Showing posts with label Mary Balogh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Balogh. Show all posts

Monday, August 1, 2011

More Than a Mistress

More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh 726

Jocelyn Dudley, the Duke of Tresham, is fighting a duel with the husband of his alleged lover, when a female servant calls out and distracts him. Jocelyn ends up with a bullet in his leg and is furious with the dowdy woman and while yelling at her makes her late for her next job. Jane Ingleby is in London trying to disappear; her father's death left her under the guardianship of her uncle whose son attacked her one night and when she tried to defend herself he ended up unconscious and rumors abound that she killed him and there are Bow Street Runners after her. When she loses her job she shows up at the Tresham's house and demands an explanation, but he is so mad at her that instead he hires her as his nurse for 3 weeks, vowing to make her regret her actions. Jocelyn quickly notices that her drab clothing and maid's cab are hiding a gorgeous young woman and that her mannerism and accent are not those of the orphan she claims to be. Jane tries to keep out of sight of Jocelyn's guests, but he forces her to be present, and she gets to know his friends and family.

Their relationship changes when she overhears him practicing the piano and this opens up Jocelyn's heart and Jane is there for him as he reveals what his childhood was like and how much of himself he has hidden in an attempt to be as masculine as possible. Meanwhile the woman he allegedly had an affair with is causing trouble and her five brothers have vowed vengeance against the man who "ruined" their sister. Their actions take a near- tragic turn and then it is Jocelyn and his brother who are out for blood. When their weeks are over Jocelyn cannot bear to part from Jane so he offers her a position as his mistress and Jane cannot turn down the opportunity to spend more time with him, even while it is not the most respectable employment. But her uncle is in town looking for her and when Jocelyn discovers that she has omitted such a large part of her past he feels betrayed since he had opened up so much to her, and ashamed that he has ruined a lady. Their time together means much to both of them and they will both have to forgive and admit to themselves how much they need the other.

Balogh's books always have a slow, calming air about them, which I have come to enjoy on occasion because her books always develop well. This book was different because it was more exciting, it had more happening, and there was more sex than I am used to in Balogh books. Jane was really almost a boring character to me because she really did not display very many emotions or really do much of anything but what she felt she had to do. I wanted her to be something else- do something for herself and really let me get to know her, but I didn't. I don't see how she actually hit a man at all. I love that Jocelyn was tough and devil-may-care, but was hiding such an artistic side of himself from everyone because of some childhood trauma. His issues were dealt with well and really contributed to how he and Jane ended up falling in love and showing how great they were for each other. Like many Balogh characters he has a tendency to raise a quizzing glass to his eye, which is obnoxious and overbearing, and he spent a good portion of this book being completely unlikable in my opinion.

Their relationship developed slowly, as it does in Balogh books, they spent a lot of time together, which I liked, and I could see how they fell in love with each other because he trusted her enough to open up about his secrets and she felt safe with him and like she was getting to know another person from the inside. The progression from nurse to mistress was a little abrupt and was undertaken with surprisingly little angst on either of their parts and I was a little uncomfortable with her throwing away her future on a rake who did not really seem worthy of her at the time. The sex was steamier than anything I had read from Balogh before and there was certainly more of it, but it was really nothing spectacular or special. While Jocelyn's duel served as the catalyst for bringing them together I felt like the feud between him and his lover's family took up far too much of the book and I wanted it to be over because the book was already long enough without it. Another difference between this and her other books is I did not feel hit over the head with her previous pairings or her future couples, which I liked.

Rating: An enjoyable, if slow moving, book. Two interesting, if not completely likable or sympathetic, characters who had a well written romantic relationship.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Promise

A Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh 1223 

Randolph Pierce, Earl of Falloden, inherited massive debts along with his title and he has postponed an engagement with a lovely young lady of the ton because he hopes to make a little money first. But John Trasnmore, a very wealthy coal merchant, buys up all of the debts and threatens to call them all in if Randolph does not marry his daughter, Eleanor. Eleanor has fancied herself in love with her distant cousin, Wilfred, for years but when he writes to inform her that their relationship has no future, she thinks she might as well fall in with her father's plan. She has had horrible experiences with members of the ton who regard her class as vulgar, and she harbors little hope that she and a titled gentleman can ever get along. John Transmore is dying and his last wish is for his daughter to marry into the ton and he survives just long enough for Randolph to promise to live with Eleanor for a year and to consummate their marriage on the wedding night. 

