When I first started reading romances, Julia Quinn was one of my favorite authors and I fell absolutely in love with her Bridgerton series, as I know many other romance readers did as well. The past few years, her books have been uneven for me, so I was a little nervous about picking this one up. The Smythe-Smiths were famous (or infamous is probably more accurate) but would it be what you expect from a Quinn book - a fun and light romance - or would it be like the past few duds?
I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat relieved that I ended up enjoying it. I liked the simplicity of the book and the hero and heroine are very likable; one thing I love about Julia Quinn books is that her heroines are always women whom I think would be nice to have as friends. However the lack of any real spark made it not much of a keeper for me. When I really love a romance, I end the book with a ridiculously stupid grin on my face that doesn't go away for hours; here, that didn't happen.
It did have some strong aspects, while also missing those that we - or at least I - often bemoan in romance book:
- There was no contrived subplot - mystery, mass-murdering or otherwise
- There is not instant lust; they've known each other since childhood and have considered one another practical brother and sister
- There are no love interests thrown in for the sole purpose of dragging the plot out and making you squirm in your seat - or couch or bed - and there were no hated Big Misunderstandings
- The book was really focused on the two main characters, Honoria and Marcus
- One really gets the sense that they *would* make a lovely couple and have a lot of what the other needs
So why the 3 stars? I was actually torn between 3 and 3.5, but either way I think this book may have suffered having been read a day after I finished two absolutely great HRs that I gave 4.5 and 5 stars. It was a perfect light, simple, fun romance read and sometimes that is what you need. Quinn delivers on the dialogue and back and forth repartee, just as she used to so wonderfully in the Bridgerton books.
I also thought Marcus was a wonderful hero. Most romance heroes are rakes or rogues of some sort, but Marcus is actually a quiet, shy, serious (but not stuffy) sort of man. We're told that people often consider him formidable and imposing, but we're not ever really shown this, since we mostly see the softer side that he shows to Honoria. I loved that what he longed for was a family and someone to love who would love him in return. One of the things that draws him most to Honoria is her loving, carefree manner and the value she places on others, on family, and on tradition. In this sense, the story was truly lovely and Marcus's wonder in the Epilogue at the family he has begun to form is touching and sweet.
My main criticisms that kept it from receiving a higher rating are the following (*warning* they detail parts of the plot that some might consider spoilers) ...
(1) Marcus gets deathly ill and Honoria rushes with her mother to his bedside to nurse him. This part seemed to really drag on and the section of his illness *seems* to take up half the book. Other romances have this plot device and don't suffer from it, but here I think it dragged on too long and since Marcus is insensible for most of it, one doesn't feel that it develops their relationship much.
(2) While the part of his illness seemed dragged out, the rest seemed very, very rushed. What we enjoy is the process of them falling in love, them working their feelings out and acting them, and then the happy conclusion. This part of the story is not explored enough for me and besides for a brief little kiss when he gets better, the only other romance scene between them is at the end. Quinn's books have never been heavy on the steamy aspect, but I definitely expected more than this.
JUST LIKE HEAVEN is perfect for a light, fun afternoon read and I would recommend getting it from the library, but don't read it when you're wanting a romance that packs a punch and affects you emotionally.
* This review is of an advance reading copy provided by the Amazon Vine Program.
on April 28, 2011
Traditional historical romance isn't my usual cup of tea and having never read a Julia Quinn book, I had no idea what to expect; Just Like Heaven is delightful!
The book's blurb reveals who falls for whom, the fun is in how they get there. Set in early 1800's England, we're immediately introduced to Marcus, a lonely, motherless, only child. As is tradition, his father sends him off to an elite boarding school where he is befriended by Daniel, an outgoing classmate. Marcus gains not only a best friend, but the family he never had, including Daniel's pesky little sister, Honoria.
Pan forward 15 years. Marcus promised Daniel before he left London, that he'd watch over Honoria and ensure her male suitors were worthy. Unfortunately for Honoria, no one was good enough; Marcus, the powerful Earl with brooding eyes, effectively secured her single status.
Twenty-one and desperate, Honoria concocts a "hairbrained" plan to gain the attention of a particular young man and sets in motion a series of events that cause her and Marcus to really see each other for the first time. Unsure of the other's feelings, they dance around each other until the interference of a crafty old broad (Marcus's great-great Aunt) brings the situation to a head.
I loved the individuality of the characters voices. I appreciated Honoria's strength; she is no shrinking violet! The best part? Some of the dialog and individual points of view had me laughing out loud.
