Category Archives: Romance

Into Exile

Last we saw them, Kevin and Sadie were leaving Belfast in a hurry. In the third of Joan Lingard’s novels about the two teenagers from Northern Ireland, they are living in – relative – squalor in London. Married at Gretna Green, they are struggling to earn money, wanting to find somewhere better to live, but knowing this is all they can have for the moment. Both miss their tight-knit lives from their respective Belfast neighbourhoods.

But they discover that it is possible to make new friends and slowly life gets better, until a few new spanners are thrown into the works for them, in the shape of new workmates, girls down at the pub, an admirer for Sadie, and family troubles at home.

They know they want to be together, but it is so hard to keep going when life gets tough.

This is a beautiful time capsule, taking some of us back to the early 1970s, reminding us what things were like in those pre-historic days. And what this really is, is a typical tale of displaced people. It doesn’t matter which decade or where those people came from or why. There is always hardship, and suspicion from the locals, and even a lot of prejudice from the newcomers. I suspect this will never change.

Also, Sadie is very young – well, they both are – and impetuous, and it’s not easy not to spend too much money or not to want to go out and have fun. But Sadie happens to have a knack for making friends anywhere, which is a good thing, because you do need people when life is tough.

In Into Exile it seems as if most of their worries stem from the family back in Belfast, but they can’t go back. Or can they?

Sometimes all you need is a new colourful mug to cheer you up.

The Scarecrow Queen

Starting with the third book in a trilogy is not something I often do. If only one book from a trilogy is to be read, I tend to prefer the first, while also risking ‘having to’ continue, because once started you will want to finish.

Melinda Salisbury, The Scarecrow Queen

I only came across Melinda Salisbury a few months ago, when I heard much good about her first book, The Sin Eater’s Daughter. I was aware there was a second, but before I knew where I was, I found the third one, The Scarecrow Queen in the post, and after some agonising over time, I decided to jump straight in and begin at the end.

Which is not always a bad thing. It took me a while to learn who’s who (especially as Melinda doesn’t go in for the sometimes so tiresome explanations to help new – or forgetful – readers), but from then on it was almost as if I’d not skipped the first two.

A very bad Prince has ousted a good King and is now busy killing and controlling the people around him. This is fantasy, and he has golems and clay dolls at his disposal. He holds some of the good characters prisoner, while others are busy picking up the pieces from a devastating attack elsewhere. Twylla is the sin eater’s daughter and she is trying to get back to free her friend Errin, who is an apothecary, so that they can attempt to stop the Sleeping Prince.

This is a perfect fantasy for teenagers, with some strong female role models among the main characters. There is fighting and there is romance, and a lot of backstabbing as you hope you know who is on your side, while discovering who can’t be trusted.

Melinda avoids a too sugar-sweet ending, having kept the reader guessing throughout. I suspect the future will bring many more great books for her fans to enjoy.

The Apple Tart of Hope

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, The Apple Tart of Hope

We’ve all known people like Paloma. Was she not in your form at school? She was certainly in mine. OK, perhaps the Paloma in Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s The Apple Tart of Hope is somewhat ghastlier than average, but you know the type; perfect in every way, except she isn’t and she’s out to ruin your life.

And life was pretty good for Oscar and his best friend Meg. Until Meg had to move to New Zealand, temporarily, and Paloma moved into her house.

Oscar appears to have a special knack for being nice to people, and none more so than to Meg. Whenever he felt someone needed love and attention, he’d bake an apple tart. Yeah I know, not typical for 14-year-old boys, but Oscar’s not typical in the least. That’s why Meg loves him.

Then he disappears and is believed drowned. Suicide. Meg hastens back from the other side of the world, convinced Oscar is not dead. But there was a Day of Prayer for him at church, and Paloma ‘was his best friend,’ and nothing seems right. Meg and Oscar’s younger brother Stevie start searching for him.

This is a wonderful and gripping tale about young love and friendship and how easy it is for things to go wrong. Even when there is apple tart.

I’d wanted to read Sarah’s first novel but ran out of time, so I’m grateful I got to meet Oscar instead. He and I sat up half the night.

Wildthorn

Jane Eagland, Wildthorn

Wildthorn was Jane Eagland’s first novel, and what an absolutely marvellous story it is! I’m so glad I read it, after being aware of Jane’s writing for several years.

I’m not quite sure when it is set. I’m guessing the 1870s or 1880s. 17-year-old Louisa Cosgrove is travelling to stay with the Woodvilles to be a companion to a young lady. Instead she finds herself at Wildthorn Hall, where they address her as Lucy Childs.

Thus begins her nightmare, and Louisa discovers she’s been put in an asylum. She doesn’t at first know by whom or why, and she believes the ‘mistake’ will soon be rectified.

Interspersed with what happens to her at Wildthorn Hall, we learn what’s been going on in her life up till now, and the reader begins to guess.

There is much unpleasantness as Louisa’s life goes from bad to really very bad, with most of the staff more jailers than nurses, and many of the other patients either insane or also put there by family who for some reason wanted to rid themselves of someone inconvenient.

For that is what Louisa is. She wants to be a doctor. She doesn’t want to get married and have babies. And she loves the wrong kind of person.

That was enough to be put away, back then. (And I’d say it’s not always all that different today, in some ways.)

Louisa is strong, and intelligent, and she eventually makes what needs to happen happen. And she meets someone who helps her and believes in her.

Horrifying, yes. But also so enjoyable. Women needed to stand up for themselves, and they still do.

Charley Chambers

This was quite fun, in a teen sort of way. But then, Rachel Kennedy isn’t that long past her own teenage years, so that could be why. I am quite convinced young readers will like Charley Chambers, Rachel’s story about a 15-year-old with magic.

I don’t know where the story is set, but I couldn’t help picturing it somewhere not too far from me, which added a bit of spice. You know, having demons run around misbehaving, and magic teenagers with their L-plates on.

Charley is just discovering that the odd things that have always happened to her is actually magic, when she becomes friendly – very friendly – with two goodlooking boys in her form at school. And as is always the case (or so I find) when you have two boys competing for you, it’s hard to know which way to go.

First it’s the newfound magic, and the newly found boys that fill the pages. Soon though, it’s the threat to people Charley cares about, and lots of inexplicable things that happen. It’s the usual set-up; who to trust and what to do, and who might this mysterious stalker be, the one who causes mayhem all the time?

Rachel Kennedy, Charley Chambers

The book could have lost 50 pages, and possibly also a character or two. And the point of view is all over the place. While it is convenient to ‘hear’ what everyone is thinking, it’d be better if you were left more in the dark.

But the plot is exciting and it’s a fun story. Very teen, a bit romantic, and slightly Voldemort towards the end.

The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland, The Greatest Show of All

Jane Eagland’s latest book for Barrington Stoke gave me a lovely warm glow, in the middle of the night. I woke up and couldn’t sleep, and I wanted something reliably good, and also something I could read to the end, in one easy sitting. And The Greatest Show of All ticks the boxes.

Inspired by Twelfth Night it features siblings, with a girl masquerading as a boy, and she does that classic of rebellious things; she runs away to join a circus.

Crazy about horses, Kitty becomes Kit. There is a lot going on at the circus and soon it seems Kit is at the centre of a couple of conspiracies, as well as in the middle of unrequited love on several counts. An unfriendly clown (how extremely topical!), a tightrope star and more than one horsey boy make for an exciting life.

There is an unexpected, but most welcome, nod to a more modern romantic twist; one which I wouldn’t have minded being taken further.

Lovely.

Across the Barricades

As I said, I could barely wait to read Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades after The Twelfth Day of July. It has the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends, but it has stopped feeling even a little bit cosy. Three years on, Kevin is 17 and Sadie is 16 – which back then seems to have almost counted as being adult – when they unexpectedly meet up again.

Joan Lingard, Across the Barricades

Things are much worse in Belfast; barbed wire everywhere and disturbances and violence have become daily occurences and seemingly normal, even to peaceful and ‘normal’ people. Childhood friendships are falling apart, when people find themselves on opposite sides, and I don’t mean religious ones, but whether or not they want to live peacefully or if they prefer to go on the attack against people who’ve not done anything to them.

As we can see today too, prejudice is rife and you hate on principle. This makes it harder for our young couple, who find that they very much want to keep seeing each other, while also realising that the other one will be much safer if they can stay away.

What a choice!

Just as it is upsetting to see how blinkered some people were (are), it is reassuring to find the odd ones who can see both sides of the coin and who are normal and decent human beings.

Even as their situation darkens, you want to read on and on. And knowing that this is anchored in recent history, you know that not everything can be fine, just like that. People will die, and they will be injured. Others will be upset, because separation of some sort is unavoidable.

I just want more.