Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Simply Perfect closes out Mary Balogh’s Simply Quartet of books, each of which takes as its heroine a school teacher from Miss Martin’s School for Girls in Bath. Our heroine here is the formidable Miss Martin herself, a confirmed spinster in her mid-thirties who has worked hard to achieve success and who loves what she does. But the course she has mapped out for herself is challenged when Joseph Fawcitt, the Marquess of Attingsborough arrives at the school, introducing himself as a friend of Susanna, Viscountess Whitleaf (Simply Magic), and offering to escort Claudia and two of her older pupils to London, where the younger ladies are to meet with prospective employers.
The marquess is about Claudia’s own age and is as handsome as he is charming, asking sensible questions and making complimentary comments about the school and its facilities. But Claudia is unimpressed. Her own experiences with the aristocracy have taught her that its members are haughty and uncaring, with no thought for anything but their own consequence and desires, and she absolutely wants to refuse the marquess’ offer and have nothing to do with him. But he has come at Susanna’s request, and Claudia does not want to be rude to her friend so she accepts Attingsborough’s escort.
Joseph is the heir to the Duke of Anburey, whose health has been uncertain of late, and who is, as a result, pressuring his son to get married and start on the job of filling his nursery in order to secure the succession. Joseph knows his father is right, but is rather disconcerted when he discovers that his parents have already selected a bride for him, the lovely and serene Miss Portia Hunt – who also appeared in the first novel in this series, Simply Unforgettable. Joseph is acquainted with Miss Hunt and knows she would make the perfect duchess, so he doesn’t dismiss the idea; after all, this is the way of aristocratic marriages and he hopes that on further acquaintance, he and Miss Hunt can come know each other and that they will be able to forge a marriage based on mutual understanding, respect and, hopefully, affection. It’s quickly apparent, however, that Joseph is going to be disappointed.
Because of her friendship with Viscountess Whitleaf and the Countess of Edgecombe, Claudia finds herself moving in quite exalted circles during her visit to London, so she encounters the Marquess of Attingsborough on a number of occasions. He continues to be courteous and attentive, and Claudia discovers him to be an intelligent man and an engaging companion and begins to look forward to their meetings and conversations.
The romance in this story is utterly delightful, a delicious slow-burn that moves from liking and respect to friendship to love, between two mature (mid-thirties) people, both of whom have suffered life’s slings and arrows, albeit in very different ways. Claudia fell in love at eighteen with a duke’s heir whom she believed loved her, too, but who, when told he should not associate with someone of much lower station (Claudia’s father was a mere gentleman) left and married someone else. Joseph is a man of honour who believes in monogamy (unlike many of his peers) and remained faithful to his mistress of eleven years after the birth of their daughter Lizzie, who was born blind. Lizzie’s mother died a couple of years back, and Joseph spends as much time with his daughter as he can, keeping her comfortably housed and fed and making sure she has enough attendants to care for her. But he knows that things will have to change upon his marriage. He has kept Lizzie’s existence a secret, as a gentleman’s by-blow is not something to be mentioned in polite society, and knows that once he is married he will have to give up his regular visits and involvement in her life. So even though the thought of being parted from her is breaking his heart, he introduces Lizzie to Claudia in the hope that perhaps she will accept her as a pupil at her school.
While charmed by the girl, Claudia is not sure at first, wondering what methods can be used to educate a blind child. But as she comes to know her, she realises that Lizzie is intelligent and enthusiastic, and begins to think that perhaps it might be possible for her to become a pupil. Of course, time spent with Lizzie is also time spent with her father, and his obvious love for his daughter only serves to strengthen the attraction Claudia has already begun to feel towards him.
Both Claudia and Joseph are likeable, intelligent individuals who both want to do the best they can for those around them. Claudia comes across as starchy and a little unsympathetic to start with, and is definitely blinded by prejudice, so I loved listening to her gradually come to trust Joseph and appreciate him for his sterling qualities. Joseph is perhaps a little too good to be true, and his attitude towards his illegitimate daughter is probably unusual for the time, but he’s a gorgeous hero and I adored the way the depth of his character is revealed through his love for his daughter. I also don’t mind admitting that I was fist-pumping the air and cheering when he finally had enough of society’s strictures and took control of his future.
Rosalyn Landor once again delivers a terrific performance on all counts. Her characterisation of Claudia is consistent with the way she sounds in the other books, and her use of a slightly lower register works perfectly to portray a woman who is past the first blush of youth without making her sound too old to be a romantic heroine. Her portrayal of Joseph, too, is spot on; softly spoken but with that undeniable air of command Ms. Landor imparts to all her heroes, his obvious attractions are enhanced in her insightful portrayal. All the secondary characters are clearly differentiated according to age, gender and station, with her interpretation of Lizzie being particularly noteworthy. Not every narrator can perform a child convincingly, but there is no need for apprehension on that score; and her depiction of the chilly, oh-so-correct Miss Hunt, with her measured speech and slightly nasal tone, is impeccable.
I have enjoyed all the books in this series, and am absolutely delighted that they’re once again available in audio format. As is the nature of a series, there are a number of recurring characters, but it’s possible to listen to each story as a standalone, although I’d suggest listeners will get the best out of the series by listening in order. Simply Perfect is a beautifully wrought romance that proves – if proof were needed – why Mary Balogh’s name continues to appear in best-seller lists and lists of favourite romances; and there really could be no better partner for her fabulous words than Rosalyn Landor. Long may their association continue.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in, but at the tame end
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Tantor Audio
Simply Perfect was provided to AudioGals by Tantor Audio for a review.