When I read the first Smythe-Smith book, Just Like Heaven, I wrote in my review:
I read this book looking for a warm and happy escape into historical land. Nothing tragically wrenching was going to happen. No one was going to go after my heart, rip it out of my chest and flip it around a few times before wrapping it up in a happy ending that would make me half-cry with relief.
I liked this book, yet I am struggling to describe it because I know there are different types of historical readers out there, and this book won’t appeal to everyone. As I said, if you like a lot of meat in your historicals, you’re not going to like this one. Just Like Heaven is a fizzy confection, pleasant and enjoyed in one sitting. If you think about it too much, it goes a bit flat, like mineral water at room temperature. It was warm and pleasant and funny – there are a few scenes where I laughed out loud, provoking odd glances on the train – but not filled with a great deal of turmoil, which lends, I believe, to the airy, pleasant feeling of it. There’s no great, wide gulf of personal risk for the characters, and there’s not a great personal risk to the reader, either.
This is more of the same – and I didn't mind it, really, until I got to the end.There are two telling examples as to the fizzy qualities of A Night Like This and Just Like Heaven: I am having trouble remembering what happened in the book now that it's been some time since I finished it, except for what I thought of as a hole in the story.
The second example as to the lack of impact this book had on me emotionally is when I stopped reading close to the end.
Someone Dastardly was in the middle of doing Something Dastardly to the heroine, and I had to stop reading for some reason. Someone needed feeding? Something spilled? I don't know. Anyway. When I thought about the book to ask myself, “What was happening when I stopped reading?” my recollection was a lukewarm, not-adrenaline-or-fear-infused, “Oh, yeah. Things were happening or something.”
Normally at moments of high drama and derring-do, I can't wait to see what happens. With this particular scene and these particular characters, the most I could muster was a hearty, “Meh.” The most delicious parts of tension were in the beginning, not the end.
Anne Wynter is the governess to the Smythe-Smith girls, and they are very lively and intelligent girls who keep her plenty busy. When she's hiding in the closet after her guest performance in one of the annual Smythe-Smith Musicales (a scene which occurs at end of the prior novel, Just Like Heaven), she overhears an alarming fight in the hallway, and when she decides to exit the closet, she finds Daniel Smythe-Smith, Earl of Winstead, recently returned from exile on the continent, and currently bleeding from his nose.
Anne is instantly attracted to Daniel – who is smitten with her just as intantly- but there's a few problems. He's an earl, and she's a governess. Moreover, she's hiding who she is, or was, and the closer she gets to Daniel emotionally, the more wretched she feels about all the things she's lying about, most of all her suitability as the recipient of his affections.
The book has perfectly nice characters, and people I like to visit from prior books. Plus, the three Smythe-Smith girls are terribly funny, especially when dramatic performances are involved, and the banter between them, Anne, and Daniel made for some of my favorite chapters in the book.
There are also some powerful parallels in the emotional problems of the hero and heroine. He is exiled from his family, as is she, for totally different yet scandalous reasons. But Daniel is allowed to show his face in society; though there are rumors about him, no one will throw him out of an establishment. As for Anna, if her life's story were fully known, no one would see her. The family in whose home she resides would likely look right through her on the street and pretend they didn't know her if her history were common knowledge.
And that's my main problem with this book: I felt like there was a chapter missing, the chapter that would have contained a more detailed resolution of the real differences between them. Anna is working as a governess to Daniel's aunt's family. Anna was born to a socially acceptable family but has kept a huge hunk of her life secret because if it were known, well, see above re: seeing her. No one would. Daniel is completely head over ankles in adoration for Anna, and there's this huuuuuuuuge leaping jump from “I really like you” to “I love you forever and ever and you're it for me,” and from there it's an odd little shuffle to, “And to hell with what anyone else says about your unsuitability.”
PLUS, their suitability is an issue that's remarked upon by characters other than the hero and heroine. Anna acknowledges that such an alliance between them would be most inappropriate, and his pursuit endangers her job with Daniel's cousins. There is a scene where Daniel's aunt tells him to knock it off or Anna will lose her job. It's not like they can kick him out of the family. He's the earl.
But when the Dastardly Somethings are tied up neatly, all is well and things are resolved, are there any obstacles to Anna and Daniel hooking up? Not really. And that baffled me to the extreme.
If her past was known, she'd be excluded from everything. In order to be remotely acceptable for Daniel, she'd have to reveal who she was, how she was raised, and that she was socially of an acceptable lineage to marry an earl – but revealing the Dastardly Events of the Past means she'd still be unacceptable. Without that revelation of who she is and where she comes from, she's the governess and still unacceptable. She's damned if she tells and damned if she keeps silent, as far as her nuptials with Daniel are concerned.
But somehow, despite both characters acknowledging the social difficulties, despite Anna trying to keep him from seeing her so she won't lose her job and her reference from Daniel's aunt, and despite no real resolution for the question of who Anna is (or who Anna is not), they're all fine and together at the end (that is not a spoiler, since it's a romance, you know they're going to end up together.)
I flipped backwards and thought I'd missed a chapter where the imbalance and mysterious social background were worked out – but no, it just got skipped over entirely. The Force and Power of Daniel's regard for Anna just worked everything out the way they wanted.
And when a rich dude marries the family nanny, she's totally always welcome by all the other wives.
I liked the characters – especially the scenes with the girls Anna is teaching. There was witty banter a plenty, and moments of emotional drama, and at times I felt a heaping bucket of empathy for Anna and for Daniel, but because the major question of their conflict wasn't really answered (unless I completely missed it, though I read the last few chapters twice), I wasn't satisfied and sighing over the happy ending. It was a happy ending, but it happened in a way that seemed disconnected to all the chapters that had come before it. Given everything the characters had said to one another, to themselves, and to secondary characters, it didn't seem possible that everything would work out.
Plus, the big bad guy has a problem which I consider a somewhat ancillary cliche to the standard roles of the Mighty Wang and the Magic Hoo-Hah:
This is very much a visiting book for me. When the next Quinn book comes out in the series, I'll read it. I like visiting with these characters, and I like the family. Nothing desperately awful is going to happen to any of the main characters, nor to the characters who have been previously matched in prior books – and at this point, that is a LOT of people in the Bridgerton Smythe Smith Regency! I don't, as I wrote last year, assume any risk as a reader that SURPRISE there will be AN EPIDEMIC OF DASTARDLYNESS OH NOES. The protagonists and many of the people they surround themselves with, by virtue of being Prior Book Couples, will all be ok. Since I already like Quinn's voice, there's a comforting safety in that experience, and I enjoy it.
But much like my last review, I expected this book to be like an ice cream soda or mineral water: lovely when it's fresh and I'm enjoying it, but at room temperature after reflection and after much thought, not so bubbly at all. This one, with the unexpected ease with which the resolution came about, went flat in a hurry.