Tag Archives: Romance

The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins

Orion | 2020 (2 April) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Puritan Princess by Miranda MalinsIt is 1657 and Frances Cromwell’s life is transformed. At eighteen years old, Frances is the youngest child of Oliver Cromwell and his wife Elizabeth. Cromwell has reached the height of his powers and the kingless Commonwealth has never been stronger. Cromwell is the head of the government and now it wants Cromwell to rule the land as Lord Protector or even King. All of the family now lives in royal palaces and castles, they are bowed to, addressed as ‘Highness’ and Cromwell’s daughters have become valuable commodities in the business of state.

The Cromwell children are divided by age. Some are much older. They remember the times before their father’s rise to power and they made marriages of a different kind. The older daughters Bridget and Elizabeth were given leeway in their choice of grooms, their husbands becoming part of the family. But for Frances and her slightly elder sister Mary, there will be none of that. Which makes it all the more difficult when Frances meets the young aristocrat and courtier, Robert Rich. But, as the months pass, Oliver Cromwell faces his own challenges, not least those posed by his own family.

The 1650s is such a fascinating period of history and one of my favourites when it comes to historical fiction. I was really excited to read The Puritan Princess as soon as I heard of it. We all have our conceptions of what Cromwell was like, possibly dictated to us by a certain Richard Harris film or from history retold by the ultimately victorious and vengeful royalists, but this novel turns this upside down. Here is Oliver Cromwell the family man as well as the soldier and, particularly here, statesman. I’ve always been interested in how Cromwell became almost royal, was treated as royalty, and yet he played such a large role in the end of kingship. And here we’re shown a man who loved his family, who liked pleasant and unPuritan things, such as horse riding, plays and music. Above all, he wants what’s best for his children and that does bring him into conflict with them on more than one occasion.

There is some intriguing insight into the political and religious circumstances of the day, such as the resurgence of the Levellers, who divided the country and Cromwell’s family, and put Cromwell in real danger, leading to some exciting moments here. We’re also brought into the world of political intrigue, as important men quibbled over minor points, turning them into impassable mountains. The heart of the novel, though, belongs to Frances and it is more than anything a love story played out against a colourful, fascinating historical backdrop.

I did like Frances, who tries to reconcile herself to this new royal life, wanting to carry out household tasks herself, and not being able to. She and her mother and sisters are a tight group, almost bewildered by what has happened to them. Frances loves deeply but this is not a love that will flow smoothly and so there are upsets along the way and there are moments which are truly upsetting, for Frances and for the reader. I think that my favourite character, though, is Mary, who is prepared to make such a sacrifice so that her younger sister would be happy. Oliver’s admiration for his children, especially Mary, is evident.

Miranda Malins writes very well and there are some wonderful descriptive scenes of life in London during these times. I enjoyed the scenes in which the sisters go hawking, experiencing the privileges of true princesses. History tells us what will happen to Cromwell but it’s so good to see what happened to the other, lesser known members of his family, especially his youngest daughters. This is one of those books which inspired me to do some research afterwards. I love it when historical fiction does that.

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

William Morrow | 2019 | 358p | Gift | Buy the book

Meet Me in Monaco by Hazel Gaynor and Heather WebbIn May 1955 Grace Kelly attends her first Cannes Film Festival on the French riviera. With the paparazzi hot on her trail, she takes shelter in the parfumerie of Sophie Duval. Sophie has inherited her perfume business from her father but it is a struggle to keep it afloat, and there are some who wish to buy her land, where her flowers grow and her scents are created. And there is a wealthy male friend in her life who wishes to be much more than a friend, to take her from this life. But Sophie is determined to succeed and when Grace Kelly enters her shop and falls for her perfumes, she has hope that her business can survive and that she can create her own perfumes, which will tempt a Hollywood princess.

James Henderson is a press photographer and he is on the trail of stars. When he follows Grace Kelly through the streets of Cannes, he encounters Sophie Duval and realises his life is about to change. He is there to witness the first and arranged meeting of Grace Kelly with Prince Rainier of Monaco. It seems unspectacular, uneventful to James but history is about to show James just how wrong he can be. As the preparations for the marriage of the year get underway, Sophie and James will find themselves drawn closer and closer to each other. But will their love story have the same happy ending?

I am a huge fan of Hazel Gaynor. She writes beautifully, as anyone who’s read The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter will attest, and I was drawn so strongly to Meet Me in Monaco. I have become such a reader of historical romance or ‘women’s fiction’, especially when it’s set during the 20th century and features real women that I have an interest in. Here we’re given Grace Kelly and she is captivating. Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb bring this charismatic and slightly mysterious, perhaps unknowable figure to life and I loved watching her experience Cannes and the other wonderful locations of this novel. It is fascinating to see the origins of her relationship with Rainier but I also loved all of the descriptions of Grace, her clothes, her style and her manner.

There is more to this lovely novel than Grace Kelly. At its heart is the growing romance between Sophie and James. These are very different people, one a French parfumer and the other an English newspaper photographer but there is more to both than initially meets the eye and it’s wonderful getting to know them. I enjoyed learning about Sophie’s perfume business and her relationships with her mother and father but I think James, or Jim, is my favourite character. We explore his background, his family and his friendships as well as his past. I think he’s a fantastic character.

Meet Me in Monaco is a gorgeous novel. It is filled with the glamour of Cannes and Hollywood in the 1950s, it has the intrigue of Grace Kelly’s rushed and curious romance, and it tells the involving story of Sophie and James. The pages are filled with the warmth and sunshine of the Mediterranean. I read the novel in just one day. It’s a light, enchanting read and the pages flit through the fingers.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Michael Joseph | 2020 (6 February) | 637p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Grown Ups by Marian KeyesThe Caseys are a glamorous family. The three brothers, Johnny, Ed and Liam, and their beautiful, talented wives and their lively and entertaining children – the bunnies – meet up regularly, usually at events powered by Johnny’s energetic rich wife, Jessie, a tour de force if ever there was one. To the world they would appear to be enviably close but, when Ed’s wife Cara suffers a concussion and can’t help herself from blurting out painful truths at Johnny’s 49th birthday party, everything falls to pieces. It’s during the fall out that the adults, and not just the adults, must re-evaluate their lives and relationships. Perhaps now it’s time to grow up.

Grown Ups is the first Marian Keyes novel that I’ve read. Marian Keyes is one of those authors that I’ve thought for a fair old while that I really should read and when Grown Ups was published, with its gorgeously stripey sprayed edges, I couldn’t resist it. I bought it as soon as it was published and started reading it straight away. It’s a mighty tome at about 650 pages but it’s not the sort of book that makes you worry about its length. It never feels too long or too wordy. It’s one of the most compelling reads that I’ve had in quite a while.

The novel is purely character driven and it succeeds because the characters are glorious. I have discovered what other readers already knew, that Marian Keyes is a genius when it comes to putting living and breathing people on the page. It’s especially an achievement here because there are so many characters and each of them is distinct. Their voices are as different as their lives and over the course of the novel I fell for many of them while there were a couple, particularly one, that I grew to detest. In a good way. It’s the wives that hold these brothers together. Jessie, Cara and Nell are absolutely fabulous. I loved all three of them but my heart belonged most of all to Cara, whose life is revealed to be such a struggle. Her relationship with husband Ed was my favourite of the novel. There’s something very wonderful about Ed. Jessie is the most dominating of the characters and, although she is exhausting, her heart is so firmly in the right place. And then there’s the kids. I loved the bunnies so much, with their strange little ways.

As the novel moves between the characters, jumping back in time to the months and weeks proceeding the infamous birthday dinner, we see the secrets that lurk underneath, the histories that can’t be forgotten, the lies, the deeply felt love. Marian Keyes is a perfect and witty observer of life. There are no great dramas here, instead a series of events, mostly organised by Jessie, and they are at times so funny. They’re all wonderfully described and feel so real, as do the characters. They’ll stay with me for quite a while. I’ve found another author to love.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Washington Square Press | 2017 (this edn 2018) | 389p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidMonique Grant is a struggling magazine reporter in search of the Big Break. One day it comes to her in the most unlikely of forms. Reclusive Hollywood legend Evelyn Hugo is approaching the end of her life and now, aged almost 80, wants her story to be told for the first time and, for reasons Monique can’t fathom, she wants Monique to write it. And so, for day after day, Monique listens to this extraordinary woman tell the story of her life, a life known most of all for her seven husbands. But, as Evelyn reveals the truth about each of her marriages in turn, she also reveals the truth about her greatest love, a forbidden love, and her ambition that threatened to destroy it. Secret after secret are revealed until at last Monique knows everything.

