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

Review: Unforgiven

Review: UnforgivenUnforgiven: The Horsemen Trilogy by Mary Balogh
Series: The Horseman Trilogy #2
Published by Signet on July 12th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Oh, I wish I could have liked this book but I ended up being annoyed with the characters lack of communication, continued antipathy toward one another and then how quickly all the past was so neatly resolved.

THE STORY:  Kenneth Woodfall has returned from war to find that the girl he once loved and then hated has just gotten betrothed.  Miss Moira Hayes fell in love with Kenneth and met him secretly until the long running feud between the families flared up again and she could never forgive him. She blames him for the death of her brother.  There is nothing but passion between Kenneth and Moira whether it be love or hate. When a snowstorm forces them to take shelter together, their lives are changed.

OPINION:  I really wanted to like this book after enjoying the first book in the series, but unfortunately, I just got tired of the antipathy between the characters.  Almost the entirety of the book consists of arguments and sometimes outright hatred especially from Moira.  Then at the end, she learns the truth and never acknowledges that she was a jerk. In the same way I expect heroes to grovel when they have been grossly unfair, I expected her to at least admit that she was wrong.  Nope, not here.  For me, when the conflict between the characters is so intense, I believe that it takes more than a couple of pages at the end to completely resolve the conflict.

I think the antipathy from Moira was just too strong during the book so everything else was overwhelmed. Their romantic moments fell flat because of it. Their first sexual encounter was strange and just didn’t work for me.

So what did I like?  I liked Kenneth who I felt was a much more well rounded and likeable character.  Despite Moira’s treatment of him, he was a nice guy most of the time.  I also liked the Romeo and Juliet family dispute part of the story. I also did like how Kenneth and Moira began to work through their relationship to try and have a marriage.  I just felt that the balance between hate and love was off in the entirety of the book.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The heroine has a miscarriage during the book for those who might be sensitive to the topic.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  UNFORGIVEN is the second book in the Horsemen Trilogy.  It takes place concurrently with the events in the first book and can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

two-stars

Review: Only Beloved

Review: Only BelovedOnly Beloved (The Survivors' Club #7) by Mary Balogh
Series: Survivor's Club #7
Published by Signet on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 393
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Surely everyone was entitled to some companionship, some contentment in life even when youth was a thing of the past.”

FINAL DECISION:  Absolutely loved this lovely story of two people who later in life look for companionship and find love beyond what they ever expected.  Balogh managed to finish her Survivor’s Club series in a emotional and redemptive fashion filled with hope and love.

THE STORY:  George Crabb, the Duke of Stanbrook has been widowed for 12 years after his wife committed suicide following the death of their son in the Peninsular Wars.  Now at 48 years old, George is considering marrying again since all his Survivor’s Club friends have found love.  When he thinks of marriage, however, George has only one woman in his mind.  He thinks of Dora Debbins, a woman he met briefly a year ago and still hasn’t forgotten.  He seeks her out and proposes marriage for companionship and friendship.  Dora gave up hope of marrying when a family scandal left her to care for her younger sister.  Dora has made a life for herself as an independent music teacher and yet the possibility of marrying the man she hasn’t been able to get out of her mind is seductively attractive.  As George and Dora think to build a good marriage, they find out that the past which previously robbed them of their happy ending is dangerously close to stealing their happiness again.

OPINION:  I adore how Balogh goes deep into the emotion of her characters.  While there is a storyline plot that moves the action forward, the emphasis in ONLY BELOVED is on the developing relationship between George and Dora.  George and Dora are characters which I fell in love with.  Both had their youthful dreams of love and marriage taken from them, they reached an age when they believed that the possibility of happiness had passed them by.  Instead, each had built a life helping others.  The marriages of all the other Survivor’s Club members prompt George to think about Dora again and wonder if they might find a measure of companionship, friendship and happiness together. What he knows is that he cannot love — that possibility having been burned out of him by his first marriage.

As Dora and George so obviously fall in love, there is immense sadness that these two people believe that their lives lack the possibility and hope of love.  As they reveal themselves to one another, they discover that love exists for everyone.  I love how the story develops with a maturity and yet a joyful discovery between these two people.  This story demands patience and a willingness to allow these characters their journey.  Their story unfolds slowly and patiently but at the perfect pace for these two.

I love the beauty and gentleness of the relationship between Dora and George.  I like that it reflected both their maturity and the newness of falling deeply in love.  They are both wise in the difficulties in life but also neophytes in loving and trusting and building a life together.

I loved this book and as the last book in the series, I was not disappointed.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of the series will be pleased by the appearances and updates on the couples from the series.  Just what you would expect from a concluding book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ONLY BELOVED is the seventh and final book in the Survivor’s Club series.  It can be read as a standalone although I think the book has more emotional meaning at the end of the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars