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REVIEW: A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

Dear Ms. Quinn—

It’s taken me way too long to write up my review of your latest Regency romance A Night Like This. I finished it weeks ago and found it wanting but couldn’t figure out what exactly it wanted. So, I went back and read several older books of yours I think are grand. I revisited a few of the Bridgertons and caught up with Miss Miranda Cheever and her wonderfully dry diaries. What those books have that this one doesn’t is underpinning. I don’t mean heft—your books are light and that is often what makes them such lovely reads. But the books of yours I love all tell stories bolstered by concrete details that make your characters and their choices seem convincing. In A Night Like This, the characters are vaguely constructed and their motivations hazy. A Night Like This is, like most of your books, well-written, full of wryly humorous vignettes, and fun to whip through. But, when I’d finished it, I knew I’d never feel the desire to read it again nor would I heartily recommend it to others.

A Night Like This by Julia QuinnThe novel is the second in the Smythe-Smith series. The Smythe-Smiths are famous in the Quinn world for their awful annual musicales. The hero of this book, unlike his female relatives, does not perform in these sonic atrocities. In fact, Daniel Smythe-Smith hasn’t even attended one in three years. Rather, he’s been on the run, traveling all through Europe, trying to avoid assassins hunting him at the behest of Lord Ramsgate whose son, Daniel’s friend Hugh, Daniel inadvertently crippled in a duel. (I disliked this premise—the duel seemed unlikely given the men involved and it irritated me Daniel’s and Hugh’s lives are ruined because Daniel slips in the mud.)

Daniel has returned home however because Hugh has forced his father to call off the hunt. Daniel’s first day home just happens to be the day of his family’s annual performance. (Again, this seemed contrived to me.) Daniel, who doesn’t want to interrupt the musicale, sneaks into the rehearsal room to watch the show and realizes that the woman playing the piano is not a Smythe-Smith. As he stares at her, wondering why a non-Smythe-Smith is performing, she looks up and sees him staring at her. And Daniel is instantly, utterly ensnared.

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.

She was beautiful. But that didn’t explain it. He’d seen beautiful women before. He’d slept with plenty of them, even. But this . . . Her . . . She . . .

Even his thoughts were tongue-tied.

Her hair was lustrously dark and thick, and it didn’t matter that it had been pulled back into a serviceable bun. She didn’t need curling tongs or velvet ribbons. She could have scraped her hair back like a ballerina, or shaved it all off, and she’d still be the most exquisite creature he’d ever beheld.

It was her face, it had to be. Heart-shaped and pale, with the most amazing dark, winged brows. In the dusky light, he couldn’t tell what color her eyes were, and that seemed a tragedy. But her lips . . .

He dearly hoped this woman was not married, because he was going to kiss her. The only question was when.

The woman, Anne Wynter, is equally instantly taken with Daniel. After the concert, Daniel finds Anne in a deserted hallway and within minutes of meeting one another–Anne is the governess to the daughters of Daniel’s aunt-are wrapped in each other’s arms and kissing as though there is no tomorrow. Daniel goes a bit batty.

Still, he was not ready to let her go. She smelled like England, of soft rain and sun-kissed meadows. And she felt like the best kind of heaven. He wanted to wrap himself around, bury himself within her, and stay there for all of his days. He hadn’t had a drop to drink in three years, but he was intoxicated now, bubbling with a lightness he’d never thought to feel again.

It was madness. It had to be.

From that moment on, Daniel is determined to make Anne his. He is single-minded about his pursuit; I found this hard to understand. Daniel, like so many Regency heroes, knows the rigid social structure his class swears by. Yet he seems almost oblivious to how difficult his courtship could make life for not only himself and Anne, but his family as well. He acts more like a randy teenager than a socially aware adult. He is charming, but not very credible.

Anne is equally unlikely. She’s not who she claims to be and she lives in terror of having her fake credentials unmasked. Her life story seemed over the top to me. Despite having suffered extreme adversity early on in her life, she’s still gorgeous, kind, funny, smart, and, until the end of the book, exceedingly level-headed. She’s the reverse of Daniel—she’s obsessed with the differences in their social statuses and mentions at least a hundred times she’s a lowly governess and he’s a lofty earl and thus THEY CAN”T BE TOGETHER.  Much of the book is spent with Daniel dreamily nattering on and on about how beautiful and wonderful and perfect Anne is while Anne is wringing her wrists over how threatened she feels by everything.

To be fair, there is a VERY BAD MAN after Anne and BAD THINGS do happen because of this knave.  He is, though, just a bad man. He’s not very smart, his planning is poor, and his motives are at odds with his life goals. He didn’t do a thing for me.

