I must begin this review with an explanation of my rating. All of Mary Balogh’s books reside on my keeper shelves. However crowded my shelves become, it never occurs to me to part with a single Balogh. I just never know when the spirit will move me to revisit one of another of her novels. But I do not rate every book the same; clearly some are better than others. I would place A Summer to Remember in the first quartile of my Balogh collection.
The heroine, the Honorable Lauren Edgeworth was introduced in One Night for Love. She was to marry her childhood playmate, the Earl of Neville, when a woman arrived at the church, claiming to have married the earl during his time in Spain. Neville had believed that Lily was killed by the French; hence his decision to wed the woman chosen for him by his family. If Lauren was not quite left standing at the altar, she was left standing in the vestibule.
Fourteen months have passed since that dreadful day. Unable to stay in the dower house of Neville’s estate with his mother and sister, Lauren has come to London to keep her cousin, Elizabeth, Duchess of Portrey, as she awaits the birth of her child. Lauren is loathe to go into society; most of the ton had witnessed the debacle. One day, as she and Elizabeth are walking in Hyde Park, Lauren witnesses a most shocking exhibition. A man has stripped to the waist and is engaged in a fistfight with three ruffians. Lauren is shocked but cannot resist sneaking one peek. She catches the man’s eye, and then turns away, embarrassed but strangely excited.
Christopher Butler, Viscount Ravensburg, has become a byword among the high sticklers of the town. His scrap with three laborers is just the latest in a series of escapades which has gained him the reputation of a rake. Since the death of his elder brother elevated him to the position of heir and forced him to sell out of the army, Kit has sampled the pleasures of London without much thought to his responsibilities.
Now, his father has summoned him to the home from which he banished him three years earlier and informs him that he has arranged a marriage with Lady Freyja Bedwyn, sister of their neighbor, the Duke of Bewcastle. Three years earlier, Freyja had chosen the heir over the younger son. Kit now has no desire to marry the woman who spurned him so he decides to find and wed a highly proper bride in six weeks. His friends suggest Miss Lauren Edgeworth as the most proper and unlikely bride for the ramshackle Viscount Ravensburg and, always ready for a challenge, Kit wagers that he will win the woman.
Lauren’s family is appalled when Kit begins to pay her attention, but to her own surprise - she has always behaved with utmost propriety - Lauren pursues the acquaintance. When Kit finally confesses what he is about, she offers a counter proposal. She will pretend to be his betrothed and attend the family gathering if he will give her “a summer to remember.”
Where Balogh excels as an author is in her ability to create complex characters and then to uncover their layers, one at a time. As Kit proceeds to show Lauren how to have fun, he begins to understand this woman and why she has tried so hard to be perfect. As Lauren watches the seemingly happy-go-lucky Kit try to deal with dreadful events from the past, she comes to realize that he is a much different man than his surface would suggest.
Balogh also has a rare gift for showing how two people fall in love. There is no sudden physical attraction even though Lauren is lovely and Kit is appealing. Rather the attraction grows as the two come to know each other. Thus, when each realizes that he or she has surprisingly fallen in love with this most unlikely person, it is completely believable and immensely moving.
A Summer to Remember introduces the Bedwyn family who will be the subject of Balogh’s next series of books. They are an interesting bunch and I am looking forward to getting to know them further.
A Summer to Remember is Balogh at her best. Like all her books, it is character rather than plot driven. When an author can create such fully developed and fascinating characters as Balogh, this is all that is needed for a most enjoyable and engrossing tale.