‘The Escape’ by Mary Balogh

mb teSTORY: After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.

Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

REVIEW: At its annual meeting of the Survivors’ Club, the seven members have gathered together to revive their friendships and encourage one another toward full recovery and/or acceptance of the wounds and disabilities they received in the Napoleonic wars. One of their members, Sir Benedict Harper, works very hard to walk with the use of two crutches. His injuries have left him with devastating injuries to his legs. While it is a painful and slow process, his determination has helped him to succeed to this point.

Samantha McKay is the widow of Captain Matthew McKay and living at her home, Bramble Hall in County Durham. Only a short time married, her husband was sent to war only to return with disastrous injuries that left him bed-ridden and in pain for five years before he mercifully passed away. During those years, Samantha faithfully nursed him. Now, her prudish sister-in-law, Matilda, is living with her to reinforce her father-in-law’s strict rules of how a widow should live. But Samantha wants fresh air and some light much to the anger of Matilda.

When Benedict arrives in County Durham to take the air, he meets up with Samantha when he nearly runs her over while jumping a shrub with his horse. As they get to know one another, he has tea with her and she sees him at church all to the chagrin of Matilda. As Samantha has experience gained from nursing her deceased husband, she understands many of the difficulties that Benedict faces. They meet up at the beach and swim together which helps him by taking pressure off his legs and giving his body buoyancy while in the water. As they get to know one another better, they realize a physical attraction that neither of them has known for some time.

Will Samantha be brave enough to defy her in-laws and live her life as she wants and not by their puritanical dictates? What about Benedict? Although a wealthy man in his own right, what path will he choose to provide a satisfying life for himself and perhaps Samantha as well.

This is the third novel in the Survivors trilogy [The Proposal and The Arrangement] and I am looking forward to the rest of the stories with eagerness . These stories are so touching and have that magic touch that only Mary Balogh can do. I hope that readers will make it a point to read them. A good thing is that I don’t think it’s necessary they be read in succession.

FYI: this is from Mary’s website:

Book 4, “Only Enchanting, is due out on October 28, 2014. It is Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby’s story. Flavian sustained bad head wounds during a cavalry battle and suffered long-lasting brain damage. His abilty to think rationally and to speak coherently was greatly impaired, and he has huge memory gaps of which he is unaware. Frustration has made him prone to violent rages.

Book 5, Only a Promise, is due out in May, 2014. It is Ralph Stockwood, Earl of Berwick’s story. Ralph was very severely wounded in battle, but worse than the physical wounds was the fact that he watched his three best friends from school days blown to bits before his eyes–and he blames himself for the fact that they were there. Note that Books 4 and 5 (and probably 6 and 7) will have very different cover concepts than the other three and differently conceived titles too as I move to my new publisher,

Book 6, “Only a Kiss’ (working title–it may change), on which I am currently working, is Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay’s story. Imogen followed the drum and went to the Peninsula with her husband, a reconnaissance officer and a spy. They were captured together and he was tortured before being killed in her presence. She still suffers from the trauma of those events. And that leaves George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook, who brought the other Survivors together when he opened his home as a hospital for severely wounded officers. George was not in the military himself, but his young son was and was killed. His wife committed suicide a month or so later. He is as wounded as the others and must find his own way of surviving and triumphing. His story will be told last in Book 7, which will probably be called Only Beloved.’

Connie for b2b

Complementary copy provided by the publisher

‘The Arrangement’ by Mary Balogh

mb taSTORY: Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

REVIEW: This is the second book in Mary Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series and it is as good as the first one, The ‘Proposal’.

Both leads are written as Beta and I think that’s exactly why this story worked for me. We had Sophia, orphaned at fifteen, bounced around from one family household to the next,and whatever self-esteem she had, it was stifled. Yet she still persevered through her sense of humor and strong character.

