Guest Post: Mary, Queen of Regency

This guest post is from Emily Neuberger, who wanted to share some recommendations with you. Emily is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her debut novel A Tender Thing, ( A | BN | K | AB ) was released this spring.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been finding it difficult to read while in quarantine. It seems every time I open a book, the anxiety starts: How is my mom doing? Did I send that work email? What’s going on with school closures? Maybe I should check Twitter one more time…

In times of strife and worry, I’ve always found romance to be a salve. This time is no different. But, like a spinster aunt chaperone in a Regency historical, I must look out for my nerves. I want something soothing: the prose equivalent of a hot bath.

And I’ve found myself turning, once again, to Mary Balogh.

Classic Romance Which one First written on an ereader screen atop a stack of booksOh, Mary! How can I possibly sum her up? She’s a Welsh-Canadian romance novelist who’s been writing for almost forty years. Her heroines run the spectrum from soft-spoken to ferocious, but they always have a compelling dignity and kindness. Balogh’s books beautifully describe the English countryside, have the elegance of a classic novel, and capture the civility and restraint of Regency society. More than once, I’ve thought of her books as peeking into the private lives of Jane Austen characters.

If you’d like to settle into a romance as comforting as a pot of tea — milk, no sugar — I can’t recommend Mary Balogh enough. She has more than seventy books, so I’ve put together a list of favorites to help you discover where to begin.

Slightly Scandalous
A | BN | K | AB
The Bedwyn Series

Perhaps her most beloved series, the Bedwyn sextet is filled with gems. Starting with Slightly Married, it follows the six brothers and sisters of the passionate and headstrong Bedwyn family. I’m a sucker for any series that focuses on siblings, especially when there’s a troublemaker in the bunch.

My favorite here is Slightly Scandalous. It follows Freyja, the fiery and independent eldest daughter, who’s determined to shirk her restraints and avoid marriage. Enter Joshua Moore, Marquess of Hallmere, a man with the very same mission. When the two team up to trick their family — and society — into granting them freedom, sparks fly.

Someone to Care
A | BN | K | AB
Someone to Care

The fourth book in Balogh’s latest Westcott series, this one is a favorite of mine for starring a couple in their forties. When the heroine, Viola, is widowed and left ruined, she encounters an old flame in the form of the Marquess of Dorchester. Twenty years earlier, they had a heated meeting, but never connected. After years of playing by the rules, Viola is determined to have a little bit of fun on her own terms. But adventure is never simple….

This novel is very special. While so many romances focus on first love, Someone to Care follows characters who’ve spent decades leading full lives. Not only is it a refreshing change to read about more mature people, but Balogh utilizes their ages to construct an even more romantic ending. Both characters think they’ve seen all the surprises life has in store for them. After years putting others first, Viola especially has learned not to expect much happiness for herself. It was such a joy to see her proven wrong.

A | BN | K | AB

After a years of life bound by duty, it’s not easy for either Lucas or Anna to open their hearts. While both began life with generous natures, they’ve learned self-protection after trusted allies betrayed them. Only the heart-racing connection they find together makes it possible to maybe, just maybe, dream of love. Is it possible for these two hardened hearts to learn trust? Maybe not — when a crushing torment interrupts their newlywed bliss, they resign themselves to a lifetime of unhappiness. But is a loveless marriage really in their futures?

While the beginning of their conflict hinges on a misunderstanding, it takes much more than a clarifying conversation to solve the drama. Before they can come together, both characters must travel their own journeys, learn to trust in others, and more than anything, understand that they deserve love. With so many forces pulling them apart, internal and external, the eventual happily-ever-after is that much more satisfying. Oh, and the steamy scenes here are very enjoyable.

First Comes Marriage
A | BN | K | AB
First Comes Marriage

This book is the first in the Huxtable Quintet. When the Viscount Lyngate travels to a small country village intent on finding a wife, he chooses the lovely and respectable Margaret Huxtable. But her younger sister, the outspoken widow Nessie, is intent on saving sweet Margaret from a loveless union. Nessie offers herself instead — and when the wedding night arrives, the couple find themselves delightfully surprised at their match. She’s not the quiet wife he dreamed of, but perhaps this marriage can become more than just convenient. Nessie is loyal, inelegant, and smart, the kind of woman we all hope will find a happily-ever-after.

