Category Archives: Romance

Madam, won’t talk

In case you missed it, and it’s a wonder I didn’t, since I never listen to the radio: Radio 4, Mary Stewart’s Madam, Will You Talk? part one today, second part next Sunday.

It was bliss, even at the halfway mark. I’m never sure I will be able to tell the characters’ voices apart on radio, but this worked fine. And their David is perfect. As is Mr Byron/Coleridge/Shelley/Wordsworth.

Over eleven years since I reviewed the new edition of Mary Stewart’s best book, and many many years since I first read it. Obviously. That review revealed that I now know lots of fans of this gorgeous romantic thriller, but I note that we still haven’t gone on that group trip to Stewart settings.

The Enchanted April

April 2020 might not feel all that enchanted, but it still seemed appropriate to read Elizabeth von Arnim’s The Enchanted April right now, seeing as it was available. It features the beauty of Italy in April, but I have to say that my part of Scotland has managed to look enchanting in its own way.

Having known nothing about the author, except recognising her name, I discovered this novel in the Guardian Review a while ago, and felt the recommendation was strong enough that I would actually order the book. And read it.

Set in 1922, four women – strangers to each other – take up the offer to spend April in a castle in Italy after seeing an ad in The Times. We meet them as the first two, Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot, slowly come to the realisation that by sharing the let, and allowing themselves to use their nest eggs, this could be a dream come true. They advertise for two more women to share the cost.

So it’s a sort of strangers in an airbnb.

Mrs Wilkins and Mrs Arbuthnot leave behind Mr Wilkins and Mr Arbuthnot in lowly Hampstead, whereas the elderly Mrs Fisher is a widow and the young and gorgeous Lady Caroline just wants to be left alone. (Too many admirers.)

Lotty (Mrs Wilkins) and Rose (Mrs Arbuthnot) enjoy the freedom of not having to always put their husbands first. Mrs Fisher is a bit bossy, and Lady Caroline, aka Scrap, complains all the time but does it so nicely that everyone is charmed.

It’s clear that Lotty is somewhat of a witch, in that she ‘sees’ things. And her seeings do have a tendency to come true, however annoying Mrs Fisher finds her.

The castle truly is enchanted, or how else do you explain the changes in the four women? And the effect it ends up having on several other people. It’s not only the quiet, beige, Lotty who flourishes. There is magic for everyone.

It’s not quite what I had expected, but such fun and so lovely. We could all do with enchantment and wisteria, whether in Italy in April, or by some other means. Even if it’s not going to happen this year.

Turning an ebook into pasta

From Good Friday you can buy a new ebook by Claire McFall, Making Turquoise, a post-industrial retelling of Romeo and Juliet.

For the next three months all proceeds will go towards food banks supported by The Trussell Trust. By buying the right kind of pasta one book will pay for more than one pack.

Go on, it’s cheap enough! You can order it now, and like an Easter egg, it will pop up on your Kindle on Friday. Or so I hope anyway. You know what I am like with ebook buying…

(Thinking about it, I doubt that very many Easter eggs will be popping in any e-readers at all. It’s not the way of eggs.)

I’m guessing it will be a good, if short, read. There is a warning that it contains ‘strong language and elements of drug taking, teenage pregnancy, abortion and abuse.’ But you’re fine with that.

Jane Eyre

It was good to revisit Jane Eyre after all these years. Barrington Stoke have just published a dyslexia friendly, short, retelling of the famous Charlotte Brontë novel. Tanya Landman has written a more than creditable short version, and one that I enjoyed a lot.

I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to make such a long novel into a short one; one that actually works. I’m certain it was neither quick nor easy, but the result is a perfect literary summary of an old classic.

Tanya’s version contains most of what I remembered, skipping over one or two sub-plots with just a few paragraphs (which is obviously how one does it) to get on with that which matters. The only major fact missing is Jane’s inheritance, but in the long run it’s not massively important.

She can still marry Mr Rochester and live happily ever after. (I hope this doesn’t count as a spoiler..?)

A classic has to be one of the hardest things to access if reading is difficult. I guess watching the film is the nearest, but won’t give so much flavour of the real deal. That’s what you get in something like this Jane Eyre.

I hope the book will be a happy discovery for many. Jane is still a most interesting heroine.

Return to Winter Solstice

Yes, as I said two weeks ago, Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice proved irresistible. It was gone in no time at all, but I reckon it was in a good cause. It made me feel better.

It was the same as almost twenty years ago. And it wasn’t. I saw things I didn’t notice then. I’m someone who has generally been able to ignore certain less pc aspects in a story, if the book is good.

The thing with Pilcher’s books was that they featured ‘better’ people. Not necessarily better off, but not you and me. Rather like most romances, where we don’t want to read about the most mundane and awful lives, because we have enough living them.

Oscar is lovely. He is also recently bereaved, which is the reason for the whole plot. He is polite and sweet mannered, and handsome, for a 67-year-old. But he is also quietly sexist, and is helped in this by our heroine, Elfrida.

Elfrida puts up with it, because that’s what a Pilcher girl does. She goes from only bothering with her own chores and her dog, to running a household for five, plus the dog. She does it uncomplainingly, while Oscar is allowed to ‘have outbursts.’

One can overlook this, and I did. The story is still a warm and lovely thing, leading up to Christmas. It’s about togetherness, and new beginnings. But it was kind of interesting to discover the inequalities.

Might reread it again, some December in a few years’ time, if we’re all still here.

Emma

‘Awesomely Austen.’ ‘Witty words by Katy Birchall.’ Those are book cover quotes to make my heart sink a little. Surely you can sell a shorter, rewritten version of one of Jane Austen’s novels more seriously?

Despite approving of Daughter’s long ago short Brontës, I wasn’t sure. I asked the Resident IT Consultant. Together we arrived at the conclusion that it’s fine. Anything that gets younger readers read a classic is fine.

So here you have Katy Birchall’s Austen Emma in 210 pages, with ‘delightful doodles’ by Églantine Ceulemans. It’s a pretty volume, and I’d say it covers what you need from Emma, when you’re eight or ten. After all, it’s a book about adults. It needs to be made more accessible.

I just hope the reader doesn’t then go on to consider themselves as having read Jane Austen. I hope that one day he or she will discover, much to their delight, that there is a longer version of Emma.

Along with this Emma, there is a new Pride and Prejudice and a Persuasion, by Katherine Woodfine and Narinder Dhami respectively, with the remaining three novels to follow.

Awesomely Austen

Buying a book for my sister

About to visit my eldest [half]-sister for the first time; and the second time we’d meet, I felt I needed to turn up bearing a gift. But what?

I ‘always’ give books. But I knew she’d left school early, so didn’t expect a children’s book in English to be any good. But after some more thinking I came up with Adèle Geras’s first adult novel – Facing the Light – which I knew had been translated into Swedish.

In the end I managed to source what appeared to be the last copy on earth of Ljus och skugga, from an online shop in Sweden. I had it sent to me in England. After that I contacted Adèle asking if she would sign it, and she very kindly invited me round to her house and we had a nice chat, mainly about wearing green, chocolate from Oxfam, and swimming in the sea, which caused a very cold May/June and no swimming in the sea. And she signed the book.

After which I carried the novel back to Sweden so I could hand it over.

Daughter and I had a lovely day with our new sister/aunt and it was gratifying to see how pleased she seemed to be given a personally signed book.

Adèle Geras, Ljus och skugga

We met a few more times after that, and I’m glad we did. Acquiring an older sister in one’s forties is perhaps slightly unusual, but why not? And we discovered we had a connection through School Friend, whose older brother was at school with my sister. Sweden really is a small world.

My sister died a few weeks ago. I’m grateful to have known her. And kind of pleased that they played Elvis at the funeral.

The Bookshop on the Shore

Jane Eyre meets the Sound of Music, with a little You’ve Got Mail, and some almost library porn (by which I mean getting excited over a fancy library; not that other thing you first thought I meant).

Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore

Yeah, I’m not used to adult romantic fiction. I used to read a lot of it, decades ago, and now that I had worked out that Jenny Colgan writes this stuff and not just children’s books or Doctor Who, I felt the time had come to investigate.

I gather this latest story about a [mobile] bookshop on the shores of Loch Ness builds on at least one former book by Jenny. Her Nina, now pregnant and in need of a temporary replacement, somehow arranges for Zoe to move out of London, where she and her mute four-year-old son Hari have lived in impoverished circumstances.

So it’s that perennial dream romantic book lovers have of moving to a new life somewhere completely different and meeting more books. And love. At first I thought she’d got the wrong love interest there, but he grew on me a little. And I dare say the other chap could come back in some other book.

There are children. They have problems. The local village is another problem, along with its residents who want what they have always had. Nina herself, is another problem to some extent. She wants things done her way.

But Zoe is, well, she knows what is right and stands up for her own ideas, and she loves little Hari, and overcomes most of the other issues. Because it is that kind of story.

Kiss and Part

I’d never heard of the Hosking Houses Trust, or the village of Clifford Chambers, and I’m guessing neither have you. The trust provides women writers with a “room of one’s own” where they can write in peace. And as such places require funding, they have commissioned a short story collection from past incumbents, and that’s Kiss and Part.

This is great fun to read and not in the slightest as worthy as it might sound. The introduction is by Margaret Drabble, and the list of authors has some names more famous than others on it, and all have contributed something original, something that connects with the cottage and the village.

Kiss and Part

We meet Shakespeare. After all, it’s more or less in his backyard. There is poetry. There are long stories and shorter ones, and they are all interesting in their own way.

I especially enjoyed The Incumbent by Elizabeth Speller, where I was at first annoyed by the seemingly narrow-minded narrator, but grew to understand her and to sympathise, and the ending is a masterpiece.

The stories are all different, as are their authors, and the fascinating aspect is how they all connect to the same place, while still being so diverse. They mirror literature today, showing us quality while proving this doesn’t have to be in just the one style.

Letting Go

Is this my first Cat Clarke? I think it might be. Her short novel Letting Go, for Barrington Stoke, is quite a masterpiece.

Cat Clarke, Letting Go

It’s a story about Agnes and her ex-girlfriend Ellie and Ellie’s new boyfriend Steve. As will be obvious, this is painful, at least for Agnes. But a promise is a promise and here the three of them are, on their way up a mountain, where the weather is about to change for the worse.

None of them are happy and they fight.

And then things get really bad.

I loved the way the reader is allowed to get close to the characters and see what and who they are. As with most of us, they are both bad and good, but none of that matters because this soon turns into an emergency for which they are ill equipped.

It’s quite a grown-up story about three young people.