The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures by Holly Hepburn / Extract

Today the 1st part of Holly Hepburn’s new series “The Little Shop of Hidden Treasures” – “Starting Over” – is being published by Simon & Schuster and I’m thrilled to be able to share the first two chapters with you! What a treat, right? Put your feet high and enjoy!

When Hope loses her husband, she fears her happiest days are behind her. With her only connection to London broken, she moves home to York to be near her family and to begin to build a new life.  
 
Taking a job at the antique shop she has always admired, she finds herself crossing paths with two very different men. Will, who has recently become the guardian to his niece after the tragic death of his parents. And Ciaran, who she enlists to help solve the mystery of an Egyptian antique. Two men who represent two different happy endings.
 
But can Hope trust herself to choose the right man? And will that bring her everything she really needs?

Chapter One

 

It was the flamingo that first caught Hope Henderson’s eye.

Tall and proud and gloriously pink, it stood in the middle of the shop window demanding her attention. And it wasn’t alone, she saw as she slowed down to take a closer look – it had several feathery siblings, of varying heights and pinkness, and a grey and black heron loomed beside them, cleverly made from twisted metal. Above, a sign warned them to Mind The Gap. Another pointed cheerily to the circus, although as far as Hope could tell, the arrow was aimed directly at an ancient flowery chamber pot. And above that was a framed vintage poster advertising a balloon race to Paris.

Hope stopped walking, fascinated both by the variety of stock and the lack of any apparent design. The shop occupied a corner slot, with two wide, arched windows on each side of the glossy yellow, angled door. A magnificent grey rocking horse dominated the window next to the flamingos, its shiny black mane glistening in the late-morning sunlight. One eye seemed to fix upon Hope as she stared and she was sure she could almost hear a whinny. She had always been drawn to the shop as a child, demanding a visit to peer into its windows whenever her family came into York. And as a student in London, she had spent too many Sunday afternoons wandering up and down Portobello Market, fantasizing about what she would buy if she had any money. This wasn’t Portobello Road, though, and she was a long way from London; the gothic spires of York Minster peeking through a side street reminded her of that. She was home, after more than a decade away.

The shop’s name, picked out in cherry red and adorned with gold leaf above the bright yellow woodwork, tugged at Hope’s imagination the same way it always had: The Ever After Emporium. How could anyone fail to be enchanted by a name like that, she wondered. Underneath the name, in smaller letters, were the words Purveyors of Treasure Great and Small. And beneath that, Est. 1902. Proprietor: James T. Young Esq.

Hope spent a few minutes gazing at the windows, marvelling at the mindboggling mix of items and oblivious to the crowds of late-spring tourists jostling along the pavements behind her. Only the chimes of the Minster bells roused her, ringing out quarter to twelve and reminding her it was time to meet her sister for lunch. With a final nostalgic glance into the Emporium, she stepped back and hoisted her bag onto her shoulder, preparing to walk away. And then she saw the advert.

Part-time Staff Required.

No Experience Necessary.

Apply Within.

It was handwritten in a vibrant turquoise ink, and the extravagant loops and swirls of the cursive script suggested to Hope that the writer was the kind of person to imbue even the most practical things with a sense of style. For a moment, she was tempted to push open the door and go inside. She had never been allowed to go in when she was younger but there was nothing stopping her now. Besides, hadn’t her family been suggesting for a while that she found a new job? It had been a few months since she’d taken redundancy, after all, and she’d been too busy with the sale of her home in London and the move north to think about what might come next. But they meant a proper job – in an office, with people she could get to know over chats about their weekend and the boxsets they’d binged. They didn’t mean a part-time role in an antique shop, no matter how much she’d loved it as a child.

Reluctantly, Hope turned away from the Ever After Emporium and made her way through the cool and shaded Minster Gates alleyway towards the cathedral, where Charlotte would be waiting. Maybe she would pop back to the shop after lunch; there must be something inside she could buy to brighten her new apartment. And maybe she’d ask about the job too.

*

‘So, how have you been?’

To a casual observer, Charlotte’s attention seemed to be fixed on spooning apple puree into her daughter’s mouth faster than the toddler could spit it out but Hope wasn’t fooled by her sister. She’d seen the way Charlotte’s gaze had sharpened as they’d greeted each other outside the Minster and that watchfulness hadn’t dissipated as they’d strolled to Lucia in Swinegate Court and settled into their seats in the sun-dappled courtyard. Not even the cute waiter or the buzz of their fellow diners could distract her; she’d placed her order and resumed her barely concealed appraisal of Hope without missing a beat. It was the way Hope’s entire family regarded her and she knew that the details of how she looked and behaved today would be shared. Not in a gossipy or unkind way, but with love and concern and born from a desire to help. And Hope loved them all the more for it, even as she wished they’d accept her assurances that she was fine.

