My review contains spoilers and they're mostly my thoughts as I went with the book...
The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn was one of my most anticipated releases this year. Now that I’ve read it, I’m heaving a sigh of pure contentment. This had a little of everything à la JQ; funny scenes, witty (even sometimes confusing) dialogues, Smythe-Smiths, Pleinsworths with a very short mention of the Bridgertons.
For those who have never read JQ before, start with the Bridgerton series because that is where the Smythe-Smiths were introduced. This is a yearly musicale of ‘legendary’ reputation with four Smithe-Smith cousins butchering Mozart enthusiastically. A musicale that has been going on for a long time and even though the ‘music’ in question is horrendous more often than not, everyone invited always attends for some odd reason. The cousins change as they marry. Married women can’t be in that musicale, only unmarried ones, in the hopes of making a good match, hence showing off their ‘talents’. Their mommas are always convinced, just as the girls, that they’re prodigies in the making! But, there would always be one unfortunate girl who is intelligent enough to know how bad they actually are and even though you’d feel for her, there’s nothing to be done as she has to go along with the flock, or so to speak.
As it happens in this series, each book starts with a gambling scene that took place about 3 or so years ago. A brawl, then a duel that changes a few lives forever. Daniel Smythe-Smith, the handsome young rake in the making and Hugh Prentice, the nerd-extraordinaire (no seriously, he’s brilliant!) who got drunk, and did all of the above because... they were drunken idiots, their friendship could take a hike! Daniel’s friend, Marcus, who had the coolest head and a maturity even at that age, tried to stop it but to no avail. Hugh, who is the second son of an Earl, is badly injured. So much so that he now can’t walk without a limp. Daniel had to flee the country because of the Earl’s deadly threats. Marcus, well, he was left to look after Daniel’s family on his request because he was rather lonely himself.
Book 1, Just Like Heaven, was about one Smythe-Smith, Honoria, Daniel’s sister who was trying to make a match but all in vain. She IS one of those girls who know how bad they are in the musicale and wants to escape the next at all cost. But somehow she’s still a spinster. Not that she’s ugly or plain or an idiot. Honoria is very smart and has that jolliness about her that everyone likes. And men certainly show interest. But for some reasons, after sometimes, they just... flee every time she tries to communicate with them. Then we find ‘the cause’, Marcus who was attracted to Honoria for a longtime but being reserve, kept his feelings to himself. Even though he convinced himself that he’s only looking after Daniel’s sister’s (alongside his family) well-being so that she makes a good match, on the inside... well, you can guess. He couldn’t let anyone come near Honoria. It was funny in an endearing way. Also loved being introduced to the secondary characters, such as Anne Wynter, the governess for the Pleinsworth girls, Sarah Pleinsworth (Honoria’s cousin) and her ever confusing bunch of sisters, Iris, another cousin, Hugh, even the little mention of Bridgertons. Daniel was not seen but at the end of the book when he returns, finally, after Hugh himself took step and reach an ‘agreement’ with his father so he leaves Daniel alone. Finally, Honoria and Marcus marry with Daniel’s blessing. But most of all, the shadow of scandal that was hanging over Honoria’s family (another reason why most men wouldn’t be interested in her) seemed gradually lifting because everyone assumed that the trouble is over.
In book 2, A Night Like This, we find Daniel in pursuit of Anne. It was fun, I loved that book. It wasn’t just a fluffy, warm read but had its own darker aspects. The day Daniel returns in the day he also sees the beautiful and graceful Anne playing the piano with the Smythe-Smith cousins and falls for her on-spot. Actually it was a love-at-first-sight-thing, which worked for me just fine! As they grew closer, we learn of Anne’s secret past and her running from it. The 4 Pleinsworth girls were there too, giving us the much needed laughter. There were some superbly laugh out loud moments, something also JQ does the best. But the ending was also gripping, with Anne’s kidnapping by someone from her past and Daniel going insane, thinking he couldn’t help her. We also learn a bit of what Hugh has agreed to keep his father’s men at bay and let Daniel live a normal life. Hugh was more than eager to start anew, so was Daniel and the strain in their relationship ends on a note of forgiveness and understanding with a desire to move on.