The Arrangement
A | BN | K | AB
The Arrangement

Second in “The Survivors Club” series, this might be my personal favorite Balogh book. Balogh has a talent for taking an external conflict and burrowing it deep into the characters’ psyche; she never relies on happenstance to carry the plot. In The Arrangement, the Viscount Darleigh has always been under the protective thumb of his family members — as the youngest in his family, the heir, and, recently, as a blind man. He’s determined to marry a woman of his own choice, and selects the unassuming commoner Sophia Fry.

What starts as a marriage of convenience soon turns into an arrangement restoring the independence of both… and then, of course, something far more. But both characters have some serious chips on their shoulders, and neither believes the other one could possibly love them. What I loved most about this one is their insecurities never stopped them from freely giving their love to the other character — never bitter, these two captured me with their generous hearts.

Visiting with these characters during the quarantine is a welcome pause from the stress that surrounds me from every direction. Balogh’s writing is a perfect respite, and her books are like old friends at this point.

What about you? What are your favorite of Balogh’s books? Where would you recommend readers start?

Comments are Closed

  1. Katty says:

    I completely agree that Mary Balogh’s novels are the ultimate comfort reads! Of the Bedwyn series, I, like so many others, just adore Slightly Dangerous with its strong Pride & Prejudice vibes. So much so, I’m not even sure I would recommend starting there, haha. Maybe better keep this highlight for a bit later in your Mary Balogh reading!
    I also very much enjoyed A Summer To Remember (so quiet and comforting, yet so feminist), Simply Perfect (loved how friendship and respect developed between the hero and heroine before anything else, though pretty meh about the plot moppet child) and Someone To Wed (a quietly courageous heroine who confronts her fears one by one, and a hero who absolutely has her back).

  2. Sylvia says:

    @Katty, I also love Slightly Dangerous, but I agree it’s not the one to start with. You learn so much about Wulfric in the previous books as the head of the family that it just wouldn’t be the same if you read it without seeing how his siblings view him. I have been wanting to re-read it (again) recently. Unfortunately, I have lost my hard copy and the e-book is not available in Australia on Amazon, only the audiobook. And I can’t do audio – too slow and too much talking (yes, yes, I know that’s the point). It’s very sad.
    Also, The Arrangement is adorable. They are the cutest couple ever. And I love the whole group of found family in this series. No one does family quite like Queen Mary.

  3. Caitlyn says:

    I LOVE Mary Balogh. I have a real soft spot for Camille’s book in the Westcott series (so much character development!) but my favorite is probably Longing or Simply Love – I adore that whole quartet.

  4. LN says:

    Slightly dangerous is my favourite too and it isn’t available as an ebook in the UK either so I have been waiting to reread it for years!
    Personally, I think it works very well as a standalone.

  5. Katherine A Dunne says:

    I’ve really enjoyed all of the Balogh books I’ve read, but does anyone know why they are quite so repetitive? I had to knock a star of of my review of “Someone to Wed” because I got so fed up with the characters endlessly recapping the premise of the book. I wish someone published an abridged version!

  6. cheryl says:

    I still think The First Snowdrop is my favorite Balogh. It’s from when she was writing Signets, so it’s not as long, but it contains all the elements above.

  7. Katty says:

    @Sylvia: Obviously, there would still be the “too much talking” issue, but if an audiobook is too slow, you could try increasing the speed a bit. I’ve started doing that and it took me a little while to get used to it, but I now listen at 1.5 times the normal speed and can follow along nicely.

    But why, oh why, would Slightly Dangerous not be available as an e-book in either Australia or the UK?!? I’m in Austria and I just checked – it’s still available (and at a pretty reasonable 5 EUR at that) on Amazon Germany (which is the one relevant for me). So sorry for you guys!

