Summer is for Lovers by Jennifer McQuiston was just the sort of wonderful, summery read I was looking for. I was actually disappointed it was released in late September since it’s already cold here by then, and most of this book takes place by the ocean, and it has a wonderful beach-y feel to it. This is the sort of book I want to take on vacation to the Caribbean with me. I really enjoyed everything about this book, the characters, the setting, the conflict, the humor… I had one tiny issue with the hero, but more on that later.
Summer is for Lovers is the very loosely related sequel to McQuiston’s What Happens in Scotland, but it can be read as a stand-alone. I didn’t particularly dig What Happens in Scotland, but it’s currently priced at 99 cents, a price worth grabbing it and getting the backstory ( A | BN | K S | ARe | iB ).
The book is set in Victorian era Brighton. David, our hero, is stinking drunk and in the process of committing suicide by letting himself drown in the ocean. He is saved by a plucky girl named Caroline Tolbertson who doesn’t realize what he’s doing. David lets the girl rescue him—she’s a remarkable swimmer and tells him to let the current take him to shallow water rather than fight it. Then he goes on his merry drunken depressed way.
Eleven years later David returns to Brighton with his mother. She’s taking the waters in an effort to cure a chronic respiratory ailment. David is no longer suicidal, but instead has accepted life as a cynical and dissolute romance hero. You see David had a tragic event occur in his life, and as a result he blames himself for the death of a woman he loved. It was because of this he tried to kill himself eleven years ago. Like all good romantic heroes, David doesn’t deal with his guilt and grief in a healthy way, but rather decides he is undeserving of love and HE WILL NEVER HAVE FEELS EVER AGAIN. I love romance heroes. They are so friggin emo.
I really liked David. He’s got some issues here, but he never came across as particularly whiney or brooding. He’s just sort of resigned to his fate. He’s also a little wicked, a little funny, and great deal of fun to read about. I fully admit to having a crush on him.
So what’s my one issue with David? His full name. David Cameron. Yes, he shares the name as the British Prime Minister. McQuiston actually wrote a pretty entertaining blog entry about why you should really Google character names before using them.
So anyway, the minute I read his name, I pictured this:
Sorry to the right honorable Mr. Cameron, but he doesn’t trip my trigger. So I did what I usually do when I read about a fair-haired, blue eyed hero. I went to my happy place. This is my Happy Place:
It’s not even funny how often I picture Simon Baker while I’m reading, honestly. If he knew I brain-stalked him he’d get a restraining order.
So anyway, David is in Brighton and returns to the cove where he almost died eleven years ago. Guess who he runs into? Caroline has been returning to this spot to secretly swim for the past decade or so. Her late father taught her to swim and it’s a passion she’s secretly indulged in ever since. The cove is isolated and the current somewhat dangerous, so she doesn’t need to worry about running into anyone.
Caroline has her own issues to deal with. She knows she needs to make a decent marriage to secure her family’s future. Her mother is down to the last 100 pounds in their savings, and Caroline’s sister, Penelope, has a stutter and is therefore unmarriageable. Caroline really isn’t interested in marriage or courting, though. She’s from Brighton, so she’s a townie in a tourist city, automatically making her uncool. She feels like an ugly duckling and she’s very self-conscious. She’s tall, flat chested, broad shouldered, and narrow hipped. She has the body of an athlete, not something valued at the time. Her first kiss went horribly wrong with Brandon Dermott telling everyone that kissing her was like kissing a boy. I believe this was a commentary on her lack of bosom, but I have to wonder why no one asked how many boys he’d kissed that he was able to make that comparison.
Anyway, awkward and shy Caroline runs into David and it’s lust at first sight on her part. She’s been fantasizing about the tragic solider since she was a girl. David is less interested in Caroline initially. She’s hidden behind unflattering, badly fitting clothes and a severe hair-do. He is still impressed by her swimming ability though, and promises not to tell anyone that about her secret cove (not that secret cove–a literal cove).
Caroline runs into David again at a party she’s forced to go to. She has to meet a nice young man and get him to marry her so she can save the family, remember? She feels horribly awkward (especially since Dermott the Douche Canoe is there) and David sort of takes pity on her. He likes that she’s outspoken and interesting, and he feels bad that she’s about to be embarrassed by a silly parlor game. The game is set up so that the men have to guess the identity of ladies based on their silhouettes from behind a sheet. The women have to try and disguise themselves. If the men guess correctly they get seven minutes in heaven with the lady (really two minutes on the terrace, but same concept). Even though Caroline is obvious due to her height no one will guess her. So David picks her, takes her out on the terrace, and then the kissing commences.
