Posts Tagged: balogh

Review: ‘Snow Angel’ by Mary Balogh

May 22, 2018 Review 0

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

January 21, 2018 Review 6

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

August 29, 2017 Review 1

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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