Review: Someone to Care

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Someone to CareSomeone to Care (Westcott, #4) by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #4
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I loved this serious and mature romance between two people in their forties getting a second chance at a love that was impossible before. Balogh is a marvel at these slow developing love stories.

THE STORY: Two years after the death of the Earl of Riverdale, his family has adjusted to their changed circumstances. Except that at what should be a joyful moment, the woman who was unhappily “married” for over twenty years only to find out her marriage was illegal feels everything overwhelming her. Viola flees her family and friends intending to return home. On the way, however, she meets Marcel Lamarr. Years ago, the two had a flirtation that Viola would not pursue because she was married. Marcel is a rake, but when the two meet again, Marcel intends to finally get the woman who got away.

OPINION: I loved this book. I loved that Marc and Viola are mature characters compared to the normal heroes and heroines in historicals. They are in their early 40s and its nice to see that their story isn’t locked into a typical mature story.

Marc and Viola demonstrate that even when having adult children, a person can want to escape, to be alive and have passion and even a bit irresponsible. Even more interesting to me, these characters have pasts filled with mistakes. And their romance doesn’t go smoothly at all.

Marc is a man running from his responsibilities. He was devastated by the death of his wife, he removed himself from his children and instead lived a life of a irresponsible rake. Afraid of love, filled with grief and guilt, Marc doesn’t know how to connect to the very thing he truly wants.

Viola did everything she was supposed to do. She obeyed her father when he contracted a marriage for her. She was faithful to a man who gave nothing to her but children. Always proper, always respectable, she was horribly betrayed when she discovered that her husband was actually a bigamist and she was no wife at all.

A chance encounter between the two and the memory of the time years ago when they felt an attraction to one another brings Marc and Viola together. Viola is willing to throw off all the years of being responsible. Balance would require that eventually Marc but toss off all the years of being irresponsible. The question for most of the book is whether the two can find their way to balance.

I loved these two. Their journey is serious and takes time. I really love the Balogh romances which allow the characters time to breathe in their relationship. The story has an interesting balance where there is an initial and hot part and then the growth and chance for these characters is allowed to take the time it needs to be real and lasting.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book turns the events of the “normal” romance novel on their head with things happening in a different order than I normally expect.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SOMEONE TO CARE is the fourth book in the Westcott series. The romance is self-contained, but I believe the book is better having read the others in the series because it gives understanding to Viola’s state of mind.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to prepare this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: A Matter of Class

Review: A Matter of ClassA Matter of Class by Mary Balogh
Published by Carroll & Graf on December 7th 2010
Genres: Historical
Pages: 186
Goodreads
five-stars

FINAL DECISION: Don’t read spoilers for this book. Yes, there is a gimmick to it, but it is a successful one and I enjoyed the stories of this arranged marriage very much.

THE STORY: Raised and educated to be a gentleman by his rich coal mining father, Reginald Mason has become accustomed to gambling and overspending as many of the ton do. His father decides to settle him with a marriage. When the opportunity arises for social advancement by contracting a marriage with a ruined aristocratic daughter, Reggie concedes to his father’s demands. Annabelle Ashton ran off with a servant and now must marry. When her father arranges the marriage with the son of his longtime enemy, Annabelle has no choice but agree.

OPINION: This is a book where the less said about its content the better. The story is unique and very unexpected. There are lots of surprises and secrets in this book. A reader who is willing to take an adventure of a well constructed story will appreciate this book.

Reading the spoilers will diminish the power of this book. The book isn’t long and doesn’t ask for a big commitment, but it is certainly memorable.

I enjoyed the interaction between Reggie and Annabelle. The banter and interaction between them makes this book a wonderful reading experience.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a shorter novel which works well with the story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A MATTER OF CLASS is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Someone to Wed

Review: Someone to WedSomeone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #3
Published by Berkley on November 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“I am twenty-nine years old, very nearly thirty, and I would like . . . someone to wed. In my own person I am not marriageable, but I do have money. And you do not.”

FINAL DECISION: Absolutely lovely story. This is my favorite of the series so far as the heroine and hero have such a wonderfully adult relationship. Wren is a woman who has been damaged by her past and Alex recognizes and eventually comes to embrace and finally help her free herself.

THE STORY: Alexander Westcott unexpectedly becomes the Earl of Riverdale when his cousins are found to be illegitimate, but while he gets the title and the entailed estates, he doesn’t inherit any money needed to maintain the properties. As such, he finds himself needing to marry an heiress. Wren Heyden has been a recluse for most of her life, but upon the death of her aunt and uncle wants marriage and children no matter how unlikely. Knowing that she can never hope to obtain a husband in the usual manner, she decides the buy a husband. Propositioning Alex, Wren is surprised that Alex will not agree unless there is something more than money between them. Getting to know and build at least respect and care between them challenges them both.

OPINION: Sometimes there are books that I just fall into. As I read, everything just acts to pull me into the story and I am surprised when the book ends. This was one of those books. There was nothing particularly dramatic, but word by word, page by page, I became absorbed in Alex and Wren’s story.

The story asks for a commitment from the reader as the romance between these two isn’t love at first site, but rather a slow building of the connections and emotions and eventually great love between these two. This book is the example of how two strangers fall deeply in love.

Alex is a wonderful hero. While surprise inheritance of the title is something that most people would be rejoicing, Alex keenly feels the family pain which caused his inheritance but also the new responsibilities that he has acquired. He is a man who cares and while he knows that his marital choices are limited because he must marry a a fortune, he is unwilling to be mercenary and just be concerned about money. I also greatly admire that he is unwilling to lie to Wren. He is compassionate but also he it truthful about her issues.

Wren is a heroine that I loved. Despite the great pain in her past and her conviction that her appearance makes her unworthy of having a “normal” life, she has managed to be successful and build a life for herself. Her interactions with Alex begin to break her out of her protective shell. Alex recognizes almost immediately that she is walled off in pain when they first meet and that repels him. But her willingness to take chances both brings her closer to Alex and also her dreams.

One other thing I really liked about this story is the “deep secret” from Wren’s childhood is not what is commonly used in romance novels. Both more heartbreaking and also something different.

There was nothing I didn’t like about this book except that it ended. I feel more and more in love with this story as it developed. This is a book I look forward to reading again.

WORTH MENTIONING: I can’t wait until the next book because Balogh is fabulous at mature adult romances.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SOMEONE TO WED is the third book in the Westcott series. This book has overlapping characters, but this book can be read on its own. I think it is better to read the other books first, but this story is really self-contained.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Someone to Hold

Review: Someone to HoldSomeone to Hold (Westcott, #2) by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #2
Published by Berkley Books on February 7th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 379
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Mary Balogh never shies away from difficult romances. With a heroine who is unsympathetic in the first book in the series, I was amazed that I, like the hero, was able to see both sides of the story and fall in love.

THE STORY: Camille Westcott’s world has fallen apart. It has been revealed that her father entered into a bigamous marriage with her mother and although raised as Lady Camille, it turns out that Camilla and her brother and sister are illegitimate and that Camilla has a legitimate older sister who unexpectedly inherits. This turn of fortune has left Camille not knowing who she is and who she will be. Residing in Bath with her grandmother, Camille decides to take a job as a teacher at the orphanage where her sister had been raised and herself was a teacher. At the orphanage, Camille meets Joel Cunningham, a dear friend of Camille’s older sister and a man inclined to dislike the cold Camille. Joel, however, discovers that there are two sides to every story and that Camille is a woman with many facets.

OPINION: Balogh has a wonderful way of taking flawed human characters and allowing the readers to understand and love them. Camille is a character that appears cold and haughty and just so nasty in the first book. This book takes its time revealing her character (as Joel discovers her) and allowing everyone to understand her actions and also to allow her to grow and change. This book, like many others written by Balogh, challenge the readers to fall in love with the characters. There is a call for understanding and compassion for the imperfection of the human spirit.

Joel is a man who is confounded to realize that as the story progresses he can sympathize with both his old friend and Camille — even as Camille and her sister are in conflict. If he can understand and fall for Camille, who is the reader to hold her prior behavior against her? Joel has his own journey in this book as he grew up in the orphanage and is ignorant of his origins. His discovers serve as a counterpoint to Camille’s own journey.

Readers who have explored Balogh’s books before will find familiar ground. There are no huge dramatic moments in this book. This is a deliberate journey through the self-discovery of the main characters. The intense focus on the personal allows the reader to truly understand these characters.

I started out not expecting to like this book (one reason that I delayed for months in reading it), but I ended up really enjoying these characters and their journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: I love all the characters in the Westcott series. We get to see just about everyone and get an update on what is going on in their lives.

CONNECTED BOOKS: SOMEONE TO HOLD is the second book in the Westcott series. While the romance is self-contained in this book, I think the relationships between all the relevant characters is better understood if the first book in the series is read first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight Bend

Review: Holiday Heat: the Men of Starlight BendHoliday Heat: The Men of Starlight Bend by Jennifer Ashley, Jennifer Probst, Erin Quinn, Calista Fox, Mary Leo
Series: Riding Hard #3.5
on November 8th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 241
Goodreads
four-stars

This is an anthology of 5 novellas which all take place in the small town of Starlight Bend.  They are connected only by the setting, a special Santa and a town Wishing Tree for needy children.

SNOWBOUND IN STARLIGHT BEND by Jennifer Ashley: In this city girl/country boy story, Haley McKee is a CEO from Seattle who ends up stranded in Starlight Bend during a snowstorm. Maddox Campbell rescues her. Maddox is a horse trainer of stunt horses (he provides them to his cousins in Texas — the Riding Hard series Campbells). Maddox has been hurt before by a woman who wouldn’t stay in Starlight Bend and it looks like history might be repeating itself. This was a good story.  Maddox is a good man who has a crusty exterior and a heart of mush.  Haley is a woman who has made a name for herself, but doesn’t have a real purpose to her life. The two are funny and spirited together. This was a very enjoyable tale of two mismatched people.  My only complaint is that I wish there was some view of what their life ultimately would be like because it is hard to figure out how Haley will be happy in town outside of her relationship with Maddox.  Rating: 4 stars.

THE LONG GONE GIRL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Erin Quinn: Kari Dale is a burned out wanderer who co-owns a chain of men’s clothing stores. She has come to Starlight Bend to open a new store and then intends to move on. Tyler Timberlake is a high school history teacher who was born in Starlight Bend, left to pursue bigger dreams, but ended up returning to his hometown to find purpose. This story was good.  The themes of home versus leaving, dreams versus love are well developed in various levels. Kari and Ty are sweet and hot together. I loved the complexity of this story. Rating: 4 stars.

HIS ANGEL OF STARLIGHT BEND by Calista Fox: Dr. Anna Voss is vet in Starlight Bend. One day a boy named Jake comes to her office interested in the animals.  It turns out Jake’s father is the man that Anna loved as a young woman and has never forgotten. Dr. Nicholas Hoffman is a neurosurgeon from New York. He spent time with his grandmother in Starlight Bend but eventually left the town and Anna. The two have loved one another and yet their lives have always seemed to be going in different directions. This was one of my favorite stories of the anthology. These two seem destined to both love one another and be apart. I loved that the story showed that love alone is not enough and being together takes will and determination. Rating: 4.5 stars.

ROPIN’ THE LONE COWBOY OF STARLIGHT BEND by Mary Leo: Jolie Shepard has come to Starlight Bend no knowing what she should do with her life. She’s from Las Vegas and hasn’t connected with a career or a purpose in her life. She meets Red Wiseman when Jolie and Red are both choosing a wish from the Wishing Tree. Red is a man grounded deeply in Starlight Bend where he raises horses and gives riding lessons. The characters in this story were nice (especially Red) but I found Jolie very immature for her age. I have a hard time seeing how things would work out for these two long term, but the story was nice.  Rating: 3 stars.

THE GRINCH OF STARLIGHT BEND BY Jennifer Probst:  Noah Elliott was a generous angel to the community of Starlight Bend until an accident shattered his body and his faith in his fellow man.  He became the Grinch of the town and hides away in his mansion. Josephine “Joey” Whitman is a social worker who chooses a wish from the town Wishing Tree and is determined to make the child’s dream of a carnival happen even if it means bearding the den of the Grinch.  I loved the sweet redemption of this story which had a definite Beauty and the Beast vibe along with the Grinch story. Noah is a man who is looking for someone to redeem his faith in humanity and Joey is the woman who heals his heart.  Sweet and a good conclusion to the anthology.  Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Someone to Love

Review: Someone to LoveSomeone to Love (Westcott, #1) by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #1
Published by Signet on November 8th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Enjoyable slow burn romance.  The hero is such a kind person and his connection with the heroine lacks unnecessary drama.  I liked that these are truly kind people.

THE STORY:  Anna Snow grew up in an orphanage knowing nothing about her parents. Then she discovers that her father was actually the Earl of Riverdale, who recently died.  Even more surprising, it is revealed that Anna was actually the earl’s only legitimate offspring due to a hidden marriage and that his “legitimate” children are not legitimate at all.  Anna has inherited the entire estate of her father much to the dismay of her half-siblings.  Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby, is a relative by marriage to the Westcotts who are in disarray after the revelations regarding Anna.  Avery is intrigued by Anna and her evolution to a lady.

