REVIEW: Simply Love by Mary Balogh
Dear Ms. Balogh,
I’ve been on a hot streak of enjoying good books lately. All good things come to an end sometime, but I’m sorry it had to end with Simply Love. I’d been looking forward to Anne Jewell’s story since I first encountered her in Slightly Scandalous, expecting that a Mary Balogh Regency era romance featuring an unwed mother is sure to be good and heartwrenching. Unfortunately, like Jayne, I didn’t find Simply Love as compelling as I’d hoped, and since I don’t disagree with Jayne’s opinion of the book, I will expand on the reasons why. But first, to borrow Jayne’s plot summary:
“Simply Love” involves two characters familiar to long time readers of Mary Balogh's single title “Slightly” series. Anne Jewell is the unwed mother introduced in “Slightly Scandalous” who became a teacher at a school for young ladies in Bath. Sydnam Butler is the younger brother in “A Summer to Remember.” He had wanted to be a painter but headed off to the Peninsular Wars to prove his manhood. There he was captured and tortured by the French leaving him with one arm, one eye and scars bad enough to repulse strangers. Now he works as a land steward for the Duke of Bewcastle, head of the Bedwyn clan, in Wales. Anne is gently coerced into coming along with one of the Bedwyn couples to their annual summer get together, held this time in Wales.
Earlier in her letter, Jayne writes:
I can assure you I have read a gracious plenty about the Bedwyns. I neither need nor wish to have each and every one, plus spouses and children –" both natural and adopted –" along with all the members of the Ravensburg Butler family, trotted out in every book to convince me of their felicity and fecundity. But it did make reading the book much easier when I could skip whole scenes of sugary sweetness, Bedwyn style.
I like the Bedwyns much better than Jayne, so I did not skip a single scene in this book, but I agree with Jayne that there is a problem here. For me, it’s not the Bedwyns per se, but *all* the characters who were either found love in previous books, or are scheduled to find love in the upcoming installments of the Simply series. There are Lauren and Kit from A Summer to Remember; from the Bedwyn series, Aidan and Eve, Rannulf and Judith, Frejya and Joshua, Morgan and Gervase, Alleyne and Rachel, Wulfric and Christine; from the previous book in this series, Simply Unforgettable, Frances and Lucius, and from upcoming Simply books, Susanna and Claudia. I suspect Viscount Whitleaf is being set up for a sequel as well.
All in all, I counted eighteen, possibly nineteen characters who have either been featured in past books or will be featured in future books. And that’s not counting the cornucopia of children that most of these characters have. At 311 pages, the book is simply not big enough to support the weight of so many people who are either blissfully happy or soon-to-find-bliss. There’s a limit to how many people who are happy, healthy, rich and in love one knows in real life, and being surrounded by so many of them in a book is a bit like being in Disneyworld and eating too much ice cream and cotton candy. With all that happiness abounding, it’s impossible to feel that the stumbling blocks in Anne and Sydnam’s path to marital joy are real, especially since as Jayne astutely points out, Anne finds so much social acceptance despite having borne a child out of wedlock that it’s hard to credit.
As for Anne and Sydnam themselves, their courtship consists walks in which they wax philosophical and talk so much about not giving in to self-pity over their respective situations that after a while methinks they do protest too much, and I start seeing them as self-pitying, and maybe even pitiful. Both seem defined by the obvious things that make them different; Sydnam by his handicaps, his scars, the trauma from his torture and his having once been an artist, and Anne by her status as an unwed mother, her love for her son, and the trauma from her rape. But I don’t get much since of who they are outside of all that, especially in Anne’s case. Her anger at her family for forgiving her is one of the few clues to her personality beyond the fact that she was raped and conceived an illegitimate child.
There are some other things I like about the book, including the fact that Anne’s son David physically resembles the man who fathered him, and that unlike most sexually traumatized heroines in romances, Anne doesn’t simply recover from her trauma in one night with the hero. Your writing style is nice and clear, as usual, and some of the scenes in the second half of the book are emotionally affecting. A scene in which David blurts out something that Anne doesn’t want known and another in which Sydnam has a nightmare are especially good.
I have certainly read worse books than this one, but I’ve also read better, many of them yours – so many that I know I will be picking up Susanna and Claudia’s stories even after being disappointed in this one. As for Simply Love, I am in accordance with Jayne in grading it, too, and I give it a C.