Tag Archives: Mary Balogh

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.

Advertisements

The Survivors’ Club: The Proposal and Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh’s lovely and touching Survivors’ Club series has what I am beginning realise is the central theme of many of her historical romances: Shuttered and broken people finding new lives and unexpected happiness. Who better to be given these second chances than soldiers and those who have seemingly lost everything? Six friends, five military men and one woman, and their host, formed a close relationship while recovering from their experiences in the Napoleonic Wars at Pendarris Hall in Cornwall. Now back out in the world, each book features a group reunion as the six protagonists find love. The stories I have read so far have a sincere sweetness and while the characters have all been through the wringer, the stories are not maudlin and Balogh shows a deft touch in sharing their trials without wallowing in them; moreover, despite the potential for drama, her leads act so consistently as mature adults, even ones befuddled by love’s appearance on their doorstep, that any potentially overwrought elements are managed well.

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

The Proposal

One would think that the eponymous proposal would a small element in a book, but this book’s title is pretty accurate as to its content. The main characters, Hugo and Gwen, come from different worlds and this tension, “We can’t, can we? Maybe a little? No, it won’t work, but maybe it will” is central to the story.

Gwendoline is a widow in her early 30s settled down into a quiet, happy life as the family member beloved of adults and children alike. Visiting a recently widowed friend, she falls and is rescued a la movie Willoughby by Hugo, Lord Trentham. Recently “elevated” to the peerage, he was a career military man lauded for his work on the battlefield and, having recovered from his war wounds, looking for a wife. How convenient! As she is hurt, Gwen must stay at the great house of the Duke hosting Hugo and the Survivors’ Club. Hugo and Gwen spend time together and are drawn to each other even as they are reluctant to give up their expectations of what their lives should and will be.

Only Enchanting

Flavian, Viscount Posonby (I know, but he is aware it is an absurd name and comments on it himself.) was left seriously wounded, but visibly unscathed, during his war time experience. He had a brain injury to his language centers and he needed to learn to process and produce language again when brought home. Three years on, he has recovered speech except for an occasional stutter and his memories are largely intact. The latter is hard for him to determine as how can one sort out what one does not know?

At a Survivors’ Club reunion, Flavian is brought together with an unassuming local widow, Agnes Keeping. They are drawn to one another and, even though she feels out of her depth, Agnes agrees to marry the seemingly louche, blond god of a man in one of the few impulsive decisions of her life. When they travel together to London, Flavian’s family, neighbours, and former fiancee are all lying in wait to pounce on him for his hasty marriage. This brings Agnes and her new husband to an instant crisis which they sort through, despite some bumps, in a mostly mature fashion.

The Proposal and Only Enchanting were sweet without being treacly, dramatic in a grounded and unhistrionic fashion, the characters are sensible adults, and the dynamic of the six core characters is a great source of character detail and humour. While I don’t rank the novels as great (though that might change as I adored Flavian), I would say that they are very good and I recommend finding them at your local library.

Update March 1, 2016: Since I have borrowed it again from my library and added it to my Amazon wishlist, I have indeed upgraded Flavian and Agnes’s story to “great”. It is now on  my shortlist list of recommended romances for new readers.

I have reviewed two other books in this series: The Arrangement and The Escape. Balogh has other popular series and her novel Slightly Dangerous is, to my mind, a classic of the genre. 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

The Complete Reading List by Author

Short Version: Recommended books are in bold, reviewed books are linked, these are ruthlessly streamlined recommendations lists –

So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance
Ten Great Romance Novellas to Get You Started
Plus just for funsies: The Worst Romance Novels I Have Ever Read

I have more content based lists over there on the right  –>

Annual Reading Tallies & Author Commentary 2012 – 2017
On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

My AUTOBUY List (Links Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)
Tessa Dare (on double-secret probation right now actually)
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

-A-
Albert, Annabeth Waiting for Clark (Bryce/Clark)
Albert, Annabeth Save the Date (Randall/Hunter)
Alexander, R.G. Ravenous novella (Declan/Trick/Jennifer)
Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/ Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Alvarez, Tracey In Too Deep (West/Piper)
Andre, Bella The Way You Look Tonight (Rafe/Brooke)
Ann, Jewel E. When Life Happened (Gus/Parker)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
Continue reading

The Survivors’ Club: The Arrangement and The Escape by Mary Balogh

My theory that there are more soldiers in Regency romances with PTSD than served in the Napoleonic Wars continues to hold water.

Mary Balogh has been publishing romances since the year I was eligible to vote. Not surprisingly, she is a consistent writer of good quality. I have only read about six of her books, but I believe that the final book of her Slightly Series, Slightly Dangerous, is a classic. She likely has at least one more and as I wait for new books from my favourite authors, I should probably try to find out what they are.

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

The Arrangement

From Amazon: Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

A book about kind, broken people falling in love, Vincent and especially Sophia are lovely people dealing with the blows that life has seen fit to give them. He, blinded in battle, is trying not so much to rebuild his life, but to rediscover his freedom and she, belittled and unwanted, the liberty to be herself and  make a life on her own terms. The gentle, but deep, mutual devotion they come to share made this a sweet story

The Escape

From Amazon: After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

I remember swimming and that the heroine’s mother-in-law is a b*tch of the first water. Those two aquatic-themed tidbits are unrelated. The Escape may not have been my most closely read book of the year, but it’s not the least. Other than the swimming and the bitchiness, I’m a little fuzzy on the whole thing. It’s one of those novels where a couple is thrown together, go on a road trip, and decide on a brief affair that gets a permanent extension. He’s wounded in body and soul, she’s a mentally abused shut-in from a kingdom far, far away. Things work out and this process involves canoodling.

