IT’S MY FIRST REVIEW ARE YOU EXCITED I AM TOTALLY EXCITED AND HAVE DECIDED TO FOREGO PROPER PUNCTUATION IN THIS POST.
Kidding. Kidding. I’m an amateur romance historian of sorts, a snarky fan of some of our genre’s most…unusual and off-the-wall works (I even livetweet my reads sometimes, if you dig gifs, yelling, and crass/sarcastic humor…check out Storify). But I also appreciate authors who know their craft, particularly as it relates to historicals.
Give me a Dare, Maclean, Beverley, Quinn, Kleypas, Hoyt, Garwood, or Quick, and I’m a happy gal. And I love Mary Balogh. Love love love. I devoured the Survivors’ Club, which is, IMHO, her best work. I’ve read some of her earlier books, which aren’t as strong but are certainly worth reading. Almost everything I’ve read from her is a five star/A- or better read. And, frankly, this would be a five-star read except…I’m comparing her to herself. That’s right. Mary Balogh has to go up against Mary Balogh when I’m reviewing her stuff. Sorry, my dear. It happens. If anyone else had written this book, five stars to the moon and back. But I’ve gotta settle in and give her a wee lower grade.
Granted, my complaints are nitpicky. We have the female heroine, Wren, born with a portwine birthmark to a terrible, awful, no-good (seriously, she’s a bitch) mother. Raised by her aunt and uncle, she’s pretty much a recluse. A wealthy, virginal, business-savvy recluse. Her aunt and uncle die, she inherits everything, and decides she’s sick of being alone and sets her sights on a husband. She figures since she’s got the cash, she may as well marry a man who’s in need of…financial assistance.
But she’s cold. Ice cold. And clearly terrified of intimacy. Which is my main beef with her character development. Yes, her mama was a stupid bitchface who deserves to die a fiery death and is quite possibly the worst maternal figure I’ve ever read in an historical (that’s saying a lot, my friends…I read a ton of WTF old school cracky crackfests). But her loving aunt and uncle, who took her in and raised her as their own, didn’t do an adequate job of trying to overcome the psychological damage wrought by her mother. Yes, I understand that you want someone to make their own way, not be forced into doing something they don’t want to do, but Wren was never encouraged to be confident in her appearance, to realize that the mark on her face wasn’t a representation of her worth, because despite all their support, her pseudo-parents didn’t really push the issue and instead let her stay isolated on their estate. Again, a nitpicky point, but one that is so critical to plot development that it warrants a mention. Yes, women in that time were often valued for their looks and their dowry rather than their personalities, but her internalized self-hatred got to be a bit much at times and was somewhat unbelievable, given that wonderful relationship she had with her aunt and uncle.
Then we have our hero. Swoon. You can have your bad boys and your alphaholes and your billionaire bikers, I think men hell-bent on being responsible and protective are sexy as hell. Alexander is thrust into a role he doesn’t want by a fluke of lineage (his cousins were deemed bastards, so…he inherited the title from his uncle). Being the capable, mature guy he is, he wants to restore the title and the estate he inherited rather than let it keep going to shit like his uncle did. But he has no money. ENTER WREN with her proposed courtship and subsequent marriage. Things are awkward at first (Alexander is (of course) dreadfully handsome which throws Wren for a curve; her icy demeanor puts him off), but they become friends. She gets to know his mother and sister (who are awesome) and the rest of his family. (This is the third Westcott novel, so if you’ve read the first two books you’ll see references to familiar characters.) And, of course, they vow that their marital friendship and congenial, intellectual relationship WILL NEVER TURN INTO PASSIONATE LOVE BECAUSE NO WAY WOULD THEY LET THAT HAPPEN. AMIRITE?
The dialogue is, as always, superb. We get our HEA. We get resolution of all our issues with Mommie Dearest in a satisfying and emotionally mature way. In short, we get what we’d demand of a Balogh – great writing, meticulous character development, and the kind of reliable comfort read we often need in a world full of uncertainty and real-life angst.
When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life. . . .
A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate—and oh-so-dashing—earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past. . . .
Read an excerpt.
Other books in this series: