Book Review

A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare


Title: A Lady by Midnight
Author: Tessa Dare
Publication Info: Avon 2012
ISBN: 978-0062049896
Genre: Historical: European

A Lady by Midnight

As I have mentioned, I have a big ol weakness for “I don't want to like you, I don't want to like you, I can't stop thinking about your hair DAMMIT” romance. I love when a character has a Definite Reason to avoid getting involved with someone he or she desires. I love when the Definite Reason is deeply embedded in the person's character, when acting on the impulse that draws one person toward another means breaking a tightly held self-promise. I love when the tension stems from one person desiring another, and the other person feeling that desire and attempting to squish it down because it would be better for everyone if nothing ever happened.

Most of all, I love when the Definite Reason, when revealed, is not utter piffle, not meaningless twaddle that isn't nearly sufficient enough to have held back all that pent up and denied desire.

“A Lady By Midnight” contained all of those things I loved. A hero denying to himself how much he adored the heroine. A heroine who didn't understand why he rejected her but attempted to persevere anyway. And Definite Reasons why the hero made himself so miserable, reasons that, when revealed, revealed more about him and about her. It's delicious.

I first read this book as an ARC in late May, and tweeted about how much I loved it, then promptly felt like a royal douche because it wasn't on sale until late August. This was one of the rare ARCs that I was given which I did not file and wait until closer to the release month to read. I wanted to read this so badly, I broke my own rules and read it as soon as I received it.

And while writing this review I've almost read the whole thing again twice. The writing is terribly easy to be swept into, and the charged dialogue that's piled with ripping tension between Kate and Thorne is difficult to put down.

Kate Taylor is the music teacher in Spindle Cove. She was raised an orphan in a boarding school and has been alone since she left the school when she came of age. Kate has a port wine birthmark on her temple, and feels ugly and self conscious as a result. Kate harbors a secret fear that she isn't lovable, that no one will ever want her, and the book opens with a confirmation of how cruel life and certain people have been to Kate.

Samuel Thorne of the Spindle Cove militia has made an art form of avoiding, rejecting and otherwise escaping any time spent with Kate. He is keeping a very big secret about Kate that he refuses to reveal, not to Kate nor to the reader, because doing so will likely compromise Kate's standing in the community. He is also trying to withstand the powerful attraction he feels for Kate.  He's twice as rude and boorish out of the effort to hide how much he yearns for her. Thorne is a very smoldering hero.

And of course, any man who is in the midst of pretending fiercely that he isn't the least bit interested in a woman must therefore find himself in a sham-engagement to that same woman. It's like romance novel LAW or something, right? 

I liked Kate and her determination to be happy, and to make the best of any situation she found herself in, even though she had ample reasons to be miserable. I loved that she wanted to see people accurately, to understand them and their true selves just as she wanted people to look past her birthmark and see Kate.

I also liked that her perception about other people meant that, within the responsibilities of her job as a music tutor, Kate would help other women who were feeling afraid or self-conscious using music and performance. Kate, who is intimate with both of those feelings, has so much empathy and desire to help others feel better, which is remarkable the more the reader learns about Kate's life before she came to Spindle Cove.

Thorne is dark and moody and not sure at all what to do with himself where Kate is concerned, save push her away and reject her as much as possible. She is the spot of vibrant disordered chaos in his otherwise very ordered and monochromatic life. He can't look away and he hates himself for his weakness where she is concerned, because he is convinced that she is better off in every way without him in her life.

The story is a mix of silly and emotional, happy and wrenching that really worked for me. Even the ending, which diverts from the expected, almost traditional romance conclusion  (I can't get more specific than that, I'm sorry) was a surprise, and revealed more about Kate and her contentment with herself.

I think that was one of the best parts of Kate's character, really: she fought for happiness and contentment, and held on to it through her own force of will. She had a lot to be unhappy about, and she refused to be sad. Her resilience isn't blithe ignorance or avoidance of her problems. She is determined to be happy, to be thankful for what she has, with the hope that one day, she will have the family and love she most wants.

Two things bothered me, though. First, when a mysterious set of visitors arrive, it's like a carriage full of sequel-bait shows up. The individuals aren't so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters  and convenient plot devices. Contrasted with the complexity and depth of Kate, Thorne, and the other residents of Spindle Cove, the new arrivals' role as Possibilities and Plot Conflicts to stand between Kate and Thorne is sometimes clunky, like the difference between a piece of music played after hours and hours of practice, and a new piece played only a few times.

The other problem…well, I've written this sentence several times and I can't think of a way to describe my problem without spoiling things that are integral to the plot. One of the people in the carriage full of sequel bait has what on the surface appears to be a justifiable reason to dislike Kate and Thorne's engagement, but upon further reflection, his reason is ludicrous compared to the Much Larger Examples of Surprising and Socially Challenging Behavior that are in the carriage with him. My reaction was, 'Dude, really? That's the best reason you can give as to why they shouldn't marry?'

But the scenes between Kate and Thorne make up for the arched eyebrow I held for the carriage of sequel bait. Here are some examples of the passages I highlighted, just because I liked them so much.