  8. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    Although I read very little HR these days, Mary Balogh has always been one of my favorites. In fact, back in the late 1980s, when I was completely burned out in bodice-rippers, it was Mary Balogh’s THE RELUCTANT BRIDE (along with Edith Layton’s THE ABANDONED BRIDE) that brought me back to reading HR. I remember when I first started reading Balogh’s books, I was surprised by the on-page sex (is never seen that in a Regency before) and by the fact that some of her heroes, after marrying, continued to see their “demi-mondaines” until they realized they loved their wives (I think she lost that particular plot element a long time ago). Although SLIGHTLY DANGEROUS is probably my favorite of her most “recent” works, I’m gonna go way, way back in the way-back machine and choose THE DEVIL’S WEB as my favorite. It’s the third book of a trilogy about three siblings and their romantic entanglements during and after the Napoleonic Wars. It’s probably best to read the other two books, THE GILDED WEB & WEB OF LOVE, to get the full arc for the h&h of THE DEVIL’S WEB: they’re secondary characters in the previous two books and are rather antagonistic to each other. I don’t think it’s the sort of story Balogh would write today: the hero is probably a little too close to the “unknowable” hero of gothics and bodice-rippers to be entirely acceptable today and there’s a lot of “I hate you, but let’s have hot sexy-times once we extinguish the candles,” but I love the angsty emotions between him and the heroine (a bright and good person, unsure of why she loves the brooding hero so much). Even in the midst of a pandemic, I require a regular dose of book-related angst!

  9. Linda Watson says:

    I have a soft spot for Alleyne’s book, Slightly Sinful. I love a good amnesia plot and the family reunion in that one gets me every time! I also really loved her Horseman Trilogy.

  10. TinaNoir says:

    Mary Balogh is synonymous with comfort reading for me. When I am in a slump and not quite sure where to go next, I will definitely pull out a favorite. I’ve read all her series but typically there is one book in each series that I love more than the rest in the series so there are some I re-read more than others.

    I agree with most that Slight Dangerous is probably one sits high on my favorite list of all of her books. It is so well done but benefits from all the groundwork of preceding books in the series.

    A close second favorite of her bibliography is Indiscreet which I find so affecting and a plot that unfolds beautifully as well as some great supporting characters.

    The first Wescott book Someone to Love remains my favorite of that series because it is so soapy delicious. And I personally headwank that she modeled the hero after Prince (the singer) because that was totally the vibe I got as I read about him.

    I just re-read A Secret Affair my favorite of the Huxtable series and the only one I re-read regularly. I love the whole ‘appearances can be deceiving’ plot and how the hero and heroine discover little pockets of secrets about each other over the course of the book that draws them closer together. The chemistry is wonderful.

    Her Survivors series is one where I think I have re-read more of the titles. But my favorite there is Only Enchanting because I am petty enough to enjoy the hero marrying to spite his awful ex.

    My favorite of her trad Signet Regencies includes Snow Angel is really romantic and has a great conflict and Lady with The Black Umbrella which is one of Balogh’s lighter books. Very fluffy.

  11. Mary Balogh is one of the authors I always recommend to “new to Regency” readers and her books have a special place on my keeper shelf. Part of what I love is her craft–while Slightly Dangerous [Bedwyn] is a personal favorite, I always recommend people start at the beginning with Slightly Married and to watch little Becky. A very minor character (in all senses of the word) plays a pivotal role in how we see Wulfric’s character throughout the series. I’m just in awe of Balogh’s skill. Other favorites are The Temporary Wife and A Precious Jewel, the latter because of the characters and how they broke new ground in Regency stories.

    Balogh’s the best!

  12. Laine says:

    It’s fascinating how different books people pick! I haven’t read her older works, thiugh I have some if the re-issued ones waiting on my Kindle. One of these days! What I like about her books is how the emotions run deep and the pain is real while still being fairly low-key. There’s no over-the-top zany shenanigans, insta-lust or cross-dressing. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those! Just not to my taste.) I also like how her heroines operate with the rigid roles that society forced them to.

    My favourite of the Bedwyn books is either Slightly Married or Slightly Scandalous. I enjoyed Wulfric more as a side character than the hero.

    Indescreet is fabulous.

    Of the survivor series, I prefer Only a Promise. I like books that make me cry. I prefer Someone to Wed of her newest series for the same reason.

  13. Bea says:

    I enjoy so many of her books!
    I confess it is her short story “Only Love” with Cleo Pritchard that is my favorite

  14. KarenF says:

    I’ve always loved Balogh, but I come back to her old Signet Regencies more than her newer, longer books.

    My all time favorite of hers is A GIFT OF DAISIES, which so far, unfortunately, has not been re-released as an ebook. I lost my paperback copy years ago.

    My other favorites of hers are CHRISTMAS BELLE and LORD CAREW’S BRIDE.

