Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Mary Balogh - Only a Kiss

Since witnessing the death of her husband during the wars, Imogen, Lady Barclay, has secluded herself
in the confines of Hardford Hall, their home in Cornwall. The new owner has failed to take up his inheritance, and Imogen desperately hopes he will never come to disturb her fragile peace.
Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, has no interest in the wilds of Cornwall, but when he impulsively decides to pay a visit to his estate there, he is shocked to discover that it is not the ruined heap he had expected. He is equally shocked to find the beautiful widow of his predecessor’s son living there.
Soon Imogen awakens in Percy a passion he has never thought himself capable of feeling. But can he save her from her misery and reawaken her soul? And what will it mean for him if he succeeds?

Comment: This is installment #6 in the Survivor's Club series by Mary Balogh. I've turned out to be quite the fan of this author's series and if I didn't space out her books, I would run out pretty quickly but I'll be finishing this series this year.

In this story we finally get to know Imogen, lady Barclay, better. She has been the only female member of the club - known to the reader from all the previous installments - who has recovered in the duke of Stanbrook's estate after returning from the Peninsula. When the book starts, Imogen is living at her late husband's home in Cornwall, even though after his death another heir got the estate. She lives a peaceful life, with nothing out of the ordinary except her annual weeks with the other club's members and now, besides a roof that seems will never be finished, there's also the new earl of the estate finally coming to pay a visit. 

Percy, the earl of Hartford, decided to see what the estate in Cornwall is like because he feels bored. He thinks he would find something to be restored or severely improved but it turns out the house is not only in good condition but there are people living in it as well. He seems dumbfounded by Imogen and their initial meetings don't go very well but as time passes by and secrets and warnings come out of, seemingly, nowhere, so do his feelings for this woman he believes to be cold and unaffected but who, he discovers, is the woman he has always been waiting for and didn't know. Will they agree they could be happy together?

As I mentioned, this being part of a seven book series (not counting one novella), for fans these books are quite a treat. We are able to follow several characters throughout many books, we see their evolution, we are aware of what happens to them even when they are not the protagonists and among all this, we also get main characters who go from an apparent simple situation to a well deserved HEA. So, for the most time, I'd say this author is a hit for me, personally, although I can't think of a book I've graded as perfect because her style, while thoroughly appealing to me, always has some analytic quality in how the characters deal with one another that makes the story feel less romantic than what it could.

I think this is what I'd say about this book as well,  especially when it comes to how Imogen and Percy start as antagonists, not really seeing eye to eye but when thy decide they changed how they feel about one other, they very conveniently and very maturely talk and discuss the possibility of being together. This is adult behavior at its best but I confess I'd wish a slight more romantic approach and a decisive moment where they couldn't just avoid  how they felt anymore. It's quite the conundrum for me! I applaud how mature all the characters are and how they behave accordingly to the rules of the time but I still wish they were more spontaneous with their affections!

The romance was good enough, despite the small details I'd rather see differently. I liked Imogen and when we learn the truth behind her suffering and why she feels like avoiding happiness, I could understand why she felt she was so. Guilt is quite a self punishment... Percy seems to be the easiest character to read here but he, too, has hidden depths. I liked how the contrast was set between himself and Imogen and I feel their relationship has potential, even if the passage of time since they overcome the final emotional obstacles and the end of the book feels too quick in relation to how long it took to present and deconstruct that as the book continued.

There are two big motors driving this book. We are given very small hints here and there about why Imogen is so cool behaved and why it seems as if she's not moving on from her past and terrible experiences during the war, after so many years. There is also the weird hints about work and maintenance not going well around the estate and why Percy feels everyone is hiding something from him and how could that be related to the smuggling business which apparently ended when the late earl died. Although this is not meant as a mystery per se, and the culprit felt a little obvious to me (I suppose it would be so for any reader who likes mysteries), it still added interesting content for the plot and motivation for the character's choices, behavior, eventual sharing of personal thoughts, etc.

In the end I have to say I liked this one as much as I liked the other installments. There's a reason why the author's style works and why I keep feeling her books are something I don't want to miss.

Grade: 8/10

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