I have three favourite authors that write in this time period (Regency England) and I always have their new books on pre order. It had been a while since I'd had anything new by Julia Quinn so I was excited as soon as this one came through the door.
Olivia Bevelstoke (who we previously met in The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever) is 21 and still unmarried which causes quite a few in the ton to gossip behind her back. It isn't that Olivia has a lack of offers but she just doesn't want to accept any of them, knowing there is someone perfect for her out there. When Sir Harry Valentine moves in next door, the gossip mongers are out in full force, saying that he killed his fiancé. Olivia doesn't really believe the rumours to begin with but considering that his window is across the way from hers, she cant help spying on him to see if she can find anything out.
Sir Harry Valentine works for the War Office only no one really knows that. He has had all the training of a spy although he isn't one, he just translates documents that are extremely important. When the beautiful girl next door starts spying on him, Harry is both suspicious and intrigued. Although he knows that Olivia is spying on him, the first time they meet, he doesn't exactly tell her that he knows.
When a Russian Prince comes to town, maybe plotting against the country, Harry is hired to look after Olivia and spy on the Prince, who is quite taken with her. Forced to spend a lot of time together, two people who didn't think they liked each other very much at all begin to get a lot closer than they should.
What I love about Julia Quinn's books is that they are more light hearted and fun compared to some of the other historical romances that I read. Harry gives Olivia a gift in the form of a gothic novel called 'Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron' and this is where a lot of the comedy in the book comes from. Olivia is a big disgusted with her gift at first because she doesn't read anything apart from the daily newspaper. She has no qualms in telling Harry that it isn't her thing at all but he makes her a deal: if she reads it all, so will he. The pair often have conversations through their windows and this is how they start reading the book together. I loved it when Olivia was totally horrified by how bad the book was but Harry was determined that she read it from start to finish without only reading the interesting parts.
Harry and Olivia as main character were wonderful but they were also helped by some of the minor characters. Harry is quite adamant that he doesn't like Olivia when they first meet and the same goes for Olivia but when they spend a bit of time talking through the windows, they find that they actually get on quite well. The story seems more real to me when the main characters don't fall in love at first sight on either side because relationships take work and it would never normally happen that way. The build up to them both realising how much they like each other was very entertaining and enjoyable to read.
Harry's cousin, Sebastian, was another of my favourite characters and I am hoping that he gets his own book someday. Most of the time he seems like he is a bit of a pain for Harry, always asking for favours but never returning them. Sebastian was very funny and always up for some excitement but a totally different side of him came out when he began to read the silly book.
There are quite a few aspects of this story that aren't 100% in my eyes and I'm not sure if this was down to bad research or lazy writing. There are times throughout that Olivia is alone with one or numerous men, including Harry, in her own house. It is stated quite early on that her parents aren't always around so much but they were in The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever so I don't know why this changed. In Regency times, this would never have happened without causing a huge scandal so there are times when this story isn't historically correct.
Overall though, this is an enjoyable book that is a little different to Quinn's other work. There is a fair amount of comedy but it is mixed well with the romance side to the story as well as some excitement near the end. Thoroughly enjoyable but not her best work.
Why this book
This was a book I picked up at my local library this week. I was in the mood for something light and fluffy and this book seemed to the fit the bill as a bit of historical romance stroke chick lit
About the author
Julia Quinn is the pseudonym used by Julie Pottinger (born Julie Cotler in 1970) an American historical romance author, who says she chose her pseudonym so her Regency romances would be on bookshelves next to those of the successful romance writer Amanda Quick.
If you want to read further details about Julia Quinn she has a website with a section about herself at www.juliaquinn.com
About the book
This book is set in Regency England the heroine of this novel is Olivia Bevelstroke, the only daughter of the Earl of Rudland. She is beautiful and has a sizeable dowry but at 21 years old remains unmarried, causing people to whisper behind her back, 'What is she waiting for? A prince? The hero of the novel Sir Harry Valentine is a war veteran (the Napoleonic wars) he is now back in London working in secret for the War Office. Olivia and her friends hear a rumour has it that he killed his fiancée, which intrigues Olivia and as Sir Harry is her neighbour she starts to war him from her window. When the pair first meet face to face there is a mutual animosity that gradually turns to friendship. At the same time a real-live Russian prince comes to town, sparking intrigue and Sir Harry has part of his work for the War Office is asked to spy on him. Their three lives from this point start to intermingle and twist and turn.
This is a wonderful regency romp from Julia Quinn her writing style is very easy to read and is what I would call a fluffy, frothy read. By this I mean it is little hearted, engaging and full of wit but it hasn't the substance say of a Jane Austen novel.
In regards to the period detail it fluctuates from Quinn trying to keep in keeping with the rules and morals of the time with details such as the presentation of Olivia to the Prince, too the frankly absurd. The fact is that Harry and the Prince were alone with Olivia for an obscene amount of time, yet her mother or father never once popped thier heads in the door to see if everything was going alright. This just didn't ring true, as in Regency times it would be unlikely that she was un-chaperoned. If you are stickler for accuracy in historical romances then this book and indeed most of Julia Quinn's novels won't be for you.
Julia Quinn's characters of Olivia and Harry both are intelligent, clever, and caring and she pens them beautifully making them easy to adore. Olivia is probably at bit too modern for a true Regency lady but I can forgive this as she is such a multifaceted character. Harry's cousin Sebastian and Olivia's twin Winston are both appealing characters with lots of fun and wit and I hope Ms. Quinn writes a story for each of them one day as they were both so much fun. Everything about these characters sparks with such energy that they seem to come alive on the page.
