Tag: balogh

Review: Remember Love by Mary Balogh (2022)

Posted July 25, 2022 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

A warning: this is going to be slightly spoilery, because it’s impossible to analyse the book properly without getting into the nitty-gritty, so if you really don’t want to know anything, don’t read on.

I really don’t know what to make of this. My first reaction is that it’s a shambles – too long spent on the preliminaries, then a huge explosion, an inexplicable flounce and then some over-angsty tidying up. It’s unbalanced, with too much time wasted on description and not enough on character development. But on the plus side – well, it’s Mary Balogh.

Here’s the premise: Devlin Ware, Viscount Mountford, is twenty-two, and the eldest son and heir to the Earl of Stratton. Their home, Ravenwood, is portrayed as some kind of paradise on earth, and the beautiful and loving Ware family as paragons of virtue and duty, bent on giving everyone, high or low, a rattling good time at fetes and balls and feasts throughout the year. Naturally they do all the work and organising themselves. Fully a third of the book, believe it or not, is devoted to painting a cloying, not to say nauseating, picture of the beautiful Ware family and their idyllic life with all the rosy-cheeked and loyal locals (who are all named, by the way, as if we need to know all this stuff). It is an info-dump of astronomic proportions.

The info-dump culminates in a grand fete and ball, at which Devlin and all his family run round selflessly ensuring the locals are all enjoying themselves, while the locals make appreciative noises and hold log-splitting contests and dance round the maypole (in July? Well, whatever). At the ball, Devlin dances with the eighteen year old daughter of neighbours, Gwyneth Rhys, and dances her right out into the garden where they discover that they have been in love with each other for years, he proposes, she accepts, they kiss, and isn’t all this just so sweet?

And then a thing occurs, and this is where it gets spoilery. Devlin and Gwyneth come across another couple hoping for a spot of privacy in the garden, and perhaps something more than a kiss. Unfortunately, it’s Devlin’s father and the mysterious widow who’s recently moved to the village, and they seem to know each other rather well. Oh noes! She must be his mistress, yet the earl has brought her here as a guest into his home, under the nose of his countess. Now, the Regency (in fact the whole Georgian era, and the Victorian too) was quite relaxed about a married man having a mistress, but the cardinal rule is you don’t bring her anywhere near your wife.

Devlin is incandescent with rage at this insult to his mother and his sisters, and creates a huge and very melodramatic scene. I imagine the author intended this sudden explosion as a contrast with the peaceful scenes that preceded it, and it actually does that very well, like a sudden thunderstorm at the end of a perfect summer day. But the effect is not what Devlin expected – his family turn on him, and he is banished.

Now this is the point where the book goes off the rails for me. His mother wants him gone, for whatever reason, so go he must, but there is a whole world out there he could have gone to. What he does is, frankly, inexplicable to me – he signs up to join the army and go off to fight Napoleon. I can only suppose that he had some kind of death wish, but it’s never really explained. When he goes to say farewell to Gwyneth, she rails at him that they could have gone to her relatives in Wales, they could still have married, so why does he have to join the army, and it’s a very good question. I suppose the main reason is: because the plot demanded it.

Devlin survives the war, albeit with an interesting scar. His half-brother, Ben, who had chosen to go with him, also survives. Another brother, Nicholas, who had planned to enter the army himself, also goes off to fight (why? Two brothers from one family in the war is just madness), but he also survives. And the Earl of Stratton dies and Devlin is forced to return home and pick up the threads of his old life as best he can. Except that everything has changed. He has changed, but everyone else in the family has changed too. There are no more fetes and open days. There is no happy family, selflessly arranging entertainments for the locals (they’re doing their own arranging). Everyone is miserable.

Gwyneth, meanwhile, is still unmarried (well, we never saw that coming, did we?). She tells herself she’s over Devlin and is ready to marry the nice Welshman who’s passionate about music and seems to be passionate about her, too. But then Devlin reappears and all bets are off. I’m going to be honest here, and say that the rest of the book runs on fairly predictable rails. Devlin takes up the reins of the estate, rebuilds bridges with his family, develops a new relationship with the locals and ends up marrying Gwyneth after all, and absolutely none of it is surprising, with one exception. Gwyneth turns out to be the saving grace of this book, because Devlin is a wet blanket almost to the end. And then we get the schmaltzy wedding day, which is twelve teaspoons of sugar sweet, so you have been warned. There is one fairly soft-focus sex scene, which made no sense to me at all, but I suppose a Balogh book without any sex would be too much of a novelty.

