Once Upon a Dream by Mary Balogh & Grace Burrowes

Once Upon a Drea

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In Another Dream by Mary Balogh, Miss Eleanor Thompson has found satisfaction as the director of a respected school for girls. The life of a dedicated educator offers many rewards and much meaning – but also more loneliness than Eleanor anticipated. She accepts an invitation from her sister, Christine, Duchess of Bewcastle, to attend a Bedwyn house party, never dreaming the summer curriculum might include stolen kisses and true love.

In The Duke of My Dreams by Grace Burrowes, banker’s daughter Anne Faraday is cast into the company of Elias, Duke of Sedgemere, at house party in the Lakes. Anne warms to the lonely man and conscientious father behind the title, and Elias becomes enthralled with the brilliant, burdened woman beneath Anne’s genteel facade. Liking turns to love under the Cumbrian summer moon, but family obligations, secrets, and a prodigal duck conspire to thwart the course of true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Grace Burrowes Publishing, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Fair warning to our faithful readers: the following is a giddy fan-girl review.

Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two stories.

I’m giving this book five stars, based upon how very much I enjoyed reading it. Some of my HR friends, whose opinions I respect, have been more critical, with one calling these two novellas “just reader-friendly, predictable, comfort romance reads.” Just?? After some of the stinkers that I have read lately, that sounds like exactly what I want.

Mary Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke of Bewcastle. She appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. (Although Eleanor is pushing forty, she was destined to marry well, as all of the teachers at Miss Martin’s school went on to marry aristocrats.) On her way to a summer house party at Bewcastle’s estate, she stops at an inn to wait out a sudden storm, and while enjoying a quiet cup of tea she is accosted by an overly precocious ten-year-old girl. Georgette Benning is traveling with her young brother and their father. Although it is slightly improper, Eleanor enjoys a lovely dinner with Mr. Benning, and the next morning the travelers go on their separate ways.

Eleanor is quite surprised, therefore, when the Benning family arrives the next day to join Bewcastle’s house party. It turns out that “Mr. Benning” is in fact the Michael Benning, Earl of Staunton, and Christine has invited him with the expectation that he is on the verge of proposing marriage to another guest, a proper young miss with a dragon of a mother. The children have other ideas, however, and their antics help bring Eleanor and Michael together. Interestingly, Wulfric also plays matchmaker and there is a lovely scene where he counsels Eleanor after she confesses her unhappiness with running a school: “Sometimes our dreams lead us in the wrong direction and it would be foolish to continue pursuing them out of sheer stubbornness or the fear of disappointing others. There are other dreams waiting to be dreamed — the right dreams, the ones that will lead to contentment.”

If you haven’t visited Bedwyn World before, this novella probably will not appeal to you. Characters from almost all of the previous books are mentioned, along with the many children they have brought into the world. The plot is not particularly inventive. Indeed, it is very reminiscent of Ms. Balogh’s 1991 story The Best Christmas Ever (recently republished in Christmas Gifts). Young Georgette is a bit too eloquent for a ten-year-old and there is a jarring scene where Michael asks Eleanor whether she is a virgin when it’s clear that even if she is she won’t be for long. But for me, the romance was lovely, and visiting with Wulfric and Christine and rolling down that infamous hill with the rest of the Bedwyns was a joy.

Purely by accident, Grace Burrowes’s story bears some resemblance to Mary Balogh’s. Both feature slightly older and quite independent heroines who fall in love with widowed fathers and in both stories, the children play pivotal roles in bringing the couple together. The respective fathers’ attitude toward their children is quite different, however. Michael Benning is devoted to his, and his prospective fiancee’s desire to send them away to school is his first clue that she may not be the one for him. I had the impression, however, that Ms. Burrowes’ hero, Elias, Duke of Sedgemere, did not dote on his three little boys in the same way. He loved them, of course, but did not quite know what to do with them and frequently found himself apologizing for their behavior when they were just being typical little boys.

At first, Anne Faraday does not seem like the woman to bring this family together. She is the commoner daughter of an immensely wealthy banker, dedicated to taking care of her father. Although she moves among the ton, the ladies really do not like her and the men simply want to marry her money. Elias likes her, however, and when they are thrown together during the house party, he finds himself falling in love with her. She works magic with his little boys and teaches Elias how to let loose and enjoy their company. When they are caught in a compromising situation, however, she adamantly refuses to marry him, for she has a secret that she believes prohibits her from ever marrying. Elias figures out what it is, but this reader did not, and I can’t think of any other historical romance heroine with this particular secret.

At times, it was hard to know whether Anne was falling in love or just in lust. I enjoy a little hotness in my historical romances, but I do think that the author got a bit carried away, what with Elias and Anne getting it on at every available moment and in places where they could easily be caught. I also found that the presence of the Duke of Hardcastle was superfluous to requirements. He is Elias’s best friend and determined to dodge the matchmaking mamas. Other than that, he doesn’t do much. There really wasn’t much time for Burrowes to write those long, heart-felt conversations between gentlemen that she is so good at. If, however, you have read her May I Have This Duke in the anthology Dancing in the Duke’s Arms, you already know that he is going to meet his match when Elias and Anne throw their own house party.

Giving a rating to an anthology can be tricky unless the reader’s opinion of each story is exactly the same. In this case, I give the Balogh story five-plus stars and the Burrowes a four. If, like me, you consider these ladies to be two of the very best historical romance authors publishing today, I am confident that you will enjoy Once Upon a Dream.

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