Thursday, December 10, 2020

Mary Balogh - Only Beloved

For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and
finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again. 
Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she’s left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true.
For both George and Dora that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?

Comment: This is the 7th and last installment in the Survivor's Club series by the Mary Balogh. Her writing style is still appealing to me and I think I can definitely put her under "comfort author" because I know what to expect from her books and they tend to be very balanced (even the ones I like less for other reasons).

In this final story, we finally see George, the Duke of Stanbrook, reach for his own happiness. George has been the glue of the Survivor's Club, not only because it was in his house they all reunited to recover but also because he is a natural caregiver, a good man and someone to be trusted. Throughout the series, readers have been aware he lost his son, his wife committed suicide so there has been this aura of loss around him. Now all his fellow survivors are married and happy, he decides to fight his own loneliness by asking Dora Debbins to marry him. Dora is the older sister of Agnes, the heroine from book #4 and she lives a poor but steady life as a music teacher. She made an impression on George when they met and he hasn't forgotten how enjoyable it was to spend time with her so now, thinking on that and on the fact she isn't a young girl just out of the school room, he proposes. Will they have a comfortable marriage only or will they be happy together in the end?

Any reader of this author should more than expect the latter of course, since Mary Balogh is primarily a romance author. I was quite happy with the way things developed although, as it has also been mentioned in my other comments on her work, there are times where it seems as if the characters are too rigid or too proper. I suppose it depends on the reader but when the author does this well, her style is incomparable, but in the books I liked less this was just another issue to fuss about.

When a character is developed surreptitiously throughout so many books, as George has been, there's no doubt readers create expectations. At first sight, it felt as if George wouldn't be much more than just a duke who had loss in his life, who was alone despite his welcoming personality and money possibilities, who was there for his friends but always a little above them... as one should guess, the author planned quite a twist ( I didn't see it coming!) for him, to add layers to his persona, to make all his actions have a special meaning, to make him even more of a hero than what he might look for some.

The heroine also has some hidden layers. You see, this is what I appreciate in romances, the couple might have more or less chemistry, might be more or less flashy (in the sense their personality can be more exuberant or not) but until the very end, there is always something to hope for, something more to make them look more human or vulnerable than what they are - or that readers might have assumed. Of course this doesn't always work well, but I'm just happy this author develops her characters until the end and, for the most part, the last reveals tend to justify the effort spent in understanding and wondering about them.

There are some moments in the plot which drag. Some scenes/situations aren't as interesting to read about and there is also a slight severity to the characters' actions that might make seem unapproachable and sometimes it was hard to appreciate them. There are also some things, here and there, which sounded a little far fetched to me. I wouldn't go as to say the elements that worked for me are so much better than the things that didn't, but balancing things out, the good ones certainly are in the majority.

It's not perfect, it wasn't a wonderful story in every single aspect but I was rooting for George and Dora, I liked they were older but had the wish to be companions for life and although the epilogue was a little too sugary, I still liked seeing everyone moving on with life but still holding on to the friendship and support which motivated the whole thing in the first place. All in all, this was a very solid, steady series for me.

Grade: 8/10

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