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REVIEW: Simply Magic by Mary Balogh

Dear Mrs Balogh,

11413259.gifYes, yes I know I said I wouldn’t be reading your next book without some great reviews but it’s hard to turn down reading a free arc of a much anticipated series by an author who has generally given me such reading pleasure in the past. I really need to put my foot down and control myself better because this book doesn’t please me any more than the last one did.

While Susanna Osbourne acknowledges that Peter Edgeworth is one of the most handsome men she’s ever met, from the moment he opens his mouth and spouts some inane comment, she’s determined to have nothing to do with him. And after all, once her two week summer holiday with former teacher Frances, Countess of Edgecombe, is over she’ll be returning to her job as a teacher in Bath at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. Susanna will try to ignore Viscount Whitleaf until then.

But Peter Edgeworth is determined not to be ignored by this lovely young woman. Chagrined that his initial inane complement goes ignored by her, he decides to discover just why Miss Osbourne dismisses him before even trying to get to know him. He’s not a bad sort of fellow. Most women fall at his feet and he’s happy to lavish them with proper attention and enjoy their company. He knows exactly how far he can go without risking an entanglement he doesn’t want thanks to a matchmaking scheme his mother has pulled in the past and he just genuinely likes people.

Slowly, Peter chips away at Susanna’s icy facade and discovers an intelligent woman who likes teaching for a living but who secretly longs for a husband, children and home of her own. Not that it’s likely she’ll find it buried at a girl’s school in backwater Bath. After finally giving in to Peter’s polite efforts to get to know her, Susanna finds herself growing to like this man. He’s not the idle, worthless fribble he at first appears to be and she counts off each day of her vacation with growing sadness that she’ll probably never see him again.

It’s on her last day before returning to Bath that the two take a fateful walk around the Edgecomb estate which culminates in a physical encounter leading to a proposition by Peter. Though determined to positively remember the afternoon’s events, Susanna can’t envision becoming a mistress and so turns him down. Both think that will be the end of their relationship until the marriage of Anne Jewell to Sydnam Butler brings them together again. It is then that events in their past lives begin to surface. Events which changed Susanna’s life and which could either bind them together in love or tear them apart for good.

If readers want a quiet, introspective novel, this is it. Events during Susanna’s vacation go by slowly, slower, and slowest. Everything is described down to the smallest detail with way too much introspection and agonizing over little things. Peter thinks that women tend to make too much of the minor things that men do yet he does the same thing. Roughly the first half of the book is them think, think, thinking about every slight action. I felt I was at a never-ending, afternoon tea party where people continuously watch the clock to see how soon they can leave without offering insult to the hostess.

And for anyone who needs an up to date rundown on how all the past characters in this series or the Slightly Series are doing, don’t worry, you’ll get it. Yes indeed, once again– the entire Bedwyn family plus Ravensburg family are here for your reading enjoyment. While not as prominently seen as in “Simply Love,” they do all appear in two sequences here. Needless to say, I skipped most of them.

I know you’ve written a lot of books and finding different plots has to be difficult at this point but….again with the one afternoon of sex between two unmarried people. Then Peter acts a total cad (offering a place as his mistress then not even bothering to check to see if Susanna was preggers). I mean, he doesn’t even try to withdraw or take any precautions. Susanna knows consequences of unprotected sex – in everyday existence and by example of Anne Jewell! What were they thinking?!? To top it off, the sex scenes are about as exciting/emotionally involving as reading stereo instructions. If Susanna is going to risk it all then I want emotional involvement, caring, or something to justify her actions.

While I like that Peter isn’t a rake, he’s just so blah. By the end of the book, he’s started with his program to take back control of his life from his overbearing momma but for the most part, he reminded me of Mr. Bingley from the mid90s production of “Pride and Prejudice,” nice but otherwise very forgettable and certainly not the “nobleman whose passion seems too magical to be true” that I was promised on the back blurb. Susanna is a more interesting character yet she’s far from fiery. On the contrary, she’s more logical (except for the sex) and controlled. Finding out the past events which haunted her was the main reason I kept reading the story. But I must admit to some degree of frustration about how this is done. Susanna and Peter’s memories of her papa and the villain don’t get revealed until almost the end of book. This makes a total difference and ends up giving the resolution almost deus ex machina-esque quality. These two can dredge up the most inconsequential memories of their childhood but manage to completely forget things of major importance.

Your fangirls will probably eat this book up but I just never connected with either it or characters. I think it would have been much better in trad length rather than single title length. What is good could be concentrated upon and what was unneeded could have been cut. And considering it’s out first as a hardback, I would have been quite upset to pay the $22 list price for what I got. C- again.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

14 Comments

  1. Barbara B.
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 15:19:31

    Loved her until a few books ago. She’s got a very unique old-fashioned style that was quaint and different. But lately…

    While many other writers are trying to spice their books up if just a little, Balogh seems to be heading in a different direction. The last book of hers I read, Simply Love was incredibly boring. Balogh has never been a ball of fire but Simply Love was hugely disappointing. I never really minded Balogh’s formula until I struggled through her last two books. I don’t read many historicals these days and I guess I’ll be reading even fewer in the future. Has she switched to inspirationals and nobody told me?

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  2. Janine
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 16:59:41

    I’m torn about whether to read this one. I just reread Dark Angel last week and it reminded me how good Balogh can be when she is writing at the top of her game. But after Simply Unforgettable and Simply Love, I’m leery of more Simply books.

