Tuesday, December 30, 2008

62. A Midnight Clear

The title: A Midnight Clear (tagline: 'Tis the season for something a bit naughty-and very nice...)
The author: Karen L. King
Publication: Zebra, 2005
Got it from: DC, Christmas 2006

If this book were a movie, I would give it the following soundtrack listing:

1. Impoverished Woman, Sexy (Impoverished) Duke
2. Gotta Get Myself in a Compromising Position with a Rich Dude, Else My Family's Toast
3. What Woman Could Heal My Broken Heart? (The Duke's Lament)
4. Your Hint of Red Satin Underwear Makes Me Loco
5. Rich Dude is Ugly, But Duke Makes My Heart Race
6. I Can't Stop Thinking About Your Heaving Bosom
7. My Best Friend is in Love With My Sexy Stepmom, Oh Yeah
8. Getting Rid of My Nasty Former Mistress is Hard Work
9. Under the Mistletoe, We Get Down and Dirty
10. Don't Wanna Marry Cause Daddy Beats Me
11. The Ending Goes On (and on and on)
12. What's The Title Got to Do With It?

Roxanna Winston, the daughter of a poor nobleman, is sent to the home of her mother's old friend to try and land a rich husband to save her family from poverty. Roxy, being a spirited lass (aren't they all?) doesn't want to have a husband because she's independent and fears her husband will beat her like her father does her mother. Sister, I hear you. It would have sucked to be a wife back then married to a nasty husband. I would have rather been compromised and paid off, too.

Roxy's plans to go awry when her attempts to seduce pie-faced Mr. Breedon are thwarted by her host, the sexy and emotionally scarred Duke of Trent, Maximilian St. Clare. Max has got troubles of his own. For reasons that aren't made clear he's intent on not marrying and settling everything on his wayward nephew. He's also still healing from losing his dad and two brothers. Thus sets up the main conflict of the book: Roxy and Max's heads say no no, but their loins say yes yes.

This book was a bit of an old Oreo for me. The beginning and end felt somewhat stale, but the middle was a creamy centre. It seemed to take forever to set up the story and characters, but once the sparks started flying between the Duke and Roxy it really took off. I was actually more interested in the love story between Max's old friend Scully and Max's young stepmother. Years ago they'd had an affair while she was still married to Max's dad and he's been in love with her ever since. I almost wish the story had been reversed and that Max and Roxy's love story had taken the secondary place. I found the older woman/slightly younger man story a refreshing change of pace from the usual rakish duke seduces innocent virgin story.

A couple of things really made this book work for me. One was that there was only a smidgeon of info dumping, allowing the characters to be revealed nice and slow. The other was that there was a definite attempt to flesh out some of the secondary characters. I've already mentioned Max's friend and stepmother, but it was good that the oafish Mr. Breedon, the object of Roxy's clumsy attempted seduction, was also made somewhat sympathetic as the story unraveled. The only sour note was hit with Lady Malmsbury, the Duke's former mistress whom he recently broke things off with. The Duke's treatment of "Malmsy" seemed heavy-handed at times and her over-the-top hysterics and attempts to win him back seemed forced. After all, if the Duke is such a great guy, I can't see him going for such a loonie in the first place.

Something was a bit off in the ending, too. The pace of the story changed dramatically, throwing off the original plotline as the characters were thrust a year ahead. Also, there was a huge wtf moment at the end that left things dangling inexplicably. I tried to discover if this book had a sequel or prequel that would explain such a weird last page, but I don't think it does.

Since the story mostly entertained me, although it disappointingly didn't talk much about Christmas, it earns a B.

As an aside, I've discovered a fantastic new blog about traditional Regency romances here. There's tons about Christmas Regencies, so it's really a blog after my own heart!

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