When I first started reading romances, Julia Quinn was one of my favorite authors and I fell absolutely in love with her Bridgerton series, as I know many other romance readers did as well. The past few years, her books have been uneven for me, so I was a little nervous about picking this one up. The Smythe-Smiths were famous (or infamous is probably more accurate) but would it be what you expect from a Quinn book - a fun and light romance - or would it be like the past few duds?
I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat relieved that I ended up enjoying it. I liked the simplicity of the book and the hero and heroine are very likable; one thing I love about Julia Quinn books is that her heroines are always women whom I think would be nice to have as friends. However the lack of any real spark made it not much of a keeper for me. When I really love a romance, I end the book with a ridiculously stupid grin on my face that doesn't go away for hours; here, that didn't happen.
It did have some strong aspects, while also missing those that we - or at least I - often bemoan in romance book:
- There was no contrived subplot - mystery, mass-murdering or otherwise
- There is not instant lust; they've known each other since childhood and have considered one another practical brother and sister
- There are no love interests thrown in for the sole purpose of dragging the plot out and making you squirm in your seat - or couch or bed - and there were no hated Big Misunderstandings
- The book was really focused on the two main characters, Honoria and Marcus
- One really gets the sense that they *would* make a lovely couple and have a lot of what the other needs
So why the 3 stars? I was actually torn between 3 and 3.5, but either way I think this book may have suffered having been read a day after I finished two absolutely great HRs that I gave 4.5 and 5 stars. It was a perfect light, simple, fun romance read and sometimes that is what you need. Quinn delivers on the dialogue and back and forth repartee, just as she used to so wonderfully in the Bridgerton books.
I also thought Marcus was a wonderful hero. Most romance heroes are rakes or rogues of some sort, but Marcus is actually a quiet, shy, serious (but not stuffy) sort of man. We're told that people often consider him formidable and imposing, but we're not ever really shown this, since we mostly see the softer side that he shows to Honoria. I loved that what he longed for was a family and someone to love who would love him in return. One of the things that draws him most to Honoria is her loving, carefree manner and the value she places on others, on family, and on tradition. In this sense, the story was truly lovely and Marcus's wonder in the Epilogue at the family he has begun to form is touching and sweet.
My main criticisms that kept it from receiving a higher rating are the following (*warning* they detail parts of the plot that some might consider spoilers) ...
(1) Marcus gets deathly ill and Honoria rushes with her mother to his bedside to nurse him. This part seemed to really drag on and the section of his illness *seems* to take up half the book. Other romances have this plot device and don't suffer from it, but here I think it dragged on too long and since Marcus is insensible for most of it, one doesn't feel that it develops their relationship much.
(2) While the part of his illness seemed dragged out, the rest seemed very, very rushed. What we enjoy is the process of them falling in love, them working their feelings out and acting them, and then the happy conclusion. This part of the story is not explored enough for me and besides for a brief little kiss when he gets better, the only other romance scene between them is at the end. Quinn's books have never been heavy on the steamy aspect, but I definitely expected more than this.
JUST LIKE HEAVEN is perfect for a light, fun afternoon read and I would recommend getting it from the library, but don't read it when you're wanting a romance that packs a punch and affects you emotionally.
* This review is of an advance reading copy provided by the Amazon Vine Program.