The Secret Pearl by Mary Balogh

I think this is a great example of a traditional well-done historical romance. Not the silly overdone stuff – but a genuine book. There was an undertone of drama and angst literally from the first page til the last. There was a good villain, a few swoony moments, and an angsty misunderstood hero.

Fleur and Adam meet in terrible awkward circumstances. Each is painted in a bad light. Then they’re placed in a situation that forces them to interact – thus giving them time to grow and learn about the other and deal with their rocky past.

Adam was a fantastic hero – if perhaps a bit too noble. Fleur was strong (to the point of being a little overboard) and kind and likable. The book had the opportunity to run away with the drama but never did – which made me like it a ton. i stayed on the edge of my seat but never rolled my eyes in exasperation.

I’m generally drawn to perkier books, but this was an enjoyable read through and through.

Irresistible by Mary Balogh

I have a new favorite historical romance. Holy Moses! I didn’t want this book to end. Each page closer to finishing hurt my heart just a little more.
Basic plot – widow Sophie runs into four old friends. She has a crush on one – Nathaniel. Sophie has some other life issues, and Nathaniel is adorably obtuse. Let the relationship hijinks commence.

I very quickly fell a little in love with Sophie. MB is known for her imperfect characters. Never has a historical romance heroine felt so near and dear to my heart – clever, strong, giving, independent, a pistol, and with some serious emotional baggage that never weighed down the book. And Nathaniel was a bit clueless – but that was part of his charm. He was, overall, an incredibly nice guy. And those are my favorite kind.

If you’ve avoided historical romance bc you of the “bodice-ripper” reputation this is the book for you. A smart, sweet, lovely story that avoids all of those tacky cliches.

I don’t think this book was perfect. I read where 2 other reviewers commented that even while seeing the flaws they couldn’t put it down. But I enjoyed the heroine and the storyline and the additional characters so much that I’m declaring this book “perfect for me.”

Only Enchanting (Survivor’s Club #4) by Mary Balogh

DNF at p 181.
I love Mary Balogh. She’s one of my go-to authors for a guaranteed enjoyable read. Her books aren’t all drama and excitement – but they’re usually pretty good. Unfortunately this one was a miss.
Flavian was wounded in war – a head injury that has left him with memory and anger issues. Agnes is a sensible widow. They meet through friends and are drawn to one another – but even now┬áI can’t tell you why. Flavian remained shallow and Agnes remained distant.
The book was choppy – as soon as a story line started moving it would hop to a different perspective – as we got a little depth from Flavian the story suddenly shifted to Agnes or as we got some feeling from Agnes the story would move again . And bc the other Survivors were there we frequently had parts of the book dealing with their issues. Also the writing was overly descriptive and flowery. Though there were several sweet and real moments between Flavian and Agnes it frequently felt like most of the book was filler. Agnes and Flavian’s story probably could have been written in 100 pages.
As it was when I got to the point that they were getting married – past 50% of the book – and I didn’t like either of them I felt like it was time to abandon ship. I’m going to give another Mary Balogh book a try – and just hope that this was a one-off for her.

The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

No rating. DNF at page 50 – started skimming at page 21.

This was not the book for me. My recent reads have been soothing – nearly sedate. This book felt very young and very direct. It was like listening to VIvaldi and someone suddenly turning on Vanilla Ice. I like Ice Ice Baby as much as the next 80s kid – but the juxtaposition was dreadful. Nails on chalkboard dreadful.

Nathaniel is a boy wizard-person. Bartimaeus is a bad guy who may really be a good guy. Together they engage in magical hijinks. The book is written in first person POV, and i dislike that. I understand that it’s a preferred POV, but i can’t shake the feeling that i’m being lectured or spoken down to. It creates a closeness with the narrator that i resent as forced or unnatural. An author has to create some really charming characters for me to want to get to know them that well.

However i can see this being an awesome story to read along with or out loud to your kid. It was fast moving and high-action. The writing was simple and open. The characters seemed just right for an adventure loving child. Unfortunately it seems i’m currently a little more Vivaldi than Vanilla Ice.

A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache #4) by Louise Penny

There are 2 reasons i love this series. First and foremost – reading a mystery book brings a sense of satisfaction rarely found in life. I tend to read books with HEA – the couple gets together, the bad guy gets his just desserts, the hero conquers. But – i know these things are coming, and i’m not frequently allowed to participate in the action. A mystery book changes that. While i do know there’s likely to be an HEA – i don’t know the form in which it will come. Thus i get to spend the entire book spinning wild conjecture, assuming everything is a clue, and suspecting everyone. At the story’s conclusion i’m like to expire from sheer enthusiasm and delight. No matter if my theory was true – or ridiculously off-base – i’ve been afforded the opportunity to play along. For 300 pages i’m Chief Inspector Armand Gamache – and that’s wonderful.
Second – this writing. It’s like Xanax. A warm bubbly bath. Hot chamomile tea. Regardless of what else is going on – these books are so soothing they’re nearly hypnotic. It seems odd, right? Shouldn’t a murder mystery have me on the edge of my seat? And maybe it sort of does. But the description of the lobster salad and the droning bees and the lapping lake and the love btw Armand and Reine- Marie? They’re balm to the soul. I don’t think i read any books more comforting than this series. Every word – each page – each chapter – is carefully and artfully crafted to bring the reader to a world that’s warm and hazy and safe – and rife with murder.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

DNF at p 55. If only I liked this book as much as this book liked itself. Holy Moses. It was like an overly-indulged child. Immature. Boring. And certain of a self-worth that it doesn’t possess.

Blue is related to a bunch of female psychics, but her only power is as a psychic-magnifier. Gansey goes to a prep school in her town. They don’t know each other, but we’re led to believe they’re inextricably intertwined.

What I read felt like someone taunting you with a secret while acting like they weren’t. “Please don’t ask me about your birthday gift. I don’t know what it is, and if I did know I couldn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t tell you. Whatever you do don’t you dare ask me. I just couldn’t bear to tell you this huge fabulous wonderful secret that I know and you don’t. Nanny nanny boo boo.”

None of the characters was likable (but that’s okay – I’ve recently gone through a spate of that and enjoyed myself). The writing was silly. And besides the giant secret destined to unite Gansey and Blue forever I’m not sure there’s a plot. Perhaps if I was 14 this spoiled sloppy nonsense would appeal. Alas, I’m not. And it doesn’t.

Only a Promise by Mary Balogh (The Survivors’ Club #5)

Such a delightful little book. Easily read in one sitting. Mary Balogh does her thing and does it well.

Chloe is sad. Ralph is sad. They end up together. They struggle with the sad. And it’s nice.
Balogh creates sweet, complex, flawed, characters who manage to remain simple. You root for them for the entire book – it’s inevitable. And enjoyable. Their struggles feel real. The story seems like it really could happen.

Ralph is scarred by war. Chloe had a couple of bad experiences with the ton. They need help getting through some things – this book is their journey.

I like Balogh a lot bc her characters are generally physically imperfect. They’re also charming. And kind of dickish. Her books aren’t super steamy – they’re more love stories than porny-romance. And these books are completely dependable. You can start any one of them knowing you’ll get nuanced and non-cliched characters and an interesting story.

It’s quite a luxury to have a go-to author with such a large body of work. I’ll continue to reach for Ms Balogh with complete faith whenever I need to get a little lost in a sweet story.