Susanna Osbourne was born to parents who were barely more than servants. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father passed when she was twelve. Although the family for whom her father worked had always been kind to her, she overheard remarks following his death that made her believe she would only be a burden to them. So she ran away to London in search of employment, but was unable to find any because of her young age. That's when a chance encounter led to her being offered a place as a charity pupil at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. The school has been Susanna's home ever since, first as a student and now as a teacher. During a summer visit with friends in the countryside, she meets an incredibly handsome young man whose name unfortunately stirs up unpleasant old memories, making her suspect that he's probably not a good person. However, each time they find themselves at the same social engagements, he never fails to charm her. Soon she discovers hidden depths in him that destroy all her preconceived notions, but although they form a close friendship and become lovers before the summer is over, the differences in their social stations and Susanna's desire for independence prevent her from making a deeper commitment.
Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf, was the youngest of six children and the only male in the family. After his father passed when he was three, he grew up under the watchful eye of his mother and five older sisters, while his male relatives made all the decisions regarding his property until he came of age. As a result, he lived a fairly coddled existence and hates conflict of any sort, finding it difficult to stand up for himself and make his opinions known. However, growing up surrounded by women has given him a great love of the fairer sex, and he's a consummate flirt. When he first meets the lovely Susanna he's utterly smitten with her beauty, but her imperviousness to his charm offers him an intriguing challenge. Peter must work hard to gain her trust, but he's eventually rewarded with her friendship. However, as the summer draws to a close, he struggles to figure out exactly what he's feeling for her. He adores having her as a friend, yet after spending a passionate afternoon with her, it seems like they must be something more than that now. As Peter tries to make sense of what his heart is telling him, he allows Susanna to get away, but fate has other plans, bringing them back together over and over again until he finally realizes he's fallen in love with her. But his newfound realization may be dashed when old family secrets are revealed.
Simply Magic is the third book in Mary Balogh's Simply Quartet that follows the teachers at Miss Martin's School for Girls in Bath. In this one, we have Susanna, the youngest teacher, who started out as a student at the school. She's paired with Peter, a viscount she met once as a child when he briefly visited the family for whom her father worked. The two chance to meet up once again while visiting mutual friends over a magical summer holiday. During that time, they become close friends, and by the time they both must return home, they've also become lovers. But the differences in social station loom between them, as well as Susanna's desire to remain independent and her love for her job, keeping them from making any further commitment. But fate has other plans in store for them as it brings them together again and again, until it becomes clear that they're meant for each other. There's a great deal of beauty in the subtle simplicity of this story. The two week summer holiday that Peter and Susanna spend together truly is magical and I could feel deeper emotions passing between them. However, their respective difficulties in identifying and admitting those feelings could become just a tad tedious at times. This knocked my rating down just a bit, but I did still enjoy the story overall.
Susanna's mother died when she was born and her father passed when she was twelve. Her father had been a secretary to a titled gentleman and she'd become close with the family. But after her father's death, she overhead remarks by the lady of the house that made her suspect she would be a burden on them, so she ran off to London and applied for a job with an employment agency. Unable to find work in spite of lying about her age, Susanna faced an uncertain future until someone offered her a spot as one of the charity pupils at Miss Martin's School where she's lived ever since. She was a star student and eagerly took up a position as a teacher when she was of age, a job which she loves. When Susanna visits her friend and former teacher, Frances, and her titled husband over the summer, she chances to meet Peter while out walking with her friends. Upon hearing his title, she instantly remembers him, and although she only briefly met him once before, she has a rather sordid and tangled history with his family, making her instantly dislike him. But Peter is nothing is not persistent, charming his way into a friendship with her that makes her realize her preconceived notions about him were wrong. However, in spite of her growing feelings for him and their status changing to that of lovers before their summer sojourn is over, she can't bring herself to even entertain any kind of future with him. I admired Susanna for her dedication to the girls she teaches and for not being in any way influenced by Peter's title and wealth. Still, I don't think I could have made the same choices she did when up against his considerable charm, especially after admitting to herself that she loved him. I did understand, though, that she wanted his love in return, and perhaps more importantly that she was a young woman still suffering from past wounds that hadn't quite healed and that needed to be confronted before she would be ready to share her life with someone else.
