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Kathleen O’Reilly

REVIEW: Midnight Resolutions by Kathleen O’Reilly

REVIEW: Midnight Resolutions by Kathleen O’Reilly

Dear Ms. O'Reilly:

Midnight Resolutions cover by Kathleen O'ReillyI realized when I started reading Midnight Resolutions that I have grown somewhat complacent with my expectations regarding your books. I was prepared for the very independent heroine, and the lust-struck good guy hero, and the witty banter between them. What I wasn't expecting, and what I found both compelling and problematic about Midnight Resolutions, was the depth of the heroine's darkness and its impact on the romantic development.

Ian Cumberland is a former Wall Street whiz who now uses his problem-solving acumen to find jobs for other New Yorkers displaced by the economic restriction. He misses his previous fat cat lifestyle, but is proud of his ingenious frugality and his ability to place even the most difficult job candidate. And when he encounters a stranger in Times Square on New Year's Eve, he believes that his luck is back, and it's being hand delivered by an earth-bound angel.

Rose Hildebrande cannot believe that she let that handsome stranger kiss her at midnight in Times Square. Of course he did help her find her phone in the midst of that crowd, but still, she has a doctor to woo and a life of luxury to pursue. She has worked extremely hard, planned everything out, and kept an incredible focus in order to position herself just right for everything she wants. She may not have had control or safety as a child, but she can create those for herself now, because she has control over her own life now, and she will do what she has to do to create adequate safety and security for herself.

Which is why Rose can hardly recognize the woman who responds to Ian Cumberland's Missed Connections ad on Craigslist, accepting a date with the handsome, unplanned stranger.

In some ways, Midnight Resolutions reminded me of Shaken and Stirred in the way both heroines adamantly resist emotional entanglement and romantic commitment with the hero. But Rose is much more troubled than Tess, her history much darker and more traumatized. While on the surface she appears to be somewhat of a clichéd gold digger, her ambitions are intimately connected to what she suffered as a child, the truth of which is slowly revealed during the course of the novel.

Ian certainly doesn't expect the complexity Rose presents, although his intelligence and sensitivity makes him a quick, if not fully informed, student. He senses Rose's wariness but cannot discern the cause, in large part because she has perfected the role of the young, well-bred debutante in complete control of her life, when the reality is anything but. So Ian does not expect it when Rose sleeps with him and then leaves a note in lipstick on his bathroom mirror asking him not to call her. Nor does he understand it when she shows up at his apartment days later, for a booty call:

"Why can't we do this?" she asked, not getting the whole rejection thing.

"Do what?"

"Sex. Why can't we do sex?"

At the word, sex, Ian could only stare, slack-jawed, engines starting to fire. Obviously forgetting that last crash landing. "You're fucking kidding me," he said, mainly to himself.

"No. There are things I won't give up. I assumed you wanted something more than sex, and that was arrogant and conceited and unfair."

Now she'd done it. He stopped worrying about the door and collapsed on his couch. "So you're willing to fuck me?"

"Yes." Nervously she remained a statue, not moving.

He didn't like the look on her face. Fear and vulnerability, as though she was putting herself on the line. Ian scrubbed his eyes, wiping it away. "Why?"

"Because I want you. And I like the sex."

What might be such a simple thing for other women was fraught with danger for Rose, because Ian was out of her comfort zone in almost every way. She had given him her virginity, something she had stubbornly held on to as one more symbol of her self-control. She had violated her own promise never to see him again so that she could focus on the handsome and handsomely loaded doctor. As personal assistant to a countess, she was mere steps away from everything she had dreamed. The secrets of her childhood have kept her focused on her goals for a long time, but Ian is definitely an unexpected temptation.

And Ian is desperate to figure Rose out. She gives him bits and pieces of her childhood – some truths, some falsehoods – and he can read that there's much more to understand. He knows she likes to be on top during sex, but doesn't understand why she becomes stiff and blank beneath him. He knows she doesn't want a traditional relationship, but he cannot fathom why she would tell him about her upcoming date with another man in the middle of seducing him. She wounds him regularly, but he just can't quit her and her wounded eyes and alluring Honeysuckle scent.

I don't want to give too much away here, but I will say that I found Midnight Resolutions to be a brave book in some ways. I suspect many readers will dislike Rose, because she feels more comfortable in the guise of a shallow society insider than in her own skin. She's not always likeable, and she wounds nice guy Ian more than once. Ian, on the other hand, is the more nurturing and care-taking one. He begins to realize that he likes his "post-layoff" life and job, and the ambition he always had seems to have found another outlet. He's the one who wants the committed relationship. It's an interesting role reversal and one with mixed results for me.

