The Certainty of Chance, author Jacquelyn Middleton’s fifth romance novel, is a beautiful story of fate, inner strength, and, as some of the best Christmas songs say, “muddling through.” But it’s also so much more than that.
Stranded alone in London due to freak volcanic activity, Madeleine Joy’s Christmas couldn’t get much worse. Her plans to spend Christmas in Paris with her sister were supposed to keep her grief over her best friend’s death at bay. Well, at least for a little while. But now she’s stuck in the last possible place she’d ever want to be: The beautiful city she and her best friend had planned to explore together. Everything is awful.
Everything, that is, except for Julian Halliwell, the cabbie that she keeps running into. Bogged down with his own fair share of grief and loss, Julian leans into his love of London and the holiday spirit to keep alive his hope of finding a forever love (and getting his adorable corgi Winnie back).
What starts out as a normal cab ride turns into more than either of them could’ve ever imagined. But will fate and the magic of the holidays be strong enough to overcome all of the odds stacked against Madeleine and Julian?
(Spoiler alert: The answer is a heart-bursting and emphatic YES.)
Jacquelyn Middleton has truly done it again. The Certainty of Chance is a heartfelt romance that will thaw the heart of the frostiest Jack and make even the most cynical reader believe in serendipity. Like her other books, this novel is rooted in some grim realities and heartbreaking events, but is dripping with hope and light at every turn. (And with the setting being London at Christmastime, sometimes it’s very literally dripping with the most beautiful lights!)
One of the aspects of Jacquelyn Middleton’s books I always like best is the way they don’t shy away from difficult conversations around grief and mental health. In fact, she’s one of the few authors I’ve ever read who lean into just what it means to live with things like grief, anxiety, and depression. Perhaps that’s why I love and respect her writing so much.
Though it’s less taboo now than it was even five or 10 years ago, mental health can be really tough to speak about transparently and without fear of judgement. This is namely because many afflictions or disorders can make a person feel so broken and unwanted. It’s unfortunately the nature of the beast. But the more representation mental health gets in books like The Certainty of Chance, the less those of us going through these things feel alone.
Though depression and anxiety have featured prominently in her previous books, the spotlight this time is squarely on grief and the way it lingers and becomes a part of the everyday, whether or not others realize it. As a writer named Jamie Anderson one wrote, “Grief is just love with no place to go.” It’s not something you move past or get over, because you can never stop loving someone. Not really. Grief may change shape or shift around between the foreground, background, or periphery of your mind, but it never goes away or ends. It’s always there and can pop up when and how you least expect it to.
Using her own personal experiences as a guide, Jacquelyn Middleton expertly weaves grief into The Certainty of Chance and very realistically portrays just what it means to live with grief. Madeleine’s fresh grief (compounded by her grief being considered by many as invalid) and Julian’s long-term grief, this book depicts the ways it can affect how someone views and interacts with the world. There are so many occasions throughout the story where my heart just breaks for Madeleine. I can’t fully relate to her situation, but I’ve dealt with my own fair share of unresolved grief and see quite a bit of myself in her.
I think what most connects me with Madeleine and the larger story is the way Christmas and the entire holiday season affects her. For most, the holidays are a time of warmth and love in the company of friends and loved ones. But they can also bring up complicated emotions and accentuate feelings of pain and loneliness.
I’d know; it happens to me almost every year. I’m grateful for all that I have and all who I love (and that love me), and I know that I lead a life of privilege. However, there are certain gaps in my life that I’ve yet to fill, and they become even more exposed during the holidays. And so, the holidays can be rough. Like Madeleine, I find comfort in sad holiday songs (Judy Garland’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is a personal favorite, but I’m discovering others on Madeleine’s “More Meh Than Merry” Spotify playlist). I also have previously found myself doing whatever it takes to make it through.
And so, I really admire the way that The Certainty of Chance, through both of its main characters, highlights the emotional struggle the holiday season can cause. Sometimes the strongest and bravest thing a person can do is just put one foot in front of the other to make it through the day. Madeleine and Julian both take different approaches to this bravery and have different ways of “muddling through,” but they both speak to me. I very much appreciate the contrast in this book between the darker side of the holidays and the side with the bright, twinkling lights.
Because let’s be honest: One of the best parts of the holiday season is the lights. Visiting London at Christmas has always been a personal dream of mine. While I’ve yet to make it, The Certainty of Chance really makes me feel like I have. The lights give off a bright and hopeful warmth wherever Madeleine and Julian go. I absolutely love the setting of this novel because it’s wonderfully romantic and magical. The best books are the ones where the setting itself is a character, and London very much is that here.
That’s not to say that this romance is melancholy save for the setting and the fact that it’s Christmas. It’s quite the opposite, actually. There are so many swoon-worthy moments, as well as scenes where you can’t help but smile. It’s just that the sadder elements of the book make the happy accidents and moments of wonder all the brighter. After all, without darkness, how can you possibly appreciate the light? The characters in this novel fully embrace every chance of happiness and love they can get because they know that they can be fleeting.
Speaking of characters though, Jacquelyn Middleton has really outdone herself this time. Julian and Madeleine are instantly loveable and root-worthy. Not only that, but they’re slightly older than Middleton’s usual protagonists (they’re in their 30s rather than 20s), and so I find myself relating to them far more than any of her previous characters. They’re established in their chosen careers and have quite a bit of their shit together. Above all else, though, they know who they are. They’re aware of their own personal strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. They also know what they want (and need) from other people and (most times) are not afraid to vocalize it.
So, when it comes to Madeleine and Julian coming together, personal discovery and soul-searching isn’t a hurdle to overcome. They’re able to connect on these deep aspects of themselves right from the off.
While the novel takes place over a mere few days and I’m not usually a fan of Insta-love, Julian and Madeline’s “no nonsense” sort of connection makes the story’s expedited timeline feel like the pair has all the time in the world to get to know one another (even though their time together could be cut short at any moment by the airport reopening). They don’t waste a single minute when they’re together and take advantage of all that time will allow.
Honestly, this is incredibly impressive because facing the dating world in your 30s is actually a lot harder than many people realize. It’s a lot of being happy for others who are coupled, and simultaneously trying to navigate a landscape where it’s harder and harder to meet people in person once you’re an established adult.
I especially relate to Julian throughout the story in that I want to find love but have found myself disappointed with every attempt and at every turn. And I just can’t stomach the idea of using a dating app to find someone, so my pool, which feels small to begin with when you’re single in your 30s, is even tinier. There’s just something about a meet-cute or meeting someone in person that I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
But hey, if Julian can do it, maybe so can I…
As someone who had all but given up on the idea of chance encounters and life-changing moments, The Certainty of Chance has inspired me to continue to keep my eyes open and believe in serendipity. Though I’ve yet to be so lucky as to meet someone, I’m grateful for this book and the way it reignited that small spark of hope within. A spark which I thought had long since extinguished.
Make no mistake: The Certainty of Chance is not a rom-com. (Not that I’d think you’d have thought that if you read the entirety of this review.) But while it does have more than its fair share of humor and levity, it also has something far more important: Heart. And lots of it. I personally can’t wait to read this delightful romance over and over again as a new Christmas tradition.
Whether you’re looking for your new favorite swoon-worthy book boyfriend, a lovely holiday romance set in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, or a whole lot of heart-warming hope this holiday season, give yourself the gift of Jacquelyn Middleton’s The Certainty of Chance. It’s sure to be one present you won’t ever want to return.
‘The Certainty of Chance’ hit store shelves on October 14, 2021
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