Pandora's Box


Heather Cullman
2003, European Historical Romance (1790s [Georgian] England)
Signet, $6.50, 352 pages, Amazon ASIN 045120767X
Part of a series

Grade: N/A
Sensuality: N/A

There is a staff review of this book as well

This month's book is Heather Cullman's Scandal, a tale of a marquess's daughter forced to marry a wealthy commoner who made his fortune in India. Gideon Harwood discovers a secret about Lady Julia's father and agrees to marry her so that she might help his younger sisters gain entree into the ton. As he comes to know Lady Julia, he's not sure that marriage - or ton life - is really what he wants. Lady Julia has conflicts of her own, as her father has not told her the real reason she is being forced to marry. As the two come to know and understand each other, they discover that a relationship that started out in suspicion and dislike may be the best thing that ever happened to them.

Blythe:   Before we begin our chat, I'd like to send out a great big thank you to the author. We needed a substitute book at the last minute, and not only did she get us copies - she mailed them just as she was about to leave town for vacation. We were very appreciative, to say the least.

This was my first book by Heather Cullman, who has gotten some positive reviews from AAR in the past. Overall I would rate it as an average read - really intriguing in some ways, but flawed in others. I liked the way it began, and at first I found the hero to be a refreshing change. I liked that he really wanted nothing to do with the ton, and that he was underwhelmed by the heroine at first. But later in the book, he really acted like a horse's ass. It took me some time to get over his behavior.

Linda:   I liked him all through the book and thought his anger and distance from the heroine was justified. I liked the heroine a lot and enjoyed both character's dedication to their families. I also understood the hero's guilt toward his sisters and it made him a more admirable character. Unfortunately, the author used one of my least favorite plot devices - the Big Misunderstanding to bring about the distance in the middle of the book.

Blythe:   The misunderstanding is probably what frustrated me most. It occurred following a love scene that I really, really enjoyed. It was inventive, funny, and touching . . . until the end, when things took a bad turn. Though I could understand the reasons for it, it really left a bad taste in my mouth. I think it was the abrupt mood shift that did it. I'd been chuckling to my self as the heroine kept tossing back brandy to fortify herself for her coming "ordeal," so I had a hard time accepting the more somber downturn at the end.

Linda:   Yes, the love scene was going nicely. I agree that the abrupt mood change that resulted in the Big Mis and ended their budding friendship was frustrating. On the other hand, I liked the book probably more than you did and thought the author created two interesting leads. I also enjoyed the secondaries - Christian and Bethany - whom I assume will be in a second book. I was intrigued by them and liked Cullman's writing enough that I would read a second book.

This book did need a bit more dramatic tension though. Gideon is obsessed with finding his missing brother Caleb throughout the book yet the storyline ended in an anticlimactic fashion for me. Also, I was sure that the death of a certain character at the start of the book would turn out to have been a murder (wearing my mystery hat again <g> , but I guess it was just a red herring.

Blythe:   Isn't that funny? I thought she'd been murdered too, and kept waiting to hear more about that. I was sure it was all part of the plot involving Caleb's disappearance. But I guess Caleb needed to disappear so that Gideon would have a reason to go to his former home. I also found Christian and Bethany interesting (maybe even more interesting than the main couple at times) but some of the other secondary characters really fell flat for me. Julia's aunt, Aurelia, seemed over the top in her meanness. Even though Julia's father is a first-rate scumbag, he somehow seemed more realistic. Maybe I was just happy to see a heroine who actually had parents, instead of yet another orphan raising her siblings after her parents' untimely death in a carriage accident.

Linda:   Read one too many of those brave orphan stories have we? <g> Aurelia's reform seemed too abrupt. She would have gotten better revenge on her brother by enjoying the girls and loving them instead of making them miserable.

I also wished Julia's father had suffered some over his actions. I would've liked to have seen him get some comeuppance or punishment for his actions. Overall, though, I liked the book.

