I have read at least 10 books by Julia Quinn (but it’s perhaps as high as 13 or 14 – I lose count when I check books out from the library). I have loved a few of them (looking at you, An Offer From a Gentleman and When He Was Wicked.) [side note: everybody loves The Duke and I and I loved it, too. But I loved Gentleman and Wicked more.]
But I don’t always love them (though, let’s be honest, I do always like them, at the least).
So, when I read descriptions and the positive reviews of Just Like Heaven, the first book in a new series by Quinn, I didn’t jump right on them. I actually waited quite a while before buying the book.
I should have trusted the reviews.
The two Smythe-Smith books are joys to read.
[WARNING: some spoilers ahead!]
The Smythe-Smith’s are not new Quinn characters. The famously terrible Smythe-Smith musicales are a constant setting in many of Quinn’s other romance novels. From what I recall, they appear in (almost?) all of the Bridgerton books. In fact, they are so common that you come to expect them; they are familiar friends.
The yearly performance of the Smythe-Smith quartet always features the daughters and female cousins of the Smythe-Smith family. In Just Like Heaven, the first of the series, we are re-introduced to Honoria Smythe-Smith. On Quinn’s website she reminds of when we had met Honoria originally:
I’m actually not that crazy about the name Honoria and probably would not have used it for a heroine except that I had already mentioned her in a Lady Whistledown column in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. There was no way I could resist a scene in which Lady Danbury destroys a violin!
Honoria’s brother, Daniel, the Earl of Winstead, has to flee England for the continent after an ill-fated duel, in which he shot and seriously injured the son of the Marquess of Ramsgate. Before he leaves, he asks his oldest and dearest friend, Marcus, the Earl of Chatteris, to look after his sister. Honoria and Marcus have known each other for years and have, for a long while, cared for each other, though neither one has ever admitted it to the other.
Marcus feels that he cannot fall for Honoria when he should be watching out for her. Honoria does not believe Marcus feels the way she does. And so, Honoria sets out to catch herself a husband (a Bridgerton, no less).
Instead, she, of course, catches Marcus. And Marcus, of course, realizes that his love for Honoria is more important than his promise to Daniel (or, rather, that he can do both at once).
The chemistry between the characters is wonderful. I adore how Quinn captures the awkwardness of these two old friends finding themselves in love. It feels honest and, in the end, joyous.
4 out of 5 stars
The second book in the series, A Night Like This, was published just this week.
At the end of Just Like Heaven, Daniel Smythe-Smith, the Earl of Winstead, returns from his time abroad. (Un)fortunately he returns the night of the annual S-S quartet (and the night of Honoria and Marcus’ very public betrothal).
Daniel falls instantly in lust with the woman playing the piano in the quartet, an interloper, not one of the Smythe-Smith family.
In fact, she is Anne Wynter, governess to his cousins and is standing in for their sister who (supposedly) had fallen ill the night of the performance. Anne, too, falls instantly in lust with Daniel:
She looked up. Time stopped. It simply stopped. It was the most maudlin and clichéd way of describing it, but those few seconds when her face was lifted toward his . . . they stretched and pulled, melting into eternity.
Anne and Daniel have fun, quick, witty banter that often made the corners of my mouth turn up as I read. They laugh often. Their attraction is obvious and you never question it.
But both Daniel and Anne are trying to leave behind their painful pasts. Anne is not who she appears to be and her secrets are dangerous. Daniel is unsure if the promise of his safety is trustworthy, if the reason he ran to the continent to begin with is no longer a threat.
I wasn’t a huge fan of Anne’s backstory. It worked, don’t get me wrong. And I wouldn’t even say it detracted from the overall story. Yet, I did find myself skimming through sections of it, especially towards the end.
I think more than anything in this book, I liked Daniel. He’s a great protagonist. He is a sweetheart and he handles Anne with care and love right from the beginning, as evidenced here:
He hadn’t been trying to make her smile, but she did, anyway, the tiniest tilt of her lips. His own heart tilted, and it was difficult to understand how such a small change of expression on her part could cause such a large burst of emotion in his. He had not liked seeing her so upset. He was only now realizing just how much.
“You are not the sort of man to take advantage,” she said, and in that moment he knew. Someone had hurt her. Anne Wynter knew what it meant to be at the mercy of someone stronger and more powerful. Daniel felt something within him harden with fury. Or maybe sorrow. Or regret.
A figure stepped out of the shadows, trembling in the night. “Daniel,” she said again, and if she said anything more, he did not hear it. He was down the stairs in an instant, and she was in his arms, and for the first time in nearly a week, the world felt steady on its axis.
Like Just Like Heaven, I give A Night Like This 4 out of 5 stars.
I am very much looking forward to the final two books in this series.