Tag Archives: Survivor’s Club

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.

51gphtbv2bul-_sx308_bo1204203200_

Advertisements

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.

91itfresqhl

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.

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 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.