The Proposal (CBR10 #26)

The Proposal (The Survivors' Club, #1)

I have finally taken my first trip to a Mary Balogh romance. I’m still surprised when I manage to miss an author completely, but it usually means that there’s a well-liked series with good reviews which is complete that I can dive right into. In the case of Mary Balogh that series is the Survivors’ Club which tells the story of seven people who survived great tragedy (whether physical or mental) during the Napoleonic Wars and formed a tight friendship while they healed for three years away from Society. The first book in the series, The Proposal, held my attention so well and Balogh’s writing pleased me so much that I went ahead and requested the next few books from the library for the coming months and plan to blow through the series during the rest of the year.

The Proposal begins with Gwendoline, Lady Muir, who has seen her share of tragedy. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. Though, she isn’t the member of the Survivors’ Club: that would be Hugo, Lord Trentham, who scoops her up in his arms after a fall on the beach. He does not, however, view himself as a gentleman; he is a soldier whose bravery earned him his title. Born 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. In a very funny scene, a grumpy Hugh alerts his friends in the Survivors’ Club to his plan to find a wife to provide an heir and help with his sister. They tease he will obviously find one the next day down at the beach, and of course the very next day he is rescuing an injured Gwen and bringing her back to the house with him.

Embarrassed, Hugh doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have her interfere on the annual reunion of the Club. In a fine bit of plotting, this struggle where Hugo and Gwen are given time and space to get to know each other and become attracted but do not wish to be allows the reader to settle into the series. It is an infodump of sorts, but it worked well for me. In lesser hands the first half of the book would have been the end of the plot, but Balogh has more territory she wants to cover. Balogh builds a story around the mental wounds Gwen and Hugh both experienced, punching holes in the “happy” lives they have both created for themselves in the years since their respective tragedies, and analyzing the class differences of the social strata that Gwen and Hugh grew up and live in.

In the second half of the book their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. Mrs. Julien, one of my personal Romancelandia guides, is of the opinion the central theme of many Balogh historical romances is closed and broken people finding new lives and unexpected happiness. In The Proposal I would say that theme lines up exquisitely. Balogh creates a world and a story where over a respectable timeline; two mature adults in their thirties are given a second chance at happiness. And really, who better to be given these second chances than soldiers and those who have seemingly lost everything? I was warmed and won over by the sincere sweetness Balogh brought to her characters, and that while the characters have been through the proverbial wringer, the stories are not mawkish. Balogh shows a deft touch in how she layers and slowly reveals the sorrows of her characters without wallowing in them.

I feel Balogh earned a believable happily ever after for Hugh and Gwen. As they get to know each other, they recognize their first impressions were about expectations. Even at the books halfway point, when Hugh proposes to Gwen and she refuses, they are still functioning on expectations. But then Balogh builds out her narrative and Gwen invites Hugh to court her, if he wishes. I love that they continue to seek each other out, acknowledging they simply want to be with each other even if it is not a natural fit into either of their lives or worlds.  It is a novel that stays within its genre tropes, but nudges them with the ways in which the details and specific plot points are placed. The novel grows the universe of Balogh’s books, and I’m interested to see how that universe continues to grow and keep up with the characters we’ve met so far.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read – now in our tenth year! At Cannonball Read we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

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Ghostly Echoes (CBR10 #24)

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Back during CBR7 I picked up Jackaby by William Ritter because it featured a bit of a paranormal mystery with a sassy female protagonist who doesn’t have a romance with the male protagonist. While I love a Romance novel, I don’t need romance in all my stories. As it turns out Jackaby was a strong book and over the years I’ve kept up with the series in a (mostly) timely manner.

Ghostly Echoes is the third full novel in the series (there’s one short story as well, The Map) and the character who is the driver of the story is the ghostly owner of 926 Augur Lane, the headquarters of Jackaby’s detective agency. There’s corruption and murder afoot in New Fiddleham and it all links back to how Jenny Cavanaugh was murdered a decade ago and the disappearance of her finance the night she died. As Abigail races to unravel the mystery of how and why people keep turning up missing or dead flinging herself more deeply into her friends’ grim histories, Jackaby leads a cast of familiar characters across the cobblestones of nineteenth-century New England and down to the mythical underworld  and back again, solving the case at hand and setting up the endgame in the next book.

The Jackaby series blends a bit of fantasy and folklore with a touch of mad science and its author, William Ritter, isn’t afraid to throw a touch of social commentary into his YA. This time we get a transgender character whom Jackaby speaks to and interacts with using all the care, class, and affirmation that one could hope for.

These books are fun, clever, and quick-witted and I remain enthusiastic for what I’m assuming is the closing chapter in the next book, The Dire King.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read where we read what we want, review it how we see fit (within a few guidelines), and raise money in the name of a fallen friend for the American Cancer Society.

Seduce Me at Sunrise and Tempt Me at Twilight (CBR9 #28 & 29)

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I was told, repeatedly, not to read Seduce Me at Sunrise, otherwise known as the Win and Merripen book. I swear I was listening, but then someone mentioned that there were several Amelia and Cam scenes in the book worth seeking out. So… I checked it out along with the book I meant to read, Tempt Me at Twilight, and got to skimming.

More of the book was okay then I feared initially, but it is still only a two star/okay book, and that’s not great for a Romance. Usually the happy feelings push me to rate these about a half star higher than I would more traditional, non-genre fiction. What can I say, I’m not perfect and my emotions can and do get the better of me.

