“There is nothing but romance to recommend it.” Mary Balogh’s The Proposal

“You are in love with Lady Muir, are you?”

“I suppose so,” Hugo said.

“And she is in love with you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“It is hopeless,” Hugo said. “There is nothing but romance to recommend it.”

This, in a nutshell, is the entire plot of Mary Balogh’s The Proposal, a book I enjoyed, I think.

Plot summary (from Goodreads):

Gwendoline, Lady Muir, has seen her share of tragedy, especially since a freak accident took her husband much too soon. Content in a quiet life with friends and family, the young widow has no desire to marry again. But when Hugo, Lord Trentham, scoops her up in his arms after a fall, she feels a sensation that both shocks and emboldens her.

Hugo never intends to kiss Lady Muir, and frankly, he judges her to be a spoiled, frivolous—if beautiful—aristocrat. He is a gentleman in name only: a soldier whose bravery earned him a title; a merchant’s son who inherited his wealth. He is happiest when working the land, but duty and title now demand that he finds a wife. He doesn’t wish to court Lady Muir, nor have any role in the society games her kind thrives upon. Yet Hugo has never craved a woman more; Gwen’s guileless manner, infectious laugh, and lovely face have ruined him for any other woman. He wants her, but will she have him?

The hard, dour ex-military officer who so gently carried Gwen to safety is a man who needs a lesson in winning a woman’s heart. Despite her cautious nature, Gwen cannot ignore the attraction. As their two vastly different worlds come together, both will be challenged in unforeseen ways. But through courtship and seduction, Gwen soon finds that with each kiss, and with every caress, she cannot resist Hugo’s devotion, his desire, his love, and the promise of forever.

PHEW! Long summary. Sorta feels like the book. Too often, it takes Balogh too long to get around to it, which is my chief complaint about the novel.

Overall, I liked this book. I enjoyed the struggle of seeing these two characters – Gwen and Hugo – both hurt psychologically and emotionally by moments of death (or LOTS of death, in Hugo’s case) in their past, figure out that they were the only people actually holding themselves back from being happy.

At the same time, it took them a long time to figure that out. The quote I started this post with was three quarters of the way through. By that point, their courtship had probably been on-and-off four times (make a decision, Hugo!), a courtship that began after they had already had sex and he had proposed (which she rejected). There was a point in the middle when the pace of the plot almost ground to a complete halt.

Yet, I felt satisfied when the story was over. I felt that I had gone on a journey with these two people that made sense even as it frustrated me.

It was a read in contradictions. I would skim long passages of too much detail or plot points that didn’t seem to matter. Then – bam! – Balogh would hit you with a section that was breathtaking it in its content or emotion. When Hugo cannot find it in himself to just tell Gwen what they both know he feels and she finally tells him to go and never come back and then he goes and then I’m feeling compelled to scream out loud, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAN?” while at the same time wishing they would just work it out because I’m SO tired of the back and forth. I was clearly emotionally committed to the story and yet. AND YET.

My two final quibbles: 1) too many characters. I could not keep them all straight. 2) sometimes I would forget, especially in first part of book, whose point of view I was reading. I would think it was still Gwen and then realize it was Hugo after being thoroughly confused for a bit.

Would I recommend this? *clenches teeth, look up* uhhhhhhmm….yes. I’m glad I read it. Do I think if you read it you will be entirely happy with your choice? probably not.

And so, I give Mary Balogh’s The Proposal 3.5 out of 5 stars, I think.

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