Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Lovely books about love

I'll start with EXCITING NEWS and a WARNING. 

*EXCITING NEWS: You can win copies of TWO of the books from this list! I have a copy of I'LL BE THERE by Holly Goldberg-Sloan and a swanky new paperback of MIDWINTERBLOOD to give away. Pop a comment at the end of the blog, including a way to contact you, if you would like to win.* 

*WARNING: This post reveals the ending to the wonderful Dawson's Creek. If you watched it  for a bit and then stopped but always thought you'd like to get the whole box set and watch it CONTINUOUSLY until the theme tune makes you feel a bit ill (although they change it in season three) and then feel like you may have wasted a few years of your life (or all of uni) but at least you know what happens in the end, then BEWARE!*

*Oh and the ending to Pride and Prejudice*

*And a bit of Jane Eyre*

I have been thinking recently about love. The path of true love, rather than running smooth, more often runs embarrassingly with episodes of mild stalking. Before I aged, I was a teenager desperate to fall in love in one of the following ways: 

1. Dramatically, with moors, housefires and someone angry (like in Jane Eyre)
2. Meaningfully, with lots of looks over the piano, bouncey dances and someone grumpy (like in Pride and Prejudice)
3. Funnily, with owls, beards and Dave the Laugh (YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT ONE)

Sadly, real life never quite matched up to book love. My teenage love life mainly revolved around: 

1. Following people on the bus. (We didn't have Facebook or Twitter, so stalking consisted of actually following people around in a tragic manner)
2. 'Pulling' people at 'parties' (i.e. dancing to a CD on in someone's parents' living room. Not quite a Regency ball)
3. Awkward dating. (i.e. feeling quite posh because you are 18 and going on a real date to a restaurant, so you react by drinking too much wine, throwing a plate of satay sticks over the floor, going to the loos to phone your friend and tell her you threw a plate of satay sticks over the floor, realising you've been on the phone for 30 minutes, coming back and saying 'I wasn't throwing up', which makes it sound like you were, and then being walked/supervised home.) 

It is good, then, that there are other people's stories to make us feel better, make us realise we aren't alone and finally - and most vomitily - inspire us to keep looking for love.  I have chosen five books that got me all emotional by exploring being in love in a way that seems real, possible and just plain lovely.

1. I’LL BE THERE by Holly Goldberg-Sloan
Piccadilly Press
Amazon link

A chance meeting and a love song change everything for Emily and Sam. From that moment their lives become inextricably entangled. But can it end happily? Sam and his fragile younger brother Riddle are at the mercy of their father, who drags them from place to place in a life of petty crime. Sam has found something worth staying for, but his father is a ticking time-bomb who could endanger everyone. Can the connection between Emily, Sam and Riddle survive?

This book is moving and heart-warming, but with a sense of danger running through it. Sam and Emily’s connection is beautiful – on their first date they talk and talk, with the gradual realisation that they never want to be apart. Most of their conversation happens off the page, which makes it more real because you have to imagine it. 

(A bit like in the ending of Jane Austen’s Emma, when Emma is proposed to. 

‘What did she say? Just what she ought, of course. A lady always does.'

Keeping the scene just out of your reach makes it more powerful, I think, as it remains a secret between two people . But more Austen wittering later...)

For Emily meeting Sam is like a black and white film suddenly changing into colour – in the High School-world of image and reputation she has found someone who is simply himself. For Sam the connection is a life-line – the chance to cling to something real and constant and finally have a home. But as the reader you can never relax. Clarence Border’s unstable mind has created a completely uncertain existence for his children – Sam wants to be with Emily but can’t face dragging her into the chaos that is his life.

It makes you realise how fragile people’s stories are – the whole trajectory of the story can be thrown off by a misunderstanding, or a comment. Trusting in connections with other people, like Sam trusting that Emily wants to be there for him, Riddle trusting that Sam will always take of him and Emily’s parents’ urge to care for Sam and Riddle, are what give people hope that things will be okay. Holly Goldberg-Sloan has told a powerful and emotional love story that will keep you guessing and hoping right until the end.


2. WHEN YOU WERE MINE by Rebecca Serle
Simon and Schuster
Amazon link

What if the greatest love story ever told was the wrong one? Rob and Rosalind are best friends and since’ that kiss’ it looks like they’ve finally fallen in love. Then Rosalind’s cousin Juliet arrives. Suddenly Rosalind is watching from the wings the story that should have been hers. Can she change the plot or will she find that an even greater adventure is waiting behind the scenes?

