JOINT REVIEW: Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh
Janine and I are continuing our tradition of joint reviews for the Westcott series with the latest release – Someone to Cherish. – Kaetrin
When Harry Westcott lost the title Earl of Riverdale after the discovery of his father’s bigamy, he shipped off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, where he was near-fatally wounded. After a harrowing recovery, the once cheery, light-hearted boy has become a reclusive, somber man. Though Harry insists he enjoys the solitude, he does wonder sometimes if he is lonely.
Lydia Tavernor, recently widowed, dreams of taking a lover. Her marriage to Reverend Isaiah Tavernor was one of service and obedience, and she has secretly enjoyed her freedom since his death. She doesn’t want to shackle herself to another man in marriage, but sometimes, she wonders if she is lonely.
Both are unwilling to face the truth until they find themselves alone together one night, and Lydia surprises even herself with a simple question: “Are you ever lonely?” Harry’s answer leads them down a path neither could ever have imagined…
Kaetrin: Someone to Cherish reinforced to me the theme of the entire series – about self-actualisation, in particular of women. The female leads all, via their own paths, journey toward independence and freedom – even when that’s within marriage; they negotiate those marriages against that framework. They’re individuals to be seen as themselves and not as an appendage or someone’s sister, someone’s daughter. It reminds me of that meme: she is someone.
Janine: That’s a great point and one that I didn’t think of. For me Balogh hits that theme more strongly with Lydia than with any of the other female leads except Wren.
Kaetrin: Lydia was cossetted and protected all her life prior to her marriage (and after her widowhood to some degree also) by her father and brothers and found it stifling. She was relegated and neglected by her husband during her marriage. As a widow she had a taste of freedom and independence and she did not want to give that up.
Janine: The plot of Someone to Cherish centers on Harry and Lydia’s fantasy that taking a lover—not falling in love, just having a lover—would remedy their loneliness while allowing their uncomplicated lives to remain that way. Of course, in a tiny village in the 19th century that is not so simple.
Kaetrin: In some ways the book reminded me a bit of the premise of Irresistible, with a suggested “arrangement” between friends/friendly acquaintances but the books are very different for all that. Harry and Lydia don’t have the same kind of arrangement as Sophia and Nathaniel.
Janine: I was reminded of Indiscreet, with its emphasis on the precarious position of a woman living alone in a small village and how blameless her conduct must be if she is to protect her reputation. I liked Harry much better than Rex, though, and although the book was very emotional, it wasn’t nearly as angsty.
Kaetrin: I don’t remember much about Indiscreet to be honest. But Irresistible is in my top 3 Baloghs of all time.
Janine: Indiscreet was a big favorite of mine in the 1990s. It’s a problematic book but was somewhat ahead of its time—it had a #metoo theme that is both hit hard and hard hitting. But enough digressing.
Kaetrin: The story here has a kind of closeness/insularity when compared to Irresistible; it being self-contained in Hinsford and the very small village of Fairfield for the most part (whereas Irresistible was set in London). The cast is only large because the Westcotts all (all of them!) appear in the story but otherwise there’s a sense of cosy domesticity and lower stakes. Lydia’s reputation is of course very important in Fairfield but it’s also not life or death. There are no spies or conspiracies. There is knitting and baking and chopping wood, visiting one’s neighbours and going to church. The story is told, mostly, against these rather innocuous domestic activities and there was something calming and cosy about it which I found both soothing and engaging at the same time.
Janine: My experience was different to a degree. I started out irritated with Lydia and as the rest of her character was unveiled I became more and more engrossed in the book. I sank into it as if it were a feather mattress. Lydia was just so different because of her particular backstory and her initial (desire for? comfort in? devotion to?) blending into the background. The freshness of her characterization was engaging and as she changed from a faded nonentity into a woman blazing with vivacity I fell in love with her.
Kaetrin: Lydia’s concern was that she would lose her freedom by marrying again.
Janine: Lydia has chosen to lead a domestic, solitary life in a small cottage without even a servant and her house is both a refuge and a hiding hole. We don’t know much about Lydia’s marriage at first and she thinks about how her husband was a good man and she loved him. But we know he was a charismatic pastor with fervent followers, that he called Lydia his “helpmeet” rather than his wife, and that in the years of her marriage, Lydia blended into the wallpaper. It’s hard to describe without spoilers but for me it wasn’t only letting go of the typical freedoms of a single state vs. grabbing the happiness marriage offered that was at stake for Lydia.
