Posted in Romance Rocks, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday! Mix-Tape by Jane Sanderson for Romance Rocks!

I love this book. Perhaps it’s because I had a Dan. A musician who started as my best friend and who I fell in love with. I was 18 and he took me to my first prom. His band were playing and it was 1991 so perms were everywhere and we were just adopting grunge. I would turn up for school in jumble sale floral dresses with my ever present oxblood Doc Martens. They played some of my favourite songs that night: some that were contemporary like Blur and others were classics like Wild Thing. I most remember Waterloo Sunset. Then, like a scene in a rom-com we walked across town to his house – me in a polka dot Laura Ashley ball gown and him in his dinner suit with the bow tie undone. He had a ruffled shirt underneath that he’d bought from Oxfam. We crept into the house and into the playroom so we didn’t wake anyone, then watched When Harry Met Sally. I remember a single kiss and then we fell asleep, but the love carried on over the years.

When I think of Elliot I always think of those famous best friend couples, like Harry and Sally or later, Emma and Dex in One Day. Now I can add Dan and Ali to the list. Alison and Dan live in Sheffield in the late 1970s when the city was still a thriving steel manufacturer. Dan is from the more family friendly Nether Edge, while Alison is from the rougher Attercliffe area, in the shadow of a steel factory. They meet while still at school and Dan is transfixed with her dark hair, her edge and her love of music. Their relationship is based on music and Dan makes mix tapes for her to listen to when they’re not together such as ‘The Last Best Two’ – the last two tracks from a series of albums. What he doesn’t know is how much Alison needs that music. To be able to put it on as a wall of sound between her and her family. Dan never sees where she lives and doesn’t push her, he only knows she prefers his home whether she’s doing her homework at the kitchen table, getting her nails painted by his sister or sitting with his Dad in the pigeon loft. Catherine, Alison’s mum, is a drinker. Not even a functioning alcoholic, she comes home battered and dirty with no care for who she lets into their home. Alison’s brother, Pete, is her only consolation and protection at home. Both call their mum by her first name and try to avoid her whenever possible. Even worse is her on-off lover Martin Baxter, who has a threatening manner and his own key. Alison could never let Dan know how they have to live.

In alternate chapters we see what Alison and Dan are doing in the present. Now a music writer, Dan splits his time between a canal boat in London and home with his partner Katelin in Edinburgh. Alison has written a new novel ‘Tell the Story Sing the Song’ set in her adopted home Australia and based round an indigenous singer. It’s a worldwide hit and she finds herself in demand, having to negotiate being interviewed and getting to grips with social media. She has an affluent lifestyle with husband Michael and has two grown up daughters. She has a Twitter account that she’s terrible at using and it’s this that alerts Dan, what could be the harm in following her? The secret at the heart of this book is what happened so long ago back in Sheffield to send a girl to the other side of the world? Especially when she has found her soulmate. She and Dan are meant to be together so what could have driven them apart? Dan sends her a link via Twitter, to Elvis Costelloe’s ‘Pump It Up’, the song she was dancing to at a party when he fell in love with her. How will Alison reply and will Dan ever discover why he lost her back in the 1970s?

I believed in these characters immediately, and I know Sheffield, and loved how it was described with affectionate detail by the writer. The accent, the warmth of people like Dan’s dad, the landmarks and the troubled manufacturing industry are so familiar and captured perfectly. Even the secondary characters, like the couple’s families and friends are well drawn and endearing. Cass over in Australia, as well as Sheila and Dora, are great characters. Equally, Dan’s Edinburgh friend Duncan with his record shop and the hippy couple on the barge next door in London are real and engaging. Special mention also to his dog McCullough who I was desperate to cuddle. Both characters have great lives and happy relationships. Dan loves Katelin, in fact her only fault is that she isn’t Alison. In Australia, Alison has been enveloped by Michael’s huge family and their housekeeper Beatriz who is like a surrogate Mum. It’s easy to see why the safety and security of Michael’s family, their money and lifestyle have appealed to a young Alison, still running away from her dysfunctional upbringing. She clearly wants different for her daughters and wishes them the sort of complacency Dan had, sure his parents are always there where he left them. But is the odd dinner party and most nights sat side by side watching TV enough for her? She also has Sheila, an old friend of Catherine’s, who emigrated in the 1970s and flourished in Australia. Now married to Dora who drives a steam train, they are again like surrogate parents to Alison. So much anchors her in Australia, but are these ties stronger than first love and the sense of belonging she had with Dan all those years before?