(a day in Sarah’s head)
“I am plagued by weddings.”
Sarah was there in all three books. She’s a vivacious thing; a bit loud and straightforward, melodramatic, given to hyperboles, fancies and dramatic sighs. She takes a little time to grow on people, not being the more easygoing type. And she hates Hugh with a passion. He’s everything mean and villainous to her for what he did to their family... her family, because she was about to make her debut the year that ‘incident’ took place. Instead, she had to flee to the country and couldn’t be seen in London for a full year! Sarah is mad because according to her, there were 14 very eligible men who got engaged and later, married that year of 1821. Even though we don’t know if she wanted to snag any of them, but hell and damnation, she couldn’t have her debut parr-tay and it was Hugh Prentice’s fault!
Ah, the good old Sarah. It might sound ridiculous at first but when you get inside her head, you feel for her and be surprised to find that she’s not as empty-headed as she gives the impression of! Sarah is as smart as the rest of them, but she’s vulnerable. For some reason, she thinks she’s not beautiful, graceful or jolly enough to grab a husband. I understood, even when she grated on my nerves, especially with her uncalled for animosity towards Hugh as they met at a house party for the upcoming nuptials of Marcus and Honoria, which were to be followed by Daniel with Anne. Hugh was invited because of Daniel. But Sarah didn’t know that and their meeting for the first time (they met before but not like this, certainly not ‘officially’) was rather... awkward with an angry Sara and a very confused (later angry) Hugh trying to deal with her accusations (I’ll leave you to imagine her ‘accusations’ but those were, indeed, confusing).
(a day in Hugh’s head)
“Hugh Prentice noticed everything. And he remembered it all, too.”
Hugh was just trying to make amends. He still feels guilty for everything that happened between him and Daniel and the lives that were affected for one drunken night. Knowing a rotten childhood because of his psycho of a father, the Earl of Ramsgate, Hugh didn’t want to ruin anymore lives. His father is very concerned about keeping his ‘noble’ bloodline alive and that is his sole reason for breathing. Now, the problem is, Hugh’s elder brother, Freddy, who is the ‘official’ heir and should also sire heirs, is gay and hence, a humongous disappointment to Ramsgate. Even though few know of Freddy’s choices, Ramsgate knows he’d never marry, so no chance of an heir. That leaves him Hugh. Now, after Hugh’s injury, which runs closely to his erm... well, let’s just say Ramsgate thinks Hugh would probably never father a child as well. But Hugh knows better. He has experienced all the signs that says he’s very much able.
And this led us to relive what Hugh went through months after months; of pain and suffering. It’s a miracle that he didn’t give into depression IMO. With a father like that (that guy is pure and simple loony, just how much you get an example later in the story) and no mother... gosh, I felt for him. It was a painful recovery; not only physically but also all the time knowing his leg would never be the same again. He’d never walk dashingly or ride a horse or dance with a graceful partner. I didn’t berate once that he felt sad that he won’t do some of those things (also sometimes, later in the story, feeling that he can’t be the sort of man Sarah needs). Post-injury, Hugh hasn’t been with a woman in the past 3 or so years. It has a lot of do with the scar which he thinks is very ugly and any woman would find it gross. But as I already mentioned, he knew his body’s reaction just fine.
Hugh only wanted a little peace of mind, which seems farfetched now that he’s meet Lady Sarah... again. It struck me, really, when he thought to himself how well he knows her voice and could recognize it anywhere. And her odd animosity towards him leaves him speechless... every time. Hugh has an ah-meh-zing brain and can do math (no matter how big the numbers) without any help. Also, his memory is very sharp. Even then, Sarah’s voice seems to stand out. So for the rest of the wedding, Hugh is determined to ignore the crazy Sarah Pleinsworth and be done with it.
