Posted in Sunday Spotlight

Valentine’s Day! My Literary Crushes

I thought I’d celebrate Valentine’s Day by talking about our literary crushes. Let’s be honest, we all have them. Those literary heroes that draw us in and make us swoon. From a young age there have been literary heroes that have stuck in my mind, and probably informed some ill-advised dating choices over the years. Those formative literary heroes who made my adolescent heart flutter, have changed a lot as years have gone by. Perhaps because what I’ve learned through my real life relationships has started to change the characteristics that attract me in a hero. Those young, dashing, tortured souls don’t seem quite so attractive when you’ve encountered a few in real life. Of course, literary adaptations on film or TV often influence these crushes greatly – remember the endless banging on about a wet Colin Firth striding across the Derbyshire countryside? My mum’s expectation of that scene had obviously been honed by 1970’s literary adaptations like Women in Love where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates famously wrestled naked in front of a roaring fire. She expected Darcy to be wearing less clothes and couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. Anyway, I much preferred a slightly dishevelled Matthew McFadyen Mr Darcy, striding across a field at dawn. However, between the book covers, Mr Darcy simply doesn’t do it for me. Similarly, Mr Thornton from North and South was incredibly sexy when portrayed by the lovely Richard Armitage, but simply fails to light my fire when reading the book. So, with some trepidation, here are my reading crushes. Let me know yours. There’s no judgement here. ❤️❤️

Mr Rochester – Jane Eyre

Michael Fassbender as Mr Rochester

“To women who please me only by their faces, I am the very devil when I find out they have neither souls nor hearts…but to the clear eye and eloquent tongue, to the soul made of fire, and the character that bends but does not break—at once supple and stable, tractable and consistent—I am every tender and true.”

Considering they barely left the surroundings of their home at Haworth, those Brontë girls knew how to write the brooding, Byronic, hero. Heathcliff is probably the best example, but I read Wuthering Heights again when I was older, and he was a bit too tortured soul for my liking, plus he hangs a woman’s dog for goodness sake! I first read Jane Eyre when I was ten, in my last year of primary school, and I’ve read it every couple of years since. When younger, I loved the slow burn of their romance. From the moment she saves him from burning in his bed, it’s clear there’s something about Jane that attracts him. For him, she seems like a cool drink on a hot day. Somewhere he can sit and find peace, and let’s face it, he has an awful lot of drama to escape from. Of course when I was young I couldn’t see the feminist or sexual implications of the novel – Bertha upstairs was a bit of a monster to me. She was the gothic, scary bit so I didn’t really think about her as a person or what Rochester had done to her, until I was in my teens. I liked his dark brooding character and when he appears out of the fog on his horse it is still a swoon moment for me. I think I also enjoyed that he loves the plain, poor governess rather than the decorative, but awful Blanche Ingram. I loved their conversations and the way he seems to enjoy that fiery part of Jane. In my teens I used to think she was mad for leaving Rochester, but later I could see why she left and sometimes wondered if it wouldn’t have been better for her to keep her fortune and take off on a trip across the world. At least when she does return to Rochester it’s as an equal, with her own fortune and experience

Willoughby – Sense and Sensibility

Greg Wise as Willoughby

In every meeting of the kind Willoughby was included; and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing intimacy to his acquaintance with the Dashwoods, to afford him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Marianne, of marking his animated admiration of her, and of receiving, in her behaviour to himself, the most pointed assurance of her affection.

We’re still in bad boy territory here, with the ultimate cad who breaks Marianne’s heart and reputation in Sense and Sensibility. I have read the book, but I will admit that the Greg Wise version does play a large part in this choice. I loved the romantic way that Willoughby finds Marianne, having sprained her ankle on a hillside. He simply picks her up and carries her home. Factor in some rain, and Greg Wise being all dark and handsome, mastering a huge horse and a literary crush was born. No wonder Emma Thompson wrote in her diary on that particular day that Greg was setting all hearts fluttering as he was drippng wet an

a he loves Marianne, but in need of money he chooses status and an heiress above his heart. There’s no excuse for how he behaves, he’s an absolute rat, but that rush of chemistry can’t be denied. Would we have done any different to Marianne? In the film, when he rides to the hill in order to watch Marianne and Colonel Brandon leaving the church after their wedding, I think he’s truly sad and a little jealous.

Jamie Fraser – Outlander.

Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser

“I will find you,” he whispered in my ear. “I promise. If I must endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you–then that is my punishment, which I have earned for my crimes. For I have lied, and killed, and stolen; betrayed and broken trust. But there is the one thing that shall lie in the balance. When I shall stand before God, I shall have one thing to say, to weigh against the rest. Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.”