I have heard so much recently about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo that it felt serendipitous when I shortly afterwards came across a copy by accident in a local bookshop. I’m so glad I did. Taylor Jenkins Reid has created a woman in Evelyn Hugo that I suspect will be very difficult to forget. Evelyn dominates this book, from her difficult youth and early flowering as a beauty (best known for her impressive chest!) to her emergence as a starlet, a siren and, finally, a successful, admired Hollywood icon, albeit one who is always looked down upon for her divorce rate. It’s an incredible story and we’re told it in sections which cover each of her seven husbands by turn. And what a bunch they are. This novel overflows with larger than life personalities and it all builds up to an addictive portrayal of Hollywood between the 1950s and 1980s.

I really enjoyed Taylor Jenkins Reid’s style. The novel includes snippets from gossip columns and it all builds up to demonstrate so effectively how difficult and unfair life was for a woman wanting to become a successful actress, what she must compromise to achieve it. Evelyn is ruthlessly ambitious and yet she remains likeable, especially as she becomes more self-aware, but some of the decisions she makes might make you want to hold your head in your hands and groan. I hung on to every word.

This is also a love story, beautiful at times, and love doesn’t prove easy for Evelyn Hugo and I did pity her while also wanting to shout at her. There are some gorgeously tender scenes in this book and I laughed and cried several times. Evelyn is most definitely the star which does mean that Monique’s story is underwhelming by comparison but the majority of our time is spent enjoying Evelyn’s company, being shocked by her at times while at other times loving her as so many people did through her life. Evelyn’s struggle, though, is to determine which of them love Evelyn Hugo, the screen goddess, and which love Evelyn for herself. The two do not always go together. It’s a wonderful character portrayal. And that glamour! How I loved the glamour. This wonderful book drips in jewels, gorgeous gowns, lipsticks, red carpets and kisses. Fabulous.

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

Simon & Schuster | 2015 | 560p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Letters to the Lost by Iona GreyOne cold February evening, a young woman runs through the London streets, fleeing an abusive boyfriend. She has nowhere to go, she doesn’t even have shoes on her feet. Jess escapes down a small and quiet street and there she finds a house that is clearly not lived in. As Jess tries to make herself as comfortable as she can, a letter arrives in the morning post, which hints at a mystery in the past, a love affair from over seventy years before. Jess finds more letters and soon finds herself caught up in the great love affair of Stella, a clergyman’s unhappy wife, and Dan, a US bomber pilot. Jess, along with Will, a young man who enters Jess’s life, becomes obsessed with finding out who these people were while playing out her own story.

I recently read The Glittering Hour, Iona Grey’s latest novel, and I was enchanted. It is such a beautiful tale of love and loss set in the 1920s and 1930s and so, not surprisingly, I immediately sought out its predecessor, Letters to the Lost. Letters to the Lost is every bit as wonderful. It’s not quite as devastatingly sad but it is such a beautiful story and, once more, features some wonderful characters.

This time the novel is split between the present day(ish) and 1942 and 1943. The blitz is over but London and its citizens are scarred by it. With many people away fighting on the frontline in Europe and North Africa, for those left at home, this is a time of worry, of terrifying telegrams, of food shortages and sometimes even boredom as so much of life is curtailed by the restrictions, hardships and blackouts of war. This is a time of hasty marriages and Stella has made one to a clergyman with whom she must settle in a small village where her business is everybody else’s. It is a disaster from the outset and for much of the novel we feel intensely for this young wife. The romance with the bomber pilot Dan is exquisitely portrayed but it is tinged with tension, guilt and fear. So few pilots survived the war. This is a time when you had to grab what moments of happiness you can, in the face of twitching net curtains and nosey neighbours. Iona Grey captures this perfectly and I was engrossed in this gorgeous love story.

Stella and Dan’s story alternates with that of Jess and Will in the present day. For much of the time, we’re so caught up in Stella and Dan that the later story of Jess and Will plays out in its shadow but by the end it is just as compelling and the parallels between the two are cleverly made. I loved Jess, perhaps even more than Stella, and Will is an unusual young man. My heart, though, belonged to Dan.

Iona Grey writes beautifully. The words dance and dazzle across the page. Both past and present are depicted so vividly and I loved the way that the story moves between London with its bombed out churches and tea dances and the Cambridgeshire countryside with its fetes and squabbles and where tinned peaches can cause such excitement. Letters to the Lost is an enchanting, emotional read and I loved every page.