I love Mary Balogh to pieces, and even though I was saying ‘Wait, what?’ at frequent intervals and nothing happened for far too long and Devlin was a drip, she still hit me right in the feels time after time. But this just doesn’t feel like the Regency, to me. That whole first third of the book, with the frankly over the top generosity of the Wares, rang false with me. The very idea that they would open the park to anyone who wanted to enjoy it is (for me) incredible, and far too modern an idea. The whole point of large estates was to keep the riff-raff out so that the toffs never had to encounter them. They might conceivably hold an open day once a year, but even that feels more Victorian than Regency to me.

And then the oddities, like face painting for the children – really?? And a baby carrier. These things are not impossible to imagine happening in the Regency, but to my mind, they sound too modern. Gwyneth rides astride sometimes, a huge no-no. Then there’s the baby fat that gives younger daughter Stephanie such grief. Look, fat was absolutely not a problem in the Regency. Right up to the 1920s, when the health craze kicked in, being plump or downright fat was a sign of wealth. Conspicuous consumption was a real thing, and only poor people were thin (or anyone with actual consumption – TB – so being thin was regarded as dangerously unhealthy for anyone who could afford to eat well). Then there are feeders for the wild birds. Well, that’s possible, I suppose, but Regency people kept exotic birds like parrots or songbirds in cages. Wild birds were either for eating or for scientific study (by stuffing or dissecting) or not interesting. Also, the author obviously doesn’t realise that a university education in the Regency was nothing like the modern version. Far from needing to work hard for exams, the sons of the nobility had no need to take any exams, or even to turn up to lectures. They paid, they got a degree.

On the whole, this book was a disappointment. It’s beautifully written, because of course it is, it’s Mary Balogh, for heaven’s sake. But the pacing was all wrong, and the central conceit felt contrived. If I were writing it, I’d have been tempted to start with the fatal fete, condensing all the dull info-dump into little vignettes. Or it could have started with Devlin returning home as earl, showing the earlier events in flashback. Either would, in my opinion, have worked better than the long, long opening chapters.

I also didn’t find any of the characters terribly interesting (apart from Ben, and maybe Stephanie), and it was just too darned sweet for my palate. I like a little tartness in my Regencies, and I also like to be surprised, and that just didn’t happen. And having grumbled at ridiculous length about this book, I confess I read it avidly the whole way through, if only to see the big explosion and find out how things worked out for Devlin’s family. This is the first of the series, so maybe the rest, unburdened by the scene-setting of the opener, will be more interesting. Three stars.

Tags:


Review: A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh (2010)

Posted December 10, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Surprisingly, this book opens with almost the same plot as the previous book in the series, with a young widow deciding to take a lover. The reasons are different, and the characters are very different, but it’s still an odd choice and felt awkward to me.

Here’s the premise: Hannah, the Duchess of Dunbarton, is a widow at thirty, the elderly duke she married at nineteen dead. She’s determined to enjoy her freedom by taking a lover, and she knows just who she wants – the dangerous but seductive rake, Constantine Huxtable. Had Constantine been born two days later, he would have inherited his father’s earldom; instead he’s illegitimate, living a wild life and taking a new mistress every season. Hannah is determined to be his choice that year, and he’s content to go along with it. Their manoeuvring for advantage in the negotiating stage of their affair is perhaps the highlight of the book.

The other element I enjoyed was uncovering the truth about Hannah’s marriage. She’s widely believed to have married the duke for financial security and rank, and to have been repeatedly unfaithful to him. I found the real story much more interesting and a refreshing take on such April-to-December marriages. The reason for the marriage becomes clear only quite late in the book.
Constantine is a far less interesting character. The rake is such a staple of Regency romances, but almost invariably he turns out to be a pussy cat masquerading as a tiger. I would like it if, just once, these supposedly dangerous men would actually be dangerous, and not thoroughgoing heroes. It’s so boring.

My other complaint is a practical one. These two engage in a very active affair without either of them giving a single thought to the possibility of pregnancy. Any real arrangement between a man and his mistress would have to make some allowance for children. She’s a widowed duchess, after all, and a leading light of the social scene. An illegitimate child would cause no end of a scandal, and would be impossible to keep quiet. She would be ruined. Yet the only even sideways mention of the subject is when she expresses pleasure that her period arrived when she was away from her lover, so their bedroom sessions wouldn’t be disrupted!

Needless to say, the two lovers really do fall in love as the book progresses. She learns to shed the icy-cold and brittle exterior she generally shows the world and he, too, learns to reveal his true nature. The ending is, frankly, rather schmaltzy and saccharine, a little too sweet for my taste, but Balogh’s writing is, as always, superb. Four stars. As always with Balogh, there are sex scenes.

