Tag: balogh

Review: A Gift of Daisies by Mary Balogh (1989)

Posted May 28, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

This was a difficult book for me to judge. Were it by an author unknown to me, I’d probably have gone with 2*, but with Balogh I’m prepared to see it as an aberration, a brave stab at something that ultimately failed. It ranks, however, as by far the most boring Balogh book I’ve ever read.
Here’s the premise: Lady Rachel Palmer is a social butterfly, the beautiful and vivacious star of the London season, charming even the most unlikely confirmed bachelors to her side. David Gower is the precise opposite, a serious, pious clergyman who may be the younger son of an earl, but isn’t going to let that stand in the way of him devoting his life to his parishioners and good works, living a life of relative poverty. Two people less likely to hit it off could hardly be imagined, yet they have the misfortune to fall in love with each other at first sight. It’s impossible, of course. Except that Rachel doesn’t accept that it’s impossible…

And that, in a nutshell, is the entire book. They spend endless chapters agonising over a dilemma that wouldn’t even exist if either of them had two brain cells to rub together. Here’s the thing: there actually is no obstacle whatsoever to them marrying. He’s of suitable rank, she has a dowry sufficient to support them in reasonable comfort even if he gives away every penny of his income, there’s no reason why she can’t satisfy whatever social cravings she suffers from by visiting her relations, or beetling up to London now and then. A little compromising would have done the job nicely. But no, he has to be noble and self-sacrificing because he’s convinced that she can’t hack it as a clergyman’s wife, and it takes him the entire book to realise that actually, she can make that decision for herself, thank you very much.

She, meanwhile, is proving that she’s too flighty for words by dithering about between David, an old friend and a marquess before finally going off the rails completely and walking out in the middle of a ball with a thunderstorm going on. I get that the author wanted to show her finally breaking free of the stifling constraints of society (aka politeness), but that’s just stupid. And what happens afterwards is even more stupid and melodramatic, and seemed to my mind completely out of alignment with the introspective nature of most of the book.

That, I think, was what made it so unspeakably boring, for me. The two principals go round and round the same things (in their heads) with occasional forays into Serious Conversations, liberally larded with religious stuff. Yes, folks, this a deeply Christian book. I’m not qualified to judge that element of the story, and it wasn’t what made it boring (in my opinion, Regency authors should introduce far more religion into the genre, given that it was an integral part of normal life for virtually the entire population). But if you DO introduce it, and portray one of the characters, at least, as a man of deeply felt faith, then you should really not have him inflicting passionate kissing and much pawing on the heroine. Mixed signals there.

No, what really drove me nuts was the constant and repetitive angsting, and the hero disrespecting the heroine by repeatedly stating that she doesn’t know her own mind and he can’t marry her for her own good. Ugh. And I really don’t get why Christian service can only be demonstrated in abject poverty. It’s all very well to give away virtually all your money, but what happens when your eight or ten children all need to be fed and shod and educated in a manner befitting the grandchildren of noblemen, and you’ve given away every last penny of your wealth? You’ll be going to your more sensible relations for handouts, that’s what. I would have loved to see some mite of commonsense penetrate the skulls of these two dipwits, but no, they were determined to be self-sacrificing.

I had to laugh, though, at the heroine going about the parish distributing cakes to the poor, or reading to them, which is very nice and all, but I’m sure they would rather have had a leg of mutton! I was amused, too, at the lord of the manor grumbling about David doing his good works about the parish and distributing largesse everywhere. “That’s my job,” the lord says. Which is absolutely true. The church was there for spiritual welfare, and the aristocracy were supposed to take care of the more material needs of the poor.

I think this was a brave attempt to write a properly Christian book, and although it failed on pretty much every level for me, it’s still a beautifully written failure. There were a few historical errors, but the only one that really grated was that the clergyman was addressed as Reverend Gower, or even Vicar Gower, which was not common practice then. He would have been plain Mr Gower. And his income comes not from his patron paying him a salary, but from the tithes of the parishioners. A clergyman couldn’t just decide to retire, either. He held the living for life, although he could put a curate in if he wanted to retire from active work in the parish.

To be honest, I don’t recommend this except to Balogh completists. It’s an interesting attempt at portraying two people with deep philosophical differences, who prove ultimately to be more complex than originally suspected. I like what she tried to do in theory, I just didn’t enjoy the result very much. Three stars.