Vincent was one of those heroes that were dead gorgeous, but he’s blinded in the war and his family [which consists of all women] is choking him with their ‘love and care’. He loves them all but once they try to ‘arrange’ a marriage for him, he decides to ‘cut and run’ from them for a little while and sort his feelings and life before he puts a stop to their meddling.

He decides to visit a home in the village where he spent his childhood. While there he meets Sophia as she lends him a hand when he finds himself manipulated by her Aunt and a cousin.

The story may not be original but it is solid, gripping and emotional with characters that feel real. Their romance is compelling and passionate. 

Ms. Balogh is a master when it comes to writing strong characters with depth and complexity. Another winner and a keeper.

Melanie for b2b

GIVEAWAY! *US ONLY*

1 Winner/1 print copy

‘The Proposal’ by Mary Balogh

mb tpSTORY: Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.

Hugo is a gentleman in name only: a war hero whose bravery earned him a title, a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. Hugo doesn’t wish to court Gwen, yet he cannot resist her guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face. He wants her, but will she have him?

The dour ex-military officer who so gallantly carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, Hugo captivates her more—with his desire, with his love, and with the promise of forever.

REVIEW: ‘The Proposal’ is an excellent example of two people who have been deeply saddened by loss come together to help one another heal. Both Hugo and Gwendoline have wealth, yet Hugo is a simple man at heart. Together, they find trust, friendship and love.

The humor that Ms. Balogh has added to this novel is essential to the journey to help the couple heal from their pain. I certainly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.

Connie for b2b

MEL’s THOUGHTS: I’m 100% in agreement with Connie. This was a classic Mary Balogh. It was perfection. I honestly don’t know how she does it. She is consistent and I have yet to find anything wrong with her writing. Not that I’m looking.

I eagerly await every book she writes because I know I’m in for a treat and assault on all my senses. I welcome it. I want you to be assaulted, to be enveloped in her prose and her clever plotting.

GIVEAWAY! *US Only*

Which author is consistently giving you pleasure of their work?

1 Winner who has never read Mary Balogh will get 1 print copy! 

Spotlight on Mary Balogh and …

The Web Series

mb tgw‘The Gilded Web’

STORY: All she wanted was to escape the hot, crowded London ballroom. But moments after stepping into the bitterly cold night, she is seized by a pair of strong hands and spirited away. Fully expecting to be ravished, sheltered Alexandra Purnell instead finds herself at the mercy of the man who saved her from certain scandal.

Edmund, Earl of Amberley, is bold and sensual, tempting Alexandra to be reckless for the first time in her life. But as passion ignites, Edmund’s offer of marriage takes Alexandra completely by surprise. Now a woman who craves her freedom above all else is about to discover how far one man will go to protect and possess the woman he loves.

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Mary Balogh and I can safely say that she’s one of my all time favorite authors. She just has this incredible talent of sucking me into the story so deeply that I have a hard time coming up for air.

The Web series had been published awhile back, and it has been on my TBR forever, so it was time I dived in.

After many stories that featured funny, likeable and charming characters that I enjoy reading about, I was ready for some unique, intriguing and complex heroes and heroines to sink my teeth into, and let me tell you, Mary Balogh delivers on all the above in spades.

The first story is Edmunds who is the Earl of Amberley; second one is  one of the twins’ Lord Eden’s, and the third is Lady Madeline’s.

As the eldest and the head of the family, Edmund shoulders a lot, and has been since he inherited the title at nineteen after his father’s unexpected death. He is wise, loving and patient, as well as respectful and caring son and brother. He is brought up in a loving home, by caring parents who were not afraid to foster love in their children, as well as free thinking.

Quite by accident and brought on by his brother, who had best intentions and yet the worst timing, Edmund finds himself in the inconvenient circumstances that require him to offer marriage to our heroine. 

This story is without a doubt character driven and I loved it!

