REVIEW: Midnight Resolutions by Kathleen O’Reilly
Dear Ms. O'Reilly:
I 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.
"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-
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You know, I have this and picked it up cause I loved the first book in the series and almost within two chapters put it down again. I thought it was because I was not in the mood but after reading your review I think it was that the heroine did just seem too dark for me. That and there seemed to be an awful lot of angst. I just couldn’t face it at that time.
I will pick this back up because I haven’t read a KOr that I didn’t like or love. I’m hoping I just have to be in the right frame of mind to read this.
This sounds like a book that needed more page space. Intriguing though.
I am in the middle of reading this book, and I’m not enjoying it as much as Ms. O’Reilly’s other books. After reading your review and the comments so far, I understand better why I don’t. I think if this were a longer book I would like/understand it better. I have just had too many ‘Huh? Where did that come from?’ moments that probably would have disappeared with more set up. At this point I would give this book a grade of C or C-. If it weren’t a Kathleen O’Reilly book, it would be a DNF for me. Hopefully, I’ll like it better by the end, if not, she has other books :).
This sounds good to me! I read Sex, Straight Up and thought it was…ordinary. I’d be willing to try another with an edge.
I’ll definitely be checking this out, but from the review it sounds like it could have benefited from being a standalone instead of a category, so it would have more space. I read Black Silk by Judith Ivory last month (for the first time) and was grateful that Ivory had the freedom to write a longer story, in order to make the characters richer and their problems solved in a realistic timeframe.
As I was writing my review, I kept wondering if more pages was the solution for this book, and I’m still not sure. Well, actually, that’s not completely true, because I think more pages is the easiest way to help an extremely complicated plot line or character development.
But in this case, I could almost feel the author trying to work through the problems and find solutions (i.e. the friends help us understand that Ian is naturally attracted to complicated people, along with his job and the candidates he places). And I liked that by the end of the book Rose wasn’t completely “healed,” that she was still very much a work in progress.
Still, it just didn’t completely gel for me. But the risk she took with Rose made me very glad I read the book, and the skill O’Reilly brings to this category-length format made it impossible for me not to respect what she did pull off here.
Do they really say “Fuck” in Harlequins nowadays? It’s been a while for me since I’ve read one, but I never thought THAT would change! :)
@Sarah Frantz: LOL, Sarah, indeed they do! It’s not your mother’s (or grandmother’s) Romance anymore, lol.
Seriously, one of the things I really appreciate about Harlequin is the diversity. There are clunkers and there’s some really traditional stuff, but there are some really provocative, thoughtful, envelope-pushing, interesting stuff being published there, too. Much of it in the category lines.
And it may not be a coincidence that Harl is the one trad Romance publisher that sells to and gathers data/research from actual readers.
I’ve liked O’Reilly’s books before, but I just couldn’t pick this one up, because I couldn’t take it seriously. When you give me a Rose who wants to land a doctor (albeit one with a lowercase ‘d’) and a cover vaguely reminiscent of Doctor Who‘s Rose and Jack Harkness dancing atop his blimp during the Blitz, all I can do is giggle.
WHERE is that giant clock face in Times Square?
If I can get passed my geek block, perhaps I’ll take a crack at it after all.
Janet, thanks for the read and the review. I thought it was very fair-minded, and it’s always interesting to see what people take away from my books. When I started the book, I knew I needed to create a very solid backstory for Rose to explain her, and she fascinated me a lot. On the outer surface, she’s very much the old-school heroine, beautiful and vulnerable, but on the inside, she’s a total mess because I think she would be. And well, surprise, surprise, this is not the favored romance novel heroine (laughing at my own self here).
I have this great fear of ending up writing the same book over and over (a romance novel’s version of Groundhog’s Day) and I like to try different things. Sometimes I think I write light, but then I get surprised when a darker book does well, so I think I’m still trying to figure out where I land, or whether I should go back and forth.
@Kathleen O’Reilly: I’ve been thinking a lot about why this book didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to, and what keeps coming up for me is the persistent reminders — from Rose — of her dark past, the lessons she learned, and the way she learned to survive. While I understood that some of it was the way she comforted and reassured herself, I actually started to expect that *more* had happened to her than what actually did.
I don’t know if that makes sense, and it wasn’t as if I wanted more to have happened to her, but I think that over the course of the book *I* became so conditioned to recognizing Rose’s damage (as she did it through her own inner monologue of denial and survival), that I had a harder time getting past it than she ultimately did.
Although I most definitely hope you continue to push the envelope in your books, because that *is* one of the things I routinely expect from a Kathleen O’Reilly book, even if your other books don’t possess quite the same tone as this one.
Actually, in the initial version of the book, more had happened to Rose, but we ended up dialing it back. I probably should have dialed back Rose accordingly, but never did.
And I do plan on pushing the envelope in my own little ways. :) I’ve been reading romance for forever, and my mind rebels at some of the more common tropes, and I’m always working on how to twist things and still make the romance work for readers.
Ok, I finished the book and I liked the last half much better than the first half, so I give it a C+. I still feel it was sort of disjointed. I read Ms. O’Reilly’s comments with a lot of interest. I don’t mind the envelope-pushing, but I wish the flow of the story had worked better for me.
Anyway, as I said earlier, I have liked other books by Ms. O’Reilly, so I kept reading when otherwise I would have stopped. I’m glad I finished the book and I look forward to reading her books in the future.
I just finished this book, and came straight here to see if you’d reviewed it. As you predicted, I did find Rose to be really difficult to like. But more than that, I think it was the balance between Ian and Rose that made her so unlikeable. He was so willing to go with her. To be patient with her. To wait for her to figure things out…he was too much of a good guy. I felt like I do when my guy friends are dating horrible women…I just wanted him to get out of there.
For me, the book absolutely suffers from lack of pages…not only because Rose couldn’t be as complex as she needed to be…but also because Beckett and Phoebe didn’t get their story in the way they should have. I adored them. I was way more interested in them than in Rose and Ian. They reminded me of why I so love O’Reilly’s books.
I didn’t find them more interesting than Rose and Ian but totally agree with you that they deserved more narrative attention. In fact, I would have been really happy if they had simply flirted with a relationship in MR and then got their own story next. Although I guess it’s still possible for them to get their own book, since we did get relatively little of their relationship development in MR.
I’ve read this book a few times since its release and have to say how much I really enjoyed it. Having first-hand knowledge about how damaging childhood hurts can be, I really understood Rose. And while Rose wasn’t always likeable, she was compelling. I appreciate that Harlequin and Harlequin authors are willing to write darker stories that don’t always answer all the questions, but are at least willing to pose them.