Just Like Heaven is romantic, witty and charming - the perfect vehicle to escape life for a few hours.
At last! This is a book that is all about the developing love between two people who have been friends since they were children. Marcus was an only child, and while not mistreated, he was mostly neglected by his parents. He was lonely, and had no friends until he was sent to school. He became best friends with Daniel, who often invited him home on holidays. While there, they were often shadowed by Honoria, Daniel's little sister. Over the years, they became good friends. After Honoria debuted into society, Marcus kept an eye on her, and "discouraged" all suitors he felt were unworthy. Honoria, determined to catch a potential suitor's attention, stages a fake accident which inadvertently sets off a chain of events which ends up endangering Marcus' life. As she rushes to be with him, and take care of him, she comes to realize how much he means to her. The book then deals with their blossoming love, and it's wonderful to see. Marcus is thought to be grim and aloof, when in fact, he is just shy. Honoria is able to bring out the humor and laughter in him. There were no death threats, no lurking spies, no family secrets, no big misunderstandings. Marcus' bleak childhood didn't lead him to becoming a rake, he became a good man. This is just a lovely, lovely story of two people finding each other. (And for those of us who follow Julia Quinn, take note that Honoria IS s Smythe-Smith, and we are treated to the delights of their annual musicale.) Highly recommended!
on June 2, 2011
Because of her wonderful earlier books, I continue to give Ms. Quinn the benefit of the doubt each time she releases a new novel. And, like other reviewers, I had heard that this book brought back the Julia Quinn of Bridgerton fame. It was not to be.
While Ms. Quinn's early books were unique because they were funny, light and delightful, I think she has taken this attempt at style too far. In the past several books (this one no exception), she immerses her characters in a babble of inner monologue, rather than incorporating true, character-building dialogue. Here is an example:
"He liked carrots. Although orange had never really
been one of his favorite colors. He'd always found
it a little jarring. It seemed to pop up when he
didn't expect it, and he preferred his life without
This book is filled with non-sequiturs like that. Perhaps ONE would have been mildly amusing, but instead they are used as filler. Take them out and this book would have far, far shorter. Here's another example:
"He nodded and ate some more. Or rather, drank some
more. Did one eat soup or drink it? And more to the
point, could he get some cheese to melt on top?"
Again, by itself it might be cute. Unfortunately, all of this fluff leads to a book that is devoid of character- and relationship-building. The hero and heroine have very little chemistry. Most of the book takes place within the context of a convalescence, so there is precious little physical passion, and the one scene at the end of the book feels forced and awkward, like Ms. Quinn was contractually obligated to put a sex scene in. It does not feel like the consummation of a great love or even great passion.
Finally, while I am no fan of the overdone "villain" plot line, this book could have used... something. The plot is a flat line. I found it quite boring to read. Hopefully Ms. Quinn manages to get some new ideas, or a new editor, or some sort of change that may help her to revert back to her previous style, which incorporated wit AND substance.
Any fan of Ms. Quinn's Bridgerton Series is well acquainted with the Smythe-Smith Musicales. It is an event best enjoyed by the tone deaf and/or hard of hearing. Honoria Smythe-Smith is the violinist for this year's musicale and she is, in one word, desperate: desperate to find a husband and avoid playing again next year. (Four unmarried Smythe-Smith daughters perform (wretchedly) each year.) She simply cannot understand how she has, so far, been unable to bring any gentleman up to scratch. It is time to take matters in hand. Honoria hatches a plot to snare a likely candidate. Dig a hole, blame the mole and assume a role (damsel in distress).
Marcus Holroyd is the Earl of Chatteris. Marcus is the long-time best friend of Daniel Smythe-Smith (now known as Lord Winstead). Daniel has run into a spot of trouble and has been forced to leave the country for a spell. Before he flees, Daniel makes Marcus swear to watch over Honoria (affectionately known as "bug") and insure that she doesn't marry "an idiot". Marcus isn't one for London or for greater society. Most of the ton believes Marcus to be aloof and haughty. Marcus is in fact quite shy. As a boy an uncaring father who saw no reason to remarry or produce additional offspring after Marcus' mother's untimely death left him alone. It is only when Marcus enters Eton and meets Daniel that he understands how very lonely he has been. Daniel takes him home to meet the Smythe-Smith brood, including his annoying little pest of a sister, and Marcus comes to regard them as his surrogate family. So, in Daniel's absence it is only natural for Marcus to watch over "bug" and insure that she comes to no harm. So far he has been very effective, four unworthy suitors have been frightened off, Honoria has come to no harm and he is next door, in residence, overseeing her latest matchmaking efforts. Now, what in the world is going on with that hole? She does know that moles make more than one hole?
