Tag Archives: Mary Balogh

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

“I don’t think anything inspired me except the necessity of coming up with a story so that I could fulfill my obligation to a contract I had agreed to! I had to dream up a story, and this one popped into my head.” Mary Balogh in the interview following A Matter of Class. Nonetheless, as an experienced, and clearly honest, professional writer, she delivered a sincerely charming  historical romance novella.

Reggie and Annabelle are lifelong neighbours divided by a waterway as well as the barriers of class levels in so-called polite society. Their estates may be next to each other and they may go to the same church, but his self-made father and her top-lofty, though cash poor,  sire have been at odds for Reggie and Annabelle’s entire lives.

Told in present day and flashbacks, the reader learns that Reggie has become a dissolute spendthrift more interested in the tassels on his new Hoby boots than settling down. He’s a minor scandal compared to the fact that Annabelle has recently been recovered from an unsuccessful, but nonetheless scandalous, elopement with a family servant. Disgraced, impecunious, and in need of being advantageously foisted off on a man of means, the fathers make a plan for their children to marry. Reggie and Annabelle have plans of their own.

Light and quick, A Matter of Class moves entertainingly towards its resolution with some clever twists along the way. I recommend it as and strongly suspect I will be revisiting it when in need of a lift.

My favourite Balogh novels:
The Survivors’ Club:Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh book reviews you can go here.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

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So You Want to Read a (Historical, Contemporary, New Adult, Paranormal) Romance …

Alternatively: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

This recommendations list is gleaned from at least 80 authors and over 500 books.

Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started

Looking for something specific? Here’s a list of authors I’ve read enough to see thematic consistencies and it’s hard to go wrong with these writers:

Tessa Dare – FUN, bring your willing suspension of disbelief, on double-secret probation right now
Laura Florand – contemporary romances set in France, great intensity
Carla Kelly – lovely Regency romances, often military-themed
Lisa Kleypas  – the gold standard, also writes contemporaries
Julie Anne Long – extremely clever and funny
Courtney Milan – The very best currently publishing, one for the pantheon.
Julia Quinn – An excellent place to launch your reading. Start with The Bridgertons.

I lovehate Jennifer Ashley’s sincere romance mired in tortured heroes and overwrought plotting.

This list is an edited version of my Complete Reading List by Author. Reviewed books are linked.

Mallory, a frequent commenter, asked me to make a personal Top 5 list. I tried. I couldn’t do it.

CLASSICS

  1. Balogh, Mary Slightly Dangerous – historical
  2. Bowen, Sarina Blonde Date  – new adult novella
  3. Chase, Loretta Lord of Scoundrelshistorical
  4. Gabaldon, Diana Outlanderhistorical
  5. Heyer, Georgette Venetia (Dameral/Venetia) – historical
  6. Jenkins, Beverly Indigo  – historical
  7. Kinsale, Laura Flowers from the Storm old school, historical
  8. Kleypas, Lisa Dreaming of Youhistorical
  9. Kleypas, Lisa The Devil in Winter  – historical
  10. Long, Julie Anne What I Did for a Duke – historical
  11. Milan, Courtney A Kiss for Midwinter – historical novella
  12. Milan, Courtney The Suffragette Scandal  – historical
  13. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle – historical now, but not when published
  14. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton  Bridgerton Book 4 – historical
  15. Thorne, Sally The Hating Game – contemporary

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Westcott Novels: Someone to Love by Mary Balogh

This first book in Mary Balogh’s new Regency romance Westcott series got off to a good start with a great heroine, a play on a familiar romance plot, and a somewhat inscrutable hero. About halfway through, the story lost steam and fell prey to a trope that’s day has passed.

Once again, a toad of an aristocrat has had the temerity to die and leave his estate in disarray as he failed to disclose a rightful heir to his fortune and rendered his own children illegitimate and impecunious. The Earl of Riverdale took the trouble to make Avery, Duke of Netherby the ward of his underage son, but not to mention that he was married as a callow youth, had a daughter, and remarried to begin another family. Avery keeps an eye on the boy, but finds himself very intrigued by the buttoned up heiress who has landed on the family doorstep.