To watch the heroine as she slowly, and I mean very slowly, comes to think for herself and not blindly trust and follow her pious and domineering father was something to behold. I know that many might not have enjoyed her character much just because of that, but I thought it fascinating. The confusion, the  battle within this woman of what her deep, inner self desires and the love for her parents despite their lack of the same for her, was heartbreaking and painful to go through with her.

If you like conflict and struggle of any kind in your love stories, this is a book that will give it to you. It is not a book for the faint of heart, impatient and those that need a quick fix of ‘sugar & spice, and everything nice’.

I have deep respect and appreciation for all authors who take the risk and put their characters through an extreme, just to see how they’ll come out of it. Well played Ms. Balogh, well-played.

mb wol‘Web of Love’

STORY: He’d served with her husband on the battlefield—and secretly desired her for years. Yet for Dominic, Lieutenant Lord Eden, Ellen Simpson has remained tantalizingly out of reach—until she is widowed by the war. Suddenly pursued by the dangerously handsome nobleman, Ellen is stunned by the depth of attraction he arouses in her.

Soon their friendship flames into something deeper…and as scandal ignites, marriage seems the only solution. But Ellen has a secret—one she can share with no one—that prevents her from fully opening her heart to Dominic. Until he devises his own plan for the ultimate consummation of their passion—and the woman he is determined to possess at any cost…

REVIEW: In this second book of her Web series, Ms. Balogh tackles the story of Dominic, Lord Eden, Edmund’s mischievous, charming, and care-free brother.

Let me say this before I go into the reasons behind loving this book most out of the Web Trilogy.

As some series go, you are able to read them out of order and most of the time they can well stand on their own, but I found that this particular series is not one of them and I know for certain that my enjoyment would have been thwarted if I hadn’t read these stories in order.

In the first book we met Dominic as a young man full of mischief, willing to fall in love at a drop of a hat, filled with dreams of joining the fray of an imminent war with Napoleon. In this book we watch him as he finally finds his true heart’s desire and is faced with brutality and reality of the war.

For the first time we meet Ellen, a married, very strong, smart and courageous young woman that Dom met a few years ago in Spain. She loves her older husband who is Dom’s superior and his mentor. The three of them are close friends and it never even occurred to either Ellen or Dom that they would ever end up being lovers. She deeply respects and loves her husband and is wholly devoted to him and their marriage.

As this story opens, we welcome back Alex and Edmund as they arrive with his sister Madeline, Dom’s twin, into Brussels in support of their sibling who they haven’t seen in three years.

And here is where the story gets interesting for me. I loved the setting [think War and Piece movie with Audrey Hepburn!] and Ms. Balogh did an outstanding job in bringing to me this world of uncertainty, bravery and agony that surrounded our maine and secondary characters.

And speaking of those, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved those, from Jennifer, Ellen’s teenage step-daughter to Lieutenant Allan Penworth, a man who becomes very dear to Madeline; I loved Charlie Simpson, Ellen’s husband so much that I mourned him almost as much as Ellen and Dom did.

But what came through the most in this story was the way Ms. Balogh clearly showed her readers that great love can strike twice in a lifetime, and how hard it is to understand and accept that fact. That part touched me deeply personally.

I’m so glad I finally got to this series off my TBR!

mb tdw‘The Devil’s Web’

STORY: The last time Madeline Raine had seen James Purnell, she had been but a chit of a girl, and at his mercy. Purnell had held her helpless in his arms – but protectively above the abyss of her own dangerous hunger for him.

He had left her then, not taking her innocence but taking her heart, as he vanished from England. Since then Madeline had reigned as society’s most dazzling and heartless beauty, making all men pay for one man’s rebuff of her.

Now James was back, more handsome and arrogant than ever. And Madeline steeled herself not to fall under his spell again. But she soon discovered that the melting power of passion ignited by love would not easily die…

REVIEW: If you’ve not read the first two books, especially the first one, ‘The Gilded Web’, I guarantee you that you will not understand our couple’s past, present and future behavior. It really is imperative you at least read book one.