What worked well for me is the way Rose is unapologetic for her ambitions and very aware of the power of her sexuality. She studies and employs Sun Tzu's Art of War like it's an etiquette guide. I understood why she felt the need to exercise so much control and why she was comfortable with things others might view as purely mercenary. Ian I understood a little less. He thought Rose was his fate, but for much of the novel, he was always a few steps away from seeming the sucker. That he understood this about himself did not, ironically, make it better for me, except in so far as I believed his persistent desire to solve a problem accounted for some of his motivation regarding Rose. But that isn't the same thing as love, and despite the powerful pull of lust, I did wonder more than once how his faith in everything soft underneath Rose's brittle-beautiful exterior would be validated.

Words came to her tongue, words she'd never spoken in her life. I love you. I'll stay with you, whatever you choose. Whatever you do. Don't leave me. Please.

They were easy words to say. So much easier than anything she'd ever said before. So much easier than what she'd ever been through. She'd survived hell, this was a walk in the park.

His eyes flickered. That same defensive vulnerability that had affected her before. The defiant bravado that shouted: "Go ahead. Get it over with so that I can move on with my life."

But he didn't think she could move on, and something small and fragile within her, died.

"I haven't changed," she told him, because she hadn't. She hadn't changed a damned thing.

"I think you have."

"Some. Not enough."

"Why, Rose? You're not greedy, you'd never have a maid, and you'd never let anyone else touch your laundry. This isn't who you are."

"No. But money can buy anything. It's power. Control. The dreams go away, because you have it all. When you live up there in the penthouse, no one can touch you. You're invulnerable to the rest of the world."

"Only if you're made of stone, Rose."

"It's not a bad thing," she defended, because stone was a material of myriad uses. She wouldn't be sane if she hadn't been stone. She wouldn't be alive if she hadn't been stone.

In the end, it's plotting that brings Rose and Ian to where they need to be with each other, and that plotting is a little too contrived for me to be as poignant as I felt the set up promised. It's a difficult balance, making a character damaged enough to refuse love but capable enough of changing to facilitate a happy ending for the couple. And despite my admiration for the risk here, I found the last section of the novel rushed and not fully convincing. Further, there was a secondary romance between Ian's two best college friends that I think was intended to demonstrate Ian's attraction to difficult and complex people, but that was itself difficult and complex enough to require more page time than it got. Consequently, I felt alternately frustrated and distracted that I was not getting much more or way less of Beckett and Phoebe's rocky friends to lovers story.

Still, though, I liked the turn to a more serious book (I loved how Sex Straight Up dealt with 9/11, for example), and appreciated the riskier choices for both hero and heroine. And I hope we get a glimpse of these two in a later book. B-

~ Janet

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Dear Author

REVIEW: Hot Under Pressure by Kathleen O’Reilly

Dear Ms. O’Reilly,

I love what you do with your heroes and heroines. They’re not always totally believable (I mean, stranger sex in a stretch Hummer?) but I like these people. I’d like to have dinner with them on a couples night out and just sit and talk for hours. I feel that comfortable with most of them by the time the story, regrettably, ends.

David McLean (aka “hot man”) and Ashley Larsen meet not-so-cute in the confines of a packed airplane that’s going no where. Trapped beside a kid from hell whose parents are AWOL even though they’re sitting right there, they chat and attempt to while away the time until it’s finally clear that the spare part or spare plane isn’t going to arrive at O’Hare airport in time to get them to their business meetings in LA.

Which is when they decide to give into the heat that’s been smoldering between them for hours and check into an airport hotel. A night of hot, explosive sex results. But Ashley decides that she wants to leave it at a fling. If they plan for a future, then the “bam” of their hot, sorta stranger sex will be gone and things will simply become mundane. After her divorce, she’s still a bit shaky about relationships and after his divorce, David hasn’t dated much so…they come to an agreement. They’ll talk and arrange monthly meetings since both travel so much but that will be it.

Until “it” isn’t enough for David and he starts pressing Ashley for more. She’s agreed to let him help her set up a fashion “reality” thing for her Chicago boutiques but with her complicated family situation, Ashley is reluctant to allow more. Until the moment that “it’ isn’t enough for her either.

So will they be able to work out a long distance relationship? Cause I hope they have unlimited long distance calling with all the horror (Ashley’s choice) movies they’re watching at the same time. Will Ashley be able to finally “cut the cord” with her dependent sister? Cause Val is an alcoholic piece of work. Or will David have to settle for a solo life in NYC, working for the Brooks financial power duo and being best friends with his hand?

