Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh #Review

Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh #ReviewOnly a Kiss by Mary Balogh

Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Signet on September 1, 2015
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars  

“And who the devil might you be? He asked her.”

“Imogene Hayes, Lady Barclay,” she told him.

Well, if that was a neat facer.

  1. 27 Percy and Imogene from Only a Kiss

And so began the auspicious meeting of Percy and Imogene. Instant dislike, witty responses, and a whole slew of assumption. Things were shaping up for something good.

This was the Survivor story that had me in the least anticipation and it had nothing to do with the fact that the Survivor is female, but everything to do with Imogene being this supposedly cold icicle through the earlier books in the series. She held herself aloof. It’s not true, but I felt she was making this great production out of her pain and survivor’s guilt. I don’t feel badly for this presumption because she struck Percy the same way at first. I felt bad for her situation and can’t imagine the strength needed to put herself back together, but on the other hand, I was not endeared to her distant personality and quelling of emotions.

So this was a heroine that had the tough job of changing my mind and I confess that I was worried because I’m so much harder on the heroines. It started out in fits and starts with my fears being realized. Imogene was the ice queen and Percy matched her in my books. They thought the worst about each other and said provoking, rude things ala Darcy and Elizabeth of Pride and Prejudice fame. I found that I wanted to flick the ears of both of them.

But then as the story progressed, my fears fell aside. Village life, smuggling, recovery from war, family, home, a man coming into his own, and a woman re-engaging with life. I got caught up in the whirl of the larger story and found this fire and ice romance on the Cornish coast pulled me in. I have no idea why I ever doubted. This author is a sure thing.

The story is equally Percy’s as much as Imogene’s. Percy has it all and he realizes his good fortune even as he feels empty inside. So, three sheets to the wind, on a whim, he decides to go to the main estate he inherited with his title and there maybe he can find himself.

Imogene lives quietly on the estate that would have belonged to her deceased husband if he had lived, but instead went to a distant cousin two years before. The Earl of Hartford has finally come in all his London polish and finery with that haughty look and expectation that the world is at his feet. Or so she thinks, until she looks closely. What she sees frightens her because instead of hating Percy, she is warming to him and that will not do at all.

Percy is mystified why he even cares to thaw the ice around Imogene and make her laugh. He thought her made of marble and emotionless until he learned the reason why she erected such formidable barriers. She was there when her husband was tortured by the war and it broke her. She is barely cobbled back together even now. But for all that, her laugh, her real smile, and her very presence have become necessary. And suddenly he is taking an interest in responsible matters like the estate and the dark shadows of smuggling that hang about the place.

Imogene cannot and will not give Percy more than a few weeks and Percy has no plans to stay on and yet they both feel pain at the thought of parting.

As I said, this story started out rocky for me and I will confess that part of me still didn’t warm up to Imogene. I couldn’t figure out why she was really punishing herself. All along, I could tell that there was something still unknown about her past and was the reason she felt the need to not allow herself any happiness. In the end, I was horrified, but not surprised. Though that said, she was really engaging in the muddled thinking of a victim even eight years later. She hadn’t healed; she had been in stasis.

And this is where the author showed brilliance in her choice of hero’s character. Percy had his own issues, but what he had in spades was those qualities needed to break through Imogene’s strong hard shell and get her to heal properly this time around. She was like the broken bone that healed wrong and has to be broken and reset to get it to heal properly a second time. He provoked her, he dared to ask direct questions and make pointed comments, and he didn’t let discomfort with her circumstances stop him.

The reverse is true as well. Imogene helped make a man out of Percy. He had been playing at life for the last ten years and his natural charm, looks, rank, and wealth made that easy for him. He was slowly disappearing into nothingness because of lack of purpose and responsibility. He knew that he didn’t compare well up against her war hero husband who stood up for his convictions, but he chose to make this a personal challenge to change and not as an excuse to continue as he had been going. The challenge of Imogene, his backwater estate, and dealing with the dangerous smuggler situation pushed him off the stands and into the game.

The pace and movement of the story was slow and crawled at times. I won’t say I got bored, but I did have the ‘move it along’ thoughts. The character development and the romance development needed time and I will be the first one to admit that I’m glad it wasn’t rushed. I like that the author explores deep issues and gives her characters complex layers. I like that there is a well-drawn setting and surrounding cast. And this is why I more than tolerate the pace.

