First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The title of this book is more than appropriate. There is no love between Vanessa and Elliot when they married. They didn't even seem to like each other. But, they had mutuals goals behind the marriage that Vanessa proposed. And it turned out to be the best thing possible for them both.
I loved Vanessa. She was such a sweet person. She overflows with enthusiasm and a joy for life, despite all the trials she's seen. I really admired her for how she approached her marriage with first husband, Hedley, who died young from consumption. Her love that she showed him really brought tears to my eyes. I normally don't really like romances where the H/h were married before and are mourning their lost spouses. It seems to take away from the present romance, which is clearly my focus. But, this was very well-done. It showed that the rooms in the heart never overflow or fill up. The heart has endless capacity for love, and there are many different kinds of love. It wasn't a conflict of interest for Vanessa to have loved her first husband so much, because it was clear how different her love was for Elliot. I think having Hedley in her life allowed her to heal and melt the ice around Elliot's heart. Vanessa is a very good example of the adage about inner beauty. She is the plainest person in her family, and no one lets her forget it. But, her good, good heart shines through and gives her the truest kind of beauty, from the inside out. She's one of those people that you can't help but love. And soon, Elliot falls for the genuine, loving person she is. I liked how he showed her in many ways how much she meant to him, although it took some initial shifting in his paradigms.
Elliot was a hard sell initially. He seemed like a full-on snob, and I have a very low tolerance for snobs. But I came to see that the recent trials in his life had hardened him, hiding a man with a broken heart, not from a woman who did him wrong, but from his father's betrayal of his family with his long-standing adultery and other family. And then, the betrayal of his best friend and cousin Con in taking advantage of his younger brother Jon, the heir to the earldom of Merton, who was mentally disabled--really shattered his ability to trust others. Elliot's plate was seemingly full to the brim, his shoulders heavily-burdened with the cares of taking care of his family. Luckily, Vanessa's light opens the rooms of his heart and brings the spring and sunshine back into his life, putting everything into perspective, and teaching him to enjoy the moments of happiness in every day.
This truly was a lovely story. Mary Balogh has proven herself to be a wonderful writer. She has a way with words in her books, giving the reader a resplendent romance, but also a rich story that shows the spectrum of human emotions and interactions. I must admit, I wasn't terribly eager to read this series, although I intended to do so at some point. Thanks to my Goodreads friend who picked this off my shelf for me to read, I ended up with a reading experience that I truly enjoyed. I'm looking forward to reading the next books in this series.
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