I have read every novel or short story Julia Quinn has published. * At her best, Ms. Quinn elevates the romance genre. She is always witty but at the top of her game, she creates characters that are heartwarmingly touching and side-splittingly funny. In her best books (The Viscount Who Loved Me (Bridgerton Series, Bk. 2),When He Was Wicked (Bridgerton Family Series), and (to a lesser extent) Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgerton Series, Book 4)) the high comedy covers an underlying sense of pathos. It is a talented author who can smoothly shift gears and take us from great sadness to chuckling delight. So, is "Just Like Heaven" one of those special books? No. Is it worth reading? Absolutely. It is witty, it is well written, it touches on the wonderful world created in the Bridgerton series and we are treated to another one of the infamous Smythe-Smith musicales. Where the book falls down is in the pathos. We simply aren't given the tools to feel Honoria's or Marcus pain. We are told that Marcus had a sad and lonely childhood. We are told that Honoria was a late-last baby but we don't suffer those trials with them and no amount of explaining will sufficiently inform us. This also feels like the first book in a new series. So, even though we catch a glimpse of an occasional Bridgerton, we are just getting to know many new characters that look very much like the protagonist of future novels. I think these sort of books tend to be a bit slower paced and serve as building blocks for later (presumably better) novels. That said, there is a generous helping of the wonderful Lady Danbury here and she is, as ever, in fine form!**
Recommended for Ms. Quinn's fans and for those looking for a decent beach read.
*I used to say that I had read everything a particular author had "ever written" which is, of course nonsense. I have not read Ms. Quinn's school papers, personal correspondence or raided her trash bins for discarded bits. Ms. Quinn's rubbish will be spared my inspection. (I cannot extend the same courtesy to Mary Balogh.)
**This book is really a 3.5 star read. I gave it an additional half star because Lady Danbury elevates any affair she deems worthy to attend.
on July 27, 2011
I'm late to this party, but I just finished this book. Unfortunately, Julia Quinn has not been an automatic buy for me for quite some time now (her last five or six titles, at least), so I waited until I remembered to reserve a copy from my library to read this. While I did not actively dislike this book, I didn't particularly like it either. I found myself rather ambivalent about the whole thing. There's a certain sweetness to the story, but it's really very dull. The conflict is almost nonexistent, and there is no feeling of urgency ("what's going to happen next?") while reading. I can't believe this is the same author whose characters used to leap off the page and make me laugh out loud.
Marcus and Honoria are both likeable enough in a quiet fashion. They spend so much of the story being quiet and introspective that the sudden spurts of emotion seem to come out of nowhere. As others have mentioned, the love scene seemed almost as though it were tacked on as an afterthought. I must add that even though I don't judge a romance by its love scenes (I am perfectly happy if a book does not go into graphic detail), the scene between Marcus and Honoria was pretty flat and anemic. No matter how many times it was mentioned that these two people had known each other for 15 years, there didn't seem to be much emotion or feeling between them. Again, like many of the more recent Quinn titles, we have a story where there is a great deal of telling, rather than showing. Instead of portraying a relationship where the two characters actions show how well they know each other, we are reminded "after all, they had practically grown up together" multiple times. The entire middle of the book just seemed to meander without much of anything happening, and then suddenly both of the main characters go from "I've known you all my life" to singing a chorus of "I think I love you".
The smattering of Bridgerton and Lady Danbury sightings did not enhance the story at all. To me, they felt rather forced and heavy handed. They did not come across as the characters they were in the Bridgerton series - just print on a piece of paper. The banter between characters was rather bland as well. Judging by the critiques posted, I am obviously in the minority with my opinion. I'm glad others enjoyed it. I'm just disappointed that an author's work that I used to enjoy has deteriorated so much.
Afterthought: I did find the dedication to Quinn's husband at the front of the book quite funny.
I confess. I love Julia Quinn's books. I find them genuinely charming. Her hero in this book is not an Alpha male. Marcus Holroyd is most definitely a Beta. A quiet, shy, unassuming Beta hero who is just doing what he was asked to do by his best friend. And that's to watch out for Honoria Smythe-Smith, the youngest sister of his best friend.
Marcus and Honoria have an easy relationship because they've been friends since she was six and he was twelve. An unfortunate event has driven her brother from the country.
The story is sweet. This isn't a mystery. No one gets kidnapped. No one gets saved. It's just your basic, well-crafted Regency novel. With Quinn's trademark humor and weaving in of old favorites like the Bridgertons and the irascible Lady Danbury, she takes us into the heart of that infamous musically-inept clan, the Smythe-Smiths.
