This is a new series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. If you would like to host an “If You Like” post, please email me at Jane at dearauthor.com
If you like Mary Balogh
In 1996, Beth Pattillo did me a great favor when she told me that I must read a Mary Balogh novel. It was love at first read. At that point, Mary Balogh had been published for ten years. Since then I have read at least 55 of her nearly 70 novels to date and several of her novellas. I would have read all of them if I could have found copies. Some of the quotes in this piece may include spoilers.
Setting (era and geographic): Mostly Regency England
Mary Balogh has set the vast majority of her stories in Regency England (early nineteenth century) – in London or the English countryside with lots of house-party settings. The Napoleonic Wars have played a part in some of her stories as well. The exceptions to this setting are her two Georgian England novels, one Victorian and two novels set in Wales.
Balogh uses history as a source of inspiration and conflict for her stories. While still appealing and relevant to twenty-first-century readers, her novels feel historically accurate and display an appreciation for history. Social mores have a profound influence on her heroes and heroines.
Heroine Type: A lovely variety of English Misses
There is no stock Balogh heroine as Balogh is one of the best there is at characterization. Her characters have psychological and emotional depth, and her heroines are likeable, competent, strong, appealing, and smart. They often are outsiders in some way. Balogh portrays her outsiders – the prostitutes, the governesses, the old maids, the poor relations, the disabled – as she portrays nearly all her characters – with full appreciation for their humanity, their life experiences, their hopes, fears, wishes, needs, desires, dreams, foibles, weaknesses, and strengths. This makes each of her heroines unique.
"I can live without your approval," she said coldly. "I do not know what you have done that is so heinous. I do not want to know. I want you out of this room, and I want you out now. Find somewhere else to cower in fright."
"Fright?" He laughed and set a hand over his heart. "You wound me, my charmer."
He was standing very close, quite close enough for Freyja to realize that the top of her head reached barely to his chin. But she always had been short. She was accustomed to ruling her world from below the level of much of the action.
"I am neither your sweetheart nor your charmer," she told him. "I shall count to three. One."
"For what purpose?" He set his hands on either side of her waist.
He lowered his head and kissed her. Right on the lips, his own parted slightly so that there was a shocking sensation of warm, moist intimacy.
Freyja inhaled sharply, drew back one arm, and punched him hard in the nose.
"Ouch!" he said, fingering his nose gingerly and flexing his mouth. He drew his hand away and Freyja had the satisfaction of seeing that she had drawn blood. "Did no one ever teach you that any ordinary lady would slap a man’s cheek under such scandalous circumstances, not punch him in the nose."
"I am no ordinary lady," she told him sternly.
From Slightly Scandalous
Hero Type: Mostly Arrogant Aristocrats
Balogh’s heroes come from privileged backgrounds and have the arrogance that comes from that. For example, Balogh writes deliciously arrogant dukes. Yes, one year of historical romances feature more dukes than were probably alive throughout the entire nineteenth century in England, but Balogh’s dukes are unique. Each is his own complete self. The Duke of Bewcastle is nothing like the Duke of Tresham, who is not interchangeable with the Dukes of Handon, Bridgewater or Tenby.
Perhaps this was, after all, just the thing for him, Wulfric thought as he settled into conversation. He would enjoy two weeks of interesting company and then be ready to return to Lindsey Hall for the rest of the summer. After all, one could not become a hermit simply because one’s brothers and sisters had all married and one’s mistress had died.
And then the door opened again and he heard two extremely unpleasant sounds-feminine giggles and male laughter. Male and female voices mingled in a flurry of merry sound. The ladies went on their way; a large group of gentlemen came inside the room. And there was not one among them, Wulfric estimated, who was above twenty-five years of age. And not one of them-if he was to judge by their laughter and posturing and swaggering-who had a brain in his head.
From Slightly Dangerous
While Mary Balogh’s heroes aren’t often outsiders like some of her heroines are, each is distinctive and has his own reasons why falling in love with the heroine is a challenge. Her stories are often about two lonely, damaged souls finding love, healing and a better life through the new relationship.