OPINION:  I am a big fan of Balogh’s slow burn romances.  Her characters often have mature and unorthodox relationships. What I loved most about this book is that Anna and Avery are both kind.

Avery is a man who has made a facade for himself to mask his perceived weaknesses.  He is a quiet man, and I absolutely loved that he likes Anna from the beginning and doesn’t want her to change to become the stereotypical society lady. He loves seeing how she is an original. His support for Anna without taking a position on what she should do is deeply attractive.

Anna (aka Anastasia) is a good person. I just adored her when her reaction to finding out about her inheritance is dismay.  She would much prefer a family to money. Her efforts to build relationships demonstrate her gentle and kind nature.

These two people are so nicely matched.  The drama in the story really concerns all the disarray the family is sent into when Anna’s existence becomes known. Her recreation of her own identity is the focus of the book along with the romance.

I love the quiet romance present in this book.  The characters fall in love day by day, minute by minute. Their relation to one another is based on respect and honesty.

My one complaint is that the lack of any conflict between Anna and Avery makes their story resolved too quickly, but the story is worth it anyway.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book introduces lots of characters who have intriguing stories to tell.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEONE TO LOVE is the first book Westcott series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: A Masked Deception

Review: A Masked DeceptionA Masked Deception by Mary Balogh
Published by Class eBook Editions Ltd. on July 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 224
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  I really enjoyed the concept of this book and Balogh’s characters are always complex and imperfect.  My only complaint is that I just could not suspend disbelief that a husband would not recognize his “mystery” woman as his wife.  Putting that aside, I thought this was a very intriguing book.

THE STORY:  Margaret Wells has loved Richard Adair, Earl of Brampton for years, but he has paid no attention to the quiet, mousey woman.  But the time has come for Richard to marry and he figures that Margaret will do well as his wife and not interfere too much with his life.  As the two settle into a quiet, if dull, marriage, Margaret cannot help but wish for the passion involved in her greatest secret.  Six years ago, Margaret met up with Richard at a masquerade ball.  While she was unrecognizable, she flirted and Richard was attracted.  The two shared a passionate kiss that hasn’t appeared in their marriage.  Desperate to change something, Margaret again dons her costume and ends up having an affair with her own husband.

OPINION:  This is a complicated book. Richard is dismissive of Margaret in the beginning of the book and frankly acts like a jerk for a good portion.  But Balogh doesn’t disappoint.  Richard reluctantly begins to fall in love with his gentle wife.  It is difficult to like Richard because he openly commits adultery, but Balogh’s characters are imperfect.  I enjoyed the progression Richard makes — although I think he should have had to confess his transgressions to his wife.

The reason Richard works for me is because Margaret is also an imperfect mistake prone individual.  She won’t speak up for herself and rather than speaking with her husband concocts a crazy disguise to rediscover the passion she knows is missing from her marriage.

I found this book enjoyable but I didn’t like that Richard commits adultery and never has to admit to it.

WORTH MENTIONING: Content warning that this book contains adultery.  This book is also a reissue of a 1980s book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A MASKED DECEPTION is a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: The Double Wager

Review: The Double WagerThe Double Wager by Mary Balogh
Published by Class eBook Editions Ltd. on August 23rd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 224
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION:  I went back and forth on this one. At times I loved the story, especially the hero and the secondary characters. The heroine seriously annoyed me at times, but then I liked how her and hero came together. Mixed bag that ended well.

THE STORY: Miss Henrietta “Henry” Tallant is a tomboy who has spent most of her life with her brothers and his friends disdaining the “feminine arts”.  Now to be brought out into society, her brother and his friends believe that Henry will be a failure.  Indeed, they bet her that she cannot get a marriage proposal in six weeks from the unattainable Duke of Eversleigh.  At the same time, the duke who was determined never to marry has been thinking about obtaining an heir.  Disbelieving, his friends wager that he won’t make a marriage offer in a month.  Then Henry and the duke run into one another.

OPINION:  I loved almost everything about this book.  The hero is adorable.  He is quiet and supportive and caring.  The supporting cast of the heroine’s family are funny and irreverent.

The heroine, on the other hand, drove me crazy.  Her immature behavior causes all the problems in this book.  Her inability to be reasonable, to see reality as other see it and her jumping to conclusions made me annoyed for significant portions of the book.  But then, I would see her youth and how much she cares for others and I would like the story again.

It’s hard for me to give a good rating for a book where I had a problem with the heroine, but on the whole, this book was worth reading.