A year's worth of avoidance and intimidation, all shot to hell in one afternoon, thanks to that wrongheaded, stupid, goddamned glorious kiss.

“Look at me.”

He leaned forward and braced his hands on the stone wall, confronting her face to face. Daring her; daring fate. If she was ever going to recognize him, it would be now.


As she took him in, he did some looking of his own. He drank in the small details he'd denied himself for long months. Her sweet pink frock, with ivory ribbons threaded through the neckline like little dollops of confectioner's icing. The tiny freckle on her chest, just below her right collarbone. The brave set of her jaw, and the way her pink lips crooked fetchingly at the corners.

Then he searched those clever, lovely hazel eyes for any hint of awareness or flash of recognition.



“You don't know me,” he said. Both a statement and a question.

And later: 

She regarded him now: arms crossed, face hard, eyes glazed with ice. He was a living suit of armor. If she listened hard enough, she might even hear him creak as he walked.


He wouldn't surrender any secrets willingly. If she wanted to know what was truly inside the man, she would have to crack him open to find out. It seemed a dangerous proposition, and a sensible, clever young woman – a “Kate” – would turn and run the other way.

But she wasn't a “Kate” to him. He'd called her Katie. And Katie was a courageous girl, even in the face of her fears.


The best parts are the dialogue between Kate and Thorne, but if I tried to grab one piece of it, I found myself transcribing too little or too much. Kate and Thorne and their difficult and sharply entertaining courtship made for a wonderful afternoon of reading. I can't tell you how happy I am that everyone can enjoy this book now.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | All Romance eBooks | iBooks

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Esra says:

    I know there are pretty… narrow standards when it comes to romance covers, but it always jars me that the couple on the cover generally has little-to-no resemblance to the characters in the novel.

  2. 2
    Amy @ Turn the Page says:

    Ooo I’ve read a couple of Tess Dare’s Spindle Cove series and really enjoyed them, I shall be picking this one up soon!

  3. 3
    Kestrel says:

    I agree about covers, it just pisses me off when the people on the front look nothing like they are described in the book.
    I look forward to reading this book, as I’ve also enjoyed the other Spindle Cove stories.

  4. 4
    LauraN says:

    So, I was just checking my library’s website to see if it has this book (it doesn’t *pouts*), and I would like to inform everyone that Tessa Dare has a series called . . . The Wanton Dairymaid Trilogy.  THE WANTON DAIRYMAID TRILOGY!!! 

    I am completely and utterly captivated by that title.  I didn’t realize it until now, but clearly what Romancelandia needs is more wanton dairymaids.  I’ll be reading that series for sure.

  5. 5
    Amy says:

    Great review!  I’ve been dying to read this one!  I can’t wait to read it at midnight on my Nook :)

  6. 6
    lorelai says:

    I really liked Kate and Thorne in the previous books and after this review, I can’t wait for the book!

    As far as the sequel-bait carriage scene – since I haven’t yet read the book, I can’t comment directly on how it’s handled but in the first Spindle Cove book, a carriage of Highwood sisters shows up and then Minerva Highwood is the heroine in the second book. The sequel-baiting didn’t really bother me but I’d say the odds are pretty good the carriage of folks from this one will show up again.

  7. 7
    Cheryl says:

    When you tweeted about this book in May, it made me crazy. But I can’t hold it against you because if I could get my hands on a copy prior to midnight tonight, I’d be reading and tweeting from the rooftops! lol

    I love Tessa’s writing. I’ve read many excerpts leading up to this release, but one tidbit sticks out in my mind… something along the lines of “he tasted of fresh bread and a pint of Bitters….” Good Lord. It’s these little touches in her writing that make me hungry for more.

  8. 8
    Cheryl says:

    OMG. Goddess of the Hunt…. the first in the series… Love, love, love!!

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh yeah, that guy, with the smooth tan and the smooth… well, everything, is not how I pictured Thorne. And Katie is imperfect in visible ways.

    I was just thinking how the degree to which I read ebooks means I either forget or rarely see the cover art—and when the cover has nothing in common with the inside, I find myself disregarding it altogether.

    Here’s a question: if the cover depicted the characters as described, particularly Katie with the port-wine stain on her temple, would it affect your buying decision?

  10. 10
    GhengisMom says:

    Yes! I’ve been waiting for Kate’s story!

  11. 11
    Esra says:

    I’d probably be much more likely to purchase the book with an accurate cover. It sounds silly, but I’m a graphic designer and so easily swayed by that sort of thing. If nothing else, the fact it stood out a little would grab my attention.

  12. 12

    Apparently I pre-ordered Lady By Midnight, almost certainly with the intention that I’ll have read the previous SPindle Cove books by the time it gets delivered to Dean Pelton (Dean Pelton is my ipad). 

    It did get delivered, but I still have all of Spindle Cove on my TBR.  MY LIIIIIIFE.

  13. 13
    M_E_S says:

    Best. iPad name.  Ever.