About three quarters of the way through the book I started to read gingerly, almost as if it was a bomb that might go off. I’ve never got over the loss of Emma in One Day and I was scared. What if these two soulmates didn’t end up together? Or worse what if one of them is killed off by the author before a happy ending is reached? I won’t ruin it by telling any more of the story. The tension and trauma of Alison’s family life is terrible and I dreaded finding out what had driven her away so dramatically. I think her shame about her mother is so sad, because the support was there for her and she wouldn’t let anyone help. She’s so fragile as a teenager and on edge. Dan’s mum had reservations, she was worried about her youngest son and whether Alison would break his heart. I love the music that goes back and forth between the pair, the meaning in the lyrics and how they choose them. This book is warm, moving and real. I loved it.

And what of my Daniel? Well he’s in Sheffield strangely enough. Happily partnered with three beautiful kids. I’m also happily partnered with two lovely stepdaughters. We’re very happy where we are and with our other halves. It’s nice though, just now and again, to catch up and remember the seventeen year old I was. Laid on his bedroom door, with my head in his lap listening to his latest find on vinyl. Or wandering the streets in my ballgown, high heels in one hand and him with his guitar case. Happy memories that will always make me smile.

Meet the Author

A former BBC Radio 4 producer, Jane Sanderson’s first novel – Netherwood – was published in 2011. She drew on much of her family’s background for this historical novel, which is set in a fictional mining town in the coalfields of Yorkshire. Ravenscliffe and Eden Falls followed in the two subsequent years, then in the early summer of 2017, This Much Is True was published, marking a change in direction for the author. This book is a contemporary tale of dog walks and dark secrets and the lengths a mother will go to protect her family. 

Jane lives in Herefordshire with her husband, the journalist and author Brian Viner. They have three children.

Her book Waiting for Sunshine is published in paperback on 23rd March 2023, with my review coming soon.

‘Who would name a child Sunshine, then give her away?’

Chrissie has always wanted to be a mother. After months of trying to adopt, she and her husband Stuart finally get the news that a little girl named Sunshine is waiting for them.

Abandoned at a young age, the child comes to them without a family history, and it feels like a fresh start for all of them. But when fragments from Sunshine’s previous life start to intrude on her new one, the little girl’s mysterious past quickly becomes Chrissie’s greatest fear …

Posted in Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Romance Rocks! The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

I was lucky enough to be sent a pre-publication copy of The Fortune Hunter via Twitter. I had never read Daisy Goodwin’s novels just her collections of poetry so this was a first for me and I was pleasantly surprised.

I like historical fiction and love the Victorian period particularly so what caught my imagination first were the historical details. I love clothes so the intricate descriptions of the layers in women’s Victorian clothing were very enjoyable. The details of fashion etiquette were interesting too; when and where certain clothing was worn and how those rules were affected by class were all fascinating too. In a world where the only detailed protocol we still use is probably at our weddings it is amazing to think that this is how the upper and middle classes lived their everyday lives. Having studied Victorian art as well as literature I was drawn in by the details of the heroine Charlotte Baird’s hobby of photography but then gradually I fell in love with Charlotte herself.

Charlotte is an heiress to the Lennox fortune and is a target for fortune hunters everywhere. Far from being the usual simpering Victorian heroine Charlotte is more of a bluestocking girl; educated and very intelligent. Instead of being caught up in a social whirlwind, as favoured by her brother and sister-in-law, Charlotte does not care for clothes, parties or the famous Lennox diamonds she owns, but does care passionately for her hobby of photography. Meanwhile her brother and his wife engage wholeheartedly in the social life she dislikes, because as the guardians of her fortune they live from the interest until Charlotte marries and takes the reins for herself (or more likely her husband does). At a party Charlotte meets the handsome and infamous Bay Middleton who is a horseman, hunter and famous playboy in his social set. They seem an unlikely match but Bay is drawn to Charlotte’s quiet manner and intelligence. She is not a great beauty, so those around her assume the worst and are very keen to protect her from fortune hunting. Yet Bay seems sincere about his fondness for Charlotte, that is until a rival appears on the scene and it’s not easy when your rival is the Empress of Austria.

