Book Review

A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

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Title: A Night Like This
Author: Julia Quinn
Publication Info: Avon 2012
ISBN: 978-0062072900
Genre: Historical: European

A Night Like This - There's the back of a girl in a blue dress running away wearing pink shoes. A lot of Quinn's covers feature colorful shoes as the centerpiece of color in the art.

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: Do not mistreat or squander the magic hoo-hah, for if you do, you will go mad and be filled with nothing but the purest form of angry insanity focused intently on the Hoo-Hah that got away.

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.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lauren says:

    I’m actually unable to find a romance that I truly enjoyed in the last little while, and am starting to wonder whether or not I have outgrown them.  Am I too old to read romance?!?!

    Suzanne Brockmann’s latest was a DNF for me – I think that I could qualify it as a finisher, but I only skimmed the last six or so chapters. because I had bought it in hard copy.

    This latest Julia Quinn novel was also a skimmer for me.  Seriously-the whole falling in love across a crowded ballroom, while bad music is played, just doesn’t work for me.  Neither did the lame attempts on both the heroine and hero’s lives.It’s like Quinn had a paint by number book to go by, and instead of using vibrant colours to fill in the picture she watered the colours down so that she could save some for another time. 

    I wish that the bar would stop being lowered for popular authors.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    Not being able to find romances you enjoy is a really crappy feeling. What books have you loved recently? Maybe we can find some that you’d love?

  3. 3
    lorelai says:

    Your feelings on this sound similar to my feelings about Courtney Milan’s “Unclaimed.” (I think it’s Unclaimed. I re-read the descriptions for a couple of her books and it’s either that or Proof by Seduction. Is it bad that I’m getting them confused?) In Unclaimed, the heroine is a former courtesan and she’s basically hired to “defile” the hero, who wrote this book about not having sex or something. But they fall in love, natch, and there’s this whole convoluted thing at the end about revealing the heroine in society and all the hoops they jump through to make it acceptable and everyone is accepting, again, natch. I had a hard time believing the storyline for that reason. It’s not that I don’t think a rich, titled man can’t fall in love with a poor, regular woman (or vice versa) but when it happens in a few of her books, it seems a bit much to believe.

  4. 4
    Michelle says:

    Yes, that would be Unclaimed. (The hero, Mark, had written a book on chastity. Also, he’s a virgin, which I don’t think I have ever read before.)

  5. 5
    Marina says:

    I think Julia Quinn books have been steadily becoming less and less serious. They started out as funny romances, went to romantic comedy and are now approaching farce. The whole “marriage suitability” is a case in point: in one of her (much) earlier books, “An offer from a gentleman”, she handled it much more reallistically. There, the second son of an aristocratic family wants to marry the illegitimate daughter of an Earl, who has been working in a lowly position (seamstress, maid, something like that). What happens? His mother, who has already been portrayed (in previous books and this one) as a particularly romantic woman, who desperately wants her children to marry for love, likes her. His wealthy and socially powerfull famliy claim that she is in fact a legitimate distant relative of the Earl and they blackmail the Earl’s widow to confirm this fiction. The couple goes to live in the country, away from the gossiping tongues of society, so that they won’t be much chance the lie will be exposed.

  6. 6
    Christine says:

    I have a slightly silly question—how does everyone pronounce their last name? Smith-Smith? Or Smy(emphasis on the smye)the-Smith? I had a recent discussion about how I needed to start reading this series with a friend and we could not come to an agreement as to how they are saying it. (For the record, I say it’s Smythe-rhymes-with-tithe and she is a fan of the alternative spelling but same pronounciation Smith.)

  7. 7
    Ezreader AJ says:

    I havent finished this book yet.  And I love the Smythe-Smiths.  For the record, Julia Quinn posted on FB that SMYTHE is pronounced with a long I sound.  It is not “smith”- smith.  :)
    I still have to say my favorite non Bridgerton book by Quinn is What Happens In London.  I’ve loaned it to several friends and they all love it too!  Everyone should read that one. 

  8. 8
    Karenmc says:

    I’ve read WHIL and the co-tangled Two Dukes of Wyndham books. Pleasant, especially WHIL, but not my cup of chocolate. I need my angst and tears and remorse.

  9. 9
    Yota says:

    I think what made unclaimed work for me is that mark was perfectly willing to live outside the public eye, especially after being subjected to so much celebrity after his book on chastity came out. That and the duchess (married to ash from the first book) didn’t exactly accept her right away. Anytime there is a mismatch in station it requires some suspension of disbelief tho, so ymmv.

    @lauren I find when I get bored with romance I just switch genres and read scifi or something completely different for a while, and eventually I make my way back. Maybe you just need a different kind of romance or a different genre altogether.

  10. 10
    CarrieS says:

    YES to SBSarah re how forgettable JLH and NLT are.  In fact, in the first draft of my review, I wrote a whole paragraph about the nagging feeling I had that all this seemed familiar before I realized that I had in fact read AN ENTIRE BOOK about those early events.  I cut the paragraph because I went on to say that I usually forget what I read, and after a while I was digressing into my memory issues to such an extent that I feared the Bitches would order an intervention.  Even by my standards of forgetfulness, the Smythe-Smith books are fluffy forget-fullness to the core.

    Also, YES to Yota – while suspension of disbelief is always necessary with these mixed status marriages, it’s easy to accept when you see the steps and the process being taken by the couple to make things work.  In addition to the process described in Unclaimed and also in the third book in that series, someone on the thread under my review mentioned Quinn’s Offer From a Gentleman, which really took on the repercussions of such a marriage albeit in a fairly glossy way.  In NLT David is all “OK now we’re getting married, yay” and that’s it.

  11. 11
    CarrieS says:

    Another comment I had was a big YES to SBSarah re the villain – way too Snidely Whiplash.  Also it bugged me that they went on and on about his scar.  I realize there’s context to the scar that’s important, but geez.  A dog bite on the face at age eight and several gory operations have left me looking quite picturesque but I’ve yet to hunt down one of my surgeons and scream, “You made me knees look like they were chewed on by wolverines!  Now you must Dieeeeeee!”  I’m a lovely person who hardely ever rapes and mutilates people in alleys.

  12. 12
    Marina says:

    “Anytime there is a mismatch in station it requires some suspension of disbelief”

    I think this depends on the social gap. Duke’s brother and courtesan is unreallistic, but an Earl and a governess is less so, since governesses were, after all, impoverished gentlewomen. It’s not as if absolutely everybody followed the social dictates and no one ever made imprudent choices; mismatched marriages happened. What annoys me is when the author treats it as no big deal and avoids dealing with it, even more so if it was part of the original conflict. 

  13. 13
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    I’ve permanently banished Julia Quinn since I read one of her books (maybe a Bridgerton novel?), and it was all going swimmingly, when with no warning the heroine basically raped the hero, intentionally getting pregnant when he had expressly said he never wanted children. Then, when he was understandably upset, ALL the other characters and the authorial persona* acted like the heroine was completely justified and the hero was just being a big mean meanie. It put me off Quinn for life. Rape is never ok, not even when you reallyreallyreally want a baby.

    *I differentiate the authorial persona from Julia Quinn because I have no idea what her particular view of the situation is. She may have written it that way to increase dramatic tension or… something.

  14. 14
    Jimthered says:

    “I’m a lovely person who hardely ever rapes and mutilates people in alleys.”

    Hardly ever?

  15. 15
    CarrieS says:

    Only on days of the week that don’t end in “y”

  16. 16
    CarrieS says:

    @dreadpiraterachel – I KNOW!  I HATE that scene!  And it doesn’t seem to bug anybody, nor does it mesh at all with anything else she writes!  Just because it’s female on male and she’s very sorry etc doesn’t make it less of a rape!  I think it’s in the “Duke and I” which is lots of people’s favorite – ugh

  17. 17
    LauraN says:

    But Snidely Whiplash is my favorite cartoon villain!  He has an awesome mustache!  His name is totally badass!  He ties people to railroad tracks!

    Granted, none of those things would make him the Best Romance Villain Ever.  (Except, maybe, for the mustache.)

  18. 18
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Yes. It’s dreadful. Upon further reflection, I realized that maybe Quinn threw in all the justifications in an attempt to make the heroine less repulsive. I completely lost all sympathy for her after that scene, so I can see how the author may have felt a need to compensate by diminishing the hero’s objections. It didn’t work, IMO.

  19. 19
    Persnickety says:

    Oh yes, that was the end of the road for me reading Julia Quinn.  Not because of the rape, but because I was reading the book as a warm and fuzzy post miscarriage.  The heroine either is, or thinks she is pregnant and then she isn’t. It is passed off as oh, just a little hiccup.  Book met wall.

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    “The Duke and I” was one of my favorites for a LONG time. I read it, gosh, years ago. Before starting SBTB. I went back and read it a year ago and I was HORRIFIED at myself for loving it so much.

    With age came a totally different perspective on that scene, and I have struggled to recommend it since I re-read it. I felt something like grief and disappointment that one of my favorites was no longer my favorites because I saw it in such a negative manner now.

  21. 21
    Laurel says:

    Huh. I seem to be very much in the minority on the mismatched stations conflict. I finished the book with the impression that the heroine’s predicament was more that her family (especially her father) refused to support her, thereby removing any potential support from her community. As it was, her reputation was thoroughly trounced in whatever backwater section of the English countryside she came from but since she disappeared entirely and no one ever talked about it, there was never a major scandal. The only people who knew were Dastardly Villian and her own family. And DV (Hey! Those are Darth Vader’s initials!) didn’t want the humiliation of the story getting out- he was beaten by a girl, after all, and her parents didn’t want to expose her sister to scandal. So, basically, nobody knew. It was only if everyone found out that there would be a problem.

    But her birth made her eligible and I wouldn’t think her family would have come forward to denounce her and ruin their chances to be linked to an Earl. That left DV as the only loose end and he was dispatched by the end of the book.

    I DID think he read like a cartoon character, though. I swear if they had had railroads in the Regency era he would have tied her to the tracks, rubbed his hands in glee, and twirled his mustache.

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