Kaetrin: Harry, readers know, will not restrict Lydia’s freedom but I would have liked more on how Lydia came to know that. How she joined those dots. There were some pivotal conversations but were they enough? I’d have liked some scenes from after their marriage – perhaps negotiating something successfully together, or her disagreeing and Harry changing his mind about something based entirely on her desires. Or, more of Lydia observing the family dynamics of the Westcotts, seeing how the women are powerful, respected and that they are valued partners in their marriages and not accessories or cossetted to the point of being infantilised. I mean, I know that’s not how they are, but that’s not Lydia’s experience and I’d have liked more on how she realised she was safe with Harry and wise to trust him.
Janine: This part worked marvelously for me. I felt that primarily it was Harry’s innate kindness that persuaded her.
Kaetrin: Harry’s kindness is definitely a plus, for Lydia and for me as a reader.
Janine: Harry feels ashamed when he realizes he hasn’t accorded Lydia more than polite attention even when she is a nondescript stranger, and begins to rectify that from that moment on. He is kind to her dog. He has nightmares not about what he suffered in the war, but about the enemy soldiers whose lives he took there. He treats others equally when they would put him on a pedestal. When he has them, he doesn’t let his dark moods cloud those of others. Most of all, he listens, really listens, and does not press Lydia even when he thinks her choices aren’t serving her well. He finds other ways to show he cares.
This is wholly new to Lydia, the exact opposite of her past experiences with men, and it’s seductive to her.
Kaetrin: I kind of hated that Lydia’s experience with men to date had universally been of the suffocating and/or unhappy kind. I especially detested everything I learned about Isaiah as a husband (and I wasn’t so much a fan of him everywhere else in life either actually).
Janine: I felt terrible for Lydia for the way the men in her life had behaved but it made for a good story so I didn’t mind it in that sense. As for Isaiah—my goodness, yes.
Kaetrin: I did adore the small parts with Avery – he’s always a scene-stealer for me and he’s such a pivotal character in the series, making little moves which ripple widely or drawing a firm line past which no-one will cross.
Janine: Avery is my favorite hero in the whole series but he doesn’t stand out to me here. There was a scene between Anna and Harry where his presence actually annoyed me. It was a moment between the siblings that I’d been waiting for a long time and I wanted to focus on their emotions and for all those feelings and the impetus to be from them. His presence took something away from the scene. It would have been more intimate and personal without him there.
To contradict what I just said, I did love this line:
Avery knows, Harry thought. Was there anything in this world he did not know?
That line encapsulates Avery’s appeal and why he’s such a magnetic character.
But the standout secondary character for me in this book was Viola. There are a couple of stellar scenes where her strength and grace shine and she impacts the romance more than Avery ever does.
Kaetrin: The Westcotts are incredibly fecund and given what we know about child mortality at the time, not to mention the health effects for women of frequent pregnancy, it is fantastical that they’re all so very healthy. I can’t complain about it really though because if there was pregnancy loss and death of children and death of past main characters it would ruin HEAs but I do remind myself that this is a fairytale version of Regency England.
Janine: I don’t see why each couple where the wife is of childbearing years has to have at least three children. What’s wrong with having just one or two? Deciding to be happily childless? Camille and Joel at this point can’t possibly be giving all their children the personal attention each one deserves so must they keep adopting? The Westcott family gatherings get saccharine because of that. Call me a curmudgeon but I could have done without the children’s talent show or the obligatory Westcott get together to plan out Harry’s future behind his back.
But there are a couple of chapters later in the book that involve a Westcott family picnic and that work really well.
Kaetrin: Someone to Cherish was originally going to be the last book featuring the Westcott family. The author has decided to keep going—
Janine: Going by the blurb on Goodreads the spin-off series is “Friends of the Westcotts” —
Kaetrin: —with stories for the Lamarr twins and perhaps others from the series too. But the last part of this book does feel like a kind of extended series epilogue with all of the main characters from the previous books having a brief (in some cases no more than a sentence brief) exchange where their HEA is reinforced. I didn’t hate it but at the same time, it wasn’t necessary either.
Janine: That irritated me. I like the last scene in a romance to focus on that book’s main couple so that the glow of their newfound happiness can stay with me. I already know the other couples are happy together and it isn’t necessary to reiterate it, just distracting.
Kaetrin: I did feel the entire story wrapped up a little too quickly.
Janine: This is one of my favorite books in the series. Lydia is probably my favorite Westcott heroine; I loved Viola too but she was saddled with a hero who didn’t work for me. Harry is second only to Avery and Gil for me. I closed the book with a sigh of happiness and a warm feeling in my chest. Someone to Cherish is my definition of a comfort read.
Kaetrin: I liked the book but it wasn’t my favourite of the series by any stretch – for me that distinction goes to either Someone to Honor (Westcott 6) or Someone to Romance (Westcott 7). I really wanted more about why Lydia changed her mind, there wasn’t quite enough for me here to show how she reached that decision even though I was confident it was a good choice.