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REVIEW: It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long

Dear Ms. Long,

This is book eight in your Pennyroyal Green series, the realization of which made me reflect on the unevenness of the series for me. But when I look back at the grades I’ve given the six books that I’ve read so far (how is that I haven’t read How the Marquess was Won? Weird), my grade range isn’t really that wide – from A- to B-. Actually, I’m surprised that I gave three of the six books a B- grade, because that’s really not a very good grade for me. I’m starting to wonder if your books are uneven for me not from book to book, but actually within the books themselves; that might explain why I think of you both as a very talented author as well as one who is, well – uneven.

It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne LongThis latest book started off irritating me in a couple of small and admittedly personal ways (meaning, they weren’t flaws in the book but just things that bugged me specifically). Jonathan Redmond encounters Thomasina de Ballesteros (known as Tommy – her nickname being irritant #1) outside the window of some duke at midnight. Why either of them are there is not clear, and continues to not be clear, particularly on Tommy’s part, for rather too long, IMO (irritant #2). I don’t really like it when characters muse extensively about things that are opaque to me as a reader; I think I get anxious because I feel like I’m supposed to understand or remember whatever they’re going on about and it interferes with my enjoyment.

Jonathan Redmond is the youngest child of Isaiah Redmond, a stern and disapproving father whose driving force is his success in business. Jonathan has been a bit of a ne’er-do-well to date, but he’s actually developed some enthusiasm for business (specifically, he wants to invest in a color printing process that a German inventor he’s acquainted with is working on). Jonathan hopes that his father will appreciate his son’s savvy and help steer him towards some financial backers, but Isaiah entirely dismisses him, and instead insists that Jonathan marry a suitable heiress before the end of the year, or be cut off financially.

I was a little disappointed at this trite plot development, but I was also genuinely moved and troubled by the scene between Jonathan and his father. Isaiah really seems to have no respect for his son; all he thinks Jonathan can offer is a pretty face that will help snag a proper wife. The realization that father thinks so little of him shakes Jonathan up.

Thomasina de Ballesteros is the by-blow of a Spanish courtesan and a member of the English aristocracy. She has made her way into society of a sort by becoming a protege of the eccentric and elderly Countess Mirabeau, who holds regular salons that attract artists and young bloods (the latter particularly showing up after word spreads among them of Tommy’s unique beauty and abundant charm). Tommy’s background at first felt disappointing cliched: she lives in genteel poverty in a ramshackle building with an assortment of disreputable characters, including what sounded like one or two Disney whores (TM Jayne) and a giant of a man with a mysterious background who acts as a sort of bodyguard for Tommy on occasion. In her free time she rescues abused children (no, really). I feel like I’ve read books with similar heroines dozens of times, and avoided many more books precisely because the heroine fit this description. I don’t mind a do-gooder heroine and I don’t mind a poor heroine but something about a poor do-gooder heroine (accompanied by a motley group of scrappy sidekicks) sets my teeth on edge. It’s just too much.

To be fair, Tommy’s eccentric background is not played up too much; it wasn’t featured nearly as much as I feared it would be. And she does have dimensions and depth that the average heroine of her ilk usually lacks. She’s clever and aware of her power over the opposite sex. She’s also aware, as she notes herself several times, that she’s in over her head with some of her clandestine activities. I just would have liked it if her background was a little less hackneyed. Also, the sanitized inclusion of the seamier side of life in 19th century London was kind of an issue for me. Rescuing one mistreated child servant (who is, naturally, just as cute as a bug) just reminds me of all the other mistreated kids who weren’t rescued. So you save a girl from a position in which she is regularly beaten – all that happens is that some other poor kid takes her place. You rescue a child forced to work under dangerous conditions in a cotton mill; great, but now some other little kid is forced to risk his or her life on a daily basis. Kind of sucks, really.

I did like the slow way the attraction developed between Jonathan and Tommy. They appreciate each other as witty, smart scrappers without a whole lot of mental lusting, early on. Basically, they actually like each before they want each other, and how rare does that sometimes seem to be in a romance?

The story picked up for me in the last third or so. Jonathan, particularly, really grew on me, and grew as a character, as well. Like all the Redmonds, he’s been scarred by the disappearance of his eldest brother, Lyon, who took off for parts unknown after having his heart broken by Olivia Eversea. (As readers of the Pennyroyal Green series know, the books follow the Redmonds and Everseas, who have apparently existed in enmity in the same small village for generations.) His realization that his father essentially has no respect for him really does inspire and spur Jonathan on, if only to prove Isaiah wrong.  I liked that about him. Tommy felt more faintly sketched to me; she had an interesting and tough past that I kind of wish had been explored a little more thoroughly. She did have her own arc in which she came to accept that her dreams of a family were not going to turn out the way she hoped.

