A Summer To Remember, by Mary Balogh

>> Thursday, April 22, 2004

For some reason, I missed Mary Balogh's A Summer To Remember when it just came out. I must have read the review, and it really does sound like something I'd enjoy, so I really don't know why it didn't go on my wish list. It only came to my attention again a few weeks ago, so when I saw it in a bookstore, I bought it.

A year after being abandoned at the altar during the wedding she had dreamed of all her life, Lauren Edgeworth is in London to spend a quiet couple of months with her aunt, Elizabeth, Duchess of Portfrey, during the latter's confinement. Christopher "Kit" Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, is in London getting into every imaginable wild scrape and fast becoming one of London's most notorious rakehells. But now he has been summoned home in order to become betrothed to a woman chosen by his father, who banished him for life just three years before.

Desperate to do things on his own terms, Kit hastily searches for a bride to take home with him, someone his father cannot possibly object to, someone above reproach, someone dull, respectable, prim, and perfect. One of his friends suggests Lauren but then adds that Kit is surely the very last man she would accept for a husband. The challenge proves irresistible, and Kit wagers that he will have wooed and wed Lauren within six weeks...
I loved this, an A-.

I haven't quite read Mary Balogh's entire backlist, but I've read quite a few, and the conclusion I reached was that while Balogh is a genious at conveying dispair and sadness, her portrayal of happiness didn't work as well for me. This meant that her books left me a little bit depressed. there are exceptions, though. The Famous Heroine is one of them, and I'll add A Summer to Remember to that very short list. It's not that this book is a laugh a minute, but it has a somewhat lighter touch than others, and I felt good when I finished it.

ASTR is a sequel to One Night For Love (which I didn't like much), and follows Lauren, the woman who got left at the altar in the opening pages of that book. There, Lauren was a prim and proper, almost humourless prig. The genius of ASTR is that Balogh succeeds in making her sympathetic without her losing any of the qualities that make her uniquely her.

She's still proper, she's still prim, and even after spending time with Kit has loosened her up a lot, she's still far from the typical feisty hoyden who so often is the heroine in historicals. And speaking of her loosening up, I loved how Balogh wrote this, because it was oh so gradual and thus, believable. She didn't just wake up one morning and decided to suddenly free herself from society's strictures. Oh, no, she had to be coaxed into every step by Kit, but when she'd done it, she was quick to admit that she'd enjoyed it.

I also liked that while she did recognize that she'd been clinging too hard to the rules (the why she'd done it was explained perfectly, and it rang heartbreakingly true), she didn't completely discard them. She still saw value in many of them, and the scene where she slaps down the more typically feisty Freyja was beautiful. I like role reversals, and this was great: instead of the free-spirit heroine under attack from the hypocritical, proper prigs, here we have a proper heroine who gets attacked for it by an unconventional lady.

While I found Lauren the slightly more intriguing character, I also did adore Kit. I love tortured characters who don't react to their pain by brooding and treating everyone like hell. Kit was one of the most charming heros I've ever read, but this was obviously not just a shallow, superficial charm. It didn't completely conceal his depths. I thought his playfulness was perfect for Lauren.

I must note that I was especially interested in the love scenes, how Balogh succeeded in showing a passion that had almost no animalistic element. Hmmm, I don't know if that sounded right... what I mean is that while Kit definitely desires Lauren, it's not a caveman kind of emotion. He even marvels at one point at how his desire for her is almost non-sexual. It's more tender than anything else. I confess I'm a bit of a fan of internal lusting, and throbbing whatevers, but this was a nice change of pace ;-)

I liked very much how Balogh dealt with Kit's situation with his family. It quickly becomes clear that what looked awful of them when seen solely from Kit's perspective, definitely has another side, a very different other side. I especially loved Kit's brother Syd, and was a bit disappointed that we didn't see a romantic HEA for him here.

I very much enjoyed that the plot is completely character driven. Also, at first it looks like it's going to be based on the very clichéd "hero courts the heroine because of a bet", but luckily, Kit confesses the truth to Lauren before long, and this improves the book very much. What I wasn't too crazy about was the ending. It was a bit of an attack-of-the-martyr heroines kind of thing.

As for the Bedwyns... I'm afraid they didn't feel particularly compelling to me. Definitely sequel bait, but since their presence in their story wasn't gratuitous, they didn't bother me much, either.


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