THAT SUMMER – Lauren Willig
A Perfect 10
St. Martin's Press
England – 2009 and 1849
2009 - Julia Conley has just inherited a house in England from a great-aunt she never knew she had. Since age six, she and her father have lived in New York City, moving there after the death of her mother. Dad, a well-known surgeon, his second wife, and their two sons are all the family Julia has known. With little to no information about her mother's family, Julia sets off for England to claim the house, sell it, and return to New York. There's no big rush, though, since Julia has been unemployed since losing her job as a financial analyst for a major corporation when Wall Street went belly-up in 2008.
1849 – For ten years, Imogen Grantham has been wed to the much older Arthur, a collector of medieval artifacts. With his late wife's sister running the house, Arthur uses Imogen as another pretty thing that he's collected, but mostly ignores her. She's had two miscarriages, but loves Arthur's daughter, Evie, a sixteen year-old who is anything but scholarly like her father. Imogen is bored with her life until the arrival of three young artists who visit Arthur. When Arthur hires one of them, the quiet, enigmatic Gavin Thorne, to paint Imogen's portrait, her world begins to brighten.
2009 – Julia is met at her great-aunt's home, Herne Hill, by her cousins, Natalie and Andrew, and Andrew's close friend, Nicholas, an antique shop owner. Julia's memories of her cousins are vague, at best, but her father warned her that their mother, Caroline, is upwardly mobile and probably not pleased that her Aunt Regina left her house to the “American” side of the family. So when Julia finds a Pre-Raphaelite painting hidden in an ancient wardrobe, whom can she trust to find out if it's worth anything, and just as important to Julia, who painted it?
I should know better than to start one of Lauren Willig's books on a Sunday morning. THAT SUMMER is riveting, and I read almost straight through to one o'clock Monday morning! Julia is a woman coming to grips with her past, with memories slowly creeping back into her head and heart. The longer she stays at Herne Hill, the more intrigued she is with finding the painter who did the work, and determined to discover the woman he painted. Nick and her cousin Natalie are helping, but Julia and Nick get off to a rocky start. As for Imogen, Victorian England wasn't kind to women, and her need for companionship, intelligent conversation, and a real life will affect several lives.
Once started, THAT SUMMER will not allow readers to put it down. I promise you. It's A Perfect 10 from page one to the poignant, heartwarming endings of both stories. Humor, history, a wee bit of mystery, and brilliant characters in both centuries will guarantee a fun and satisfying read. I must say that Ms. Willig's writing is reminiscent of Rosamund Pilcher's books, another favorite author of mine, with heartfelt tales, and memorable characters. Don't miss this wonderful book.