… Or, how I learned to love the well-written novella.
For my first challenge in Wendy the Super Librarian’s TBR challenge, I decided to make life easy on myself and go with her selected theme of “We Love Short Shorts” (short stories, novellas and category romances). To help me along, I had a number of wonderful ‘shorts’ to select from – and a whole heap of hesitation to go with them. You see, I have a deep dark secret: I’m often wary of reading the short novellas, especially in romance, as I sometimes find that there is too little in the world of character and story development, and too much insta-love for my liking.
However, a challenge is a challenge, and I would rise to it! In fact, I would read TWO, just to ensure that I would find something amazing. On my pile: a historical holiday novella by Courtney Milan called “A Kiss for Midwinter”, and a very intriguing book of three short stories, won via @CarinaPress on Twitter (thanks Angela & Stephanie!). I decided to select the first story of the compilation, “”The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden, and Milan’s holiday novella because, well, it’s a Milan book and I love her writing. Both the contemporary and the historical feature socially awkward heroes (my kryptonite), so between them I should definitely find something that I liked, right?
I had no idea.
Let’s start with the contemporary. ‘The Theory of Attraction” has been referred to online as an erotic “Big Bang Theory-style” hook-up between Sheldon and Penny. Y’know, if Sheldon was into BDSM, and was … well, hot. What I found was a very well paced, funny and hot beyond description story that had me fully entranced within minutes.
Ivan and Cami are neighbours, and work at the same university. Ivan is a brilliant researcher, while Cami is a social anthropologist who now works in one of the university offices. When Ivan realizes that he will need to start attending professional social functions in order to maintain his current job, he asks Cami to help him to become more socially aware in these settings, and eventually Cami agrees. The lessons are fun and fit their personalities, with each responding to each other in some surprising ways. What works best, however, is how they develop as a couple – it’s frequently funny, sweetly romantic and surprisingly hot, especially when the two start to realize that their attraction is mutual. Ivan reveals that his attention to detail can be a major bonus during his preferred D/s scenes, and while Cami is initially a little shocked by his revelation, she is a more than willing participant in Ivan’s reciprocal lessons.
Ivan and Cami were engaging and interesting, even with only 170 pages to work with, and I really bought into their relationship with each other. The Big Misunderstanding completely fit their character development, and my heart ached a little for them. I wanted more from them once the story was over, and that’s the best possible feeling you can have from a novella such as this.
“A Kiss for Midwinter” is a novella in Milan’s new Brothers Sinister series that ties into the first full-length novel, “The Duchess War”. The novella has Milan’s trademark attention to detail and unconventional situations for the genre, as well as being engaging and incredibly well-written. The lead, Jonas Grantham, is a doctor who first meets the lead female when she is young and pregnant and being advised by her own family doctor. The advice she is given is horrifying (and sadly historically accurate), and while our hero knows that the information is false, he holds his tongue as doesn’t have the authority to override the established doctor’s word. Still, the episode haunts him, and he wonders what happened to that scared young woman.
We don’t have to wait long to find out. Five years pass in the blink of a page turn, and Jonas is considering a young woman named Lydia Charingford for his list of top ten candidates for marriage. After all, “he thought it expedient to procure a regular source of sexual intercourse without risking syphilis.” <snort> It’s lines like this that keep me coming back to Milan’s writing – funny, true to character and yet completely out of line with what you usually find in historicals.
What Jonas doesn’t realize is that Lydia is the same young lady he saw five years before. More problematic for him is that Lydia knows exactly who he is, and doesn’t appreciate his attentions. She’s managed to move on with her life and to hide her secret shame, and she certainly doesn’t want a blunt and self-absorbed young doctor in her life. It’s only after this interchange that Jonas realizes that she’s the one for him, and the rest of the novella reveals the wonderful unusual way he tries to win her affections.
Lydia is a strong-willed and determined young woman, who has survived incredible horror and shame with the love and care of her family to support her. She sees light where there is often little to be found, and refuses to let life take her down. She is the perfect counterpart to Jonas, who has seen much of life’s ugly side, and he quickly begins to realize how much he needs her. I loved her, and I loved Jonas’ reaction to her just as much.
“You surprise me because you know precisely the same things that I know, and you come to the exact opposite conclusions,” he said. “Every time you open your mouth, I’m convinced that you must be the most naive girl on the face of the planet. And yet …” He shook his head. “And yet every time you open your mouth, you demonstrate that you are not.”
~ A Kiss for Midwinter, Courtney Milan
The whole novella is compelling, and includes some moments of despair within the secondary story of Jonas’ father’s crippling hoarding problem and some lovely moments with Lydia’s parents. This may be a novella, but the characters go through some tremendous growth in their journey towards each other, yet none of it seems rushed. Like the first novella, I wanted more from the characters (and I’m not an epilogue girl by any stretch of the imagination), and hope that they will make an appearance or two in future Brother Sinister novels (spoiler: yes, they are part of The Duchess War).
After reading and enjoying both stories, I had to sit down to figure out why I loved them so much. What I realized is that I enjoyed both novellas because they gave me the same three things:
- Strong characters who were clearly defined by their actions as much as by their words, allowing much to be told within a short writing space;
- Unconventional situations that brought you into the story quickly, and kept you there because you were interested in the results;
- Immediate chemistry that was not acted upon within seconds; instead, it was allowed to simmer while the characters became familiar with each other as individuals.
I loved both of these novellas, and couldn’t wait to recommend them to others who have also enjoyed them as much as I did. If you have been hesitant about novellas in the past, it’s time to face your fears, as you won’t regret it after reading either of these selections. Want more ideas for novella reading? Check out Wendy’s review here, and other participants here.