More Men Reading Romance
by Cathy Sova and Dean James
You enjoyed our first Men Reading Romance column so much that we worked to bring
you more! Associate Editor Cathy Sova recently teamed up with long-time romance reader Dean
James (Yes, we found one!) to give their opinions on Mary Balogh's newest release, Unforgiven.
To learn how Dean got started reading romances, check out this page.
(Warning: this commentary contains spoilers!)
Here's what they had to say:
"First of all, a bit of synopsis. Unforgiven opens with Kenneth
Woodfall, who is on his way home to his family estate after serving in
Wellington's army. The last person he expects to meet up with is Moira
Hayes, the woman who broke his heart eight years earlier. Moira lives with
her mother in a neighboring manor house, and is preparing to marry an
obnoxious distant cousin in order to keep a roof over their heads. The
spark between Kenneth and Moira is reignited when they are forced to seek
shelter in a hut during a snowstorm after she flees from a party at his
house. In order to keep from freezing, Kenneth coerces Moira into sex.
Her resulting pregnancy obligates them to marry, and they must learn to
forgive each other before they can embark upon a new love. Since Moira
blames Kenneth for the death of her brother, and since Kenneth believes
Moira betrayed both himself and his sister, this is no easy task.
Let's start with the setting. Balogh does the Regency like nobody's
business. I enjoyed all of the descriptions, and I felt she gave me a good
feel for the period in terms of the mannerisms (the pompous cousin was a
hoot) and the various houses in which the story took place. I also liked
that she wove the
setting of a small fishing village into the story."
"I agree with you on the setting. Balogh handles the period details
masterfully, and the change in scenery is refreshing. Minor characters like
the cousin are delightful. He in particular is reminiscent of the odious
parson in Pride and Prejudice."
As for characterization, I have to interweave this with plot
reactions, to some extent. I liked Moira. I liked that she wasn't
stunningly beautiful; I liked that
she longed to be independent but knew she was responsible for her mother's
welfare. Kenneth was also interesting, though I can't say I really liked
him as well as Moira.
"I have to say that I found both Kenneth and Moira
irritating to quite a degree. They were both rather cold, at times I felt a
little too cold. Balogh does handle the emotional intensity between them
with a certain degree of finesse, but I felt that they were more often
"attitudes" rather than characters."
"My biggest problem with the story was that there were too many
cliched plot elements used to keep this story going. The old "stranded in
a snowstorm" bit went over okay, (even though the
hermit's hut was all-too-conveniently placed right by the route Moira
took home from the ball), up until the point where they decide to share
their body heat. Fair enough, I could accept that.
But why in heaven's
name would this
experienced ladies man only be able to warm her up with full intercourse?
If he was so darned "experienced", and later in the story
he alludes to using foreplay to heighten Moira's response, couldn't he have
managed to get them "warm" without penetration? Right
away I knew exactly how this was going to turn out. She'd get pregnant,
they'd have to get married, and they'd fight their way to page 300 or so
before actually talking about their past mistakes."
"Exactly! I was howling when I read this! How trite can you get? I
couldn't believe that someone with as many books to her credit as Balogh
would stoop to this. But this was so trite and so unbelievable, along the
of "just lie back and enjoy it, it'll be good for you." I found it a bit
offensive, for various reasons. What they should have done was put the dog
in between them, underneath whatever covering they had, and they would have
been more than warm enough.
"I'm getting a bit tired of miscarriage as a plot device to separate
It can be done effectively, but here it was merely a plot
an excessively creaky one at that!
After the miscarriage, both Moira and Kenneth fell in my estimation.
She pushes him away, then decides she loves him, then pushes him away
again. He loves her, but he's angry at her, but he loves her. So she's a
shrew, he huffs off to London, and the book goes nowhere for fifty pages.
Yes, as if Balogh couldn't decide what to do with these characters, and
she just meandered around until something occurred to her.
I liked it when Kenneth invited Moira to London. And she
accepted. At last,
at last, maybe these two would start acting like adults and get to the
bottom of their troubles. Balogh had been offering us background in dribs
and drabs, and by now I knew a good fifteen-minute TALK would settle this
whole thing and maybe they could get on with their marriage. But
nooooo.... we have to sit through a big section on shopping, family visits,
balls, a bedroom scene or two, and STILL these two can't manage to open up
and be one bit honest about their past. Okay, I thought, maybe there's one
big final piece that we don't know yet, and maybe there will have to be
some REAL forgiveness here. Maybe it's not just a Big Misunderstanding.
Not to be. And that brings me to my final beef...
I liked some of the small scenes in London; it showed that the two
could relate on a different level, and I thought Balogh did this rather
well. They still wouldn't be honest with each other, because they couldn't
trust each other. Which leads me to...
The ending. It just didn't cut it. We've been though 300+ pages
of "I can
never forgive you" and now it turns out it was all somebody else's' fault?
The gun wasn't loaded? Moira wasn't in on the smuggling after all?
Somebody else had Kenneth beaten up? She never betrayed his sister? IT
WAS ALL A MISUNDERSTANDING? And wrapped up on the next-to-last page.
Moira said it best, right there on page 314. "If only you had TOLD me."
Again, to be repetitive, exactly! We get all this build up, all this
mistrust between them, and it boils down to that. It wasn't big enough to
have set up the situation, in my opinion. Someone should have taken both of
them and knocked their heads together long ago. Stiff-necked pride is a
staple of the romance novel, but this is a bit ridiculous.
So while Balogh is undoubtedly a very strong talent in Regency
story was too contrived to earn a wholehearted recommendation. I also felt
was too much time devoted to Kenneth's buddies. Okay, I know they're going
to turn up as heroes of the next two books she writes, but I felt they
cluttered up too many scenes in this one.
One thing I found a bit
irritating, more than once, was her habit of repeating most of a scene from
either Kenneth's or Moira's point of view, after she had already written it
from one point of view. There are more subtle ways of getting across the
feelings of the other half of the romantic duo than repeating almost an
entire scene! It felt to me as if much of this book was simply an
attempt to stretch a "Regency" into an "historical." I couldn't give this
much more than a lukewarm recommendation. I'd rather steer
someone to Balogh's Regencies.
Readers, this is an experimental column. Please tell us what you think. Would you like to see more men reviewing romance?
Please tell us what you think!