Anna Snow has lived in an orphanage for 21 years, from the age of four as a resident and as a teacher since reaching maturity. When she is summoned to London and informed that she is now a Lady, and an obscenely wealthy one at that, the most her mind can encompass is to ask if there is enough money to cover her return fare to Bath. Her father’s sisters and mother welcome Anna, his now superfluous wife and three children are much less friendly.

As heroine’s go, Anna is a good one. Magnificently self-possessed simply by virtue of not thinking anyone is better – or of less value – than her, her personality lends itself to poise and dignity as a defense mechanism. Avery is fascinated and takes an immediate interest in her. For his part, Avery is an unusual hero. Shorter than average and slight, his physical description is that he is beautiful, but not necessarily the kind of testosterone triumph of so many of the men in these books. His part of the story is the one that falls down when the plot loses its way. Much is made of his ability in a non-specified martial art and its attendant lifestyle which he learned after a chance encounter with an Asian gentleman. This convenient exoticism struck me as a dated trope. Avery met a sole individual from a foreign culture and that one person just happened to be a master of a form of combat perfectly suited to the hero and he took the time to make Avery an expert? Codswallop. He’s a duke. Couldn’t he at least have gone abroad for a couple of years to educate himself? Balogh already portrays him up with an interesting, effete steeliness and wouldn’t having been AWOL for a couple of years doing god-knows-what have added to his air of mystery?

Another element of the book and common trope that bothered me was the portrayal of the wedding night: Anna ends up stark naked in the middle of the bedroom during the afternoon while Avery is still fully dressed. She’s been kissed exactly twice in her life, has consciously repressed her sexual impulses, and she’s in a house without central heating. I don’t care how much willing suspension of disbelief I bring to my reading, Balogh is better than this. Why can’t people in these books ever start out under the covers and dressed for bed? I think it would be sweet to read about the participants’ increasing comfort with intimate activities and each other.

As the first book in the Westcott series, Someone to Love lays a lot of groundwork for heroes and heroines to come. I had a bit of trouble keeping everyone straight at first and couldn’t tell if it was partly intentional to mimic Anna’s experience or just the introduction of the cast. Having paid full price for the novel and being disappointed, I will go back to my “library first” policy for Balogh’s romances and only buy the ones I’m sure I like such as the following:

The Survivors’ Club: Only Enchanting – great book and wonderful hero
The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous – this one is a classic

For more Mary Balogh reviews you can go here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

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The Survivors’ Club: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh

The last book in Mary Balogh’s excellent seven book historical romance Survivors’ Club series features the kindest man in the world and a happy spinster. About a decade ago, George, Duke of Stanhope, turned his estate into a hospital and took wounded Napoleonic War veterans into his home. Six of the patients, a woman and five men, stayed behind when the others left and over three years of healing formed an intense bond. Each of them has now had a love story and embarked on a new life, so it is their host’s turn to find companionship and a fulfilling homelife. George lost his young son in the War and his wife, unable to bear her grief, took her own life. Opening his ancestral home allowed him to help others, heal himself, and deflect the world’s attempts to see beyond the comfort he gives others and into his own pain.

The Survivors’ Club holds annual reunions and during one of these George was introduced to and delighted by Miss Dora Debbins. She was flattered by the attention and enjoyed his company as well. The sister of the heroine of Only Enchanting, Dora is forty, to George’s forty-eight, and lives and works quite pleasantly as a musician and teacher in a country town. When George reappears out of the blue to ask for her hand in marriage, Dora is stunned, but her instincts tell her to say yes. She sees in his gesture her chance to seek out a new kind of life as a a wife and – who knows – maybe a mother as well. They may be older than usual characters, but George and Dora are both young enough and old enough to make the relationship work despite the difference in their stations.

George and Dora are strongly attracted to and hold great affection for each other, but agree that they are marrying for companionship rather than a grand passion. Life and romance novels being what they are, the gods laugh at their plans and they fall quietly and deeply in love. Romance novels and life being what they are, and Mary Balogh’s common theme of broken people fitting their pieces together, George and Dora find much more in their relationship than they had ever expected. It is not a Dramatic Relationship, Balogh characters are always too sensible and wonderfully grown up for such things, but the writing successfully conveys the profound bond and joy the two share. As with all strong romances, the team they are together is stronger than the separate individuals they are apart.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Mary Balogh novel. She’s such a reliable writer. Only Beloved is not the best entry in the Survivors’ Club series, Only Enchanting and Only a Promise share that honour, but as a wrap up to this very strong series it works well. As with her other larger series, Balogh needs to repeat a lot of identifying information and quickly encapsulate the previous stories when characters reappear. It both helps sort out my confusion and drags the story down a bit. As a reader, I enjoy visiting old friends, but I don’t want them to take over the current reading experience.