  14. 14
    Oaxacamama says:

    I finished the book sometime around 6 am this morning. Insomnia had me up at 3 when I realized Dare’s latest would be available for sale on amazon already and I purchased it. There’s nothing like instant gratification. I enjoyed it a lot, but it didn’t quite rank as highly with me as the previous Spindle Cove book, A Week to be Wicked. I do see what you’re saying about the Carriage Full of Spin-Off Characters, but as another commenter already pointed out, that is also how the Highwoods were introduced and it didn’t bother me so much. Besides, for 98% of the book I was intrigued by the possibility of making the next story in the series be about Harry (and I wont spoil who Harry is other than to say that the character appears in the aforementioned Carriage). THAT would be different and quite possibly an excellent way to reexamine all the tropes of historical romance. Instead of the Carriage of Characters, what bothered me about A Lady by Midnight was the hero’s absolutely stupid bull-headedness at the end of the book. I just wanted to punch him.  And then in the last 2% of the book, i.e. the HEA portion of the evening’s entertainment, I was disappointed to discover that the next book would certainly not be about Harry since Dare shows us what Harry’s future is already. Oh well, so much for a mainstream romance novelist really pushing the boundaries and her readers.

  15. 15
    Maria510maria says:

    I just downloaded my preorder, and I don’t want to color my opinion either way since I have thoroughly enjoyed the other Tessa Dare books I’ve read thus far. So I look forward to reading your review after I finish the book .

  16. 16
    pisceschick says:

    Oh this sounds lovely!  I have book one of the series and the novella and now this.  Will it mess me up too terribly much not to read the whole thing in order?  Maybe I’d better track down my missing pieces and just glom the whole series.

  17. 17
    Ros Clarke says:

    I…. didnt love this as much as I wanted to. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, carried along mostly by Kate’s character. I really, really liked her and wanted her to be happy. But there is so much of this book that is either high melodrama or farce or both that it really irritated me. I didn’t want her to have to become a ‘lady’ to be happy. I really didn’t believe that trouser-wearing lesbians were accepted without so much as a raised eyebrow in Regency society. And I know for a fact that the marriage at the end was illegal because it took place after dark.  I thought the basic conflict between Samuel and Kate was sufficiently strong to have carried the whole book without all the ridiculousness going on around them.

  18. 18
    Java says:

    Not my favorite book by Dare. It seemed like it lacked some polish? I couldn’t really identify the characters, and the crazy relations bit was a bit too much. I’d rate it a solid B. The conceit about how they really first met is really something.

  19. 19
    Natalie H 6 says:

    Found my weekend read!

  20. 20
    SeaGrace says:

    I’ve liked Tessa’s books in the past, but haven’t read any of the Spindle Cove books yet. BUT, I just bought ALBM for my Kindle because I noticed that it had been discounted to $5.99 by the publisher. This is the same price I would pay at Target or other department stores for the paperback. So, thank you HarperCollins for pricing this e-book correctly!


  21. 21
    Zohar says:

    Great review, but I think some autocorrect shenanigans happened to that first quote:
    “all show to thell” (go to hell?) and “He LEARNED forward and braced his hands on the stone wall”…
    Though learning forward sounds like a good thing to do as well :)

  22. 22
    SB Sarah says:

    ARGH. Totally my fault. I transcribed the quote from my Kindle into a text editor, which was very zealous with the typos, and I missed the corrections – sorry about that. Corrected. ARGH.

  23. 23
    Karin says:

    Read it! It’s a great trilogy.

  24. 24
    CutMyTeethOnKleypas says:

    Oh snap – It’s only 5.99 on nook!  I told myself I’d be good and finish more of my TBRs :(

  25. 25
    Karin says:

    I am very happy to hear that this book is about Kate and Thorne. I thought it would be Minerva’s older sister, but maybe she’ll get her turn next. But you’re scaring me a little with that comment that the ending “diverts from the expected, almost traditional romance conclusion”. 

  26. 26
    SB Sarah says:

    Oh, no, it does not divert from the happy ever after at ALL. They get a HEA and then some. The expected, traditional conclusion is something else – much more minor in importance than the HEA, never fear.

    If there wasn’t an HEA I’d have gone nuclear. :)

  27. 27
    Bambi says:

    while googling for tessa dare’s other books, i came upon this fun fact:
    you can type out her full name with only your left hand. this will be convenient for future reference…

  28. 28
    Doglette in charge says:

    You know you don’t like the book when you’re reading every third paragraph just to get through it. Did not like this book, boring boring boring absolutely no substance.

  29. 29
    LibbyF says:

    I just finished reading this one and really, really liked it. Thanks for the most excellent review. I can always trust Smart Bitches to direct me toward a good read when I’m really craving one. Loved Thorne and Katie. Have to agree about the additional cast of characters but I am looking forward to their stories.  And can I just say how much I adored the epilogue. What a wonderful little taste of what happily ever after can look like.

  30. 30
    DianaQ says:

    I liked Thorne and Katie, but couldn’t care much for her relatives.
    And to me, a cover that reflected the actual physical appearance of the characters would make me buy the book more than an artsy one.

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