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REVIEW: Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

Dear Ms. Quinn,

When Jane sent me the arc of your upcoming book “Just Like Heaven,” I was torn. On the one hand, it’s a Julia Quinn book and I’ve adored so many of your past books. On the other hand, some of your most recent books haven’t worked for me. I think the last one I even tried turned out to be a DNF. “But,” said my self, “It’s a Quinn. And look at the back blurb – it’s got Bridgertons. And Smythe-Smiths!” Well, that did it for me. As Lady Danbury says, someone’s got to clap for those poor girls.

Just Like Heaven by Julia QuinnMarcus Holroyd is very much like any other Regency nobleman. His parents conceived him then basically left him to nurses and tutors to raise. He went to Eton and there met Daniel Smythe-Smith who befriended Marcus and invited the lonely young boy home for holidays where he became almost one of the boisterous Smythe-Smith clan. The youngest sibling by far was Honoria, who tried to tag along with her beloved brother and Marcus but who, as young sisters are wont to do, usually ended up getting in the way.

Now everyone is all grown up and due to a duel and a vengeful father, Daniel has had to flee to Italy. But before he leaves, he makes Marcus promise to look after unmarried Honoria and screen her suitors. After a year of this, Marcus is tired of glowering at fortune hunters while Honoria is puzzled at her lack of suitable marriage offers. Daniel’s disgrace has sent his widowed mother into a tailspin and Honoria is desperate to escape the pall over her family name and the move her mother intends to make to boring Bath.

When Honoria travels to a friend’s country estate near where Marcus lives with the intention of scouting for husbands there, the two meet up again. Due to one of her schemes, Marcus ends up injured and if not for Honoria and her mother, would have died. It’s during the difficult nursing that the scales finally fall from their eyes. However in true romance novel fashion, Honoria discovers Marcus’s pledge to Daniel and misinterprets Marcus’s intentions towards her. She and her mother return to London and the upcoming annual Smythe-Smith musicale. Can Marcus convince Honoria that he loves her for herself and not some silly pledge? Can Honoria get her cousins to practice the difficult piece for the upcoming event? And will the invited London ton be able to find enough cotton to stuff their ears and survive another “musical” offering from the women of the Smythe-Smith clan?

As I read the book, it dawned on me that not much actually happens in these Bridgerton offshoot books. Not much plot-wise anyway. It just seems like a lot of nattering on and wittering about and screwballish type internal and external dialogue. On and on, natter, natter, natter. This worked better for me when it’s Marcus and Honoria interacting but less well when Honoria is talking with her friends or female cousins. Those later conversations tend to slump into almost childish “Did not!” ” Did too!” ” Did not!” ” Did too!” exchanges. I half expect one of the characters to end it by sticking out her tongue.

I know I should remember who some of the background and incidental people are throughout the book and at the performance. I remember Lady Danbury and obviously Colin and Gregory Bridgerton plus Penelope’s sister but some of the others have escaped my memory after this many years since reading those books. Who is Miss Wynter? In her martial attempts to arrange marriages, Mrs. Royle is a force to be reckoned with. Were I a young man of good family, I’d be ducking and dodging from the likes of her too.

Ah, the state of medical care at the time. Abysmal is too kind a term. But what didn’t kill Marcus got him a wife so all’s well that ends well. I found this section to be the most interesting and enjoyed the moments when Honoria’s mother pitches in and saves the day. There’s real meat to the narrative and less dithering. Intense emotions instead of circular talk, talk that does little to advance the plot and seems to serve only to get some laughs.

The romance is more the “can’t see what’s under your nose” type. Both almost simultaneously realize their true love but of course it takes a while before they finally get together. I do love Marcus defending Honoria against Mr. Grimston – charging into the public eye, which he hates doing, then forcing a real apology. The public proposal, while sweet as honey, doesn’t come off as very believable for the time but then compared to the whole book, it’s about as believable as the rest of it. I also puzzled that there isn’t more about Honoria’s red shoes given the fact that they are featured in the cover art. It’s not that anyone except Marcus notices them and then only after Honoria told him about them. Maybe they, along with the shared love of chocolate cake, are supposed to be quiet thing only between Marcus and Honoria.

“Just Like Heaven” is the closest thing so far to a backstage pass for a Smythe-Smith musical performance. Honoria seems to have figured out the true meaning of it all. It’s family, it’s tradition, it’s togetherness and that is why I can see her evolving from “we’re terrible” to “it’s my cousins and me” to “I can’t wait until my daughters are up on that stage.” I can just see great granddaughters doing a ragtime version as their family grit their collective teeth and cheer them on.

