Wednesday 27 December 2017

#CBR9 Book 122: "A Kiss for Midwinter" by Courtney Milan

Page count: 121 pages
Audio book length: 4 hrs 14 mins
Rating: 5 stars

When Lydia Charingford was fifteen, she was seduced and ruined by an older man. She got pregnant, and it was only through the quick wits of her friend Minnie and the support of her family that not everyone in polite society found out about it. Lydia lost the baby, and tries very hard not to dwell on that part of her past. When Dr Jonas Grantham (the junior doctor present when she was being examined and her shame was exposed to her parents) returns to Leicester, there is suddenly someone else around who knows of her dark past, and his condescending and sarcastic demeanor makes Lydia convinced he is constantly judging her.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Jonas doesn't even recognize Lydia again when they meet upon his return, and he's classified her as the eleventh prettiest girl in town. He wants to find a wife quickly, for mostly pragmatic reasons, and has made a list of suitable women. After a conversation with Lydia, where he is reminded of the episode so long ago, he's unable to put her out of his mind, and becomes more and more infatuated with her as time goes by.

Jonas disagreed strongly with the medical advice Lydia and her parents were given so long ago, but didn't speak up because he was afraid of risking his future career. He's always regretted it, and is determined to devote his life to saving people. His father is losing his wits to dementia, and Jonas realizes that he can't pine for Lydia forever. He understands the reasons for her antipathy towards him, but needs a chance to change her mind. He proposes a wager, where Lydia has to accompany him on three visits to the poorest areas of Leicester. If he wins, he gets a kiss. If she wins, he'll never speak to her again.

This novella is a sequel of sorts to The Duchess War and feature a couple of characters introduced in that book. It can be read completely independently of that story, though. Lydia is the best friend of Minnie, the heroine of The Duchess War and in this novella she finally gets her happy ending.

Jonas falls into the line of great and unusual Milan heroes. He's an educated, yet rather socially awkward man, with clear obsessive compulsive tendencies. He doesn't mince words, is almost too honest for his own good, he's sarcastic, he has an appallingly dark sense of humor (I thought he was hilarious, myself), and he's prone to dark moods. Despite being a good and hard working doctor, he struggles to find a solution with regards to his father, who's bedridden in a house full of scrap metal that he hoards obsessively.

Lydia is, on the surface at least, almost annoyingly cheerful. She finds the positive in any situation and treats nearly everyone around her with unfailing kindness. Jonas is the exception, and she comes to realize that it's because around him, she can't repress the events of her past. She's forced to think about a dark and depressing time in her life, and whether he is to blame for her experience or not, she can't help but hold him partially responsible. Being led astray and betrayed at such a young age, she also learned to equate lust and desire with something very bad, and the attraction she feels towards Dr Grantham deeply disconcerts her.

For once, the heroine is the more wounded of the couple, but her understandable issues are dealt with so well. The pacing of the novella is absolutely perfect, and some scenes literally made me short of breath. This is an almost painfully romantic story, and 2017 is the fourth time I read it (this time listening to it in audio, read by the very talented Rosalyn Landor) in the run-up to Christmas, confirming to myself once again why it's remains one of my very favourite romances of all time. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who likes good romance.

Judging a book by its cover: With her Brothers Sinister series, Courtney Milan began to self-publish and as such, is personally responsible for her romance covers. She revealed on her blog at one point that she tends to lock for stock images of brides wearing more or less period-appropriate wedding dresses, and mocks up the covers from that. This is an especially egregious example, with the cover model simpering and framing her face in a way I cannot possibly imagine Lydia Charingford ever having done. I hate the frilly lace gloves and the bright white dress seems a strange choice, considering Lydia's past in the story.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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