Other review
The Glittering Hour

The Glittering Hour by Iona Grey

Simon & Schuster | 2019 (Pb 17 October) | 471p | Bought copy | Buy the book

The Glittering Hour by Iona GreyIt is 1936 and young Alice, just 9 years old, has been sent to live with her grandparents and governess at Blackwood Park while her parents sail to Burma on business. Alice is a quiet child, self-sufficient and missing her mother Selina terribly. Her grandparents keep their distance while her governess is far too interested in what is going in the outside world to fuss about a small, lonely girl. Alice’s only friend is Polly, once her mother’s maid and now returned to the house just to look after Alice. It is to the two of them that Selina writes long letters, full of love, giving Alice the clues to a treasure hunt which will lead her to objects and places so precious to Selina and so significant to Alice in ways that she has yet to learn.

And so we discover the great love affair of Selina and the struggling artist Lawrence Weston during the glorious summer and autumn of 1925, a time when Selina was the brightest of all of London’s Bright Young People, and the light that radiated from her drew Lawrence to her like a moth to a flame. The Great War casts a long shadow. Selina mourns her brother. Everyone has lost someone, while many of the men who came back have not returned whole. Love is something to be treasured, perhaps especially because it is forbidden and must be kept secret. It’s time for Alice to discover the truth.

I heard such wonderful things about The Glittering Hour on Twitter and I knew I had to read it immediately and so I did. I am drawn to novels set in the 1920s and 1930s, these years of glamour and decadence (for the rich), sandwiched between times of such terrible sadness. The premise of the novel is wonderful and Iona Grey delivers on it perfectly. This is a beautifully written novel, so evocative of the times in which it is set, and the author does such an astonishing thing in bringing both the child Alice and the adult Selina to life. As the story moves between the two and between the two different years, I was spellbound.

I loved everything about this novel. I really enjoyed watching Alice explore Blackwood Park, discovering her mother’s secrets there, seeking out clues to her life in the house and gardens, helped by Polly and the gardener, ignored by her grandparents and governess. Alice is a child so in need of love, counting the days until her mother will return to her. The heart of the book, though, belongs to Selina, Alice’s mother, and a woman so full of love who has to make the most difficult decisions because she is so afraid of losing more people close to her. It’s a joy reading about her exploits, especially those involving Lawrence, including those infamous treasure hunts that frequently featured in the newspapers of the day. Selina is a gorgeous person and I loved her instantly.

The Glittering Hour is a novel about love but it’s also about loss and, when it hits you, it is heart wrenching. I cried a great deal, while loving every word that I was reading. The Glittering Hour is a gorgeous novel. It’s romantic and sentimental, it’s also deeply conscious of the legacy of war on these times and on these young people. I was riveted to it. I’m looking forward very much indeed to reading Iona Grey’s earlier novel Letters to the Lost. I have no doubt it will be just as enchanting.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

Pan | 2014 (this edition 2018) | 627p (plus an extract of The Storm Sister) | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda RileyMaia D’Apliese rarely leaves her home in the grounds of the grand lakeside castle in which she and her five sisters were brought up by their adopted father, known to them all as Pa Salt. But her father encouraged her to accept an invitation from an old school friend to visit her in London and it’s while she’s there that Maia receives a call from her father’s housekeeper Marina, the woman who effectively brought the girls up and who loves them as a mother, who breaks the terrible news that Pa Salt has suddenly died. Maia rushes home to discover that he has already been buried at sea, with no fuss at all. It’s devastating. And so Maia must wait for her five sisters to also return home whereupon they will each be given an object left by their father which hints at their early lives before they were adopted. If each wishes it, they can embark on an adventure to discover the truth of their past. But there is another mystery. Each of the sisters is named after one of the stars in the Seven Star constellation. So who is the seventh sister?

The novels tell the story of each of the sisters in turn, starting in The Seven Sisters with the eldest, Maia, a translator who is probably the most withdrawn from the world but is also the most beautiful. The clue left to her by Pa Salt takes Maia on a journey to Rio where she, along with the writer whose work she is there to translate, discover clues to her family’s identity. We’re then treated to a parallel story in the 1920s and there we meet Izabel, the stunning queen of Rio’s high society who falls in love with a man she shouldn’t.

When I received The Sun Sister to review I was intrigued. I loved the sound of it, with its time split story concerning one of six sisters trying to trace her origins in a distant land. I saw that it was the sixth in the series and so I thought I would go back to the beginning and read The Seven Sisters. I am so glad I did. It is enchanting and is so clearly only just the start of a great story. By the time I’d finished it I’d bought up all of the other novels so that now I can catch up, ahead of the publication of the much anticipated novel next year (hopefully) on the seventh mysterious sister. These are books in which clues are scattered. I want to follow them in order and watch the characters of these fascinating and very different sisters develop.