The first half of the book does have several very funny moments—the Smythe-Smiths are an amusing bunch—and the love scenes between Anne and Daniel are ardent and pack some heat. I would give the first half of the book a B even with the aforementioned flaws.

The second half of the book, sadly, rates a C. Not only do both Anne and Daniel behave in TSTL ways but their courtship takes an almost creepy turn. I disliked intensely the way sex and virginity was handled in this novel.

Spoiler:

[spoiler]Anne first refuses to sleep with Daniel because he—according to her—can’t marry her. He tells her he wants to marry her. She leaves him, things happen and then she returns, and offers to be his mistress. He says no, he wants marriage. She says she’s not worthy of him because she’s not a virgin. He says he doesn’t care. He asks for her hand again. She accepts and agrees to let him make love to her that very night. And then she says–and this unsettled me–she’s decided she’s is now a virgin, that her other time (which she chose—she wasn’t forced) doesn’t count. I think that in some way this is demeaning to Anne and to the sexual choices women make. Daniel loves her, she loves him, why does she have to become pure for their love to be consummated?[/spoiler]

I also found the drama at the end of the book cartoonish and contrived. The entire book is full of coincidences—this is what I mean, in part, by lack of underpinning. Rather than creating viable reasons for the plot and characters to evolve organically, the book relies on unsupported assertion and calculated unlikely chance. By the end, Daniel has saved the day, Anne has embraced her true self, and society treats them indulgently. All three things happen just because they do rather than because the story works in such a way that those things are the most natural outcomes.

If you adore Ms. Quinn’s work, you’ll adore this book. It’s got all the things she does well. But, if you are like me, cranky when faced with a plot fueled by happenstance and characters that exist by fiat rather than by layered, viable details, this book will probably irk you. Though it was—I must be honest here—a fun, fast read, it’s not a book that stands the test of even a week’s time. I give it a C.

Regretfully,

 

Dabney

 

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

22 Comments

  1. Abigail
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 12:12:10

    Yes….absolutely this.

    I read it last night and was disappointed to find myself skimming. I didn’t really like Daniel or Anne. I was really annoyed that Daniel kept putting a young woman in a servant role at risk of losing her job and kept blowing off her concerns. I’ll probably hold onto my copy but it’s unlikely I’ll reread it.

  2. Mireya
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 12:16:39

    I have to agree with your opinion. As much as I love Julia Quinn, I found this title to be weak. I love her work and she’s a “comfort read” type of author for me when I just don’t want to play “new-to-me” author roulette or can’t seem to find anything appealing to read. She’s my safest bet recommendation when I am trying to recommend romance to a friend that’s new to the genre. However, this particular title… *sigh* … Suffice it to say I had a hard time trying not to skip whole chunks of the story. For me, the characters where done for early on, and that completely colored the rest of my reading experience. I knew that was going to be the case as if I don’t find the characters appealing in some way, no matter how good the plot may be, the whole experience will not work out. However, I still continued reading. Of course, I never expect to love every single thing published by my favorite authors, but after 20 or so “winners” in a row from Julia Quinn (she’s my absolutely favorite author) I have to say it’s not a bad record at all. That’s how good I consider her to be. All that being said, this book is still an okay read even if, in my personal opinion, it is not up to the standards of her previous books.

    Okay, that was a mouthful.

    M.

  3. cleo
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 12:49:07

    This was maybe a C+ or B- for me, but I agree with all of your critiques. It was an ok read, but not great. I think one of the things Julia Quinn writes well are getting-to-know-you and falling-in-love scenes, and we don’t really get those in this book, because of the whole smitten on first sight thing. There was some good flirting and bantering, which I also think Quinn does well, but it wasn’t enough for me. And I completely agree with the TSTL behavior by both of them (is it an improvement or a step back to have TSTL heroes?).

  4. Lori
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 13:26:23

    I usually adore Ms. Quinn’s books but very quickly into this book I knew it wasn’t for me. The insta-lust was a complete turn-off and the hand wringing heroine also.

    It was a DNF unfortunately.

  5. Kim
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 14:17:17

    I so wanted to like this book simply because of the author. I’ve enjoyed so many of her prior novels that I kept hoping this one would get better. It never really did. Like you, I’ve tried to pinpoint the reason and here are some thoughts:

    My first problem is with Daniel. He’s been on the run for 3 years, but within one day of returning home, he ditches his family to run after Anne. I couldn’t even chalk it up to love at first sight, because both of them didn’t mention the word love for the next 200 pages. If JQ had at least laid some groundwork, such as he was overwhelmed with being home, then I could have bought into his desertion. Problem #2: Anne repeats the exact same scenario with Daniel as happened in her past. We know Daniel is a good guy, but wouldn’t Anne have been more careful about ever trusting someone again? Problem #3: Poor Hugh. Shouldn’t there have been more detail on why he made such a drastic threat to his father? Was he depressed, suicidal or what? The threat just hangs out there to probably be resolved in the next book. Finally, the villain was so over-the-top as to make him totally unbelievable. It read more like the Perils of Pauline than anything suspenseful. The one brightspot was Daniel’s interactions with his cousins and sister. Those were amusing interludes.