While the book doesn’t reach the level of enjoyment I’ve gotten from my favorites – “Romancing Mr. Bridgerton,” “The Viscount Who Loved Me” or “The Duke and I” – it’s nice to revisit the relatively harmless world of Bridgerton London. It is what it is and that is a pretty soap bubble that floats and entertains. Maybe there will be more substance to Daniel’s story, which I assume is coming at some point. This one leaves me with a genial smile even if ultimately I probably won’t remember much about it. C+

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Mary Anne Graham
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 07:02:29

    “The Viscount Who Loved Me” – Anthony & Kate’s story – is one of my favorite books of all tiime. I haven’t read “Just Like Heaven” yet. I’ll buy it but I may have to pick up the new Johanna Lindsey first – one of my co-workers stayed up until 2 am reading it b/c she couldn’t put it down.

    I love Julia Quinn and I love the Bridgertons, but I’d love to see Quinn turn her attention to a new family. Isn’t there a braw Scottish Clan somewhere in the Highlands awaiting their turn at the JQ magic?

    Thanks for the great review!

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  2. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 07:12:06

    @Mary Anne Graham: Sigh, I think she’s like Linda Lael Miller with the Creed family. She’s found something that works, that readers will faithfully buy and she’s sticking to it. And who can blame her if the books sell?

    .

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  3. mdegraffen
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 08:32:50

    I enjoyed this book. Quinn is an autobuy for me and IMO she doesn’t disappoint.

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  4. May
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 09:04:38

    Great review!
    I love so many of the Quinn books – and I was really excited to see the smythe-smith girls get their time in the spotlight.
    Unfortunately, this book fell flat for me. It was fine I guess, but ultimately didn’t come near the level of greatness I know she’s capable of and that I’ve enjoyed in many of her past works.

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  5. Charlotte
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 09:44:23

    Great review. This isn’t JQ’s greatest effort, but I enjoyed it very much.

    JQ is a favourite of mine precisely because of what you criticize her for -the natter, natter, natter. When I read a JQ I know the characters will actually talk to each other and get to know each other. Too often I read a book and I realize that the hero and heroine have not actually has a conversation together. They have fought, screamed at each other, accused and almost drowned in lust, but no simple conversation. And I can’t help think ‘how are these two going to fare over years and years of having breakfast together without constant drama and misunderstandings?’
    I love the lightness and interaction of JQ, where you get the sense that the hero and heroine not only love each other, but actually like each other as well.

    This was a very good review -articulated your criticism well. And I think your criticism was warranted -the book is a tad forgettable. But I, like you, still enjoyed it.

    (Btw, I absolutely love the reviews on DA -they always make the points of criticism or praise clear, giving us readers a very good tool to evaluate the book. Thank you for that.)

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  6. Marianne McA
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 09:50:20

    I assumed Miss Wynter was a new character and future heroine, but I could be wrong.
    I really enjoyed this book (with the exception of the mandatory sex scene, whinge, whinge.). In fact, I went back and reread ‘What happens in London’ and ‘Ten things I love about you’ afterwards. I think that group of post-Bridgerton books are different: I always wonder if Sebastian Grey’s thoughts about reading and writing are intended to be read as an indication of Quinn’s current position. (I would read any of Sebastian’s books in a heartbeat.)

    Because I do think there’s a change in her style – that I’d categorise those newer books as comic writing, more than romance – nearer Wodehouse than Heyer. I did really enjoy the Bridgertons – particularly ‘The Duke and I’ and ‘When he was wicked’ – but I’m very optimistic about the new direction she seems to be taking. To say that she’s coming into her own as a writer seems condescending – because I’ve enjoyed her past work very much – but I think these ‘soap bubble’ books play to her strengths as a writer.

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  7. Gwen Hayes
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 10:08:12

    I really enjoyed the book–but the nursing Marcus back to health scenes seemed to go on forEVER.

    I found the story refreshing though…I kind of like that the plot wasn’t complicated. Quinn’s characters always seem so real to me. They jump off the page.

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  8. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 10:24:43

    @Charlotte: But my problem with the nattering is that the characters don’t really seem to be *saying* anything. Just making noise. But! I do agree that her characters seem to like each other as well as love each other.

    And thank you for the complement on our reviews. I do try and say what did and didn’t work for me 1) to be fair and 2)as readers have said it helps them decide if a book might work for them or not.

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  9. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 10:26:30

    @May: I was excited to see a book get up close and personal with the Smythe-Smith women too. They’ve been the butt of so many jokes throughout the series that it’s time they got their due.

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  10. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 10:31:54

    @Marianne McA: She seems to be enjoying this new style. They’re her books to write as she wants. And what she’s writing seems to be working for a lot of readers just fine. I like your comparison to Wodehouse who I could read every day. If I take up another Quinn book in the future, I’ll keep it in mind.

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  11. library addict
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 10:57:52

    I discovered Quinn in her pre-Bridgerton days, so have been reading her a long time. Like Jayne her last few books have not worked too well for me.

    I enjoyed this one more than Jayne I think, but it’s not up to Quinn’s old standard. I had a hard time keeping the Smythe-Smith cousins straight. And I wanted more scenes between Honoria and Marcus after she leaves for London. The romance felt really rushed to me at the end.

