Book Review: A Kiss for Midwinter
Courtney Milan, 2012
To start, a heads-up: this romance novella contains discussion of statutory rape, miscarriage, senility, compulsive behavior, and historically accurate levels of sexism and bad healthcare.
Sound Christmassy yet?
You might not think so, but in fact, the Christmas setting isn't just for contrast with the stress the characters are under. It underlines the Dickensian time and tone of the setting - the poverty and strife the characters witness. Also, there are a few humorous asides where the hero looks askance at the "newfangled" tradition of decorating a tree, of all things.
Jonas is a young doctor fresh from school, full of new ideas but also deeply cynical about the world. He is in love with Lydia. However, Lydia is afraid that Jonas will reveal her dark secret: she was briefly pregnant as a teenager.
I really liked how complex each of their flaws were - nothing obvious or easy to move past. She covers her feelings with cheer and surface camaraderie but has never dealt with the trauma in her past. Because of this, she isn't close with many people, and she deeply distrusts her own feelings of attraction. Jonas, meanwhile, is blunt and pragmatic and uses sardonic dark humor to say honest or emotional things without truly appearing vulnerable.
I wanted to love this book, (I've loved the other books by this author I've read this year. 2020 has driven me to become more of a romance reader) but I only liked it.
My main problem can be traced back to: in an early chapter from Lydia's point of view, she is convinced Jonas is cruelly mocking her. It was so well done that I was convinced he was a jerk as well, and that took me a while to untangle. (He doesn't actually mean anything bad by the things he says because he doesn't ascribe to society's assumptions about most things, but she doesn't know that yet).
Once they both had more time to establish their characters, I went back and understood the scene a bit more, but it still means that the story isn't a slam-dunk for me.
I did really enjoy Jonas's commentary about the bad, sometimes dangerous, medicine being practiced by many older doctors, and his attempts to be better, even when that meant saying things that were socially unpalatable or doing things that other people found foolish. Lydia's unwillingness to listen to her own instincts because she had been gullible and taken advantage of in the past was very believable and very sad. The descriptions of her earlier tragic Christmas will definitely stay with me.
Overall this is a great book, but it took time to grow on me.