Review: That Summer

Title: That Summer 18404166

Author: Lauren Willig

Rating: ★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: Lauren Willig loves to use the dual storyline structure, and in that regard That Summer does not differ from her other literary endeavors. A pre-Raphaelite era painting ties together the 2009 story of Julia with the 1849 story of Imogen — the death of Julia’s great-aunt leads to the inheritance of the house Imogen once lived in, where a painting of the former lady of the house is found within to ignite Julia’s quest to learn the truth of what happened to her ancestress and her lover, along with the descent into memories of what happened to Julia’s late mother. There is no doubt that this is a well-written book and a quick read. But there is also the glaringly obvious fact that this book is no different than anything else offered within the genre; I could not help but wish for more.

The good is heavier than the bad, however, so I do advise to take heart from that. For example, the prose and imagery Willig uses to describe the pre-Raphaelite era paintings and the depths of forbidden passion were beautiful. Imogen, Gavin, and all of the other characters from their era were very well constructed. Unlike the predictability of Julia’s contemporary storyline, Imogen’s contained more unforeseen obstacles than expected and I realized very early on that I enjoyed to read about her life more than I did Julia’s. If it were not for the point that the mystery of Imogen’s fate is what propels the story forward then I would have wished That Summer had forgone the dual structure to be solely Imogen’s story. That summer of Imogen’s life was far more everything — for lack of a better way to phrase it — than Julia’s.

(Also, has anyone else who has read That Summer noticed how the synopsis says Julia’s mother died when she was six, when the book repeats numerous times that she was age five, or that her cousin was named Natalie, and not Natasha? Makes you wonder who edited and approved the final proofs…)

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