Just Like Heaven

Julia Quinn
June 2011, European Historical Romance (Regency England)
Avon, $7.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 006149190X
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Warm

Julia Quinn writes light. Consequently, even though some of her plots are gritty and hard-hitting and some of her characters are conflicted, controversy reigns over her novels. Very few readers walk away without an opinion on whether Quinnís writing is enjoyable or not. Iím in the camp of those who appreciate her books.

Traditionally Quinnís characters reflect their time. The young debutantes who are about to make their come-out to the ton donít mirror todayís girls who emulate Lady Gaga or talk about sex on their cell phones in public places.

Honoria Smythe-Smith and Marcus Holroyd, Lord Chatteris, have been friends since Marcus met her brother Daniel at school. Being an only child, Marcus was enfolded into the Smythe-Smith clan and got his first taste of family. Honoria, the youngest of the children, tagged along after her brother and his friend on their adventures.

Now in London for another season, Honoria is desperate to get a husband and leave her lonely home. She is pleased to see Marcus, not knowing that her brother, having fled England after a duel, asked his friend to watch over her. When Marcus returns to his estate before the season begins, Honoriaís aunt, who lives on the adjoining estate, gathers a handful of debs, their mothers, and some eligible young men for an impromptu house party.

On the edge of the auntís estate Marcus catches Honoria digging a hole to entrap her favorite gentleman. Dissuading her from her plan to literally catch a husband, Marcus sprains his ankle by tripping in the hole and subsequently ends up with a nasty infection in his leg.

Feeling responsible, Honoria urges her mother to visit Marcusí estate with her and nurse Marcus back to health. There Marcus, and Honoria discover how much they mean to one another.

Written in synopsis form like this, the plot sounds deadly boring. But with Quinnís lively prose and laced with her trademark low-key sense of humor, the story of Honoria and Marcus becomes light-hearted, magical fun.

The downside to the book, however, is tied up in the baggage from Quinnís eight previous Bridgerton family books. In them the Smythe-Smith girls and their annual concert played a large part as comic relief. However, in this story, neither Honoria nor her extended family is the object of fun. In fact, Quinn has undertaken the difficult task of changing long time readersí minds about the family in general and Honoria specifically. While she does that, new readers might wonder what the fuss is about, and their enjoyment of the Smythe-Smith recitals as they read Quinnís backlist may be severely distorted.

That caveat aside, the new series featuring the Smythe-Smiths begins promisingly. While the story isnít as hard-hitting as some of Quinnís, itís still entertaining enough to keep readers chuckling as well as concerned about likeable Honoria and Marcus.

-- Pat Henshaw

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