Peter was the youngest child in his family, the surprise son finally born after five daughters. His father died when he was only three, so he was raised by his mother and all his older sisters, who coddled him as the heir. His uncles and other male relatives stepped in to teach him his duty, but rarely allowed him to make his own decisions until he finally tossed them all out upon reaching his majority. However, because of his gentle temperament and how he was brought up, he has a serious aversion to conflict and has a hard time standing up for himself even when his mother is redecorating the sitting room of his estate in frothy pink lace that he abhors. Perhaps because he's been surrounded by women all his life, he genuinely adores them and is an outgoing, consummate flirt, although refreshingly not a rake. When he meets Susanna, he's instantly smitten, but she presents a challenge in that she's completely inured to his charms. Therefore, he must work hard to gain her trust, but is rewarded with a beautiful friendship that turns into something more. Despite that, though, Peter struggles with exactly what his feelings for Susanna are. At first, he thinks it's mere infatuation and let's her get away, believing they'll never see each other again, but as fate brings them together once more, he slowly gains insight into the true nature of his emotions where she's concerned and gradually comes around to being more proactive. Peter is definitely a sweet, beta hero, unerringly kind and gentle, but sometimes a bit of a pushover, particularly where his mother is concerned. I enjoyed watching him grow and come into his own, while learning to like himself, and in doing so, he became totally worthy of Susanna. When he finally stands up for what he wants, I was cheering for him, and yet he somehow does it while still maintaining his good-hearted nature which I loved.
Simply Magic has a number of supporting characters that are seen in other books of the Simply Quartet, and since it's also a spin-off of the Bedwyn Saga, we see a few of those characters as well. I believe that Peter was first introduced in the Bedwyn Prequel, A Summer to Remember, as he's a cousin to the heroine of that book. Parts of Simply Magic take place concurrently with the previous book, Simply Love, so we get to see Anne immediately after her return from her summer holiday in Wales, as well as her and Sydnam's wedding breakfast through Susanna's eyes. Since both Peter and Susanna are in attendance at the celebration, we also get to see a few of the Bedwyns, namely Wulfric and Christine (Slightly Dangerous), as well as Freya and Joshua (Slightly Scandalous). When she was a girl, Susanna unsuccessfully sought employment with Freya, who she believes may have had a hand in getting her accepted to Miss Martin's School. During Susanna's summer holiday, she visits with Frances and Lucius (Simply Unforgettable), and of course, the head teacher at Miss Martin's, Claudia Martin, herself is seen in a number of scenes. Her book is the final one of the series, Simply Perfect. I'll be eagerly looking forward to seeing what type of man it takes to catch this independent lady's eye and finally pin her down.
Throughout her books that I've read so far, I've come to realize that Mary Balogh is masterful at creating subtle romantic entanglements, and such is the case in Simply Magic. Readers who are looking for something grand and audacious won't find it here. This is a story that is heavily reliant on past secrets and habits that have to be overcome in order to make room for an HEA ending between our hero and heroine, as well as their individual hang-ups regarding a possible permanent relationship. Stories like this can be dicey for me, because I often find myself becoming frustrated by the various excuses and perceived stubbornness of the characters. But here, it was done well enough that I remained nicely engaged in the story. Even when Peter and Susanna parted ways on more than one occasion, leaving me slightly irritated each time, it didn't last for long before they were thrown back together again. Each time that happened, their connection deepened, and during their time apart, they seemed to learn things about themselves, making the separations more worthwhile. Although my emotions never reached the soaring highs and lows while reading this book that they have with others, I still very much enjoyed it. I knew that Peter and Susanna loved one another and it merely took time and patience for them to realize it themselves and finally come together once and for all. For readers who can appreciate a more artful, nuanced romance with delicate and refined undertones, Simply Magic is most definitely worth the read and one that I can certainly recommend. It has left me very much looking forward to reading the final book of the series.
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