He did not look forward to the summer.
He would stay out of the way as much as he was able. He would try at least to remain out of sight of the children. He did not want to frighten them. The worst feeling in the world was to see fear, revulsion, horror, and panic on the faces of children and to know that it was his own appearance that had caused it.
One month, Bewcastle’s secretary had written. Thirty-one days, if that statement was to be taken literally. It seemed like an eternity.
But he would survive it.
He had survived a great deal worse. There had been days-and nights-when he had wished he had not done so. Survived, that was.
From Simply Love
Anne Jewell helped Sydnam Butler heal, and Sydnam helped Anne. The heroines see the real self behind the heroes’ social masks, help the heroes discover, acknowledge and value the hidden parts of themselves and vice versa.
Plot (action-oriented / character-driven): Character-driven
It’s the romance, stupid, or at least it is in a Mary Balogh story. She writes character-driven love stories. Yes, she’ll have some kind of an external plot, stuff always happens in her books, and some of her books even include a suspense subplot, but the main focus and narrative drive of her novels come from the developing romance between two, well-developed characters who grow and change as they fall in love. No two Balogh characters fall in love the same way. This path to love is unique in each of her stories based on her characters.
"It is the word "like,’" she said. "I did not know that what I had always thought was liking was really love. I have been very foolish."
He felt rather as if someone had just punched him in the stomach again. He felt robbed of breath.
"Give me an example," he said, risking further pain by lowering his cheek to the top of her head.
"When I met you at Highmoor," she said, "I liked you so terribly much, Hartley. After each meeting I lived for the next time, and when I had to leave early with Aunt Aggy, there was a dreadful emptiness in my life where you had been. I thought you my best friend in the world, and I thought I would never know such friendship again. Town and the Season were flat because I did not have my friend to share them with. And then when I saw you again, I was so happy that I thought I would burst. I wanted you to kiss me and I wanted to say what I said to you afterward and I wanted to marry you-because I liked you so much. After we were married, for those three days, I-I have never been so happy in my life. And afterward, I wanted to die, I wanted the world to end because I thought you did not like me any longer."
"Ah, love," he said.
"Have I given you enough examples?" she asked. "Do you see what I mean?"
He swallowed and rubbed his cheek against her hair.
"You see," she said, "when I went through that horrid experience during my first Season, I called it love. I thought that was what it was, that horrible obsession, the dreadful guilt, the-oh, everything. And all I have clung to since is the conviction that I wanted nothing more to do with love. I saw Jenny and Gabriel together and other people, too, but I did not believe in it for myself. So when I met you, I think I was afraid to call my feelings what they were. I thought everything would turn ugly. I wanted to like you and you to like me so that we could be happy together."
"I like you, sweetheart," he said.
From Lord Carew’s Bride, ISBN: 0451185528
While Balogh has written suspense and secondary romance subplots, the majority of her subplots tend to be about other important relationships for the hero and heroine and how they influence the developing romance. Her secondary characters are well-developed, and she often writes about their romances in subsequent novels. I do like to read her books in a row as there is some character development across novels or series, but each of her books can stand alone. If you have never read a novel by Mary Balogh and would like to start with one that is not connected to any previous novel, I recommend More than a Mistress.
Plot (slow / medium / fast): Medium
I’m following loongrrl’s example from her analysis of Judith McNaught’s novels and going with medium. I can’t put these books down and I’ve stayed up very late to finish them, but emotions, sexual tension, romance, character growth and relationship-stuff are moving the story forward for the most part, and I think the label fast-paced applies to more plot-driven books.
Writing style (simple vs. ornate): Emotional
I think of Balogh’s writing style as deeply emotional. Balogh uses language to help her tell her story better, show her characters’ emotions and even evoke those emotions in her readers. She uses deep point-of-view to increase intimacy with the characters and help the readers identify with them. She includes all five senses in her love scenes. She’s never wordy. Her prose never gets in the way of my enjoyment of her stories. I think her writing is beautiful, and it powerfully evokes the emotions of her stories, but I don’t know what to call it. What do you think?