For those who care about such things (whether love or hate), the fact that this is part of a series doesn’t intrude too much on the story. There is some excessively expositiony stuff early on with Jonathan and his very pregnant sister Violet, but other than that I think the hero’s family ties enhance rather than detract from the story. My grade for It Happened One Midnight is a B.

Best regards,

Jennie

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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she's read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she's had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she's not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

12 Comments

  1. EGS
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 14:43:53

    JAL’s books are definitely hit-or-miss. I feel like if she had better editors (Jonathan’s name usually varies from Jonathan to Jonathon in all the books, for instance) her books could be carved out better. Sometimes they feel vague in a rough draft kind of way.

  2. Joy
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 15:01:25

    How the Marquess Was Won was disappointing for me just because of this unevenness you mention. The beginning has probably the best first kiss I’ve ever read, and the banter at the beginning is also fantastic, but then it’s like she lost control of the characters and couldn’t figure out how to actually get them together after the obstacles she puts in front of them. The ending was so over-the-top I couldn’t even suspend disbelief anymore.

  3. Dabney
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 16:09:09

    I also disliked the way the gypsy prophecy came true. By the end of the novel, I had lost the will to believe in the narrative.

  4. msaggie
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 18:19:06

    Thanks for the review, Jennie. I would agree with you that Julie Anne Long is an uneven writer. I really liked Perils of Pleasure, Like No Other Lover, What I Did for a Duke and A Notorious Countess Confesses, although there were some minor irritants in some of those books. I couldn’t quite get into the others. I am debating if I should get this one out of the library (my itchy hands can’t wait to click that BUY button), because from your review, it really reads like a Disney-take on the heroine with the cute side-kicks and rescued child.

  5. Jen
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 20:13:24

    Like No Other Lover just might be my favorite historical romance ever, so I feel a loyalty to the series. I’m only through book 4 so far, but now I am interested to read this one too!

  6. EGS
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 20:58:30

    @Jen: Like No Other Lover is (currently) my favorite as well. I think JAL’s stories work best when there isn’t a grand mystery to be solved amidst the romance.

  7. alicet
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 18:18:19

    Like No Other Lover is also one of my favorite books in the series and probably set up my bias towards liking books about the Redmond family more than books that focus on the Everseas. So I might just put this book on top of my TBR pile. I have been pleasantly surprised to like “A Notorious Countess Confesses” that had an Eversea cousin as a hero. I just hope that Ms. Long won’t draw out the series too long because I may lose interest on finding out what happens to Lyon and Olivia.

  8. Jennie
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 01:35:12

    I don’t really remember Like No Other Love at all. My book log says I gave it a B-. Maybe I should read it again.

  9. Kim
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 11:42:38

    @ Jennie: How could you have forgotten Cynthia’s shooting scene from Like No Other Lover? :)

    I just started this book, so I can’t really comment on your review. Although I’ve really enjoyed the series, I’m always a bit surprised with the number of editing errors in the books. The last two novels were much better, but in just the first 50 pages of It Happened One Midnight, there are several mistakes. I’ve spotted comma splices, excessive use of em dashes and a run-on sentence taking up an entire paragraph. It doesn’t ruin the book for me, but I always wonder if a it skipped the copy edit phase.

  10. EGS
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 11:47:48

    @Kim: I’ve noticed that Avon books tend to have a lot of copy-editing errors, which I do not understand because they aren’t a small publishing house with one copy editor for all the authors. If I were an author and my book were printed with so many basic errors, I’d throw a huge fit. Or at least send a grumpy email.

  11. Janine
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 11:01:18

    @Jennie: Like No Other Lover was the one about Miles Redmond, the Amazon explorer whose father wanted him to marry someone wealthy, and Cynthia, who had laughed at Miles and was later invited to a country house party by his sister. Cynthia was impoverished and had to marry well.

    FWIW, I gave this book a B- too. It was well written, but I felt at an emotional remove from the characters.

  12. leslie
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 14:33:18

    Read the book this morning…..meh.

    Olivia and Lyon?
    I have loved many of the stories in the Pennyroyal series, but it’s time for it to say bye bye!

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