Book Talk: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Book Talk: Someone to Hold by Mary BaloghSomeone to Hold by Mary Balogh
Series: Westcott #2
Published by Berkley on February 7, 2017
Genres: Historical, Romance
Pages: 379
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
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Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery...

With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.

An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead...

Only three books into Balogh’s backlist, I can already tell that she’s going to be a new favorite author. Her books are the perfect intersection between Jane Austen and a modern historical romance. They have this beautiful simplicity and the mood of a classic novel, but they’re aware and consistently resist falling into the general tropes of historical romance. I love it so much. Someone to Hold started out slowly but grew into a beautiful story about found families and being open to love.

When I started, I was nervous about this installment, because I hadn’t bonded with Camille Westcott in Someone to Love. Indeed, I don’t think you’re particularly meant to like her in book one or as this one opens. Camille has her emotions locked down, and her default setting is snobbish and harsh.

Camille is a difficult person to love, not because she isn’t lovable but because she doesn’t think she’s lovable. Just after I finished this, I started a Brené Brown book, and Someone to Hold really dovetails with those messages. Camille’s whole character arc is learning that she cannot be loved without loving or without giving trust. In her search for perfection by society’s terms, she’d lost any sense of who she was, and now that she can’t be society’s perfect lady anymore, she’s on a journey to find herself.

What’s fascinating is that to find herself, she feels compelled to follow in Anna’s footsteps. Now that Anna’s leading the life that was to be Camille’s, Camille takes a job in the orphanage where Anna grew up and worked. No one understands why Camille is doing this, and her sister and grandmother are actively against it, but Camille pursues her goals with determination, which is something I admire about her.

Joel, Anna’s best friend, doesn’t like Camille when he first meets her. They don’t virulently loathe each other, but neither’s impressed with the other. He worries the kids at the orphanage are stuck with another terrible, cold, child-hating teacher. Only Camille takes to teaching very naturally, coming up with lessons that teach practical skills in ways that don’t feel like lessons.

Because they both work at the orphanage and because Joel was hired to paint a portrait of Camille, they end up spending more and more time together, graduating from uneasy acquaintances to close friends to more. The evolution feels very natural, even when the relationship takes a sudden turn to the physical; it’s very Camille to grab what you want with both hands (oo er).

Of course, it is a novel, so Joel discovers who his parents were in a grand surprise, but it doesn’t feel particularly melodramatic or convenient, just because of the way everyone reacts to it. I particularly love the way the novel ends, with View Spoiler ». That’s something I don’t think I’ve seen in a romance novel, and it gave me a bunch of feels.

I did miss having the entire Westcott clan about, but that ultimately worked in the book’s favor in some ways, I think. There’s a depth of characterization to Joel and Camille that wasn’t possible for Anna and Avery, because their book had to introduce the entire cast. Though I did love the first book a bit more, I have endless respect for both novels.

I adore this series so much so far, and I hope to continue squealing about how good they are. Just remember that they’re a bit…quieter than historical romance usually is, and less sex-focused.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

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