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Review: More Than A Mistress by Mary Balogh (2006)

Posted May 26, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

I honestly don’t know what to make of this. It’s Mary Balogh, so it’s beautifully written, that goes without saying. In fact, I would describe it as compelling. Yet I had problems with it right from the off, and not just minor grumbles, but great big NO-NO-NO problems. So it was a weird read for me. I’m still conflicted.

Here’s the premise: Jocelyn Dudley, the Duke of Tresham is engaged in a duel. The opponents are lined up, pistols poised, when out of nowhere a servant races towards them, shrieking at them to stop. Tresham, astonished, does so. His less honourable opponent carries right on and shoots him in the leg. Delayed by the consequences, Jane Inglesby, the servant, loses her menial job unless she can prove that she really was helping the Duke of Tresham. So she boldly marches up to his house and asks him to write in confirmation. Instead, he takes her on to nurse him while he’s recovering from being shot. Which suits her because she’s in hiding and she might as well hide in the comfort of the duke’s town house. For three weeks, they bicker and banter and squabble (and begin to fall in love) and at the end of it, he offers to set her up as his mistress. And she agrees.

Now, there are a million problems with this. First and foremost, what on earth is she doing intervening in a duel anyway? She might stop to gawk, but trying to stop it? WHY? She doesn’t know any of them, has no stake in the outcome and her life depends on her keeping a low profile. It makes not a scrap of sense. Usually I can go with the flow of the opening premise, but this one is just too out there.

Secondly, even when Jocelyn begins to realise that she’s not the orphanage girl she pretends to be, he never questions her about all the secrecy or tries to find out who she really is, or why she hates to be seen by any of his friends.

Thirdly, why why why when she’s hiding from any number of grim possible outcomes, up to and including death, does she agree to sing for fifty guests? And no, the payment of fifty pounds doesn’t convince me.

Fourthly, given that she’s led a perfectly respectable and sheltered life before this, why on earth does she agree to become the duke’s mistress, and no, because she’s got the hots for him isn’t an answer.

And fifthly (and finally, let’s hope), why is she doing nothing at all to rescue herself from her predicament? She isn’t friendless, as we discover later in the book, far too late, really. There were people she could have called upon to help her, even before she left home, when she was being pressurised to marry against her will. And even when things got really sticky and she panicked and ran away, she had a ton of time to think up better options, and (again) people who would have helped her, if only they’d known of her predicament. And once she was ensconced in the duke’s house, she must surely have realised that he would have helped her, if only she’d asked, and he was powerful enough to protect her. As he proved, later in the book (which is the funniest part of it, actually, since he has only to crook his little finger and everyone is your-grace-ing and running around to do his bidding and the whole situation is resolved in three minutes flat and Jane is so irritated that, after all that she’s been through, it’s just so easy for him, being a man and a duke and rich and all that; and I totally got why she was so annoyed).

And that scene kind of summarises one of the big problems I had with the book. Jane is intelligent and feisty and resourceful (and pretty stupid at times, too, but let’s gloss over that for the moment), but she was also pretty helpless. She could do nothing to defend herself, she needed other, more powerful, friends. Whereas Jocelyn has all the power, in spades, but he rarely uses it for any sensible purpose. Instead, he’s the typical Regency alpha-male hero – arrogant, rude, selfish, temperamental, reckless and all kinds of other unpleasantnesses. And he’s also manly and courageous and honourable and loyal and superbly good at everything he does. Because of course he is. Oh yes, and he has a sensitive side, too, so he’s a brilliant (self-taught) pianist and a brilliant (self-taught) painter. Because of course he is. I cannot tell you how much I disliked him.

With a hero like that, there is really only one way for him to redeem himself, to my mind – he has to crawl. He has to be so deep in love with the heroine that he falls at her feet and abandons all dignity to humble himself before her and beg her to marry him. Nothing else will do. But Jocelyn didn’t. Instead he decides (decides!) that she’s going to marry him and even when she steadily and determinedly refuses him, he is still absolutely sure that she’ll agree in the end. Not a single momentary doubt enters his arrogant aristocratic head. Ugh.