Dialogue: (lots / little / balanced): Lots
Balogh has lots of dialogue in most of her novels. I like the hero and heroine to talk to each other, and they certainly do in a Balogh novel. Their communication improves as their relationship deepens, and Balogh writes some of the most beautiful "I love you" scenes when the hero and heroine confess their love and express what the beloved has added to his or her life.
"Come back to me," he said. "Please, Priss. Marry me. Or if you don’t want anything so permanent, well, come back to me anyway. And when you want to leave, I will provide for you and the child. I know I’m not much, but I will look after you. If only things had been different, I know you could have done so much better for yourself. You are so intelligent and knowledgeable and accomplished. I know I have nothing much to offer someone like you, but-"
"Gerald!" she said, and her hands were rubbing hard against the lapels of his coat. "You have everything to offer me. Everything in the world. In the whole universe. Your love. A loyal and a warm and kind heart. Yourself. You are so very worthy of being loved, and all I can offer you is a soiled life."
He covered her hands with his and held them flat against his chest. He was shaking his head. "You survived, Priss," he said. "You worked for your living. And I am glad you did or I would never have met you. It is in the past, those months at Kit’s. In the past, where it will stay."
"You are a baronet," she said. I will never be accepted, Gerald. Never received."
"I think you are wrong," he said. "There are perfectly respectable people in society who have a far more scarlet past than yours. But even if you are right, it does not matter. It’s you I want, Priss. Only you. We will live it through together, whatever may be facing us. And I know Miles will receive you and the countess, too. She hugged me when I was leaving and even kissed my cheek. I was never so surprised in my life."
"Gerald." She looked at him with troubled eyes. "Are you sure? Are you very sure?’
He smiled at her suddenly, more radiantly than she had ever seen him smile before.
"You are going to say yes, aren’t you?" he said. "I know that you are. Say it, Priss. I want to hear it. I have dreamed of this moment for months and never believed that it would really come. Say it. Will you marry me?
She leaned her head forward and rested her forehead between her hands against his chest.
"Yes," she said.
From A Precious Jewel, ISBN: 0451176197
Humor (Yes / No-serious / Some): Some
Balogh can be funny. A few of her Signet regencies were farces, and A Summer to Remember and Slightly Scandalous had very humorous beginnings. I smile or even laugh several times during the majority of her novels. She’s never silly or slap-sticky, and her humor comes from her characters. There is always a lot of emotional and psychological depth to her characters, and often her characters’ humor masks pain. In some of her earlier, full-length novels (e.g. the signet super regencies and first single titles), I think she might have had too much dark in her stories.
Emotional Angst (high / medium / low): High
If you don’t like angst, Balogh may not be for you. A lot of Balogh’s characters are wounded in some way, and their path to true love and healing can be painful and rocky. Balogh is able to convince her readers to doubt whether these two people will be able to make their relationship work while realizing, at the same time, that these two people must be together.
Yet, for all of the emotional angst in a Mary Balogh story, the loving relationship developed between the hero and heroine never seems unhealthy. It is emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual, equal, passionate, but never unhealthy. Often, this new relationship has helped to heal the hero or heroine. The reader knows that this couple is good for each other, one side has not had to lose something important to make it work, falling in love often heals them in some way, they are each better people because of this new, loving relationship, and it will last.
"Kit, why are you here?"
"There is something I need to tell you," he said. "Something I should have told you before you left Alvesley. Something you ought to know whatever you decide to do with the knowledge. Once I have told you, you have only to say the word, Lauren, and I will walk back along this beach and up to the cliff top and into the village and I will never trouble you again, never try to see you again. It is a promise."
He set one finger across her lips and looked into her eyes.
