Hallelujah, I have finished the category! After having such a hard time finding a book that actually fit the "A Christmas romance" category for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' 2017 reading challenge (info here), I finally just went for this little novella by Courtney Milan. I normally wouldn't use a novella to fulfill a category--full-length novels are much more my thing--but I was fed up of grabbing supposed Christmas romances and finding that they really were no such thing. I figured I had done my due diligence in the novel department, and I really wanted to just move on. That said, I knew I liked Courtney Milan, and I've heard from several people that her novellas are fire, so I figured it was a pretty safe bet. And the description featured Christmas. Heavily.
Which brings us to the story itself. It starts with the hero, Jonas Grantham, silently watching as his elderly mentor examine a young woman who has been ruined and is now pregnant. Jonas has doubts about the man's medical abilities, but has promised to stay silent--what he's really hoping to gain is the man's medical practice after he retires. But he rather suspects that a concoction the man has prescribed for nausea is more likely a poison. Between his doubts and his promise, though, he doesn't say anything, and leaves.
Fast forward ten years. Jonas is now a doctor in his own right, and he's looking to marry someone, mainly so he can have a constant source of sex without risking disease. To further his goals, he has compiled a list of the ten prettiest girls in town, hoping that one of them will agree to marry him. But then there's Lydia Charingford, who would be number eleven on the list, and who also seems to--strangely--hate him. Until he realizes that she's the girl he saw five years before, the one who was ruined, and she seems to think he's been judging her, making fun of her, and overall disliking her the entire time. But Jonas doesn't dislike Lydia. He likes her very much. So he makes her a bet. She'll go on three house calls to see patients with him, and if Lydia can't find a bright side to one of the situations, she'll have to kiss him. If she can find the bright side--a specialty of hers--to all of them, then Jonas will have to never speak to her again.
This is a quick romance, being so closely focused around the Christmas season, but it's not an instant romance, which I liked. Jonas' blunt honestly astonishes Lydia, but she's drawn to it, too, and appreciates that he gives her the truth. And Jonas is in turn drawn not only to Lydia's looks, but also to her spirit, and he doesn't consider her to be "ruined" at all. He's quite the burgeoning feminist, really, advocating (albeit on a small scale) for the sexual liberation of women. And men. Everyone. Equality! Huzzah. It's a great little romance, and intertwined with it is Jonas' struggle with his father, who has failing health, some degree of dementia, and has also become something of a hoarder. It's heartbreaking, but seeing Jonas' struggle and why he does it is so moving, and I think it added a nice dimension to this other than the main romance.
Overall, I was very happy with this. I think it definitely could have been longer--seeing the romance drawn out more, and building up the subplots would have been nice--but it was a quick, enjoyable read. One thing with short form in general is that the characters don't tend to develop much in and of themselves, though their relationships might, and I think that was a ding against it, but that was the only big thing.
4 stars out of 5.