Title: Seven Summer Nights
Author: Harper Fox
Release: 30th November 2016
Genre: M/M (historical)
It’s 1946, and the dust of World War Two has just begun to settle. When famous archaeologist Rufus Denby returns to London, his life and reputation are as devastated as the city around him.
He’s used to the most glamorous of excavations, but can’t turn down the offer of a job in rural Sussex. It’s a refuge, and the only means left to him of scraping a living. With nothing but his satchel and a mongrel dog he’s rescued from a bomb site, he sets out to investigate an ancient church in the sleepy village of Droyton Parva.
It’s an ordinary task, but Droyton is in the hands of a most extraordinary vicar. The Reverend Archie Thorne has tasted action too, as a motorcycle-riding army chaplain, and is struggling to readjust to the little world around him. He’s a lonely man, and Rufus’s arrival soon sparks off in him a lifetime of repressed desires.
Rufus is a combat case, amnesiac and shellshocked. As he and Archie begin to unfold the archaeological mystery of Droyton, their growing friendship makes Rufus believe he might one day recapture his lost memories of the war, and find his way back from the edge of insanity to love.
It’s summer on the South Downs, the air full of sunshine and enchantment. And Rufus and Archie’s seven summer nights have just begun...
Sally’s and Mark’s Review
Sally: Sometimes you get some news that’s downheartening - tax bills, an odd sound from the car engine, a suspicious puddle by the washing machine, an even more suspicious one by the cat - and sometimes you get something much, much better, like word of a new release from Harper Fox!
And what a release. Seven Summer Nights is a historical romance, but so much more! There’s the immediate post war period of the late 1940s where traumatised young people tried to fit back into civilian life, there’s the bleak prospects faced by those who suffered from PTSD, which had not yet been recognised as a legitimate concern, there’s the boom in archaeology, and above all there is love, all displayed for our delectation in Harper’s beautiful prose.
Mark: Yes Sally, beautiful prose is exactly it. Harper is a real wordsmith and just like an artist Harper can paint the most breath-taking scenes and awaken emotions in me with her words which make reading a pure joy. This is a broad sweeping historical romance but the period is not so “historical” that I feel almost anyone can still connect with it even if one doesn’t normally read historical novels. It's still modern enough to be able to connect with the time and setting very easily.
The intricacy of the plot is incredible. We have the mystical but not overdone, ethereal in its presence, you know there is something bubbling under the surface until everything comes to light at the end. An ancient mystery waiting to be solved, we have the historical aspect with the time period, archaeology and the abhorrent attitudes in this time towards homosexuality, mental illness, PTSD, faith in religion or lack of and small minded rural life. A lot of issues in one book. All this wrapped up in a wonderful, delicious plot that had me breaking my bedtime curfew just to read further. Anyway, time for me to stop waxing lyrical otherwise you’ll never get a chance. So changing the subject, I would love to know what you think about our MCs?
Sally: I think I have to start with Rufus, since it’s he who we meet first. Also I have a very big soft spot for archaeologists. He seems such a nice lad - delighted to be back in harness after a very stressful war, and tolerating the leadership of a man he disagrees with on almost every professional point, and many cultural and humanitarian ones as well. Rufus has insight - blurred a little with disuse - and a huge but benign curiosity. He wants to record and understand, rather than plunder. He’s also horribly lonely on a private and personal level. He really needs to find the right kind of man - and that’s where Archie comes in. Oh Archie - one of those types who used to be called muscular Christians, someone who is completely trustworthy in every situation [apart from a tendency to gloss over his passion for motorbikes - a very unsuitable mode of transport for a priest]. He served in the war too, and that gives him a valuable insight into Rufus’s condition. I honestly couldn’t say which of them I enjoyed most, Mark. How about you?
Mark: I loved the two MCs, both damaged in their very own ways. Rufus suffering from PTSD and loss of memory which leads him sometimes to violent outbursts where he can’t remember anything when he comes around. But regaining his memory will lead to the key of a mystery that will shed the shackles of his past and allow him to move forward. This leads him into a life threatening situation towards the end of the book where his only hope will be Archie, his love and resolve not give up on their relationship.
Then we have Archie, the village vicar, also a war veteran who served as a pastor in the military during the war. He is also fighting his own demons. A clergyman who has lost his faith but is still the milk of kindness to everyone needing shelter. Goes to show that a dog collar doesn’t make a person good by default. His vicarage is like a halfway house to so many troubled souls but people who all have their own story to tell. True to the time the romance is a slow-build as at this time you had to be very sure about not only your convictions but also those of the other person. I could feel the attraction just fizzing between both MCs like electrical static until Rufus takes that first, bold and important step, the first physical touch which leaves no doubt as to his inclinations tearing down the walls and letting the damn break. Once this step has been taken there’s no going back. Rufus is the more experienced in playing the homosexual subterfuge necessary to survive at these times where I felt Archi was rather naive of the situation and surroundings in his all consuming love for Rufus. The danger being that Archie could give the game away to some unsavoury person that would only want to harm them. But despite all obstacles, and there were some huge ones to overcome, their love triumphs in the end which left me with a big soppy sigh at the end with all the warm fuzzies.