The bickering between Harry and Olivia is possibly the most enjoyable part of the book for me, it's never done vindictiveness and it always makes me laugh and chuckle out loud. In some ways I was expecting a frothy romance with this book but I actually found it to be more comic than I expected indeed some of the scene bordered on slapstick. That is not to say there isn't romance but it is not a fairy tale of instant love here but something a bit more gradual which I think benefits the book.
Harry gives Olivia a lurid gothic novel called "Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron" the inclusion of this as part of the novel and some of the similarities between this and "What happens in London" I think is a magnificent devise by Julia Quinn. It not only allows for plot development but provides lots of comic moments and show that the novel itself is not taking itself to seriously.
As with all the books I have read from Julia Quinn you suspend belief when you start the novel it is romantic fiction and as such not to be taken too seriously. It is enjoyable because it has a feel good factor you know that the outcome will be happy but it's the journey there that makes the novel. In the case of this book the journey is very enjoyable there is lots of sparky dialogue between the characters a smattering of references to some of Julia Quinn's other books with reference to the ever present Smythe-Smith musicale so much romance seems to happen at these musicale that I am starting to wonder how big the room is that they are held in.
This book is a wonderful blend of comic wit and romance it never takes itself too seriously and as such is a fun and frothy read. If you have enjoyed some of Julia Quinn's other books I am sure you will enjoy it. The lack of historical accuracy at times probably makes this book not suitable for those who are a stickler for historical accuracy in their reading material. However if you enjoy a light heard read with a smattering of romance and suspense this book will be for you.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (2 Jul 2009)
Currently on sale from Amazon from £2.29 used on the Marketplace to £5.96 new from Amazon itself.
What Happens in London is written by bestselling regency author Julia Quinn. According to her website, this book is written as the companion to The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever, however as Julia Quinn writes all her novels so that they can be read as stand alone books, you don't need to read this before you start What Happens in London.
Olivia Bevelstoke is told by her friends that her new neighbour, Sir Harry Valentine once killed his fiance, she is intrigued, she doesn't belive it of course, but that doesn't stop her spying on him.
Sir Harry Valentine may not be a spy but he has worked for the home office for long enough to know when somebody is spying on him. Rather than confronting Olivia, he amuses himself wearing silly outfits whilst he is working, knowing that she is watching him.
Sir Harry has a very unique skill, he speaks fluent Russian, so his is given the job of trying to discover if the Russian prince who is interested in Olivia is actually a spy for Napoleon.
As Sir Harry spends more and more time with Olivia (for the sake of his job, of course) he discovers that he is falling in love with her. However in typical Julia Quinn style, plenty of comedy and mayhem ensue as Olivia, Harry and the Russian prince try to find their happily ever after.
Again Julia Quinn did not disappoint with this book, the plotline was if anything far funnier than in any of the other books that I've read. It was at times complete chaos and quite bizarre, but it was extremely funny and reminded me just how much I love to read books by this author.
The connection between Olivia and Sir Harry was very entertaining from their very first meeting, the connection between the two of them was very well written.
I love the way that there are little connections to Julia Quinn's other novels within each novel, although they're not obvious so you won't notice if you've not read other books by her, it's really nice when you're reading to pick up a connection to another book.
As with all Julia Quinn's books I would definitely recommend this to anybody!
I'm very surprised to report that I quite enjoyed Julia Quinn's latest offering 'What Happens in London' despite the storyline being slight at best and hackneyed at worst.
Summary: When Olivia Bevelstoke is told that her new neighbour may have killed his fiancé, 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 blonde begins to watch him from her window, he is instantly suspicious. But just when he decides that she's nothing more than an annoyingly 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 . .
Now many reviewers of historical romance rate Ms Quinn very highly, often claiming she is the natural successor to the Queen of Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer. I do not count myself among them but, in this particular book, she has shown a lightness of touch which I found to be really quite engaging. And I even laughed (or sort of snorted if I'm being absolutely honest) at a couple of the more humorous episodes.
The characterisation of the principal players is a bit cardboard cut out and, in fact, we get to know Harry and his motivation rather more than we do Olivia. One good point is that, unlike many of her previous works, Ms Quinn manages to keep her English English, if you get my drift. In quite a few of her previous books, she has shown a lack of knowledge of how English is actually spoken in England, which immediately throws the reader out of the story and reinforces the fact that her characters are basically Americans in fancy dress pretending to be British. In this book, however, the characters were believably English, although there were a couple of historical anachronisms; one being the fact that Olivia seems to entertain single gentlemen on several occasions without the presence of any chaperone. Indeed, considering her parents are hell-bent of providing her with an excellent match, they don't exactly feature strongly in this book.
My favourite character in the book was the erstwhile baddie, a Russian nobleman of dubious morals. Julia Quinn seemed to have spent more time rounding out his character than that of her 'lovers'.
As I said at the beginning, the storyline is very slight with very little in the way of conflict and was definitely character-led novel. But at least I didn't finish this book and think 'What a load of rubbish' as I have to admit I have done with some previous works by this author. So if you like your historical romances, light on the historical detail and with more emphasis on the romance, you'll probably enjoy this.
'What Happens in London' could loosely be described as a sequel to 'The Secret Diary of Miss Miranda Cheever', and I get the feeling that a couple of characters in this latest book may find they end up with stories of their own at some future date. And I might even read those too.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Piatkus Books (2 Jul 2009)