Book Review

A Kiss For Midwinter by Courtney Milan: A Guest Review by CarrieS


Title: A Kiss For Midwinter
Author: Courtney Milan
Publication Info: Courtney Milan 2012
ISBN: 9781937248109
Genre: Historical: European

A Kiss for Midwinter - Courtney Milan A Kiss for Midwinter is my new favorite novella.  It has a flawed but interesting heroine, it has a hero who is scientific, compassionate, and basically amazing, and it takes its characters through a powerful emotional journey with lots of angst but also lots of humor.

I never would have thought I'd find this line sexy, but I most certainly do… “Besides, the hymen is just a membrano-carneous structure situated at the entrance of the vagina”.  I thought this book was just amazing and my only real criticism is that it is too short.

Kiss takes place partly during and partly after the events of the full-length book, The Duchess War (although I don't think you have to have read Duchess to follow Kiss).  The story starts in 1857 with a young doctor, Jonas Grantham, who is supposed to silently shadow an older doctor.  He stays silent during a consultation between the older doctor and the family of a young, unwed pregnant girl despite his concerns that the doctor gives not only insulting and moralizing advice but advice that is also actively dangerous. 

Five years later Jonas meets the girl again.  She is Lydia Charingford (“the eleventh prettiest woman in Leicester”), and she is determined to set all memory of her past behind her.  Jonas's attempts to court Lydia have to involve helping her come to terms with her past so that she can see Jonas as something other than a specter of old shame.  While that premise may sound grim, and the book is certainly intense, Lydia and Jonas engage in much-needed banter throughout.  Lydia's determination to see the best in everything, combined with Jonas' determination to help people as much as he can, make the book uplifting as well as touching.

There were so many things I connected to on a personal level about this book, but I'd have to say the biggest draw is Jonas, a doctor who believes that the truth will set you free.  I'm pretty passionate about truth telling myself, especially when it accompanies things like women's reproductive rights, so you can imagine that I have a substantial crush on Jonas.  I'm finding it difficult not to just quote the whole novella, but here's a few things Jonas has to say:

“If I've learned anything, it's that we know next to nothing.  Disease is a mystery.  Health is inscrutable.  The body itself is scarcely understood; we can only examine the secrets of the dead.  And in all that dark ignorance, we're sometimes granted a rare moment of illumination, of understanding.  The truth is a gift”. 

“I'm not a virgin.  Neither are you.  And even if you were, there's no need for either of us to be missish about the matter.  If a woman is old enough to push a ten-pound child through her birth canal, she can hear words like 'penis' and 'cervix'.  These are medical terms, Miss Charingford, not obscenities”.

A little later in the same conversation he says:

There is no way I can apologize for what I could have prevented with a little plain speaking.  All I can hope is that I will never make the same mistake again.  I would rather open my mouth and say what is true than shut it for the sake of propriety.  You claim you're not angry with me, Miss Charingford, but you should be.  You should be.”

So, here's a man who takes responsibility for his actions, who is courageous in giving people the truth, who gives a woman information about how to make choices for her own body, and then gives her permission to actually feel rage, something she has adamantly denied herself, and then he says this:

“You are only the eleventh prettiest woman in all of Leicester until you open your mouth…Once you speak, you have no equal”.

Wow.  I just…wow.  If that doesn't do it for you, then I don't know what will.

Lydia is a harder character for me to connect to, but I don't think I can fault the writing for that.  I suspect many readers will want to shake Lydia by her finely dressed shoulders.  She is so consumed with shame that she is positively delusional about Jonas' opinion of her.  While Jonas treasures truth, Lydia fears it:  “The truth isn't a gift…It's a terror”.  Lydia is aware that she lies to herself as a coping strategy.  Milan does a good job of conveying Lydia's feelings and motivations clearly, so that as frustrating as Lydia's behavior is, it makes sense given her experiences.

I have a hard time reviewing Milan's books with any kind of critical eye because she goes right for my most personal, deeply held emotional buttons and jumps up and down on them.  Surely it had flaws, lemme think…OK, the book felt rushed, as novellas so often do.  Lydia goes very quickly from despising Jonas and living in complete denial of her feelings about her past and current life, to having all kinds of emotional breakthroughs and discovering true love.  Lydia keeps describing Jonas as being sarcastic and mocking, and I truly couldn't tell how much of that is because she is convinced that he despises her against all evidence, and how much is because he really does use a sarcastic tone.  I found that to be confusing and the pace to be contrived.

