Tag: balogh

Review: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

Posted March 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 2 Comments

A Mary Balogh book is always worth reading, but this is the first of her recent books that I’ve tried and I’m pleased to see that the standard hasn’t slipped at all.

This has one of the most riveting premises I’ve come across: the Earl of Riverdale has just died, and to everyone’s shock, it’s discovered that he has been married twice. His first marriage produced a previously unknown daughter, Anna Snow, raised in an orphanage in Bath, while his second marriage, with a son and two daughters, was contracted bigamously. Anna Snow, now the Lady Anastasia Westcott, has inherited a huge fortune, a cousin has taken the title and entailed estates, and the expected heirs are bastards and get nothing.

Now there are enough plotholes in this to drive a postchaise and four through, complete with outriders. Since the first wife died a few months after the second, bigamous, marriage, why on earth didn’t the earl find some way to go through a legal marriage ceremony? And since the solicitor in Bath seemingly had all the documents for the first marriage, not to mention the only surviving will, why on earth did he not contact someone when the earl died? I’m sure there are convoluted reasons for this but still…

But the position is wonderful. For Anna, there’s the transition from the Bath orphanage to London society and unimaginable wealth. For the legal family (her grandmother and cousins) there’s the challenge of preparing her for her new role. And for the disinherited family, there’s the adjustment to a life outside society and loss of wealth. It’s all great stuff.

The whole extended family is introduced almost from the start, and a lot of reviews grumble about this – it’s hard to know who on earth everyone is, and how they’re related, especially as they get called by different names (title, or Aunt So-and-so, or Cousin So-and-so in the proper Regency fashion, with no concessions to modern readers). I rather liked this. We get the same confused sense of who-ARE-all-these-people that Anna herself has, and they do gradually sort themselves out as the book goes on. There’s also a family tree, for those who prefer to have everything laid out upfront. The only real point of confusion (for me) was in knowing exactly who the hero was initially, because there was more than one candidate and it wasn’t at all obvious just at first.

Anna is that stalwart of Regency romance, the sturdily independent miss who knows her own value, thank you very much, and isn’t about to be browbeaten by the hectoring of her new relations, no matter how grand they may be. So she allows her hair to be cut, but only a little. She agrees to new clothes, but they are starkly plain rather than fashionably frilly and flounced. You know the sort of thing. I didn’t dislike her, but she seemed to my mind to be a little too modern in her views.

On the other hand, the hero, Avery (who’s a duke, needless to say), is a gloriously true-to-the-Regency character. Balogh doesn’t actually call him a dandy, but that’s probably the nearest description. He’s certainly effete, smaller than average and slender, dressed with elegance and very, very beautiful. He’s also very masculine, and people fear him, an odd but intriguing combination. He acts as if everything bores him, but when Anna happens into view, he finds her anything but boring. Unlike a great many other reviewers, I didn’t mind the martial arts element. It’s just a McGuffin, like any other premise for a plot or character, and if it’s a bit arbitrary, and not terribly plausible, well, that’s in the nature of McGuffins.

The romance is one of my favourite types, where the protagonists topple sideways into it, as much to their own surprise as everyone else’s. There are unexpected kisses, an unexpected (and very public) proposal and an equally unexpected acceptance. And all before anyone is really sure quite what’s going on. It can’t be (can it) love? I really enjoyed Avery, because although he embodies many of the standard qualities of a modern Regency hero (masculine, leader of society, vastly rich, eccentric, dripping with ennui), he’s also very surprising. He sees straight through Anna’s outward confidence to the terrified girl inside who nevertheless has a steel backbone, so when her newfound relations tell her that she absolutely mustn’t leave the house until they have polished her up, what does he do but whisk her straight out to stroll through the park. And then offers to kiss her. No matter the situation, he was never confounded, and also never conventional. Sometimes I laughed out loud at his outrageous behaviour, but of course he can get away with it (see previous comments about leader of society, duke, rich, etc.).

Once the two are married and we’ve got past the obligatory sex scene, things begin to unravel somewhat. I’d have been quite happy to end the book at that point, but no, we have to trawl once more through all the relatives (setting things up for the rest of the series) and then endure a final hiccup between the lovers. I got the point of it – in fact, I got the point a long time before that, when the hero’s childhood secrets were first revealed, but there’s a lot of repetition in the book (the letters to the friend in Bath are particularly annoying in that respect), so we got to hear it all again.

