Category Archives: Romance

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.

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Death in Berlin

M M Kaye wrote six ‘Death in …’ novels, each featuring a lovely young heroine meeting crime in a thriller setting, somewhere exotic. And also meeting love in the shape of dashing and mysterious man.

So, therein lies the problem, now that it’s the 21st century. On rereading Mary Stewart’s romance set in Vienna last year, I found it had grown old gracefully. Her heroines were usually a little more mature [than barely out of their teens] and her men not too frightfully macho. They had good conversation, and who cares if they were all rather unfashionable [by today’s standards] and belonging to the more entitled social classes?

Not me. Not then, and not now.

But this one by M M Kaye, the Death in Berlin one, was every bit as bleak as I recalled. Possibly because a cold and wet March in 1953 in a divided Berlin, with lots of ruins still, can never be as charming as a sunny romance in Africa or India. And I do remember being disappointed in the hero. He’d almost have been all right – at least now when I’m older and wiser – and then she had to go and compare him to Alec Guinness!

M M Kaye, Death in Berlin

And the class thing; it’s really not working. They are so frightfully British and superior in war torn Germany. Fine, you can hate the life as the wife of a British army officer, the moving round the world, and all that. But it’s not attractive voicing such hatred of foreigners. Fine, you want your heroine to do well. But in this case her man has a job. He doesn’t have to tell his new love that she needn’t worry, because he does have a private income as well. And his attitude towards this beautiful young female would be highly inappropriate today.

The crime, though, is pretty satisfying, and I couldn’t remember who did it. Quite a good thrilling end.

And as I mentioned yesterday, I liked the Berlin connection, even if it wasn’t exactly Zanzibar. It was clear that M M Kaye had lived there herself, at that time. I was amused to see that even back then there was a noticeable difference between British workmen and German ones. Seems that foreigners are good for some things, then.

That’s love

The Scots Magazine arrived at Bookwitch Towers courtesy of the goody bag from Bloody Scotland. Twice, I believe. It’s quite a good magazine. Even the Resident IT Consultant shares this opinion, and he is hard to please.

He has been known to buy the odd copy, too. And when Helen Grant mentioned she was in the February one, he was positively ordered to make sure to get it. (I know. I suppose I could have bought it myself.)

It was only as I read the article about Helen, and the other author that month, Noëlle Harrison, that I realised it was romance in books for Valentine’s Day. It’s a lovely idea, and it’s sure to have inspired a few people to get hold of their books.

But as the Resident IT Consultant said, did they realise what kind of book Ghost is? When I told Daughter, she laughed out loud. An interest in gothic stories should always be viewed with some suspicion.

Helen Grant, Ghost

Let’s just say that if I’d not known more and simply read Ghost for the romance, I’d have been in for a shock. Actually, I did know more, and I was still shocked. As were Daughter, and the Resident IT Consultant.

I loved Ghost. I just don’t believe I’d ever suggest it as reading material for Valentine’s. Helen’s fondness for the dramatic Scottish landscape and for atmospheric ruins ought to give the game away.

I wonder if anyone complained? To the Scots Magazine, I mean.

Summer of My German Soldier

It became necessary to take plenty of breaks. Usually this is a sign of a not very captivating book, but with Bette Greene’s Summer of My German Soldier, it was imperative not to read too much in one go, and not because I wanted the book to last longer, either. It was ‘just’ too strong stuff. I needed to brace myself, somehow.

I’d already forgotten that that is what Lucy Mangan says in her Bookworm memoir; ‘when I reread it now, I have to put it down every few pages and walk around for a bit to let it all bed down before I am ready for the next chapter.’ Because it was on her recommendation that I bought a second hand copy of the book.

Bette Greene, Summer of My German Soldier

And if I only have one of her favourites, this has to be the one. Rarely have I come across anything quite like this WWII story about a 12-year-old Jewish girl in Arkansas, who ends up sheltering an escaped German soldier.

Patty is an unusual girl, not loved by her family, but very intelligent, except perhaps when it comes to understanding when not to say some things. Beaten often by her father, it’s hardly surprising she laps up the kindness and politeness Anton Reiker has to offer. They have intellectual conversations and Patty learns about his home in Göttingen.

You know this can’t end well, and it doesn’t. But this must be the best really bad ending to a children’s novel I’ve ever read. Whether I could have coped with reading it in my early teens is another question entirely. Probably not, would be my guess.

Written thirty years after it’s set, I don’t know if Bette describes the American south correctly, but it does feel like it. German soldiers were obviously bad. So were Jews, and also all black people, whose job it was to clean and cook for everyone else. There is unexpected goodness in places, but otherwise this is harsh.

If it was difficult to read for any length of time, then it is harder still to work out what to read next.

I suppose I could reread it…

Love is all around us

At first I tried to brush the blossom off, before I discovered that it was part of the book cover of In Blossom by Yooju Cheon.

This beautifully monochrome picture book with pink blossom is rather romantic. It fits in with how some of us might feel today. Cat comes to sit on the bench under the cherry blossom to eat her packed lunch.

Soon after Dog comes to sit next to her, to read his book. And the dangers with cherry blossom is how it might blow from one sensitive little nose to another, and then…

Yooju Cheon, In Blossom

In Teresa Heapy’s book Loved To Bits, her illustrator Katie Cleminson shows us what one little boy’s teddy looks like. Looked like.

Because during all those exciting adventures the boy and his ted have, bits of him fall off. It can be hard to have fun and not lose the odd ear or arm.

This boy loves his ted, no matter what, and eventually when there is less of him, it makes ted even more loveable.

Teresa Heapy and Katie Cleminson, Loved To Bits

Tell Me No Truths

I loved Gill Vickery’s Tell Me No Truths! Similar to Mal Peet’s Tamar it deals with what happened in Florence during WWII, and we meet three British teenagers who have come to Italy looking for answers to questions they have.

Gill Vickery, Tell Me No Truths

Twins Jade and Amber had an Italian grandfather, and they want to discover what the place he felt he could never return to is like. They speak Italian, as does their mother. Teen artist Nico is on holiday away from his boarding school, with his mum and her latest boyfriend. Nico and his mum are big fans of a crime writer who lives in the area and they want to discover more about this elusive man.

Interspersed with today’s activities, we read a sort of diary from the war, about dramatic things that happened, but we don’t quite know who is doing the telling. But it’s easy to see it has a bearing on what all three teenagers are searching for.

There is romance in the air, as well, and now is a time for families to learn to accept the past and to start again.

There are too few novels about the war from inside another country, like Italy. We don’t know enough, and we need to learn more, as do Nico, Jade and Amber.

Great blend of art, crime and food, against the backdrop of WWII and Florence as it is today.

Airs Above the Ground

Like The Star of Kazan, Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground features a stolen Lipizzaner and some fake jewels, plus romance and adventure galore, all set in Austria.

Well over forty years since I last read it, I discovered – again – that returning to a book often improves it. I remembered some things very clearly, and was delighted to find others that I really enjoyed.

Mary Stewart, Airs Above the Ground

Almost newly-wed Vanessa flies out to Vienna, ostensibly chaperoning 17-year-old Tim, who is crazy about horses, and the Spanish riding school especially. Both of them are travelling under false pretences.

A fire in a circus takes them all over Austria, and it turns out Vanessa’s husband leads a more exciting life than she’d hitherto been aware of. (Well, he is a Mary Stewart hero.)

Now that I’m much older than Vanessa (I wasn’t the first time), I can see that she is unreasonably mature at 24. But I like her, and I adore young Tim, who like Mary’s other ‘young men’ is truly lovely.

And as for the horse… well, not a dry eye left.

I wonder if Eva Ibbotson had read Airs Above the Ground? Or if great minds simply think alike? The final chapters in both books are so similar, in the most satisfying of ways.

Besides, it’s amazing how far £20 went in the early 1960s…