The Survivors’ Club:
The Proposal  (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement  (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise  (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – nothing special
Only Beloved – please see above

Balogh has another popular series, all titled with “Slightly”, and Slightly Dangerous is a classic of the genre.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author orAuthor Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

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Romance Authors and Their Themes

The link in the author’s name will take you to either a summary of their catalogue or a relevant review.

Carla Kelly – People are inherently good and their kindness will surprise you.

Caroline Linden – Fortune favours the bold.

Cecilia Grant  – Live life on your own terms and be willing to accept the consequences.

Christina Lauren – Find someone with whom you can be your true self and who calls you on your bullshit.

Courtney Milan – Only you get to decide who you are. Fear is a waste of energy.

Jennifer Ashley – Love heals all wounds.

Julia Quinn – Marry your best friend.

Julie Anne Long – You must be willing to be emotionally vulnerable to find a true partner.

Kresley Cole – Misogynists need love, too, baby. He only hurts you because he loves you so.

Laura Florand – Sincere love gives you the courage and freedom to embrace your true self and someone else’s.

Lisa Kleypas – Make your own life and your own luck. Hard work is rewarded. To find a true partner, you will need to leave your comfort zone.

Lorraine Heath – Damaged people finding strength in each other and themselves to persevere and succeed. B-list author.

Loretta Chase – Find someone who challenges you and life will never be dull.

Mary Balogh – Broken people finding someone to fit their pieces to and moving forward with their lives.

Tessa Dare – Life is an adventure! Be bold.

Suggestions are always welcome.

Links to reviews can also be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

 

 

 

 

The Survivors’ Club: Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh

The Survivors’ Club series has had a really good run and there is one more book to go that I will be reading when it becomes available, but Only a Kiss was a swing and a miss. I never really connected with it and, in particular, didn’t get a handle on the hero.

Before I start, let’s take a moment to enjoy the gorgeous and mostly accurate (!) cover.

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The Survivors’ Club series follows the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars for six men and one woman. They spent three years together recovering from their respective visible and invisible war wounds and now, several years out from their injuries, they are each moving on to the next phase of their life with relationships and families. Only a Kiss is book six and features the lone woman of the group, Imogen. She has been described repeatedly as seemingly made of “marble” and it’s an excellent characterization. She experienced profound loss and psychological trauma during the War and has coped with life by going through the motions, but placing strict limits on her participation in the world and on her emotions. Occupying a dower house in Cornwall, her life is turned upside-down when the Earl whose land she lives on has the temerity to move home.

Percival, called Percy, thank heavens, the Earl of Somesuch can tick off every single box on the “Fabulous Life of a Privileged Nineteenth Century Man” list:

√  rich as Croesus
√  titled
√  well-educated
√  beloved of his family
√  possessed of friends
√  charming
√  good with children
√  healthy
√  genuinely handsome and not just told so because of the preceding attributes

So why is he incapable of being polite to Imogen and why won’t that stray dog leave Percy alone? The answer to both questions is that they see him as he really is. Imogen’s view is self-protectively jaundiced, the canine’s is, as is the way of the species, pure, unadulterated love. He comes to terms with both over the course of the story. Percy has no horrible secret lingering in his psyche. He is a good man whose usefulness has yet to be discovered, happily floating along knowing he has everything in life and a little disappointed in himself to discover he is overwhelmingly bored. Imogen takes care of this issue as she inspires  bluntness in him and he asks questions no one else has dared about her wartime experiences.