Things do not go well on their wedding night as she is defensive and he can't help but think that she is cold and emotionless. Before their marriage he had invited several friends up to his hunting lodge and he decides to keep those plans and allow Eleanor to invite her own family. Still feeling like she will never belong in the ton she decides to invite her entire extended family- partly to show Randolph that she is indeed a vulgar social climber. Randolph is at first put out, but it isn't long before he is enjoying seeing his new bride in such different surroundings; she is suddenly full of life and happiness. And she is beginning to see that Randolph is not so judgmental and he fits in so well with her boisterous family with no signs that he dislikes having them. Now they both know that they want something more out of their relationship but worry that the other will not feel the same way. It takes a wonderful Christmas Eve of merrymaking and joy and a little miracle for them to move past their bad beginning and into the future. 

I know that it is highly unlikely that the social classes really did intermingle back in the day, but I am still a sucker for romances that feature people from different hierarchies. Who doesn't like a little bit of a fairy tale? And of course it leads to some great emotional moments where one of them feels like he/she is not good enough and the other realizes that the separations in their class don't really matter. This book had so many of those elements in a tried and true plot device where the merchant father buys his daughter a title. What made this so well done was that the story was told pretty equally from both points of view so I was really able to see them as they both underwent changes and had new thoughts about their spouse and their relationship. Eleanor's excuse for giving in to her father's desire for her to marry a lord was a nice little difference from the usual and her relationship with Wilfred lead to some more great emotional scenes between the two of them as they argued over her old feelings. 

At times I was a little frustrated by how quick Eleanor and Randolph were to think the worst of each other, even after sufficient time together to have shown them both that they had been wrong about each other from the beginning. Eleanor especially was far too defensive and she really did come across as cold and unfeeling quite a bit and I found myself empathizing more with Randolph than Eleanor. In typical Balogh style the sex was incredibly bland and rather ambiguous as to whether Eleanor ever got any of her own satisfaction. And some of it was incredibly painful to read about as there was a complete absence of feeling and it seemed like they were both just trying to hurt each other. The Christmas element of the story was done very well with an emphasis on family and togetherness and not so much on the religious elements. Of course there were a couple little side romances going on that were quite fun and I wish we'd had a little more from them. As usual I liked her writing style and the book was certainly fast as it was only 270 pages long. 

Rating: A typical Balogh novel with a slow and muted relationship and very little sex, but it was well told and a fast read. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Secret Affair

A Secret Affair by Mary Balogh 615

Hannah, the widowed Duchess of Dunbarton, is finally out of mourning after ten years being married to a man old enough to be her grandfather and she wants to finally experience a grand passion. She chooses Mr. Constantine Huxtable, who was born four days before his parents marriage and thus did not inherit the earldom of Merton. Con cannot deny that the Duchess is gorgeous, but she has an air of coldness about her and he is not interested in playing any games with her. He makes it clear from the outset that she can't play these games with her, and while her childhood friend, Elizabeth, does not approve, the two do begin an affair. While both are determined to keep things purely physical it naturally follows that they each begin to want to know more about each other while closely guarding their own secrets. The first secret to come out is that Hannah had remained a virgin throughout her marriage and despite the numerous affairs she was rumored to have.

This reveal leads Con to the conclusion that there is quite a bit about Hannah that he, and everyone else in the ton, has never known. Meanwhile Hannah is trying desperately to get to the bottom of Con's feud with his cousin Elliot, the Duke of Moreland. Finally Con learns that Hannah's marriage to the deceased Duke was formed when Hannah had been dumped by her fiance for her own sister. After much soul searching Con admits that his feud with Elliot was based on missing jewels- jewels he had sold with his brother's permission to finance a home for society's undesirables. This is quite the coincidence as Hannah herself sold many of her own jewels to finance a house for elderly outcasts. During a house party Hannah gets to know Con's very large family, and while reluctant at first they eventually come to love her and accept her as a member of the family. Together, Con and Hannah must learn to move past their own pasts and start a peaceful and family full life together.

