What Happened At Midnight (Courtney Milan)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
What a waste! Though there are potentially interesting characters and plot sequences throughout, this book and its characters just never came together. Everything was resolved far too easily, and there are not just one, but two (maybe three depending on how you count it) plot twists that just feel contrived and artificial. I don’t know if it’s just because this was part of a three novella collection (the other two are by Sherry Thomas and Carolyn Jewel), and Milan was forcing in details to stay within that setting or certain expectations, but really, this is one to avoid… I found myself not caring about either of the main characters by the end, and was relieved when it finally ended.

Greater Detail:
Normally, I’m a total fangirl when it comes to Milan. I find even her mediocre historical romances to be well above average compared to the rest of the genre. I tell all my friends (who read romance) about her.

But this book…

Urgh.

(possible spoilers below — usually I’ll try to be careful, but since I’m recommending people avoid this anyhow…)

For one thing, there’s a lot of plot crammed into this little novella — you start off with a man who’s been embezzling funds. He’s apparently spent everything from his partners, been discovered, and has killed himself rather than face their accusations.

His daughter is not only distraught over her father’s crimes and death, but also is trying to find a way to cover up his suicide, and deal with the fact that one of her father’s betrayed partners was her fiance.

Now… the whole we’ve-always-known-each-other plot is always a little tricky. It means that much of the falling-in-love part of the story (the reason for the historical romance) has take place off stage, so to speak. Milan tries to sidestep that here by having the characters say they never really loved each other, having the engagement be broken off in the first chapter, and then reintroducing them to one another 18 months later.

The problems are that:

1. You never really get the impetus for any of the actions either of these characters take (we’re told that John, our hero, is trying to protect his nephew’s future… but you don’t understand why he doesn’t go and make money as opposed to obsessively chase down his former fiancee).

2. The love story really did happen off stage as they both later admit they really did love each other, and then you never really get why they re-fall in love with one another after their separation (they start meeting at midnight, but we don’t get to see most of their talks).

3. They do lots of just inexplicable things — usually what I love about Milan’s characters is that they really think and don’t carry around the “idiot ball” or play dumb to forward the plot. Here, though, I didn’t understand half of the reasons they do what they do (like sneaking out and showing up naked to try to repay a debt — Sherry Thomas tried this once too, and the idea of sleep sex or half-asleep sex is just, urgh, not a good idea).

Despite the relatively short length of the novel, I could go on — villains that aren’t properly explained and then too-quickly dispatched of, side character heroes that probably would have made sense if I read the entire collection (this was sold as a standalone and does poorly as such)… etc. There are so many better examples of Milan’s work: stay away from this one!

Comparisons to Other Authors/Books:
The fully fleshed out characters make me think of the better of Lisa Kleypas’s, Julia Quinn’s or Sherry Thomas’s works. Milan has a heck of a vocabulary on her, and everything is just very smoothly written (like Lisa Kleypas in terms of well drawn characters, but a little less hit-me-with-a-thesaurus than Sherry Thomas). Sensuality-wise, she’s definitely below Stephanie Laurens and probably more similar to Julia Quinn. Humor-wise, I’d say she’s somewhere along the lines of a Tessa Dare (who she’s apparently friends with… but a little more serious).  And drama-wise, she has setups that remind me of Kat Martin or Amanda Quick, but these resolve in a less-dramatic-and-more-believably layered way. My favorite is still Unclaimed, followed by Unveiled and Unraveled. The only other Milan I would avoid is probably Unlocked (another novella, and not as good of one)… my favorite novella by her is undoubtedly A Kiss for Midwinter.

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