Tags:


Review: Seducing An Angel by Mary Balogh (2009)

Posted December 9, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Every Mary Balogh book is worth reading, but they do vary in likeability. The previous three books in this series I rated 5*, 3* and 4*. This one is back to 5* for me, mainly because I liked both the main characters, the romance was a pleasant slow burn, and there were no huge implausibilities in the plot. There was altogether too much angst, but that’s par for the course, and there was the bonus of the hero’s three sisters busily being older-sister-ish, plus several lovely minor characters.

Here’s the premise: Cassandra, Lady Paget, is widowed and in trouble. Her promised dower income, houses and jewellery are being withheld by her late husband’s eldest son, because she’s alleged to have murdered her husband with an axe. Without money, friends or relations willing to help her, she is practically destitute. In desperation, she sets out to find herself a rich, well-born lover to keep her as his mistress. Gate-crashing a society ball, she spots the angelic-looking Stephen, the Earl of Merton, and sets out to seduce him. And she succeeds – up to a point, for he ends up bedding her and accepts her arrangement. But then second thoughts set in when he hears her story, and he decides that what she needs most is a friend who will help her rehabilitate herself in society.

And that is precisely what he sets out to do, squiring her about town, ensuring she is invited to every ton event and enlisting his sisters’ help in the project. Stephen is the angel of the title, and yes, he’s terribly angelic because although he’s paying her as a mistress, he isn’t taking advantage of that at all. In fact, he’s a thoroughly nice guy, somewhat guilty because he was drawn into the original seduction, and determined to do the right thing by her. Although of course he’s hugely attracted to her, and so he ends up dancing her onto the balcony at a ball and kissing her… whereupon they are promptly spotted and bounced into a betrothal.

I’ve never understood why any well-brought-up gentleman would find himself in that position. I can see why a woman might try to get herself ‘compromised’ to get a husband, because women had so little control over the process, but a man knows the consequences if he steps out of line, so why let yourself get into that position? Unless you choose to, of course. And perhaps Stephen subconsciously wanted to make things right with Cassie, and make an honest woman of her. In any event, he at once announces their betrothal, and even though Cassie assures him she will break things off at a suitable moment, he is determined to make it happen. And his sisters are equally determined.

From then onwards, the story becomes a straightforward courtship, and despite the protestations of the lady, there’s never any real doubt of how it will end. As always with Balogh, the dialogue is superb, and this turned into a real page-turner for me. Five stars. As with all Balogh books, there’s some graphic sex.

Tags:


Review: The Last Waltz by Mary Balogh (2009)

Posted December 7, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

Mary Balogh has an unerring instinct for creating gloriously convoluted situations for her characters to face up to, and here she does it again. Ten years ago, Christina and Gerard were seemingly deep in love and on the brink of a betrothal when she abruptly agreed to marry his cousin, Gilbert, the Earl of Wanstead. Now Gilbert and his younger brother have both died, Christina produced only daughters, and Gerard has inherited the title and Thornwood, where he proposes to hold a house party over Christmas to choose a bride. His hostess? That will have to be Christina, the widowed Lady Wanstead.

This is a delicious situation, of course. He thinks she’s a cold-hearted mercenary witch, who chose security and a title over love. She thinks he’s a rake and a wastrel. Neither view is accurate, but it takes the whole book for this to emerge, and the reasons for the misunderstanding. Like all misunderstandings, one has to question the intelligence of people who, whatever the circumstances, allow themselves to be herded in a different direction so passively. Given the supposed closeness of the relationship, why on earth didn’t they talk to each other?

What becomes obvious much sooner, however, is that Christina had a miserable marriage. Her husband was a deeply pious and controlling man, cut in the mould of the strictest of Puritans, so that there was no pleasure allowed in the house. If Christina wanted new clothes for herself or her daughters, she had to ask for and justify every penny, a humiliating experience. Rules were set and had to be adhered to or the transgressor would be punished. It takes her a while to realise that Gerard is not at all the same, and although he sets the rules in his own house too, they are generous and kindly ones. Gradually Christina and her daughters emerge from their shell a little bit.

And very gradually, inch by cautious inch, the two begin to rebuild the rapport they once shared into something they can live with. But first they have to bring closure to the past – don’t they? Since this is Balogh, it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that sex comes into it, and traditionalists should note that it’s fairly graphic. And here we have the biggest logic fail I’ve come across in many a year. Their idea of closure is such an epically stupid thing to do that in other hands it might be a book-meets-wall moment. Mary Balogh is such a brilliant writer that if she told me that black was white I’d be almost prepared to take her word for it, but even she can’t make this work. I do see what she was aiming for, and she writes it so well that after an exasperated sigh or two I read on, but nothing really justifies it.

After that, it’s onwards to the last waltz of the title, the resolution of the final remaining misunderstandings and the inevitable melodramatic happy ending. Fortunately, this and the earlier parts of the book are mostly enough to compensate for that logic fail. Four stars.