Hannah was incredibly withdrawn and was hiding the real her from the rest of the world and merely presenting a facade of coldness in order to protect her heart. If done properly this can be rather interesting, but I really did not enjoy it in this case. It just came across as depressing and of course she ended up realizing that all she needed was a man to love her and lots of children. I liked that she progressed from the coldness to being a happy person and she certainly showed she cared for Con, but I wish it had not been quite so all encompassing. I am not exactly one for the poor beautiful girl plot and there is certainly quite a bit made in this novel about how she was rather mistreated by her sibling, her father, and her former fiance because her looks. While I still don't exactly appreciate this method of building tension and secret brooding into the plot, at least Balogh did do a good job completely fleshing this out so it was not superficial and really did go a ways to explaining what was happening with Hannah.

I was so looking forward to Con's story because he was so great in the rest of the Huxtable books and he did not really disappoint. The secret behind his feud with Elliot was disappointing, but I was not really expecting anything better than that. I admit I would have liked for him to have been paired up with someone completely opposite him- someone really lively and happy. His having the house for unwanted people seemed more genuine than Hannah's having a house for random old people though and I do tend not to like when author's randomly seem to throw in a good cause to make the character's seem likable despite their immense wealth. Unfortunately this book contained far too much of something Balogh does all too often: previous characters make far too many appearances and almost take over the book. And sadly enough I really could not keep them straight when she referred to them by their titles. Also- I felt there was too much forgiveness and the book just ended up too saccharine.

Rating: The cover is certainly excellent and I did tend to like the beginning when they were getting to know each other but the book deteriorated from there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lord Carew's Bride

Lord Carew's Bride by Mary Balogh 524

This is the sequel to Dark Angel, which was published in the same book as this (thus the same cover) and features Jennifer's cousin, Samantha Newman, who is still recovering from Lord Kersey's betrayal. While visiting Jenny and Gabriel, who now have 2 kids, but at 24 she has come to appreciate peace and quiet so she goes off on her own. She meets Hartley Wade, a man she believes to be the gardener for the Marquess of Carew, and they have quite the conversation about nature and enjoy some peaceful quiet. But Hartley is really the actual Marquess, but he has lived mainly in seclusion because of his limp and his disfigured hand. The two meet four times, enjoying each other's company and the peace and security they feel with the other, before she is called back to London. Hartley only lasts a few days before giving in and heading off to London to find her and see if anything can be made of their relationship. Meanwhile Samantha is enjoying being back in London, but can't help but feel that something is missing.

When he sees her on the arm of his cruel cousin Lionel, he takes her outside where once again they feel secure in each other's friendship. Sam is worried that the hatred she has been feeling for Lionel all this time is only a step away from love and that if she does not move on soon she will end up falling in love with him again. The next day he arrives at her house and asks her to marry him. She agrees before knowing who he really is, but for her it is most important that he makes her feel safe and secure. While the marriage starts off really well, however while Hartley has no problem letting his wife know that he is madly in love with her, she is scared to give in to love or passion every again. It is not long before Hartley discovers that she has a past with his cousin and he realizes that he does not know if he can trust his new bride. It is then that Samantha discovers she has been hiding for nothing and she is just willing to take a chance she can find love and not have to worry about losing the man who loves her.

Here, Balogh goes back to the calming, rather unexciting, bent of most of her other novels as the book rather trudges along, although not necessarily in an unpleasant manner. I rather like the way that many Balogh novels are just warm and secure without having big passionate scenes between the characters. The book still maintains a very heavy emotional bent as each of them spends quite a bit of time musing about their feelings for the other and just how calm the other person makes them. I know that in most romances Samantha would have ended up with Lionel because he was the big, strong, and handsome man she was attracted to against her better judgement, instead of the calming, incredibly sweet, and handicapped Hartley. Many of Balogh's novels feature characters who are not completely perfect, and while many romances feature characters who don't believe they are perfect, most of them really are, at least in the eyes of their future spouse.

