Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A Perfect 10: SLEEPLESS AT MIDNIGHT by Jacquie D'Alessandro

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SLEEPLESS AT MIDNIGHT - Jacquie D'Alessandro
A Perfect 10
Mayhem in Mayfair, Book 1
Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-123138-4
July 2007
Historical Romance

Langston Manor in Kent, England, Regency Era

Time is running out for Matthew Davenport, Marquess Langston, to fulfill his promises to his dying father. He has only a few weeks left to marry an heiress. Eligible young ladies' mamas and papas will gladly exchange their daughters for his title and all that goes with it, and the fact that he's young and healthy should please the three bride candidates invited to his estate. There was another promise made, however, one that has him out after midnight digging holes in the garden in the rain while his houseguests are snug and dry in their beds.

Wrong. The four members of the Ladies Literary Society of London are awake and holding their inaugural meeting in the bedchamber of Miss Sarah Moorehouse. The society is made up of Sarah, her two good friends, Lady Emily Stapleford and Lady Julianne Bradley, and Sarah's widowed sister Carolyn, Lady Wingate. The last three lovely ladies named are under consideration for the position of Lady Langston. Sarah is not, for she's the plain daughter of a mere physician, with neither beauty nor dowry. Don't feel sorry for her, however. Sarah looks forward to a happy life of books, friends, pets and her passion for plants and her art.

The literary society's lofty title is a cover to disguise the kinds of books the ladies plan to read. Tonight's topic is Mary Shelley's The Modern Prometheus. This leads to a lively discussion that includes traits they would choose if they were to create, not a monster as did Dr. Frankenstein, but the Perfect Man. Many giggling asides with references to their host and his male guests ensue...it's a very merry meeting. At the end, each lady is assigned an article of gentlemen's clothing to obtain in order to create a man-sized doll of the ideal man. Sarah's task is to steal -- pardon me -- borrow a shirt from Lord Langston. She thinks she has chosen a time when he'd be busy the next day, and that's how she happens to hide behind a curtain when Langston enters his room...and proceeds to take a bath. Sarah memorizes every bare inch of him, solely for the sake of art, of course. But while her fingers itch for charcoal and paper, other places she's never thought much about make themselves known.

Sarah's mother -- fortunately not present -- belittled Sarah and her looks her whole life, while favoring her beautiful elder daughter. It's a wonder Sarah has turned out to be so caring and generous and possessed of a sharp and witty mind. At least two gentlemen at the house party have the sense to see beneath the surface. She won't do for Langston, though; he needs a fortune to settle his father's debts.

I often found myself chuckling out loud during Sarah and Langston's conversations. Well, okay, I may have smiled another sort of smile during one or two or three of them. Who knew Sarah had so much passion -- for other than green growing things, that is -- or Langston so much charm? A couple of extremely poignant conversations take place, also, when the two open their hearts to each other.

House parties are favorite settings for historical romances, and this one works beautifully. The number of characters is limited and they are forced to interact with each other in some intimacy, yet private time is hard to manage. They get to know each other rather quickly, and readers get to know them. Characters who play large roles and/or may appear in further Mayhem in Mayfair episodes are Sarah's sister, who is finally coming out of mourning for her beloved husband; the other two members of the reading club; Daniel, Lord Surbrooke, Langston's best friend; and Logan Jennsen, an immensely rich American.

SLEEPLESS AT MIDNIGHT is a thoroughly entertaining -- and moving -- novel. The writing style is superb in the way it immediately captures one intellectually and emotionally with its deep character development and a multilayered plot that includes a murder. Ms. D'Alessandro blends romance with sensuality and humor with life-altering events to start off an exciting new series with a Perfect 10 of a book.

Jane Bowers

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