Review: A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe

A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe
Historical (American) romance released by Avon on April 24, 2018

A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe Book CoverJoanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…
With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?
Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” make it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires a scandalous deal…

Yes! A heroine who is an architect. Nora Roberts does something like this in a lot of her contemporary romances, but I really enjoyed Shupe’s approach to a female architect in the 19th century. The hero—Phillip–was okay for me, but compared with the heroine, he wasn’t as compelling. He’s what we would call a developer, I think; he buys up undeveloped property and builds fancy buildings. The tension between the two is twofold; Phillip wasn’t expecting a female architect in charge of his very expensive project, and they’re both madly attracted to each other but aren’t really honest with themselves or each other about what they want from a relationship. Once the hero’s history was revealed, I felt like pulling a move from Tangled and applying a metaphorical frying pan to his head—just because one woman did something bad to you doesn’t mean that all women are to be distrusted!

Like I said, Eva is a female architect. She was trained by her father, one of the best architects of the time. Her father now has an advanced form of dementia, and can’t design anymore. He also wasn’t good with the finances, so even though he got paid hefty amounts of money, they don’t have anything to fall back on once he can’t work. So the heroine does what any reasonable lady who has a marketable skill would do; she starts working. However, because of sexism, Eva passes off her work as her father’s. And this has gone on for a while before she takes on Phillip’s commission. The hero is one of those people who likes to be very involved in his project, even though all he’s really doing is shelling out the money for the project to be executed. So he’s expecting the heroine’s father to arrive in the States, and instead he gets the heroine. And to top it all off, Phillip and Eva had a one-night stand on the ship—unknowingly. Eva really wants/needs this job, though. So she convinces the hero that her father will be along shortly, and that in the meantime she’ll start off the project.

What I liked about Eva was that she wasn’t just doing this—being an architect—because she needed to, she was doing it because she loved it and was ambitious and confident about her work. That was cool to see, particularly in a historical setting.

Phillip is mega-wealthy and used to getting his way. He boxes to work off his extra tension/temper—which was apparently a no-no in 19th century high society New York City. He had a bad encounter several years before the beginning of the book, and now refuses to marry or emotionally trust women. He even has a contentious relationship with his mother. Hence my urge to metaphorically slap him upside the head midway through the book. However, given that Eva lies to Phillip for three-quarters of the book, it is sort of understandable why he is unwilling to commit. Once he does commit, though, it’s glorious. (The epilogue was worth it, I think, but it is very spoiler-y in terms of details.) At first, Phillip wants to shelter Eva from the work site—he builds Eva her own little office, even though the two other people heading up the construction didn’t get personal offices onsite. Phillip doesn’t want Eva to show up every day to the construction site. Later on, though, he gets that this kind of behavior isn’t really helpful to anyone—but it takes a while.

What was frustrating was that neither of them was honest with each other or themselves about what they wanted. For example, they have a drunken one-night stand—but Eva wakes up before Phillip and sneaks back to her cabin. Not because she’s not interested in more sexytimes, but because she thinks that Phillip might not want more to do with her. She then avoids him until they arrive in New York. Neither of them knew who the other person was until they meet at the construction site. And then, instead of explaining that yes, she did design those plans herself, and look, her father was really not ever going to be able to design Phillip’s fancy hotel, but Eva could do an excellent job, she keeps lying. And, yes, there’s some merit as to why the lying continued for so long, but at the same time, it was frustrating. Sexism and the need for money are good reasons, but not enough to carry me through a whole book—or at least, not this one. Phillip, in turn, hardly ever verbalizes clearly that he’s interested in a more committed relationship, even though he freaks out every time Eva shuts him out emotionally. All this “let’s be casual, but why aren’t we cuddling” started to frustrate me.

Thankfully, the groveling and epilogue were great. There was groveling from both Phillip and Eva, and women supporting each other. I am here for that! (No, I’m not spoiling it any further than that.)

I liked Eva and Phillip, and the reasons for the conflicts between them made sense, but they weren’t enough to keep me from growing irritated with the characters. There were a couple of diverse characters in the book—the engineer was African-American, for instance—but no diverse protagonists. I am curious about the other books in this series, though.

Grade: B+

You can read an excerpt here, and buy a copy here.

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