So what’s the good stuff? Well, it’s Mary Balogh, so it’s brilliantly written. The dialogue between our two main characters is scintillating, and the heroine usually has the last word, which is refreshing (and probably why he fell in love with her). Every scene between them shone. The hero does have shreds of redeemability in his character, he has a group of entertaining and totally loyal friends (and hooray for likable characters!) and his sister is delightfully silly. The villains are pretty silly, too, but that’s par for the course with Regencies. Mainly, though, I have to confess that despite the deficiencies of the plot, I couldn’t put the book down. So after some agonising, I’m going to set this one down as a four star, and point out (as always) that although I sound pretty negative about this, it’s only my excessively quirky opinion and I actually enjoyed the book quite a lot.

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Review: At Last Comes Love by Mary Balogh (2009)

Posted April 28, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This is a book of two halves. The first half is a corker, crackling with tension on every page, and quite riveting. Then the protagonists get married and it devolves into a schmaltzy snoozefest, with our hero and heroine playing happy families, frolicking naked in the lake and having long, thoughtful discussions about whether they ought to fall in love or not. The ending is both highly predictable and kind of a con trick, frankly. And everyone sheds tears of joy and lives happily ever after.

The premise is one of those Balogh specials that sounds impossibly implausible, but of course she carries it off with aplomb. Duncan, the Earl of Sheringford, has been in disgraced exile for five years, after jilting his betrothed at the altar and running away with her married sister. When he finally comes home, his grandfather, a marquess, swears to cut him off without a penny unless he marries before the old fellow’s eightieth birthday – just fifteen days away. Duncan will inherit everything eventually since he’s the heir, but he really needs funds and a home right now, so he sets about finding a wife. And the first person he bumps into (literally!) is Margaret Huxtable, running away from both the man who abandoned her years ago and her hoped-for future husband, newly betrothed to someone else. They’re both desperate to marry quickly, so…

Yes, of course it’s preposterous. One of the most preposterous aspects is that the heir to a marquessate would be ostracised by society, no matter what he does. Another is that he can’t simply get a job that would keep himself and his dependents from starving until he inherits. Yet another is that the man who is absolutely desperate to marry should immediately trip over the one woman in London who is absolutely desperate for a husband. Well, that part I can let go. Every author is allowed one screaming coincidence per book, provided it sets the action off and isn’t just a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card. Anyway, they meet, they talk, they know perfectly well it’s preposterous, but they kind of roll with it.

Now, this part of the book is glorious. Her family are uniformly against it, she’s sort of against it herself, the hero’s jilted betrothed turns up to deter Margaret, out of the goodness of her heart and nothing at all to do with the fact that she’s now married to the next in line for the marquessate, oh no, she couldn’t possibly be driven by naked ambition and hatred. So there are some wonderful exchanges here that are actually vintage Balogh. Margaret decides in the end that she won’t agree to anything yet, but if Duncan were to woo her properly, then she’ll decide at the last minute whether or not to accept him. If she says no, then he’s lost everything until he inherits, but if she says yes…

And that would have been fine, with great tension right down to the wire. But no, he tells her some stuff and she caves, and they get married immediately. And then the story goes to hell in a handcart. Now, Margaret’s introduction to life as a married woman and mistress of a large-ish estate and being separated from her close-knit family makes a worthy story in itself, but it’s not the story that started this book, and it’s not the story I wanted to read. After the fireworks of the first half, this part was plain dull. There was so little tension, in fact, that the heroine had to create some by acting completely out of character. There was a point where, after being sensible and smart for the whole book, she suddenly throws a tantrum, and that was just silly. When a hero has been painfully honest and open right from the start, not to mention kind and lovable and understanding, the least you can do is give him the benefit of the doubt when he makes a misstep, just once.

The villains were not terribly villainous, and frankly I had some sympathy with the cousin, who actually had the law of the day totally on his side. He was not just being obstreperous, he actually was in the right. But that was not the happy ending everyone wanted, so it didn’t happen.

Of course, this is Mary Balogh, and it’s so beautifully written that it’s easy to forgive all the preposterous stuff and just enjoy it. The hero and heroine are very, very believable and likable and easy to sympathise with. The second half was so flat that it wouldn’t be worth more than three stars, but the first half was twelve stars at least, so I’ve settled on four as a compromise. NOTE: as with all Mary Balogh’s books, there is some sex.