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  3. Jayne
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 17:50:35

    The only reason I have much interest in the last book in this series is for the showdown between Miss Martin and Frejya. And I can probably find out what I need to know by flipping pages while standing in a bookstore.

    I think there’s more emotion packed into Dark Angel then into the whole “Simply” series so far.

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  4. LinM
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 18:34:55

    Oh well – I won’t buy this in hardcover but I will probably read this one when/if it comes out in pb. In any case, I HAVE BEEN WARNED so if I don’t like the book, it is my own fault. I usually skip over the endless pages devoted to past characters but I feel more indulgent about it than most reviewers; I suspect/hope that Balogh gets the same pleasure in revisiting past characters that my stepmother gets when she hosts family reunions. This is probably reverse age discrimination in action (sigh).

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  5. Janine
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 18:35:19

    I’m not very interested in the showdown between Frejya and Miss Martin. i like Frejya, but she’s had enough showdowns already. Also, I feel that in Simply Unforgettable and Simply Love, Balogh’s foreshadowing of this coming confrontation between them has been heavyhanded. She’s so obviously trying to get me interested in it, that my response is to rebel against her wishes and decide that I don’t care.

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  6. Danielle
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 19:14:56

    Well, I guess I’m the only one that really enjoyed this book. I know there’s the big “secret” but I’ve liked Peter since he showed up to Lauren and Kit’s wedding. I admit at times I did want to slap Susnna upside the head and Peter’s mother…god help me if my mother was anyhing like his.

    But then that’s what makes reading so exciting…different opinions!!!!!!!!!

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  7. Keishon
    Mar 27, 2007 @ 19:15:59

    Quit reading Balogh years ago. Thief of Dreams I think was the last one that I had read and now that she is more prolific, I don’t enjoy her books much anymore. As always, I wish her continued success as my pocketbook is firmly closed.

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  8. Jan
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 02:07:52

    Looks llike I won’t be reading this either. I stopped reading her after Rothgar’s the Duke’s book.

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  9. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 06:56:43

    Jan, LOL

    Danielle, at first I just thought his mother would be a controlling, but nice, woman who wants the best for her son and is used to running things at the old homestead. But she really took a turn for the worse at the end. I think Balogh probably gave her a better end than she deserved and one in keeping with what Peter tends to do.

    Keishon, if it wasn’t a free arc, I wouldn’t have read it.

    Lin, you HAVE BEEN WARNED. ;)

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  10. Phyl
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 07:24:52

    I got this from the public library on Monday, finished it last night, and am still wrestling with my reactions to it. On the one hand, I think she tried to create a rather different hero from her previous books. Peter’s younger, had a relatively happy childhood, and is clearly trying to grow up. I really wanted to like him and appreciated the fact that Peter was a different sort of hero. But like you say, Jayne, he ends up coming across as rather blah. There’s a scene in the second half of the book where he gets angry with Susannah, and it was the first spark I felt in the book. It just came too late.

    There’s also the fact that I think there’s now a “sameness” to Mary Balogh’s style. The same elements keep appearing in each book. Here’s the part where someone figures out the difference between being in love/loving. There’s a lot of philosophy (Barbara B. asked if she’s switched to inspirationals–LOL, it can feel that way). Here’s the part where there’s the first sexual encounter that leaves someone feeling angry/guilty/some negative emotion. Look out, there goes the Duke of Bewcastle looking adoringly at his wife while never smiling (how do you do that?). And here’s the final chapter. Must be time for the wedding.

    On the other side of the coin, there are things that I think Mary Balogh still does very well. The Regency period is not window dressing or wall paper for her. She respects it and so as a reader I trust that the characters are acting appropriately for their era. Susannah, for example, wears the same dress to all three balls she attends. There are little details and descriptions that I do still enjoy reading.

    But all in all, it just fell short yet again.

    BTW Jayne, I appreciate your review. I read the AAR review yesterday and was surprised to see a couple of elements in it that I consider spoilers.

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  11. Jayne
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 07:33:40

    Phyl, I had read the AAR review but didn’t notice
    the little spoiler until you mentioned it. Hmmm, I’m glad I didn’t know that when I read the book.

    I agree with you about Balogh knowing the regency era. Has she ever written a book that didn’t have either a Regency or a Georgian era setting? I guess she just figures she’s going to write what she knows. That’s a great point about Susanna wearing the same dress and fits with a school teacher’s salary.

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  12. Estelle
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 08:25:22

    Here’s the part where someone figures out the difference between being in love/loving.

    Oh boy, she’s used that one so many times in her books that I know it by heart. She soemtimes lifts entire passages from one book and paste it into another–I believe this happened in Simply Inforgettable: she took some stuff from slightly Dangerous; not to mention that the hero was just a washed down version of Bewcastle. And it doesn’t help that I don’t agree with that particular ‘philosophy’ of hers either. For me the In Love part is just as important as the Love part. But that’s jsut me.

    Is it wrong and illogical of me to say that I agree with the review although I haven’t read the book–and I’m not planning on reading it either? I’ve read enough books by Balogh to understand how this one goes and that’s enough to tell me I won’t like that one. *sigh* at least that’ll save me $22.

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  13. Estelle
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 08:26:35

    Argh! shame on me and all the typos in my post above!

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  14. Phyl
    Mar 28, 2007 @ 11:07:35

    [quote comment="25476"]Phyl, I had read the AAR review but didn’t notice
    the little spoiler until you mentioned it. Hmmm, I’m glad I didn’t know that when I read the book.[/quote]

    I wrote to LLB this morning; she contacted the reviewer who agreed to make a slight editorial change to the review.

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