In this book we watch Madeline, sister of Edmund and Dominic, mature, yet when it comes to planning and mapping out her future, she hasn’t changed a bit. She is still kept back with her conflicting feelings toward James and is hurling herself from one plan to another, only to find out that she must face the reality of loving a man who will certainly drag her into darkness with him.

Talk about a man, James Purnell, brother of Alexandra and Edmund’s wife from ‘Gilded Web’, who is torn by the past and his feelings of unworthiness when it comes to his future.

This is the third and last story of the Web Series and if it was the hardest to read for me, I wonder if it was as hard to write for Ms. Balogh.

If you’re not into dark and complex characters, then this story will be wasted on you. But if you can appreciate the intricacies of a very complex relationship between James and Madeline, you will be rewarded tenfold with a story of deep, true, abiding and long lasting love that had to go through many trials in order to blossom.

I loved all three stories and Ms. Balogh’s writing is as strong as ever. The depth of the characters that she writes about is one that I will always appreciate. If you’ve never read this author, these may not be the books to start you on her wonderful writing, but once you do, please don’t miss out on these unique, complex and very interesting characters.

It comes as no surprise to me that she succeeded yet again in creating three romance stories that touched my heart. She weaved these with a historical event that helped the plot and shaped the characters that I was deeply touched by, and will stay with me forever. I highly recommend all three of these engrossing and wonderful stories.

*Melanie for b2b.

*Books provided by my local used book store.

‘The Arrangement’ by Mary Balogh

TA MBSTORY: Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

REVIEW: This is the second book of the Survivors Club and it’s Vincent’s story.

The hero is blinded shortly after entering the Napolenanic Wars and while he convalesced, was cared for by his fellow survivors of the war who later formed the Survivors’ Club, a group that meets every year at Penderris Hall in Cornwell, country home of the Duke of Stanbrook, to give each other support while facing life after the war.

Vincent is finally ready to return home and be with his family at Middlebury Park in Gloucestershire, there to be coddled and smothered by his well-meaning mother and sisters. 

He had not been Viscount for very long, so the new-found wealth and the lifestyle that came with it is a bit overwhelming at times and while he appreciates their love and care, he decides to take a trip to Barton Coombs, the home he knew as a child for some quiet time for himself. 

Sophia Fry lost her mother when she was a baby and her father was a gambler whose life ended violently.  From an early age she was forced to live on sustenance in the home of her aunt who lives in Barton Coombs.  The woman resents caring for Sophia and treats her no better than a servant.  Small in stature and rather plain, she is known as The Mouse. 

Vincent and Sophia meet at a party thrown by the town of Barton Coombs in his honor.  When Vincent learns about Sophia’s predicament, he is determined to care for her and thus proposes marriage to her.

This is a novel about two damaged people – one physically and one mentally. The injuries they both suffered have left them deeply scared, and as they find one another, they learn to overcome the adversity they have known and are willing to find good in life as well as happiness.

After they marry and return to his home at Middlebury Park, Sophia’s and Vincent’s love for each other grows. 

Sophia is determined to help Vincent gain his independence in every way possible and with Vincent’s love; Sophia gains her own independence and ability to be his Viscountess in every way.

The sensitivity with which Ms. Balogh wrote this novel expressing the emotions of Vincent as a blind person and the hurt Sophia knew as a child are very well done.

As with her first novel of the Survivors’ Club, “The Proposal,” I was very pleased and look forward to reading more of her books.

Connie for b2b

*ARC Edition received from The Random House Publishing Group.

‘A Christmas Bride/Christmas Beau’ by Mary Balogh

STORY: ‘A Christmas Bride’

The very wealthy Edgar Downes has promised his aging father to finally take a bride—specifically, to wed a titled lady by Christmas. London is full of pretty, proper, and eligible misses, but it’s the widow Helena, Lady Stapleton, in a shocking red dress, who captures Edgar’s attention. Helena is intrigued by the seductive stranger—but he’s simply not in her class. Marriage, of course, would never do. But in a season of miracles, something wondrous is about to happen.

