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REVIEW: That Scandalous Summer by Meredith Duran

Dear Meredith Duran:

I’ve been a Meredith Duran fangirl since The Duke of Shadows was published in 2008; none of your books has received less than a B+ from me. So naturally each new book is eagerly anticipated. For perhaps the first time, reading That Scandalous Summer, I ended up feeling…disappointed. Further, I’m not sure I can elucidate exactly why. The elements are there, but somehow That Scandalous Summer ended up being less than the sum of its parts, at least for me.

That Scandalous Summer by Meredith DuranThe story opens in London in 1885, where Lord Michael de Grey is paying a concerned visit on his brother, the Duke of Marwick. Alastair has shut himself away in his home, utterly distraught after finding out that his recently deceased wife was a junkie and a slut (not to put too fine a point on it) who may have leaked important political secrets that Alastair had shared with her to her lovers.

Michael wants to force Alastair to start participating in the world again, but Alastair meets this demand with one of his own: Michael needs to court and wed a suitable young lady, toute suite, or Alastair will withdraw his funding from the charity hospital Michael runs. (Michael is a doctor/aristocrat/bon vivant, a combination I found a bit hard to credit, but I don’t know enough to say whether it was historically plausible or not.)

Michael is truly shocked – he knows that Alastair can be a bit high in the instep, but the brothers have always been close. Alastair was always his protector, growing up. They’d had an unhappy childhood, buffeted by the chaos caused by their parents’ stormy marriage.

Michael makes the rather strange decision to flee London in an attempt to draw his brother out of the house and out of his self-imposed exile from the world. Why he thinks Alastair won’t just close the hospital immediately after discovering that Michael has skipped town wasn’t clear to me. He lands in the village of Bosbrea in Cornwall, and goes to work plying his trade in the guise of a simple country doctor.

It’s there that he meets Liza Chudderly, passed out drunk in his rose bushes. Michael tends to some superficial wounds, catches up on the area gossip about Mrs. Chudderly from his housekeeper and tries to avoid noticing how beautiful Liza is (aristocratic widows being Michael’s weakness).

Elizabeth Chudderly, a native of Bosbrea, is viewed by London society as a merry widow, but the reality is somewhat less rosy. Her lover, Nello, has just departed her manor house abruptly after discovering the truth: Elizabeth is very nearly broke. Attempting to drown her sorrows in a whiskey bottle has lead her to this mortifying pass, waking up in a strange place with scratches all over and a dreadful headache and a strange man telling her she’d been discovered in his garden.

Elizabeth and Michael are attracted to each other right away (in fact, there was a bit too much mental lusting for my taste), but each has reasons for not acting on the attraction. She thinks he’s a middle-class doctor, respectable but really barely above peasant status from her lofty social perspective. She needs to focus on finding a rich husband, not dally with someone whose lack of funds makes him entirely unsuitable as a long-term prospect. For Michael’s part, he’s pretty focused on his lame plan to make his brother chase him into the wilds of Cornwall. He’s also aware that in his “disguise” he’s no match for the fast and glamorous Mrs. Chudderley.

Of course, circumstances keep throwing them together: there’s a local bazaar both attend, and then Liza acquits herself well when forced to aid Michael in a difficult birthing for one of her tenants. In an attempt to distract herself from the tempting doctor (and possibly catch a wealthy husband), Liza plans a house party, stocked with prospects and replete with spiritualists as the entertainment. It’s there that matters start to come to a head between Michael and Liza.

Implausible set-up notwithstanding, the whole section on Bosbrea (the bulk of the story, by far) should have worked for me. I loved the unconventional the couple’s unconventional meeting. The tension caused by Michael’s disguise was an interesting conflict, and on paper, both Michael and Liza are appealing characters.

Part of the problem, I think, is that the story and characters just didn’t have as sophisticated or nuanced a feel as I’ve come to expect from this author. Their actions and reactions are a bit predictable. Michael is a doctor dedicated to the poor and also a rake dedicated to boning pretty ladies. Now, that could be realistic (I guess) or interesting, but here it just feels a bit distasteful and clichéd – the hero who is super-virile but also a good guy underneath it all. I would’ve liked to see some of the complexity of his backstory dealt with more fully – he and Alastair really had crappy childhoods, and it clearly affected them (each in their own way), but the issue is never really dealt with or resolved. I guess I’m supposed to believe that Michael is healed by true love. Which isn’t uncommon in romance, but again, is a bit more simplistic than I’ve come to expect from this author.

