Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Review: The Summer of You by Kate Noble

The Summer of You (The Blue Raven #2)
By: Kate Noble
Publisher: Berkley


Lady Jane Cummings, only daughter of the Duke of Rayne, quickly became the ton's "it girl" following her debut. Flirtation was her forte, her destiny as a leading social light assured as the gossips watched her every move. But everything changed when her beloved mother fell ill and died. Withdrawing from society for the required year of mourning, Jane is abandoned by her brother Jason to grieve and care for their bereft father alone. As time passes Jane comes to the heartbreaking realization that she stands to lose her father, but in a slower, ruthless, but equally inexorable fashion -- to the slow slide of dementia. When her brother finally returns from his Continental adventures, Jane has just begun to immerse herself in the activities of the Season -- near her breaking point and desperate to forget, even if only for a few hours at a time, her broken personal life. Jason is shocked by their father's decline and orders Jane to remove the Duke to the family summer home at Reston in the lake district. But Jane refuses to go quietly into social and familial exile, and so the Cummings siblings withdraw to the Cottage, where Jason refuses to rise to his duties as heir and Jane is left with little more help than before. When rumors of a highwayman living brazenly among the local populace reach Jane's ears, she's shocked to discover she knows the subject of the public's ire - Byrne Worth. And with the realization that Byrne is nearby, Jane discovers her purpose -- clearing his name. However, the deeper she involves herself in Byrne's life, it quickly becomes apparent that her interest in his welfare is far from altruistic, and the price it exacts may be her very heart...

After helping his brother foil a dastardly plot to renew British hostilities with France, Byrne Worth withdrew from family and society to his recently-inherited house in quiet Reston. The one-time Blue Raven, the British spy widely lauded for his derring-do, wants nothing more than to nurse his demons in solititude, held captive by the havoc a bullet wound wreaked on his leg leading to a vicious laudanum addiction. Absent of the purpose and passion that once defined every aspect of his existence, Byrne is content to feed his neighbors' dislike of him with a forbidding glare and curt demeanor, doing nothing to dispel the rumors that he is responsible for the robberies threatening the village. But when Lady Jane waltzes back into his life, determined to break through his insular shell and restore his good name, he finds himself powerless to resist her charm and enthusiasm. The easy, comfortable progression of their relationship is threatened by the town's determination to pin the highwayman's crimes on Byrne, and the closer he gets to Jane the more time -- and her brother's growing awareness of their relationship -- threatens to destroy their fragile bond. Will one special summer be all Jane and Byrne are fated to share, or can the Blue Raven perform his greatest feat yet -- capturing the heart of the Duke's daughter and reclaiming his once-bright future?

After falling in love with Kate Noble's delightful characters, nail-biting suspense, and frothy romance in Revealed, I was eager to read its sequel as it promised to delve into the life of the enigmatic Byrne, introduced in that volume as the brother of the hero. While Revealed won me over with its heady mix of Austen-esque characters and a dash of international intrigue, The Summer of You proved to be an even greater treat. Captivated from the first page by the revelation that Lady Jane Cummings, erstwhile nemesis of Phillippa Worth, nee Benning, is much more than a pretty face, her headlong rush to embrace the frivolity of the ton's social scene a desperate attempt to mask the pain of a fracture family life. She meets her match in the most unexpected of men -- the one-time spy, crippled by the emotional and physical toll of war, and left bereft of the furious purpose that once guided his every action. Both Byrne and Jane are people at a loss, floundering and without anchor in a world that demands they be placed in boxes, filling proscribed roles to which each is to submit. It is only in risking vulnerability with each other that each finds the strength to lay claim to a life and future of their own making.

More than the story of Jane and Byrne's slow-burning romance, this is the story of family and the soul-deep need for meaningful connection that everyone at some level, at some time, has hungered for with every fiber of their being. Noble has such a gift for bringing the full scope of life into her stories, whether it is the heartbreak of coming to terms with a husband's betrayal, as Phillippa learns in Revealed, or the loss of a parent's mind, in a sense their essence, and with that cut learning to accept the passage of responsibility and maturity from one generation into the hands of the next. This is particularly true in the case of Jason, Jane's brother, and the deep-seated denial regarding his status as the future duke that becomes the crux of their relational controversy throughout the course of the book. Watching the pair work through these issues of caring for an ailing parent, balancing the push and pull of familial obligations with the desires of the heart. And when that balance is found, when understanding is brought to their relationship, the resulting resolution is beautifully executed.

I just adore Noble's unparalleled ability to pen gloriously-realized, three dimensional characters on the page. While the initial spark of attraction between Byrne and Jane is undeniable, Noble develops a beautiful, genuine friendship between them long before anything of a more romantic nature occurs, a friendship that each treasures so much they struggle with taking the next step and jeopardizing the refuge found in each other's company. Noble touched on this concept in Revealed, but here it is explored more fully -- the desire to see and be truly seen as one is, all artifice stripped away, and to still be accepted by another. That is the gift Jane and Byrne give to each other, the foundation of their romance, and that heady basis was the spark that kept my fingers flying, eager to turn  the pages and devour the next development in their achingly authentic, slow-burning romance.

The Summer of You reminded me a bit of Austen's examination of the foibles of small-town life in her novels. Noble populates Reston with a host of well-drawn supporting players, from Victoria, the bane of Jane's childhood transformed into a fast friend, her father, the well-meaning but ineffectual magistrate, determined to see Byrne convicted as the highwayman, to his youngest sons, determined to wreak havoc around the town at every opportunity. Her sharply-drawn characterizations spark with life and lend the novel a wonderful feel for the manners and mores of the Regency time period. But while she may set her stories in Austen's day, the people and struggles and relationships related therein are equally timeless in their appeal. This is a historical romance, yes, but more than that it is the story of individuals embracing life to the fullest -- a life well-lived, risks, pain and all.

While this is only my second experience reading Noble's full-length fiction, I absolutely devoured it, and with Byrne and Jane's positively incandescent love story she's cemented her place on my list of must-read authors. The Summer of You is replete with Noble's warmth and humor, and while lacking the international intrigue that so memorably flavored its predecessor, the investigation into the highwayman's identity -- and how that plays out -- is a welcome and wonderfully organic dash of action, the spark that unexpectedly spices and ultimately transforms Jane's life over the course of what was *supposed* to be one lazy, unremarkable summer. Noble pens swoon-worthy romance at its finest -- rather than the feeling or impulse of a moment, she develops Byrne and Jane's relationship, forcing each to lower walls, reveal hurts, and in seeking to help the other become a previously undreamed of  best versions of themselves, resulting in a gorgeously-rendered romance. Jane and Byrne are characters sure to wend their way into your heart, and the world they live in and the story Noble crafts promises to steal your breath -- SO MUCH BOOK LOVE I CAN HARDLY STAND IT. I cannot wait to lose myself in her next book!

About the book:

From the acclaimed author of Revealed comes a tale of first loves and second chances...

Lady Jane Cummings is certain that her summer is ruined when she is forced to reside at isolated Merrymere Lake with her reckless brother and ailing father. Her fast-paced London society is replaced with a small town grapevine. But one bit of gossip catches Jane's attention--rumors that the lake's brooding new resident is also an elusive highwayman.

Jane must face the much discussed mysterioso after he saves her brother from a pub brawl. She immediately recognizes him from London: Byrne Worth, war hero and apparent hermit--who she finds strangely charming. The two build a fast friendship, and soon nothing can keep this Lady away from Merrymere's most wanted. Convinced of his innocence, Jane is determined to clear Byrne's name--and maybe have a little fun this summer after all... 

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