I couldn’t resist the giant photo of Jamie Fraser! I had barely started reading the Outlander series when the TV series started so now the literary character is always going to be linked with the lovely Sam Heughan. He’s a great choice for the character and the chemistry between him and Catriona Balfe as Claire is perfect. What I love about Jamie is the way Diana Gabaldon has written him and it’s something that spills over into the TV series. We as readers are firmly with Claire and everything Jamie does is viewed through the female gaze. Their wedding night sequence is good example. We experience him through Claire and it’s his body we’re undressing and enjoying. I think the allure of Jamie is that heady mix of tough outdoors warrior, with a vulnerability underneath. There’s the way he respects her ideas and opinions, unheard of in most men of Claire’s time, never mind the 18th Century. It’s also his deep loyalty to Claire, not just across the few years they’re together but all those years inbetween when they’re in a different time from each other. There’s nothing more romantic than that.

Cormoran Strike – The Cuckoo’s Calling Series

Tom Burke as Cormoran Strike

‘My best mate . . . ” For a split second he wondered whether he was going to say it, but the whisky had lifted the guard he usually kept upon himself: why not say it, why not let go? ‘. . . is you.”

Robin was so amazed, she couldn’t speak. Never, in four years, had Strike come close to telling her what she was to him. Fondness had had to be deduced from offhand comments, small kindnesses, awkward silences or gestures forced from him under stress. She’d only once before felt as she did now, and the unexpected gift that had engendered the feeling had been a sapphire and diamond ring, which she’d left behind when she walked out on the man who’d given it to her.She wanted to make some kind of return, but for a moment or two, her throat felt too constricted. ‘I . . . well, the feeling’s mutual,” she said, trying not to sound too happy.”

Finally, I actually fancy someone in this century! From the moment I picked up a dog eared copy of The Cuckoo’s Calling in a charity shop I was hooked on private investigator Cormoran Strike. Yes, there’s the old tortured soul aspect to his personality, but it’s not just the high pitched warning alarm of a damaged man that calls out to me. I remember how well the author described him having to care for the stump left when his leg was amputated. It felt realistic to me, because walking and standing a lot was painful for him. If he is tailing someone he would ache and his leg might have chafed against his prosthetic. I appreciated a hero with a disability, his heroism magnified by the fact he was injured in action. He’s a big man, broad and tall, so much so that you’d feel safe with him. He may be vulnerable, but he can handle himself if necessary and that’s a heady combination. He’s a great listener, full of empathy for people in a predicament and for those close to him. He’s deeply loyal to those who he can trust, like his business partner Robin. He’s been messed up by women, from his mother to his long term girlfriend Charlotte. However, he’s a very private about his relationships and seems to have his own code of honour which is very attractive.

Captain Wentworth – Persuasion

Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.”

Are there any more romantic words in literature? Wentworth’s letter is, for me, the most romantic I’ve read. I’d go as far as saying it’s the best declaration of love in the classics. It’s all the more wonderful because Anne is so unassuming and modest. She has spent months with Wentworth back in her circle, loving him from afar, but never presuming he might feel the same way. In fact she’s so sure he’s moved on from the feelings he had for her when they were younger, she thinks he’s in love with Louisa Musgrove. She has so little confidence that she misses the care and kindness he shows her. After a long walk he makes sure it is Anne who gets the seat on the carriage because he’s thinking of her comfort. She thinks he wants to be alone with Louisa or that he thinks she needs to sit as she’s older. I love Wentworth’s constancy and the passion he has been hiding under that polite exterior. The kiss that follows is wonderful, because we’ve been waiting for it so long.

Jackson Brodie – Case Histories Series

Jason Isaacs as Jackson Brodie


“He was officially a lunatic, she decided. Strangely, that didn’t make him less attractive.”

What is it about Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie? He’s a slightly rumpled, middle-aged, private investigator. He’s been in the military and the police so is probably institutionalised. In fact he’s a bit of a hopeless case, often taking on the lame ducks he finds along the way, whether they’re human or canine. Marriage doesn’t seem to suit him, but he is a very loyal friend. He’s quite grumpy and set in his ways. I’m not really selling him well I know, but there is that indefinable something that’s attractive. Rather like Cormoran Strike, there’s that sense that he’s an honourable man. He’s old-fashioned and would want to make sure you got home ok. In fact he’s one of those men who would walk on the outside on the pavement so you’re safe, away from the traffic and don’t get splashed. I imagine he looks like life has knocked him around a bit, but if someone needs help he would still be the first one there. There are times when he does the right thing, not by the book, but by his own moral code and I love that.

