A cozy, fun light read
Reviewed in the United States on 15 June 2011
What JQ does better than any other romance author I've encountered, excepting perhaps Lisa Kleypas, is the sense of community. JQ does family and friendship so delightfully, and it's because her heroes and heroines don't, as in so many novels, exist in isolation. She's really built up a ton of her own -- she has a cohesive universe, which is something that attracts me very much. All the stories I like best are those with real, complex worlds, that seem to extend outside of the immediate story. It's not something you get with a lot of romance novels, besides the generic historical world -- but JQ's an author who makes her society feel real and expanded, because of all the interconnections.
The Smythe-Smiths have been a running joke in her books for, what, a decade now? But always in the shadows, always side characters, never even getting first names of their own -- till now. Finally we meet the notorious Smythe-Smith girls. JQ, wisely, I think, starts with the 1824 crowd, who are the set featured most prominently in other books -- this is, I believe, the set from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, where Lady Danbury so wisely keyed in on the misery of the cello player.
Honoria Smythe-Smith is not the miserable cello player. She's a cheerfully atrocious violin player. Contrary to popular belief, she's aware that the musicales are insults to the composers and painful to anyone with ears. But she doesn't mind. She participates with good spirit because it's family tradition. It's really sweet of her, and a good indication of just how important family is to her. And that, really, is what's driving Honoria in this book -- the need for family. She's the youngest of five, all of whom are married and out of the house, and she's finding her life a little too quiet and solitary lately. So, she's determined to get married, in her third season out on the market. Little does she know that Marcus Holroyd, a friend of her brother's (who is currently hiding out in Italy after an unfortunate duel), is "looking after" her in his absence -- which has thus far meant scaring off all of her suitors. They've known each other since she was six years old, when he visited her brother on school holidays. Suddenly, though, he's starting to feel something other for her than duty, and she's seeing him in a not-precisely-fraternal fashion.
I don't know if it's because I'm older and more jaded these days or what, but I've started to become slightly annoyed by the Fourth Date Marriage trope. So I really enjoyed that Marcus and Honoria have known each other forever. I like that the relationship is something that's grown over time, not something that manifests over the space of a weekend. The friendship-to-romance story is a quieter kind of story, and in 'Just Like Heaven', it's quite lovely. JQ's always at her best when she gets to write quick, witty dialogue, and Marcus and Honoria get plenty of it. They banter with such an ease that it's not hard to imagine their continual married bliss, cheerfully teasing each other for decades to come.
My only complaint about this book is that I feel like the middle section, where Marcus is ill, drags on a bit too long. I'd have liked to have seen more of them back in London, amongst other people -- since JQ does that so well. I wanted more of Honoria with her cousins, I wanted more out of the conflict with Marcus and Honoria's brother, I wanted drama surrounding Hugh and Ramsgate (perhaps they'll be back in another book?). Instead we got an awful lot of sickbed hurt/comfort inaction, and that's just not so much my thing. I could also do with a bit more heat. JQ's primary weakness, I think, as a romance author is that her books aren't always as steamy as they might be. I'd love it if she started taking a few more risks when it comes to the consummation.
The HEA is adorable indeed, especially as Honoria sits down to next year's musicale. Her love for her family is just so palpable in that moment. I feel fairly certain that cousins Iris and Sarah will be getting books of their own, but I'm not sure about the frothiest and most deluded member of this year's quartet, Daisy. I sort of wonder if the 4th will be the governess who has to fill in when Sarah "takes ill" at the last minute, Miss Wynter; JQ spent what seems like an inordinate amount of time on her, and that sort of thing tends to be a hint for upcoming importance.
Overall, 'Just Like Heaven' is a frothy good read. It isn't knock-out-of-the-park amazing, but it's solid and quite charming. This isn't a book if you're looking for epic plot, sweeping dramatics, or dark psychological complexity, but if what you're after is a warm, cozy read, something to take to the beach with you, or to curl up with while you're drinking a nice cup of tea, 'Just Like Heaven' is just the thing.