Friday, July 2, 2010

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh. BantamDell. March 2009.ISBN #: 9780440244226. pb. 388 pp.

Fans of Mary Balogh's will delight in her latest series that chronicles the lives – and loves - of the Huxtable family. This close knit family living in genteel poverty has no forewarning of the changes that await them when a Viscount and his secretary come to their small village on business. The series opens with Vanessa's story in First Comes Marriage and will be continued each month through June 2009 with the tale of how love comes to each of the Huxtables.

Vanessa “Nessie” Dew, nee Huxtable is no beauty. Compared to her siblings, she is quite ordinary, if not plain on first notice. While on the outside she may appear unexceptional, Vanessa has a gift for making people happy and spreading joy wherever she goes. To those who know and love her, her inner beauty is on par with the outward beauty of her siblings. When the arrogant, aristocratic, and stunningly handsome Elliot Wallace, Viscount Lyngate, is maneuvered into dancing with her by her father-in-law, Vanessa is determined not to allow him to intimidate her. Widowed over a year previously, this village assembly is her first entry back into what passes for society in the countryside. For his part, Elliot finds himself strangely intrigued by this woman who is without question the antithesis of all he finds physically enticing.

When the Viscount's business turns out to be Stephen Huxtable's inheritance of a title, properties, and the money to back them up, the Huxtables find themselves in a whirlwind of change. Swept away from their humble home to a grand estate and with the daunting task of becoming ready for entry into London 's society circles within mere months, Vanessa and her siblings are taken under the wing of Elliot's mother, Viscountess Lyngate. Launching the family into the ton would be easier if Elliot were to marry one of the Huxtable girls and he reluctantly sets out to ask the eldest, Margaret to be his wife. Vanessa, knowing that Margaret's heart belongs to another, decides that her sister has sacrificed enough for their family and proposes to Elliot first. Shocked at first by Vanessa's actions, Elliot surprises himself, and Vanessa, by making a formal declaration for her hand.

What Elliot and Vanessa discover in their marriage of convenience is that there is more to beauty – and to love – than what is on the surface.

This is a touching love story that breaks the traditional romance novel formula by featuring a heroine who isn't the breathtaking beauty desired by all. Vanessa is a woman readers can all identify with. She feels insecure about her looks, but she doesn't let it hold her back. She cares for those she loves and does all within her power to bring happiness and joy to their lives. Readers will fall in love with her as Elliot finds himself doing and for many of the same reasons. Ms. Balogh also weaves in the beginnings of the other Huxtable stories in such a way that enhances Vanessa's story and makes the reader eagerly anticipate the release dates for the next three novels.

Reviewed by Mairead Walpole.

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