Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Escape by Mary Balogh

Note:  I received a NetGalley copy in exchange for an honest review.  This will be my last NetGalley review.
My Experience:   Reading is A/ Cover is F
Synopsis:  After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey. Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.

A gentle awakening that is worthy of the characters!

Infatuated and married young, illusions quickly banished, so too was Samantha - to her in laws and their bizarre expectations of what a young woman must be.  It was intended as punishment by her new husband, he despised his family and was irritated by his new wife.  Wounded early in the war, Captain McKay was confined to his bed and room, willing only for his valet and wife to attend him.  She did, for five looooong years.  Four months after his death, the widow McKay is finally well rested and suddenly aware that she is still alive and the world is right outside the door, still.  She wants to feel the sun, the air, walk and run and dance and laugh ... to actually be alive.  Her sister-in-law insists the entire year of mourning should be worse than the five previous years of living up to those faithful words:  For better or worse, in sickness and in health.

Former Major Ben Harper is visiting his sister, taking some time to consider his future now he has accepted the fact his legs may function but they will never function as they used to.  He jumps a hedge and barely avoids trampling Mrs. McKay and the ugliest dog most anyone has ever seen.  Despite resenting the apology he must make to her, after the fact, he manages not to give away her secret escape from sister-in-law's edicts and even to form a tentative friendship.  He recognizes she is where he has been, but although he had friends and assistance, she has none.  So he places a few kind words and the ladies of the village crawl from the woodwork to embrace her - once the sister-in-law leaves in a huff over Samantha's intention to go riding with Ben and his sister.  He avoids her otherwise because it is the sensible, gentlemanly thing to do, until she appears, distraught over an ultimatum from her tyrannical father-in-law that amounts to imprisonment - for her own good.

I have one day in which to make a decision that will affect all of the rest of my life, whatever that decision is,” she told him. “I have one day in which to make my escape—or bow to what seems my inevitable fate. I do not know where escape will lead me. On the other hand, I do know where bowing to my fate will." The words may sound like a breathless chit dreaming of a life on the stage; however Samantha is genuinely faced with a one day decision that will determine where and how she spends the rest of her life.  Few people have such obvious moments, except with hindsight.   "You have been more than kind even to listen to me, and that kindness has led to my thinking of a solution for myself. I am going.”

Samantha and Ben's road trip is as much an escape as it is a dash toward independence for both of them. From Bramble Hall to Wales, they find the road not quite as expected, not unpleasantly so. Samantha would embrace a reckless spirit but is gentled by Ben's needs to take the trip at a slower pace.  Ben would meander and distract himself with every little thing but is nudged along by Samantha's quest for a haven, a home, something neither of them have had in a very long time.  Friendship deepens, attraction evolves and occasionally, they squabble quite determinedly.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading their courtship, even when they reached journey's end, it was more a beginning - for both of them.

Ms. Balogh has seldom disappointed me and certainly not with this book!  Her writing is generously paced, characters completely explored and evidence of their growth is laudable.  Ben's struggle with his loss of command of men as well as his body did not equate to lack of self-control.  I was soooo happy about that!

After you have left here,” she asked him, “will you regret that you were the perfect gentleman the whole time we were together? Well, almost the whole time.” 
How could I regret behaving like a gentleman?” he asked her. “That is what I am.”

Samantha's re-awakening to the world is a delight to read, the dialog fun and secondary characters believable and well drawn.  The romance was perfect.  Not rushed, not tarnished by outside conflicts or smothered by internal struggles.  Ben and Samantha were true to themselves while mindful of proprieties.  They skated on very thin ice in several places, but not beyond the pale, a rare pleasure in romance land these days.  The plot was plausible, if a little strained toward the end.  I'm not a real believer in the absence makes the heart grow fonder thing - but for these characters at that time, it worked.  That they found their answers in themselves, before completely embracing each other is what I appreciated most about the book.  Along with the fact they were both thoughtful regarding the other person's feelings - even when a harsh word was exchanged - was classic Ms. Balogh that keeps me re-reading her many, many books on my keeper list.

Yes, yes, as the blurb implies, they had discreet sex - took a glorious break from time and allowed themselves to feel pleasure, to feel loved, to feel able to give love; but it was *not* the answer to their future, thank you O so much Ms. Balogh for living up to your work, not down to the blurb!  These two people were connected by friendship and mutual understanding before they were connected by intimate relations.  The descriptions of said passion were romantic and amusing and lovely.

Their declarations, the joy they both bring to their commitment to one another is what lasts in memory of this book.  You do not doubt the happily ever after will be much more than they envision, for better or worse, in sickness and in health ... they will find a way to enjoy the moments together.

My only quibble is the Book Cover. With earnest apologies to Ms.Balogh and her lovely story, this would have been a five star book, except for the cover. And boy ... howdy, it makes my blood boil.  The series is The Survivors Club.  These men and women endured the worst of war and in Ben's case, were visibly scared and physically challenged.

It is yet another Man Boob Cover.  And frankly, offensive considering the premise of the series.  I realize no publisher is going to put ::gasp::  a scared man on the cover of a romance book, just as I realize the blurb must contain steamy overtones that imply robust sex is really the solution to every thing in life because that's what sells, at least according to facebook, twitter and marketing analysts.  But in this case, it diminishes both Ben and the survivors of any war, not to mention insults readers.

The gross supposition that we can READ about scarred individuals, the hard work of recovery, and the precious gift that love is ... but cannot look at it and part with our hard earned money is an infuriating reflection of society so many writers mock for being unable to bear the site of the wounded.  IF we're all so rabid for sexy men while being too delicate to face scars, how about a cover with his clothes on!  How about an image of a man that looks old enough to have survived war and the years since, not a hairless boy you fear the over 18 consent to be photographed form might be forged.... How about an epiphany that readers choosing a series based on survival by golly expect more from the cover than eye-candy.

Since this was the only book I've read in this series, I looked to see what the other covers were like, and ::sigh:: they are indeed Trending Theme of the Year covers.

It is a stretch to believe the Survivors Club premise in this era but it was plausible enough to handwave. Covers with images of waxed chest young men flashing boobs at us with the only man standing being the one that does so with painful difficulty and the need of two (2) canes is flailing credulity.

Aside from my quibble.  I recommend this book and encourage you to read the short novella at the end as well, it is a charming story - read it first if you prefer, I did!  For myself, I will wait for the series to be completed and the reissues with covers more in keeping with the empathetic tone of the work and the dignity of survivors as well as respect for readers.


  1. I am with you about covers! I have an embarrassing and "can't take her anywhere" inner Cover HO! I have read only 2 books by Mary Balogh, First Comes Marriage, which I love the Huxtable clan and Slightly Married which I didn't like. Both were large print at my library and have covers that made my inner Cover HO duck down in her seat and hide in shame after I got them from my library! If I saw a romances cover with a SCARRED person HELLO publishers, it would be like a Kmart blue light special! I am a visual shopper and covers make or break my purchases! I am sick of man boobs and covers like What A Lady Craves by Ashlynn Macnamara and Christina Brooke's Wickedest Lord Alive! A great yummy & sexy tight a$$ and a 12 pack are way HOTTER!

  2. You might try Lady with a Black Umbrella - it's a FUN Romp. I'm just so sick of feeling like a pedophile when looking at book covers and when they do not reflect the characters in the story, it trashes the "feels good" of the book. That the covers are now appearing at the beginning and the end of the e-books means you can't *forget* them as easily. There are so many starving artist out there that could produce wonderful, lovely covers more reflective of this book ... geez, publishers, go to deviant art and trip over them, your readers will be grateful!