Category Archives: Romance


At first I thought I wouldn’t read Dreamland. It doesn’t look like my kind of book. But I did my usual and read the first few pages, and I found such a likeable ‘supporting character’ in Gollum, that I knew I had to read it. That turned out to be a good decision.

The main character in Robert L Anderson’s first novel is Dea, who is 17 and lives with her mother outside a very small town in, I think, Illinois. She’s always been different and an outsider, and Gollum is her first almost friend. Gollum is even less popular at school than Dea.

Robert L Anderson, Dreamland

Dea ‘walks’ other people’s dreams, i.e. she holds something belonging to another person and that way she can enter their dreams. Her mother is the same, and both of them do it because otherwise they become weak and fall ill. There are rules. You mustn’t be seen and you can’t interfere in the dream. And never enter the dreams of the same person twice.

When the gorgeous and friendly Connor moves in across the road, Dea has a friend, and a sort of boyfriend, and she decides to ignore the rules. Connor has a troubled past, and she wants to help him.

This is much more fascinating than it might sound, and I was hooked from the word go. You just have to find out what will happen, and why things are as they seem to be. It is very small town America, and Robert blends complete normality with fantasy in such a way that you simply believe.

As I said, you have to love Gollum, and Connor is an unusual teenage boy/romantic interest for this kind of novel, and it all feels very fresh. You find humour and friendship and courage and determination.

And there could be a sequel. If one is planned I don’t know.

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.

Hell and High Water

This is Carnegie medalist Tanya Landman’s new book, out next week, and it does what it says on the cover. There is a hell, and there is high water. There is plenty of other exciting stuff as well. It’s very clear why she was awarded such a prestigious award.

Tanya Landman, Hell and High Water

Set in Devon – albeit a Devon Tanya has altered to suit her needs – in the mid eighteenth century, it’s the story about Caleb, who is black, and his father Joseph, who is white. They walk from town to town with their Punch and Judy puppets, just managing to earn a living. One day disaster strikes and Joseph is accused of stealing, and is swiftly sent off to the colonies, leaving his teenage son alone.

Caleb finds his way to a hitherto unknown aunt, who lives in a fishing village with her young daughter and an older stepdaughter, Letty. They are poor, and they live in constant fear of being turned out of their simple home by the cruel landlord.

Tanya is not someone who writes about dark tragedy, only to let it end all sunny and happy. Here you want the bad things that happen to be turned around and for Caleb’s life to be all right. But the bad things don’t un-happen just because we want them to, and more bad things will join them.

Things are not right, but with Letty’s help Caleb tries to prove his father has been wronged and that someone is breaking the law. First there is hell, and later there is high water, and still things don’t change for the better.

But you have to believe that something positive will happen. This is a seriously riveting story, that will have you reading until you get to the end. You just have to find out if anything good at all will come of this.

Liberty’s Fire

Lydia Syson’s Liberty’s Fire is set during a most interesting historical period. My ignorance showed itself again, but I’d like to think I’ve picked up a few facts about the French Third Republic now.

They had a lot of empires and republics in France back then, and in the history classroom I recall feeling bewildered by them all, and they were hard to keep apart when all you might read is a few paragraphs before you move on to the next Napoleon, or whatever.

Lydia Syson, Liberty's Fire

Liberty’s Fire takes place mainly in 1871 during the brief Paris Commune. Young Zéphyrine is poor and doesn’t even know how to pay for her grandmother’s funeral. She meets violinist Anatole, and they fall in love. Zéphyrine gets involved with the communards and she shows Anatole how things might be. He, in turn, educates her a little in cultural matters, and introduces her to his photographer flatmate Jules, and to Marie, who sings at the theatre.

War and revolution are the main characters in this book. The hopes people have for the commune and the hate and violence from its enemies are striking. There is much bloodshed and cruelty, but also friendships and solidarity, the latter reminding me of the early 1970s.

There is also a tender love story nestling in this book, although not the obvious one between Anatole and Zéphyrine.

This is an excellent history lesson, mixed with romance.

Saint Anything

Sarah Dessen and summer belong together. You sort of need to read one of Sarah’s books during your summer holidays. Saint Anything is less summer centred than some of her books, but still a perfect summer read.

Sarah Dessen, Saint Anything

This one is about crime and going to jail (Sydney’s brother Peyton), and about being invisible to your parents, and sometimes the rest of the world (Sydney). Always the – seemingly – favourite child, Peyton can do no wrong in the eyes of his mother, even when his drunken driving seriously injures a teenager.

It’s not only Peyton’s life and that of his victim that changes. Sydney’s does too. She is ‘guilty’ by association, while not benefitting from the attention of her parents. Sydney chooses to move to a public school, both to save on school fees, as well as to get a change of scene, somewhere no one knows her or Peyton.

She meets the Chatham family, who are everything her own is not. They are not perfect or without problems, but deal differently with life. Sydney makes new friends, meets a wonderful boy, and ultimately faces the difficulties life throws at her.

As always this is very American, and very fascinating. I could practically taste the pizza, but have some way until I can imagine the root beer YumYums.

Romantically educated

If you don’t know it, it doesn’t exist. Or so it seems. I was intrigued to read a travel article in the Guardian about the islands along the North Carolina coastline, where its author Douglas Rogers had not been aware that this state has lovely beaches. That it’s not just Cape Cod or Florida that matter on the east coast.

I’ve never been, so in a way I’m clearly more ignorant than he was. But, I had one thing going for me; I used to read – far too many – romantic novels. And I mean the Mills & Boon/Harlequin type. The American ones I found to be not only fresher than the UK old style romances, but really most educational too. No, not in that way.

Geography, lifestyle, idioms, food. That sort of thing. Even if a romantic novel is likely to idealise life and love, I assume that what people eat, and the region in which they live, will still be relatively authentic.

So, I knew, and liked, islands like Hatteras and Ocracoke a long time ago. I felt I’d like to visit, if it weren’t for the fact that to begin with it’s the other side of the Atlantic, and then NC is some way away, and the islands even more so. The description the Outer Banks, makes me feel agoraphobic just thinking about the journey there.

I’m most likely not going, but I do reckon they sound just my kind of place. I can’t remember a thing about any of the actual romances set there, but the islands themselves remain strongly in my memory. Which just goes to prove that reading broadens the mind, [almost] whatever the book it is.

This is Not a Love Story

Now I want to move to Amsterdam, and I speak as someone who has long been slightly anti-Amsterdam, without ever having got closer to it than the airport.

Keren David, This is Not a Love Story

This romantic – while not a love story – novel by Keren David is rather nice. A bit like Amsterdam, if Keren can be trusted, and I’m sure she can, since she lived there for quite a few years and knows what she’s writing about. Add to that a lively and likeable heroine, Kitty, and the two boys she ‘quite likes.’

As well as the romance and life in Amsterdam, Keren has written the most Jewish teen novel I’ve ever come across. It’s only as you read it that you realise how unusual this is. Both Kitty and Theo are recently displaced Londoners. Kitty is ‘a bit Jewish’ while Theo’s parents are very strongly traditional and Jewish. That causes problems, while also being a bit of a safety net at the same time.

Ethan, on the other hand, is only half Jewish, and not religious at all. Not that this would have saved him in the war, though.

All three have backgrounds that they don’t speak openly about, and all of them seem to feel freer for being in Amsterdam. Kitty goes so far as to come up with a new persona for her new home city. That’s something I think we all dream of; moving somewhere new where we can be wonderfully new and different and better and exciting. As if…

For a while I wondered if the reference to Love Story was significant, but won’t say more about that here. Suffice to say that this is a slightly different story on that old theme of love and friendship. You might think you know where it is going, but you’d probably be wrong.

Meanwhile I’ll be moving to Amsterdam.