Gabriel Oak – Far From The Madding Crowd.

Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

I haven’t put my crushes in any sort of order, but I’ve definitely saved the best till last. If you ask me, for most of the book, Bathsheba Everdene needs her head examining. Near the beginning of the book, Gabriel visits her. They’ve been neighbours and he comes striding across the fields with a lamb under his arm. It’s an orphan and he thought she might like to feed and take care of him. He then proposes to her and she refuses! If a man brought me a lamb I’d be beside myself with excitement and I’d be saying yes before he’d finished his sentence. How can you turn down a man who brings you your very own lamb? However, their fates are intertwined. After a terrible tragedy where he loses his whole flock, Gabriel is forced to look for a job. It turns out that Bathsheba has become an heiress, inheriting a farm but luckily needing someone to manage it for her.

Gabriel proves himself to be a loyal employee and is constant even when she marries the ridiculous Sergeant Troy. Troy gambles her money and one night gets the whole workforce dangerously drunk. They are celebrating the harvest, but the hay stacks aren’t covered and a storm blows up. Bathsheba finds Gabriel desperately trying to save he harvest for her, while Troy is passed out cold in the barn. Bathsheba grows up a lot in the course of the novel and she starts to see and value the qualities Gabriel has. She has previously overlooked his steadfast loyalty, how hard he will work for her and what an incredible friend he can be. He listens to her and when she is silly enough to lead on Mr Boldwood, an older gentleman who owns the neighbouring land, he speaks to her and warns her that it isn’t fair. Of course, this being Hardy, this flirtation ends in tragedy. Yet Gabriel is still there and when he proposes a second time she’s finally ready for the love he’s offering.

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you have a literary crush you enjoy ❤️❤️

Posted in Reading Life

A Different Look at Love

This year Valentine’s Day is going to be a little different. I keep hearing it everywhere, especially on adverts trying to sell us goodies for a ‘stay at home’ Valentine’s Day. I have a strange relationship with holidays that expect us to do certain things (I refer to New Years Eve as ‘enforced jollity’) and Valentine’s Day is no different. At the very least I like my loved one to have a card on the day, somewhere I can write how much I love my partner in my own words. Other than that I’d rather we bought each other something we love – a book will be much more appreciated than a cliched gift, or we try and get something that’s more about our relationship and the in-jokes we have. He’s always called me ‘Wonder Woman’ because of what I manage despite my MS, so I have some lovely Wonder Woman Converse trainers and he has a Lego Wonder Woman who sits on his bedside table. Often we wait for a cheaper week to buy flowers and I really don’t do red roses. This year will be stranger than most because it’s the week we’re moving house. This year he has a framed print for the new house – two bumble bees, with tiny suitcases moving into their new home. I’m getting flowers when we’ve moved in so I can really enjoy them.

This year, what’s on my mind is that many people might be spending the day alone. When social media is full of people showing their cards and flowers, how hard must it be for those living alone or those recently separated or bereaved. I think the message of Valentine’s Day-to love each other- needs broadening to include other relationships. Love between friends, family, even the bond we have with our pets, all are very important to appreciate and not just because we’re in lockdown. We should appreciate this love all of the time. It might be nice this year to drop a card in the postbox to an elderly grandparent, a friend whose shielding or an Aunty whose just been divorced – they all need it. My life has been quite motivated by love and I was surprised to find my reading is too. I checked my Goodreads for last year, and I was so surprised to see how many were categorised as romance. Today though, in line with my thinking about Valentine’s Day – I thought I’d feature some books that are a bit unusual and are less of a conventional romance.

This book is the latest from a favourite writer of mine, Elizabeth Haynes. It’s probably the most conventional romance in my list, but it’s not just about two people. A love story between Rachel, who has run away from life, and Fraser who is hiding from his past. Yet, for me, the biggest character -that both people fall in love with-is the rugged landscape of the Isle of Must. At first Rachel wonders if she’s made a huge mistake, the island is bleak and rough. However, as the spring comes, it spreads its magic. Rachel falls in love with the island’s beauty; body and soul. I love that although this is a love story, it’s so much more than that. It’s a woman’s awakening into what her soul needs and who she really is at this point in her life. Fraser is an embodiment of the landscape, rugged and forbidding, until he too starts to reconcile with himself. Simply beautiful.

