Malin, my romance spirit guide, recommends Meredith Duran very highly. Malin is right. Duran is an excellent writer, but more on that in a tic.
The cover is ridiculous, but not in the usual heaving alabaster bosom way, which is, admittedly, a relief, but rather in a “What does that dress have to do with a historical romance?” way, but since such shenanigans are typical, I went straight to the reading:
Oooh, it’s set in 1885 and that means bustles. I LOVE bustles! (There were no bustles.)
All atremble in anticipation of the bustles, I started reading, but I quickly wondered which of the men in the first chapter was the hero, so I flipped the book over to read the blurb on the back:
I’m not a historian, but aren’t The Regency and 1885 are separated by about 70 years? I point these things out not to show up the writer, but to point out the attitude of the publishers. It’s a mass market paperback, so apparently such details are irrelevant: “Just say it’s Regency. Women love that sh*t! No one will notice.” Also? It’s not set in London.
In a refreshing change of pace, the hero of That Scandalous Summer is not a Duke. Michael de Grey is the brother of a Duke. He is also a doctor who runs a charity hospital whose funds are controlled by said ducal relation. Michael has found a way to make himself useful, in between some renowned rakish naughtiness, but his brother’s heartbreak over a recently dead wife who was insufficiently discreet in her dalliances has led him to act in a self-destructive way and Michael is in his path. Unless he marries an appropriately demure, read “chaste”, upright woman to produce an heir and continue the family line, the Duke will cut him off without a penny and de-fund the hospital. To add insult to injury, this kind of blindly destructive behaviour is typical of their family, but instead of shielding Michael as he once did, the Duke is now acting like those he used to provide protection against.
Hoping to shock his brother back to his senses, Michael disappears from London and takes up residence in a small village in Cornwall where he practices medicine under an assumed, humbler name and waits to be found. Michael meets Mrs. Elizabeth Chudderly, a widow with a fast reputation, and a “professional beauty” in the new era of photography, who turns out to be a lovely person despite that fact that she was passed out in his rose bushes during their first encounter. Their connection is instant and each of them discovers that being their natural self, as opposed to version they act out in Society, is a huge relief, but imposes strict limits on their relationship. Then Society comes to them in the guise of a house party and things get really complicated.
That Scandalous Summer was a very enjoyable read. Meredith Duran’s storytelling is more serious than I ordinarily like, but not in a melodramatic way, rather she focuses on her mature, complex characters and less on banter. Michael and Elizabeth are consistently interesting on their own and together. From the initial startling spark between them and throughout their challenges, they are both sympathetic, even when they are behaving badly, making poor decisions, and saying exactly the wrong thing. Both hero and heroine are constrained by their responsibilities and the specter of financial and personal ruin. It’s all about the money, its expectations and burdens, which feels realistic for a society built around reputation and perception.
Also by Meredith Duran:
Rules for Reckless Series (not entirely interconnected, more of a theme)
That Scandalous Summer – very good
Your Wicked Heart – delightful novella
Fool Me Twice – excellent
Lady Be Good – nothing special
Luck Be a Lady