I became rather frustrated with Samantha for kind of falling back under Lionel's spell even though she knows how awful he is. She was determined to stay away from him and then failed miserably at it. I was also severely confused about her having sworn off love because of one, admittedly stupid but easily gotten over, mistake she made when she was only 18. Lots of protagonists in romances have bad experiences with lover, but after reading Dark Angel I can't help but feeling like her's was just ridiculous. I also wish that Hartley had just come out and told her as soon as he realized that Lionel was being an ass, the truth about his accident. However I did overall really enjoy Hartley and his actions about Samantha and how he so quickly fell in love and how he was able to admit he had made a mistake. Lionel was still the same person he had been years ago and I admit it would have been more interesting if he genuinely had change and Samantha really had to choose between two men.

Rating: I enjoyed this book, it was nothing exciting or entirely new but Balogh does another find job on an emotional story.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dark Angel

Dark Angel by Mary Balogh 523

Lady Jennifer Winwood has been betrothed to Lord Lionel Kersey for five years, but circumstances have prevented their official announcement/ marriage. Finally Lionel officially proposes and she is all too happy to say yes as she has been in love with him for as long as she can remember. No, they have never really had a conversation or shared any intimacy with each other, but he is handsome in a golden pale way. Gabriel Fisher, the Earl of Thornhill, lives on the edge of society ever since he impregnated his stepmother, ran off with her to the continent, and then abandoned her when the baby was born. But Gabriel did not truly sleep with his stepmother and the true culprit is Lionel. Gabriel wants to get revenge on Lionel for what he did to his stepmother and for what has since happened to his own reputation so he decides that he will convince Jennifer to call of the wedding, thereby humiliating Lionel.

Jennifer finds that she enjoys Gabriels' company and has trouble believing all of the rumors that surround him. However, she remains steadfast in her belief that she loves Lionel, even though he remains cold and aloof towards her and hints that he may not really want the marriage. Unbeknownst to her he is also playing on the affection of her cousin, Samantha Newman. Eventually Gabriel realizes that he cannot go through with his plan as it will end up hurting Jennifer and the more he gets to know her, the more he knows that he likes her and does not want to hurt her. Unfortunately Lionel is on to Gabriel's plan and plants a letter that ends up completely ruining her and forcing a marriage between Gabriel and Jennifer. The two are forced into a marriage that both believe the other want. Gabriel needs to convince her that he does want her and that the best does not need to impact their future if only they can move on together.

This was published in the same book as Balogh's "Lord Carew's Bride" but it was still approximately the same length as other novels. I am very glad they decided to republish this and that I ended up getting 2 for 1 really. I have found Balogh's recent works a little too "calm" for my taste, and while this book certainly was not exactly exciting, the characters showed a bit more personality and there was quite a bit going on to keep the story interesting. Jennifer was well written and while I was frustrated with her insistence that she was madly in love with Lionel despite his actions and her own interactions with Gabriel, it was understandable why she behaved why she thought that way. She was innocent and naive, despite her claims to the contrary, and it took quite a lot to convince her that love was not something she felt out of duty, but because she genuinely cared about someone.

Gabriel was great as the tortured and wrongly accused hero who could only be saved by the love of a good woman. And it worked because he really did become a better person as his feelings for Jennifer manifested themselves. I kind of did wish he had bothered to explain the truth about the situation to Jennifer a little sooner. His actions after the marriage while Jennifer was feeling depressed were wonderful- it was obvious that he was trying so hard to make her feel better and work things out the best that he could. I was a little worried that Lionel would not get his comeuppance, but luckily I was wrong on that score and although it's not a big splash, it's enough. Unfortunately towards the end the book does drag on a little bit as Jennifer starts to worry that she will never be able to forgive Gabriel for what he did, which I just found odd as it worked out for the best anyway. The book sets up Samantha's story quite nicely and that review will be coming very soon.