I feel that what also made this book for me were the myriad cast of secondary characters. All vibrant and with their own stories to tell but by the end of the book they all form a wonderful whole. Each finding their own HEA too which left me feeling that I had read a story where all characters come full circle in their individual journeys. I love that feeling of completeness when not only the MCs get their HEA but also the supporting cast too.
Sorry Sally, waxing lyrical again but you know me. Once I get enthused by a book it’s difficult to stop me, let alone get a word in edgeways. So I’ll now put a sock in my mouth and give you the floor again - lol!
Sally: Never apologise for enthusiasm and whole-hearted love. In this day and age we need all of that we can get.
So I’m going to take a moment to enthuse over Harper’s prose, which I’ve already mentioned. Love absolutely oooooozes from this book - not just eros but agape too, but the thing that struck me right in the heart is the love for the land displayed in the gorgeous but succinct descriptions of the countryside. During both World Wars, rural Britain was almost fetishised as being something worth dying for. Gentle sunlit scenes were illustrated and distributed as posters, showing the beauties of the English countryside, and there are passages in Seven Summer Nights that reminded me very much of these posters - and also of Tolkien’s descriptions of the Shire. The place where the action of the story takes place is a character in its own right. It is deep and beautiful and mysterious with open, loving arms. There were several passages where I was shocked to find my breath short and my eyes wet, startled by recollections of my own cliché country childhood - though it must be said that this was much much better.
Mark: Oh yes, please do enthuse over Harper’s prose. Harper really does create the most vivid images with her words, creating a wonderfully nostalgic Britain that we all have in our minds, I almost found myself singing the hymn Jerusalem, “In England’s green and pleasant land…….tralalal” - lol! But despite all this nostalgic beauty Harper manages to create a sinister undercurrent broaching on the subject of the attitudes and how people were treated who had mental illnesses at this time. Something that can be all too easily disguised with this nostalgia or yearning for The Good Old Days. Some things are a lot better today and not everything was good in the past by any stretch of the imagination
Poor Drusila at the beginning, I just loved how Archie just accepted her as a tortured soul needing to be cared for. Despite all the trouble she caused for him it was so natural for him to see her as a woman who just needs love and care. If it was left up to Windborn, the village doctor, he would have had here banged up in an asylum without a second thought. What he does to Rufus is also despicable. To think that homosexuality would have been treated in very much the same way, the horrors of lobotomy being the cure all method at that time. I just shudder to think about what some people must have experienced in this day and age. Despite the panic I had when I thought about how Archie had to rescue Rufus from the clutches of an extremely evil and barbaric institution by our standards today, I couldn’t help breaking out in a sweat to think that Archie has to succeed otherwise my world would have fallen apart. I haven’t read a Harper Fox book yet that hasn’t had me holding my breath for one particular character at least.
That’s what I like most about historical stories when the author gets it right. It makes me appreciate how much we have today and how much we can be thankful for every day. But we should never be complacent and the fight for equality is by far not over yet. I would love to know what you think about this aspect?
Sally: It certainly isn’t underplayed - as it shouldn’t be! The dangers today can be considerable but in the UK at least there are some protections, there are laws against hate crimes, there are organisations that can help and I, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, would be absolutely prepared to man the barricades to stop any kind of return to those times of fear and oppression. But in the 1940s the justifiable fear of being found out was augmented by the knowledge that many of the ‘therapies’ used to ‘re-educate’ people were psychologically damaging at best and at worst were actually life-threatening. I’m not sure if younger readers realise how common it was for men to be offered a choice between prison and a ‘therapy’ that could literally kill them. For that matter I remember having a conversation with a young American lass in her twenties who told me she thought that the peril was exaggerated in a story we had both read because, she said, “unlike in the US, homosexuality has never been illegal in Britain.” I don’t know whether that’s a commonly held view but I think we can assure readers that Archie and Rufus’s misgivings and caution in this book are perfectly justified
And that is great, from a narrative point of view, because it pushes the tension of an already tense story off the scale!
Just thinking about it makes me want to read it again!
Mark: I know, it is definitely worth a second read for sure. And the tension between Rufus and Archie is totally justifiable given the time period, so a slow build up, tentative gestures, carefully sounding out the other is all part of the gay romance dance for any story set in less enlightened times.
Once again Harper has delivered a super book, full of depth in plot and character, a pure joy to read. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m going to end with one quote from the book that I felt summed up so many things for me, from the book and life in general……….
If we have to wait until we have peace in our hearts before we start working for it in the world, we’ll never get anywhere. We just have to start with what we have.
Bestselling British author Harper Fox has established herself as a firm favourite with readers of M/M romance. Over the past three years, she’s delivered thirteen critically acclaimed novels, novellas and short stories, including Scrap Metal (Rainbow Awards Honourable Mention),The Salisbury Key(CAPA nominated) and Life After Joe (Band of Thebes Best LGBT Book, 2011).
Harper takes her inspiration from a wide range of British settings – wild countryside, edgy urban and most things in between – and loves to use these backdrops for stories about sexy gay men sharing passion, adventure and happy endings. She also runs her own publishing imprint, FoxTales.
Harper has recently returned from Cornwall to her native Northumberland, and already the bleak moorlands around her home are providing a wealth of new ideas for future work.
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