Not that it is all slow and humdrum. Percy and Imogene get up to some passionate doings and the situation with the smugglers isn’t romantic, but is very much tense danger. I like the physicality of the relationship that doesn’t get gratuitous, but always forwarding the relationship when it’s included. The smuggling storyline got me very excited and I enjoyed the suspense as Percy pitted himself against the unknown and sought to break the power of his shadowy unknown adversary. That resolved somewhat differently than I wanted, but wasn’t bad and had a few twists before the end.

As an aside, the secondary characters and the menagerie of animals was hilarious. The two older women with one a misogynist and the other a warm maternal softy, the ‘so ugly he’s cute’ dog that loyally latched onto Percy, the cranky cats, and the rest of the strays were the light note. Then add in Percy’s big boisterous family and two friends and Imogene didn’t stand a chance of remaining aloof.

Now this was the last of the younger survivors. I enjoyed the brief updates that the others have started families and are settling into their new healing, happy lives. I am so glad to know that the author is providing George’s story instead of ending it here. He has been a favorite character from the beginning. I love that he opened his home to help those others heal even while he was grieving the death of his son to war and dealing with his wife’s subsequent suicide. I want him to have his chance at happiness, too.

In summary, this sixth installment, which should be read in order, was one I dreaded, but learned to love as I did others in the series. It has strong historic flavor, passionate and complex characters, and an engaging if gently-paced plot. Historical Romance lovers who don’t mind some spice in the romance along with characters who face not just flaws, but personal tragedies to get past should give this series a try.

My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Romance Roundabout #284 HR

Cliché Klatch #172 ‘Keep one eye open’

Historical Romance #79

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • At the moment I do not even know if I have ever read her books..must check

    • She has written scads of books over a few decades so you probably have as much as you read. 😉

  • Sounds like you are enjoying this series. Thanks for the review.

    • Yes, I’ve been reading her books for many years and this latest series will definitely be a favorite.

  • Sounds like that first meeting doesn’t go too well, but I am sure it’s fun to see them going from instant dislike to love. Although I am not a fan of romances were they start out to far on opposite sides or say nasty things to each other. Imogene sounds very distant and cold, but I am glad she becomes more likeable and warm later on. I always like seeing character change like that. The side characters and animals sound like they add a fun touch to the book. Great review!

    • These two certainly can’t be accused of instalove. Haha! It was really neat to have my mind change as the story unfolded.

      And those animals and family members were a crack up!

  • I love a good ice queen, and especially love a good hate-to-love romance.

    • I thought of these two as ice and fire the way she smothered emotions and contact and the way he went straight to the heart of matters with his words. Quite the pair!

  • I read one of the Survivor’s Club books, but I was a bit underwhelmed. I didn’t dislike it at all, but I also didn’t love it. I know what you mean about your worried about Imogene.

    • They can be slow moving gentle stories, I definitely agree. Yes, Imogene was there all along, but she was never as warm and participating as the others in the group so I was glad to see Percy’s rash approach really help her heal and re-engage.

  • I am so thrilled you enjoyed this one so much!! I plan on reading this series in order. I really like this author, at least her older books. I really love complex characters especially in a historical setting, so you have me pretty excited to pick this one up.

    • I’ve read several of her older books and loved them. This series really hooked me the way she is telling of these Napoleonic War survivors healing and finding love. I like that she doesn’t make things easy and takes the time to develop things. Hope you like them, Renee.

  • LOL at wanting to flick their ears. I still need to go back to the start on this series. I tried with the last book but it just wasn’t one I could start the series in the middle of (for me at least). I do want to go back though when I get the chance 🙂 I’m glad to see you ended up enjoying this one so much despite your worries 🙂

    • Oh yeah, they were like two cranky kids snarling at each other at first. I wasn’t sure if I would tolerate it much longer when they finally got it together and behaved like adults.

      Yeah, some of these work fine out of order, but a few only feel comfortable read after the one before it. This one looks on the surface like it could standalone since most of the story is Percy and Imogene on the family estate, but her character makes better sense if you’ve been reading about her all along. I started with book two and kept going and then finally got around to book one this summer. Not sure if I’ll go back for the little novella since I don’t really care about those side characters. I definitely want the next book and have since I met the hero.

  • Flick their ears huh Sophia? Lols. I like that they got past their *dislike* of each other and were able to help one another and well as start a relationship. I kinda like that in my romances sometimes because it add a bit more to the build up, you know?

    • Yeah, they were pretty bratty at first. 🙂

      I liked the way things developed. It was so much more believable this way.