The Sum Of All Kisses by Julia Quinn (3 out of 5)
That is pretty much the cover above-but I really like the quote, so I had to use this specific image (it’s also true in my real life, so doubly inspired to use that quote). Those who know me will likely be saying “What the fuck? Is she losing it? Why is she reading this drivel?” The answer is a-blame Jen. and b-a horrible week means I need something light matter, quick read, and entertaining. This book fills all fronts. I actually do read some romance books, although truthfully, it’s usually erotica. Julia Quinn goes into the small void of romance, Victorian and Regency era romance authors that I still enjoy.
This is the third book in the Smythe-Smith Quartet series. It spawned off from the ridiculously popular Bridgerton series. The Smythe-Smith family is known for having a musically inept quartet of sisters that play at weddings of their family and extended friends. They made appearances at all the weddings in the Bridgerton series, and now that all the Bridgertons have been married off, Quinn has spun the quartet off into their own tilt-a-whirl of romantic mayhem. The Bridgertons are a hard series to beat, but she’s off to a rip-roaring start with the first couple of books. I am glad to report that the third sister to fall victim to the bastard known as love is Sarah, the very blunt and practical minded cousin.
As the book begins, you see a duel between two close friends. Hugh Prentice is off his rocker with drink and challenges Daniel, his close friend, to a duel after he beats Hugh at cards. Let me explain- Hugh is a mathematician and a genius with numbers who has devised a seemingly unbeatable way to win at cards. This night, his drinking distracts him and he loses to Daniel. Incensed at his own ineptitude at the game, he challenges Daniel to a duel and goes through with it, despite a clearer head in the morning. He shoots Daniel and he ends up with a leg wound that leaves him with a permanent limp. Daniel flees to another country, three years go by, and suddenly Hugh ends up invited to his wedding. Out of a sense of shame over his actions, Hugh attends and is stuck sitting next to his least favorite person in the universe- Daniel’s melodramatic, fiery cousin Sarah. It does not go well. Somewhere, though, in between the wedding and the aftermath, the two begin to enjoy each other’s company and fireworks start to take off. However, the cousins, aunts, and Hugh’s mentally unhinged father all threaten to derail the magic starting to develop. Does Daniel forgive Hugh? Does Hugh’s father go off the rails completely and threaten their lives? Does Sarah learn to swallow her pride and let the man explain his side of things? Does Hugh go crazy with her theatrics and smack her in the face with a rolled up Persian carpet? The only way to find out is to read the latest installment and find out.
In the court of the Julia Quinn extended family of romance, most of the characters of previous books make appearances in the book and you get to see how they’re doing. You see Honoria in the book, but way too briefly. The cousins and aunts are constantly interrupting and annoying. While you see this in families where attempts at fix-ups are being set in motion constantly, here it serves as a plot interruption, and yes, in some of the scenes, it’s contrived. And yes, it’s damn annoying. There is a lot of emotional buildup between the two characters, but there’s a lot of prissy and weird dialogue going on too, so you lose a bit of giving a shit about the characters. I liked the two characters a lot, especially the shamed Hugh and his attempt to make amends for all he’s wrought. Sarah seems so put out by her attraction to this dastardly villain that she often picks weird fights and dialogue that just seems designed to redirect her growing feelings elsewhere. In some cases, it works. In this book, it just seems off. Julia Quinn has such a great grasp of her characters usually, it felt like the entire extended family was too busy having a grape fight in the countryside to care that Sarah is falling for the enemy- and in many cases in the book, you feel like they don’t care because they want to marry her off so bad. I feel like it could have been handled with more ease and without desecration of the characters, who come off like silly puppet theater actors.
Having said that, I did still enjoy the hell out of her book. It’s hard to not enjoy Julia Quinn’s books when she gives her characters such range and passion. This one felt a little passionless to me. Even the typical “bodice ripper” and “codpiece stroker” scenes are largely absent. There really isn’t anything doing in the bedroom, except a lot of discussion and pithy moaning leading to nothing, until the last 40 pages. Very odd, for her books. So, I will say this. Read it, because if you’re like me, you’ve read all the others and are invested in those characters and want to see how it plays out for them, but don’t go into it expecting her usual caliber of novel, because it’s off somewhere and feels like it’s missing out on a lot of quality writing. Definitely not up to her usual standards.