But it’s easier said than done when he keeps meeting her everywhere. And even though, they rather heat it off with all sorts of wrong, one could see that Hugh and Sarah only needed the right ‘push’ to see what they can mean to each-other. At one point, they actually started having somewhat normal conversations because the Providence provided that ‘push’ in the form of that house party. :D Hugh also meets Sarah’s sisters- Elizabeth, Harriet and Frances. They’re all... endearing in their own way. Hugh is especially taken with the youngest, Frances, the one with a very deep passion for anything that spells ‘unicorn’. We all know how confusing, yet entertaining the Pleinsworth sisters can be. You start reading their dialogues and then, you just stop trying to make sense of things at all. But I guess that’s the type of effect JQ was trying to achieve and succeeded without a doubt. I distinctly remember one carriage scene where they were on their way to Daniel’s estate for his wedding. The carriage had all the Pleinsworth girls... together... speaking, among other things. Poor Hugh, he weathered quite well IMO. He rather enjoyed that ride actually, more so because Sarah was there with him.
As Sarah and Hugh started becoming friendlier, the story also started picking up its pace. I was eagerly waiting to see when/how they actually fall. There were some lovely scenes at this part of the book. One would be the scene where Hugh has this conversation with Frances on the wedding of Honoria-Marcus. He couldn’t dance like the rest, so Frances brings him a piece of cake to share with hers. Hugh was engrossed in Sarah, who was dancing with someone, feeling a little listless that he can’t be the one she’s dancing with (trust me there is a superb scene at one point where they do dance). But he didn’t have to wait to have her in his arms. I thoroughly enjoyed this transformation from haters to almost lovers on that scene at night (at Daniel’s estate) when Sarah goes out because she was feeling restless. Hugh couldn’t sleep due to his injury, but more specifically, because of his disturbingly erotic thoughts on one certain Sarah Pleinsworth. Then he sees her outside, only in her nightdress... ‘WTF?’ was Hugh’s reaction! I didn’t know what to expect next, certainly not one of the most beautiful scenes of the story; the scene where Sara and Hugh finally sort out their mutual feelings. It was marvelous... and grand, to watch Lady Sarah finally fall in love.
And I’ll quote (because it goes so beautifully with the title):
“And when he kissed her . . .
All she wanted was more.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmured, and for the first time in her life, Sarah truly believed that she was.
She touched his cheek. “So are you.”
Hugh smiled down at her, a silly half grin that told her he did not believe her for one second.”
Things heat up after that for our Nerd Extraordinaire and Miss Melodramatic; secret kisses and fondlings, stolen glances and smiles. Sisters giving unexpected privacy, when they’re not being pesky or making up illogical words such as ‘Hughnicorns’ that is! Sarah and Hugh were sure, so sure they’re going to be each-others. But then Hugh had to come clean about his crazy contract with his father, making Sarah mad. Since Hugh was pretty precious to his father because of his probability of siring an heir someday, he was able to ‘sway’ his father with threats on his own life in leaving Daniel alone. Crazy, crazy scheme! I certainly didn’t blame Sarah for being mad!
The rest was just a big, bad climax with some confusing, entertaining and sometimes maniac strings of events (thanks to Hugh’s daddy dearest). You just have to read to see what I mean by that. To me, Sarah showed her mettle when she stood up to the Earl and gave him a good bit of what-for. Oh that was F.U.N! Hugh certainly was more than proud of her. Then came the epilogue which was just sighworthy. Well, I certainly grinned like a lunatic. It was such a treat to see them finally together, letting all the bitterness go.
The next book is supposed to be of Iris’s. Though we still don’t know who will be her hero, I’m eagerly waiting for it. I just hope we don’t have a loooooooong wait ahead of us... again. 4 ‘Hughnicorns’.
(couldn’t help it, seriously. :p)
This ARC was provided to me by HarperCollins/Avon via edelweiss which didn’t influence my review and rating in any way.