Friday, October 2, 2015

Review - - Only a Kiss

Only a Kiss
By Mary Balogh
Publisher: Signet
Release Date: September 1, 2015




When the widowed Imogen Hayes, Lady Barclay, cousin to George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook, left Penderris Hall, the duke’s home, after three years there as the only female member of the Survivors’ Club, she chose to make her home in the dower house on the estate of her father-in-law. Although Imogen was fond of her father-in-law and of his spinster sister Lavinia, she valued her privacy too much to live at Hardford Hall. For five years, Imogen has maintained social contact with family and friends while preserving her emotional distance. The high point of each year has been the annual reunion of the Survivors’ Club, the three weeks she spends with her dearest friends. She moves to Hardford House only when forced to do so by damage to her roof, and she is confident the move is temporary. Just as soon as the roof of the dower house is repaired, she plans to resume her life there. Even the old earl’s death two years ago did little to alter her life. Since the new heir, offspring of an estranged branch of the Hayes family, made no contact with his Cornwall relatives, it has been easy to forget his existence. Imogen is none too pleased when the heir sends word that he will be arriving at Hardford Hall shortly. She rightly suspects that his arrival will mean the end of her peaceful existence.   

Percival William Henry Hayes, Earl of Hardford, Viscount Barclay, is a man who has everything. The only child of doting, wealthy parents, he has been cherished and indulged since his birth. Blessed with wealth, intelligence, good health, and good looks, he belongs to a close-knit, loving family with Aunts, uncles, and dozens of cousins on both the maternal and paternal sides. Two years ago, he unexpectedly inherited his titles when the old earl died the year after the death of Percy’s father. On his thirtieth birthday, Percy recognizes two facts: he is “the most fortunate of mortals” and he is bored beyond endurance. In an inebriated state after a convivial birthday celebration with friends, he decides that the solution to his boredom is to increase it with a visit to his Cornwall estate. His hope is that life in that remote area will prove so dull that his usual routine during the London season will become more appealing by comparison.

Percy and Imogen clash at first sight. His first words to her when she dares to walk into his house unannounced are, “And who the devil might you be?” He is offended by the reserve he senses in Imogen and none too happy that he is sharing his home with her, with Cousin Lavinia and her collection of stray animals, and with Lavinia’s cousin and companion, the male-bashing Adelaide.  None of them is impressed with this young lord who is accustomed to being admired and idolized. Imogen does not hesitate to challenge him or to stop his questions with a direct reminder that some things are none of his business.

Of course, underneath the clashes, there is reluctant attraction on both sides. Disagreements lead to conversations. Imogen and Percy come to know each other, and they are good for one another. She is completely different from any other woman he has known. She not only refuses to accept his right to exercise authority over her, but when he bemoans his empty, frivolous life, she scolds him for his ignorance of how truly blessed he is:
Your life has been so full of love, Lord Hardford, that it is fairly bursting at the seams with it. Even that dog loves you, and you love it. It is not unmanly to admit it. And your life has included a period of intense learning about two of the greatest civilizations our world has known.”

For his part, Percy provides Imogen with practical help. He uses his money and his influence to see that her new roof is completed speedily. And he brings laughter into Imogen’s emotionally impoverished life. They become friends—and they become lovers, although at first neither of them thinks of their relationship in terms of forever. Percy also brings a fresh perspective to the pieces of a puzzle and connects such seemingly disparate things as his uncomfortable room, a suspicious servant, and the death of Imogen’s husband. In the process, he falls in love with life in Cornwall and with Imogen. But can he persuade his deeply scarred lady that she deserves a second chance at love and happiness?

Mary Balogh is amazing. Thirty years and more than eighty books after her debut novel—and she is still giving fresh twists to tired conventions. In this one, she reverses gender roles, adds a new definition of the heroic, and alters the pattern established in the first five books of the series.
The hero who has survived the war and returned home scarred psychically and often physically by his experience is standard in historical romance. Balogh has given her readers five such heroes in the preceding books of this series: Hugo Emes, Lord Trentham (The Proposal), Vincent, Viscount Darleigh (The Arrangement); Sir Benedict Harper (The Escape); Flavian Arnott, Viscount Ponsonby (Only Enchanting); and Ralph Stockwood, Earl of Berwick (Only a Promise). Balogh pairs each of these heroes with a heroine who has also proved herself a survivor. In this sixth book, it is the heroine who has returned from war scarred probably irreparably.  Imogen accompanied her husband to Portugal. When they were captured, he was deemed a spy and tortured while she was forced to watch. She was faced with a heinous choice that still haunts her. Although she bears no physical disfigurement, she is marked forever by her experience. In contrast, the hero has known a life of luxury and indulgence surrounded by people who love him.

