Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Julia Quinn: What Happens in London


What Happens in London
Author: Julia Quinn
Release Date: June 30, 2009
List Price: $7.99

Read: July 6-7, 2009

Author Homepage | Book Page | Excerpt | "Inside the Story" | Amazon.com

SUMMARY (from back cover)
When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbor may have killed his fiancée, she doesn't believe it for a second, but still, how can she help spying on him, just to be sure? So she stakes out a spot near her bedroom window, cleverly concealed by curtains, watches, and waits... and discovers a most intriguing man, who is definitely up to something.

Sir Harry Valentine works for the boring branch of the War Office, translating documents vital to national security. He's not a spy, but he's had all the training, and when a gorgeous blond begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious. But just when he decides that she's nothing more than a nosy debutante, he discovers that she might be engaged to a foreign prince, who might be plotting against England. And when Harry is roped into spying on Olivia, he discovers that he might be falling for her himself ...

So I finally read Julia Quinn's new book ... and I am happy to say that I think she's headed back in the right direction (though hasn't arrived at the destination yet). I *loved* almost all of her Bridgerton books and the books she has written since then have not even begun to compare in caliber - The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever got off to a great start and then PLUNGED downhill. I didn't read either of the Dukes of Wyndham books, mostly because the reviews were so horrible, but it actually wasn't for lack of trying: I started Mr. Cavendish, I Presume (the second one) and just couldn't even bother to finish it, so I of course left The Lost Duke of Wyndham (the first book) alone.

With her new book, What Happens in London, I was happy to see Quinn return to her snappy dialogue and funny, light characters. I was reminded of why I have (usually) so admired her books: Harry and Olivia are very enjoyable and their exchanges are highly entertaining - and cause you to laugh out loud at times - and it's so refreshing to have a hero and heroine who don't just lust after each other, but whom you feel actually have an emotional and intellectual connection, and have really gotten to know each other by the end of the book.

Why the 3.5 stars then? ... It's actually hard to say. I was measuring it against recent books I've read that I've really loved and have given 4 or 5 stars, and I realized that What Happens in London, while completely enjoyable, was nothing groundbreaking and the whole thing felt a little brief once I'd finished. Everything kind of happened so quickly and although I did feel that Harry and Olivia got to know one another and didn't have the dreaded/hated lust-at-first-sight experience, it was all kind of fluffy and not fully satisfying - like a really tasty appetizer, but when I was expecting steak, delicious mashed potatoes, and a scrumptious desert instead. Make sense?

The random kidnapping about 2 pages before the end was completely unnecessary. It seemed to be thrown in last minute for good measure, as if to make sure there was enough action - which has never really a big component (or one at all) in Quinn's novels, but that hasn't seemed to bother us in the past, so why try to fix something that's not broken? I suppose there is a mystery subplot throughout the book, since that is what prompts Harry to watch the prince and Olivia, but it is so minimal one almost forgets that that is the catalyst of everything. Then, Harry and Olivia are at the Ambassador's party, they sneak off, declare their love for each other, confirm they're going to get married, have sex - and wham! Olivia is abducted. ... Uh, what? I also disliked the proposal scene at the end, it was weird and corny and just ... odd.

NOTE (connection to other Quinn books)
What Happens in London is not part of a series, but it is connected to Quinn's The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, whose hero is this book's heroine's brother. At the end of this book we're given a teaser and told that Mr. Sebastian Grey, possible heir to an Earldom and Harry's cousin (and a great character), will be the hero of Quinn's next book, due out summer 2010.

What's up with the title? There's a part of the book that it comes from, but that was kind of forced and frankly, I think it could have used a better one. Something that incorporated the whole spying-through-the-window episode, which is how Harry and Olivia's relationship starts off, would have been cute. I absolutely love historical romances, but so many times the titles are absolutely ridiculous - either because you can't say them out loud with cracking up / rolling your eyes, or because they have hardly anything (or sometimes absolutely nothing) to do with the actual story.

Just want to give Julia Quinn props on her website, because out of all the HR author websites that I have visited, hers has always been supreme. It is clean, colorful, organized, user-friendly - all around great!

For this book, she has a neat "Inside the Story" section that I recommend checking out. It has a bunch of information on various elements of the story, such as the lurid gothic novel Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron, the Cyrillic alphabet, the custom of ironing newspapers, and the famous aria "Hell's Vengeance Boileth in Mine Heart" from Mozart's The Magic Flute.


  1. I guess I should have read your review before I went out and bought Secret Diaries of Miranda Cheever. I just finished What Happens in London and like it so much I just got back from the bookstore with Secret Diaries. I hope I do like it but I'll be mindful of the downward plunge you mentioned.

    In "What Happens", I thought having Harry and Olivia have sex was a little forced. I didn't think it fit their characters but Ms. Quinn probably thought - Wait, I HAVE to have a sex scene or readers will be disappointed. I think it would have been okay without and then maybe had an Epilogue with it after they were married.

    P.S. I can wait for Sebastian Grey's story, he seems like a fun character.

  2. I'm also looking forward to Grey's book and although I enjoyed WHAT HAPPENS IN LONDON, after reading it I immediately posted it on PaperbackSwap - it just wasn't a reread for me. It was light and enjoyable I suppose (though I had several problems with it, nonetheless), but when comparing it to something like SURRENDER TO THE DEVIL or most any Mary Balogh book, there just was NOT the same type of depth - to the characters, the story, the writing, everything!

    Although the two most helpful reviews on Amazon about SECRET DIARIES are negative (one of them being mine), I'm always surprised every time I see that overall, the book has a pretty good rating. Most of the things I would share would be spoilers, so I'll hold off, but I would be interested to hear your opinion.