Wednesday, June 8, 2011

REVIEW: "Just Like Heaven" by Julia Quinn

Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn
(Smythe-Smith Quartet #1)
For Ages 18+ (Language, Sensuality)
Historical Romance -- Regency England

Avon -- Published in May 2011
Mass Market Paperback, 374 pages
Read in June 2011
Purchased from Borders

Childhood Friends, Families

A) a really bad violinist
B) still miffed at being nicknamed "Bug" as a child
C) NOT in love with her older brother's best friend
D) All of the above

A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) NOT in love with his best friend's younger sister
D) All of the above

A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever AND world's worst musical performance
C) fall quite desperately in love.

"Marcus Holroyd was always alone."

I will begin this review by explaining that Julia Quinn's The Duke and I was one of my first romance novels. I glommed Ms. Quinn's entire backlist within four months and wait for each new release with bated breath. There have definitely been books of hers that I have not liked as much as others, but, overall, I am usually pleased by her writing.

Like all other Julia Quinn fans, I am familiar with the intriguing Smythe-Smith family. For those of you who are new to Quinn's world, every season the Smythe-Smith family puts on a musicale with four girls. Unfortunately, the Smythe-Smiths are almost all tone-deaf yet proceed to torture the ton with their lack of talent. Throughout the books, the dreaded Smythe-Smith musicales are key events for many characters despite their usual less-than-enthusiastic mood towards them. I have always been interested in this family especially after reading about the musicale in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton where Penelope Featherington mentions the Smythe-Smith girl on the cello who actually seems to understand how awful the music is.

Just Like Heaven is the first of a quartet where Quinn explores the inner workings of the Smythe-Smith family and their infamous musicales. In this book, we meet Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith who plays violin in the musicale and Marcus Holroyd, Earl of Chatteris. Marcus is the best friend of Honoria's older brother Daniel who is living in exile in Italy for reasons that are explained in the first few chapters. Daniel and Marcus have been friends for years and Marcus has become a type of surrogate son for the Smythe-Smiths. Before Daniel left, he made Marcus promise to watch over Honoria and make sure she does not marry anybody unsuitable. Therefore, Marcus, despite his lack of interest in society, goes to London every year to keep an eye on Honoria.

What follows is a beautiful yet subtle tale of friends becoming lovers. Honoria and Marcus have known each other since childhood and are aware of quirks and personality traits. Honoria is an intelligent and kind young lady who values her family and their traditions. This viewpoint helps explain her willingness to go along with the family musicale despite her lack of talent. She knows she is bad, but is determined to have fun while performing for her family and friends. She also dreams of having a family of her own. As the youngest in her family, Honoria has always had a sense of loneliness especially after her brother's exile. Marcus's mother died when he was young and his father had little interest in his son beyond preping an heir. He had no siblings or even friends until he met Daniel Smythe-Smith at school. Because of Daniel, Marcus found the family he never had. Like Honoria, Marcus is a lonely person who desires a family of his own.

Through a variety of comedic and dramatic events, Honoria and Marcus become close friends and begin to realize their feelings for each other. I was particularly drawn to a scene where Marcus had fallen ill and Honoria strived to nurse him back to health. The intimacy of this event caused them to look at each other in a way beyond friends. 

In terms of secondary characters, we are introduced to the other members of the Smythe-Smith Quartet: Sarah, Iris, and Daisy. Each of these girls has a unique personality as well as unique viewpoint on the musicale. I am definitely intrigued by Iris, the cellist who is actually talented, as well as the other girls. The whole Smythe-Smith family and their interactions with each other are fascinating and heartwarming. I cannot wait to read more about these girls and their happily ever afters.

Just Like Heaven is the story of two people who fall in love after years of interaction. While it may sound simple and it is, I feel like Julia Quinn made it subtle yet powerful at the same time. Another winner!!


Flush -- Detailed descriptions of lovemaking though nothing overly graphic.

"He hated being the center of attention, but by God, he wanted to be the center of her attention."
1. Just Like Heaven
2. A Night Like This
3. The Sum of All Kisses
4. The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy

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