There is one self imposed rule that you need to understand when looking at my reading list... to read one book that is part of a series; I have to read the entire series (unless I’ve already read it). This is VERY important as we begin this reviewing journey.
I picked up the first in Balogh’s Huxtable series, First Comes Marriage, on sale as an e-book. Honestly, if it hadn’t been $2 I would never have bought it. Once I started reading it I began to think that I paid too much... I don’t know if her editor fell asleep or if an unedited proof somehow got published as the e-book version, but the copy on my Nook is HORRIBLE... closer to what a drunken illiterate might produce than an experienced published author who is (hopefully) in possession of a good editor. I’m one of “those people” who will endlessly proofread, it takes me out of the story to have bad grammar, spelling mistakes, and especially misused words. To be fair, the other four books in the series were much cleaner, lending credence to the unedited “oops” e-book version.
So I trudged through First Comes Marriage... and about half way through when it comes time for the proposal scene (and the scene after it) I was completely vindicated and giggling hysterically. Balogh has a gift for straddling the delicate line between funny-awkward and painfully-awkward in all of her books (or at least the five that I read) that leaves you happy you’re not the character, but not feeling sorry for the character’s predicament if that delicate distinction in humor is important to you.
First Comes Marriage is my least favorite in the series; Vanessa is supposed to be strong, experienced, and willing to do anything to secure a future for her brother and sisters. She comes off whiny more often than not, with an unnatural attachment to her dead husband (who she admits was more like a brother anyway) and hey, she knew he was dying when she married him, so it’s not like it should be such a big surprise that he kicked the bucket so soon into the marriage.
Next Comes Seduction... while the first quarter of the book is massively cringe worthy (men’s club betting = totally not cool) but after the wedding I believe Jasper is one of my new favorite romance heroes. This is tied for second of my favorites in this series with A Secret Affair because of the genuine emotion this sparked from beginning to end, when I read I don’t usually feel for fictional characters, but having been a teenage girl I can totally relate to Katherine jumping headlong into a danger she doesn’t fully understand exists, and when we pick back up with her as a young woman, she is immensely relatable in that stage of life too.
At Last Comes Love, finally the eldest sister finds someone. This is the hardest book in the series for me to get behind plot-wise because of, well let me count the ways... secret baby, secret not-quite twin, random awkward loss of virginity (probably the most realism ever seen in a historical romance), runaway wife (with sister in law’s betrothed no less), the list goes on but my suspended disbelief kept slipping. This book, to me at least, does offer just about the sweetest ending of any romance novel I’ve ever read. Add the ending to the secret baby plotline (always a favorite of mine) and it's not my least favorite of the series.
Seducing an Angel was very hard for me to get into, after spending three books getting to know Stephen as the sweet little brother of the Huxtable girls; I had a bit of a problem (mentally) adjusting to Stephen the sex bomb. Despite the Pretty Woman feeling I got at first, Stephen’s story is my other second place favorite in the series. I particularly enjoyed the ineptitude Cassandra displays as she sets about becoming a mistress (by force!), and yes, even the naiveté of Stephen to fall into that trap (and I’ll even admit to a little sisterly pride as Stephen stands up, literally, and deals with the situation with aplomb). Be warned, I didn’t like Cassandra a single bit, at all, until she took the cook’s child shopping, and even after that I still didn’t like her much.
The final book in the series, A Secret Affair, is my favorite. First Comes Marriage, despite ending with Vanessa joining her husband in the anti-Con club, kind of ruined all possibility that Constantine would steal from his mentally challenged brother for his own ends. So going in to A Secret Affair, even before the “big reveal” I felt like I knew exactly what was going on, and I did. Balogh takes a pair of characters, neither of whom are likeable at face value, and places them in exactly the type of relationship that would make them both as truly scandalous as they appear on the outside, yet allows them the opportunity to discover that neither is even remotely the image they project to society. In fact, both Hannah and Con should probably be sainted.
A quick note for the entire series, and especially on my favorite character’s development: Balogh gave too much of Con’s story away in the prologue for First Comes Marriage, if Jonathan’s situation had been told second hand to the reader, from someone other than Constantine while reflecting at Jonathan’s grave, would have at least given the reader some suspense of whether Con was the good guy he projected to his Huxtable cousins, or the bad guy his cousin Elliott believed him to be.
All of the Huxtable books, except First Comes Marriage, were provided by my local library