Review of “A Secret Affair” (Huxtable Quintet #5) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. A Secret Affair. 2010. New York: Dell, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0440245285 | 386 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

When an author introduces a beloved secondary character with the intent of giving them their HiEA later at the end of a series, it can be hit-or-miss, something I’ve even experienced with Mary Balogh before, as well as other authors. So, I was almost afraid to be drawn into the mysteries surrounding Constantine Huxtable, should his book be more of the same, but I had to know what it was that caused strife between him and Elliott, the hero of First Comes Marriage. And in that regard, A Secret Affair satisfies that curiosity…and much more.

I love that Balogh once again plays with assumptions and one’s rumored reputation vs. the truth, as she has done previously in the series, this time with both Con and Hannah. On Con’s part, I loved delving behind the rakish exterior to gain an understanding of his bond with his late brother, Jonathan, the previous Earl of Merton, and as well as the good he has been doing with the less fortunate. I also found it heartbreaking how Con’s ways of going about this cause ended up leading to the estrangement between him and Elliott, as well as seeing the two come to terms with one another.

On Hannah’s part, I liked that we had another bold heroine, even if she isn’t immediately popular with the other Huxtables. In fact, I really enjoyed how it led to something of a moment of accord between her and Cassandra, due to the parallels in the way each of them found their partner, and their respective bad reputations. I also was moved by Hannah’s reflections of her marriage with the Duke of Dunbarton, and how it wasn’t as sordid and mercenary on her part as society made out, but a marriage of mutual benefit and platonic companionship.

The development from the pursuit of passion to the fall into love feels perfect, especially as these two complex people uncover each other’s secrets and become more comfortable in being vulnerable with each other. It also culminates in one of the most beautiful declarations of love and proposals I can remember reading.

This is a wonderful conclusion to a more or less great series that deserves a lot more love and praise. I recommend any historical romance readers who haven’t given it a chance to pick it up, with a note that, while the plot itself is self-contained, this is one where the four books of character and relationship development make Con all the more lovable.

Review of “Seducing an Angel” (Huxtable Quintet #4) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Seducing an Angel. 2009. New York: Dell, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0440244271 | 405 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I don’t remember why I stopped in the middle of Mary Balogh’s Huxtable Quintet, especially since I was just getting to the stories about the characters I was most excited about, but I finally found the time to pick up Seducing an Angel after a long time of wanting to, but never having the time. And it may just be my favorite, for the mere fact that has the perfect execution of one of my favorite (and one of the most maligned) tropes: a role reversal where the heroine seeks out the hero’s company for whatever reason, and where she had a dark past and he’s more squishy and sweet.

But Stephen is. He’s grown up some and had a little experience over the course of the series, but he’s still a sweet and open-hearted man, which I always find refreshing in the sea of broody, seemingly heartless rakes. He’s exactly what Cassandra needs to learn to believe in love again, with his patience and kindness to her.

Balogh never shies away from going to some dark places with her characters’ pasts, and I like that she does this just as much for heroines like Cassandra as she does for heroes in other books. And I truly felt for Cassandra’s circumstances being in an abusive marriage, even if it is one that is sadly a common situation in a time period when women had no rights. And I also liked the question around whether she was truly responsible for his death, and while there seem to be lines that even Balogh won’t cross for the heroes and heroines in her historical romances, I still found the justification for it far outstripped the shame attached to her by society due to the assumption.

I loved this one and will probably be starting Con’s book right away. And while this series isn’t talked about as much as some of Balogh’s others, I personally find it among her best work, and would recommend it to any historical romance fans who have not tried her work yet.

Review of “At Last Comes Love” (Huxtable Quintet #3) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. At Last Comes Love. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24424-0. $6.99 USD. 

5 stars

After being disappointed with Then Comes Seduction, I found myself a bit unsure about continuing, but as Meg was the sister I was most eager to see get her HEA, I chose to give it a chance, even though I had some misgivings upon reading the blurb. And it ended up being leagues better than TCS, and perhaps even better than First Comes Marriage. 

A lot of my happiness with this book had to do with Duncan and what a great hero and person he is. So many heroes have this rake persona that is relatively close to the truth, only to have something more underneath, but Balogh bucks tradition here, presenting someone who, in the eyes of society, is a scoundrel, but in truth was incredibly honorable and compassionate, protecting vulnerable people who weren’t protected under the patriarchal laws of the time. And the reveal of what truly happened is incredibly foreshadowed, and it left me gasping as each individual layer of the past was pulled back.

Meg is also just as wonderful as heroine as I thought she would be, and I found her much more relatable than Katherine, the heroine of the second book, in many of the choices she made. And while we see Balogh bringing together two unlikely people as she often does, she once again manages to convey that they have a bond on a deeper level, and depict their love in a realistic way.

 

Review of “Then Comes Seduction” (Huxtable Quintet #2) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Then Comes Seduction. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24423-3. $6.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

Despite a promising premise, Then Comes Seduction does not provide as much magic as the first book, with a promising premise that was poorly executed. And a major part of where the story falls flat is with the hero and heroine. For the bulk of the book, Katherine is bland and uninteresting, and does not possess the same endearing qualities that made her sister a compelling heroine. While she has her moments of gumption, and she gets props for caring deeply about her family, I did not care find much reason to care about her.

Jasper is slightly better-drawn, especially initially, as some speck of conscience keeps him from following through with his plan to ruin Katherine and win the wager, and later, we see him try his best to be a good brother. But I also found myself rolling my eyes when we find out the “tragic past” that was likely the impetus for his rakish behavior, as it felt cliche and like it had been done before. And the chemistry between Jasper and Katherine feels lacking, especially in comparison to Elliot and Vanessa, and some of Balogh’s other couples.

However, where it fails as a romance, it does work to further develop the story of the Huxtable family. It is incredibly fun to see Con take up a sort of “older brother” role, warning his cousins to stay away from the rakes and reprobates of the ton. And I am eager to see what adventures await the family next, especially as Margaret’s book is next, and she has already sacrificed so much in terms of romance for the sake of her family.

Review of “First Comes Marriage (Huxtable Quintet #1) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. First Comes Marriage. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24422-6. $6.99 USD. 

4.5 stars

I was initially excited to receive this book (and its sequels) from a book club friend,  with the excitement being dimmed somewhat when I made the poor decision to go through some of the poor reviews, one of which paints the hero as an asshole, and points out the number of times both the hero and heroine (and other people) remark on her not being beautiful. But I’m glad I persisted with this one, because, while the remarks on her lack of beauty began to feel like a bit of broken record, I still felt the romance was well-executed, bringing two seemingly ill-matched people together in a way that few authors can do with success.

At most, Elliott is a snob, and my initial assessment of him, especially due to the animosity with his and the Huxtables’ mutual cousin, Constantine, was that of a somewhat Darcy-esque figure, who outwardly has a lot of pride and arrogance, but at the end of the day, does what he feels is right. Given that Constantine does get his own book (and his side of the story is explored to an extent in the prologue) I am curious how that will all pan out.

Although the concept of her lack of beauty is a bit too over-emphasized, I found Vanessa a sympathetic character. Even though we often try to tell ourselves that beauty doesn’t matter, it often does, and back in those times, beauty was among the few assets that women had in order to secure good marriages, and in turn, their livelihood. And once you get past the lack of beauty and focus on her other attributes as Elliott does, you find that she is a very positive person. And in a genre that so often likes to have widows with awful previous husbands, it is nice to have one where she remembers her deceased first husband fondly, while also looking at the different types of love one can feel for different people.