Every now and then, my favorite authors write some duds. Not complete flops, but ones that leave me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. All throughout the Survivors' Club series--no less than five previous novels with still one more to go--the promise of Imogen's story has teased me. Learning the secret details of her wartime trauma was always a big draw though fans of the series already knew she had witnessed her husband's death while they were prisoners of war. I also wanted to know all about the man strong enough to break through her marble-like facade and bring her back into the living.
I got to know about both, but I had to read a very slow burning and mediocre romance to find them. It wasn't a matter of not liking Imogen and her man Percy; they were solid and immensely likable people who got along and had a relationship that worked. Their romance was just tame and a bit dull. I didn't want tame for Imogen!
Yet, it wasn't until the very last pages where I understood how huge the demon riding her was. Those moments, those mere snippets in comparison to the length of the story, were some of the most heartrending, emotional scenes I've read. They were glorious. The reunion with her fellow Survivors, especially the time where she completely falls apart while they held her was by far the best part of the entire story. Percy shared romantic moments with Imogen at Penderris Hall, too, that were almost as moving. He was a truly good man, that Percy, and just right for her.
However, these select scenes could not carry the majority of the otherwise lukewarm story though the addition of a smuggling subplot (it was set in Cornwall, after all) was interesting and relevant and had an important connection to Imogen's past. Still, I was hoping for something more exciting for her. The sweet insights and details of her wedding day were nice but not enough. Only a Kiss comes up short for me, similar to Ralph's story (Only a Promise, book 5) for slightly different reasons, earning 3.5 stars.
Well, it's Mary Balogh so it can't be bad, but I found this book kind of slow moving, and one of my least favorite of the Survivor's Club series. For anyone else, it would be a quite good book, for her, it was barely average. There are a lot of digressions involving various friends and family members, which provide some background but don't really move the plot forward. I did find the smuggling subplot interesting, and it gave the hero a chance to shine. And I could not guess what Imogen's secret trauma was about, so I totally did not see that coming.
Balogh did a good job with the difficult task of creating a love story where one of the people has had a previous happy marriage. Usually, authors do it by somehow denigrating the first spouse, or having something bad about him or her come to light. But Imogen's first husband started out as a hero and ended up even more so, when we find out how he met his end. So I have to praise the author for making the HEA between Imogen and Percy(the hero of this book) believable.
I have nothing much to add to member Regina's excellent review, except to say that my reaction was a bit different. I agree that the novel had a leisurely pace, but this is typical of recent Balogh, and it's really what she does best: build slowly to an intense moment which clarifies events and puts them in a new perspective. There is such a moment when the core reason for Imogen's pain is revealed. I had suspected that that was what happened, but still I found it very moving, and entirely credible.
I favor Balogh's earlier novels; they seem to have more focus and energy -- but this was a good read that held my interest, even with her (tm) reunion scenes, which I for one could do without.
The other thing is, Balogh was an English teacher; she understands the power of the sound of words. Her prose is always a joy to read, particularly when compared to the flat banal flavorless style many authors raised on TV and visual media default to these days.
Working my way through the Survivor's Club series, I've been sure that Imogen, Lady Barclay, would have a harrowing story to tell. The truth was worse than my imaginings. The author chose Imogen to keep her misery to herself through most of the novel. Thus, when it was told, the story was even more shattering.
Having read all of the others in the series, I had come to look at Imogen as a cold fish. However, the author did a beautiful job of showing the truth behind Imogen's tight control of her emotions. Percival Hayes, Earl of Hardford, is a perfect foil for Imogen; he is light-hearted and loved by his family and friends. He has been floating through life since his days at Oxford.
Adding the plotline about the smuggling on the Cornwall coast gave Percy the opportunity to show what he was made of to the people of Cornwall and Imogen. This was a thoroughly enjoyable novel.
1. The Proposal (2012)
2. The Arrangement (2013)
3. The Escape (2014)
4. Only Enchanting (2014)
5. Only a Promise (2015)
** 6. Only a Kiss (2015)
7. Only Beloved (2016)