Confessions at Midnight - Jacquie D'Alessandro Let me start my review by explaining one of my greatest pet peeves in fiction. My brain tends to run for the hills when it's confronted by a book series (typically HR) that touts a group of "independent" women who do something "scandalous" in the cutest way possible to assert their alleged independence. Why? Well, because I find it condescending that the women "asserting" themselves in this manner are typically regarded as some novel, cute thing. Having thoughts of one's own and being interested in sex aren't quirky or really all that original. It's normal and barely the basis for a series of books about heroines finding their soul-peens and getting hitched for life. Believe it or not, female characters can be portrayed with half a brain cell without the whole THE VAGINA BEARER CAN READ, ISN'T SHE FUN AND UNIQUE schtick. I know. Huge shocker. Who would have thought that you could create a strong female character by organically building her into the story instead of taking a break every few pages to go on and on about how stubborn, willful, independent, different, daring, fearless, anachronistic you want us to believe your speshul snowflake is? I mean, come on. You don't need to convince me that ladies can think and read and stuff. I AM ONE. I already know.

So, the quaint little Look What The GURLZ are Doing theme du jour is called the Ladies Literary Society. Four sad little ladies gather to read "scandalous" books and discuss them. During Confessions at Midnight, the group is reading Memoirs of a Mistress, which graphically details an anonymous lady's sexual exploits. The text tells me that these women are being incredibly naughty and independent by creating their own group to discuss the books that I'm just going to assume they learn how to masturbate to, but I really can't figure out what the big deal is because everybody else is reading the book, too. It's the talk of the freaking ton, yet I'm expected to think these four girls in their cutesy little group of fan-waving and pearl-clutching are the enlightened ones? Blech. Like I stated before, PET PEEVE.

But what makes this theme even worse for me as a reader? Seeing all this through the perspective of a stick-in-the-mud, navel-gazing widow who's freaking terrified of the sexual healing she's feeling.

The Story:
Carolyn Turner, Viscountess Wingate, is scandalized by her response to Memoirs of a Mistress. Her husband's been dead for three years, and considering that Carolyn's vowed never to love again, these lusty feeling are most unwelcome. For the most part, Carolyn passes her days away by reading naughty books, living vicariously through her sister's happiness, and holding vigil by her dead husband's portrait in the parlor. So, imagine Carolyn's discomfort when her acquaintance with Daniel Sutton, Lord Surbrooke, sets her nether regions a-tingling. Daniel, for his part, has had the hots for Carolyn ever since he spotted her at a party where her now dead husband announced their engagement. The notorious ladies man sets his peen-sights on Carolyn, a woman who is perfect for the loveless sexcapades he's convinced himself he wants. The horny little pair strike up an affair, and naturally, all of those icky feelings get involved. Can these two get past their insecurities? Hell, can they get past the saintly dead husband who gazes down on them from his lofty portrait? Or will a shadowy foe who only enters the story in the brief moments when Carolyn and Daniel aren't dry-humping succeed in killing Carolyn and making this love story never happen? Don't get your hopes up.

The Characters:
When her love life isn't involved, Carolyn is rather sensible. She's one of the first Regency heroines I've read about in a long time who doesn't pursue the Big Bad through self-perceived pluck and gumption. Daniel tells her to never leave the house alone, and she doesn't argue. Good for you, Carolyn! You're offically NOT TSTL. However, whatever points Carolyn gains for sensibility, she loses tenfold for her incessant whinging. First, she spends page after page thinking about how she'll never love again because her dead husband was SO DAMN PERFECT. Then she bitches about Daniel because he fills her with all these traitorous sex thoughts that apparently make it difficult to remember how her husband looked and sounded. Seriously. She blames Daniel for this. Later, she creeps me out by talking to her dead husband's portrait about how much she wants to ride Daniel's disco stick. Ultimately, she decides that she loves Daniel but insists on breaking off the relationship because he isn't in the affair for love. True, but still non-sensical considering that Carolyn entered the affair with the same intentions. So, that leads to more pages and pages dedicated to Carolyn whinging and feeling sorry for herself. The widow thing could have worked as a plot device if Carolyn didn't behave like such a fucking baby. She plays the grieving widow during her inner-monologues, but the moment she gets some time alone with Daniel, she's digging into his trousers for that traitorous rod of love that makes her forget her husband. Her actions never fully succeed in matching up with her words.

Daniel genuinely cares about Carolyn from the beginning, so his flip-flopping on the love idea is a little tedious. He's a nice guy. Thoughtful, caring, a good master to his servants. His townhouse is a sanctuary for all kinds of strays, from servants to animals, and Daniel accepts that with good nature. Petty insecurities kept Daniel from transforming into a great character, rather than a modestly decent one.

The Sex:
This is a pretty steamy read. Carolyn and Daniel fondle each other in several different places, and some of the exchanges get heated. Unfortunately, the two of them have a tendency to banter during sexy-times. While I appreciate some good sexy-time banter, Carolyn and Daniel's kept pulling me out of the story because it got cheesy and repetitive. The most glaring example of this is Daniel's tendency to insist that Carolyn SAY HIS NAME while they're having sex. He does it THREE TIMES in the course of the story, and each time gets worse. Check out my reading updates for the excerpts. I'm pretty sure the name stuff comes from Daniel's jealousy about the dead husband, and that just made reading it creepier for me.

The Saving Grace:
I was totally set to give this book 2 stars until I reached the big showdown with the villain. The villain's motivations don't make a lot of sense, but I'll give D'Alessandro credit for misdirection. I had no idea who was trying to kill Carolyn, and the reveal came as a bit of a shock. There's a big showdown between Carolyn and the villain, and Carolyn is totally about to get shot when Daniel miraculously shows up and throws a knife in the murderous bitch's back. As she dies, the villainess says this:
"I'll have my revenge," she whispered. "Even from the grave I'll see you dead." She collapsed forward then, and Carolyn stared with disbelief at the hilt of the knife protruding from her back. (Page 345)

And after reading that, I laughed and laughed and laughed. What delightfully campy last words to come from a character in this never-ending wangst fest. At that moment, BAVR demanded that I up the rating to 3 stars. It gets better, though, when Carolyn and Daniel find out that the villainess totally meant those last words. Earlier in the story, Carolyn received a gift of marzipan from Daniel. However, it turns out the the marzipan was sent by the villainess under the guise of Daniel and has been sitting around waiting to poison Carolyn for days. Brilliant! Too bad the silly brat doesn't like marzipan and never touched it.


The Writing:
Despite its flaws, D'Allesandro's prose is quite readable. It didn't take me long to finish this book, and there weren't any glaringly obvious grammatical errors and typos. The thing that got to me was meandering, navel-gazing tripe like this:
Lips ... yes, his lips ... those perfect lips. That had kissed her so ... perfectly. His lips ... his lips ... damnation, she'd once again lost the thread of the conversation.

Ellipses needn't be used like this, authors. Please stop it. And then there were the annoying phrases that kept getting repeated OVER AND OVER. Carolyn constantly uses the wimpy phrases "botheration" and "Oh, my!" Both main characters reflect on their - wait for it - inner voices. Carolyn even communicates with her inner voice a few times. I felt like I was being transported to Fifty Shades of Regency: Cravats and Pelisses Edition. I was not impressed.

"Confessions at Midnight" is a part of my Care-Package-Ageddon series of book reviews in gratitude to my GR friend Karla for sending me a GIANT BOX O'BOOKS. She said I "might" like some of them. o_O