Events in Only a Kiss proceed predictably apace as one would expect in a romance, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in either of the characters. I was pleased Imogen allowed herself to truly re-enter the world of the living, but didn’t necessarily see the excellent qualities in Percy I was supposed to. Weighed down by a non-glamourized smuggling subplot (Huzzah for repudiating organized crime!) the book was enjoyable by virtue of being written by Mary Balogh, but not up to the standard readers know her to be capable of, or of the two books immediately preceding Only a Kiss in the Survivors’ Club series.

When you get this far into a series, there are a lot of feet on the ground and, in this case, they all have titles in addition to their given names to keep track of. I can mostly manage to keep up, but if I were to start with Only a Kiss, I’m sure I would find it frustrating. On the other hand, Balogh has created overlapping social circles between her many books and it is always fun to get glimpses of favourite characters from this collection and her other works.

The Survivors’ Club:
The Proposal  (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement  (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise  (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – see above
Only Beloved – sweet

Balogh has another popular series, all titled with “Slightly”, and Slightly Dangerous is a classic of the genre.

I created a romance review template to amuse myself when discussing Balogh’s  Handful of Gold.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

The Survivors’ Club: Only a Promise by Mary Balogh

Oh, Mary Balogh, reading one of your Regency romances is like slipping into a warm bath. Comfortable, always enjoyable and relaxing, you are so wonderfully consistent in your heartfelt stories about broken people finding a kindred spirit to fit their pieces to.

Only a Promise is book six in Balogh’s current series, Survivors’ Club, and one I greatly enjoyed. The full series, so far, is as follows –

The Survivors’ Club Series:
The Proposal (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – meh
Only Beloved – sweet

As is the way of things for women in all but certain parts of the modern era, Chloe Muirhead is a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Blessed with the kind of vibrant good looks and vivid red hair that have made men tell her she looks like an elite courtesan (much like that time someone told me, “You have a really nice voice, you should be a phone sex operator”) and a trio of family scandals, Chloe has made not one, but two precipitous departures from London matchmaking seasons. Settled into spinsterhood as the companion of an elderly family friend, it’s not an unhappy arrangement, but neither is it one in which she is particularly content. It will do.

Ralph (which I know is pronounced “Rafe”, but I have to constantly correctly myself) Stockwood is one of the survivors of the series name. He went to war at eighteen with three of his closest friends and came back alone, horribly wounded, and with deep-seated guilt for both his role in convincing his friends to buy commissions and for not dying with them. His recovery was slow and fraught with suicide attempts, but many years on he is once again functioning, although not fully emotionally connected to his life. Like Chloe, Ralph is largely going through the motions, although he is more obviously weighed down by his demons.

When Ralph’s elderly grandmother, and Chloe’s host, summons him for a Your Grandfather Is Ancient, You Need to Marry and Produce an Heir to the Dukedom discussion, Chloe takes a wonderfully bold step. She knows Ralph isn’t looking for a love match and she wants a home and family. She proposes to him. He refuses, then reconsiders. Lickety split, Chloe and Ralph are married, the duke dies, and the two of them are thrust into a new world.  Not only are they negotiating the terms of their relationship, one they had agreed would not go beyond mutual respect and politeness, but also how they’ll function in their public roles.

Ralph is a very closed off character, a polite and dutiful automaton. He’s not cold per se, just distant and unengaged. His unfurling takes time and Balogh gives it to him. Weeks pass instead of the usually compressed timelines in these novels and that’s one more reason Balogh is very good at what she does: People heal slowly. Chloe is likeable, relentlessly capable, and practical, but she has issues eating at her as well and has one fantastic, and I felt realistic, freak out that relieves her character from being too ideal. She’s strong, but she’s not invulnerable. The quietly stalwart and encouraging way Chloe and Ralph support each other confirms how well they match as a couple.

Of the Survivors’ Club series, I enjoyed this book and Only Enchanting the most. Only a Promise did reference a lot of characters from Balogh’s other series and that gave me mixed feelings as I both wanted a visit with the Duke and Duchess of Bewcastle (CLASSIC!) and had trouble keeping everyone straight. There are enough characters in this series to keep track off without bringing in guest stars. I am on my library waiting list for the next book, Only a Kiss, and would buy it immediately if Balogh’s publisher caught up to the rest of the romance world and lowered their prices for e-copies of their authors’ works.

Also by Mary Balogh is A Handful of Gold  for which I created a romance review template.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.