  6. Mireya
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 14:31:20

    I wrote a long comment… and it got eaten up… am too lazy to retype it so all I am going to say is : I agree with the review and every single one of the above comments. Julia Quinn is my favorite historical romance author, and I always recommend her books to friends who are starting to explore the genre. Of about 20 or so titles of hers that I’ve read, this is the first one that left me with the blahs. I didn’t find it bad, but it was… well, a so-so, to put it mildly (at least in my personal opinion). The characters were my main issue, and as it is usual with me, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the book.

    M.

  7. meoskop
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 14:35:31

    I liked Anne. I found her pretty realistic – she’s not someone who has always been of the class she is living in, the temptation is more than Daniel, per se. It’s the life she lost. Daniel’s rich kid who wants what he wants worked for me as well. But the last 1/3 of the book fell apart.

  8. alicet
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 17:01:04

    I agree with everyone’s assessment. I was hoping to love this book since Ms. Quinn is one of my favorite authors. But the romance between Anne and Daniel didn’t quite capture my attention. For some reason the story didn’t seem to gel and even the dialog, which I normally loved, seemed forced. I didn’t buy the plot that an ex lover would pursue Anne after 8 years. And the conflict resulting from the disparity of their class was a central issue in the story but was not even addressed in the ending. The Smith-Smythe series has been quite disappointing so far. I liked but didn’t love the first book and it was a struggle to finish this one.

  9. Readsalot81
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 17:50:46

    I pretty much agree with everything that has been said. I’m a total fan of JQ’s.. but her Smythe-Smith books have been pretty lackluster in comparison to her previous books. I couldn’t summon much empathy for Daniel and I found the insta-lust as Lori noted annoying and his general character just seemed to lack the depth that I was looking for. The heroine didn’t do much for me either and I found that it took several days to finish the book because I really couldn’t bring myself to care about what happened to their story.

  10. Malin
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 20:09:51

    I’ve found myself rather disappointed with quite a few of the more recent Julia Quinn novels, certainly both the Smythe-Smith novels. They’re not bad, by any means, but I agree that there is absolutely nothing in them that inspires re-reading, which most of the best Quinn books do. In both the Smythe-Smith books, it felt as if she didn’t really have enough plot to really support a whole book, but carried on regardless. I did like the appearances of Hugh in this one though, and it seems the next book will be about him. One can only hope that he and his heroine (Daniel’s cousin Sarah, as far as I could tell) are luckier in the characterization department than Daniel and Anne (or Marcus and Honoria).

  11. Emily A.
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 21:02:33

    I haven’t read this book, but I have been very nervous about it: it’s on my TBR list. I read the first one Just Like Heaven, and Daniel was my least favorite part of it. All of his family kept saying “It’s not fair.” when I felt his treatment due to duel was absolutely fair. I was also mad that he felt he had the right to just step right up and act as head of the family, when he had acted so irresponsibly before. (To be fair my brother fighting for my honor is one of my least favorite tropes in general.) What worked best for me in JLH is Honoria and Marcus are good people who deserve each other.
    Even from the last one Daniel came off as a frat boy,. For some reason the duel reminded me of not as much any other duel I’ve ever read, but more of a drunk driving accident. I was surprised that he’s supposed to beta hero considering he’s more like an Alphahole.
    Anyway I assume Hugh will be a hero later in the series, maybe even the next book.

  12. Dabney
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 22:24:29

    @Emily A.: I’m a little confused. Daniel’s stupid duel is about cards, not about fighting for Honoria’s honor.

    Also, I think he’s only beta because he’s so whipped. He’s so pie-in-the-sky in love/lust, he’s pretty useless.

  13. Emily A.
    Jun 15, 2012 @ 23:22:34

    @ Dabney
    So sorry my fault. Most of that post is about the duel which you’re is about cards.
    Spoiler alert
    *
    *
    *
    *
    Daniel comes home at the end of book 1, and immediately starts a fist fight with his little sister’s boyfriend which is his only appearance in the first book. I found none of his scenes worked for me, which is what I was trying to convey.

  14. cecilia
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 08:35:03

    @Emily A.: I guess on the surface his behaviour sounds alphahole-ish, but to me (in this book) he comes across as too hapless to be alpha. I read the previous book, but don’t really remember it well enough to compare.

