by Anne Avery, historical (1997)
Topaz, $5.99, ISBN 0-451-40739-3
Maybe you are wondering why you should read this historical romance. Well, two words: "virgin hero". Okay, there are more reasons to read Anne Avery's Summer Fancy than the hero Zeke Jeffries being a virgin, but still, that hero is pretty cute in just how shy he is as a person.
Set in Rocky Ford where the biggest industry of the small town is watermelon farming, we have our heroine Sophrina Carter who realizes that she's never going to find a husband as long as she has to live under her beautiful and melodramatic mother. Her mother means well, even if she's a bit of a ditsy bimbo at times, matchmaking Sophie often and all, but Sophie knows that everyone can't help comparing her to her mother. And when they do, skinny mousy Sophie always come off as lacking in many ways.
Zeke is the new guy in town. He's the quintessential tall, dark, and handsome loner, wanting to be left alone to work on his watermelon farm. The women of Rocky Ford are all worked up over this new guy. Is he alone? No family? The poor man. Each woman is confident that she has a daughter who will do Zeke a lot of good, if the woman isn't secretly hoping for a discreet liaison of sorts with the man himself. Unfortunately, Zeke is such a shy and socially awkward fellow that he all but flees for his life after his first attempt to socialize with his new neighbors at the church.
He certainly doesn't have a good impression of poor Sophie when they first meet, but when these two befriend the lonely child of the local prostitute and end up meeting each other more often under the pretense of seeing the kid, they start to like each other so much better. And, oh my, it looks like it is possible that Sophie Carter may get a tall, dark, and handsome boyfriend of her own after all.
Zeke is a pretty realistic virgin, by the way. His late mother had taught him good behavior, after all, and he didn't find the idea of fraternizing with prostitutes appealing. Since he has a hard time working up the courage to meet women, much less woo them, he's naturally a virgin even if he has a working libido. Sophie may seem like a typical heroine at first, and to a degree she is rather stereotypical character especially when I compare her to Zeke, but her relationship with her mother is a more realistic one than I would expect. She and her mother love each other, but often with a hint of exasperation that feels real considering how different the mother and the daughter are.
Summer Fancy on the whole is an entertaining Americana romance with plenty of humor to spice things up. Zeke and Sophie are adorable characters with their share of humorous awkward moments as they are, after all, two people more used to being alone in the past and it's not always easy trying to open up to the other person. Zeke, especially, is too adorable for words as he tries so hard to be a gentleman even when he doesn't always have the polish to be as suave as he'd like to be. He respects women, loves kid, works hard, and doesn't have vices like drinking, gambling, or womanizing behind the wife's back. What's not to love?
Ask Sophie. The reason this book isn't a keeper is the last quarter or so of the story when Sophie pulls a tedious "I won't marry you because I feel that my pride is wounded so I'm going to get on my high horse of self-righteousness and no, nobody is pulling me down - ever!" act. This stunt turns her into an irrational and misguidedly self-righteous harpy. The turn of event is a contrived attempt by the author to keep the story going once there is no reason why the two characters can't settle down and live happily ever after, and I can overlook this contrivance if it doesn't damage Sophie's character so significantly. This unfortunate turn of the story really ruins my enjoyment of the story.
But the disappointing last quarter or so aside, Summer Fancy is really too cute for words.
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