I liked this one! Hallelujah! Balogh is a safe choice for me, because I know she doesn’t do problematic heroes and her heroines tend to have actual personalities and usually explore trauma in a pretty interesting way. This book is no different.
Plot: widow falls on the beach, badly spraining her ankle. Fortunately, a military hero is nearby to meet up with what we can probably call a PTSD support group for people who didn’t know what PTSD was yet. Realizing no one else is around, he begrudgingly carries her back to the house of the Duke he’s staying with. But he doesn’t like her, because he doesn’t like the aristocracy, resents having a title forced on him, and wants a wife who does farm stuff like clean chicken guts and plant gardens. Our widow simply wants to be left alone, because her late husband was great, but also had very severe mental health issues that, especially given the understanding of such issues at the time, made the idea of tying her lot in with anyone else and risk that kind of roller coaster again undesirable. But, you know. Pants feelings.
This book is a really heartfelt exploration of the various permutations of survivor’s guilt and grief. The leads basically need to learn to forgive themselves for the crime of being alive while other people are not and to find more productive ways of dealing with their unhappiness with the situations they’ve found themselves in.
Something I really love about Balogh’s characters is that they often have lived through quite a bit. They make bad choices and good choices and are generally just doing their best. There are no villains here, although her friend comes close, but I think we all have a friend like that.
Just a content warning, in case it wasn’t obvious, there are discussions of mental health issues by a variety of characters, including suicidal ideation, a miscarriage described in limited detail, and one suicide committed on the page as told by someone who was there. Also, the book has pretty positive depictions of the military (not of being in it, but of it generally), and that is not everyone’s cup of tea.