Before I forget, I squeed when I realized that Andrew and Jamie were playing bit parts in this story which really makes sense since David works in financial stuff and lives in NYC. But their bit parts are perfectly in keeping with this story and never overshadow the main action. Squee over now.

I also noticed that this book seems a little hotter than your last few. I mean, it is a Blaze but there is a lot more talk of “cocks” and filling Ashley up and stuff like that. Are you taking your books to a higher erotic level? Or am I just delusional?

Ashley and David’s relationship starts with hot sex, and initially, continues with hot sex before they begin to get to know each other. But the pacing works for me since we get roughly 100 pages of heat, 100 pages of reality hitting and them starting to fumble through a longer termed relationship then the final, “yes, we care but we have a few issues to resolve first” 100+ pages.

Hmmm, another few things. Love Ashley’s pink bunny slippers she uses as a crutch to relax her enough to fly. But I got tired of the conversations she’d have in her head with Val. And what’s with Val’s daughter calling her mother and Ashley by name? I kept waiting for this to be explained. Is it because Brianna is more the adult, even at age eight, then her mother?

I love that David is worried about the fact that Ashley might think his initial attempts at love making leave something to be desired since all David can pretty much think is sex, sex, sex!

He tumbled on top of her, completely without finesse, but thankfully, she didn’t seem to mind. Her legs wrapped about him, pelvis surging toward him, and his hands went to his fly. Her breasts pressed against him, soft peaks in white cotton. If his zipper would ever get unstuck, he’d shove the bra aside, because he wanted to see-
Condom. Oh, shit. He needed a condom.
"Wait," he nearly yelled. He needed to get control. He needed to breathe. In the dim light of the single bedside lamp, she looked up at him, clothes ransacked into parts, exposing more skin than covering. Great skin. Gold and rose mixed together like mother-of-pearl. She wore white cotton panties. With a sun-yellow gypsy skirt, she wore white cotton panties, and did he even know he had a thing for white cotton? He definitely had a thing for white cotton. It was sexy as hell. She was sexy as hell.
His hands were still shaking as he shoved her bra aside. Like a total amateur.
Dude, get a hold of yourself. She’s going to think you’ve haven’t done this in like, months.
She’d be right, but he didn’t want to advertise the fact.
The foil packet tore exactly as it was supposed to, and then-
"Let me," she whispered in a husky voice that sent every drop of his blood out of his head. Into his head. There was courage in her eyes. The bunny-slipper woman, who was a trembling coward at ten thousand feet, now seemed mightier than any warrior queen with her clothes askew.
Oh, no. Her capable hands got busy on his cock, sending ten thousand volts to his system. Concentrate on something else. The breasts, for instance.
Didn’t work.
David wasn’t going to last, he was going to explode and this was going to be over. No way.
He pushed her into the bank of pillows, rough, again with the no-finesse thing, and then..
She was tight, perfectly tight, and wet.
He opened his eyes, looked down at those dark, dancing eyes and swallowed.
Had he truly forgotten that sex could be this awesome? Yes, yes, he had.
"Oh," he managed.
Ashley smiled at him, and it was a marvelous smile. A smile for a hot summer’s day, and he was so glad the airplane had had mechanical failure. He was even glad for Hell-boy Junior. Being like this, surrounded by her, was worth it, so worth it. He rocked his hips, going deeper inside her, and her smile turned serious. Again he thrust, just to see if it was as good as the first.
Yes, yes, it was.
Then his mind began to shut down, and biology, desire, and sex took over.
He should be doing more for her, pushing buttons somewhere, but his body was running on auto-pilot, pumping hard and fast, and she didn’t seem to mind. Her hands locked on his shoulders, pulling him, pushing him, and there was no finesse there, either. And he’d never had such great, mindless sex in his entire life.
Stranger sex? Is that what that meant? Shit. They were going to have to do that again.

The dialogue between Ashley and David sparkles at times while at others it’s quiet and serious as they discuss their feelings and the issues still keeping them apart. You didn’t go easy on the issues either. David with his broken family relationship caused when he caught his brother and now ex-wife in bed only to have those two marry after the divorce came through. And Ashley who acts almost as a mother to her 30 year old, champion guilt inducing younger sister who can manipulate with the best of them. The resolutions for both came raggedly yet in their own time. I appreciate the fact that neither is tied in a neat little bow and both appear to be sort of ongoing. Just as real life would be.

And I loved finding all the little indicators that show how much these two are falling – or have fallen – in love. “Then he was kissing her, and she was kissing him back, and she wanted to laugh again. He did that. Made her happy inside.” The story isn’t all sweetness and light, despite the bunny slippers, but it felt like real people stumbling in a real way towards a resolution of the things in their lives that were holding them back. B+


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