This novel, a non-Pink Carnation one (if you haven't read those, they are about English female spies during the Napoleonic Wars, and they are fabulous) takes place in 2009 and in 1849. New Yorker and jobless Julia Conley learns she has just inherited her great aunt's house outside London. Her great aunt was the one who raised her mother, who died in a car accident when Julia was five, and whom her stiff surgeon father, refuses to ever talk about. When she arrives she is greeted by her annoying cousin Natalie, who wants the house and the "secret treasure" supposedly hidden there. The object of Natalie's affection, that is not reciprocated, Nick, an antique shop owner, shows up with her to help go through the many piles of junk in the old Victorian house.
A treasure, of sorts, is found by Julia. She finds a hidden Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting that is unsigned. If you don't know who they are, please look them up. The paintings are gorgeous with fascinating subject matter from literature, myths, and the bible. They included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millias, William Holman Hunt, and later others such as Edward Burne-Jones. This particular painting was done by a fictional painter, Gavin Thorne, who also painted a portrait of Julia's ancestor, Imogen Grantham in 1849.
The books hops back and forth from 2009 to 1849 and the story of Imogen, a young girl who falls for an older man, Arthur Grantham, a wine merchant, and marries him, even though her dying father advises against it. They have a love of medieval maps and artifacts in common and Imogen imagines a life studying these things with her husband, while watching over his seven-year-old daughter, Evie. They are greeted by the dour Miss Cooper, Arthur's sister-in-law by his first marriage. Soon, however, she finds things are not as she imagines. She has two miscarriages, and finds herself locked out of her husband's study and life. Her only bright spot is Evie.
Ten years later, when Arthur has Thorne paint his wife's portrait in the summerhouse in the garden, the two soon become friends and much more, as Imogen finally finds someone whom she can share not only her thoughts with but also her body. The problem is, at this time in history, Arthur owned her, and if she left, she would ruin Evie in society. Evie herself, is having a secret rendezvous with a painter who is trying to seduce her for her money. Imogen must protect Evie, even if it might mean the end of her affair.
In 2009, Julia begins to have flashbacks to when her parents lived in England and to what happened on the night of the crash. She also becomes close to Nick, but quickly finds excuses to push him away, as she has with countless others, before she can be hurt. With Nick's help they investigate the mystery behind the two paintings and what really happened all those years ago.
This book was a delight to read, perhaps due to my love of the Pre-Raphaelites and their paintings. I could barely put the book down for the night because I wanted to find out what happened next. If you haven't read any of Lauren Willig's works you should. This is one of her best novels and that is saying something, considering how well written the Pink Carnation series is. This is a Must Read!
The past is a distant country.
--Lauren Willig (That Summer p 10).
That was one of the nice things about Helen: she always did sound genuinely pleased. There were times when Julia felt a bit guilty for not having been more of the daughter Helen so obviously wanted and would have been happy for her to be.
--Lauren Willig (That Summer p 107)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/That-Summer-Novel-Lauren-Willig/dp/125002787X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465822382&sr=1-2&keywords=that+summer