The Arrangement and The Escape were both library books and I am likely to seek out more books from The Survivors’ Club, but not to pay for them. Mary Balogh’s publisher is not savvy when it comes to e-book pricing. If copies were $3.99 or less, I would stock up, but they leave their prices high, even for her back catalogue, so it’s the library for me.

Captious Aside: Does anyone else question whether it should be “Survivor’s Club” or Survivors’ Club”? It should be the latter, right? It’s not even consistent when I look it up online.

Also by Mary Balogh:

A Handful of Gold – Meh, but I did have fun reviewing it.
Slightly Dangerous – CLASSIC

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

A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh (with Bonus Romance Review Template)

I decided to fashion a fill-in-the-blank romance novel review to make these posts easier to write:

Part A. The Summary: (Title) is a romance of the (“you are everything I never knew I always wanted”/opposites attract/love story balanced with a strong subplot/teach me how to love/I know I am unworthy, but I love you so) variety: Boy meets girl. (Specify relationship obstruction). (Oblique hint at resolution). Boy and girl move forward together secure in their love and commitment.

Part B. The Introduction: A (historical/contemporary/paranormal) romance set in (location and time period) and written by (author’s first and last name), (title) is my (first/second, etc.) book by this author. (If this is an author you have read before, please complete the following:) I generally find her work (pleasant/a good time filler/spectacular/reliable/fun/vile, but the book was free). (Comment on previous work and link to other reviews where possible). I found (title) (suggested descriptors that can be supplemented as needed: enjoyable/lacklustre/misogynistic/soporific/,and/or romantic). I (will continue to/will not) seek out (author’s last name)’s other novels because this one (was nothing special/showed promise/was really good/passed the time pleasantly enough), (and/but/although) I (would/would not) recommend this particular effort.

Part C. The Plot: The main plot of (title) focuses on (the reformation of a rake/the awakening of a wallflower/a revenge plot/a road trip/an intrigue or mystery/their marriage of convenience/and/or the healing of a tortured hero and/or heroine). (Hero’s name and title, as appropriate) is (that rake/a protector). He is (insert three adjectives). (Comment on his general appeal or lack thereof, specify traits leading to this conclusion.) The heroine, (name and title, as appropriate), is a (wallflower/victim of circumstance). She is (choose three adjectives with special focus on her relatability). (Insert MacGuffin.) (Hero and heroine’s names) (are/are not) instantly attracted to each other. Over time, they come to discover that despite any challenges they face, they make an excellent team.

Part D. The Subplot: (Continue to Section E, if there is no significant subplot, or if it is uninteresting.)

The subplot in (title) revolves around (the reformation of a rake/the awakening of a wallflower/a revenge plot/a road trip/an intrigue or mystery/their marriage of convenience/and/or the healing of a tortured hero and/or heroine) It was (an excellent addition well-executed/cumbersome and got in the way of the main story).

Part E. Conclusion: (Reword opinions stated in Part B. The Introduction.) (Make general comments on the quality of the writing either positive or taking pleasure in being cleverly derisive). (If the book is not recommended, provide a suggestion for a romance with a similar theme more successfully presented.)

Part F. Closing: (Insert link to annotated list of available reviews for readers’ edification.)

© 2013 Mrs. Julien Presents

Let’s give the format a go with the Christmas novella A Handful of Gold by Mary Balogh …

Continue reading

The Slightly Series: Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh is a reliable and consistent romance genre author. She’s been putting out books for years and years, and with the advent of e-books will be reissuing her back catalogue for quite some time to come. I do not begrudge any author the chance to cash in, except maybe that 50 Shades of Twilight woman. I generally read Balogh when nothing else is handy, but I would go so far as to say this particular book is a classic of the genre.

In my (scathing and bitchy) review of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie series , I wrote that the common series structure has the last book be about “the most forbidding of the men; the one you can’t imagine rooting for, or whose arrogance and aloofness is nigh on insurmountable”. This is that book, but instead of digging deeper to find sexually-twisted tyrants all the way down a la Ashley, Mary Balogh shows us a deeply caring man, motivated only by love and duty. Wulfric (I know) Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle, is the eldest of six children and each have already had their story told;  I gave Slightly Married a try, but when I skipped ahead to page 200 to check on the [cough] action I met the sentence, “He gave her his seed,” and I was out.  I did read all of Slightly Scandalous, but, despite a wonderful rake, the heroine was off-putting.

As the family protector and a Duke, Wulfric is a very serious man weighed down by duty and propriety in a way that is everything repugnant about the antiquated notion of aristocracy; fortunately, he falls for a woman who punctures that and makes him human.  Christine is a free-spirited widow living in genteel poverty who encounters the Duke at a house party (because it’s the Regency and that’s how they do).  She is both drawn to and leery of the Duke and her objections to his character, as she perceives it, and the role of his Duchess are the basis of the book’s tension. He’s fighting it for all he is worth, too, but in the end, she deigns to rescue him and it is lovely.

An Amazon review described the book as “Notting Hill meets Pride and Prejudice” and I can’t do any better than that.  The story is not as funny as some, and is virtually chaste, but the two main characters are so well drawn and fight against their attraction so valiantly that it carries the story along wonderfully. To use romance genre lingo, this book goes on the “keeper shelf”.

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

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) – see below
Only Beloved – May 2016

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