One of Percy’s regrets is that his life has been devoid of the heroic. After he meets Imogen and begins to care for her, he wants to make her happy. He recognizes that laughter has been missing from her life, and he exults in his ability to make her laugh.

He wondered if she was smiling, if only inwardly. It would be a worthy, heroic thing to do, he thought, to make this woman laugh again as she had laughed at the Kramer house, and to make her do it again and again. Perhaps he ought to make that his life’s mission.

One of the recurring theme in Balogh’s novels is that a simplistic happily-ever-after will not be the reality of her protagonists. Often she has them directly acknowledging that life will be uneven, filled with sorrow as well as joy. In Only a Kiss, Imogen and Percy recognize that the damage done to Imogen cannot be erased, but the love she and Percy share can make her stronger, more willing to laugh, and more open to all that life has to offer.

The only thing that kept this from being a five-star read for me is the smuggling thread. I am not a fan of smuggling plots. However, Balogh does not romanticize or trivialize smuggling. She shows the ruthlessness of the leaders and the rigid control they exercised over those in their sphere of influence. She also connects it to the main plot so that the thread becomes integral rather than distracting.

The Survivors’ Club books overall have been among Balogh’s finest work, and Only a Kiss is a worthy addition to this excellent series. I highly recommend it.  The series ends with the release of Only Beloved, the story of George Crabbe, Duke of Stanbrook, on May 3, 2016. I have it on pre-order, and I fully expect to be as enthusiastic about it as I have been about the other six.

~Janga


19 comments:

  1. Fabulous and articulate review. On point!! Wish I could have express my feelings about Only a Kiss as well. BRAVO!!

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    1. Thank you. I'm happy you liked the review.

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  2. This has been a deeply moving and satisfying series. I have enjoyed each book's new romance, as well as the continuing love and friendship among the survivors.

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    1. It is a remarkable series, Cheryl, and Balogh truly is a marvel. I am so-o-o eager for Only Beloved.

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    2. I am really glad that she decided to give George his own story and his own happy ending!

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  3. I've read all the "Survivor series" books so far, and have enjoyed every single one of them. I second Cheryl's comment above about the continuing love and friendship among the survivors..

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    1. I agree, Diane. I think the friendship theme has been as important as the romances. I also like the way spouses have been integrated into the group.

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    2. I'm currently in the middle of reading this book and absolutely loving it. I hope that everybody gets the chance to read Mary's "Survivor" series.

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  4. Thanks for another great review Janga.

    I still have a lot of Balogh books on my TBR. I have enjoyed every one that I have read but there are so many. She must rival Nora Roberts in that regard! I just wish that more were available as audio in the UK ,,,, it would help me to catch up with you guys.

    I haven't started the survivors club series yet but intend to soon, partly so that I can swoon with everyone else in May 2016! :)

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    1. Dear Q! Thank you. Balogh is not quite as prolific as la Nora, who passed 200 some time ago, but Balogh does have an impressive backlist. The wonderful thing is that you can't go wrong in choosing a Balogh to read. Even her less than stellar books are better than most. I feel confident in saying you will love the Survivors' Club books.

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  5. I've not read this series but it sounds good - thanks.

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    1. It's one of the best historical romance series I've read, catslady. Most reviewers have found the series consistently excellent. I hope you enjoy it.

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  6. I'm behind on this series, as well. But your review was wonderful! I'll be getting this one asap.

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    1. Thanks, Nikki. I hope you enjoy it.

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  7. I do enjoy this series. I feel the same way about smuggling - not my favorite storyline, but since it wasn't the primary line in this one I was ok with it.

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    1. I suppose our response to the smuggling just goes to show that the right author can make even things we dislike work, Di.

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  8. Loved your review As usual, Janga. I really enjoy Mary Balogh's books, but this series is her masterpiece. Imogen's story is next up on my TBR list. I can't wait to get into it.

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    1. Thanks, Flora. I think you are going to love it.

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  9. I have read her books on and off over the years. There are so many good authors out there, it is hard to read all the books I would like. It has been a long time since I read any of her books and it sounds like I have been missing some I will appreciate and enjoy. I will have to get this series and check it out.
    Thank you for your usual excellent review.

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