Tags:


Review: The Obedient Bride by Mary Balogh (1989)

Posted October 6, 2021 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 1 Comment

Mary Balogh is a brilliant writer and one of her greatest talents is to create a unique situation for her characters and then let that work itself out in the most logical and not always the easiest way. This is a marriage of convenience story, but it looks with uncompromising honesty at what a great many Regency marriages must have been like. It’s about expectations of marriage, and yes, it’s about how sex plays into that, so it’s not a traditional read, nor is it a comfortable tale, so anyone looking for light-hearted fluff should move on. It is, however, both powerful and fascinating.

Here’s the premise: Lord Astor has recently come into his title and estates, and knows he has an obligation to marry to secure the succession. He also owes an obligation to the widow and daughters of his predecessor, who have been left unprovided for. He can fulfil both requirements at once by marrying one of the daughters. He’s never met them, for the relationship is a distant one, but he’s unbothered by which one it should be. After all, what does it matter? His wife won’t be a big part of his life, will she? Apart from producing a few children, she’ll have her own life and he’ll keep his mistress and his masculine friends and pursuits. So he leaves it up to their mother to decide which one is most appropriate. Since the eldest daughter and beauty of the family, Frances, is likely to marry a neighbour, she puts forward her second daughter, Arabella, to marry the viscount. And after a brief period of misunderstanding, and thinking he’s going to get the beauty, he swallows his disappointment and proposes to Arabella, the small, plump one.

The ladies had a misunderstanding, too, for they thought the viscount was an older man. Arabella, thinking herself plain and uninteresting, is quite happy to marry such a man and have a placid marriage, leaving her sister free to marry the man she’s in love with. But the older man was Lord Astor’s father, now dead, and the son is something of a paragon – handsome, fashionable, with perfect manners, and everything that Arabella would never dare to dream of and doesn’t feel worthy of. She’s reduced to stumbling inarticulacy in his presence. She tells him, however, that she’ll be a dutiful and obedient wife and he’s satisfied. That’s what he wants, after all, someone he can basically ignore while he lives his own life, just as he did before.

So the marriage takes place, and yes, it’s consummated, and no, Balogh doesn’t shy away from the details. It’s not outrageously graphic, but it’s clear that Lord Astor has very fixed ideas about sex. What he enjoys with his mistress is purely for pleasure, and he wouldn’t expect anything as uninhibited as that with his respectable and chaste wife. Instead, she gets sex for procreation, perfunctory and by the sound of it deeply unpleasant. She meekly puts up with it, because she’s an obedient wife and it’s her duty.

The interesting element of this is that Lord Astor is doing his duty, too. He’s not an unkind man, in fact he’s rather gentlemanly and considerate. He willingly takes Arabella to town with her beautiful sister for company, he escorts them everywhere, rigs them out in fashionable clothes and supervises Arabella’s transformation to stylish woman-about-town. And he genuinely thinks he’s being considerate by keeping the procreation efforts to brief sessions in the dark, without any embarrassing foreplay. But all the time, he keeps his mistress and is rather surprised to find himself losing interest in her, and actually enjoying his wife’s company instead. He even finds himself distracted during sessions with his mistress by thoughts of his wife.

And so the stage is set for the transformation that will upset the applecart. Arabella gradually gains confidence in company – not with her husband, but with other, safer, men, who are less distractingly handsome and charming. She becomes a success. And Lord Astor gradually realises that a wife can’t simply be ignored. She’s a real person with real feelings, and he begins to care about those feelings, just a little. The way they both change, little by little over many chapters, is one of the joys of the book, beautifully evoked by Balogh. We see it happen because we’re privy to both characters’ thoughts all the way through. And when the crisis comes and Arabella finds out about the mistress, we know their thoughts on that, too, and follow every step of their journey to understanding each other.

Some reviewers have compared this book to some of Georgette Heyer’s works, in particular A Civil Contract or The Convenient Marriage, and although there are similarities, the book that I’m most reminded of is another Balogh one, Dancing With Clara. In that, the marriage is just as cold-blooded an arrangement, between a dissolute rake and gambler who’s wasted his fortune, and a wealthy heiress who is wheelchair bound. It suits them both – he gets her money, and she gets a virile young man as her husband. But that story had a realistic resolution which was (for me, anyway) deeply unsatisfying. The Obedient Bride has a much more positive ending, perhaps less realistic, but much more in keeping with the expectations of romance readers. This isn’t an easy read, but it is a deeply rewarding one, and I commend it to anyone looking for a clear-eyed deconstruction of a marriage of convenience. Five stars.

Tags:


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.

Tags:


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.

Tags:


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.

Tags:


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.

Tags:


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.

Tags: