edwardian Caribbean? Emilia’s town is located on a fictional Spanish-colonized island, and as someone who read this book in January in the Midwest, I desperately needed the myriad ways the author brought the steamy, pre-air conditioning tropics to life. Characters sweat and complain about how fashion and tropical weather don’t mix. Lime juice is sipped. Mosquito nets surround beds. Only a few brave souls try to dance at dinner parties, and they do so on the veranda. Whether I was reading small details like the wicker furniture or large, plot-affecting ones like the local women’s suffrage society, I never forgot where and when I was.
In addition to being tropical, the setting also has an authentic ‘medium-sized town’ feel. Emilia has to keep her secretarial job at a sewing machine company so that nosy neighbors don’t notice the discrepancy between the non-secret family income and their standard of living, and a literacy fair is the main event of the summer. There is a small social scene full of ordinary young people finding ways to entertain themselves – picnics, boating outings in mangrove swamps, etc. – that was a fun change of pace from the staples of historicals set in more rarefied society. It reminded me of some of the later Anne of Green Gables books in that way.
I also enjoyed the supporting characters, Ruben’s friend Luis and Emilia’s sister Susana. There’s a bit of a Darcy/Bingley dynamic with Ruben and Luis, as Ruben tries to keep him apart from Susana, but I liked his motivation (Luis’s history as a heartbreaker) more than Darcy’s. I did not, however, care for Ruben’s relationship with his sister. After discovering some poor conduct by his father, Ruben moved out and set off on his own. The sister expects him to reconcile, and the issue was, to me, under-nuanced, especially because I was solidly on Ruben’s side.
If you like historicals about intrepid young female authors and heroes fumbling for their own voices, if you loved Anne of Green Gables but you’d like to read it on a more southern island, or frankly, if you’re just feeling cold, this is a charming and fun read.