Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Waltz at Midnight by Crista McHugh

TITLE: A Waltz at Midnight
AUTHOR: Crista McHugh
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 19k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $2.69

Southerner Susanna Parkwell has been forced into a life of servitude after the Civil War, and when she is offered payment to write some letters for one of the college girls in the house where she works, she takes it, desperate to help her injured brother achieve his dream. Deceiving the girl’s suitor should’ve been easy. After all, all she has to do is convince him he doesn’t want anything to do with courting. But when she begins to have feelings for this man she has never met, she can’t quite bring herself to end the masquerade…

I love epistolic stories, and the romantic premise of this appealed to me. However, the end result proved too simple for my tastes, ultimately becoming something I had troubles remembering just a day later.

As a tale, it’s a simple one. Susanna works as a maid in her aunt’s boardinghouse for young women attending college. A transplanted Southerner, she is now reliant on her aunt’s good graces to support her and her brother who was injured during the war. One of the girls in the boardinghouse receives a letter from a would-be suitor, but because she’s in love with someone else, she asks the more eloquent Susanna to write a letter back posing as her to discourage him. Susanna agrees to do it only after she is offered payment, but after she exchanges a couple letters with the man, she begins to realize it’s not quite the onerous task she originally thought it would be.

Knowing the length ahead of time, I didn’t expect much. There wouldn’t be time for real depth, just some letters back and forth, hopefully romantic, and a sweet HEA. That’s what there is, but the problem lies with the fact that the conflict that gets introduced – a surprising depth to Theodore’s issues as well as his feelings regarding the duplicity when he finds out – get completely dismissed in the transition between his discovery and the ending. All of a sudden, there’s the HEA, with no real explanation as to how Theodore suddenly is okay with the fact that he’s been deceived for so long when more is really needed. He comes across as incredibly wishy-washy as a result, which does nothing to bolster him as an appealing hero.

Susanna fares slightly better, as she at least has a spine and stands up to some of the more awful girls in the boardinghouse as well as Theodore’s rather obnoxious responses. But my respect for her wears thin as her letters progress, mostly because I can’t fathom how the early ones are ever meant to truly discourage him from courting her. The intelligence I’m told she has doesn’t seem to manifest, and I’m left only half-invested in whether or not everything will work out.

When all is said and done, it’s a forgettable story with unmemorable characters that never seem to have to live up to the promise that’s hinted at several times within the text. Even for a short novella, it failed to do much more than kill the time it took to read.


7/10 – Simple and direct, easy to read but rather superficial


5/10 – Rather generic, and the switch at the end came too abruptly


6/10 – Has a spine but seeing those letters as off-putting made me question her so-called intelligence

Entertainment value

4/10 – I love the potential of this, and there were hints of what I love about epistolic stories, but it felt too glossed over in the sections where the conflict should have been prevalent

World building

7/10 – There’s no doubt about the time period, though it took a lot to get me past the initial set-up since it felt so abrupt



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