Scandal is the third in Harlequin Blaze’s time-travel miniseries Perfect Timing, and my favorite entry so far. While it certainly has its flaws, Julie Kistler delivers an entertaining romp against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Fair.
After four years of work on her dissertation, grad student Jordan Albright is no closer to finishing. Her subject is the notorious Chicago artist Isabella Tempest, who scandalized high society in the late nineteenth century with her erotic sculptures. In 1893 she revealed a new work at the World’s Fair, one so shocking she was arrested. Both Isabella and the marble arch she created disappeared, never to be seen again. Her subject’s uncertain fate means Jordan doesn’t have an ending for her dissertation. It doesn’t help that she’s distracted by photographs she discovered of Isabella’s brother Nick, a department store heir who died a few years later.
Then she receives a flyer for the Sex Through the Ages traveling exhibit soon to arrive at the Art Institute. Pictured on the pamphlet is none other than Isabella Tempest’s long-lost arch. Determined to see it for herself, she sneaks into the not-yet-open exhibit and meets a strange curator who pushes her right under the arch. When she wakes up, she’s in 1893 facing Nick Tempest himself. She impulsively kisses him, believing this to be nothing more than a dream. But when it becomes clear that this is all too real, she knows it’s up to her to uncover the secret of Isabella’s mysterious fate and save Nick from his own.
The book gets off to a slow start in its exposition-heavy early chapters. The Sex Through the Ages exhibit isn’t even mentioned until forty pages in, and it takes ten more pages before Jordan finally travels to the past at the end of Chapter Four. Part of this time is spent on an unnecessary subplot (if it even counts as one) involving Jordan’s boyfriend that probably should have been omitted entirely.
Luckily things do pick up once the story moves to the past. One reason the book worked better for me than the previous books in this mini-series is that the setting is both more unusual and depicted better than the generic medieval and Scottish highland locales of the others. This made for much more interesting reading. While the short length doesn’t allow for a ton of historical detail, the author gives a nice sense of the place and time, peppering the narrative with some interesting information about the World’s Fair.
Kistler has a light, energetic style that I’ve enjoyed in the past. She uses it to good effect here, making for an engaging read. Once the story finally kicks it, she keeps it moving at a brisk pace. The unpredictable plot takes some interesting turns along the way that kept me wondering what really did happen to Isabella in the original timeline. Jordan can be a little too ditzy at times, especially for an academic, but she is likable. I enjoyed her crusading for the right of women to express their sensuality, especially in the face of Nick’s father’s closemindedness. While there isn’t that much actual sex, the bawdy subject matter provides the story with a sufficiently erotic feel.
To be sure, there are plenty of little things I could pick at: some moments that felt forced; elements that could have been developed more. But in the overall scheme of things, such matters were relatively minor and didn’t bother me too much. Scandal is nothing too deep or serious, just a light, bouncy, fun little read that generally kept me entertained and left me with a smile on my face. Such a read has been hard for me to come by this year, but thankfully this is one I can recommend.