The Seven Sisters tells such a compelling story and it tells it gorgeously. I’ve read a novel by Lucinda Riley before (The Love Letter), which I loved so I knew I was in safe hands. This is important when embarking on reading a series in which every book is at least 600 pages long. I love how Lucinda Riley writes. It’s light but it’s also insightful. These characters are brought to life and I love here the way in which the past and the present interconnect. It’s a wonderful story but it’s also extremely sad and tender. It did make me cry.

I found myself completely caught up in the stories of Maia and also, maybe even more so, Izabel. I know nothing about Brazil in the 1920s but Lucinda brings it to life by focusing on an object that we’re all familiar with, the great statue of Christ the Redeemer, which Izabel and other characters in the novel observe being created. It even takes Izabel to Paris. Rio and Paris couldn’t be more different. Izabel must still wear a corset unlike her Parisian counterparts, she can’t go anywhere without a chaperone. Belle Époque Paris, with all of the freedom it offers, is irresistible and Izabel is completely consumed by it. It’s fabulous to read. My favourite pages, though, were those describing the lakeside castle in Switzerland. It really does feel like a secluded paradise.

I knew I’d fall for this series and I was right. The Seven Sisters, like the other novels, is very long but it’s a fast, engrossing read. It also contains layers of mystery concerning Pa Salt and the missing sister which are only just hinted at here. Clearly this will be developed through the novels. Next up is The Storm Sister, the story of the second eldest sister Ally, named for the star Alcyone. This time the destination will be Norway. I can’t wait.

Other review
The Love Letter

The Path to the Sea by Liz Fenwick

HQ | 2019 (6 June) | 423p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Path to the Sea by Liz FenwickBoskenna is a beautiful house, standing proud on a Cornish cliff, a place of comfort and security for three generations of Trewin women – grandmother Joan, her daughter Diana and Diana’s daughter Lottie. Each of them has spent long periods of time away from the house – and from each other – but they’re always drawn back to it. But now they gather together for a final time because Joan is dying. This is the last chance for Diana to work out her differences with her mother and it’s the only chance Lottie, herself on the run from events in London, has to learn the truth about her family and what happened that terrible August in 1962.

Liz Fenwick writes beautifully. She pours her heart into her novels and their characters and The Path to the Sea is no different. Cornwall is a special place to this author and she fills the novel with its colours, sea air, beauty and wildness. It’s all extremely appealing and this is enhanced in The Path to the Sea by such an intriguing and fascinating story, which is slowly and carefully revealed to us and to the Trewin women.

The narrative is divided between Joan, Diana and Lottie, which means that we move between the present day and the early 1960s when family and friends gather to celebrate the birthday of Diana’s father. Something terrible happens which destroys the relationship between Joan and her daughter, something that has been kept hidden from Lottie. But there are clues in Boskenna, which open up the past to Lottie and remind Diana of a childhood that was filled with love.

There’s something extra and unexpected in The Path to the Sea, which I particularly loved. Much of the novel is set in the early 1960s, the Cold War, and this is when Joan’s character comes to the fore and we realise what an exciting, glamorous daring woman she was, who had dabbled in danger. It’s brilliant stuff and it kept me guessing! And it makes the scenes set in the present day all the more poignant and upsetting as we learn that not all is as it seems.

The Path to the Sea would make the perfect summer holiday read. The Cornish setting is stunning and the structure of the novel – with its three generations of one family – is very effective and involving. It’s luscious, glamorous, tragic, uplifting, with an intriguing puzzle at its heart. Fabulous!

Other review
The Returning Tide

The Love Letter by Lucinda Riley

Pan | 2018 (26 July) | 590p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Love Letter by Lucinda RileyIt is the winter of 1995 and Sir James Harrison, the most famous and respected actor of the century, dies in his London home at the age of 95. His presence was larger than life and so, in death, he leaves behind a family who miss him dreadfully, especially his granddaughter Zoe, her son Jamie, and her brother Marcus. They can hardly realise that Sir James has also left behind a secret of such a magnitude that it could strike right at the heart of the British Establishment. The powers that be will do absolutely everything in their power to prevent that happening.