    But this was a lackluster book all around. I totally agree with the review.

  15. Mary Anne Graham
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 08:41:44

    I haven’t read this one yet b/c between my day job, my writing, and working my way through Fifty Shades, I just haven’t had time. But I’m on Part 3 of Fifty Shades and this book is next on my hit list.

    I love Ms. Quinn’s work. Her light, airy style appeals to me. If I want heavy and heartwrenching I’ll work on one of the client files at my law firm. Ms. Quinn’s books bring hope and happiness and I always know, regardless of what the characters are going through at the time, that I’ll be happy for them and more hopeful for myself when the story ends.

    It sounds like this one is more over-the-top than Ms. Quinn’s usual fare. Since that’s my POV, I expect that I’ll adore this one! I’d be surprised if I didn’t enjoy it but there are times… A co-worker told me that for the first time, a Johanna Lindsey book scored a DNF for her (Lindsey’s new one. I haven’t picked it up yet although I usually buy hers – Loved her Malory series, of course.)

    I guess there can come that point with a writer’s work – when it tips over from DNF to DNB (do not buy). But I adore Quinn’s style so much that I hope I find this book just one more to love.

    This review is scary — now I’ll worry whether Quinn is approaching Lindsey’s journey towards the DNZone!

  16. Dabney
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 09:08:47

    @Mary Anne Graham: I hope not. Please note that I said it was a fun read. It just isn’t a great book and, given that she’s written some fab ones in the past, I was let down by its failings.

  17. Meri
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 10:23:12

    A few years ago (I think it was in an AAR interview) Julia Quinn said that she was not the strongest plotter. I agree with her assessment; when I’ve liked her books, it was on the strength of the likable characters and the dialogue. The problem for me is that for some time now, neither the characters nor the dialogue seem very fresh; they’ve simply been repeated to often and too frequently.

    In the case of A Night Like This, Daniel was more a sketch than a character and Anne struck me as a hybrid of several past Quinn heroines – most obviously, Victoria from Everything and the Moon. Anne’s background may have been somewhat different, but it wasn’t used in a very interesting way. Throw in her Hyacinth Bridgerton inspired charges and the book was a drag to get through. Hugh was the only interesting character.

    I do think Quinn at her best is a lovely author, but she hasn’t been at her best for a long time. I hope she can find a way to challenge herself and come up with something we haven’t seen from her yet – maybe a change of setting would do her good?

  18. Dabney
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 12:10:28

    It would be great fun to see her try a contemporary. She could give Jill Shalvis a run for her money!

  19. Nikki H
    Jun 16, 2012 @ 18:36:25

    Sometimes I wonder if my problem with my favorite authors is my own high expectations. There are specific books by JQ, Lisa Kleypas, contemporary author SEP and others, which set the standard so high, no subsequent book can reach it. I was eagerly awaiting this book, read it in a day or so, and then felt vaguely disappointed about something I couldn’t even put my finger on. While I still want to know what’s going to happen to the Smythe-Smith family, I think they will never be as interesting as the Bridgertons. I thought this one was about a B-. {Sigh}. Dang it.

  20. Ros
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 04:04:34

    @Dabney: I wish she would write contemporary. In fact, I think she already does write contemporary with different dresses. She has such a weak grasp of 19th century society and etiquette that it’s laughable.

  21. swati
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 06:27:32

    i started reading regency romance with julia quinn – the bridgeton series …. so everything she wrote became an automatic buy for me …. i love her light, airy style … the books are FUN …. they always made me smile …. always!

    but from the last 2-3 books, they have become a chore rather than joy. Her books were never heavy duty emotional stuff but they worked because she managed to infuse the fun with a whole lot of tenderness and character …. Now its more of a farce ….

    i think this book is last quinn for me …. i felt absolutely no connection to the story …. its the smyth-smith for god sake! … how can someone mess them up ? …. When i had heard that she was writing them, i think i did a little dance around the room ….but, these 2 books have been nothing but a massive disappointment ….

    So i am not buying the next one unless i see DA give it a gold star (amazon is useless)

  22. Tracie
    Jun 17, 2012 @ 13:36:41

    I just finished this one. I read Just Like Heaven and liked it. This book not so much. Just a couple of pages in and I wasn’t feeling Daniel at all. Through the rest of the book I just didn’t care for him. He didn’t come across as hero material to me. I didn’t mind Anne, but I didn’t like the whole plot about an ex-lover. It just seemed tired and too over the top.

    I also felt the family bonding was really missing from this book. It may be because Anne really wasn’t a member of the family, and Daniel spent so much time away. Something seemed to be lacking.

    I did enjoy Hugh though so I will be reading the next book since he is the hero. I liked his scenes and I liked Sarah from the first book.

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