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 “Someone to Trust” (Westcott #5) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Someone to Trust. New York: Berkley, 2018. MP
Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586101 | 369 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Someone to Trust is another fabulous installment in Mary Balogh’s beautiful Westcott series, bringing love to people who have faced heartache. And it was all the more rewarding, because I had grown to love Elizabeth over the course of the past four books, and hoped that she would someday find someone who would make her happy, given all the heartache she endured at the hands of her first husband.

And I was not disappointed. I love how both she and Colin have been betrayed in their past and have had trust issues with those close to them, and this is what binds them together, in addition to the physical attraction.

I’m also glad we got closure (somewhat) with Colin and Wren’s mother, as the situation was not fully addressed in Someone to Wed. While I would have preferred to see Lady Hodges get her just deserts for the way she treated her children, I can respect that she is their mother and that Colin wins by not giving into her whims.

I would recommend this to fans of historical romance, as there really are few authors who write true and authentic-feeling historical romance better than Mary Balogh.

Review of “The Heart of Christmas” by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

Balogh, Mary, et. al. The Heart of Christmas. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 2009. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0373774272 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

In my continued reading of holiday romances this December, I stumbled on this older anthology that featured reprints of stories from Mary Balogh and Nicola Cornick, and more importantly, an early Harlequin publication from Courtney Milan, an author I’d longed to read, but books on her extensive backlist are surprisingly hard to come by through my normal channels of finding books. And in general, I found a wonderful collection of stories by both new (to me) authors and familiar ones as well.

A Handful of Gold (1998) by Mary Balogh

4.5 stars

This novella surprised me in a number of ways, in that I tend to dislike both rakish heroes and heroines who are courtesans, but both were handled in such a way that I did not have any issues. Despite the shorter length, I liked that Julian genuinely grew over the course of the story. And Verity had the noblest of intentions for making the choices she did, with her family’s survival in mind (something I’m often coming to see is often the case in situations like that, at least in historical romance, as it likely was in real life).

The Season for Suitors (Tallants 3.5, 2005) by Nicola Cornick

3 stars

This one ok, but largely unmemorable, in comparison to the other two. The premise is interesting enough, with Sebastian helping Clara with the virtual plague of other rakes that have been trying to seduce her, but given that I didn’t feel overly connected to either character, there’s not much I can say about it.

His Wicked Gift (Carhart #0.5, 2009) by Courtney Milan

5 stars

This is yet another one with tropes I typically dislike, especially in novellas, that surprisingly endeared itself to me, in that it balanced out the somewhat odd concept of using sex to settle a debt by not only showing that Lavinia and William have genuine feelings for one another, but also not making the power imbalance more uneven than it had to be. I love stories where both the hero and heroine both work for their living, and I love the way it informed William’s slightly negative outlook during the holiday season in particular, and thus making it a new take on what I thought was a tired trope, what with it done endlessly with broody aristocrats and starry-eyed debutantes.

Review of “Someone to Care” (Westcott #4) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Someone to Care. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586088 | 372 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Someone to Care is yet another fabulous installment in a fabulous series. Viola has been through the wringer emotionally since the events that opened up the first book, Someone to Love, and it was wonderful to finally see her get her happy ending.

Viola was already a relatable character in her appearances in the prior books, and I loved getting to know her better from her own perspective. She is still struggling to deal with the fact that everything she once thought had been true of her life for the past twenty-three years had been a lie, and I love how this pain is reckoned with. And it was nice to see her finally do something for herself by running away and engaging in a week or two of passion, after sacrificing everything for a “husband” who ill-used her and children who are grown and no longer depend on her for everything.

While I wasn’t sure about Marcel at first, as he seemed like a strange choice for Viola, given the way she’d been burned, he grew on me as the story progressed. He too has regrets and past demons, leading him to push those he loved away. And ultimately, despite his reputation, he did treat Viola well throughout the book, not to mention the scene where he goes after her at the end is absolutely sweet.

I also love the continuing interplay between the various family members, especially as new family continues to get added to the mix. While I do still think we could benefit from a character guide for the non-Westcott characters that are relevant to each story, in addition to the family tree, Balogh manages to juggle this large cast of characters well, and, while a reader who jumped in in the middle of the series might be a little confused, the developing relationships are a treat for readers of all the books.

I would recommend this book (and series) to fans of sweet, heartfelt historical romances.

Review of “Bespelling Jane Austen” by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, and Janet Mullany

Balogh, Mary, et. al. Bespelling Jane Austen. Don Mills, Ontario: HQN, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-373-77501-9. $14.95 USD. 

Being an Austen purist, I often find the many Austen spinoffs tend to fall into two major categories: the author and/or publisher just slapped her name on the book or brought it up in promotion of the book to draw in sales, but the true Austen “spirit” is lacking, or the author doesn’t make enough changes to make it their own and justify its existence. The middle ground between the two is hard to navigate, but for the most part, Balogh, Gleason, Krinard, and Mullany succeeded in creating wonderful Austen-inspired stories.