I absolutely loved this beautiful novel and I was totally wrong footed by it as well, because this is one book that really pushes the philosophy that there are many different types of love. Dannie has a very strict five year plan and goes after what she wants. With this focus she is now in the perfect apartment in the right part of Manhattan. She has secured the job she always wanted, and is engaged to the perfect man. So she’s shocked by a dream she has, that in five years time she is with a different man, in a loft apartment in a more ‘up and coming’ area. She’s also wearing a different engagement ring. She shakes off the dream, but it’s there in the back of her mind. Then, four and a half years later, she goes for a meal with her best friend Bella. Bella is Dannie’s polar opposite, but despite this they’ve been friends for a long time. Bella would never have a life plan. In fact Dannie has sometimes worried that she’s a bit flakey. She’s a bohemian, go with the flow, sort of girl and has been resolutely single for years. Now she’s bringing someone important to meet Dannie, but to Dannie’s horror Bella’s dinner guest is the man from her dream. How can she avoid the destiny that seems to have been planned out for her? I adored this book. It’s a beautiful love story, but was far from the one I was expecting as I read. It made me think about soul mates and how that doesn’t necessarily mean our romantic partner. Love comes from many different places and isn’t necessarily what or who we expect. Heart rending and beautiful.

Don Tillman has decided it’s time for him to find a wife, and being a professor of genetics he decides to take a scientific approach. Surely if he comes up with a questionnaire, designed to eliminate women with the qualities he dislikes, he should find the one? However, one thing he knows for sure. It will definitely not be Rosie. Don believes Rosie is an applicant for his questionnaire, but she would fail on several counts. She smokes and drinks, is a vegetarian and can’t be punctual. Thankfully she’s there to ask for his help in finding her real father. To say Don is a bit socially challenged would be an understatement and this really is a laugh out loud funny book. Watching him struggle through meeting women is brilliant. He hasn’t realised that love has a language all of its own.

I do enjoy a bit of magic realism and that’s exactly what we get here from the incredible storyteller Patrick Ness. George Duncan is an honest, decent and good man. He lives by himself and could be said to have a lonely life. One night, he is disturbed by a noise outside and wakes up. When he looks outside there is a large crane in his garden, shot through the wing by an arrow. George is very moved by the bird’s plight and goes outside to help. When the bird flies away he feels a loss, not knowing that his life is about to be transformed. The next day, while working in his shop, he meets a customer he’s never seen before; mysterious, but kind woman, called Kumiko. A tentative friendship begins, then blossoms as Kumiko takes George on a journey through art and storytelling. They fall in love and together create beautiful pieces of art, stretching George’s ordinary life into something rare and fantastical. However, there’s a part of Kumiko he feels he hasn’t reached and he wonders whether this enigmatic woman has secrets. His need to know the the occasional secret side of her, may be his undoing. Can we love someone, knowing they are never just one set thing? Ness creates a beautiful fable here, but also a deep meditation on life itself.

“Love who you love while you have them. That’s all you can do. Let them go when you must. If you know how to love, you’ll never run out’.

Daniel has ‘the memory’, an ability to recall past lives and loves. It is both a blessing and a curse. Daniel has spent many lifetimes falling in love with Sophia across continents, dynasties and centuries. Each time they find each other, despite different names and appearances, and Daniel remembers every lifetime. Yet it is a love that’s always too short. For every time they come together, they are painfully torn apart again. In the present day, under the guise of Lucy. Sophia is awakening to the lover’s shared past, but just as she understands their strong attraction and familiarity they may be torn apart again. How can they confront what always pulls them apart and finally change their ending?

Douglas Kennedy has a real aptitude for writing about relationships and I’ve been a fan since his debut A Special Relationship. Here we meet Harry Ricks, down on his luck and running away from life. His career is in pieces after his boss slept with Harry’s wife then conspired to ruin him. He has a poor relationship with his daughter, who despises him. He takes a rash decision and flies off to Paris, where he books into a hotel and burns through any savings. He’s close to destitution when he gets a job as a night security guard. He’s guarding warehouses for a bunch of gangsters, but turns a blind eye to what happens inside. Just as life seems at its worst he meets Margit and is immediately enchanted by her. She’s a handsome woman rather than pretty, but incredible sensual and oozes sexual energy. She challenges his morals and the guilt he feels. Margit becomes his muse. He starts writing his novel in earnest – 1000 words a day – and he feels his masculinity being restored. She controls when he sees her, which only makes him want her all the more. People who have been looming over Harry’s life start to have nasty ‘accidents’. However, as with all seemingly perfectly arrangements, perhaps Margit isn’t all she seems to be. Atmospheric, addictive and an exceptional twist at the end.

