Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: That Summer

Lauren Willig
That Summer
By Lauren Willig
St. Martin’s Press, June 2014

About the Book

2009: When Julia Conley hears that she has inherited a house outside London from an unknown great-aunt, she assumes it’s a joke. She hasn’t been back to England since the car crash that killed her mother when she was six, an event she remembers only in her nightmares. But when she arrives at Herne Hill to sort through the house—with the help of her cousin Natasha and sexy antiques dealer Nicholas—bits of memory start coming back. And then she discovers a pre-Raphaelite painting, hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe, and a window onto the house’s shrouded history begins to open...

1849: Imogen Grantham has spent nearly a decade trapped in a loveless marriage to a much older man, Arthur. The one bright spot in her life is her step-daughter, Evie, a high-spirited sixteen year old who is the closest thing to a child Imogen hopes to have. But everything changes when three young painters come to see Arthur’s collection of medieval artifacts, including Gavin Thorne, a quiet man with the unsettling ability to read Imogen better than anyone ever has. When Arthur hires Gavin to paint her portrait, none of them can guess what the hands of fate have set in motion.

From modern-day England to the early days of the Preraphaelite movement, Lauren Willig’s That Summer takes readers on an un-put-downable journey through a mysterious old house, a hidden love affair, and one woman’s search for the truth about her past—and herself.

My Review

A perfect book to review in the waning days of summer.

Julia inherits a great aunt’s house on Herne Hill, just outside of London. Unemployed and adrift, she leaves her home in New York City to prepare the house to sell so that she can return to her life. But the house, a place where her late mother grew up, is more than a run down building filled with old junk. Julia encounters a haunting portrait of one of her ancestors, Imogen Grantham, and when she discovers another painting—one attributed to the mysterious pre-Raphaelite painter Gavin Thorne—she wants to learn the truth. Julia delves into the home’s secrets and learns more about the home’s history, more about herself, and more about her own past.

The historical aspect is a look into Imogen’s life. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Imogen has a reawakening when her husband hires Gavin Thorne to paint her portrait. In Gavin, Imogen finds a match for her intellectual curiosity, passion, and interests. A secret love affair ensues but a plan to flee goes awry, leaving Imogen trapped in her husband’s home forever.

If you’re looking for anything really earth shattering, that won’t be here. This is a very pleasant, if quite predictable, story of two women struggling to make their way in different times. The story feels familiar because it’s because these aspects become frequent themes in this type of dual-timeline stories: mysterious painting(s), abandoned house, tortured historical heroine, damaged modern heroine, dashing but complicated modern hero, etc. That doesn’t make this any less enjoyable, however, and as an end-of-summer getaway book, this is a solid choice.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer