by Julia Quinn, historical (2011)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-149190-0
Just Like Heaven is the start of a new quartet revolving around the Smythe-Smith young ladies, but this series is also linked closely to the Bridgerton series in that this book alone features plenty of Easter egg references to characters in those books. To Julia Quinn's credit, these references don't fully intrude on a new reader's comprehension of this story. At the worst, it will generate a feeling of annoyance that the reader is being left out of some inside joke, but let's look at the bright side: at least this reader will not be lost. After all, there isn't much of a plot in the first place.
Honoria Smythe-Smith and Marcus Holroyd know each other since they were kids. You know how it is: as kids, they get on each other's nerves, but now as adults, they get along fine, occasionally bickering and arguing with each other in a good-natured way. When the story opens, Honoria wants to get married. You see, with her brother exiled to the Continent after participating in a duel, Honoria is starting to realize the fate that awaits her as a single lady. Right now, with her mother in a self-absorbed funk after Daniel's exile, Honoria is feeling very lonely, like a stranger in a vast empty house, and she dreads to imagine how worse it will be in the future as a spinster aunt dependent on her brother's charity. That is, if he ever gets to come back to England. So off she goes to look for a husband. Meanwhile, Marcus discovers that he prefers the less hectic pace of country life and tries to forget how sometimes he feels so lonely inside.
As things would go in stories such as these, Marcus has promised Daniel that he will take care of Honoria and make sure that she doesn't end up with some unsuitable guy, so he is not too keen on the idea of Honoria running off to court Gregory Bridgerton, the guy she has decided would make her a suitable husband. Alas, eventually Marcus would sprain his ankle, the wound gets infected, and Honoria runs to his side to make sure that he doesn't do something stupid like dying on her. You know what happens next, I'm sure.
That's pretty much the plot, and by "that", I also mean the first half or so of this story. This is a slow-moving story with very little complexity. It's the story of two people who are lonely, despite being surrounded by friends and family members, finally realizing that they are perfect for each other. What you see is what you get here - there is very little characterization to develop these characters beyond the superficial.
This isn't a completely terrible thing as it gives Ms Quinn plenty of room to do what she does best: write scenes of people connecting. The scenes of Honoria interacting with the other ladies are amusing as it captures perfectly their friendship that is evident underneath their constant bickering and verbal middle fingers to each other. And oh, Honoria and Marcus. There are some very lovely scenes here. I have a good laugh over Marcus's dismay when he sees the types of books picked by Honoria for his sickbed reading and realizes that Honoria really thinks of him as some boring bloke that can appreciate only non-fiction books on the most dreary subjects possible. But I think my favorite scene is Marcus's epiphany about his feelings for Honoria. It's on pages 243 and 244 - skip to those pages the next time you are at the bookstore if you are curious.
But still, Just Like Heaven ends up a bit too much like cotton candy for its own good. It goes without saying that if you find the author's books generally lacking in historical authenticity and heavyweight emotional drama, this book is only going to annoy you, heh. But if you like the author's style, the fluffiness of the plot may also mean that this story leaves very little emotional impact. I have a feeling that I am going to have a hard time recalling details about this book a week from now. It's a pleasant read, a nice kind of escape while it lasts, but that's all there is to it. If you want more substantial plot and characters from this book, you may want to lower your expectations a bit before plonking down $7.99 for it.
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