Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Review: The Proposal by Mary Balogh

Title: The Proposal

Author: Mary Balogh

Information on series: First in seven book The Survivors' Club series

Audience: Adults (yes, there is sex)

Rating (scale of 1-10, with 10 being highest): 8

TL;DR: A wonderfully character-driven historical romance that launched a popular series following characters who were deeply affected by the Napoleonic wars.

Longer review: One of the goals of the genre study is for participants to stretch their reading boundaries, so I feel that I should admit that The Proposal was not in any way a stretch for me. I love romance novels, especially historical romance novels, and I promise right here that this will be the only historical romance I review for this year's challenge (though not the only one I read).

First, a bit of vocabulary. Historical Romance can refer to a romance novel set in any historical period, however your average romance reader will expect the setting to be Regency England (Jane Austen to the early Victorian). That said a Regency Romance shares the setting, but lacks the sex, and not every Historical Romance is set in the Regency period or in England (or its near neighbors). Don't sweat it too much though because both the romance genre and its readership are a large and varied lot. The most important thing to remember is that a romance novel ends with a Happily Ever After (or HEA) for the hero and heroine.

Mary Balogh has been publishing romance novels for more than thirty years, but The Proposal was the first of her books that I've read. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience with well-drawn characters, a believable (if not overly period correct) setting, and, yes, a couple of steamy sex scenes. As much as I liked it, I did find myself annoyed at some repeated phrases and descriptions, something which hasn't been an issue in the later books in this series.

I was inspired to pick up the first book in the Survivor's Club series after learning that each of the titles is focused on a different member of the club, a club that was formed as a support network for individuals left with scars from their service in the fight against Napoleon. The hero of The Proposal, Hugo, Lord Trentham, has injuries that are more emotional and less visible, something that we might today describe as PTSD. Though some of his fellow club members have far more physical scars. In fact, throughout her career, Mary Balogh has made a point to write about characters who are disabled in one way or another.

It is while Hugo is at the annual meeting of the Survivor's Club that he meets his eventual true love, Gwendoline, Lady Muir. Gwen has her own troubled past; she was widowed young after a turbulent marriage. This makes Gwen something unusual for the sub-genre: a thirty-something woman who isn't a virgin. The combination of non-traditional heroes and heroines makes this series a good bet for those romance readers who might be looking for something a little bit different in their historical fiction.

Read alikes:

England's Perfect Hero by Suzanne Enoch: The third and final book in Enoch's Lessons In Love series features a hero haunted by his time as a Prisoner of War. Enoch is known for her witty dialogue, and yes, it's steamy.

A Lady Awakened by Cecelia Grant: First book in the Blackshear Family series. A recent widow hires the new neighbor to help her conceive an "heir" to her late husband's estate, lest her horrible, abusive brother-in-law inherits. This book is notable for how unappealing the sex is until the main characters form an emotional bond.

The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley: First book in the Highland Pleasures series, which is set in the Victorian period. The hero was confined to an asylum as a child and is rumored to be a murderer, but the heroine (a young widow) is convinced of his innocence. Yes, this one is steamy too, and modern readers will likely read Lord Ian as being somewhere on the autism spectrum.

~Sarah, Carnegie-Stout Public Library

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