"I want to marry you," he said. "I want it more than I have ever wanted anything else in my life. For many reasons. But only one of them really matters to me. It is the one I did not tell you of because it seemed somehow dishonorable after you had carried out your side of the bargain so sweetly and so well. I love you. That is it, you see, the part I omitted. Just that. I love you. I do not believe it can really hurt you to know. It lays no obligation on you. I just needed to say it. I’ll leave now if you wish."
She said nothing, just pressed her head back harder against the rock and gazed at him with her lovely violet eyes. The drizzle was turning to light rain. It was running in droplets down her face. But it was not raindrops that were welling in her eyes.
"Tell me to go," he whispered.
She started to say something and then swallowed. She tried again. "I do not need you, you know," she said.
"I know." His heart was down in his boots somewhere.
"I do not need anyone," she said. "I can do this alone, this living business. All my life I have shaped myself into being what others expect me to be so that I will belong somewhere, be accepted somewhere, be loved by someone. When I knew I could not belong to Neville, I felt as if I had been cut adrift in the universe. I anchored myself by retreating into an even more rigid gentility. I don’t need to do any of that any longer. And I do have you to thank. But I don’t need you any longer, Kit. I am strong enough on my own."
"Yes." He bowed his head and closed his eyes again. "Yes, I know."
"I am free, you see," she said, "to love or to withhold love. Love and dependence need no longer be the same thing to me. I am free to love. That is why I love you, and it is the way I love you. If you have come here, Kit, because you think you owe me something, because you believe I might crumble without your protection, then go away again with my blessing and find happiness with someone else."
"I love you," he said again.
She gazed at him for a long time, her eyes still swimming in tears, and then she smiled, very slowly, and very, very radiantly.
He wrapped his arms about her waist, lifted her off her feet, and twirled her about in circles, while she braced her hands on his shoulders, flung her head back to expose her face to the rain, and laughed.
Kit whooped, and because the echo from the cliffs was so impressive, he threw back his head too and howled like a wolf.
From A Summer to Remember
Conflict (externally-driven / internally-driven / both): Internally-driven
Her conflicts are internally-driven. A Balogh hero is not able to fall in love with the heroine at the beginning of the novel and vice versa. It’s not possible until they have changed and grown in some way, and this growth is driven by the developing relationship and the healing and transforming power of love. She entwines the character arcs of the hero and heroine with the relationship arc and makes all three stronger in the process. This is what gives power to her love stories. When there are external sources of conflict, it often comes from society, usually represented by family members, and its social mores, class differences and expectations. She occasionally has a suspense subplot.
Heat level (kisses / warm / hot / scorching): Warm
Some of you who are fans of traditional regencies may disagree with the warm rating as Mary Balogh was very revolutionary in her inclusion of loves scenes in traditional regencies, but her love scenes are more sensual and emotional than graphic and athletic. I speculate that the reason why Signet allowed her to include those love scenes in her traditional regencies was that the stories would not have made as much sense if you took those bits out. A Mary Balogh love scene furthers the plot. You can’t skip the love scenes as they change the relationship and the direction of the story in significant ways. The physical aspect of the hero and heroine’s relationship is an important part of them falling in love.
"What I think, Jane," he said, narrowing his gaze on her, "is that I will see your hair down now at last. Take out the pins."
It was not dressed with its customary severity. It was waved and coiled in a manner that complemented the pretty, elegant dress she wore. But he wanted to see it flowing free.
She removed the pins deftly and shook her head.
Ah. It reached to below her waist, as she had said it did. A river of pure, shining, rippling gold. She had appeared beautiful before. Even in the hideous maid’s dress and the atrocious cap she had been beautiful. But now-
There simply were not words. He clasped his hands behind him. He had waited too long to rush now.
"Jocelyn." She tipped her head to one side and looked directly at him with her very blue eyes. "I am on unfamiliar ground here. You will have to lead the way."
He nodded, wondering at the great wave of-oh, not desire exactly that washed over him. Longing? That sort of gut-deep, soul-deep yearning that very occasionally caught him unawares and was shaken firmly off again. He associated it with music and painting. But now it was his name that had aroused it.
