Book Review

Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn

B-

Title: Just Like Heaven
Author: Julia Quinn
Publication Info: Avon 2011
ISBN: 9780061491900
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverOne of my favorite historical romances is “The Duke and I” by Julia Quinn, which started the Bridgerton series. I love that book. If I go near it, I lose two hours because I will reread it again for the three hundred and forty-seventh time. I love the friendly style of the writing, the warmth of the family – and have mercy, the depiction of a sane and loving mother and a family that actually likes one another.

So when I learned that Julia Quinn’s next book was about the Smythe-Smith family, hosts of the infamously bad musicale from the Bridgerton series, I was curious.

Honoria Smythe-Smith is lonely, as her older siblings have all married and moved on, and her house is silent and not as fun as it was when she was a child. Her next oldest sibling, Daniel, left England in disgrace some years back. Honoria’s mother is depressed about it, and Honoria would really very much like to get married and have a family of her own. She misses having a family around her – a loud, vivacious family.

I liked that about Honoria: she wanted to get married and have a family. She wasn’t an iconoclast, looking to thumb her nose at tradition. She doesn’t want to marry just anyone, either. She is looking for someone who would be a good match for her, and is trying not to be desperate or unseemly. But she wants a family because that is something truly, deeply valuable to her.

In the opening chapter (not the prologue), Honoria is stuck across the street from her shopping companions because a downpour has trapped them in a wonderful store while Honoria is stuck under an awning waiting for the rain to stop. A carriage pulls up and – hello, there – it’s Marcus Holroyd (not a name I advise saying out loud to yourself because it sounds rather like another kind of ‘roid), her exiled brother’s best friend, and one of her favorite people.

Marcus and Honoria have known each other since they were children. In the prologue, the reader learns that Marcus had a very lonely childhood until he went to school, where he had the good fortune to be Daniel’s roommate. Daniel was charming and comfortable with large, loud groups of children, so through Daniel, Marcus found friends, and, because he started to visit Daniel’s home, an extended family.

Because Marcus doesn’t have a family, he values his connection to Daniel’s family higher than just about anything in his life. He also has to uphold a promise he made to Daniel before Daniel left England, and as a result has been watching out for Honoria over the past few years as best he could.

Now. If you like intense conflict, this is not the book for you. If you like angst, this is not the book for you. If you like large scale events and much arrival of the drama, with dark and painful emotions, this is not the book for you.

This is a friends to lovers story that is quiet and sweet, lyrical and at times very touching, without a great deal of sharp conflict. It is friendly and warm, and the conflict between Marcus and Honoria is not so much “if” or “how” but “when” and “will it be satisfying.” Marcus and Honoria share a love of sweets that is so adorable it’ll make your teeth hurt, and they know each other very well – except haven’t realized how well they suit.

Marcus was shy. His shyness informs everything he does before the story and afterward, but he does not change much in the story. In fact, one of the themes revolving about Marcus is about how shyness can be mistaken for anger or hostility. But he has a few steady influences in his life, and the Smythe-Smith family is one of them.

So he doesn’t look too closely at his own feelings about Honoria, even those that might be motivating his dedication to watching over her while Daniel is away. Marcus’ desire for Honoria isn’t just carnal or overwhelmingly hot so he throws all propriety out the terrace doors and flings her down on the settee in a fit of ranging hornypants. His desire and feelings sneak up on him, almost. They terrify him as well, because if he screws up he will lose his adopted family and one his closest friends. There is a chasteness to his feelings for Honoria, because they were friends for so long, and he holds her in such esteem that he is almost embarrassed by his own sexual feelings for her – so when the sexuality entered the story, I totally blushed a bit.

The plot is actually very simple and straightforward. Honoria and some friends plan a house party with eligible bachelors as the invited guests. Marcus is invited, and Honoria begs him not to come because he won’t like it and she’ll feel guilty for having subjected him to something that will make him miserable. Marcus conveniently has a neighboring estate, so he decides to place himself nearby so that he might stumble upon the house party members and figure out who among them Honoria might be interested in as husband material. And of course nothing goes as planned.

Marcus gets caught in a trap of Honoria’s making, and finds himself in a very precarious position health-wise, prompting Honoria and her mother to intervene in a touching but somewhat socially inappropriate manner. This part of the story was meant to be the turning point, I think, for Marcus and Honoria, where they are forced to confront the feelings they’ve been avoiding or deliberately misinterpreting, but my gosh, was it long. LOOOONG. I wanted more musicale, less medical.

The problem I’m having writing this review is that due to the lack of real conflict between them, I don’t remember much of the specifics of the story, aside from when Marcus is ill and when Honoria is fighting with her cousins about musicale rehearsal (get ready, also, for a few other Smythe-Smith females to start marrying off in future books. Iris, in particular, sounds like a very clever character.)

Much of the book is focused on Marcus, who doesn’t change much. He’s a perfect example of the emotionally gooey yet outwardly taciturn hero that Quinn writes so well. Honoria doesn’t change much either, except to recognize the same tricky emotions Marcus must face. We do learn a bit of the history behind the Smythe-Smith musicale, and the reason it has value for those who treasure it – and why it continues despite being admittedly awful.  The musicale serves as the center of the story – not just for Marcus and Honoria, but for future couples as well, I think, because it is through the musicale and the characters’ connection to (and feelings about) it that we learn the most about them. Slaughtering Mozart makes for some very funny dialogue, let me tell you.

At heart, this book is about two characters who want to have a family, and are not sure they’re going to be able to attain one for themselves. They come from very different upbringings, but both of them value and understand the concept, the trouble, and the reward of being part of a family, however family is defined. Ultimately, they have to figure out if they can be each other’s family.

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.


Just Like Heaven is available at Amazon | kindle | BN & nook | Book Depository

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Elanor says:

    I just read this on the weekend after, to put it in context, a hard couple of weeks of stress. I ran a hot spa bath, lit some candles and sank into the bubbles and, funnily enough, it was just like heaven (teehee).
    I had been a little disappointed by Mr Cavendish and liked, but didn’t love, the last couple of books, but I adored this one. Yes, it was as light as the bubbles in my bubble bath, but it was so sweet and good natured and I really enjoyed getting to know the Smythe-Smiths. I remember doing a little squee when I found out she was writing about them, and for me, it really paid off.
    However, I know this is the British aristocracy and all and they’re terribly inbred, but how many relatives does Lady Danbury have?!

  2. 2
    rudi_bee says:

    I can’t wait until the end of the week when I will be able to track this book down. I understand entirely what you mean about it being the fizzy confectionary type of historical romance and honestly I have the biggest sweet tooth ever and like so many other people I’ve been dying to find out more about the Smith-Smythes.

    Sounds like the perfect start to my mid-semester break.

  3. 3
    Steph Burgis says:

    I totally agree that this book felt a bit thin in terms of plot – but midway through reading it last night (which I did all in one night, because I couldn’t stop), I suddenly realized that there was a huge grin on my face and there had been for ages without me realizing. It was just making me that happy. And this morning, when I felt stressed about some Real Life stuff, I picked Just Like Heaven back up, re-read the last couple of chapters of the book, and felt so much better afterward. I’m in awe of how perfectly Quinn mixes real tenderness and sweetness with all that frothy fun and humor, and I’m so grateful for books that really can make me feel so happy even when I’m stressed and worried about Real Life stuff.

    So…for all that, from an objective point of view, I did wish there had been a bit more plot mixed in and fewer hanging plot threads at the end of the book (clearly being saved for later books in the series), I really truly did love this book and will undoubtedly re-read it many times.

  4. 4
    **joanne says:

    There were so many beautiful little gems of writing in this book that I couldn’t understand why they didn’t string together to make one perfect story.

    I liked the H/h. I liked the banter. I liked the heroine’s loyalty and love of her family.  I liked Marcus. I liked the friendships among the Smythe-Smith females. I liked everything about the book except – I don’t know – something was missing. 

    Maybe a re-read when my expectations aren’t quite so high will make it a more satisfying read but the heart or the heat or something just wasn’t there, at least for me.

  5. 5
    Sarah W says:

    I enjoyed this book—I love friends to lovers stories, and this one didn’t have any Deep Dark Secrets(TM) to ruin the sweetness.

    Not that Deep Dark Secrets don’t have their awesomey-angsty place, but this story did very well without them.

  6. 6
    Tamara Hogan says:

    I read a lot of UF and PNR, and sometimes I need a break from the huge angsty plots, with conflicts on every other page.  Sounds like this story will hit the spot nicely.

    A cover question: why is the heroine wearing the Pope’s Prada shoes?

  7. 7
    LG says:

    This one might be a good fit for me. I’ve liked what I’ve read of Julia Quinn so far, but in two of the three of her books that I’ve read (The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, When He Was Wicked), the characters were healing from horrible emotional wounds that sometimes made for some painful reading, when what I really wanted was more of the kind of stuff that would just put a big smile on my face (What Happens in London).

  8. 8

    This is just an attempt to explain.
    Julia Quinn’s books aren’t for people who like a bit of realism in their historicals. That’s all. She isn’t for me, for instance. But she has a completely delightful style and an audience who loves her books so why should she care?

    Her lovely style isn’t enough to get me past the often slapstick comedy and the many inaccuracies. I think, and this is the more important part, it’s partly because I’m British and her books are a particularly American view, which for me, doesn’t work with the British Regency. It’s the happy family, What Katy Did view (and that book was one of my absolute favourites growing up). That’s what I felt when I read the couple of Quinns I have tried. I just wish she’d write a contemporary. I have a feeling she’d be like Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Julia James, both of which I adore. Or an American-set historical (I’d love to read more of those!)

    But for all her legions of fans, just keep enjoying. This is just an attempt to explain why she isn’t for everyone. Having met her a couple of times and found her utterly charming, all I can do is envy her success and wish her all the best and lots more sales.

  9. 9
    R.J. says:

    I am an avid Julia Quinn fan.  It’s in His Kiss was one of the first romances that I have ever read, and she has stuck with me ever since.  I love how her books just make me happy.  As Steph said, this book just makes me grin! 

    I love how Quinn has a set of secondary characters (such as Lady D) that float around in the background of the books, making appearances to delight the readers. 

    The one thing I really want from Quinn is Miss Butterworth and the Mad Barron.  She taunts the readers with snippets of this amazingly melodramatic gothic novel.  And in just general Julia Quinn love:  I wish there was a way to insert a game of Bridgerton Pall Mall into every book.

  10. 10

    Haven’t read this one yet but I adore Julia Quinn. I’m gonna pick this one up this week sometime.  It’s hard for me to believe one of Quinn’s earns anything less than an “A” but, like I said, I haven’t read this one yet.

    It seems to me that often Quinn’s conflicts are internal to the characters.  They are personal fences that the hero or heroine must leap for reasons that mostly matter to them.  These conflicts don’t usually add up to any real “risk” of consequences outside the relationship.

    However, I think one of the reasons Quinn stays on my keeper shelf is that through the resolution of her “internal” conflicts, I really get to know the characters.

    And I’m a sucker for authors who focus on the characters!

  11. 11
    Mama Nice says:

    That was a very well done review, Sarah – I think you explained what it was you felt you couldn’t explain quite well actually.

    Last summer was my “Summer of the Bridgertons” and I zipped through every sibling, enjoying it quite a bit, even if I found a very specific pattern that Quinn followed in each book (maybe because I read all of them back to back it was more obvious to me?)

    I am delighted about the idea of learning a bit more about the Smythe-Smiths, and look towards this a a bit of light summer reading. The way Marcus falls in love with Honoria sounds a lot like how a certain well-traveled Bridgerton falls in love with a girl who once wore too much orange.

  12. 12
    Alina says:

    Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is my Julia Quinn favourite. I remember reading The Duke and I and thinking that I’d love to read a book where Penelope Featherington was the heroine, so I specifically looked through the book summaries on her website to find it and skipped straight to it.

    I’ve been looking forward to the new series, but I forgot that it was finally available. Thank you for reminding me! Fluffy confections from Julia Quinn is just what I’m looking for a lot of the time.

  13. 13
    ashley says:

    I liked the sweetness of this book. it was just two nice people getting together and being happy.  I didn’t really need conflict or angst or pain.  If a author gives a bit more focus to character development and a bit less to plot development, I ‘m ok with that.  I sometimes like it better that way.

    BTW Sarah, I found the medical aspect of the book quite fascinating actually lol. admittedly it was long, but cool and different for a romance.  I also liked how there wasn’t much sex in this book.  Friends who become lovers is a sweeter story when it’s based on a dawning sense of love and not just a sudden overwhelming passion.  IMHO at least.

    I also would loooove to read Miss Butterworth

  14. 14
    cleo says:

    Well said.  I read this last week – I thoroughly enjoyed it and then completely forgot about it until I saw the review.  I actually enjoyed the medical stuff – I have a soft spot for romances where one character nurses the other back to health, and I enjoyed how Honoria rose to the occasion.  She was both determined to help and completely inexperienced and awkward once in the sick room – which I could relate to.

    I prefer Julia Quinn’s fluffier books (What Happens in London is one of my favs.  I loved the first 2/3rds of the The Duke and I and then got impatient with the brooding and the miscommunicating).  I like books that tackle challenging topics but not when Julia Quinn writes them – I think she’s at her best writing light romantic comedy, like this book.  I don’t think anyone writes better falling in love scenes, and Just Like Heaven has great falling in love scenes.  It’s on my keeper shelf.

    @Tamara Hogan – she wears red shoes for the musicale (for luck?) so that’s the reference.  I was thinking they looked oddly liked the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz.