With regard to assigning this a letter grade, I am giving it an “A-” because it made me all swoony.  However, if I were grading it on a scale with Milan's novels, all of which I'd give some degree of an “A” grade, I'd be more inclined to give this novella a “B+”.  It's certainly less developed than Milan's full-length novels, and the story feels slighter than the full on angst and drama of something like The Duchess War.  I tend to grade novellas generously because I know the short length carries some limitations.  In comparison to other novellas, whether those by Milan or those by any other author, A Kiss is definitely an “A” book.  I haven't even mentioned how funny the book is, or how unbearably poignant Jonas's scenes with his father are.  The story line about Jonas and his father is worthy of its own review – it's just lovely.  Lydia's relationship to her father is lovely as well although less explored – her decorating his office is a lovely and moving image.  There are so many moments to treasure in this tiny little book.  I can't wait for the next one.

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

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Jewel says:

    Yay – Courtney Milan joins the educational forces to teach the truth about the hymen!!! I shall go snag this novella right away – I love CM’s writing. Thanks for the review CarrieS.

  2. 2
    Brycanthe says:

    I just finished this yesterday! I love how Ms Milan writes nerds and makes them sexy while still nerdy. Proof by Seduction was a huge favourite of mine for that very reason and A Kiss for Midwinter joins it in the ranks.

  3. 3

    Dammit! I recalculated my budget last night and *swore* I wasn’t going to buy any more books until I finished the bajillions currently on my bookshelves and in waiting in my Kindle. But one more won’t hurt the budget, will it? I can trade it for a Starbucks run. Right?

  4. 4
    librarygrrl64 says:

    Thanks! Due to SBTB, I have just discovered Milan and am always a sucker for a .99 e-novella anyway. :-)

  5. 5
    larissa says:

    Thank you for this review. I just read The Duchess War and wasn’t grabbed by the excerpt of this book that appears at the end of that one. But reading your review makes me want to give a try.

  6. 6

    I’m with you, my biggest complaint about this novella is I wish it was a novel. The characters were so good I wanted to see more of them, including the secondary characters. Lydia’s parents are heroic in their own right, and I would have enjoyed more scenes with them.

  7. 7
    JordanMichelle says:

    This was such a great Christmas read! Lydia’s relationship with her father was my favorite part of the book. You rarely see that kind of relationship between father and daughter in romances, especially in cases such as Lydia’s. Usually the father becomes one of the villains and tosses the daughter out on her ear. I loved how she was still his little girl, even after she made a huge mistake. I think it was a much more realistic portrayal of how a father would react in that sort of situation.

    Courtney Milan has become one of my automatic reads. The moment one of her books comes out, I read it. Even if I’m already in the middle of another one.

  8. 8
    LindaB1017 says:

    Thanks for the review – I was looking for some new authors of historical romance, and love the recommendation.

  9. 9
    Mckenzie42 Vl says:

    Well i ‘m still on the DUTCHESS WAR which i might add is a vert good read…i can’t say it enough!

  10. 10

    I love all the excerpts in this review, and I have a major soft spot for historical-scientist heroes.  Who could resist at $.99.  Already purchased!

  11. 11
    SusanL says:

    I made the purchase based on your review and loved it.  Then I bought The Governess Affair.  I like the way it is going, so I went ahead and bought The Duchess Affair.  What a Great introduction to reading Ms Milan!

  12. 12
    Ros Clarke says:

    The bit I loved most in this novella (all of which I loved a lot) was Lydia’s explanation of how she came to be pregnant in the first place. She was so ignorant about sex that when the guy told her that what they were doing wasn’t the real thing, she did not know enough to protest. That, for me, was what made all Jonas’s frank speaking so completely romantic. That’s how he cares for her: by giving her the truth.

