Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-9427-3
Historical Romance, 2014
As I’ve mentioned before many times, it does seem like every romance author wants to do a Beauty and the Beast thing at least once. I don’t know if this is voluntary or because this is part of some kind of initiation ritual for authors wanting full membership in the RWA, but anyway, here it is, Gina Conkle’s Meet the Earl at Midnight.
Lord Greenwich is known as The Phantom of London, et cetera, on the account of his habit of hiding the badly scarred half of his face during his very rare public appearances. Oh, don’t worry, he is not entirely a Quasimodo – as the back cover puts it, the other half of his face is “shadowed by gold and brown whiskers”, showing “male perfection”. Oh, and that body? Hot. Brooding clearly burns calories like nobody’s business, and helps shape rock-hard abs too. Anyway, he needs an heir and a spare, and as you can imagine, it’s not like women are throwing themselves at him on the account of his half-fug appearance.
Therefore when he catches both the father of our heroine Lydia Montgomery embezzling from him, he decides that it would be acceptable to get Lydia in exchange for letting that man go. Only, no one tells Lydia of this arrangement and she is understandably “What the…” when she finds out. Our hero romantically dangles the fact that Lydia’s mother will get tossed into jail if her father’s mess gets out, so our heroine realizes that she has no choice but to traipse around the Broody House of Love and, as certain as the sun rising in the east, she and Lord Greenwich are soon making eyes at one another.
For the most part, Lydia is the sassy type of heroine, but I quite like her here. There is nothing too annoying from her, and she does not let the hero use her as a doormat too much. Lord Greenwich, however, is for the most part a standard brooding hero whose masculinity and physical beauty are never damaged too much by his disfigurement, but if you listen to him, you’d think he is born with a rear end as a face. A part of me wishes that the author has not made Lord Greenwich a noble, because this story is set in the late 18th century, but everything about him feels tad modern.
The thing about Meet the Earl at Midnight is that it doesn’t really grab me. It’s all about the way the author structured this story – I feel like I’m reading a montage of scenes rather than a cohesive story. Conflicts come up and go in a way that makes it a bit too obvious that the author is just putting in things to keep the story going, and the characters can often behave in response to these conflicts in ways that feel out of character some times. Not to mention, these conflicts are mostly boring, overdone stuff dealt with in a way that is neither interesting or fresh. Do we need another boring Nasty Mommy story or another silly “let’s jump to weird wrong conclusions” twists? Well, if the author thinks so, she could have at least handled things in a way that doesn’t feel like a tenth rerun of a pedestrian soap opera.
For the most part, this one is an okay read. There is nothing about it that causes it to bleed into one- or two-oogie territory. But there’s also a reason why this one languished for so long in my pile of unread books – it is also too easy to put down, and there is just something about it that feels artificial from start to finish.