Simply Perfect, by Mary Balogh

24 Feb

Simply Perfect, by Mary Balogh

Once upon a time, a wee innocent reader discovered a used book by one Mary Balogh. A couple of days later, an obsessed reader scoured used book stores, libraries and bookstores (both online and brick and mortar) for Ms Balogh’s backlist. After a long glomming session, my appreciation of this author’s work became somewhat mixed-there are books I can re-read often and others that left me so indifferent I have to read a few pages in the middle to remember whether I read them or not.

Fourth and last title in Ms Balogh’s Simply series, Simply Perfect harkens back to what I like about her writing. The conflict is realistic for the characters involved-even if some of the reactions from secondary characters were a tad too accepting, open-minded, happy, and so on, to be consistent with the main character’s motivations for his secrecy.

Here’s the truly awful back cover blurb:

As headmistress of Miss Martin’s School for Girls in Bath, Claudia Martin long ago resigned herself to a life without love. Until Joseph, Marquess of Attingsborough, arrives unannounced and tempts her to toss away a lifetime of propriety for an affair that can only lead to ruin, embarking on a plan of seduction that leaves them both yearning for more. But Claudia knows she has no place in Joseph’s aristocratic world. And now that world is about to be rocked by scandal… An arranged marriage, a secret that will shock the ton, and a man from Claudia’s past conspire to drive the lovers apart. But Joseph is determined to make Claudia his at any cost-even if that means breaking every rule for a love that is everything he has ever wanted…

Hate.

The.

Blurb.

Oh man, do I ever hate it! What plan of seduction? What affair???? Fer cripes’ sake, if the person who writes the blurbs hasn’t read the book, at least someone-like oh say, the editor?-must have, right? and someone must have noticed how far from the book the blurb is, right?  Grrrr

/rant

But let’s talk about the novel itself, shall we?

I am quite torn about this novel. On the one hand, I like the main characters a lot-Joseph, Lord Attingsborough comes across as a complex and realistic man. He is a man of his time and heir to an important title to boot. As such, his days are spent doing mostly what is expected of him: attending society functions, indulging in meaningless flirtations and shallow conversations day after day. But he is also a man capable of deep affection and with a deep sense of responsibility, factors which combine to dictate most of his behaviour.

Claudia Martin, on the other hand, is a well bred woman of semi-independent means with an extremely strong personality. Orphaned relatively young, and disenchanted with the male of the species even before that, she has chosen to help those less fortunate than herself make their way in the-cold and often cruel-world. To such aim, she has opened a well-run and quite exclusive school for girls, both the daughters of good and wealthy families, and orphans with no known family. Both these type of pupils receive the same consideration and education from Ms Martin, who goes even further with her charity girls, for whom she acts as surrogate parent and her school as a surrogate home.

Now, these two meet through the good offices of secondary characters who were lead characters in previous books in the quartet-which is all good and well. However, because Ms Martin was actually introduced in an earlier novel that is part of a six book series-and which is connected one way or another to a half dozen more books-the reader ends up coping with a rather large cast of secondary characters who have influenced one or both of the main characters’ lives at one point or another.

Further, the way all these people interact with each other leave no doubt as to the closeness of their relationships-cousins, long time neighbours, childhood friends, erstwhile suitors, what have you-but space constraints mean that a reader who is picking up this book without having read at least one of the series it’s related to, will end up more than a bit confused as to why all these people show up-repeatedly-in this novel.

As far as the awful secret hinted at *cough* by the blurb, it is revealed within a couple of chapters, so I hesitate to consider it a spoiler. Joseph has an illegitimate child and-this is the actual shocker-he loves her, spends significant time with her, and wishes to see to her education and happiness personally.

The child, Lizzie, is a wonderful character. At ten, she’s at times quite sharp in her understanding of her circumstances and of the people around her, yet at the same time, she has lived a sheltered enough life to be unaware of the realities her birth entails vis à vis her father’s social position.

Now, Ms Balogh goes to some pains to explain why this would be shocking-or worse-to Lord Attingsborough’s social peers; why he has taken such pains to hide her existence even from his own parents and indeed, all but one of his closest friends. And yet, when the relationship comes to light-as it inevitably would, given the novel’s set up and plot-these same social peers are by and large not shocked at all. (The one exception is pretty much the mean interloper in the piece, which I’m sure surprises no one.)

Another issue I have is Ms Martin’s change of heart near the end of the novel. Really, this woman has believed certain things about herself and others for well over a decade, and these beliefs have largely dictated her behaviour and both business and personal decisions for at least that long. And yet, on the strength of one public scene and then a more private confrontation, she suddenly realizes all these beliefs are baseless and so, does a complete about face three minutes later? Huh… wasn’t she a strong, independent woman who knew her own mind up to that very second? What happened then?

So there it is. Good characterization for the most part, a particularly poignant conflict for both hero and heroine, yet more than a few issues with plot resolution-plus the oh-man-so-large number of key (or close to it) secondary characters.

With some regret, I have to give Simply Perfect 7.5 out of 10

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