There are any number of problems with this book, and even the historical accuracy is wobbly at times (would a duke really be able to get married as Mr Archer – I doubt it), but Balogh’s writing is as glorious as ever, Avery is a towering character and I just loved how much he surprised me at every turn. Five stars. Mind you, I can’t work up much interest in the embittered disinherited family or the very stereotypical domineering relations, so I doubt I’ll be reading any more of the series, no matter how much I enjoyed this one.

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Review: ‘Snow Angel’ by Mary Balogh

Posted May 22, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

One of the things that Mary Balogh does brilliantly is to take a wildly unusual situation, toss her characters into it and leave them to sink or swim accordingly. In this case, Rosamund and Justin meet entirely by chance on the road in the middle of a snowstorm. She has just quarrelled with her brother and sets out to walk – somewhere, anywhere. He is trying to recover something from a planned week of pre-wedding debauchery where all the other participants have cried off. They escape the snow in a hunting lodge, and, since she’s a widow curious about sex with a younger man, and he was expecting a week of sex anyway, they retire to the bedroom pretty quickly. And then, a month later, they meet up at a house party where he is expected to propose to her niece. How very awkward.

Of course, this requires some sleight of hand. How could she not know who he is? Because he fails to introduce himself properly, that’s how. He tells her he’s Justin Halliday instead of the Earl of Wetherby, and frankly, there’s no way on earth he would ever do that unless, for some unfathomable reason, he was deliberately intending to deceive her. So already there’s some suspension of disbelief involved. Then there’s the sex aspect, and while he might not worry too much about a possible pregnancy, the fear of an illegitimate child was great enough to make most respectable women think twice about it. And I don’t believe for one moment that Regency women were sufficiently knowledgeable about ovulation to use it as a contraceptive device. This is a time when medical practices revolved around balancing the humours in the body, and bleeding the sick with leeches and cutting. So telling him that she’s unlikely to get pregnant is hugely implausible.

So the house party goes along merrily, and Justin is too committed to draw back, but his intended has been given the freedom of choice. If she had half a brain in her head, she would have told him she was in love with someone else. I get that there was a huge weight of expectation there for a marriage which had been planned for years, but the whole business was drawn out to the nth degree, and seemed quite silly to me. And meanwhile Justin and Rosamund are busy trying to keep their hands off each other, and not succeeding terribly well.

Naturally, everything gets resolved satisfactorily in the end, but not because of anything the hero or heroine did. I would have liked to see more emphasis on the absolute impossibility of the hero backing out of his engagement under Regency societal rules, because without that he just looks like a wimpy dithery sort of guy, trying to string both women along and unable to summon up the gumption to do what’s necessary.

This is as well-written as all Balogh’s books, and I loved the premise and the sex-fuelled first half, but the flaws in the plot and the long-drawn-out second half keep it to four stars.

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Review: ‘Dancing With Clara’ by Mary Balogh

Posted January 21, 2018 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 7 Comments

This is the third Mary Balogh I’ve read, and it has exactly the qualities I enjoyed in the others – two fascinating characters thrown together in an intriguing way and having to sink or swim. Naturally, there’s a lot of sinking before our hero and heroine learn to swim together, but it all feels horribly realistic and totally understandable.

Here’s the premise: Clara is twenty-six, not particularly beautiful and unable to walk after a childhood illness. She is, however, very rich and when deeply-in-debt rake Freddie makes approaches, she decides that, yes please, she’d very much like to be married to such a handsome, charming and virile man, even if he is a total wastrel. So here’s an interesting situation right from the start. Both parties are marrying not for love but for selfish reasons. Both are, in a way, deceiving the other. And it’s easy to see how everything could come crashing down.

Things start well. His family take to her, they have a lovely wedding and spend an idyllic week at her country estate, where Freddie devotes himself to making her happy. He really is a total charmer at this point, right up until the moment when Clara blurts out that she knows he’s not in love with her and he can stop all the ‘my love’ nonsense. And so he stomps off back to London in a huff, and picks up the threads of his old life – the drinking, the gambling, the womanising.

And here we come face to face with the big problem of this book – everyone loves a rake who reforms, but Freddie never really does. Every time things go wrong, he sinks deeper into his dissolute lifestyle. He hates himself for it, but he’s unable to stop. I so badly wanted him, just once, to haul himself back from the brink. But he never does. Judging by the reviews, for a lot of readers this was just too much to stomach, and I completely understand that reaction. The ending, also came in for much criticism, which again I understand.

