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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Before the Fall (CBR9 #42)

Image result for before the fall

Last month over on Oohlo in discussing the season three finale of Noah Hawley’s television program Fargo I had the following comment: “Hawley is also never just telling us a plot, he’s crafting a story. Not everything we see moves the story along, but everything means something, grows out the larger themes.” As I was reading Before the Fall, I had the same feeling about his literary work.

On the surface this is a story about a plane crash and the people who perished and survived. But there’s much more just under the surface (yep I’m leaving that one in) as the story gets past the initial plot points of crash and survival of painter Scott Burroughs and four year old J.J. Bateman.  Embedded in the book are at least one hero, more than one “bad” guy, as well as survival’s guilt, and how we choose to view and consume media about people.

There have been several reviews of this book on Cannonball Read already, but I find myself agreeing most closely with bonnie in my overall thoughts about the book. For instance, I agree that this is actually badly billed as a suspense novel, or really as a thriller. I would perhaps argue that it is closer in execution to Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache books. There is something we don’t know, and the characters in this book are rooted in truth. Hawley does an admirable job of giving enough backstory and detail on each character that they become individuals in your mind, rather than a stream of names and titles, much the same way he is able to create characters in his television work.

Once we move past the initial telling of the lead up to the crash and Scott and J.J.’s survival, the rest of the novel travels between the past and the present. The questions of who these people truly are, why were they on this plane, and what caused the crash unfold as the survivors and the investigators piece together what happened and how to move forward.

While this novel hit some fantastic strengths (its commentary on toxic masculinity) it also had a lackluster resolution and was probably in deep need of another round of edits focusing on pacing. There are some truly interesting components in this novel, but I’m landing on a 3.5 star rating.

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