Rating: The book had a really good start and was quite promising, but unfortunately took a turn for the worse near the end. Still fairly good and satisfying.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Heart of Christmas

The Heart of Christmas

A Handful of Gold
by Mary Balogh
Verity Ewing recently moved to London with her widowed mother and younger sister because said sister has an illness that requires competent and expensive medical treatment. To raise money for this she has taken a job as an opera dancer and told her family she is a companion to an older lady. Unfortunately the money does not quite make ends meet so she agrees to accompany Julian Dare, Viscount Follingsley, to a hunting cabin for the week of Christmas. It does not take long for Julian to discover that she is not the experienced light skirt he had anticipated and he, and the other people at the cabin, are pleasantly surprised when Verity takes over planning for a very joyful Christmas. As Julian spends time getting to know this happy, faithful, and caring young woman he knows that Christmas week will never be enough. But Verity knows she is not good enough for the heir to an earldom and takes over leaving Julian to find her and prove that the happiness found on Christmas lasts far beyond that one day.

The story was enjoyable and lasted the perfect amount of time for a Balogh story. There was the typical inherent goodness found in all her heroines present in Verity as she is just completely childlike in her appreciation of Christmas and in her reaction to the first snowfall. She takes in weary travelers, she decorates the cabin for Christmas, and delivers a baby and it was not long before I wanted this young woman to do something a little naughty. She was an opera dancer and she did agree to become a courtesan but her motives were so pure and noble it kind of negated that bit of naughtiness. However at least it explained why Julian fell in love with her as she certainly was pure and happy, while I can't really figure out why she fell in love with him- it just sort of happened. I would also warn that this book comes very close to be a little too Christian for me as there is lots of talk about Church, prayer, and the Christ child. I like it better when Christmas is just about love and family. Short, satisfying, and only a tad annoying.

The Season for Suitors by Nicola Cornick
Clara Davencourt was mortified when she proposed to her brother's friend Sebastian Fleet, Duke of Fleet, and he turned her done. Despite his immense attraction to Clara Sebastian is too old for Clara, he is ten years her senior, he is a dedicated rake, and he has promised himself that he will never marry. Years ago when he was young a tragic accident occurred and his younger brother Oliver died and Sebastian blames himself. So of course he can not be trusted to love and protect Clara or to remain faithful to her. When Clara enlists Sebastian's help in keeping fortune hunters away he finds that it is him who needs to be kept away from Clara. They both know that they have no future together yet neither can keep their hands off of each other. Sebastian knows that he needs Clara in his life but is determined that he needs to stay away from her so he makes a last ditch effort to move to the continent but Clara confronts him before he can leave. Now it is up to her to convince him that love is worth the risk and up to him to realize that this young woman he's admired for years is worth taking that risk.

I enjoyed this novella much more than the one that came before it. It had much more substance and the heroine was not as annoyingly good and child-like. And I loved that she knew what she wanted throughout the book and went after it. I do wish we had had more of them getting to know each other as, with all books that pick up after the character's have met, the falling in love originally seemed to have been done off book. Granted the situation where she went and asked for help staying away from rakes was ridiculous and his blaming himself for his brother's death was overdrawn but I guess she needed something to bring them together and then cause a possible wedge between them. I got the feeling while reading this I was supposed to know back ground on Martin and Julianna's (her brother and his wife) but I did not know any and that got a little frustrated. As usual with Cornick's writings I loved reading the inner musings of both Sebastian and Clara as they were both just completely in love with each other and yet very torn about how the other felt and how/if they could/ should admit their feelings. The pacing in the novel was done very well and there was some subdued steam at the very end of the book.

This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan
Lavinia Spencer has been trying to hold her family's lending library business together while her younger brother tries his best to destroy it and her father remains bedridden and sick. When Jamie's problems end up with Lavinia losing her Christmas funds a handsome patron from the library comes to the rescue. William White has been coming to the lending library for over a year and has never managed to make his move on Lavinia- until now. He demands that she sleep with him to repay the debt he feels she owes him; only to discover she did not owe him anything. But it is too late and both Lavinia and William are thrown together with William trying to hide his feelings and Lavinia trying to get him to embrace them. William refuses to let himself hope that Lavinia can ever be his because his family name was ruined and he has very little money. Both characters have been making mistakes in their lives and together they are able to make amends and move on together.

Both characters undergo tremendous emotional growth through this novel and it was absolutely wonderful to read about. Lavinia learns how to trust others and put more stock in her younger brother and that was really just so amazing to read about how their attitudes towards each other changed. William had been convinced he was irredeemable because of how he "forced" Lavinia to sleep with him, and reading about him slowly coming to realize that there is always hope and that the gift of love is never forced really completed him as a character. I will say that the whole "falling in love" part was a little wham-bam and all of a sudden they were both saying they loved the others, but at least it was explained better in this short story than in most others of this length. There was quite a couple sexy scenes and they were very well written if somewhat tinged with a hint of hopelessness at the beginning. I especially enjoyed that the money issue was resolved in a reasonable and fairly realistic manner instead of having him end up inheriting a dukedom or something else ridiculous.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Seducing an Angel

Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh

Seducing an Angel is the 4th and final installment in Balogh's Huxtable series and features Stephen Huxtable, the young Earl of Merton who came into his inheritance later in life- I believe he was ten or so. Because of this he differs from many of the young men of the ton and remembers what it is like to grow up with love as the only constant in life. Cassandra, Lady Paget, moves to London with her nurse Alice, who has stayed with her for nearly 30 years, her friend and cook, Mary and Mary's illegitimate child, Belinda. Cassandra is destitute, since her stepson took her jewels and refuses her her widow's portion, and decides the surest way to rectify this situation is by finding a wealthy protector who can provide for her and will require her sexual services. Unfortunately getting out into society will be difficult as rumors have surfaced in London that Cassandra had killed her husband, Lord Paget, with an axe to the head. Cassandra crashes Stephen's sister, the Countess of Sheringford's ball to find her protector and chooses Stephen because his youth and angelic good looks have lead her to believe he will be easy to control.

Despite knowing that Cassandra set out to seduce him Stephen is shocked when, after the deed is done, Cassandra confronts him and basically demands that he pay her and keep her as his mistress. He agrees to her terms, and offers an extravagant salary, but is none to happy about it and insists that the money he pay her have nothing to do with her ability to "satisfy" him. At the ball, Cassandra had endeared herself to Stephen's family members and they invite her along with them to plays, on picnics, to parties, etc... and Stephen decides to "court" Cassandra despite her resistance. She is determined never to marry again after enduring physical abuse from her previous husband, but Stephen is equally determined to change her mind when he realizes how she has been wronged by her husband, her husband's family and her own brother. When the two are caught at a ball in a compromising position Stephen announces their betrothal, but Cassandra is determined that she will eventually break the betrothal. When Cassandra finally decides to stake out on her own and demand what she is owed from her dead husband's estate, her stepson races down to London and the truth about her husbands death and her own life are revealed. This causes her to confront what is currently happening around her and evaluate her feelings toward Stephen and her towards him.

This was a nice change from the first three books in the Huxtable series which, to be honest, all seemed remarkably similar- thus why I only refrained from reviewing the third one. Almost everything I said about the first two could have been transferred to the the third as well. Balogh also, for the most part, avoided the pitfall that befalls many in her other series; the showcasing of happy endings. While we do get to see Vanessa, Katherine, and Margaret's happily-ever-after's, it is not shoved down our throats in the manner of "Simply Love." There are two wonderful side plots in the novel, one between Alice and a gentleman who is absolutely perfect for her and it is so heartwarming to read. The other centers around Mary, as a man from her (and Cassandra's) past reappears to whisk her and Belinda away to a happy life. William is Cassandra's stepson and it was his announcement that he married Mary that caused his father to go into a drinking spell and in the ensuing struggle he ended up dead. I can not entirely get behind this plot though as William did proceed to abandon Mary and Belinda, not to mention Cassandra, leaving them to deal with the consequences of death and illegitimacy.

