SLIDER

My Mary Balogh Binge


It was only a little over a year ago that I read my first historical romance novel, but I've certainly made up for it in the time since. I devoured almost all of Anne Gracie's backlist, and then I let my friends recommend some other books/series for me to try. But I have a recent favorite author that I found all on my own: Mary Balogh. It started when I fell in love with the covers for her Westcott series. The series explores how a family responds to a devastating secret that's unearthed in the wake of their patriarch's death. I liked the first book, but the second sold me on the series – and the third book sold me author. I knew I was going to have to scope out her backlist! 

Balogh is a prolific writer, so I had a lot of options. But something about the Survivors' Club series appealed to me, so I started there. The series focuses on a group of six men and one woman who are all wounded (some physically, all mentally/emotionally) during the Napoleonic Wars and end up recovering together. The experience bonds them together, and they meet up for a few weeks every year to maintain their friendship. I loved the premise and was excited to see if it lived up to my expectations! When I finished the seventh (and last) book less than a week after I started the first, I knew I wanted to write about my series binge in a longer-than-normal post.

Before I begin, here's one random thing worth noting: I'm using the UK covers for the first three books in the series, which are also the editions I bought for myself, because the US covers are awful. I honestly never would have picked up this series if it wasn't for Balogh's name on them. Just imagine me saying "I KNOW, RIGHT?!" to your horrified face when you first see them. And now, let's proceed!

The first book in the series, The Proposal, was actually my least favorite. I liked Lord Tretham and Lady Muir individually, but I was never invested in their relationship together. Their instant attraction was fine, but then they were supposedly experiencing deep feelings for one another quickly. And I just didn't buy it. Their conversations were awkward, and their actions were puzzling. A lackluster romance was made worse by the slow pace and boring plot. I was So Okay With It overall, but if this was my first read from this author, I wouldn't have continued the series. (And honestly, I'd probably tell people to skip this book when starting the series.)

Thankfully, I knew Balogh was capable of more and was impressed by one thing about the book: the introduction of this group of survivors and the friendship they formed. Though it might not be historically accurate, I loved the book's focus on mental and emotional health. These individuals have been through something traumatic, and I loved the importance given to recovery and healing. Because of my investment in the group as a whole, I continued on to the second book...

As soon as I started The Arrangement, I knew I was in for a treat. Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, was blinded during the war, and he's allowed his family to treat him as an invalid in the years since. He's handsome, intelligent and has a great sense of humor – if only he could reclaim his independence. Miss Sophia Fry is small, plain and shy, but she's got so much hiding beneath the surface. I loved almost everything about this book, and I know that's largely due to the fact that the characters stole my heart. I adored how Vincent helped Sophia find her confidence and how she empowered him to do things for himself.

I was immediately invested in their relationship, and that's partly because I love the marriage of convenience trope. And it was just so well done here! Both characters are such sweethearts, and watching them grow so much together? FEELS. Balogh's books tend to be very character driven, which is one reason I love them when I'm connected to the characters (and find them boring if I'm not). In this case, I though the plot moved along nicely and hit all the right emotional notes. I So Loved It.

Then, it was time for The Escape. After the death of her husband, Samantha McKay flees to Wales to claim a house she's inherited and flee her oppressive in laws. Although they aren't exactly friends, Sir Benedict Harper offers to escort her so that she isn't traveling alone. It's not entirely proper, but he doesn't know what else to do. I loved the road trip aspect of the story – and couldn't wait to see what Samantha would find in Wales. It didn't disappoint! 

Benedict's legs were badly injured in the war, and it's miracle that he's able to use them at all. Additionally, they're both dealing with deep emotional scars from their pasts. I really appreciated that the book didn't imply that they could just magically heal one another through love. I loved seeing them work through things on their own and embrace a new and unexpected vision for their future. My only quibble is that it takes them just a bit too long to admit their feelings for one another, but that's pretty minor. This story is slow and there isn't a lot going on action-wise, but it just worked for me. Overall, I So Enjoyed It and was excited to continue on to the next book.

I wasn't sure what to expect from Only Enchanting. Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, is an incredibly cynical and guarded man. He's not your average historical romance hero, at least from what I've read so far, because he has this air of flippant disregard. But oh, there's so much he's hiding behind that façade! His brain was damaged in the war, and he now stutters and suffers from memory loss. Agnes Keeping is a widow who has no desire for passion and strong emotion. After seeing how love wrecked her family, she only ever wanted a marriage that was safe and sensible. Of course, Flavian seems to be the exact opposite of that...