“Almost Persuaded” by Mary Balogh

5 stars

It is wonderful to see Mary Balogh try something a bit different, even though she remains within her familiar Regency setting. Hers perhaps has the loosest connections to its source text, in this case Persuasion, as her characters Robert and Jane grapple with the familiar theme of love in the face of societal obstacles that has kept them apart in many previous lifetimes. The story is not without Balogh’s signature heartwarming moments, including the revelation about the events that led up to their deaths in a previous life.

“Northanger Castle” by Colleen Gleason

Colleen Gleason breathes fresh life into Northanger Abbey, with this “vamp-y” take on the story. While I went in with some skepticism as to how the paranormal elements would come into play, given the source material revolves around the heroine’s overactive imagination, I was impressed by how Gleason reworked the concept to fit into a world where vampires exist. It was a delight to see how Caroline jumped to ridiculous conclusions about everything, and while she is definitely right to be suspicious about the elusive Lord R/Mr. Blanchard (she alternately calls him Lord Ruthven and Lord Rude prior to being properly introduced), the circumstances are of course not as she expected. I like how, while it does play with some of the familiar characters from the source material, there are still surprises to be had, especially in regard to the vampire element.

“Blood and Prejudice” by Susan Krinard

5 stars

Susan Krinard captures and reworks Austen’s wit to a tee in her spinoff of Pride and Prejudice, from its giggle-worthy spin on the infamous opening sentence (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that every decent straight guy who isn’t dead broke, is in want of a good woman,” 175) to the perfect adaptation of every character’s voice to the other creative nods to the source material. But my favorite part was the reworking of Darcy into a vampire, amplifying some of the dark, broody alpha traits with some of the trends started by later authors, while keeping the essence of him as a character intact.

“Little to Hex Her” by Janet Mullany

2.5 stars

I have mixed opinions on this one, as I loved the overall concept of Mullany’s story, but Emma has always been my least favorite Austen book, so the bulk of what I disliked is due to the characters in this one. Like the other works in the anthology, I did enjoy the way Mullany tied in concepts from the original, the world she built full of supernatural creatures, and the entertaining prose, sounding like how I thought a modern Emma would “speak.” However, considering it is a romance, I found that aspect weak. I did not feel the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, and she also has a sexual encounter with Frank at one point. Regardless of time period, I find it off-putting if either the hero or heroine has another sexual partner at such a late stage in the story, which given the length of the novella, I felt this was.

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 “Only Beloved” (Survivors’ Club #7) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Only Beloved. New York: Signet, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-451-47778-1. $7.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

After becoming reinvigorated with this series again, I was excited for this book. Unfortunately, this proved to be an underwhelming conclusion to a series I had mostly loved.

There was nothing wrong with either of the leads. I liked George and Dora, and there were a lot of moments that I did like when it came to developing the relationship. It is refreshing to see two older people find love amid  a sea of books about younger people, and the relationship for the most part is executed realistically.

However, I feel the book did not have enough going on in it to flesh out a to a full novel, or at least not as long as it was. It is pleasant to see how all the Survivors ended up in the epilogue, with the story of their group ending on a happy note, but I felt that the story  could have been compressed into a much shorter book. The most interesting moments pertain to both Dora and George’s respective pasts, with highlights being Dora building a relationship with her mother, a plot point originally begun in her sister’s book Only Enchanting, and George’s contentious relationship with his former brother-in-law. While seeing each of  these plot threads come to conclusion is satisfying, once these issues are resolved, the story inexplicably continues to go on for almost seventy more pages, losing any momentum that it had.

Review of “Only a Kiss” (Survivors’ Club #6) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Only a Kiss. New York: Signet, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-451-46968-7. $7.99 USD. 

4 stars

I had read the first five books in the Survivors’ Club series over a year ago, but for some reason, I had not moved on to read Only a Kiss. And that was likely due in part to the seemingly incongruous match between an irresponsible rake and a “marble woman” (as Percy refers to Imogen several times, especially at the beginning). But if anyone can pull off a match between perceived opposites, it’s Mary Balogh, and she blew me away when I worked my way through the somewhat slow beginning and got to the “meat” of the story.

I like that, once they stop bickering and misjudging each other, Percy and Imogen develop a relationship that I rooted for, as over time you saw them expose their more vulnerable sides to each other, and how Percy treats Imogen with respect and concern, not as “just another mistress.” And from the first book, I was curious as to what could have led Imogen to her present state as she was throughout the series, given I did not know a lot about the roles wives of officers played during the war, and when the true extent of her mental injury was revealed, I felt for her, as well as marveling at how Balogh managed to foreshadow what happened to her, and keep readers guessing.

It does, however, suffer from  “too many minor characters” syndrome. Aside from an obligatory mention of Balogh’s infamous Bedwyn family  and reappearances from the other Survivors, most of these characters are new people, either relatives and friends of Percy and/or Imogen or parish residents, and I found it hard to really care about any of them, and they were hard to keep track of at times, especially when it came to understanding some of the intricacies of the relationships among these people. However, this does not detract overmuch from a truly wonderful and original story.

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.