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Review: Lady With A Black Umbrella by Mary Balogh

Posted March 8, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

Once you’ve read a few Mary Balogh books, you begin to have some feel for what one is like, and this book… just isn’t it. She’s written edgy, challenging stuff, and she’s written angst-heavy emotional stuff, but this lightweight, witty and downright frivolous stuff? Not so much. But boy, did I enjoy it. This is the Balogh book for those who don’t like Balogh books.

Here’s the premise: Giles Fairhaven, Viscount Kincade, is in a spot of bother. On his way to Bath to visit his parents, his overnight stay at an inn is ruined when his purse is stolen. He can’t pay his shot, he can’t pay his debts to the casual gaming opponent of the previous night, and he can’t even pay the serving wench who warmed his bed. And just when he thinks things can’t get any worse, he’s set upon by three ruffians in the inn yard as he’s on the point of leaving. But rescue comes from an improbable quarter – a diminutive lady clad only in a nightgown and wielding a black umbrella, who sees off his assailants, sends him on his way and then pays all his debts. Even the wench.

Since he and the lady both end up in town, it isn’t very long before he discovers who she is and sets about repaying her and hoping to set the whole humiliating episode behind him as soon as possible. But Daisy Morrison isn’t what he expected, and when she asks him to help him launch her younger sister Rose into society, he finds himself unexpectedly agreeing. The Fairhaven family is marshalled to help out, and Giles finds himself gritting his teeth and suffering from more than one of Daisy’s wild starts… and also finds himself oddly attracted to her.

In other hands, this would be a hot mess. Daisy is borderline unbelievable in her sunny insistence that she’s an old spinster who can look after herself, thank you very much. She’s a managing female of the worst kind, and completely oblivious to subtle signals, and trivialities like other people’s feelings. She would be easy to dislike, but I just found her funny. Giles’s intense annoyance with her escapades while also irresistibly drawn to her is a hard act to pull off. But this is Mary Balogh and so it absolutely works. And it’s funny! I love a book which makes me laugh out loud, and this one really does.

There’s one sex scene near the end which isn’t particularly graphic (mainly because Daisy talks all the way through it, which is hysterical), and some fairly graphically described kissing and lusting, but otherwise if you’d told me this was an undiscovered Georgette Heyer, I’d totally believe it. The romance is there, but it’s never spelt out until very close to the end. There are a couple of subsidiary romances that work very well without overwhelming the main couple, and the matter of the stolen purse and the ruffians is resolved rather neatly.

All in all, this is something of a Marmite book, depending on whether you like Daisy or not. I found her cute and amusing, and rarely irritating because although she’s often reckless of her own safety, she’s not stupid. There really are sensible reasons for the things she does, even if perhaps there may be better ways to achieve her objective. OK, there are always better ways. But I can’t remember when I last laughed so much at a book, so I’m giving it the full five stars.

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Review: Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh

Posted January 27, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 4 Comments

This may be a first – a Mary Balogh I didn’t enjoy. It is, of course, as well-written as all her work, but it lost me on the heroine’s character, the implausibility of the setup and the sheer torrent of angst that came close to making me lose the will to live. And the layer upon layer of subterfuge – why on earth can they not simply be straight with each other?

Here’s the premise: Jasper, Lord Montford, stakes his reputation as a seducer on virtuous country girl Katherine Huxtable. His challenge is to take her virtue within a fortnight, and by ‘take her virtue’, he means exactly what you’d expect. No fudging it with a mere kiss. And on the fourth day, he contrives a meeting with her at romantic Vauxhall, whisks her off into the undergrowth and… she puts up no resistance at all. Not in the slightest. He gazes at her through drooping lids and she melts into a puddle of panting lust. For a man she barely knows and against whom she’s been warned in the strongest possible terms. So she’s stupid, right?

This is the irreconcilable contradiction I have with the heroine. Because she’s not supposed to be stupid at all. Balogh paints her as a girl who’s actually quite thoughtful and considerate of the effects of her actions, not just on her own prospects, but on her family’s, too. So she *says* sensible things but she *does* stupid things. She sparks back at the hero sometimes when he’s trying to be a smartass. She can hold her own verbally. She just can’t control herself whenever the hero… well, does anything, really. He has only to get within twenty feet of her and she’s practically falling at his feet.

The hero’s contradictions can be explained more easily. He pretends to the world that he’s an unredeemable rake, and he is so convincing and has been portraying himself thus for so long that he actually believes it himself. So when he feels guilt or even – oh, the horror! – love, he doesn’t recognise it for what it is. And, believe it or not, he maintains this self-deception almost to the very end of the book.