Joanna Haslam is a young journalist learning the ropes at a major national newspaper. She’s given the job of covering Sir James’s funeral, an event that will bring out the rich and the famous in number, including his beautiful granddaughter Zoe, a famous actress in her own right. Joanna finds herself sitting next to an old woman, Rose, who needs her help getting back to her dishevelled flat. And it’s there that Joanna learns of a letter, the contents of which have been fought for for over seventy years. With her curiosity pricked, Joanna sets out to learn the truth about the letter, to identify the people it mentions. As far as the Establishment is concerned, this could be the last thing that Joanna ever does. And she isn’t the only innocent person who will be caught up in their urgent efforts to destroy this love letter once and for all.

I picked up The Love Letter, not only because I was intrigued by its premise, but also because I was in the mood for a grand saga of love and secrets, spies and treachery – an escapist read. At 600 pages long, The Love Letter is certainly of grand saga length and it hooked me instantly. Lucinda Riley’s lovely prose dances along. Its characters are warmly presented and developed – except for those who deserve their cold treatment – and I was soon caught up in the stories of Joanna and the hapless Marcus, in Zoe and her secret and potentially life-changing love affair, in Simon whose secrets are threatening to consume his life, and in the tale of Sir James in the past. There are so many hearts at risk of being broken in this gorgeous novel.

The novel was originally written in 1998 and published as Seeing Double in 2000. Not much was made of it then because the time was not right for it, largely, the author explains, because of Princess Diana’s death and the public perception of the monarchy and the Establishment at that time. Reading it now, it almost has the feel of historical fiction. It is a book set in the 1990s and is also a product of that time and I really, really liked that. It has a nostalgic feel to it for me – the days before mobile phones and the internet took over completely and a time when stories like this really could have happened away from the gaze of the media. Again, as the author says in the foreword, this could not happen now. And so I was very happy to lose myself in this other time, almost an alternate historical past, as we slowly watch this enormous secret unveiled. Perhaps a secret that would have less resonance now (although maybe not) but twenty years ago may have been catastrophic for society.

I was so intrigued to know what it’s all about! Lucinda Riley certainly knows how to spin a tale and to keep the reader hanging on until the very last minute. Joanna is relentless in her hunt for the truth but the ramifications of her endeavours have devastating results for so many people and this erodes Joanna’s confidence and security. I longed for it all to work out for her. Her relationships with Simon and Marcus are so absorbing to read about. We have enough pages here to know these characters deeply. I love that. And also that we can spend an equally large amount of time with Zoe. She deserves it. In some ways elements of her story are extremely topical.

Rarely have I read 600 pages so quickly – in under two days. I lapped it up and loved it. I really enjoyed all of its different locations and its huge array of characters, so many of whom have secrets. It’s such a good story and I love how Lucinda Riley tells it. The perfect holiday read.

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Tor | 2018 (24 April) | 144p | Review copy | Buy the book

Time Was by Ian McDonaldEmmett Leigh is a used book dealer and one day in London he finds something that catches his imagination – a love letter from one soldier to another, written during the Second World War, hidden away in a book of poetry. Emmett is determined to find out everything he can about Tom and Ben and it takes him on a trail of bookshops and collections in England and further afield. What he finds seems impossible – photos taken during other wars and times, including World War I, and Ben and Tom look no different. Emmett has to accept that these two men are time travellers, lost in time, searching for one another, using the letters in copies of this book of poetry as a map.

Time Was is a novella and, as a result, skims the surface of a story that has the most intriguing premise – lovers cast out into time by a wartime scientific experiment that went very wrong indeed. On one level, it’s a gay love story that is both touching and tragic, and on another it’s a science fiction tale of time travel and wartime experiments. Both are equally appealing but I’m not sure that the story completely makes up its mind over which way to go. It is, though, exquisitely written. Ian McDonald writes so beautifully, filling this little book with poetic prose.

I loved the setting for much of the story which is in Shingle Street, Suffolk. I love books set in places that I’m fond of and I adore this area. The author captures it perfectly and it presents such an evocative backdrop to Ben and Tom’s story. Mostly, though, this is the story of Emmett, a man who has problems in his own relationships.

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that the story ends. I can’t say that I understood it completely but I loved how the strands came together. I am a huge fan of Ian McDonald’s Luna science fiction series. I will always seek out his writing. Time Was wasn’t quite what I was expecting but it certainly resonates and it most definitely haunts.

Other reviews
Luna: New Moon
Luna: Wolf Moon