by Morgan Kelly, historical/paranormal (2012)
Avon Impulse, $3.99, ISBN 978-0-06-224261-7
Midnight In Your Arms is a historical romance with ghost and time travel elements, with no vampires or werewolves in sight. It's quite quaint how rare stories of this nature are today.
In 1926, our heroine Laura Dearborn is feeling quite blue. She has an affinity for ghosts since she was a child, being able to sense and communicate with them, and recently, she feels like she's one herself. She hasn't been the same since serving as a nurse in the first world war, and now, she makes a living helping people communicate with their dearly departed ones.
She has always dreamed of a manor, Stonecross Hall, since she was a kid. She has never been to that place, but still, she feels some kind of connection to that place. On her 28th birthday, she finds out that she has inherited the place. How odd, the owner of that place, Alaric Storm III, willed it to her by name, even though the man died ten years before she was born.
She has to go see the place for herself, naturally, and woosh, she is soon having dream sex with Alaric and then, she is there, in 1866! Will she meet and fall in love with the real Alaric then?
Here's the thing: I am really enjoying this story until the two characters meet, and then things are not fun anymore. The author has a nice way of evoking emotions and placing me in her characters' heads or shoes, so when Alaric and Laura are walking around moping and wondering whether they will ever get to meet that special someone to duet A Heart Full Of Love with, the whole thing works wonderfully. Laura, especially, is a bitter pill of sorts to swallow, as her loneliness and disconnection from the world around her can be painful to follow.
And then she meets Alaric, and it's... well, on his part, it's erection at first sight, while she looks at him and just knows that he's the one for her. There is nothing deep about this romance - they meet, they have sex, they mope a bit thanks to Alaric's scheming distant cousin Ellen, and then it's a happily ever after. The contrast of the later parts of this short story to the early bits is startling - the author is so much better at writing about people being sad and blue than she is at making happy people jump through her hoops.
The romance is also pretty unpleasant in a way, as it allows a glaring double standard to stink up the joint. Alaric's cousin Ellen fully expects him to marry her. While Alaric lolls around in a drunken stupor, she pretty much runs Stonecross Hall while being nice to him and trying to cheer him out of his "I fought in Crimea so now I am so blue, even though I am handsome, rich, and in possession of all my limbs. Women throw themselves at me, and it's such a horrible life! So all of you should pity me and wipe my rear end as I mope about how unlucky I am!" funk. Her reward? Alaric constantly thinks of her as a pretty but vapid doll. The staff mocks and insults her behind her back. The author turns Ellen into the standard cartoon other woman type later on for the LOL, er, conflict. Throughout it all, Alaric just strings her along, not man enough to cut her off despite thinking all the time about how he doesn't love her so he doesn't want to marry her.
Poor Ellen waits on him for years when she could have married someone else, and her thanks? Everyone pretty much considers her determination to marry Alaric a horrible mistake that is unfair to poor Alaric, because it is such a heinous sin for a 19th century upper class person to marry without love.
And yet, Alaric rends his clothes and whines like a little boy when Laura doesn't tell him at once that she loves him and will put out to him forever and ever. Various secondary characters pour the guilt on Laura for letting Alaric feel even a little rejected, because really now, how dare a woman hurt a man's feelings! Nobody says anything about how Alaric is just getting a taste of what he put Ellen through for years, because, I don't know, maybe having a penis comes with special privileges.
As I've said, this story goes downhill the moment the characters meet, thanks to a combo of unconvincing "love at first sight" melodrama, a romance that is built on the heroine pretty much being guilted into loving the hero, and unfortunate implications arising from a double standard that runs rampant throughout the whole story. This is one story where the happy ending is a downer as I don't believe that the whiny jackass Alaric deserves any kind of happy ending at all unless it's one with a falling piano.
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