Miss Lydia Charingford is always cheerful, and never more so than at Christmas time. But no matter how hard she smiles, she can’t forget the youthful mistake that could have ruined her reputation. Even though the worst of her indiscretion was kept secret, one other person knows the truth of those dark days: the sarcastic Doctor Jonas Grantham. She wants nothing to do with him… or the butterflies that take flight in her stomach every time he looks her way.
Jonas Grantham has a secret, too: He’s been in love with Lydia for more than a year. This winter, he’s determined to conquer her dislike and win her for his own. It all starts with a wager and a kiss…
Rating: A for content and A for narration
A Kiss for Midwinter is an offshoot of Ms. Milan’s current Brothers Sinister series, a companion novella that takes place after the events of The Duchess War and which tells the story of Minnie’s best friend, Miss Lydia Charingford. We learned in the earlier novel that Lydia’s past contains a scandal which could ruin her if it became known, and in this story, we learn what actually happened.
Now twenty-one, Miss Charingford is vivacious and well-liked. She is always cheerful and the sort of person for whom the glass always seems half-full – an optimist who always finds the good in everyone. The only person who is able to see beyond the face Lydia presents to the world (and even to herself) is the local doctor, Jonas Grantham. He is very taken with Lydia, and would like to court her but she dislikes him intensely and doesn’t scruple to let him know it. He is the only person outside her immediate family (and Minnie) who knows of her disgrace. She doesn’t want to be reminded of it in the form of the handsome and somewhat sardonic young man who was, at the time, acting as an assistant to the local, narrow-minded, stick-in-the-mud physician.
But Jonas is a remarkably constant chap and he determines to wait for her to relent. Yet after sixteen months of waiting, Lydia still can’t stand to be near him. In an attempt to spend a little time with her in a last-ditch effort to get her to see him as the man he really is rather than the man she believes him to be, he proposes a wager.
“I wager,” he said, “that I could show you a situation before Christmas that would be beyond even your capacity for good cheer.”
If she wins, Lydia wants Jonas to promise that he will never speak to her again. If he wins, he wants a kiss.
Believing he wants to teach her some sort of lesson about her eternal optimism, Lydia agrees to accompany Jonas on three house-calls. He takes her to see some of his poorest patients, thus beginning a most unconventional courtship. But where Jonas sees people in poor health who are struggling to make ends meet in difficult situations, Lydia is also able to find genuine love, kindness, and devotion.
There’s also a lovely secondary theme running through the story about the love of fathers for their children. Right from the start, I was struck by the way Lydia’s parents supported her through her ordeal, rather than censuring her or having her put away (not uncommon when dealing with women who did not follow the social norm). His is a swiftly drawn portrait, but we are left in no doubt that Lydia’s father is a kind, loving, and wise man who loves his daughter very much.
Jonas’ father is similarly devoted to his son, but sadly, he is no longer in good health, physically or mentally. The portrait Ms. Milan has painted of a proud man who is determined not to be a burden to his only child is masterful and certainly produced a couple of lump-in-the-throat moments, especially in the scene where Jonas tells Lydia about everything his father has done for him, and of his guilt and frustration at not now being able to reciprocate. The complicated emotions in the relationship between the two men are superbly written, and Ms. Landor’s performance in the scenes between them and in Jonas’ confession to Lydia, is spot on. The quality of her interpretation matches absolutely the quality of the writing and she perfectly expresses Jonas’ underlying despair and sense of guilt as well showing us the vulnerability beneath his father’s outward stubbornness.
Jonas Grantham is, quite simply, lovely and is the real heart of this novella. He’s young and generous of spirit, has a wry sense of humour, and is determined to do his absolute best for the people in his care. He is kind, insightful, and refreshingly honest believing that the truth is the greatest gift one can give another person. He also harbours a lot of guilt for what happened to Lydia in the past because he did not speak out or question the treatment given to her by the quack doctor who attended her. So he has vowed never to just sit by again and works diligently against the ignorance which can so often endanger health, whether it be by talking about contraception to a woman whose body is exhausted from continual childbearing or by undertaking the simple act of keeping his hands clean to help prevent the communication of infection.
The dialogue between Jonas and Lydia is wonderful and much of it is uncommon for a historical romance. I particularly enjoyed Jonas’ no-nonsense manner and his unfailing insistence on calling a spade a spade. Their relationship develops naturally and unhurriedly, even though the bulk of the story takes place over just a few days. Ms. Milan has written one of the most unusual and direct seduction scenes I’ve ever read but it’s absolutely perfect for this particular couple and certainly made me smile.
Rosalyn Landor is once again narrating (it seems as though she is going to be narrating all of the books in the Brothers Sinister series) and as with both The Duchess War and The Governess Affair her performance is impeccable, a perfect complement to the subtleties and the emotional depth in Ms. Milan’s writing.
When performing Lydia, she has employed a slightly higher pitch than she often uses for her heroines and it made her sound appropriately youthful. In her initial encounters with Jonas, Lydia speaks harshly, exhibiting a bitterness with him that isn’t present when she addresses anyone else. Her tone and attitude start to soften towards Jonas after she spends time with him and finds herself beginning to like him, but there’s still an edge, a fragility in her voice warning the listener that here is a young woman who is not as happy as her outward calm would suggest.
Ms. Landor has chosen to give Jonas a slight regional accent, which suits him completely and really helps to communicate his natural openness and candour. His underlying frustrations – with himself and his father – are captured very well indeed, and in her performance of his Mr. Grantham Senior, she has brought to life a vulnerable (and slightly bewildered) old man who is trying desperately not to let his weaknesses show.
All the secondary characters are appropriately and distinctly voiced and as is always the case with this narrator, the story is beautifully and intelligently read.
As ever, I stand in awe of Courtney Milan’s ability to craft a novella in which both story and characters are fully developed and which packs as much of an emotional punch (if not more) than many full-length novels.A Kiss for Midwinter was a delight from start to finish, a lovely story for the holiday period in which a broken young woman receives the gift of truth and a deserving young man gets his heart’s desire.