As in many Balogh novels the steam is subdued, to say the least, but I found myself genuinely confused while reading the two sex scenes in this book. While Cassandra enjoys them both there is no mention of, and no reference (i.e. convulsion, earthquake, stars, etc...) to her actually having an orgasm. This is especially confusing as Stephen definitely does so it's not like Balogh just glossed over both of their enjoyment. Balogh novels seem to have an overall feeling of calm and serenity over them, even when the characters get angry or argue. Feelings seemed drawn out and are described in, oftentimes, excrutiating detail. Even the angst is drawn out to the point where it's scarcely angst. My main problem with this was the way that Cassandra has, despite all evidence to the contrary and testimony from other people, decided that her husband's death is her own fault. She basically plays the martyr the whole time and uses it as an excuse to avoid future happiness with Stephen. Even after the truth is revealed she has a hard time admitting that she can be happy. But I was happy that she stood up for herself when she demanded what was due her from her stepson and did not back down and that the book did NOT end in a happily ever after with everyone, even those who didn't deserve it, being forgiven (i.e. "Simply Love").

Rating: A nice change from the other Huxtable novels and a great idea to have the woman take control and be the seductress. I would have liked to have had her for sure enjoy the sex and not be quite so martyr-ish. It was sweet, but really not much more than average, especially when compared with her other novels.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Then Comes Seduction

Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh

Then Comes Seduction is the second book in the Huxtable series and centers around Katherine Huxtable, the youngest of the Huxtable females, and Jasper Finley, Baron Montford, a notorious rake. Jasper takes a bet from his dissolute friends on his 25th birthday as he is feeling a touch off ennui, and he has two weeks to seduce the eminently respectable Katherine Huxtable. A mere four days later Jasper is seconds away from winning his bet when he literally pulls back, informs Katherine of the truth of the situation, and leaves; telling his friends that he was roundly shot down. Katherine is humiliated and leaves town, Jasper escapes briefly to his own estate where he discovers an interest in running his own property, and the two do not meet again for three years. When they do the two are drawn to each other and rumors quickly begin to circulate.

Exacerbating the problem is Jasper's cousin (through his stepfather) Clarence Forrester who is one of Charlotte, Jasper's half-sister, three guardians. He is determined to have Charlotte come under the protection of him and his mother so that he can marry her and gain her fortune. He spreads the truth about the three-year old wager and Jasper and Katherine have no choice but to marry- for the sake of their families of course. On their honeymoon the two engage in their own wager; no sex (her idea of course) for a month and only to resume if the two fall in love. Looming ahead of them is the house party they are throwing for Charlotte's 18th birthday. The ball had been an annual event until Jasper's step-father came and swung his godly club of righteousness and did away with all the un-Godly things. These ungodly things include Jasper's father and by proxy Jasper himself. Needless to say Jasper's childhood was far from happy and thus he has shut himself off from society. Like most romance novel heroes he wears a mask that only our heroine can see past and Katherine does so with her beautiful willowy body and her listening skills. By the end Jasper has managed to: defend Katherine's honor by getting one better on Clarence, maintain guardianship of Charlotte, fall in love with Katherine and earn her love in return.

Unlike most other Balogh books this one starts from the beginning with the attraction and seduction part of the relationship and then goes into the soft, comfortable, falling in love part. Also unlike most Balogh books is the prevalence of several sex scenes- some of which are downright steamy; but there is still far too few and less than found in most other romance novels. It was certainly an interesting read as I discovered that Balogh is just as good at writing immense attraction as she is at the other stuff, and I enjoyed it. What made it even better was that she did not disappoint on her staples either; we still got the enjoyable build up of real emotions and the slight angst as our protagonists learned how to live with each other and worried about what the other was feeling. Balogh is, as (almost) always (see Simply Love), very skillful at letting her readers know how characters from previous novels are doing, without hitting readers are over the head with it, and at setting up her next romance novel- I am certainly looking forward to At Last Comes Love featuring the spinster eldest Huxtable sister, Margaret.

