|Sometimes as a reviewer, you go along wondering what makes a five heart review, since so many books seem the same or have so many pitfalls. That is until you read a grand book that causes you to close your eyes, sigh and wish there was more as you turn the final page. That is how I felt upon finishing Sleepless at Midnight.
Sarah Moorehouse is a unique heroine in that she is twenty-six, is considered a spinster and is rather mousy in looks. She wears glasses (and we all know that in the Regency era, no one with glasses was considered beautiful), is rather well built (often described as "like Venus"), has unruly curly hair and is intelligent to boot. She was not a complete failure in her debut, she just never compared to her very beautiful sister. Nor did her mother relish her, having deemed her a failure from the start. Sarah is the daughter of a physician and it is only due to her sister's good fortune in marrying a man with a title that she is included in so many soirees.
Her sister, Carolyn, is now a widow, having lost her adoring husband unexpectedly three years before. Carolyn has decided that she will never marry again unless it was for love, and she is sure that love will never find her again. Sarah agrees to be her companion and pushes her into accepting an invitation to a house party at the Marquess of Langston's estate so that she will start living again. She enlists her two best friends, who are also guests of the Marquess in starting the Ladies Literary Society of London. But rather than read things like Shakespeare, they read things like the story of Frankenstein, a book considered risque due to the nature of the tale. The four develop a list of the traits of the perfect man and decide to steal clothing from four men in order to "make" their perfect man, naming him Franklin Stein.
Sarah's task is to get the shirt of the Marquess, Matthew Devenport, because he has the broad shoulders they all admire. But Sarah ends up with more than his shirt.
Matthew has invited these females and several male friends for the house party, because he must marry and it must be an heiress. His father has recently died leaving him with debts and responsibilities. He also left him with a mission - find some money his father had hidden on the estate, somewhere in the gardens. The clues are minimal, as they were given on his father's deathbed. He has a year to find it and the year is almost up. He has searched most of the gardens, except for the roses, which make him sneeze. Only his best friend Daniel knows of this search and the real reason for the house party.
But Sarah and Matthew are drawn to each other in many ways. Despite her appearance, Matthew sees big brown eyes and kissable lips. He also realizes that she has knowledge of horticulture, which might help him decipher the clues. But that knowledge allows Sarah to trick Matthew into admitting he is not digging in his gardens because of his love of flowers. She is determined to discover his secret just as he is hers…he wants to know who Franklin is.
There is so much more to this tale. It is rich in their relationship, and the cast adds fun and depth. A villain emerges when one of the villagers who saw Matthew digging in his garden at night is killed. Now the question is: who else knows about the treasure, and why did he kill the poor man? And all along, there is the self-imposed deadline. If Matthew doesn’t find the treasure, he must marry an heiress, the definition of which Sarah doesn't meet. As they fall more in love, the tension increases.
Readers will find romance, fun, humor, sexual sparks and the sparkling dialogue for which D'Alessandro is known. There are a couple of seduction scenes that will stay with the reader…it almost makes me wish for a copper tub in front of the fireplace. Sarah and Matthew are people who the reader can relate to and relish all in one. And the mystery actually had an ending that was unpredicted, yet plausible.
Sleepless at Midnight may be D'Alessandro's best yet. I look forward to her next book, and hopefully revisiting some of the friends in the story.