  15. 15
    cayenne says:

    I haven’t read this yet, but as I adore Julia Quinn for her fun, engaging, and fairly uncomplicated books for exactly those characteristics (when I want tough and/or traumatized, I’ll go to Laura Kinsale), this is high on my to-buy list.  High, as in: Buy Today.

    I also am dying to know more about Miss Butterworth; I need to know about the pigeons.

  16. 16
    SonomaLass says:

    Yes, this book put a smile on my face, too. A shout-out to JQ for her strong older female characters and her ability to write about family.

  17. 17
    Phyllis says:

    I was a bit disappointed in this book, too. I think my expectations were too high?

    I adored What Happens in London precisely because it was soft and fluffy and made me laugh out loud (which, though I write LOL quite a bit, is very rare when I read) and it also pulled all the threads of the plot elements all the way through the book. Ten Things disappointed me because it would introduce an important aspect of a character (Sebastian’s PTSD, for example) and then it would go away.

    So this book reminded me of that one, in that vital things that informed the character would pop up, never to be mentioned again.

    But I loved Honoria’s devotion to her family and how she knew they were terrible (they expected to be great after practicing for only a week????), and yet smiled and loved playing with her cousins.

  18. 18
    Davi says:

    I loved this book! Possibly because my mom made me watch When Harry Met Sally a bajillion times when I was growing up, friends to lovers stories are my crack. This was a perfect choice for my lay-in-bed-Saturday! I also loved that the cover design gives more than a passing nod to the story. I could have passed on all the sequel teasers – it did seem Daniel only made an appearance so we’d know there’s a coming book about him – but it is nice to know I’ve got more of Ms Quinn to look forward to.

    A reader campaign needs to start to get Miss Butterworth written, after all this time I think we’ve earned it! Maybe she could put the story out in little bits like Elizaeth Hoyt does in her novels?

  19. 19
    Kitala says:

    I read this the other day and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was more entertaining for me than some of her more recent works, the Cavendish stories in particular. I particularly liked the chapters where she was helping her mother nurse him back to health. It’s not my favorite plot device, but sometimes it works really well.

    The plot did feel a bit thin, and there wasn’t much conflict, and the attempt to create conflict made me want to bang my head on my desk. However, at least it didn’t get drawn out too long, and the problems were soothed over soon enough. I’m also very happy the brother did not become a central plot device, like he seemed to be shaping into earlier in the book.

  20. 20
    Emily says:

    Thank you SB Sarah for the review!
    I like some Julia Quinn books and some I haven’t finished. I haven’t reaad this one.
    To me I understand a heroine who doesn’t want to get married, especially back then when people didn’t know each other as much and getting married meant a loss of freedom. I think marriage can be frightening, but I have known lots of happily married couples.  I understand that historically it might be more accurate to have a heroine who wants to get married, but these books aren’t about accuracy.
    I smile at her books, but I don’t find her hilarious. I always wonder at what’s so funny. As music teacher’s daughter breaking a good violin is a crime. I don’t care how badly you play. Donate it so someone else can play it!
    Violet Bridgerton is okay, but she’s too controlling for me. She works in historicals for reason. If she was a mother today; it would be too much. I know that good mothers are hard to find in literature, but if this is all there is…
    Violet actually reminds me of someone I know; only that person is less sneaky and religious…

    Thats what always strikes me about Quinn’s books. They are so secular—very limited mentions of God except when the heroine is a vicar’s daughter—- and yet they focus on stuff like family values, procreation as the sole purpose or meaning in life, etc. All backbones of american conservatism and family values. Its not that I think religion should be included; It just seems like if some of these heroines and heroes could start being religious and devout and it wouldn’t be much of change.
    I also don’t have a problem with marriage and children. Its I just I understand wanting more from life than that. I also like to see heroines and heroes interact with the community and help other people beyond their own family.

    On the medical issues,  I loved When He Was Wicked. It was basically character driven not much plot and lots of medical details. I thought it was really good.
    On this book, the part with brother is confusing I assume he comes home..

  21. 21
    Sara says:

    I love Julia Quinn. I’m not super picky about what I read, as long as nothing too asinine is going on in whatever book I’m reading. I’ll have to read this soon, once I the time!

  22. 22
    Yammie says:

    I am a HUGE Julia Quinn fan. She was my first introduction to romance and for me she can very rarely go wrong (the only one I didn’t enjoy as much was Mr Cavendish, I Presume). I haven’t read this one yet but I’m hoping to soon. It sounds RIGHT up my street. I really love romance novels about the characters and their development because of meeting hero/heroine. I’m not so hot on the ones with a ridiculous ammount of action in them, because, frankly, I find them hard to believe. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy them when I’m craving a large dose of escapism. That said, JQ is full on escapism because she is just frothy, funny and full of inaccuracies. But for some reason, this doesn’t bother me when normally I’d have a throwing-book-at-wall-type-tantrum at historical inaccuracies. I think its because she writes the most engaging characters and focuses so much on the relationship that develops between them (plus her secondary characters are AWESOME! Lady D I’m talking about you here), and for me, thats kinda what romance is all about. Also, she is high-larious.

    @cayenne: I just read When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James and guess what! The infamous “Miss Butterworth” book turns up again! It was brilliant. Also makes me wanna read a Miss Butterworth book. It would be just too funny. Really.

  23. 23
    Diva says:

    Wonderful review and the book sounds kinda great.

    Elements of the plot remind me of the sweet Henrietta-and-Miles pairing in Masque of the Black Tulip which as a similar dynamic of the guy being the brother’s rich-but-neglected friend who esteems the whole family. I really liked that so this sounds up my alley.

  24. 24
    Tracy says:

    I’m just finishing this one up tonight and I have to say it’s the best one JQ’s written since she finished up the Bridgertons (pause for a sigh over The Duke and I).  I’d been disappointed and/or meh over her books since Eloise’s story so this was a nice, fluffy, marshmallowy pile-o’-fun.  But other than the Lady Danbury sighting—LOVE HER!!!—I will admit to missing a little something while combing through the book.  Hopefully the continuing saga of the Smythe-Smith musicale (and the poor souls who have to play in it) will yield up another serving of mega-awesome.

  25. 25
    Kate L says:

    Now I love the Bridgertons and the start of The Viscount Who Loved Me has me bawling my eyes out, because of Anthony Bridgerton’s love for his father. And don’t get me started on Colin Bridgerton..rawr…
    BUT. And this is a big but. While I liked the book, at the same time I felt like I didn’t see enough of them actually falling in love. It almost felt like it happened too quickly for me..
    But I did like the characters, which is why it was disappointing really.

  26. 26
    Sel says:

    I admit, I was disappointed in the book, mostly because I’d expected something a little more…dramatic. By the time the concert happened, I felt the book was only halfway through and then ZING! “Ladies and gentlebeings, we have your HEA waiting and ready for you…” So, uh, yeah.

    My disappointment isn’t with the writing style (which was good) or with the characters (who were funny and adorable and exasperating and complicated by turns) but mostly with the feeling that there wasn’t quite enough actual plot in the story.

    From reading other people’s comments above, I’d say that Julia Quinn’s a good writer, but her writing isn’t for me.

  27. 27
    CJ Smith says:

    Thanks for the review :) Being a JQ fan, it sounds like this book is exactly what I was expecting. It’s good to know that I won’t be disappointed! My mom has the same complaint about JQ as many other people here—nothing happens! I used to disagree with her, but now I realize it’s all a matter of perspective. If drama and intrigue, with high stakes, are your thing, then a Julia Quinn novel is probably not your cup of tea. I, however, like the sheer frivolity of it all.

    The focus is definitely on distinct characters, voice and writing style. The plots are thin, but I am usually so in love with the H/h that I don’t care if they’re taking a carriage ride around town rather than dashing through the night in a run-away stage coach. I especially like her heros and the other male characters. So often, I feel like heroine ends up with the hero because he’s the least douchey man around (or sometimes he is the MOST douchey). In JQ novels, I could date almost any man in the book :P It’s just a nice change of pace.

    I’m sure that sounds silly, but I think fellow romance readers can understand :)

  28. 28
    cleo says:

    So often, I feel like heroine ends up with the hero because he’s the least douchey man around (or sometimes he is the MOST douchey). In JQ novels, I could date almost any man in the book :P It’s just a nice change of pace.

    Exactly.

  29. 29
    sweetsiouxsie says:

    I remember emailing SB Sarah awhile ago about how nice it would be if Julia Quinn wrote about the Smith-Smythes or the Smythe-Smiths and she did it!!! Yay!! I am watching the mail for my copy. I can’t wait to read it!

  30. 30
    Alina says:

    Having now read (and enjoyed!) the book, I have a concern I want to bring to the Bitchery (I posted about it on Goodreads, too, for full disclosure, but I trust the SBTB readers) – did anyone else notice that chapter 2’s description of Neville Berbrooke establishes Penelope and Colin (Bridgerton, from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) as already married but the book definitely takes place during the early stages of their romance? Am I off or is this a definite continuity snarl?

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