David isn’t struck by insta-lust. He isn’t led astray by his wayward peen, either. He sort of feels a flicker of something, enjoys the kiss without being overcome. Throughout the book David develops his attraction (and eventual love) for Caroline slowly. I really loved that about this book. It gave their relationship a more organic feeling than romance novels where the hero just can’t help himself with the wanting, he’s a man for God’s sake! There’s a slow simmering of desire, not a bunch of grinding against the terrace railing.
Anyway, because he’s a stand up gentleman, David disabuses everyone of the idea that kissing Caroline is like kissing a boy and more or less calls Dermott an idiot. Because David is cool, a little older than the rest of the crowd, and the son of a Scottish baron, this then makes Caroline seem cool. If David likes her, she must be worth liking, right?
The result of David’s apparent interest is that suddenly men start calling on Caroline—including Dermott, the creep. Her mother is delighted by all the suitors, the flowers, the invitations. Caroline feels trapped. She’s now too busy attending parties, dress fittings, and taking polite strolls with her callers to go swimming. The thing she finds the most joy in is being taken away from her, and she realizes once she marries (likely to a man visiting Brighton rather than a local) she will have to leave and her swimming days will be gone for good.
Meanwhile, David starts to feel jealous about the attention Caroline is receiving. He knows that the men who are courting her are not interested in who she really is, but in the idea of her he’s been planting. To be fair, Caroline knows this too, but she too pragmatic to rebuff them. Her family still needs the money. By now Caroline and David have formed a sort of friendship, and he wants her to choose someone who really appreciates her. Caroline wants David to offer for her and tells him so. One of the reasons I loved her so much was that she doesn’t sit on the sidelines and pine for him, she straight up tells him how she feels. When he explains that he can’t—that HE CAN NEVER HAVE FEELS EVER AGAIN—she calls bullshit. She also points out that he’s pretty jealous for someone who apparently doesn’t give a shit.
To save her from a marriage of convenience, David decides to join a swimming competition, and split the prize money with Caroline, buying her family more time. Caroline must first teach him to swim like she does, though. Caroline agrees to the plan, with one exception. In exchange for the lessons, he has to teach her to kiss, to feel pleasure, since she has the wanty-pants for him (and obviously he does for her by this point). She knows she’s going wind up married sooner or later (she’s resigned herself to sooner) and she wants to feel actual desire before she does. She wants to share her other secret cove with him. David’s all sputtery about how she’s asking him to ruin her, but he agrees provided they stop short of actual intercourse.
So there’s a lot of swimming, heavy petting, and David banging his head against a rock questioning why he wants her so much. The more resigned Caroline is to accepting a marriage proposal from one of the men she doesn’t care about, the more David’s desire and appreciation of her increases. It made for some excellent pacing. I really felt there was a risk of Caroline marrying of one of her suitors and the two missing out on each other entirely, even though I knew HEA was coming.
I also really enjoyed that this wasn’t a book set in the London ballrooms. I loved the descriptions of Brighton, especially the beach scenes. At one point, one of Caroline’s suitors offers to buy her a turn in one of the bathing machines that allowed women to swim without impropriety. It’s basically a small hut on wheels that a team of horses would pull out into the ocean, offering privacy.
The only light came through a small, unglazed window, but it was enough to see the squalor. There was no hint of hopeful yellow paint on the inside of the box. The contraption smelled of mildew and rot, and condensation shone against the peaked ceiling. The planks of the floor were spaced several inches apart, and it appeared water would flood the lower space of the machine as it was pulled into the surf.
…The machine’s forward momentum stopped, and the sounds of the horses being unhitched reached her ears. Cold water lapped around her bare waist, sending chill bumps along her arms. She could see why the attendant mentioned difficulties. Every so often a large wave smashed against the wooden frame, setting her pulse pounding and the house rocking.
The idea of being inside a moldy, dimly lit box in the ocean is just too claustrophobic for me. I had to Google these things and found the pictures fascinating. All this nonsense just so a lady didn’t have to worry about showing her bare calves or having wet fabric plastered to her bosoms. Silly Victorians. Also wouldn’t there be a lot of horse poop in the water?
The book comes to it’s black moment with Caroline accepting the wrong man’s proposal and David’s emotional dam breaking. All this set against a lovely beach backdrop.
I recommend Summer is for Lovers as a break from the ballrooms of London scene in historicals, and as a way of reliving the best parts of summer vacation—rescuing a handsome Simon Baker look-alike from the ocean and then making out with him.