by Meredith Duran, historical (2013)
Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-0696-6
That Scandalous Summer is part a series with Bound By Your Touch and Written On Your Skin. Those two books came out in 2009, and three characters from those books show up here as part of the secondary cast in the second half or so, so you may be stumped for a moment or two if you have not read those books or, like me, have forgotten much about those books.
If my admittedly jaded experience with the romance genre is anything to go by, the author can't win with this book. This is because the heroine, Elizabeth "Liza" Chudderley isn't just unapologetically aware of her beauty, she is also the kind of woman who has no problems initiating a flirtation or more with the hero. Liza can be self-absorbed and she loves being the center of attention. Oh, and she drinks too. With such a heroine, Ms Duran may as well tattoo an invitation for angry one-star reviews on her forehead.
Me, I like Liza. In this story, she is a widow has just been dumped by her lover. The back cover synopsis describes Liza as "one daring widow", but she's actually someone who loves too desperately. You may know a similar person in real life - Liza is that person who falls too quickly, creates fantasies of happily ever after too easily, to the point that she gained a reputation for being fast and loose because she was pretty open with her feelings for that man. Unfortunately, she's a widow and, in her now ex-paramour's eyes, the kind of woman one has fun with but doesn't marry. Worse, he dumped her after he learned of her financial woes. Poor Liza grabs a bottle and ends up snoring in her neighbor's rosebushes.
If Liza fled to the country to avoid her debtors, our hero Lord Michael de Grey did the same to give his brother the finger. His brother, Alistair, is currently passing himself off as a bitter hermit because he recently learned that his now dead wife not only cheated on him non-stop, she did so with members of the opposition political party! Deciding that he will never marry again, Alistair decides that he doesn't like the idea of his title and money going to some relative, so he decides that Michael will marry and pop out the heir instead. Alistair will of course choose the bride, and if Michael, a doctor, doesn't like it, he'd shut down Michael's hospital by withdrawing his funding. Michael doesn't want anyone to boss him, so he takes to the country like a real man to show Alistair that he would never agree to Alistair's demands just because Alistair controls his pocket money.
Michael and Liza fall for each other, but neither believes that the other person is the right one for them. For one, they are both broke and in need of money. Still, there's going to be a happily ever after here... right?
This story starts out slow, and it picks up steam only in the late third or so of the book. This is because for too long, the story focuses on Liza and Michael going muah-muah-muah at each other, and after a while, the whole sexy flirting and dancing around each other thing becomes tad boring to follow. Sure, these two are cute together, but there is only so much heavy breathing and making out before I begin to wish for something more interesting to happen. Things do become more interesting later in the story when these two are forced to put on sad faces and dwell on unhappy feelings for a change, but it takes a while to get there.
On the bright side, I like Liza. I adore the fact that the author doesn't punish or humiliate Liza for not being another noble and selfless romance heroine. Instead, Ms Duran chooses to show me that there is more to Liza as the story progresses. This isn't a "force the haughty heroine to change by breaking and humiliating her" story, in other words. I also love the fact that, despite her financial woes, Liza falls in love with Michael on her own terms. She is not forced by circumstances to choose Michael. In fact, she has plans to restore her finances, and none of them involves Michael. I have a heroine here whose entire existence doesn't hinge on the guy coming to rescue and love her, and that's really nice.
Unfortunately, Michael is such a boring character compared to Liza. For one, his entire character seems like a clumsy amalgamation of all kinds of romance hero archetypes. He's a responsible doctor, who also has daddy issues and he also doesn't believe in love as he's a playboy. Wait, if he's a responsible doctor supposedly single-handedly turning the hospital into what it is today, how on earth again did he have time to play the field with all those lovely widows again? And if he's such a responsible fellow, why is he running away to the countryside without leaving anyone in charge of the hospital in his absence?
In this story, both characters often behave like childish - if charming - teens trying to figure out their feelings for one another. For Liza, such behavior feels in character. But Michael is supposed to be this jaded fellow who has played the field and came out more cynical than before, and he's also supposed to be this authoritative guy that manages to introduce new and safer medical prcedures despite resistances from old school doctors. I can't reconcile these aspects of him with his behavior in this story.
You see, Michael spends pretty much the entire story pouting and sulking when things don't go his way, and when he has to do something, he runs away. Super tough charismatic guys that run hospitals single-handedly don't do that, do they? This brings me to another problem: it's hard to root for a hero that sulks and pouts this much. It's nice that Liza makes all the big moves in this story, but it's a different story when the hero's more memorable scenes are those of him snooping and eavesdropping on the heroine. Yes, it's cute that Michael dares to be different from the usual take-charge romance heroes out there, but I'd prefer he doesn't remind me so much of an emo little boy that flounces every other hour.
That Scandalous Summer has an interesting heroine and some elements that are refreshingly different, but all things considered, I am not as enamored of it as I'd have liked to.
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