This took me back to the days of year nine when I was very upset that my life was not set in Dawson’s Creek. It would have been very nice to have bad-haired boy climb through my window and be all in love with me and I could be all in love with him for a bit before going out with his fitter, funnier best friend. Unfortunately the closest I got to finding my Pacey was following and no boy ever did this over me:

Not literally over me. That would be weird. And damp. This book took me back to DC in its hey day, before they thought it would be a good idea for everyone to go to uni and the tarty one to die. Right when it was all about Dawson and Joey and then JEN arrived. Like Jen, Juliet is flirty and from the city and ruins the couple who were supposed to be together. And you are meant to hate her at first. (It may turn out she’s not so bad and she’ll end up playing Marilyn Monroe and being part of the BEST COUPLE EVER with Jason Segel, who I love whether he is a man or a muppet).

But this is not Juliet’s story. You get so caught up in Rosie’s life that Rob and Juliet fade into the background. She has fiercely loyal and hilarious friends in Charlie and Olivia and is slowly getting to know class clown Len.  And it soon becomes clear sitting on the outside of the love story everyone knows is probably the best place to be. Rosie might not get the fairytale ending she wanted, and instead anything could happen. The book also shows that the strongest relationships don’t happen because they are ‘meant to be’, but because of the small, thoughtful acts of the people involved. Drama and intensity is all very well, but it’s how people behave backstage that matters.

Also, drama and intensity often lead to this:

3. MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick
Amazon link

It may seem odd to describe as lovely a book with 'blood' in the title that contains Viking vampires, but this book is full of heart-expanding (and crushing) moments of feeling between people. It is seven intertwined stories, woven together by two souls - Eric and Merle - who find each again and again, in lots of different ways. I have wittered on about this book at great length, both in person to lots of people and also here


4. ONE DAY by David Nicholls
Amazon link

Em and Dex! Dex and Em! This book made me want to climb up Arthur’s Seat (which is a big hill in Edinburgh, in case you haven’t read this book or don’t know the names of many hills and you thought that I was saying I wanted to climb up a man’s bum). Most people probably have heard of the Seat and the book, but in case not it is the story of Dexter Mayhew and Emma. We meet them on the day they meet each other – St Swithin’s Day (15 July) – and then revisit them every year on that day to see where they have got to. Spending one day a year with Dexter and Emma makes you feel like they are your actual friends. Your friends who are perfect for each other but take ages to realise it until you want to beat them over the head with a stick until they agree to kiss (which probably wouldn’t be very romantic). 

5. All the books by Jane Austen

Charlotte Bronte, when writing to G.H. Lewes (aka Mr George Eliot), described Pride and Prejudice as 'a carefully fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck.' After a rebuttal by Lewes and reading Emma, she wrote 'I read it with interest and with just the right degree of admiration which the Miss Austen herself would have thought sensible and suitable—anything like warmth or enthusiasm; anything energetic, poignant, heartfelt, is utterly out of place in commending these works [...] She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound: the Passions are perfectly unknown to her; she rejects even a speaking acquaintance with that stormy Sisterhood; even to the Feelings she vouchsafes no more than an occasional graceful but distant recognition; too frequent converse with them would ruffle the smooth elegance of her progress.'

I would respectfully disagree (respectfully, because she did introduce me to Mr Rochester and he has been my imaginary husband for 10 years. Although I have to hide him in the attic, because I am also married to Mr Darcy). For me, Austen's carefully fenced gardens and stifling conventions make the feelings going on under the the surfaces of the lives of genteel English people even more intense.

Empty conventions can become full of meaning and feeling when two people have a connection. Lizzie will have performed the same dances on countless occasions at balls, but when she dances with Darcy everything changes. Suddenly the dance with all its prescribed moves becomes part of the very real process of two people making steps towards each other – their conversation becomes charged because on the surface everything is mapped out for them, while underneath something more confusing and turbulent is going on.

To bring my Austen ranting to an end, I’ll talk about endings. As I have already mentioned, Emma's final speech is hidden from us. Similarly with Darcy and Elizabeth: 

'...he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Elizabeth been able to encounter his eye, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight, diffused over his face, became him; but, though she could not look, she could listen, and he told her of feelings, which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.'

Elizabeth can't look at him, but listens. We see his face, but don't hear what he says. From both points of view the scene is half-hidden - there is more going on than the words on the page. And because conventions prevent them from expressing feelings like this to often, the tiniest moment can mean the whole world. They are on a nice genteel country walk, probably through a highly cultivated garden, and so when he calls her 'dearest, loveliest Elizabeth', to me it is the most romantic thing in the world. 

This is probably also because that is my name and he was definitely talking about me when he said it.

Well I'd better go (I can hear noises coming from the attic so Mr R must want his dinner).  


  1. I'll Be There by Holly Goldberg and MIDWINTERBLOOD by Marcus Sedgwick sound great! Would love a chance to win one. Email : booksaremagic44(AT)yahoo(DOT)com . Also, absolutely loved the post. Being the sucker for romance that I am I gobbled it up. You had me at the first sighting of the words Pride and Prejudice. Gosh, do I adore that book! We need some Mr.Darcys out in this world (but maybe less complicated haha) I'll definitely be looking into all the books you mention because they all sound great! P.S - new follower!

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