The plot… well, there really isn’t one. There’s a three year time lapse, hero and heroine meet up again, they fall into each other’s arms instantly, but since they clearly can’t admit what’s blindingly obvious to everyone else (including the reader), namely that they’re full on in love with each other, because if they did the book would be a short story, they set themselves another wager. And when that goes pear-shaped, they’re bundled off to the altar double-quick time. And they STILL can’t admit the truth to each other.

And so it goes. Frankly, the whole game-playing got old really fast, as far as I was concerned. The characters weren’t believable, the banter wasn’t particularly witty or clever or even interesting, most of the time, and I just wanted to slap the pair of them upside the head and tell them to sort themselves out, pronto. I’m not a fan of characters who hide their true feelings behind layers of deception, and when they both do it, it’s just too much. It makes for a much better contrast where one character is deceptive, but the other is open and straightforward, as in the first book of this series. At least then there’s some actual conflict and the possibility of real change, instead of this artificial state of perpetual angst. And although the final third of the book was a lot better, with our hero and heroine at last talking to each other and opening up a bit, twice – twice! – the author has the hero say the wrong thing, thus plunging them back into industrial-strength angsting again. I do NOT appreciate being manipulated like that.

As for the side characters… oh Lord, what a bunch of goody two-shoes, most of them, with a couple of cartoon villains to drive the plot into places that it really doesn’t want to go. Although I liked the lazy guardian (Seth?), who was the only one with a bit of entertaining quirkiness.

So much as it goes against the grain, because normally I love Mary Balogh to pieces, I’m giving this three stars. At least I finished it, and it was touch and go at times. And I have the rest of this series already bought, so I hope things improve.

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Review: First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

Posted November 13, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Balogh is capable of spinning a brilliant tale out of almost nothing, and so it is here. It’s a basic marriage of convenience plot, with very few stumbling blocks on the way to the happy ever after, but it’s beautifully done.

Here’s the premise: Elliott Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, arrives in the tiny village of Throckbridge to upend the lives of one of its residents, seventeen-year-old Stephen Huxtable, by telling him he is the new Earl of Merton. Elliott thinks he’ll just whisk the boy off to be trained up to his new position, but Stephen has three older sisters who are not about to be left behind.

Now Elliott has the problem of introducing all four of them into society, and how is he to manage the sisters? He has no females in his own family in a position to do it. But he’s been thinking he ought to marry soon anyway. Maybe he should marry one of the Huxtable girls, and solve two problems at once? He sets his sights on Margaret, the eldest, but middle sister Vanessa, a widow, intervenes to save her sister from a loveless marriage.

Does this sound familiar? It will if you’ve ever read Georgette Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage, where the youngest sister jumps in to protect her older sisters from a similarly loveless match. In that book, the prospective bridegroom, Lord Rule, is intrigued enough by the girl’s audacity to do it, but Elliott has (supposedly) disliked Vanessa from the start, so I was very intrigued to see how she would persuade him. It’s a note-perfect scene, beautifully written.

From then on, the story proceeds on the traditional rails, and in fact, almost nothing happens at all. The four Huxtables adapt beautifully to their new life, are accepted without a qualm into the high society world of the London season, and make no social faux pas. This is a story with absolutely no surprises. It’s the way the main characters deal with the non-surprises that makes this book such a joy. Not so much Elliott, who is a fairly typical example of a buttoned-up, arrogant bloke, who’s not willing to sit down and talk things through. He’s a real grumpy-drawers, who’d far rather sulk than find a way to solve a problem. But Vanessa – oh, Vanessa is a glorious character. She’s a totally straightforward and outspoken person, and she’s not about to let her chance of happiness trickle away by letting a problem fester. No, she sets out to confront Elliott and draw him out of the shell he’s been building around himself.

The side characters fade into the background as the story progresses, no doubt ready to spring up, fully formed, for their role in a future book of the series. Sisters Margaret and Katherine, brother Stephen and cousin Con will all get their turn in the spotlight. But this book is thoroughly about Vanessa and Elliott, and their marriage (and yes, there’s a fair amount of sex in it). A wonderful read. Five stars.

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Review: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

Posted March 10, 2020 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 5 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 / 2 Comments

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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