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A Long Dark Rainbow

Adult; Romance; (Market)

Alexander James, now retired, pursued a successful career as an art historian and somewhat eccentric academic. He lives in a dowdy and chaotic flat and is single. His choice. Alone , that is, except for the world of art, which can at times replace the real one. He prefers to forget his past but on dark nights it can return to haunt him. He meets Samantha Reagan by chance at the charity shop where she volunteers. She is sophisticated, divorced and when she admits it, lonely. They had met briefly before, but even forty years on there is definitely still a spark. But do they really want to pursue this, now that they are in their seventies, have their own independence and after all that life has thrown at them? And, of course, there is also the spectre of sex: of Samantha's perception of her descent from flawless beauty to much older woman and for Alex, the issue of masculinity and performance. And if they can conquer all of that, what about the dark secrets churning inside both of them?
Tappenden (Pegasus to Paradise: Trauma, Survival & the Power of Love in Post-War Britain) charms in this decidedly offbeat second-chance romance, pairing an eccentric, elderly artist and the woman who got away years earlier. Nearly 70, Alexander “Alex” James is a passionate artist in the twilight of his life. On a shopping trip, he runs into divorcée Samantha Reagan, whom he last saw 40 years earlier at a gallery party, and the two soon rekindle their acquaintance. Both are somewhat wary — they’ve both been independent for ages and have their secrets (including the children Alex’s ex put up for adoption without his consent, a theme woven throughout.)

The tale starts off a bit slow, but accelerates quickly, and Tappenden, a former graphic designer and principal lecturer at the University for the Creative Arts, proves adept at genuinely surprising plot twists, particularly at the book’s conclusion. Rich prose (“He had gawped at the huge open studios bathed in northern light, reeking of turpentine and the fat richness of oil paint”) invites the reader into a sensual, colorful world, and Tappenden’s expertise on art and design lend gravitas to his Alex’s musings on artists and his passion for the medium.

Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of the novel is Tappenden’s realistic take on geriatric dating, with the inevitable and completely believable worries about body image and performance anxieties. Readers of a certain age will certainly empathize with frank descriptions of sags, bags, and wrinkles. And while second chances in both life and love are a well-worn trope, Tappenden navigates them with relative ease, especially when sharing Alex’s inner dialogue (“Am I supposed to feel like this? A geriatric James Bond?”) and Samantha’s mourning of her younger body. Readers who enjoy their romances on the quirky side — and who want to believe in love at all stages of life — will find much to relish in this insightful tale.

Takeaway: This decidedly British second-chance romance will charm fans of love in later life.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth Berg’s Never Change, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: B+



Kirkus online review

Kirkus online review

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