A Kiss for Midwinter is one of my all-time favourite romances. It’s in my top five.
I read romance novels for the banter, and, indeed, the romance, but writing emotion genuinely and sincerely is very difficult. A Kiss for Midwinter contains one heart-stoppingly romantic moment and such moments are rare. Julie Anne Long almostalmost managed one in her last book , but of the scores of novels I’ve read, I would say there have been maybe 8 times when I was actually overwhelmed by the sincerely romantic nature of what was happening. Not crying mind you, but gasping and covering my mouth, and doing that hand fanning gesture while I took a moment. This was that.
A Kiss for Midwinter is a novella in Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series. The collection includes two novellas, this one and The Governess Affair, and a full length novel, The Duchess War, so far. I have read and will read everything in the series, and anything else Milan publishes. She is the best writer in the business. Tessa Dare is a lot of fun, Julie Anne Long gives great smolder and is wonderfully funny, but Courtney Milan is an artist. She’s funny, romantic, realistic, and heartbreaking, plus this book has a Spinal Tap reference in the first chapter. Her heroes are exclusively protectors, perhaps slightly forbidding (I’m looking at you, Smite), and possess fierce honesty. They demand the same honesty of their partners which allows the women freedom from Victorian society’s double-standards and strictures.
Lydia Charingford is the best friend of The Duchess War’s Minnie and this story picks up where that happy ending left off. Set in 1860s Leicester, Lydia has recently broken her engagement and is at a loose end. She and Dr. Jonas Grantham volunteer with a group that provides support to the local poor, the same group which populates his practice. Jonas has been in love with Lydia for over a year, but his brusque, brutally frank manner overwhelms her, and, more importantly, makes her feel seen through into places where she does not wish to look. With a terrible sense of humour and a bleak world view, Jonas sets out to court the vivacious Lydia by daring her to accompany him on three house calls and not be demoralized. His prize, should he “win”, is a kiss. If she wins, he must never speak to her again.
Having a wager involving a doctor working in the slums allows Milan to write about parts of the world usually seen only in passing in novels built around cultural necrophilia. The story is well-researched and the quality of it, and the writing, lift her books out of the genre. Not that there is anything wrong with the genre, but when I read Milan it can feel like I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out: A perfectly enjoyable piece of escapist reading suddenly feels like a “proper” book. I don’t know how to say that without insulting the genre, other than to clarify: There are things one looks to these books for and glimpses of workaday reality are not among them, but Milan folds everything in so well, the reading experience becomes more, and with every book she’s getting even better.
A complete summary of Courtney Milan’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here.