Jasper's sister Charlotte is probably one of the most annoying characters I have come across. Literally everything to her is exciting and new and she views the world with the wide eyed wonder of a newborn who can talk. And talk she does, "Oh! All the flowers, Jasper. The ballroom looks like a garden. And it smells like one too. And look at how the mirrors multiply them all many times over." She is by far the most innocent (I really wanted to write "dumb") 18 year-old in history. Clarence is the epitome of foolish romance novel villian: he dresses like a dandy, he is portly (larger people are definitely not appreciated in romance novels), he wants to marry to gain a young girls fortune, he's the definition of a mama's boy, and he was apparently something of a bully as a young boy (which we don't learn until the last 25 pages of the book surprisingly enough). The talk of baby-making got to be a little too much for me as first Katherine, and then later on Jasper, talk (seemingly) constantly about how much fun it will be to have a baby. At first it was sweet and showed that they were developing real feelings, but then it just got to be too much.

Rating: Sweet and easy to swallow with a better than average plot with a great show of developing the romance, but the book was slow and dragged quite a bit- perhaps 50 pages too long at 419.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

First Comes Marriage

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh

This is the first book in the Huxtable series, featuring Vanessa Dew (nee Huxtable) the widowed second daughter in the Huxtable family whose husband had been weak and died of consumption a little over a year into their marriage. Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate (and a future duke) intrudes upon the Huxtable existence when he announces that Stephen, the only boy in the family and the youngest, has recently inherited an Earldom, since Elliot's cousin has recently died. Since Elliot's father had volunteered to be guardian to this cousin, when Elliot's father died, guardianship of the cousin and then later his successor, Stephen Huxtable transferred over to him. But along with Stephen Elliot realizes that he is also responsible for Stephen's three sisters, Margaret, the eldest, Katherine, the youngest, and most troubling of all, the plain, yet intriguing middle sister, Vanessa.

When Elliot realizes his future wife would be able to take responsibility for introducing the Huxtable sisters to society, he decides to kill two birds with one stone and marry Meg. When Vanessa catches wind of this she turns the tables on Elliot with her own proposal, which he accepts. Together the two, along with her entire family, embark for London, where she and her family have to be introduced to the royal family, introduce themselves to society, and settle into their new life. Unfortunately cousin Constantine decides to meddle by bringing Elliot's (ex) mistress into the picture, angst ensues, and the two have to come to grips with his past- after his father's death he discovered his father had an entire second family, and her insecurities about her looks. Through time, and effort- especially on her part, the two actually work through their differences and discover their love.

Like many Balogh novels there is no overwhelming passion that consumes our hero and heroine, but a slow buildup of their relationship as they get to know each other and (of course) fall in love. While it certainly takes away a lot of the steaminess of the more passionate novels it also makes it a lot more easy to follow and in a sense makes the love that eventually ensues seem a lot less like pure lust. Or as though the heroine loves sex with the hero and thus she must love him. There is also, as usual, quite a bit of angst, although there is far less than in many Balogh novels, due to her being married previously (and perhaps even in love with him?) and him having a (ex) mistress who has a terrible habit of showing up at inconvenient times. There is no overwhelming mystery to be solved and thus no great big resolution scene at the end where he has to save her life and in doing so they realize they love each other. Which I really like about her books.

I was very confused about Constantine- he is rather built up as a bad guy due to some discoveries Elliot made about him, but it also seemed as though he was being set up for his own novel. Vanessa's siblings, of course, are all set to have their own novel and they are all set up very well and I look forward to reading them. I also found the heroine rather odd- she is described throughout the book, by herself and everyone else including Elliot, as plain but she has a smile that apparently lights up the room and makes her unbelievably gorgeous. It was rather odd as that shows up in other novels- but never seems to actually exist in real life. The one aspect that I found particularly distasteful is during their brief spat when Elliot decides to "punish" Vanessa by making sex un-enjoyable. He doesn't force her and it's not described as painful, but it was still a little squicky.

Rating: Good book- easy to read, believable romantic relationship, fun side characters, good angst, no poor side-plot. But it was a typical Balogh novel with nothing to particularly set it apart.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Simply Love

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.