‘Christmas Beau’

Not even the warm, forgiving Christmas spirit can stop the Marquess of Denbigh from settling his score with Judith Easton: The beautiful young widow injured Denbigh’s pride years ago by jilting him for another man. Now that Judith is free from a nightmare marriage, the handsome marquess has her in his sights—and wants her in his arms. But to trust the tender words on his lips, Judith must not only see past the hardness of his heart, but learn once again to trust her own heart’s desire.

REVIEW: The above book blurbs are adequate in summarizing both stories, so I’ll just give you my thoughts on them.

‘A Christmas Bride’

This is how good the first story is. Before I finished it, I had gone to Mary Balogh’s website and searched all her books to make sure that one of the secondary characters had his own book. Can you imagine my surprise to find out that he indeed had his own story AND that I owned the book? ‘Christmas Beau’ needless to say, had to wait until I read the said book.

From time to time I’d encounter a hero, or in this case a heroine, whose actions I questioned and desperately wanted them explained to me in such a way that I could come to understand, excuse and accept, before I come to love them. This was the case with Helena. I give credit to Ms. Balogh for giving me such a character and putting me through a gambit of emotions.

Helena was such a complex woman who you needed, and I truly wanted, to know and to do that you had to finish the book and not give in to the urge of abandoning her and the story. At the start of it I just could not like her. There was not much to like. She was overbearing, snotty and just all around bitch!

However, in the hands of Mary Balogh, Helena grows as a human being and becomes someone our hero accepted even before he knew the whole story. I, on the other hand, had to read the story to the end in order to understand her reasons behind her atrocious behavior.

To some, this story might be off-putting because of the main character’s behavior, but I do ask of you to have patience and give this story your attention. It truly is a wonderfully touching story of real, true and unconditional love on the part of the hero, Edgar Downes, who is a true gentleman through and through, regardless of his birth and upbringing.

Everything in this story was well told and executed by the master herself, Mary Balogh. Highly recommend it!

*Side note: Mary Balogh’s A Precious Jewel is the book I was referring to earlier and it’s worth noting that Helena was the step mama of the hero of that book. I fell in love with Sir Gerald Stapleton and his precious jewel. Another MUST read especially if you’re craving a Beta hero.

***

‘Christmas Beau’

In this story, we have the hero that we’re not supposed to like because of the revenge he’s implementing upon the heroine, yet I had a devil of a time not liking him. Max, to his friends and family and to the ton known as the Marquess of Denbigh, was a recluse. After many years in seclusion and self-exile in the country after he was jilted by his fiancée, Max finally gets a chance to get even with Judith who jilted him a month before they were to be married. The woman is now a devoted mother of two and a widow who, in Max’s mind, is deserving of his hatred and wreath. He meticulously plans and executes his plan of revenge which after all makes him realize that there can indeed be a very thin line separating hate from love.

Judith was only seventeen years old when she decided that Max would be wrong for her and she falls for a man who was attentive, loving and charming, in other words a total opposite of Max, who at twenty-three was serious, nerves and too intense. She was too immature to realize that her feelings were not those of revulsion, but of passion and fear of it. For a very long time, she regretted not being strong enough, grown up enough to face him and tell him the truth, but now she feels that past should be left in the past, and as much as she still fears the man, she has made up her mind to at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

Some of you may find fault with both hero and heroine, as both at the start of the story are not much likable, but I found it very realistic and poignant. Max’s love for the heroine was portrayed so very deep and very touching even though it later turned into hatred. The battle between the love and hate within him raged on and it was such a joy to watch love win over! I admired Judith’s ability to forgive and understand Max’s motives while clearly seeing the love he had for her, allowed both of them to reconcile the past with the present.

*I bought the book