The Summer of Us
Unlike the historicals prompt, where I always have lots of books to choose from, the contemporaries one usually sees me scrabbling around to find something to read because I like to choose my TBR Challenge reads from books I already own – and contemps aren’t really my thing so I don’t buy many. I did, however, find a handful on my Kindle and, having recently enjoyed Lily Morton’s Rule Breaker in audio, (seriously, it’s fantastic) I decided to read one of the author’s earlier books, The Summer of Us, which is a spin-off title from her Beggar’s Choice series about a world-famous rock band.
Matt Dalton has been friends with the members of Beggar’s Choice for years; the bassist, Bram, is like a brother to him, and even though Matt runs a highly successful and elite staffing agency he also works as Bram’s PA. He’s charming, funny, outgoing and the sort of guy who gets on with everybody. Everybody that is, except John Harrington, the band’s lawyer. Matt disliked John from their first meeting, and that opinion has never changed in spite of the fact that everyone else in the band likes him and regards him as ‘one of them’. But as far as Matt’s concerned, John is bossy, abrasive, arrogant… and it doesn’t help that he’s been very inconveniently attracted to him from the moment he first laid eyes on him.
John is rich and successful, but doesn’t have much of a life outside of his work. The face he presents to the world is cool and self-contained, but it’s a façade behind which lies a gentle dreamer with a soft heart and a longing – one even he hardly recognises – to make a real connection with someone he can share his life with. John knows Matt doesn’t like him but isn’t sure why… or why it bothers him so much. So it’s as much a surprise to him as to anyone when he finds himself offering to put Matt up at his villa in the South of France when Charlie, the band’s lead singer, tells John that Matt has agreed to oversee the renovations on a property he’s just purchased near the one John owns.
What starts out seeming as though it’s going to be an enemies-to-lovers story quickly morphs into something else when Matt arrives at the villa and immediately jumps head-first into an apology for making snap judgements and then suggests they start afresh:
“I didn’t really give you a chance, which was a shitty thing to do, so I’d like to give us a second chance to become friends. After all, we’re going to be spending a lot of time together and it would be a lot easier if it’s not in conditions that would have made Stalin uncomfortable.”
John is only too pleased to agree, and it doesn’t take long for both men to realise that they like each other a great deal, and to discover that, while on the surface they’re chalk and cheese, they actually have a lot more in common than they could ever have imagined. From this new start, comes a deep friendship, a sense of true kinship and, for John, the confusion that comes with the realisation that he’s strongly attracted to Matt despite never having been into guys before. Matt, who has been struggling with the fact that he’s only grown more attracted to John the more he’s got to know him, believes John is straight – hell, Bram told him that John was trying to get back with his ex-wife – and he isn’t prepared to be anyone’s experiment. He’s realised that in past relationships, he was always the one to make sacrifices and to give while the other person took and now he’s decided he’s never going to settle again. He wants someone who is going to put him – Matt – first, and John surely can’t be that guy. Can he?
I really enjoyed the way the central relationship developed, with the two men moving from antagonism to friendship and eventually to lovers. They’re three-dimensional characters with baggage that continues to inform their attitudes and relationships; John’s aristocratic parents never really gave a shit about him, so he’s grown up reluctant to form connections for fear he’s not good enough, while Matt’s religious parents threw him out at fifteen when he came out, and he’s still carrying a shedload of guilt about a past relationship that went very badly wrong. Ms. Morton’s wonderfully snarky (and wonderfully British) humour is very much in evidence, and although the appearances of the dreadful ex-boyfriend and equally dreadful ex-wife are somewhat clichéd, they nonetheless help to move things along a little by highlighting the contrasts between the men’s past and present relationships. John’s lack of angsting over and acceptance of his sexuality and his feelings for Matt feel right for his character; he says early on in the story that he’s never been one for strong emotions, and it’s obvious that his desire to get back with his ex-wife was motivated more by hurt pride than anything else, so the idea that it was finding the right person that made the difference made sense. I liked that he wasn’t freaked out or in denial about his attraction to Matt, or interested in labels –
“I don’t know whether I’ve just discovered that I’m gay so much or just that I’ve discovered you… You’re my person and I think that I was just waiting for you. Man or woman, it doesn’t matter to me. The only thing that matters is that you are mine and I am yours.”
Also important in the story is the setting, which is described so vividly that I was able to picture it – the villa in the hills above Cannes with the amazing view of the sea – and imagine the heady scents of the flowers and herbs; the perfect backdrop to allow this intense, warm and sensual romance to develop in that space out of time away from the constraints of everyday life. But there were a few things that kept this book from DIK status. The aforementioned evil exes were a bit OTT, and sometimes, the dialogue between Matt and John is a bit too-good-to-be-true and overly sappy. I also wasn’t wild about the continual use of “Matty” and “Johnny”, which felt a bit juvenile. I know they were meant to be pet names, but I still found it a bit irritating.
Otherwise, though, The Summer of Us is a funny, charming, sexy and wonderfully romantic read and I enjoyed it a lot in spite of its flaws.