REVIEW: A Midwinter Match by Jane Lovering
Ruby Oldbridge needs to learn to take her own advice.
A talented 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…
CW – heroine has anxiety issues, heroine’s BFF is a lesbian who has been cut off by her parents
Dear Ms. Lovering,
While I was hoping for a follow up to “Home on Holly Farm,” this turned out to be a book that is both funny and emotionally moving without turning into an angst drama. I laughed and madly flipped the pages on my ereader to discover what would happen next. I also have to say that I totally agree with what Ruby and Zac decide to watch in the end as it is definitely a Christmas film.
After a disastrous break up with her boyfriend, Ruby is piecing her life back together. Loaded with debt, living in a tiny room in a rented flat with three flatmates, and driving a ten year old car, she’s not exactly living the dream. But with techniques to help her and prescription pills, she’s better than she was. That is until she arrives at her employment counseling job to discover that her company is being merged with a similar one and some people will need to compete for their jobs. Ruby really needs this job as she has debts to pay and freezes at the thought of the stress she’d go through finding and applying for another. There has to be something bad about the man who is now sharing her office and eyeing the same job.
I peered covertly at my new competitor as he spoke on the phone. He could, at least, have had the decency to be snide, or to have made carefully angled comments about my office; he could, in short, have made more effort to be the enemy. Instead, he was coming over as open, reasonable and decent, which just wasn’t fair.
I *needed* to dislike him. I couldn’t compete against a man who was happy and friendly and smart, it would be like fighting for my job against a Border Collie. Why couldn’t he be sweaty and lecherous and eat pork pies whilst reading emails laboriously with his finger trailing across the screen in a greasy smear?
Except that Zac seems to be a genuinely good guy. He plays his cards close to his vest but is competent, hard working, and is in early and stays late. Ruby can’t let her past issues with her breakdown become common knowledge as she just knows that the two manager “aliens” (as she calls them) from the other firm will jump on that and pressure her boss to let her go. Pasting on a manic smile, she’s determined to come out on top. If only Zac hadn’t offered to drive Ruby 60 miles round trip to see her mother in the casualty department (US emergency room) who then jumped all over the wrong impression she got of Ruby and Zac’s “relationship.”
You didn’t have to agree to Sunday lunch, though. Now I’ve got to think of a way to get you out of it.’
‘I don’t mind coming to Sunday lunch.’ He gave a brief grin. ‘Your mother’s making her special trifle, after all.’
I sighed. ‘Stop it. I know, I know, you were just being polite, but I really can’t bear them all grilling us about our non-existent relationship and having one of those awkward conversations where we have to pretend to be in love whilst hating one another. I’ve read those books. I think I have to have a secret baby at some point too.’ I watched the road flash past. The relief was still there, burning through my veins, making me talk to Zac as though he were a friend.
‘I’m sure we can leave the baby out of it. And we can just say we’re workmates. They aren’t going to force us to have sex in front of them to prove we’re in a relationship, are they?’ He frowned. ‘They seem fairly normal and not given to that sort of thing.’
‘You haven’t met my sister,’ I said darkly.
Then cracks begin to show in Zac’s façade. He tells her that his life is “complicated” and she hears his muttered aside that he needs this job, too. Ruby doesn’t want to know why as that will make Zac more than a competitor to her. But she’s also starting to wonder if she wants to keep working for a firm willing to be unethical and if she’s trapped herself in a job she no longer feels is enough.
I loved so much about this book. It honestly portrays a heroine with (at times) debilitating anxiety issues who has gone to counseling, takes medication, and who acknowledges that this might be something she will deal with for the rest of her life. She’s also shown as being good at her job, enjoying helping people, and pulling her life back together. One trope I’m a little tired of is the heroine who loses everything at the start of the novel and I did worry that this might be one of those but Ruby is on the upswing, has centered herself, and is moving forward with her life. As the book continues, she has recognized that her ex is a prat and no longer wants him back but later she does some serious thinking about how that situation developed. Ruby displays a lot of personal growth.
I adored Ruby’s work bestie Priya (though I’m with Zac – what exactly does Priya do there?) and the flip on the Gay Best Friend becoming the Lesbian Best Friend who mocks that trope and does more than just offer fashion advice. And I cackled hysterically when Zac likens meeting one of Ruby’s roommates, who is eerily obsessed with bikes, as something out of “What We Do In the Shadows.”
Since this is a first person book, Zac’s complications remain hidden for a while before a scene that shows he is as weighted down by them as Ruby is by her concerns. Even then he still tries to hide them before the two of them begin to compare notes about their jobs and the company. Booyah that a potential Big Misunderstanding is quickly diffused because [gosh!] they talk to each other. Imagine that – like adults and everything. Even before Ruby finally admitted her feelings, I was agreeing with Priya about Zac.
As the pressure built over who would keep their job and be able to meet their unbreakable obligations, I thought about how things might be resolved. There are some light hints that set me on the correct course and when the rubber met the road, I totally enjoyed the outcome. But then what? A nice wrap up that makes wonderful sense, plays to Ruby’s and Zac’s strengths, and lets them keep doing what else they must. Oh, and a bit of “just desserts” got served up that was well warranted.
I’m not usually one for epilogues but I did like this one as it shows the outcome of some of Ruby and Zac’s clients. Both had been almost written off as slackers by so many before “ah-ha” connections were made and appropriate skills classes were found for them. You don’t shy away from making characters difficult at times but you also make them believable.
This is a lovely, slow burn romance that includes realistic problems that aren’t piled onto Ruby and Zac to the “you’ve got to be kidding me” stage. They are allowed to slowly show their true characters to us and to each other before taking deep breaths and going for what they want and deserve in life. I still hope for more life on a Yorkshire sheep farm but I enjoyed this [wow, there’s a lot of snow in York in December] early Christmas present. B+