Also, I guess when it came right down to it, I just didn’t like Michael that much. There’s something a bit sleazy about him, a bit shallow and “off.” One example is how he at times seems to find the whole “hiding from the brother” thing to be a lark, despite the stakes on his end (the hospital) and his supposed concern for his brother’s mental and physical health.

Elizabeth has issues that similarly are not fully dealt with. The story of her unhappy marriage came out in dribs and drabs and honestly wasn’t that clear to me, even by the end of the book. There are some pretty strong hints that she has a drinking problem, which I thought was interesting and unusual, but the issue disappears with the HEA (another case of “healed by love”, I suspect). One thing that I did like was the depiction of Elizabeth’s grief over losing her mother – she has a lot of guilt and sadness that keeps her from fully dealing with the loss, and I thought that was very well done and made Elizabeth a more interesting and sympathetic character. Ultimately, I liked her better than I liked Michael, but she just wasn’t *that* interesting to me.

All in all, That Scandalous Summer was a story with a lot of potential that it never quite fulfills. It’s not a bad book, but I’ve come to expect more than “not bad” from this author. My grade is a C+.

 

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

9 Comments

  1. Dabney
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 08:06:11

    I too found this book a let down. Both Elizabeth and Michael were, for me, hard to care for. Their story was somehow presented in at a distance; I lost interest in their outcomes. Sadly, my favorite thing about the book was the picture it painted of health care in that era.

  2. Natalie
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 08:55:32

    I had some of the same issue but still enjoyed the book (primarily because of the heroine) and would give it a higher grade. This is not the first time addiction has been swept under the rug – the same thing happened to the heroes in Bound by Your Touch and Written on Your Skin. As for Michael’s childhood – I suspect his brother might be a hero in one of the sequels, so perhaps she’s saving more for his book?

  3. Ann F.
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 09:21:03

    I just finished this book last night and felt exactly the same way. It wasn’t a terrible book but when I pick up a book by Meredith Duran I just expect more.

  4. EmilyW
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 10:11:13

    This is too bad. I hope Duran is not going the way of Elizabeth Hoyt.

  5. Ren
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 11:06:28

    This was the first Duran book I’ve read, and while there were several things that weren’t addressed as thoroughly as I would have liked, there was some truly lovely turn of phrase, and, warts and all, it ended up being the best romance I’ve read in a while. If this is a subpar effort for her, I’m kind of excited to have her backlist to investigate.

  6. Dabney
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 12:00:41

    @EmilyW: I liked her most recent novella, Your Wicked Heart. @Ren: Oh, lucky you. I wish I could read several of her books again for the first time; for me, they are THAT good.

  7. Kim
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 13:48:19

    I liked this book a lot better than you did. While it starts off a bit slowly, the story really takes off once Liza realizes who Michael actually is. I thought Meredith Duran did a wonderful job in showing Liza’s emotional pain and how liquor temporarily ameliorates it. I also thought that Michael’s character grew throughout the book. He was initially cavilier in his dishonesty with Liza, but soon realizes the pain he has caused her. I also liked how he could see through her defense mechanisms, such as her raucous laughter that hides her buried pain. In his past relationships, Michael wasn’t really all that interested in the woman’s feelings, so I thought he matured with Liza. He also missed the security of how his brother used to be and desperately wanted that brother back. For me, the characterizations were nuanced. As another poster stated, if this is a weak Duran book, then readers are really lucky to find this author. I look forward to reading about Michael’s brother.

  8. Katie T
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 16:23:14

    I had trouble finishing the book. Had to force myself. The events in the book seemed so contrived and I found both characters dull.

  9. On Meredith Duran’s That Scandalous Summer | Happiness: We're All in it Together
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 23:42:46

    […] what I think is missing in Duran’s newest.  I even wondered if that’s what Jennie at Dear Author meant when she wrote of the book in a review yesterday that she “ ended up […]

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