    But give me Lady Danbury over the scheming Lady Vickers from her Bevelstoke series any day.

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  12. Jayne
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 11:03:40

    @library addict: Lady Danbury is definitely someone with whom I’d love to sit down over a nice pot of tea and a goodie tray then have a nice long coz with. The stories I bet that woman could tell…

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  13. Kim
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 11:49:23

    I liked the book and the characters, but agree that not a lot happens here. I enjoyed the internal monologues during Marcus’ injury/illness and how Honoria’s mother finally started to function again. I also thought it was different to have a shy hero, instead of the usual alpha male.

    The oddest part of the book though was how Daniel was handled. We’re told all the backstory on how he has to stay away, then suddenly, with only a few pages to go, he’s back. It’s as if he’s dropped into the story for no real reason. As Jayne said, he will probably get his own book, but I think it would have worked better if Daniel’s homecoming was spread over a few novels.

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  14. Dr. Zoidberg
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 13:01:14

    I’m not a big fan of Julia Quinn, so this is not one I will be picking up….but I have to say, this cover is one of the most beautiful book covers I’ve ever seen. If I was new to romance, this cover would make me buy the book.

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  15. Moviemavengal
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 13:51:26

    I agree that my favorite parts were the medical bits in the middle, and especially Honoria’s mother saving the day. My least favorite parts were also the bickering amongst the cousins. I just figured they were there merely for the sequel bait.

    Not my favorite Quinn, but a pleasant read.

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  16. anna
    Jun 16, 2011 @ 14:29:00

    Ms Quinn was kind enough to do a book signing event in my area recently. During the q&a, she mentioned the next book would feature Daniel and the mysterious Miss Wynter.

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  17. Babs
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 09:48:18

    I used to read every Quinn but after some disappointments I stopped buying her. Put this one on my Kindle after reading a couple of positive reviews and while it was fluff, I did enjoy it. Loved the behind the scenes at the musicales slant…those poor young women! I liked that Marcus was retiring and quiet — a refreshing change for a hero.

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  18. Lucienne
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 10:52:40

    I thought this was vintage JQ and loved it. The previous two were just okay fo rme.

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  19. Edie Harris
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 11:44:05

    I want to preface this by saying I love Julia Quinn — I just didn’t love this book.

    As someone who’s read her backlist in its entirety several times over, I know that Ms. Quinn’s novels generally aren’t that steamy, but I thought there was a real lack of sexual tension between the pair; it made Marcus and Honoria very sweet, and of course I rooted for them, but the stakes weren’t all that high.

    Unfortunately, there was one glaring continuity error that really yanked me out of the story. In the beginning, Honoria and her friends are discussing eligible university gentlemen to invite to a small fête, and Neville Berbrooke is mentioned, described as follows: “[Gregory] Bridgerton’s brother’s wife’s sister is married to Mr. Berbrooke’s brother.” This is a reference to Colin Bridgerton (of Romancing Mister Bridgerton fame) and his wife Penelope Featherington. Much later in the book, a recurring secondary character introduces our heroine, Honoria, to Colin Bridgerton, sporting an injury (“An altercation with a letter opener.”), an integral event that happens during the process of his courtship with his future wife, Penelope. He also is subtly presented as an unmarried gentleman, a device used to incite jealousy in our hero, Marcus. …So, unless there was some sort of magical Regency-era time machine involved, or blatant author liberties, Mr. Colin Bridgerton starts Just Like Heaven married with Berbrooke as an in-law and ends the novel unmarried and in the middle of his own romance.

    I’m really surprised more readers didn’t catch this…

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  20. Molly
    Jun 17, 2011 @ 20:43:27

    Can just say I thought the cover was ugly? I just …
    It looks like the fourth of July…. I am surprised that wasn’t the release date…

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  21. amandine
    Jun 18, 2011 @ 01:27:20

    @Molly: I think the cover is pretty; but I preferred the uk version and that’s the one I ordered from bookdepository.com. On the whole I think the UK covers fit the feel of Julia Quinns books better — well at least to me :)

    Only ordered the book a couple of days ago; really shouldn’t be reading commentary on it! And yet, who can resist.

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  22. Ros
    Jun 18, 2011 @ 17:46:57

    I am afraid that I almost spurted tea all over my keyboard at the idea of comparing Julia Quinn to possibly the greatest wordsmith in the English language ever. I know, I know, the point is that she is writing the lighthearted nonsensical plots of Wodehouse. But the thing is, that without his genius of language, the plots and the characters have to be able to sustain a book. And for me, Julia Quinn’s work doesn’t really do that either. I don’t feel any emotional depth in her work and I truly loathe her disdain for any attempt at historical accuracy (seriously, she has decimal currency in one of her books). But hey, she sells books, so it’s obviously working for someone.

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