If you have a hunger for something sweet like Marcus and Honoria do, then I believe you will enjoy this book. There were points that dragged for me. Their journey from friendship to lovers stumbled at the house party (no pun intended) but heated up over the sickbed (okay, maybe that was a pun there.)
What I loved most was Marcus's internal dialogue such as:
"Then you'll steal me a piece?" He gave her his best smile. His best "I-almost-died-so-how-can-you-deny-me" smile. Or at least that's how he hoped it appeared. The truth was, he wasn't a very accomplished flirt, and it might very well have come across as an "I-am-mildly-deranged-so-it's-in-all-of-our-best-interests-if-you-pretend-to-agree-with-me" smile.
He is self-depracating without being annoying. And the scenes where we were inside his head for his laudanum-laced fantasies? Hysterical. I laughed out loud more than once.
Don't read this book if you want a glowering, brooding Heathcliff hero. Do read this book if you want a socially awkward, but sincere Spiderman hero.
on June 1, 2011
After the last three or four bad books Julia Quinn wrote I was not even sure I was going to read this one.
But of course, like so many other readers I could not resist the fact that it was about the Smythe-Smith whom I read about in the Bridgertons. That was the selling point. So I kept an open mind and read it in one sitting. It is not good. The only word I could think of when I was done was "silly". It really is sooo silly, it made me feel like it was written for a sixteen year old reading her first romance novel. The conversations between the cousins are suposed to be funny, but they are so forced, they are not even close to being funny.
The romance between Marcus and Honoria had potential, but there is such a gap between " I love you like a sibling and I'm in love with you" that the reader is left confused. The love scene...what love scene?? Is that what that was??
Overall it is not an improvement from her previous novels. It really feels like Quinn is tired of writing this genre. The characters may be Smythe-Smith or Bridgerton at this point her writing is not even lukewarm.
on February 8, 2016
Just Like Heaven is the first book in the Smythe-Smith quartet. Fans of Julia Quinn might recognize the Smythe-Smiths as the family who hosts annual musicales featuring infamously dreadful girls doing great injustice to classical music. The makeup of the performers has changed over the last twenty years, as members get married and resign their place on stage in favor of a younger sister or cousin.
Honoria Smythe-Smith is one of the girls currently in the group. She hates it because she knows they’re dreadful, but she is loyal to her family and its traditions. She is enjoying her time with her friends and family before the Season starts, and keeps running to her brother’s friend Marcus Holroyd.
Marcus always thought of Honoria as his best friend Daniel’s pesky little sister, but that was many years ago. She has grown up, and Daniel has asked Marcus to keep an eye on her and frighten away any unsuitable suitors.
When Marcus injures himself due to something that Honoria did, she feels an obligation to help him recover. As she helps him recuperate, they both realize that there is something more than friendship between them.
I love nineteenth century England- from the Regency period to the Victorian era, I love it all. There’s something about the rules of courtship, the glamour of the aristocracy, and the obsession with making a good match. Honoria and Marcus are a delightful pair, and I really enjoyed how their feelings for each other developed over the course of the story. While Marcus was happy to scare away suitors, it never occurred to him that he was in love with Honoria.
I would absolutely recommend Just Like Heaven. This is the first book in a series, so it is a good place to start if you aren’t familiar with Julia Quinn’s books. I would also point out that there are some romantic scenes in the book. There’s nothing particularly graphic or explicit, but the book is definitely intended for a mature audience. I am certainly looking forward to becoming reacquainted with Julia Quinn’s books before her newest book comes out next month!
on September 6, 2011
Just surfing for upcoming books to order and saw that one of my favorites from this summer was being unfairly reviewed. Why do we read regency romance novels?!?!? FOR THE ROMANCE, THE LIGHT COMEDY, FOR ENJOYMENT!!! This book has it all. The Hero and Heroine are smart, funny, and real. I don't think I've enjoyed a scene more than the BIG S-S musicale in this book. Its wonderfully written and very witty. This author just knows her characters - its obvious that she lives with them and knows all their little foibles. I enjoy the break from the mundane books, the horror that almost everyone is filling the pages with now. Its great to know that this author and others like Samantha James, Eloisa James, Teresa Medeiros, Mary Balough, Madeline Hunter, (and a several more that I won't list) are still writing the WONDEFULE REGENCY ROMANCE. Please, please don't stop!! Don't change!! I need my R&R from daily corporate life. Thank you for all the enjoyment you bring.