Simply Love by Mary Balogh
Simply Love is part of the "Simply" series centered around the teacher's of Miss Martin's School for Girls and is related to the Bedwyn series as well, making this the knockout of all allusion-laden [to the author's previous works] books. Anne Jewell is a teacher at Miss Martin's and the single, unwed, mother of nine-year old Davy while Sydnam Butler is the heavily scared steward of the Duke of Bewcastle's estate in Wales. She is, of course, angsty over her status as an unwed mother, the fact that she was raped, and over her family's basic abandonment of her when she announced she was pregnant. He is angsty because the entire right side of his body is covered in massive scars, including a missing eye and arm, and feels he needs to prove himself to everyone and believes he will always be lonely. The two meet when the cousin of Anne's rapist (who is a friend) invites Anne to join him, and his wife, Freyja- who is Bewcastle's sister, at the Welsh estate and the whole gang (every Bewcastle and every Bewcastle spouse) plots to matchmake for the two lonely souls.
Oblivious to the other's plotting, the two find themselves drawn to each other and engage in, what is called on the jacket "an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking," but is really just a passionless excuse to alleviate loneliness where only one of them is actually fulfilled, seeing as how Anne had flashbacks to her rapist. Orgasm notwithstanding, Anne becomes pregnant and she and Sydnam get married. David is angry because he wants a "whole" stepfather and is inordinately obsessed with his "real" father and his "real" father's family. Anne and Sydnam embark on a honeymoon journey (from hell?) to meet his family and then later they go on to hers. This makes it so that Anne and Sydnam are NEVER alone without either the Bewcastles, his family, or her family surrounding them. Her family, despite having "forgiven" her for being raped and getting pregnant, has never made any attempt to visit her, and includes her ex-fiance who dumped her and then married her sister/ best friend. At the end we are left with a roomful of screaming and laughing family members, which is just so incongruous with the rather muted plot and characters and was not at all subtly or realistically introduced into the plot.
There was a reason I did not choose to read one of the Bewcastle books I hadn't yet read; because I had read enough of them as was getting tired of them. I felt that this book was more of an epilogue to her Bewcastle books, and she just used Anne and Sydnam as an excuse when she realized there was a character (Sydnam) still out there who could easily be connected to them. We have Wulfric, Alleyne, Morgan, Freyja, and Aidan's, as well as that of Kit Butler, happiness, and potency, thrown in our faces in nearly half the pages of the book. And I was not happy with any of the other characters in the book either. Her son, David, who is supposed to be nine, acts like a four year-old: and I would know as I work with three and four year-olds all day. He is is constantly chattering about everything and flits from topic to topic, loves playing with other children- including younger children, and he lets adults hold his hand and even pick him up. I will refrain from going into detail, but the prose was absolutely dreadful as well; maudlin, overdrawn, and unrealistic dialgoue throughout. Including a line where Sydnam (a man) says to his employer, "The sight of the moon on the water like this makes me almost weep with awe."
Anne and Syd are the two most depressingly awful characters I've ever read. I cannot figure out if we are supposed to sympathasize with her about how everyone thinks they know better than her how her life shoudl be run or not- because she never stands up to anyone. Even the scenes where she supposedly does hold her own are rather pathetic and end up making me more mad at her. Especially the scene where she "confronts" her family- and that whole thing ends up disastrously. Syd is less annoying; I found myself incredibly thankful that didn't confront his French torturers and forgive them. The book seems to be intent on providing, not necessarily a happily-ever-after, but at least a peaceful, forgiveness-full ever after, even if it's not warranted. The only thing that seems to hold them together was their shared loneliness and their ability to be incredibly calm even when the situation would warrant real emotion.
Rating: Didn't like the book, didn't like the characters (any of them), and didn't like how the only focus of the book seemed to be getting every family member, and friend, ever mentioned in the entire book, into a ballroom at the end.