Elizabeth (known as Sisi to close friends) was married when she was 16 to the Emperor of Austria. They had nothing in common but Eizabeth soon became known as one of the most beautiful and fashionable woman in 19th Century Europe. Her passion in life is riding and she arrives in England for the hunting season with a string of ponies and huge household. She cannot be rivalled in the hunting field but in England she does not know the terrain. Worried that she will lose her way or at worst, take a bad fall, it is suggested she should have a ‘pilot’. A pilot is a guardian who hunts alongside her, making sure she knows the way and getting her home safely. Bay Middleton is in a rest period before attempting his life’s ambition to win the Grand National and he is suggested for the role with the Empress. On the day of the hunt and for their first glimpse of the royal visitor Charlotte has set up her camera. She aims to capture the hunt in all their glory and is also tempted to take a photo of the Empress who is renowned for her hatred of photographs. Sisi knows she is not the unmarked beauty she was ten years ago and is at great pains to salvage her complexion by swathing her face in veal during the night. Charlotte takes a shot which the Empress deflects by holding up her fan, but the photo shows something else; Bay’s face shows his immediate and total enchantment with Sisi. The photograph has the potential to break Charlotte’s heart.

This book has the ability to grab you and then keep you reading. I started one day and read right through to finish the following night. I missed sleep to find out what would happen to Charlotte. The book has just enough detail to anchor you totally in upper class Victorian circles without bogging the reader down in swathes of description. It moved quickly and had me rooting for Charlotte all the way through because I felt a kinship with her; not quite beautiful, but patient, kind and modestly talented it is hard not to like her. By contrast Sisi is exposed as a frightened and spoiled woman who is used to getting what she wants without having to fight for it. She is worried about losing her looks and this is her main frailty. Sisi needs Bay in a way Charlotte does not; Sisi is fragile, melancholic and needs something to break the suffocating formality of her role. Whereas Charlotte, though heartbroken, has a plan to survive and live life her own way. I would say that the character of Bay really loses out to the women in the novel. He is not as vividly drawn as the Empress and I didn’t feel anything for him. I started to feel sorry for the Empress as the book went on, even as I disliked her. Charlotte infuriated me because of the passive way she was dealing with Bay’s very obvious affair with the royal visitor. Despite being shamed publicly by Bay’s behaviour she keeps her cool right up to the point of the exhibition at the academy and the displaying of that photograph. I won’t reveal the end, only to say that I half wished to read about Charlotte’s adventures as a photographer and pioneer, wherever in the world her talent and determination would take her.

Meet the Author

When Daisy Goodwin went to Cambridge University to study history her first assignment was on Queen Victoria and the media. She went to the library to consult her diaries. Queen Victoria wrote sixty two million words in her life time and when she pulled out the first leather bound volume she was overwhelmed by its size and weight. It fell open at the entry for 3rd Nov 1839, ” I saw my dearest Albert who was all wet in his white cashmere breeches with nothing on underneath.” She laughed out loud and the other readers looked at her with disapproval. This gave her a different perspective on Queen Victoria, as more than the boot faced old bag with a bonnet she had imagined, but as a woman after her own heart.

All Daisy Goodwin’s novels have been set in the Victorian era: the first is about a ‘dollar princess’ called Cora Cash who marries an English duke. The Fortune Hunter is the story of Sisi, the beautiful Austrian Empress who came to England to hunt – in the novel Sisi meets Queen Victoria. Daisy enjoyed writing this encounter so much – ‘Victoria’s voice came so easily to me, that I decided that my next next novel would be about the young Victoria. But as I started writing it, I thought it would make a great tv drama, which is how I ended up writing the PBS Masterpiece series Victoria, as well as my novel Victoria, a novel of a young Queen.’

When Daisy is not immersed in the nineteenth century, she lives in London with three dogs, two daughters and a husband.

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My Last Duchess

Cora Cash has grown up in a world in which money unlocks every door. Her coming-out ball promises to be the most opulent of the gilded 1890s, a fitting debut for New York’s ‘princess’. Yet her fortune cannot buy her the one thing she craves — the freedom to choose her own destiny. For Cora’s mother has her heart on a title for her daughter, and in England — where they are bound, to find Cora a husband. 

When Cora loses her heart to a man she barely knows, she soon realises that she is playing a game she does not fully understand — and that her future happiness is the prize.