It’s a real pleasure today to join the blog tour and share my review of A Midwinter Match by Jane Lovering, published on 19th August by Boldwood Books and now available as an ebook (free via Kindle Unlimited), in paperback and as an audiobook. My thanks, as always, to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve mentioned so many times that Jane’s unfailingly one of my personal favourites – although I’ve been reading and enjoying her books for some years now, her books released since joining up with Boldwood really have just got better and better. The Country Escape was such a fantastic start – included without hesitation in my 2020 Books of the Year list (you’ll find my review here). And then came Home on Folly Farm – and I think it might just have been even better (you’ll find my review here). And now we have another – and, I strongly suspect, the rather nice problem of having to decide which book to include in this year’s Books of the Year list.
Let’s take a closer look…
Ruby Oldbridge needs to learn to take her own advice.
A brilliant counsellor at work in York, she is however floundering in her own life. Her romantic track record is woeful, her finances are in a pickle, and she’s back in a house-share after splitting up with her useless ex.
But one thing Ruby is brilliant at, is helping other people find a way through their problems, and she excels at the job she loves, doing just that.
Happy-go-lucky, Mr Positivity, Zac Drewe also loves his job – the trouble is, it’s the same as Ruby’s, and the management have decided to ‘rationalise’ their department. There’s only room for one of them.
As the snow and winter close in on York, Ruby and Zac have everything to lose, and Ruby starts to wonder if the happy face Zac shows the world, might be disguising a sadder secret.
Set against one another, they are unlikely friends. But perhaps, if they could take the time to understand each other, they might discover that rather than rivals, they could be the best thing that ever happened to one another…
Despite the promise of a familiar York setting (and in the snow – how perfect!), I will admit that the premise of this book did worry me a little. I’m just not particularly enthusiastic about books set in the workplace (somewhere I’ve long left behind) and I rather hoped the focus would be on the characters rather than the day-to-day detail of their working days. But of course, I really needn’t have worried at all – I entirely loved this book, including all the office-based shenanigans (oh, those team building exercises…), and really should have known that the author was incapable of disappointing me in any possible way.
Ruby was a character I simply adored. She’s had a pretty hard time at home, her hopes for a future with Gareth in the home of her dreams cruelly dashed, and she now finds herself sharing a house with enigmatic Ed, bike-obsessed Cav, and Lucy with her high levels of exuberance and penchant for tuneless high-volume singing. After falling apart for a while, work has always been the place where she’s been comfortable, good at what she does – counselling those struggling to return to the world of work – always able to summon and plaster on a convincing smile. News of a merger (and losing her parking place) is only the beginning of a whole new set of issues sent to try her – she finds herself sharing an office with the relentlessly cheerful Zac, and then learns that they are in competition for the one job that will remain available.
At first, she treads carefully around him, taking turns in the interviewing room, Ruby continuing to show her particularly special touch with the more difficult clients – and she can’t help growing to like Zac, friendly and smart, reminding her of a Border Collie. But Zac, of course, has much more depth than it at first appears – a particularly heartbreaking back story, summed up by the pile of small size hand-knitted jumpers on the back seat of his flashy 4×4. It becomes an entirely convincing enemies (or maybe “uneasy friends”) to lovers story, with more than a few twists and secrets revealed along the way – and I really loved every moment.
As always, one of the greatest strengths of this book is in the characterisation – the whole cast, at the office and at home, are just so superbly drawn. At work, I particularly loved Priya, Ruby’s “Gay Best Friend”, and so enjoyed their interactions – and then there’s out-of-his-depth manager Michael, and the threatening presence of the Grey Man and Beehive Woman and all that baffling and annoying work-speak jargon. Ruby’s home set-up is wonderfully drawn too – those lovely touches of kindness from a group of real eccentrics, every one of them never anything but entirely real and recognisable. And then there are those wonderful clients – Miriam is a particular tour-de-force, a challenge for any counsellor (she certainly frightened Zac…), but with an excellent and touching back story all of her own.
There is a particular focus on mental health issues throughout the book, along with their impact on job security and the problems of getting on with life – never heavy, and extremely well-handled. And “heavy” is never really a word you can use in relation to Jane Lovering’s books – the humour, of course, is as sparkling as ever, from the set pieces to the wonderful one-liners that always have me laughing out loud. And if you’ve ever read any of the author’s books before, you’ll already know she has the quite perfect touch with the emotional content – and there’s plenty of that, along with the developing romance I entirely believed in. The setting, of course, is simply perfect – the office in the shadow of the Minster, the familiar surrounding streets with their covering of snow, all beautifully described… as the author says, “like a Christmas card, pleasingly Dickensian but with proper plumbing and fewer urchins”.
I know I have the tendency to say “her best yet” about every one of Jane Lovering’s wonderful books – and I think I can only say it again. This book was wonderful, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment – I recommend it really highly.
About the author
Jane Lovering is the bestselling and award-winning romantic comedy writer who won the RNA Novel of the Year Award in 2012 with Please Don’t Stop the Music. She lives in Yorkshire and has a cat and a bonkers terrier, as well as five children who have now left home.