The premise was cute and executed in an interesting and unexpected way.  I loved, loved, loved the hero who persevered despite Henry’s nutty behavior.  He was kind and generous and worked to help her despite herself. He cared for her because of who she was even when she rejected him based on no evidence at all. Henry’s younger siblings were cute and how they operated to be the spies who helped their older sister lightened the mood of the story.

Mary Balogh has such and intriguing quiet way of writing.  I love how the characters flaws and all find love while accepting and even celebrating their flaws.  No magic solutions here.

WORTH MENTIONING:  THE DOUBLE WAGER was originally published in the mid-1980s.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DOUBLE WAGER is a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

Review: Once Upon a Dream

Review: Once Upon a DreamOnce Upon A Dream by Mary Balogh, Grace Burrowes
Series: Bedwyn Saga #6.5
on April 12th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 193
Goodreads
four-stars

ONCE UPON A DREAM consists of two separate and unconnected stories.

ANOTHER DREAM by Mary Balogh is the story of Eleanor Thompson an independent woman of almost forty. On the way to visit her sister, the Duchess of Bewcastle, she is forced to seek shelter at an inn because of the weather.  There she meets Michael Benning, Earl of Staunton and his two precocious children.  These two mature adults find sweet platonic companionship with one another but never expect to meet again.  When they do, at Eleanor’s sister’s home, they discover that Michael’s children already have plans for Eleanor to be their new mother.

This story was reserved and sweet.  It is book 6.5 in the Bedwyn series and, for me, the best part was seeing all my favorite characters from that series again.  The relationship between Eleanor and Michael was not complicated and they are rather reserved characters, but I enjoyed their romance because it wrapped up some lose ends from the series and I like that these more mature characters also get their happy ending. The children in this story are simply adorable as well.

Rating: 4 stars.

DUKE OF MY DREAMS by Grace Burrowes is the story of a banker’s daughter Anne Faraday who ends up at a house party with Elias, Duke of Sedgemere.  Sedgemere has been attracted to the prickly Anne but she has gently rebuffed him.  She knows that she is not the match for the stoic duke.  During the house party, however, with a duke determined to woo, three irrepressible children and one duck, Elias and Anne find that there is more to them than the duke and the banker’s daughter.  I really enjoyed this story especially as it kept a mystery why Anne was so determined to refuse Elias’s completely proper proposals.  Their relationship was sweet and gentle, but Anne is strong and loving.  I love how she cracks the shell of Elias.

The story is connected to “May I Have This Duke” in DANCING IN THE DUKE’S ARMS.

Rating: 4 Stars

four-stars

Review: Irresistible

Review: IrresistibleIrresistible (Horsemen Trilogy, #3) by Mary Balogh
Series: Horsemen Trilogy #3
Published by Berkley Books on October 2nd 2007
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  This book was just okay. I enjoyed most of the relationship and story but I couldn’t relate how Sophie reacted to being blackmailed.  Her irrational behavior just bothered me throughout.

THE STORY:  Mrs. Sophia Armitage, as the wife of an officer, followed the drum during the war became the friend of the Four Horsemen. Now a widow, Sophie resides in London and for the first time in three years, meets up with Nathaniel Gascoigne — a man that even a respectable wife could admire.  Now an opportunity for a special kind of friendship between the two arises and both are surprised by the intense passion that arises. Their fledgling relationship is threatened by the fact that Sophie has a secret — she is being blackmailed.

OPINION:  I liked how this book developed in the relationship between Nathaniel and Sophie. Two adults who want physical companionship begin to develop an emotional connection that they didn’t expect. They were sweet together and I liked them.

Unfortunately, the blackmail plot drove most of the action in the story.  Because of that Sophie’s continuing actions in giving in to the blackmail began to wear on me.  Not because I didn’t understand that she was afraid and wanting to be independent and used to hiding.  What I expected was that once the blackmail was revealed that she would gain a stronger emotional connection with Nathaniel by admitting her fears and anger. Instead, the story fell flat emotionally for me at that point.

I’m a big fan of Mary Balogh especially her restrained emotional intensity but I think this book was too emotionally restrained for me. On the other hand, I loved the ending where Nathaniel confesses his love for Sophie.  I thought that moment was almost perfect.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of the series will know that there are four horsemen and thankfully although there are only three books, the fourth horseman gets his HEA in a secondary romance in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  IRRESISTIBLE is the third and final book of the Horseman Trilogy. It takes place 2 years after the events in the first two books in the series.  Although characters from those books appear, this book does not rely on those books at all and thus it can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars