Two books which have a loose theme of romance today – one very much in its genre, the other pretty genre-defying, one told from the viewpoint of a woman, one from a man, both about family but with different ideas about what family actually means, one written and published a while ago and showing its age, one rather more modern. Oh, and an extra which is a little book of short stories, again in the romance genre and spanning a number of years. Confused? Read on, and hopefully all will become clear.
Helen Cross – “The Secrets She Keeps”
(8 September 2014 – bought at an author talk)
I went to a lovely presentation by Helen in September 2014 (more about that at the bottom of this review post), having only read her “Spilt Milk, Black Coffee” before but having met her a few times. I picked up this and “My Summer of Love” (to be read and reviewed soon) and read this one on the journey to and from Oxford last weekend, as it was just the right size to pop into my handbag. I was actually disappointed to be really sleepy on the trains, because I really could not put this down, except when I fell asleep!
It’s a cracking read as well as an interesting musing on celebrity, identity and family. John finds himself, somehow, applying for a job as nanny to a reclusive star, looking after her new baby and a somewhat disturbed six year old boy who isn’t clearly related to anyone in the household. At his interview, John falls hard for the mysterious and slightly grubby Hepsie – a wonderful character – a previous incumbent, and meets the deliciously silly but at the same time menacing Brian, stylist to the stars.
Ending up in a decaying farmhouse in a miserable village, the book is shot through with a gothic feel and deadpan, almost camp tone, which reminded me of Paul Magrs’ (non-magical) novels in a way that her other book didn’t. There are also shades of “Cold Comfort Farm” as mysterious static caravan-dwelling women in denim shorts circle ominously. Is John’s relationship with Hepsie real or in his head? Who did live in the house before? What does Misty Moore get up to in her private apartment at the top of the house? Is someone creeping into the house at night, or is it actually haunted, and why’s there a rabbit in that cupboard? What’s more, who and where are Mouse’s parents?
Narrated from a point a decade after the events being told, you become desperate to know what’s happened in the intervening years and craving for more – hints are dropped and John’s life is irrevocably changed by the events of the year he was 19. With spare elegance and masterly writing, the plot thickens, the fairytale world wraps around the characters, and even when “real” people intrude into their space, it’s to act as a kind of chorus. Some great set-pieces, and altogether superb and unputdownable.
Debbie Macomber – “Reflections of Yesterday”
(E-book, won February 2015)
Gentle romancy / stories of communities writer Debbie Macomber is reissuing some of her older books in e-book editions, and I managed to snaffle a copy of this one for Kindle.
Simon and Angie were childhood sweethearts, getting “married” at 17 so they could consummate their love. But she was from the wrong side of town, and something happened to do with a sum of money, what is obviously going to turn out to be some misunderstandings, and her and her father leaving town in a hurry. Twelve years on, she’s living away from their home town, running a floristry business, and he’s the boss of the bank, and Angie makes a return trip to the small town as she prepares to get engaged to her dull but dependable boyfriend and wants to draw a line under her old life. Of course, Simon and Angie meet up; of course sparks fly; and then they spend quite a large portion of the book zipping between their respective towns and battling with their families. Issues with Angie’s father are very clearly spelled out here and could probably have done with a bit of editing, I have to say. Will the course of maybe true love (but with whom?) run smooth? Will someone get married to someone else in the end?
It’s quite obviously an older book and curiously old-fashioned in the morals department – or maybe this is just more obvious than in later books. Angie does like to keep herself pure, and that seems a bit grating in this modern world, although obviously there are readers who prefer that kind of aspect, it just makes things a bit unbelievable. There’s also a rather odd bit right at the end which I won’t spoil for readers but seems a little implausible.
Anyway, I’ve realised that the Macombers I prefer are the ones with an ensemble cast set in a community, where the romance is diluted by other friendships and relationships. But it was a pleasant read.
Carole Matthews – “The Silver Collection”
(E-book, December 2014)
This is a book of five short stories and a novel excerpt which was published to celebrate Matthews’ 25th book in 17 years. I have read a few of hers and they’re well written and engaging, and these stories are just the same. I wasn’t expecting introductions to each of them, which explain the background to her writing them and having them published, which make it a nice friendly read. The stories are varied and certainly not all happy endings and romance; the first one, her first ever, was interestingly dark, and the one set in Venice gave a nice surprise. Very enjoyable – and I picked it up as a free pre-order which was a thank you to members of her mailing list and Facebook page.
I’m currently reading quite a hard book about Snorri Sturluson (while I try to learn some more Icelandic – it’s not in Icelandic, I hasten to add, but is clotted and thick as an old saga translation) and an interesting one which is less prurient than I expected about the offspring of rock stars. So some varied reading for me this month but I am getting through them! What are you reading?