  13. 13
    Catherine says:

    I loved this so very much!  Jonas is just wonderful – I love his frankness and his appallingly practical reasons for marriage at the start of the story.  Not to mention “Hit me, but don’t hit my bag!”.  Best line ever…

  14. 14
    cbackson says:

    One of the romance tropes that I hate is the hero who knows more about the heroine’s body than she does (see the all-too-common “he knows she’s pregnant before she does”).  Often this is presented as further evidence of the hero’s sexy masterfulness, and the heroine’s innocence (which is treated as an unquestioned positive).

    What I loved about this book is that it demonstrates that ignorance of that sort isn’t sexy.  It’s oppressive at best, and dangerous at worst.  And what I loved about Jonas is that he tells the truth to Lydia not in furtherance of his own sexual gratification, but because he believes she has a right to it.  He recognizes her right to a sexual self, independent and apart from her burgeoning relationship with him. 

    I think Courtney Milan is subtly in the business of exploding a number of common romance tropes, and I love it.  For example, in “This Wicked Gift”, the hero isn’t off the hook because the heroine secretly wanted to sleep with him – because he had sex with her believing her to be coerced, he has dishonored himself.  A lesser book would have treated the revelation that she was willing as the happy ending that makes all right, but Milan doesn’t let him off the hook.  And “The Governess Affair” is unsparing in its depiction of the sexual violence to which servants were subjected, and the rottenness at the heart of the privileges of the nobility.

    Needless to say, my sex-ed teacher mother got “A Kiss for Midwinter” as a gift along with her brand-new Nook!

  15. 15
    Minnie says:

    “I have a hard time reviewing Milan’s books with any kind of critical eye because she goes right for my most personal, deeply held emotional buttons”

    I see your smart heroines, reasoned men, and science saving the day, and I raise you the fact it’s set in my beloved hometown of Leicester. In fact The Duchess War is set in part where I live. Adding to the disconcerting “was this written just for me?” feeling is that I’m known as Minnie (not my government name). I loved this novella just as much.

    On the off chance its inspired anyone to make a trip within the UK might I recommend Leicester for its rich Victorian social and architectural history? There’s also some great Roman stuff if you are that inclined.

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    I vote Minnie and Courtney Milan take us on a tour of Leicester. Like, in person. For a few weeks. With beer!

  17. 17
    Minnie says:

    As luck would have it Leicester excels at beer. And cheese. And pies. And south Asian food. Basically prepare to gain a few pounds.

    Just in case not everyone can make it to our boozy gastro tour I’ll share some of my on hand fun Leicester facts:
    - Leicester University kicks backside including the discovery DNA Fingerprinting
    - Notable Leicestairians – Parminder Nagra, Richard Armitage (The Hobbit), Joseph Merrick (The Elephant Man), and Lady Jane Grey the Nine Day Queen
    - The in use prison is not infrequently mistaken for a castle…
    - The world is welcomed to Leicester. It’s a thriving harmonious and diverse city with a 50% non-white population. All it’s citizens’ cultures are celebrated; Diwali (my favourite), Easter, Christmas, Hanukkah, Vaisakhi, there’s a Caribbean carnival. It also is home to the what is reputed to be the oldest secular society in the world, and bred suffragettes and radicals throughout the ages.

    If you ever want to pass yourself off as a local – who wouldn’t? – the Belvoir Street where Dr Jonas lives is pronounced as ‘Beaver’. Really. You can thank poor relations between the Normans and Anglo-Saxons for that bit of bizarreness. I think of it as the city being perpetually stuck in the misunderstanding portion of an invasion based romantic comedy.

    I *really* like my town. It might show a little.

  18. 18
    skittledog says:

    I recently read this and agree it was a delightful short read. There was just one moment where I felt a lack of research or possibly understanding of culture – as unfortunately happens far too frequently as a UK reader, reading US books set in the UK (and Courtney Milan is better than most) – the reference to ‘Kris Kringle.’ I’m not an expert on Victorian vocab, but that just screamed American to me (it’s not a term I’d ever heard of until watching US tv as an adult), and a quick google implies it’s derived from German immigrants’ ‘Christkindl.’ Lacking in the German immigrants, I can’t see why it would have been a common term here at the time – especially as it isn’t now.

    I know, I know, it’s a terribly minor thing, and it wouldn’t stop me recommending this novella, but it really did drop me out of the story with a thud…

  19. 19
    barbaraholt says:

    What a great read!  Thanks so much for the recommendation….keep up the good work!

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