Though their feelings for one another seemed a little too instant for me, they were earned by the end of the book. I enjoyed the slow reveal of what happened in Flavian's past, especially since it involved a villain that I loved being able to hate. Also, the characters get married about halfway through the book, and it was nice that so much of the story dealt with what comes next. A wedding doesn't make everything "happily ever after," and it was refreshing to explore that fact. I So Enjoyed It!

I'll be honest and admit that I read the summary for Only a Promise and couldn't remember the hero, even though I'd just finished the first four books in the series. Ralph Stockwood was overshadowed by the more dynamic Survivors, and I never came to fully love him. The heroine, however, was incredible! After two Seasons in London ended in disaster, Chloe Muirhead believes she's destined for spinsterhood. But Ralph needs a wife, so Chloe does the unthinkable: she proposes.

I'm a sucker for marriages of convenience, so I was hooked on the premise. Ralph is depressed, grieving the loss of his best friends during the war and feeling responsible for their deaths. His grief sometimes felt self-indulgent and made him cold and distant with the heroine, so I wasn't quite as invested in the romance. He grew on me by the end, but I think it's just because Chloe loved him. She was the highlight of the book for me! I wanted all the good things for her sweet self, and she's the main reason I'd say I So Enjoyed It (since I did debate a Liked It rating).

I'd been eagerly awaiting Only a Kiss because the heroine is the only female Survivor. Imogen, Lady Barclay, witnessed the death of her husband during the war and has remained mostly secluded in their home in Cornwall. When the new Earl, Percival Hayes, comes to visit his estate, he's in for a rude awakening. Expecting a ruined heap, he's shocked to discover it's inhabited by three women – and a large variety of stray animals.

When the hero was first introduced, I couldn't imagine how he made sense with the heroine. He's bored with his life and seems to have no real sense of purpose. But don't worry... that all changes. Imogen and Percival take an instant dislike to one another, and I will forever be a sucker for hate-to-love romances. And y'all this one totally delivered on the feels for me. I cried so much at one point and have already re-read a few scenes over again because I just wasn't ready to move on.  And that's why I think I'd give this book my So Obsessed With It rating – because it's been a few weeks and I'm still thinking about this couple. Plus, it's rare that I cry in books so it got extra points for that, too! I thoroughly enjoyed the series overall, but this is the book I'm most likely to re-read.

Before I knew it, I was picking up the final book in the series. I was the least excited for Only Beloved, but it's partly because it involves an older couple. And I know that I'm a terrible person for feeling that way, so you don't need to tell me. The Duke of Stanbrook is the man responsible for the Survivors Club because it was his home that brought everyone together. He didn't fight in the war, though he did lose his son during it, so he always felt like an outsider in the group for me. But I was excited when I realized that the heroine was Agnes' sister, Dora, from Only Enchanting. I couldn't wait for her to find love!

Although I liked it a little more than The Proposal, this was definitely one of the weakest books in the series for me. I can appreciate how the desire for a companion in life would motivate the Duke to seek out a wife, but it made the romance more boring for me. There are some Gothic, sinister vibes to the story, too, which I didn't love either. And I got frustrated by the lack of honest communication! The ending was sweet because it brought everyone back together, which I loved, so that at least helped the series close on a high note for me. I think I So Liked It, but I'd probably only re-read the epilogue.

And just like that, I finished this seven-book series! I don't think Balogh will appeal to every historical romance reader, but her style definitely works for me. I love the air of quiet domesticity, the way there's rarely anything super dramatic or outlandish happening in the plots, and how the characters' internal struggles drive much of what happens. It does make them somewhat slower reads from a pacing standpoint, but it doesn't bother me when I'm invested in the characters. They are romances, but it's easy for me to just skip over the sex scenes because they don't dominate the story. There's so much character development in these books, and the emotion is so earned by the end! SWOON.

What should I read next in my Balogh binge?

1 comment

  1. Love your Balogh love. Comfort reading is highly underrated. Can I suggest Summer to Remember. I think a couple of characters from the more recent novels appear but it is a lovely stand alone book. So much fun but sad and Lauren wins you over.

    ReplyDelete

© So Obsessed With • Theme by Maira G.