  15. K.N. O’Rear says:

    I’m actually reading FIRST COMES MARRIAGE right now actually and it is pretty fun, I think I prefer the Survivor’s club series, but that’s the only other series by her I’ve read, I need to educate myself more lol. My favorites the Survivor’s Club series is ONLY A KISS , I love the hero in that book and the heroine’s trauma is really well done. I just get all the feels! THE ARRANGEMENT Is a close second though.

  16. Kate K.F. says:

    I love Mary Balogh too and The Arrangement is the one I reread the most. I’m slowly reading her backlist but I think the Survivors’ series is my favorite. But of the older ones, Summer to Remember always makes me smile, she knows how to use a lake.

  17. Katty says:

    OK, I’m sorry, but I’m back with another comment. I’m just loving this comment section so much!

    @TinaNoir: I also though A Secret Affair was fabulous! In hindsight, I’m not too keen on the surprise virgin trope, but when I first read it (being fairly new to romance at the time), it was something new and fresh for me. Anyway, I think your comment about the hero and heroine “discovering little pockets of secrets about each other” is exactly right and a big reason why I enjoyed the story so much.

    @Laine: You hit the nail on the head, saying that in MB’s novels emotions run deep, but the plot is usually fairly low-key. It shows that, when well done, you don’t need a lot of external conflict or plot shenanigans to tell a compelling story. Obviously, like you said, this is very much a matter of personal preference, but I like the quieter stories.
    I mentioned in my first comment that one of my favorites is Someone To Wed. It was a close call between this one and Only A Promise, and I do think they have some similarities in terms of theme. Both have heroines going to London and facing society / certain persons despite their fears and past trauma.

    Anyway, I feel a Mary Balogh binge coming on! Many thanks to Emily Neuberger for this wonderful post and to everyone commenting here, it’s lovely reading everyone’s picks and the reasons for them.

  18. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    In my comment above (#8), I said Balogh’s THE RELUCTANT BRIDE was my first Balogh. I’m sorry, I misremembered the title. It was actually THE OBEDIENT BRIDE. It was first published in June of 1989 and the Amazon product description is:

    “Furious when she discovers that her husband, the Viscount Astor, keeps a mistress, young Arabella is determined to have the rogue’s heart as well as his hand.”

  19. Kareni says:

    I’m another who has read and enjoyed many novels and stories by Mary Balogh. My favorites include Slightly Dangerous and The Secret Pearl.

  20. KitBee says:

    I’m so excited to see this post! I’ve only read a few Balogh books — Someone to Love was my first — but have really enjoyed them all! I have Slightly Dangerous on my shelves and am excited to read it, but now I’m wondering whether I should read the rest of the series first.

  21. DiscoDollyDeb says:

    @KitBee: Read the rest of the series first so you get the full arc of Wulfric’s character.

  22. Merrilee says:

    I have loved all of Mary Balogh’s books, but my favorite is More Than a Mistress, because I fell in love with both the hero and heroine. Jane is walking through Hyde Park to work when she sees a duel starting, and yells to disrupt it. Jocelyn, the Duke of Tresham, is wounded and insists that Jane will come and take care of him because it is her fault he has been injured. What a great start! I love all of her series and reread them often. If you are just starting her books, lucky you.

  23. Claudia says:

    Another Balogh fan here, and thanks Emily for this wonderful post highlighting all the reasons she’s adored by so many of us.

    @Merrilee — More Than a Mistress is also a favorite of mine despite the lil’ bit of crazysauce at the start!

    Another favorite not mentioned yet — The Notorious Rake (and talk about crazysauce at the start of a book.) It just stayed with me all those years in part because at the time I had a lot more love to give a ‘damaged’ hero, and I also loved Mary, the heroine. I think she was my first so-called bluestocking. I loved how conflicted she was falling in love with Edmund, someone she thought completely empty-headed.

    Huge plus ones for Longing, Indiscreet, and A Summer to Remember!

    I still need to chase Balogh’s book set during the Rebecca Riots in Wales, and read the Web trio — lucky me!

  24. Maren says:

    Ah, the Simply, the Slightly, and the Survivors. Absolute faves of mine! All have been recorded by Rosalyn Landor, the goddess of audiobooks IMHO. I’ll typically have one playing while outside yanking weeds with a dopey dopamine grin on my face. Heaven!