Blythe:     Well, yes - I'm starting to think no one ought to get in a carriage at all, unless they want to die and leave their five charming children to be raised by their oldest daughter, the unconventional bluestocking. The parents Cullman created are probably a little more realistic. The father is a self-serving jerk, and the mother is just oblivious. I wonder where Julia got her good nature with such examples to follow?

As for Julia's father, I'd have enjoyed actually seeing the scene where Gideon told him off. We see Gideon thinking about doing that, but any such scene occurs offstage. Since I found Gideon to be a bit of a jerk at times (too abrupt and too quick to jump to conclusions for my taste) I would have liked to see him do something heroic like that. You also mentioned his siblings and his devotion to them earlier. While I found this admirable, everyone's reactions to his youngest sister, Bliss, seemed a little too "pop-psychology 101" for the times.

Linda:   Mayhap are you mentioning her "bids for attention?" I thought a bit of modern thought occurred here, but on the other hand people have been raising kids for years and presumably figured out what was wrong with them. Perhaps it was the modern terms that were off-putting.

I would have liked to have seen Julia confront her father about his lies to her and even though she would never be able to tell anyone else, it would have been good for her to let her father know that he was the jerk and not her husband.

Blythe:   Well, we can say this for Julia: She was smart enough to figure out that the lies her father told her didn't quite make sense. She observed Gideon's behavior over time, found him to be an admirable, kind man, and figured out that what she'd been told by her father wasn't the entire truth. This impressed me enough that I'd have to say I disagree with my AAR colleague who wrote in her review that Julia wasn't bright (or likable).

Linda:   I too found her intelligent (and likable!) and thought the plot was rather unique. Other then the Big Mis, the author avoided many of the clichés of the genre. I'm really intrigued by Christian and would be interested in reading about his search for his past and a love story between him and Bethany. I hope, though, that the author would avoid having Bethany wallow too long in the "I'm not worthy" pond - that is another of my least favorite plotlines. <g>

Blythe:   Yeah, I'm not a fan of heroes and heroines who refuse to forgive themselves either. Actually, I thought Gideon was headed in that direction early in the book, but it actually didn't go there too much, and thank goodness. Overall, this was about a C-level read for me. But unlike some books I'd rate as average, I didn't find this one boring, and I consider that a good sign. I'd be willing to try another book by Cullman in the future.

Linda:   I think I would have given it a B- to C+ but then I am always nicer then you <VBG>

After I finished Scandal yesterday, I picked up the new Jayne Ann Krentz contemporary - Light in Shadow. I'm happy to report that it is up to JAK's best and I thorougly enjoyed it. The hero is very different. He's has been married 3 times!!

Blythe:   Wow, I wish I could be so lucky. Krentz is an old comfort read, and I have several of her books tbr, but it's been awhile since I read one. I just finished Denise Hampton's The Warrior's Game, which, oddly enough, is another "noble woman/commoner" tale. Unfortunately, I liked it less than the Cullman book. But next I am treating myself with Carla Kelly's The Wedding Journey. And I'm also looking forward to next months' Pandora book. Why don't you tell everyone what we're reading, Linda?

Linda:   I am excited about next month's book, too. We are reading Susan Squire's sequel to the fabulous Danegeld - Danelaw. When I visited with Susan at RT she assured me that we will see the hero and heroine from Danegeld in Danelaw, which made me happy, as I just loved the hero of Danegeld. Danegeld was one of those books I was hesitant to read as I am not big on 'dark' books and when I heard Danegeld started with a Viking warrior being raped I wasn't sure it was for me. But, after reading the great review at AAR I tried it and I couldn't put it down. So, I am looking forward to the sequel.

Blythe:   Sometimes I get so involved in reading books for review that I miss some of those books everyone is talking about. Danegeld was one that I managed to sneak in, and while it wasn't a DIK for me, I loved the grittiness of it, and it was so different from all the other medieval romances out there. I'm looking forward to the sequel. Here's hoping it lives up to our expectations. See you next month.

--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for

-- Pandora's Box

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