"Jocelyn is a name that has been in my family for generations," he said. "I acquired it when I was still in the womb. I cannot think of a single soul until now who has spoken it aloud to me."
From More than a Mistress
A Mary Balogh hero and heroine are deeply in love at the conclusion of the novel. She consistently delivers what I call the "ah moment". This is when you say, "ah," as you shut the covers of one of her novels after you’ve finished reading it because the hero and heroine are deeply in love, they’ve acknowledged and treasure this new relationship, all is right in their lives and all is right in your world for that moment.
"Luke," Anna said, "I have always been fortunate enough to be able to enjoy happiness when it presented itself. I have always had hope and I have always had the ability to see and appreciate the little things that can make life worth living. But I know now that it has been years and years since I have felt totally happy. I am happy now at this moment. Totally, wonderfully happy. No matter what the future has in store for us, I want to remember that there has been this moment. And that even this moment, with no more preceding and no more to come after, would make the whole mystery of living worthwhile."
He rubbed his cheek against the top of her head. "We will live life from moment to moment," he said, " thankful for each one we have together. Look, Anna, the world is turning gray beyond the windows. Dawn is coming."
"Ah," she said, "daylight and hope."
"And sunshine and laughter," he said. "Let us watch the sun come up, shall we? Together?"
She sighed with contentment. She did not need to answer in words.
At the end of Heartless (ISBN: 0425150119), I felt and believed this moment. I felt it for Anna and Luke, but I also felt it, in some ways, for myself.
Mary Balogh always entertains me. She often moves me. In every one of her novels, she always shows me and makes me feel the how and why these two interesting, unique and appealing people have fallen in love with each other, and how this new relationship has vastly improved their future lives. In my favorite of her novels, she’ll take me even further.
She can inspire me to think about the great questions of life and its meaning in a positive way. She can make me ponder life, love, relationships, God, hope, redemption, justice, gender relations, the role of women. She digs deeper in her stories, inspires me to do the same in my life and fills me with hope and belief in the healing power of love.
If you like Mary Balogh, you’ll like-
If you like a strong sense of history in your historical romances, I recommend Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney, Loretta Chase, Liz Carlyle, Madeline Hunter, Candice Hern, and almost any author who once wrote traditional regencies.
While the sensuality level is much, much hotter than that of a Mary Balogh novel, Passion by Lisa Valdez reached Baloghian heights in terms of emotional angst. You may also want to try Gaelen Foley, Judith McNaught or Lisa Kleypas.
If you prefer Mary Balogh’s lighter novels and farces, you may want to read some Julia Quinn or Loretta Chase novels. Other possibilities include Elizabeth Boyle, Laura Lee Guhrke, Anne Gracie, Eloisa James, Barbara Metzger, Julie Anne Long, and Amanda Quick.
Honor is important to Balogh’s characters, especially her heroes. A similar devotion to honor can be found in a Carla Kelly or a Lois McMaster Bujold hero.
My favorite romance novels deliver a satisfying romance, provide an emotional reading experience, and inspire me to think deep thoughts. Mary Balogh consistently delivers. Some of my other favorites who can deliver all three – across the sub-genres of romance – are Mary Jo Putney, Carla Kelly, Emilie Richards, Barbara Samuel/Ruth Wind, Laura Kinsale, Judith Ivory/Judy Cuevas, Linda Howard, Nora Roberts, Brenda Novak, Gayle Wilson, Kathryn Shay, Tara Taylor Quinn, Kathleen Korbel/Eileen Dreyer, Margot Early, Cheryl Reavis, Marilyn Pappano, Curtis Ann Matlock, Judith Duncan, Janice Kay Johnson, Catherine Anderson (some of her historicals), Lorraine Heath (particularly her westerns), Megan Chance, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, other classic girl stories-
I highly recommend everyone I just mentioned, but I do believe there is nobody just like Mary Balogh. Which authors would you recommend for a similar reading experience?