In the end, though, I took into account the fact that the book was published in 1993, and has to be viewed through the telescope of twenty five years. Attitudes were different then, and it seems churlish to judge a book from that era by 2017 sensibilities. So although I don’t excuse Freddie’s weakness, it never spoiled my enjoyment of the story overall. I loved the characters, the way they worked through their difficulties as best they could, and the realistic way the romance progressed. I’m not totally convinced that they will manage to be happy for ever, but they have a solid foundation for the foreseeable future, at any rate. And, as always, Mary Balogh’s writing is superb. Five stars.

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Review: ‘One Night For Love’/’A Summer To Remember’ by Mary Balogh

Posted August 29, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

One Night For Love:

This book is perfect. The end.

Hmm… I suppose I should write a bit more than that. Let’s start with the premise. Neville Wyatt, the Earl of Kilbourne, is awaiting his bride at the altar. She’s Lauren Edgeworth, friend and neighbour, educated and accomplished, a perfect English lady, exactly suited to becoming a countess. Neville is happy about it, his bride is thrilled, since she’s been in love with him for years and waited while he went off to the war in Portugal, and all their friends and relations gathered in the church are thrilled for them both. And then the unthinkable happens – a simply-dressed poverty-stricken woman rushes into the church and Neville recognises her. She’s his wife, his sergeant’s daughter that he married on the battlefield and thought had died.

Now this is all sorts of delicious, right from the start. What an appalling situation! Lily, the wife, is uneducated and illiterate, a child of nature who loves to run about barefoot and hasn’t the least idea how to be a countess and move in the high level of society that Neville occupies. What’s more, she’s been a prisoner of war for many months, and has been repeatedly raped. So even were there no other issues, the marriage is fraught with difficulties for everyone – Neville and Lily, poor abandoned Lauren, and all the horrified friends and relations, who don’t know what to make of Lily and her scandalously unconventional ways.

But it soon becomes clear that there is a ray of hope, for this was a love match. Neville didn’t just marry Lily out of obligation to his dying sergeant, he truly loves her and all her innocent, free-spirit ways, and she loves him. But even as they inch towards a new understanding, everything falls apart (which I won’t spoilerise but it’s nicely done).

Of course, all comes right in the end, and Lily learns to fit herself into Neville’s world without losing her essential nature, and if I found her transformation a little glib and unconvincing, it hardly matters. One word of warning: this is NOT a romance in the conventional sense, because the protagonists are already in love (and married, even!) before the book starts. But it is a love story, and a beautiful piece of writing which I shall remember for a long time. Five stars.

A Summer To Remember:

This is a follow-on to One Night For Love, which told the story of Neville’s reunion with Lily, his child-like bride from his army days, who reappears at the church door just as Neville is about to marry society lady Lauren. That was a five star read for me, a beautifully resonant piece of writing. This book is about Lauren, and it’s a very different type of story in every way, yet Balogh’s writing lifts it to the heights of another memorable five stars.

The premise is an intriguing one: Lauren, the perfect English lady, perfectly composed and proper, no matter the occasion, is dealing with an unprecedented disaster – jilted on her wedding day by the man she’s loved and waited for for years. She deals with it with her usual unruffled manner, no matter what heartbreak may be going on below the surface, but she’s determined never to think of marriage again.

Meanwhile, Kit Butler is one of London’s most infamous bachelors, living life to the full and by no means ready to settle down. But his family is pushing him to marry and he’s determined to make his own choice. But a bet with his friends leads him to court the least likely person – icy Lauren. This is a very common plot device, but here it’s not in the least contrived, and it’s very entertaining watching Kit woo the unyielding Lauren. But when he finally proposes, Lauren has a proposition of her own: she will agree to a fake betrothal to keep his relatives at bay, and in return, he will give her a memorable summer of adventure. At the end of it, she will jilt him and set him free, while rendering herself, she hopes, unmarriageable. And so the stage is set…

This book is an exact counterpart to its predecessor in one way: whereas One Night For Love centred on free spirit Lily learning the ways of society, this one is about buttoned-up Lauren learning to relax and become something of a free spirit. In neither case is the transformation entirely convincing, but I like to think that fiction simply speeds a process that would, in the real world, take many years.

This is a delightful tale, both for Kit’s wonderful schemes to push Lauren out of her comfort zone, but also Lauren’s elegant and oh-so-ladylike put-downs of Kit’s very ill-mannered family. And needless to say, our two protagonists find themselves very much in love before the end of the book.

For those intrigued by the eccentric Bedwyn family, neighbours of the main family in this book, they have their own series so you can read your fill of them. Personally, nothing about them caught my fancy, so I won’t be reading on, but I highly recommend this book and its predecessor, for the two are best read together, I think. Five stars.

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