  25. TinaNoir says:

    @Marilee – Yeah, More than A Mistress is also fun. I especially like how the stories about the ‘murder’ get more and more outlandish with each telling. Also the ending was a nice sleight of hand.

  26. Booklover says:

    Love this post! Mary Balogh is my favorite HR author by far! I mainly have stopped reading the genre (much prefer historical mysteries these days) but I always buy her new books the day they are released! Slightly Dangerous, More than a Mistress, a Precious Jewel, and A Summer to Remember are top faves. Two others that I have re-read many times not mentioned yet are The Secret Mistress and my very first Balogh, Tangled. I keep waiting for this one to be e-published but no luck so far.

  27. Kareni says:

    Thanks for an enjoyable post, Emily. And best wishes for the success of your book!

  28. mel burns says:

    @Kitbee: Start with A Summer to Remember and read them in order. Then when you’ve finished with the Slightly series read Simply Love.

  29. chacha1 says:

    I discovered Signet Regency romances back in the day (waaaayy back, when they were a new thing) and Mary Balogh has been a favorite writer of mine ever since. She can get a little recappy in the recent series – it may not be necessary to bring the reader up to speed on what *every* character in the series is doing now! – and her trademark poisonous blonde recently had an epic reappearance. But the language, setting, and pace are always great.

  30. Karin says:

    Thanks, Emily. Mary Balogh has been an auto-read for me, for decades. Among her old Signet books, I love “The Notorious Rake” and “Lord Carew’s Bride”. My favorite of the Bedwyn series is “Slightly Married” with its taciturn and somewhat grumpy military hero. I love all the Huxtable books, I can’t even pick a favorite. And “The Arrangement” is one of my favorite comfort reads, I’ve probably read it 4 or 5 times.
    There is another older book no one has mentioned yet, which I love for its humor, “The Ideal Wife”. It’s funny because the hero thinks he is going into an MOC with a quiet and submissive bride, but the heroine is actually a chatterbox, and the managing type to go with it.
    In her own quiet way, Mary Balogh has stretched a lot of boundaries of the genre, with non-virgin heroines, with out-of-wedlock children, and even a sex worker heroine(and this was decades ago), heroes who are maimed or
    physically handicapped in some way, and her current series has several older couples.
    I have to admit the one book Emily mentions that I couldn’t enjoy was “Heartless”. It was just too angsty for me.

  31. Susie Felber says:

    She’s a lovely person too. Thanks for the post!

  32. Sheila Prince says:

    My very favourite of all Mary’s books is Truly. This captivating story set in Wales is spellbinding. The love Mary has for her home country shines through.

  33. Jennifer Trathan says:

    The first Mary Balogh books I read was the Survivor series which became the first series I gave 5 stars to each book on Goodreads, I just loved every one of them. My favourite though is Only Beloved, seeing Dora and George get their HEA had me in bits and it’s been re-read a few times now. I also loved the Bedwyn saga and my favourite is Slightly Dangerous because I love Wulfric. I adore the really early titles as well and I don’t think I’m far now from having read her entire catalogue. There have been 1 or 2 I’ve not been impressed with but when you compare them to the number of her titles I’ve loved it’s not bad going.

  34. You definitely nailed it! My Mum’s books are that perfect friend to hang out with when it’s just time to stop the world and spend some quality “ME” time.

  35. Glenda says:

    I love, love all of Ms. Balogh’s books. I currently have approximately 65 of her books, and from time to time re-read some randomly while waiting for the next one.

  36. Mike Cross says:

    Simply Perfect would be my choice, hard choices were made for the right reason

  37. Cat Stout says:

    Mary Balogh has been my favorite for almost her whole career. I started reading her older Regencies when I was pregnant and couldn’t sleep. My husband even enjoys them. I have everything she has written…even her short stories.

  38. Nikki Fiske says:

    I love Mary’s books. I read and re-read her series. My favorite is The Survivors Club. I love The Escape. Mary’s books are so well written and her plots so complex. I adore her!

  39. Lauren says:

    I love love love her books. My favorite is Slightly Wicked, but I have such a special place in my heart for Wulfric. I named my son after him. A Matter of Class is also a favorite.

  40. Caitlyn says:

    Adding another comment – Silent Melody is so good, but you have to read the first one in the duo to really appreciate it.

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