This book is, I think, one of the best “silly little romance novels” I’ve ever read.
This book follows The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever and focuses on Miranda’s best friend (and Turner’s sister) Olivia. It takes place a couple of years or so after the first book – Miranda and Turner’s daughter has been born, and I believe they are expecting a second child – and Olivia is on her third season in London on the marriage market. She has refused numerous offers because they just didn’t feel right, and the gossip is now wondering if she’s waiting for a prince.
Sir Harry Valentine – not a prince – has just begun renting the house directly to the south of Olivia’s and her parents, and when the novel begins, Olivia has heard gossip from her friends about Harry – namely, that he killed his fiancee.
“They say he killed his first wife.”
It was enough to make Lady Olivia Bevelstoke cease stirring her tea. “Who?” she asked, since the truth was, she hadn’t been listening.
“Sir Harry Valentine. Your new neighbor.”
Olivia took a hard look at Anne Buxton, and then at Mary Cadogan, who was nodding her head in agreement. “You must be joking,” she said, although she knew quite well that Anne would never joke about something like that. Gossip was her lifeblood.
“No, he really is your new neighbor,” put in Philomena Waincliff.
Olivia took a sip of her tea, mostly so that she would have time to keep her face free of its desired expression, which was a cross between unabashed exasperation and disbelief. “I meant that she must be joking that he killed someone,” she said, with more patience than she was generally given credit for. [p. 20]
(If that passage doesn’t make you think of this –
– I’m not sure we can be friends any longer.)
Olivia feels that this is balderdash, and she does the only sensible thing – begins spying on him through her bedroom window, which looks directly into his study.
Harry Valentine was an officer in the Army; now he works for the War Office, translating documents. He speaks Russian fluently, as his grandmother was from Russia and refused to speak English around him and his siblings. Harry knows immediately that Olivia is spying on him, and instead of calling her out on it or closing the window, he decides to have fun with her, and puts on a large, funny hat while he does his translations.
This makes Olivia very confused, but no less determined to find out what’s up with her neighbor.
They are thrust together when Harry is ordered by the War Office to keep an eye on Prince Alexei from Russia – who has taken a liking to Olivia Bevelstoke.
Harry introduces himself to Olivia officially at one of the balls everyone goes to, and they have a fun, bantery conversation wherein they each basically tell the other that they don’t like them. But the next day Harry comes over to Olivia’s house and gifts her with a book (Olivia primarily reads newspapers, she doesn’t really appreciate flights of fancy): Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.
Against her will, she starts reading it. Then I think one day she flings open her window and yells to Sir Harry – who is in his own study across the way – that a character in the book got pecked to death by pigeons. They make a deal that Harry will read the book if she finishes it, and with that, a friendship is born without either of them really recognizing it.
And then, one day, we have a farce.
Harry comes over to work at Olivia’s house, because he flat-out states that he doesn’t want her alone with Prince Alexei. He can’t tell her why he hates him so much, because that would mean he’d have to admit to her that he can speak Russian fluently and that also he works for the War Office but also he’d have to tell her the nasty things Alexei has said he wants to do to her, and that’s really the part that wins out. Olivia agrees, mainly because he gives her no option. They start talking, and have a very nice conversation where they each tell the other secrets about themselves, and before they know it, they’re making out on the couch. Olivia has to go upstairs to fix her hair (because Harry had run his hands all through it), so he stays in the drawing room (or wherever), and then Prince Alexei and Vladimir show up.
Alexei doesn’t like Harry equally, so Harry hides behind the copy of Miss Butterworth that Olivia left behind. Prince Alexei (1) demands to know what Harry is reading, and then (2) demands to have Harry read it aloud to him.
At this point, Harry’s cousin Sebastian walks in, is very amused that Harry is reading aloud Miss Butterworth to a prince, but then tells him he’s doing it wrong, so he takes the book out of Harry’s hand and now Sebastian is reading Miss Butterworth aloud.
When Olivia finally comes downstairs, Sebastian’s audience has grown to include Harry’s brother Edward, Olivia’s butler, and three maids. Harry and Olivia sneak off to make out some more, but then there’s a loud CRASH. When they return, Sebastian has fallen off a coffee table (while acting out Miss Butterworth’s hanging from a cliff) and dislocated his shoulder.
This book is so funny. I mean, this entire conversation is a gem:
“‘Purview’ is not used correctly,” Prince Alexei said. [NOTE: this is a running gag about the first paragraph of Miss Butterworth.]
Sebastian looked up, his eyes flashing with irritation. “Of course it is.” [NOTE: this will be funnier in the next book.]
Alexei jabbed a finger in Harry’s direction. “He said it is not.”
“It’s not,” Harry said with a shrug.
“What’s wrong with it?” Sebastian demanded.
“It implies that what she sees is under her power or control.”
“How do you know it’s not?”
“I don’t,” Harry admitted, “but she doesn’t seem in control of anything else.” He looked over at the prince. “Her mother was pecked to death by pigeons.”
“That happens,” Alexei said with a nod. [p. 168]
Here’s what else I liked about it – no subterfuge! Okay, yeah, Harry can speak Russian and he didn’t tell Olivia about it, but that was it. No pre-marital sexing that resulted in a maybe-baby forcing the two into marriage early! (Yes, there was one instance of pre-marital sexing, but before the actual deed, they both admitted that a) they love each other and b) they will be married, although Olivia wanted a proper proposal.) None of the “I don’t know if I can tell her I love her / I don’t want to have children to spite my father” bullshit from the other two Julia Quinn novels I just read.
It is SO REFRESHING to have the hero and the heroine fall in love with each other honestly and not have a pregnancy at the end. (I’m fine with the traditional Epilogue, I guess – you know, the kind that shows that the couple is either expecting a child, or the woman is telling the man that she’s expecting, or the couple has a brood. I don’t like it, because I still wish that there would be more historical romances where children weren’t the desired outcome, but seeing as how I read historical romances and this has been a requirement for practically forever, I’m … I guess I’m okay with it.)
I mean, how can you not enjoy this book when Harry asks for Olivia’s hand of her father with this:
“I love your daughter,” Harry said. “And I like her very much as well.” [p. 236]
Even better news – you absolutely can read this book without reading The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever. You should also read the next book in the series, which stars Sebastian. But you’ll see that book, Ten Things I Love About You, in a few months (or another year, who knows) on this very blog.
I almost forgot – this book’s Guster track is … a song I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard. It’s “Scars and Stitches,” off of their first album, Parachute, and it’s for “reading a used book, the more banged-up, the better.” I don’t know how “banged-up” my copy was, but … it’ll do.
Grade for What Happens In London: 5 stars