Category Archives: Romance

Deception

My heart is still beating. I mean, that is obviously good, but it did go thump thump thump rather a lot towards the end of Teri Terry’s Deception, the sequel to Contagion. This, too, ends with, if not exactly a cliffhanger, then with lots of questions left unanswered. And there has been much deception, and probably will be even more in the last instalment.

Teri Terry, Deception

More people die. Lots more. So if this was real, I’d definitely be dead. And as in Contagion, Teri kills both good characters and bad ones.

The disease keeps spreading. The carrier knows it’s their doing, but for a long time no one else realises who’s the guilty party.

We gain a few more major characters, because all this couldn’t be left to Shay and Kai and Callie to sort out. Some of them die. Some don’t. Not necessarily the right ones. But I quite like the set-up over dinner one night when one character demands of another that she teaches them to kill. ‘Show us again,’ … ‘If anyone comes around with a flame-thrower I want to be sure how to do it.’

The bad guy has become more obvious in Deception. Unless he’s merely misunderstood, of course. But I don’t think so. And while believing that we all have some good and some bad in us, I’m not counting on this one rescuing us all in the end.

There is deception in most of us too. We don’t always admit to everything, and sometimes we deceive. Intentionally. All is fair in love and war?

If you want a dystopic thriller, Teri Terry is your woman.

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Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We’ve recently celebrated the centenary of [some] British women winning the right to vote. It wasn’t for everyone, but it was a start.

Sally Nicholls has written a suffragette novel – Things a Bright Girl Can Do – and as we meet her three main female characters, well-off Evelyn, educated but threadbare May and working class Nell, many of us know that very soon there will be a war, and this won’t be exclusively about the rights for women to vote.

Sally Nicholls, Things a Bright Girl Can Do

We learn a lot about the suffragette movement – and I was reminded of why I always liked Sylvia Pankhurst the best – as our three girls go about campaigning for votes for women in their own different ways. What I particularly liked was that they have sympathetic people close to them; Evelyn’s young man, Teddy, May’s single mother, and Nell’s [literally] very poor parents.

And it’s not just votes for women. May and her mother are Quakers, and both Nell and May like girls best, discovering that they aren’t alone in this. Then there is the lovely Teddy, and the threat of the looming war.

After a quick march through protests and fasting in jail, war breaks out, and it’s much tougher than the way it’s usually described in fiction. Yes, young men go off to be slaughtered, but life in England is really hard, especially for people like Nell and her family, who have no money and little food, and someone is always unwell. Trying to remain a true Quaker is not easy, either, at a time when everyone seems to give up their principles for their country.

The novel is written in the same light style as Sally’s other books, and it works, despite the difficult topics of suffrage, war, sexual orientation and religious beliefs. In fact, I feel it works better for having this sweetness about it, as the reality of the war years hits home.

You come to love these characters, and you discover that death isn’t necessarily the worst thing that could happen.

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

The Roman Quests – Return to Rome

Who’d have thought, that time about 15 years ago, when I discovered the [first] three Roman Mysteries in The Book People’s catalogue (yes, sorry about that) and felt they’d be perfect for my young reader of crime, who also happened to love school subjects such as the Romans, the Egyptians, and so on, that there would be another 27 books from Caroline Lawrence (so far), or that my young crime-reader would meet her (after all, she was an American…), or anything else?

I certainly didn’t think.

But here we are, with the – surely – last of her Roman adventures, Return to Rome. I was glad to see my second generation Roman adventurers back home, and in the company of some of the older characters. I like things tied up, and I would say Caroline has tied pretty well, and I think she’d find it hard to untie and continue. It is very satisfying when you know what happens to all your beloved characters.

Caroline Lawrence, Return to Rome

And yes, this is a spoiler, but you didn’t think Caroline would kill everyone off, did you? What we get is more history, learning more about Roman times, both in Britain and on the continent, while seeing how our young friends act in the face of adversity, and how they discover who they are and what they want in life.

While Roman Britain was interesting – and I especially enjoyed seeing Caudex in his natural habitat – I’m sure we all agree that we like Rome, and Ostia. And luckily, not all emperors are bad. Even Domitian had some good points.

So, our ‘old’ Roman friends did what adults do, and our younger Roman heroes are growing up, falling in love. Personally I’m relieved that Miriam’s twins were found. But they will always be a reminder that Caroline does kill when she needs to.

Helped by love

It made a great impression on the young Bookwitch. During those years when I devoured [almost] everything I found on the shelves at home, I came across this book, the title of which I no longer remember. While it looked a little boring, I read it nevertheless, and discovered that it was actually very good. Very romantic. And I know I re-read it later on, as I always thought of it as a ‘proper book.’

Older and wiser, I discovered when looking at it again, that it had originally been published by Mills & Boon. Oh dear. Well, I had known no better. But it just went to prove that translating a book and giving it a cover that doesn’t hint at anything light or lurid, makes it look like a real novel.

Written by Mary Burchell (pen name) it featured a young secretary who tricked her boss to marry her. Obviously for all the right reasons, but he didn’t know that at the time. Being an honourable man, he did the honourable thing and married her, once she had been compromised (via a conveniently ‘faulty’ door handle). You can tell how much I remember, even this long after!

Anyway, they obviously fell in love. There were one or two misunderstandings, as there should be. It ended happily. One detail I often think of is how our heroine is chauffeur-driven to wave her new husband off as he travels the world on business, departing by boat from Southampton. The kindly chauffeur covers her with a travel rug, so she won’t feel the cold…

‘So where am I going with this?’ I hear you ask.

There was a short letter in the Guardian last week, telling us about the real Mary Burchell. She was really Ida Cook, and with her sister Mary Louise, she rescued refugees in the 1930s, financing the operation with money from writing those romances.

I now feel really proud of my early Mills & Boon author. I’m glad she did so well with her over one hundred romances, and that she used the money for a good cause. And I’ve never felt apologetic about reading that old, nameless, book. I enjoyed it, and it left a lasting impression on me. (Something which can’t be said of the countless romances I consumed at a later stage.)

And as the writer of the letter said, who’d have thought that eighty years later we’d still need Safe Passage?

(I believe it was Wife to Christopher, from 1936.)

Arra

You were promised a book most of you can’t read, so here it is.

I have continued reading my way through Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing. And while I get why her Red Abbey Chronicles were translated into English, I can’t see why her other work hasn’t been too. Consider this an invitation.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Arra

The world that you might have met in Maresi and Naondel is a world Maria uses in her other books as well, rather like our own world. This means that one book is set in one country and one period, while another can be somewhere completely different, but still in the fantasy world Maria made up, and perhaps set earlier or later than the other stories.

Arra is set furthest back in time, and feels very much like many real world settings; the poverty suffered in a far from everywhere small village, somewhere a bit like Finland. Maybe. I can’t place it in time, but they use horses and carts, and candles, and old-fashioned weapons.

The reader meets Arra when she’s born, and you soon discover that her parents really didn’t want her. But for some reason they don’t kill her. She grows up neglected and alone among her many older siblings. Arra is mute, because no one talks to her and she’s considered stupid.

Not our heroine! Arra has plenty to think about in her head, and she has many unusual talents, which unfortunately also bring her trouble. After much deprivation in her first years, Arra ends up in the capital, living with her sister and her family, where she is used as a slave and still treated as a burden and an idiot.

Now, this will sound very fairy tale, but Arra meets and falls in love with the country’s prince Surando. He also experiences difficulties in his life, and more so when he is forced to go out to war, and when things get really bad, Arra goes to search for him, to rescue him.

I know, that too sounds quite unbelievable, but it’s not.

This is a beautiful and stirring tale, with much cruelty, but also beauty and love. I wish you could all read it!

Ferryman

Claire McFall knows a lot about the afterlife. I had no idea it was so hard dying, by which I mean the stuff that happens after you’ve died, in whatever form your death takes. And it seems that what you didn’t like alive, is quite possibly going to be what you have to go through as you try to get your soul to a good place. Or be lost forever.

Claire McFall, Ferryman

In fact, what is surprising is that you can die again, as if it wasn’t enough the first time. If you are not diligent while traipsing through the wasteland, wraiths will come and get you and your soul will be lost.

On the other hand, the ‘real’ afterlife, which you could reach once mountains and swamps and anything else you hate have been conquered, seems really quite nice. But I’d never get up that first hill.

Although, if you get your personal Ferryman and he/she is as lovely as Tristan is to [dead] Dylan, then I suppose there are compensations.

On a train journey to meet her long lost father, Dylan dies in a train crash. This is how she meets Tristan, whose task it is to get her soul safely across the wasteland.

But what if you fall in love? You’re both dead, but in different ways, and there can be no happy ever after[life]. Or can there?

Ferryman is a romance with a difference. I thought at first it was just going to be another teen romance, even if they were dead, but there is more to it. It makes you think. And it also makes me wonder how they can keep up such personal service, considering how many people die all the time. But I’m guessing the afterlife is vast.

And surprisingly, the last six lines are somewhat creepy. Don’t know if they are meant to be, but I shivered a bit when I got there.