Emma Donohue’s latest novel is an incredible piece of historical fiction, but is also a love story. Set in Ireland, just after WW1, Nurse Julia Powers works in a maternity unit. On the day in question she has been placed in charge of an isolation ward where expectant mums have ‘Spanish’ Flu. Julia is usually assisting a senior nurse, but today staff are so stretched that she’s in charge, with only volunteer helper Bridie Sweeney. Bridie says she’s had the flu and would be only too happy to help. What follows is a difficult, visceral and heart rending depiction of child birth in Ireland 100 years ago. So many bleak elements make up this story from the details of difficult births, to women from the Magdalene laundries, and exhausted women on their twelfth birth. This isn’t an easy read. Yet there is love: between the women supporting each other, the overwhelming love of a mother for a child (even where the child’s conception has been violent and traumatic) but there’s also romantic love too. The women work together and grow together, their feelings developing throughout the day towards a gloriously tender moment. These book shows us the consequences of love and the sacrifices women are prepared to make in love’s name.

Set in New York, this is a story of people losing and finding each other. Fourteen-year-old Alma Singer is trying to find a cure for her mother’s loneliness. Believing she might discover it in an old book her mother is lovingly translating, she sets out in search of its author. Across New York an old man called Leo Gursky is trying to survive a little bit longer. He spends his days dreaming of the love lost that sixty years ago in Poland inspired him to write a book. And although he doesn’t know it yet, that book also survived: crossing oceans and generations, and changing lives. . . We have a brilliant depiction of old age in Leo, and his recollections of his boyhood in Poland are wonderful. There are several narrative strands woven together by the author, all based around the book ‘The History of Love’ but it is Leo’s story of his childhood love from the years before the Nazis came that stayed with me. Written beautifully, in such poetic prose, this is as much about the power of stories as it is about the power of love. It seems that it’s those who have lost so much in love, who value it most highly.

This novel is probably my most conventional choice and one of my favourites from last year. It quite literally broke me when I finished it in the middle of the night. Jennifer Jones’ life began when her little sister, Kerry, was born. So when her sister dies in a tragic accident, nothing seems to make sense any more. Despite the support of her husband, Ed, and their wonderful children, Jen can’t comprehend why she is still here, while bright, spirited Kerry is not.When Jen starts to lose herself in her memories of her sister, she doesn’t realise that the closer she feels to Kerry, the further she gets from her family. This is a wonderful depiction of married love, but also of familial love. Jennifer is torn between her love for her sister, her love for Ed and a mother’s love for her children. The way Ed supports Jen, and believes her when she says she can see Kerry, is a wonderful depiction of love and loyalty. I was so lost in this novel that I cried at the end.

Finally I want to give special mention to a book that spoke to me personally when I most needed it. It prompted me to do something that helped me through grief, when I lost the person I most loved in the world. I lost my husband in 2007, after a long illness, and I was utterly lost. Due to my caring role, I’d had no time for me or my own interests for a couple of years. I’d given up work and struggled to see friends. Jez couldn’t eat, drink, or even breathe without someone there 24/7. So after his funeral, I woke up one morning with all this time to fill and nothing to fill it with. I had lots of support but at the end of the day, when the door closed at night I was so alone. It wasn’t just me and Jez, but all the carers, Marie Curie nurses, and hospice staff who were with us all through the day – and four nights a week. I decided after a couple of months to get a dog and I found my cockapoo Rafferty a few weeks later. I collected him on New Years Eve and it was just in time. Suddenly that night I fell into a black pit of despair. I couldn’t bear entering a year where Jez didn’t exist. As the night wore on I felt so black that I had I not had my little bundle of fur next to me I might have taken drastic action. I started to write a memoir a couple of years later and that was when mum gave me this book.

This is powerful memoir which mixes honest, personal revelation with literature, history, and inspirational self-help, Bel Mooney tells the story of her rescue dog, Bonnie, who in turn rescued Bel when her world fell apart with the all-too public break-up of her 35-year marriage. It really is a story of survival, and also one of love. This is an account of six years in Bel’s life, from when she first acquired Bonnie from a rescue home, through Bel’s years of personal heartbreak and disappointment, and on to the happiness which she has now found in a new marriage and a new life, with the Maltese at her side all the way. This is a book about transformation and change, about picking yourself up and attacking life in the way that a small dog will go for the postman’s trousers – and about celebrating life, much as your canine companion will always celebrate your return, even from the shortest trip. This is engaging, entertaining, full of personal anecdotes and deeply It takes you on an inspirational walk with one very small but very remarkable dog – a dog who represents all that is best about dogs, and about we humans too. I know that the love I have for my dog is one of the strongest feelings I’ve had. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my partner and my stepdaughters fall in love with him over the last couple of years. He’s now a family dog and he’s bonded us in a way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I hope whatever loving relationships you choose to celebrate tomorrow, you have a lovely day. Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romantic love and we need all the celebrations we can get.

Me and Rafferty