I am glad however that I got these books from the library at the same time, and didn’t do my usual habit of spreading out the series to savor it. These two books occur in rapid succession in the series’ timeline, and I have a feeling book 4, Married by Morning, is also set immediately after (I’ve requested it and book 5 from the library to arrive sometime late in May or early in June – don’t worry). This allowed me to sink into the family dynamic that Kleypas is building. I missed this same experience with Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books and in retrospect; I wish I had read them closer together.

These two books are set about two and a half years after the events of the first book and Kleypas is telling one large story. It is entirely typical of the genre to tell serialized stories of one family, or in the case of the Wallflowers one group of friends, but generally other than winks and nods and updates on previous characters there isn’t usually much interplay between each book’s lead protagonists. That is not the method at hand with these books: instead Kleypas is using the tight family she has created to tell a tightly woven story. I have to say, I prefer this method. There is story and plot points for everyone in Seduce Me at Sunrise, which means that while the main couple have major problems as a pair, there is still plenty of story to carry the book to a two star rating. When a better pairing happens, then we get a better book as well.

I do not know what exactly about Tempt Me at Twilight that won me over to a five star. The book teeters on the edge of too much, our self-made hero Harry is able to do all the things, and upsets Poppy’s possible marriage proposal in order to trap her into choosing to marry him. Kleypas is often playing with the themes of hard work and getting out of your comfort zones, and that is exactly what this pairing is built around. Perhaps the decisive factor was the inclusion of a not physically pleasing first experience for the virgin, which then puts other important plot points into action.

Kleypas isn’t afraid to make and keep her heroes and heroines imperfect, and that is more often a strength than a weakness for her writing.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, review it honestly, and help raise funds to support the American Cancer Society in the name of one of our fallen friends.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (CBR9 #2)

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I try to read a little bit of many different genres throughout the course of any given year. However, like most people, I lean more heavily on some genres than others. Fantasy, while one of our most read genres (over 150 pages of reviews!) on the Cannonball Read, has been a slowly growing genre for me. It took some in depth discussions with Ale for me to nail down my problems: I have a very difficult time getting my brain around non-Earth settings, and the tropes, particularly the Quest, do not always hold my attention.

Which brings us to a work of Fantasy that I should have read three years ago when it was gifted to me as part of the Cannonball Read Book Exchange instead of just letting it wallow on my bookshelf. To the best of my recollection I became aware of Daughter of Smoke and Bone all the way back in Cannonball Read 4. Yes, this has been languishing on my to read list since 2012.  But, I was nervous. Then I read My True Love Gave to Me, really loved Laini Taylor’s story in that collection, and felt like I could finally read this… two years ago.

In fact, this book had been on my shelf so long I had forgotten what it was supposed to be about in the first place and actually went in cold. Here is a synopsis from Goodreads for those who want more information than I apparently did.

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That question haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?”

I absolutely LOVED the beginning of this book. The world that Taylor builds around Karou and Brimstone felt lived in and real. The building out of our heroine felt natural and dynamic.  I was deeply curious about the mysteries embedded in the narrative as Taylor laid in more and more detail. When Akiva arrives on the scene, things only get more complicated and interesting.

The middle section of the book suffered a bit for me (there’s some well-handled instalove, but I automatically have trepidation about it whenever it shows up). The final section while incredibly well played kept one of my favorite characters off page (that feels like a spoiler, but for the dozen of us who hadn’t yet read this book I’m intentionally staying super vague) and had me contemplating a four star rating. Then I immediately looked up the next book in the series, put my request in, and will be picking it up this evening. Any book whose sequel I want to read immediately is a book that deserves to be rounded up to five stars. This is not a perfect book, but it is a brilliantly put together one that left me engaged, entertained and desiring more time with the characters and their journeys. It’s a win, folks.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Cut to the Quick (CBR4 #36)

I’m gullible when it comes to mysteries. Every red herring will throw me off the scent. Cut to the Quick by Kate Ross brings a new set of mysteries and a new amateur sleuth from the Regency period into my life to continue confusing me for a few books. The sleuth in question is Julian Kestrel, the reigning dandy of London in the 1820s, famous for his elegant clothes and his imperturbable composure.

Cut to the Quick was Ross’s first novel, but you’d be hard pressed to guess so. The only authorial problem I had with the novel was the very beginning. The book opens with a Mr. Craddock congratulating himself on tricking Mr. Hugh Fontclair into having to propose marriage to his daughter. The engagement happens and in the next chapter Hugh is sowing his wild oats at a gambling establishment and we are introduced to Julian Kestrel who rescues him from public embarrassment. In the third chapter we are with Julian as he receives a surprise invite some weeks later to be Hugh’s best man and house guest. It’s all very choppy and with so many of the characters introduced in quick succession it made it difficult to keep track of everyone.

When Kestrel goes to stay with the Fontclairs at their country house, he is caught in the crossfire of the warring families, as the Craddocks are already arrived. Once settled into the dynamic and expecting Julian Kestrel to discover what blackmail is forcing the Fontclairs to agree to the wedding a dead body shows up. Kestrel sets out to solve the crime, since the body was found in his bed. The strength of this book is the twining of the two mysteries, which was compelling and well-plotted. As for Julian Kestrel, he’s fairly good company although I prefer his manservant and the local doctor. It should be said that all the supporting characters, more than ten, are well developed. Overall an enjoyable and quick read. I’ve already requested the next Julian Kestrel novel, A Broken Vessel, from my library system.