‘I’m all right,’ she replied, pushing some haddock puttanesca onto her fork. ‘Starting to settle in. I’ve unpacked most of the boxes, at least.’

Charlotte glanced across the table, briefly, then focused on her toddler, Amber, once more. ‘You’re still too thin. Are you eating?’

That was also a regular on the ‘Is Hope Okay?’ bingo card. She lifted the forkful of haddock into her mouth and chewed. ‘Yes, I’m eating,’ she said, once she’d swallowed. ‘Getting my five a day and plenty of exercise. Staying off the drink and drugs.’

‘Glad to hear it,’ Charlotte said, and frowned. ‘Although there’s no shame in taking anti-depressants, if you need them.’

Trust Charlotte to turn a flippant remark into a nudge about her mental health, Hope reflected. But it wasn’t a surprise; she’d known how it would be if she moved back to York and subtlety had never been Charlotte’s strong point. ‘I know,’ she said softly and tried to catch her sister’s eye. ‘I’m fine, Charlotte. Honestly, don’t worry.’

Whatever Charlotte had been about to say next was lost as Amber blew a full-lipped raspberry, spraying apple puree across the wooden tabletop. The hubbub of the busy courtyard seemed to quieten a little and there was a brief silence around the table, punctuated by the toddler’s delighted giggles and a weary sigh from Charlotte. ‘It’s a good job I chose the pork belly,’ she said, looking down at her plate. ‘At least apple goes with it.’

Raising her napkin, she started to remove globules of apple from the coppery fuzz that covered Amber’s head. Hope took the opportunity to change the subject. ‘I can’t believe how much she’s grown. Last time I saw her she was barely crawling.’

Charlotte gave a wry nod. ‘That’s babies for you. I wish someone would invent clothes that grow with them.’

Hope grimaced in sympathy. Charlotte often grumbled that their older brother, Harry, had been inconsiderate enough to have two sons, with a third on the way, which meant very few hand-me-down outfits for Amber. ‘I’m sure Mum is happy to help – you know she loves shopping for the kids.’

‘She does,’ Charlotte agreed. ‘And I’m very grateful. It’s just that Amber seems to grow overnight – what fits her one day is too small the next and I’ve got so many things she’s only worn once. I’m keeping them all for—’ She stopped and wiped her daughter’s face, not looking at Hope. ‘For whoever has the next baby.’

The unspoken words hung in the air. Harry and his wife had declared three boys was enough for any sensible parent and weren’t planning any more children once the newest one arrived. Charlotte had been through a difficult pregnancy with Amber, which had culminated in an emergency caesarean, and had repeatedly said she never wanted to go through anything like it again. Logically, the baton to produce the next grandchild should be handed to Hope – it was certainly the way she’d expected things to go when she’d married Rob five years earlier. Then the diagnosis had come and everything had fallen apart. And now she wasn’t sure she’d ever get close to kissing another man, let alone doing what needed to be done to make a baby.

‘As long as it’s not Joe,’ Hope said, keeping her tone light.

Joe was their nineteen-year-old brother – a surprise arrival all those years ago – who was currently in his first year of university in Edinburgh and widely considered to be a responsibility-free zone. Charlotte shuddered. ‘Can you imagine? He’s still a baby himself.’

And that was the lot of many ‘happy surprise’ kids, Hope supposed; Joe would always be the baby of the family, even if he had children of his own. She pictured him, his russet curls so like her own, albeit much shorter, and smiled. ‘He’s a good lad. He’d cope.’

‘And he’d have all of us to help.’

With a side order of meddling, Hope thought, hiding a grin. She’d counted her family among her blessings a thousand times over the last few years, but there was no denying their well-meaning ministrations could also be a bit overwhelming. ‘Luckily, Joe is eminently sensible and knows all about the birds and the bees,’ she said mildly. ‘I don’t think you’ll be handing over Amber’s baby clothes any time soon, unless there’s someone in the village who needs them.’

Charlotte was quiet for a moment as she scraped the last of the puree from the container. ‘Speaking of the village, I ran into Simon Wells last week. He asked after you.’

The sentence itself was innocuous enough and it was said in a tone that dripped innocence. But Hope was used to this game too. Simon Wells was an old schoolmate who lived in Upper Poppleton, where she’d grown up. The same village her parents and Charlotte still lived in, where everyone kept a friendly eye on their neighbours and asked after family members who might have moved away. It was perfectly possible that Simon had politely enquired how Hope was doing, especially since she was sure the whole population knew she’d moved back to York. But that wasn’t what her sister meant. ‘Charlotte—’

‘I’m just saying,’ her sister said, wide-eyed. ‘He’s a nice guy – single and not too difficult to look at. You could meet him for a drink, chat about old times.’

‘I’m not interested in going on a date with him,’ Hope said flatly.

‘Okay,’ Charlotte said, unperturbed. ‘I get that. How about online dating – didn’t you download Bumble?’

Hope swallowed a sigh. She had and the app had sat there on her phone, unopened and faintly accusing, until she’d deleted it. ‘I’m not ready.’

Charlotte took a mouthful of cannellini beans and chewed with a meditative air, her gaze fixed on Hope. ‘But you went on a few dates in London, didn’t you?’ she said once she’d swallowed. ‘I know these dating apps are a bit hit-and-miss but was it so awful that they put you off meeting anyone entirely?’

Hope fought the urge to shake her head and instead watched the summer sun play on the amber sandstone walls of the courtyard. She’d been up for dating at first – not exactly enthusiastic but willing to accept that after eighteen months it might be time to start living her life again and knowing she had to start somewhere. And one or two of the dates had gone well, leading to second and third dates. She’d allowed one of them to kiss her, a guy called Matt, and it hadn’t felt awful. Just odd, as though it was happening to someone else. On their next date she’d opened up about her relationship history and the ground had suddenly shifted. He’d listened in horrified sympathy, had rallied for the remainder of the date, and then simply stopped replying to her messages. Next had been Adam, who’d puffed out a long breath on their second date and said he wasn’t sure he was ready to be the man who followed Rob. She’d begun to gloss over the subject after that, giving vague answers that hinted at a failed marriage, and then cried into her pillow when she got home because it felt wrong to pretend. And, eventually, she decided her heart had been bruised enough. She hadn’t dated since.

‘I’m just not ready,’ she told Charlotte again and then sought something to soften the words. ‘I want to get myself settled here first, find my feet and spend some time rediscovering the city. Maybe look for a job.’

Charlotte’s face lit up. ‘That’s a great idea. I saw something the other day that would be perfect for you – good money with a decent company—’ she said animatedly, then seemed to notice Hope’s expression. ‘But I’m sure you know what you’re looking for.’

That was half the trouble, Hope thought. She had no idea what she was looking for. Except for an unspoken desire to get away from who she had been before, to try something new. Her mind strayed back to the looping turquoise ink on the advert in the Ever After Emporium’s window and she felt something flutter deep inside her, a tiny ripple of something that might have been excitement.

She smiled at Charlotte. ‘Haven’t a clue,’ she said, as a burst of optimism warmed her heart. ‘But I’m hoping I’ll know when I see it.’

*

A bell rang as Hope pushed open the door of the antique shop. It didn’t tinkle, as shop bells usually did; this sound was deeper, almost too loud, and she wasn’t sure if she imagined the hum of vibration as the ringing died away. Glancing up, she saw a large, perfectly polished brass bell coiled inside an ornate framework over the door.

‘Sorry about that.’ A rich, broad Yorkshire accent cut through the dust motes dancing in the disturbed air and caused Hope to look around to see who was speaking. ‘Our bell once adorned the door of Figgis and Blacks in Mayfair. I’m afraid it has delusions of grandeur.’

A man rose from behind an old-fashioned dark oak counter, a cardboard box in his hands. He had an abundance of neatly combed white hair, with a pair of golden wire-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose, and wore a tweed jacket that was certainly vintage, if not quite antique. His appearance was somehow familiar and strange at the same time and Hope knew that if she’d been challenged her to come up with someone who looked like they might own an antique shop, she would probably have described the man before her now, gazing at her with an enquiring expression.

‘Is there something in particular I can help you with?’ he asked, placing the box on the counter. ‘Something you’re looking for? Or would you prefer to browse?’

Now that it came down to explaining that she was interested in the job, Hope felt a little of her confidence drain away. Was she crazy to be even thinking about working there?

‘I suppose I’m looking for Mr Young,’ she said slowly, fighting the urge to seize the ready-made excuse and spend a happy twenty minutes wandering around the shop.

‘Then you’re in luck.’ He smiled and held out a hand. ‘I’m James Young, owner of the Ever After Emporium. Welcome!’

Too late to back out now, Hope thought as she walked forwards to shake his outstretched hand. ‘Hope Henderson. It’s about the advert in the window. For the part-time assistant.’

If he was surprised, he didn’t show it. ‘Of course. Would you like to hear more about the role?’

She nodded and felt her apprehension ease. He hadn’t laughed, that was a good start. Although that might follow when she revealed her total lack of relevant experience. ‘Yes, please.’

‘Why don’t we start with a quick tour? I can fill you in on the way round.’

He raised a solid-looking flap in the counter and pulled back a carved door panel beneath to make his way out to stand beside her. She noticed an understated forest green waistcoat beneath the tweed jacket and caught the gleam of gold at waist height. Of course, Hope thought, almost nodding to herself. Of course he has a pocket watch.

‘It sounds grand, describing it as a tour, but the Emporium is bigger than it looks from the outside,’ Mr Young went on, waving a hand that took in the full length and breadth of the shop, spanning the two sets of windows on either side of the door. ‘There’s another room through the back where the books are kept, and a small kitchen, plus the storerooms upstairs. Over the years I’ve experimented with trying to organize the stock into eras but people seem to prefer a more higgledy-piggledy approach.’

Which explained the gloriously mismatched window displays, Hope mused. ‘I suppose they don’t always know what they’re looking for – browsing and discovering a hidden treasure is half the fun.’

Mr Young’s eyes gleamed. ‘Exactly so. Besides, I’m not totally sure the shop doesn’t rearrange itself overnight. It would certainly solve one or two mysteries.’

His voice was so matter of fact that Hope wasn’t sure he was joking. But he didn’t elaborate. Instead, he pointed to an aisle that ran parallel to the window with the flamingos. ‘We’ll start this way.’

Hope followed, hardly believing she was inside the Ever After Emporium. The shop was blessedly cool, a welcome relief on a warm April afternoon, and she realized she’d expected it to be gloomy, like something from a Dickensian novel. But it wasn’t like that at all; the natural light from the windows was perfectly complemented by discreet modern spotlights in the ceiling, bathing everything on display in a clean silvery light. Her attention was instantly caught by an exquisite bone china tea set laid out on an occasional table to their right. Delicate yellow and pink roses wound their way around the teapot and cups, spilling across the saucers and plates and climbing around the milk jug and sugar bowl. She let out a delighted puff of appreciation as she stopped to stare.

Mr Young glanced over his shoulder. ‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s Wedgwood, you can tell from the quality but the three-letter code on each piece removes any doubt. This particular set dates back to 1934.’

She had been about to reach out to lift one of the teacups but withdrew her hand hurriedly. If she dropped it, the interview would be over before it had even begun and she’d have to buy the set, broken cup and all. This must be why she hadn’t been allowed inside the shop as a child; she was less likely to break something now but decided it was best not to take any chances and thrust her hands into her pockets.

‘Over here, we have a pair of chairs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh,’ Mr Young continued. ‘Beside them, you’ll see a working gramophone but that’s not for sale. There are a few items like that – marked with a red dot and just for display. Production companies sometimes get in touch to enquire about hiring things and the gramophone is popular.’

Again, Hope made sure she stayed in the centre of the aisle as she followed him, but her gaze flicked left and right as they walked. A glossy grandfather clock ticked to one side, its walnut case burnished to a mirror-like gleam, and she was tempted to stop and study the sunlit ship sailing sedately through a wedge-shaped panel in the ivory clock face. It reminded Hope of the one Rob’s grandmother had kept; she had always insisted it would come to him, when she died, never dreaming for a moment that she’d outlive her grandson. Hope pushed the memory aside and forced herself to focus on the here and now. The shop was everything she’d imagined it would be, a treasure trove of delights, and she longed to linger over some of the things Mr Young led her past. If she didn’t get the job, she’d certainly be back to browse. Possibly every day.

‘The position is for twenty hours a week, Monday to Friday, with the occasional weekend to cover the other staff,’ Mr Young said. ‘I’m fairly flexible and happy to work around family commitments, if you have them.’

He waited and Hope thought of her too quiet apartment. ‘No commitments,’ she said with what she hoped was a brisk smile.

‘The work is mostly customer-facing on the shop floor but there’ll be a bit of inventory and record-keeping when things are quiet. We offer generous annual leave, on-the-job training and a competitive salary, plus there’s a staff discount scheme.’ He led her through a crooked wooden doorway into a softly lit square room. ‘This is where we keep the books.’

The breath caught in Hope’s throat as she stepped inside. It was the kind of room every book lover dreamed of; the walls were lined from ceiling to floor with shelves, and every shelf was filled by spines of all colours and sizes. The walls on her left had glass doors on the top half of the shelves – some of the books inside were wrapped in clear covers and she assumed they were valuable first editions. To her right, she saw a mahogany ladder that rolled parallel to the stacks, giving access to the upper shelves. The air was heavy and still, filled with the unmistakeable scent of old paper, old print, old words. She inhaled deeply, drinking it in, and allowed herself a contented sigh.  The Emporium held more treasure than she’d ever imagined.

‘Are you a reader?’ Mr Young asked, and Hope realized he’d been watching her reaction closely.

‘Absolutely,’ she replied and her eyes wandered to the shelves again. ‘Anything and everything.’

He nodded. ‘We’ve a number of excellent first editions here, including a wonderful Pride and Prejudice and a mint copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘As well as some lesser-known classics – are you familiar with A History of British Carpets by C.E.C. Tattersall?’

She hesitated, once more unsure whether he was joking. ‘Er . . . not really.’

Mr Young laughed. ‘Consider yourself lucky. But you never know, one day a historical carpet enthusiast might walk into the shop and we’ll have exactly what they’re looking for.’

Hope looked more closely at the nearest shelf, imagining herself opening a worn leather cover, turning the age-tinted pages and breathing in their distinctive smell. If she hadn’t been in love with the Ever After Emporium before, she was now. Although she was beginning to suspect that if she worked there, she’d have very little of her wages left at the end of the month, in spite of the staff discount Mr Young had mentioned.

‘The first floor is home to the store rooms and the office and the second floor is home to me,’ he said as they left the book room and continued to the last corner of the shop, where he paused beside an ornate dark wood staircase marked Staff Only. ‘But I’m sure you must have questions. Is there anything you want to know?’

Hope cast her mind back to her last job application, some seven years earlier. It had been a well-paid, responsible position and had therefore involved a lengthy and stressful process. She was sure there’d be no psychometric testing for this role but it would be useful to know what she could expect. ‘Do you know when the interviews might be?’ she asked.

He shook his head, causing Hope to immediately assume he hadn’t been planning to interview her at all. But he surprised her. ‘We’re not big on formality here. I find it often works better to have a nice chat. A bit like the one we’re having now.’

‘Oh,’ Hope exclaimed, wrong-footed again. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize.’

Mr Young waved a hand apologetically. ‘My fault – I should have explained. But now that you’ve had a look round and got a rough idea of what the job entails, are you still interested?’

The Emporium was everything she’d anticipated and more, Hope thought, remembering the delicate floral tea set, the arching chairs and, most of all, the room full of books. And then she recalled how little she knew about any of them. ‘Yes, I’m interested, but . . . ’ She trailed off, filled with certainty that she was wasting both their time. ‘Look, I’ll be honest – I used to pass this shop when I was growing up and always loved looking in the windows. And seeing the advert today reminded me of that. But I have to admit I don’t know anything about antiques.’

Mr Young studied her for a moment. ‘I’m not necessarily looking for someone who knows the business. I like to think I’m pretty good in that department.’

Hope puffed out a breath. ‘I don’t really have any shop experience, either.’ She offered him a self-conscious grimace. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t have troubled you.’

‘It’s no trouble,’ he replied easily. ‘Truth be told, I’ve never been one for judging people solely by their CV and qualifications and it sounds like the shop has been calling you for a long time – you just didn’t know it. So how about a different approach? Why don’t you choose an object – anything you like – and tell me about it.’

Confusion swirled in Hope’s brain. Hadn’t she just explained she knew nothing about antiques? ‘But—’

He gave her an encouraging smile. ‘I don’t mean the manufacturer or provenance or anything like that. Just have a look round, find something that speaks to you, and tell me its story. Whatever you think that might be.’

Immediately, Hope’s thoughts flew to the book room, where hundreds of stories were patiently waiting to be told. But she knew it would be cheating to choose one of those; Mr Young wanted something that came from her, from her own imagination. The trouble was, now that she needed it her mind had gone completely blank. Mr Young waited – it felt to Hope as though the whole shop was waiting – and the steady tick-tock of the grandfather clock seemed impossibly loud in the silence, although she worried her thudding heart might give it some competition. Taking a deep breath, Hope forced herself to remember the items that had caught her eye. The Wedgwood tea set had been first – she could imagine that being used to serve afternoon tea in the parlour of a well-to-do 1930s house . . . Hope frowned. No, not a wealthy family, perhaps one that didn’t have much money but saved what they could and used the tea set on special occasions. And then there was the gramophone – she could almost hear it playing at a wartime tea dance, with that distinctive faint crackle as the needle travelled along the groove. But although she could picture both items being used, neither gave her anything more – a story she could tell. She felt the hot rush of failure burn her cheeks and was about to shake her head when her gaze fell on the clock again. Rob had once told her that, as a child, he’d believed his grandmother’s clock hid a secret door leading to another world.

‘Like the wardrobe that goes to Narnia,’ he’d said with a self-deprecating head shake. ‘I must have been reading the books.’

‘Did you ever find it?’ Hope had asked, and he’d smiled.

‘Would you believe me if I said yes?’

That had been the moment she’d known she loved him – really loved him – and his refusal to elaborate, because he’d sworn an oath never to reveal the secret, only delighted her more. And now, listening to the tick of the clock in this quirky, magical shop, she could half-believe that all grandfather clocks hid doors to other worlds. Here was a story she could tell, although she doubted she’d do it justice.

Taking a moment to calm her racing heart, she gathered her thoughts. ‘I’d like to tell you about the clock,’ she began, clearing her throat. ‘It was made centuries ago for a duke and duchess and stood in the hallway of a grand house for many years, although they never really noticed it until it was gone. Even then, it was the absence of the tick they noticed, which was a great shame, because the clock had a secret that might have changed their lives.’

Hope paused and risked a glance at Mr Young but he gave no indication whether this was what he’d been expecting. Instead, he tipped his head to indicate she should continue.

‘The clock was given to a boarding school, where it stood for many years, watching children hurry past on their way to and from classes. Until one day, a child didn’t hurry past. This child stopped and studied the clock. That evening, at midnight, he crept downstairs when everyone else was asleep and lifted the hook at the side of the door.’

Now when Hope looked at Mr Young, she thought she detected a spark of interest in his expression. ‘Inside the clock, the child found another doorway – one that led him to a world of adventure and enchantment.’ She hesitated and swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. ‘And when he ran out of time in this life, far sooner than anyone expected, he breathed his last breath without sadness or complaint, knowing he’d lived a thousand lives in the world through the clock.’

The words seemed to hang in the air for an age as Mr Young regarded Hope steadily. ‘Wonderful,’ he said at last, with the gentlest of smiles. ‘Just wonderful. When can you start?’

Chapter Two

One month later

 

It had been raining for three days. Hope watched rivulets of water cascade from the awning over the florist’s shop opposite the Ever After Emporium and sighed. The River Ouse was fuller than normal for the time of year and the Foss seemed higher too. If it didn’t stop raining soon, Hope thought she might actually need the faded orange and white lifebuoy that was propped against a battered ship’s chest opposite the counter. In fact, it was just possible they might need to drag the Noah’s ark from the window display.

High Petergate was uncharacteristically empty of its usual horde of May tourists, although Hope knew they were rarely deterred for long. The occasional car splashed through the puddles and any pedestrians who had braved the deluge hurried along with their heads hidden by umbrellas or tucked inside hoods. No one was stopping to gaze into the windows of the Ever After Emporium, let alone come inside. It was the quietest Thursday morning Hope had experienced since she’d started work there three weeks earlier and she was starting to wonder whether she’d see a single customer before lunch. Of course, it meant she had plenty of time to study the book Mr Young had given her on Victorian furniture but although she was keen to learn, it wasn’t the most engrossing read she’d ever picked up.

The Minster chimed outside, accompanied by the faint call of the cuckoo clock that hung on a wall deeper inside the shop, and Hope saw the time was 11.15. Stretching her arms over her head, she bookmarked the page and considered making a cup of tea. Mr Young was in the store rooms upstairs, undertaking some restoration work with a local craftsman, but she didn’t want to disturb him. Surely it would be fine to leave the till unattended for a few minutes while she nipped into the tiny kitchen tucked away beneath the curving staircase at the rear of the shop . . .

No sooner had she clicked the kettle on than the bell above the door jangled. Swallowing a huff of disbelief, Hope dropped the teabag she held into a cup and hurried back to the shop floor. A man stood in front of the door, his umbrella dripping onto the mat. Beside him was a blonde-haired little girl of around four or five, dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, with yellow wellington boots.

‘Good morning,’ she said, smiling. ‘There’s an umbrella stand by the door if you’d like to use it.’

The man looked up as she approached but the child’s eyes stayed firmly downcast. ‘Thanks,’ he replied. ‘Although I’m bound to forget it on the way out.’

She watched as he slotted the folded umbrella into the stand. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll remind you. Is there anything in particular you’re interested in or would you prefer to browse?’

His gaze flickered to the little girl as he wiped the rain from his fingers. ‘Brodie was very taken with the rocking horse in your window. And the flamingos next door.’

Hope’s smile deepened. ‘Ah, the flamingos are my favourites too,’ she said, trying to catch the girl’s eye. ‘Would you like a closer look?’

But Brodie didn’t look up or respond. Instead, one yellow-booted foot turned inwards to rub against the other.

‘I think she’d like that very much,’ the man said, moving away from the doorway and into the aisle that led deeper into the shop. ‘Thank you.’

Hope lifted the counter and slipped through the gap to join them. ‘I hope they’re going to behave themselves,’ she said gravely. ‘Last time I took someone to meet them they caused a dreadful hullaballoo.’

This time she did get a reaction but it wasn’t the one she’d anticipated. Rather than laugh, Brodie moved closer to her father’s leg and hid her face. He threw Hope an apologetic look. ‘She takes things a bit literally, I’m afraid.’ He dropped down to the child’s level and spoke in a soothing voice. ‘It’s okay, the lady was only joking. The flamingos aren’t going to hurt you.’

Hope shook her head in dismay. ‘No, they absolutely won’t. I was being silly – I’m sorry.’

This met with silence, although a tell-tale wobble of the shoulders suggested it wouldn’t last long, and Hope felt a scarlet flush of consternation start to creep across her cheeks. Any minute now the child was going to burst into tears and it would be all her fault.

‘I’m really sorry—’ she began, as the man straightened up and looked around.

His gaze came to rest on a small North African puzzle box that sat on the counter beside the till. ‘Look, Brodie, it’s a secret keeper,’ he said. ‘Like the one Grandma has.’

He glanced at Hope, as if asking permission to pick it up, and she hesitated. The polished cedarwood puzzle box was one of the items that wasn’t for sale – Mr Young had given her a list and reminded her that a red dot meant ‘Do Not Sell’. But it wouldn’t hurt to let Brodie look at it, would it? Especially since the box didn’t open. Little fingerprints could be polished away and no one would be any the wiser. ‘Go ahead,’ she said.

Brodie’s focus changed the moment her father held out the box. She let go of his leg and took it, stretching her small hands around the ornate cube and tilting it this way and that. A faint rattle from inside seemed to catch her attention and she raised the box to her ear, shaking it gently. A moment later, she sat cross-legged on the floor and began to probe the carved cedarwood surface with deft fingers.

Disaster apparently averted, the man relaxed and studied Hope with fresh curiosity. ‘You’re new here, aren’t you?’

She nodded. ‘Yes, I started a few weeks ago. Look, I’m really sorry for upsetting your daughter. I was just trying to be friendly.’

An odd look crossed his face and Hope cringed inside, wondering if she’d made another faux pas. But then he glanced down at the girl, engrossed in the puzzle box, and he offered Hope a wry smile. ‘No harm done. Brodie is – well, I suppose you might say she’s sensitive.’ He held out his hand. ‘I’m Will Silverwood. I own Silverwood’s jewellery shop, over in the Shambles.’

Something in the way he spoke suggested there was more to Brodie’s reaction than simple sensitivity. For a split second, Hope was tempted to ask what he meant but it wasn’t really any of her business. She shook his hand instead. ‘Hope Henderson. Pleased to meet you.’

His fingers were still cool from the rain and the skin felt the tiniest bit rough against hers. But it was his smile that really caught her attention – the kind that was so warm it was like coming in from the cold on a frosty day. She liked the way it made his eyes crinkle at the edges, as though she was an old friend he hadn’t seen for ages. His eyes were nice too, she decided – hazel, framed with generous lashes – and he had good hair, golden brown with a hint of curl, although it was touching the collar of his coat and looked in need of a trim.

Will cleared his throat, a gentle, barely there sound that brought Hope back with a jolt. With an icy rush of horror, she realized she’d been staring dreamily at him for an embarrassingly long time. And worse – so much worse – she was still holding his hand. ‘Sorry,’ she said, letting go as though his fingers had burned her. ‘I didn’t mean to – I’m so sorry!’

‘Don’t apologize,’ he said, and the crinkles at the corners of his eyes deepened. ‘I’ve been known to daydream mid-conversation too. I like to think it’s the sign of a creative mind.’

His generosity made Hope cringe even more, because she hadn’t been daydreaming, she’d been – what, exactly? Not perving, she thought with an inward shudder, but definitely . . . admiring. And that wasn’t something she wanted to admit to a total stranger – to a customer, no less. ‘Ha ha,’ she said weakly. ‘I’ll have to remember that for the next time I – er – drift off.’

‘It’s a useful explanation,’ he agreed. ‘So what brings you to the Emporium? Have you always worked in antiques?’

Praying she didn’t look as flustered as she felt, Hope wondered how to reply; admitting she’d applied for the job on a whim would make her seem even flakier than she already appeared and it was hardly a professional response. ‘I’ve always had an interest in old things,’ she answered, choosing her words with care. ‘And who could resist the opportunity to spend every day somewhere like this?’

‘Not me,’ Will said. ‘Or Brodie, for that matter.’

They both glanced down at the girl, who was still absorbed in her task. ‘I’m afraid the box isn’t for sale,’ Hope said. ‘It’s a bit of an enigma – no one’s been able to work out how to open it.’

He nodded. ‘My mother has one. I remember spending hours trying to get into it and was ready to take a hammer to it until my brother revealed the secret.’

‘Which was?’

‘A few impossible-to-detect sliding panels and cleverly hidden compartments,’ he replied.         ‘But each box is individually crafted – what opens one won’t work on another. They wouldn’t be much good for keeping secrets if they all worked in the same way.’

Hope smiled and felt the last vestiges of embarrassment fade away. ‘Well, this one seems set to keep its secrets forever. I don’t think Mr Young would appreciate us taking a hammer to it.’

Will laughed and Hope decided she liked that too. They stood for a moment, smiling at each other, until the bell over the door jangled again and a tall woman with a hood over her eyes hurried inside. ‘Hells bells, Hope, is it ever going to stop raining?’

She paused in the doorway, shaking down her hood to reveal a mane of lustrous dark hair as she took in the scene. ‘Oops, I didn’t realize you had a customer.’ And then her expression lit up. ‘Oh, but it’s only Will. I don’t have to mind my manners after all.’

Hope had to swallow a grin; she’d met Iris on her second day at the Ever After Emporium, when the florist had hurried across the road and begged to borrow an Art Deco vase for the Blooming Dales window display. From that first whirlwind encounter, Hope had formed the distinct impression that Iris wasn’t really one for observing the social rules that governed most people’s behaviour. She was forthright and bold, wore scarlet lipstick and winged eyeliner as though she woke up that way every day, and had the kind of irrepressible smile that hinted she might bubble up into laughter at any moment. Hope had warmed to her immediately and thought she might be on her way to making her first new friend in York. It wasn’t surprising that Iris would know Will – Hope got the impression that there was a real sense of community within the ancient walls that surrounded the city’s heart. There was probably a traders’ association, where the glamorous florist must turn heads and steal hearts in equal measure.

‘Not just me,’ Will said, shifting slightly so Iris could see the child at his feet.

‘Oh,’ she breathed, walking towards them. ‘This must be Brodie.’

‘It is,’ he replied. ‘So, minding of manners is definitely still required.’

Not that Brodie was paying any of them the least bit of attention. She was still poking and prodding at the box, turning it over and over in her small hands, and Hope could almost feel the girl’s determination to solve the riddle. But the secret had eluded all the adults of the Ever After Emporium – was it possible that a child would succeed where they had failed? Hope pictured her nephews and their boisterous, exuberant approach to play; the box would have been discarded in favour of a football within seconds. But Brodie was entirely different – all her concentration was focused on the job and she seemed to be enclosed in her own little world. It was remarkable.

‘How is she coping?’ Iris asked, lowering her voice. ‘More to the point, how are you coping?’

Will smiled but this time it didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Oh, you know. Taking it one day at a time.’

Wary of being caught staring again, Hope let her own gaze drift around the shop as she wondered about the exchange. There’d been sympathy in Iris’s tone and sadness in Will’s. Hope recognized the vagueness of his reply too, using the sort of words she had when she’d needed to politely fend off well-meaning enquiries after Rob’s death. A failed marriage, perhaps, and all the heartache and adjustments that brought. It would certainly explain the way Iris was watching Will, as though he might break at any moment. Hope was familiar with that look as well, although thankfully not from Iris or anyone else in York, apart from her family. She’d told Iris she was single, when the florist had asked what her partner did, and then deflected the conversation onto safer ground. Another coping mechanism.

‘How’s business?’ Will asked, glancing at Blooming Dales through the rain-speckled window.   ‘I suppose the flowers don’t mind the wet weather.’

‘They might not but I do,’ Iris said, wrinkling her nose. ‘Walk-in trade is down this week – it’s a good thing we’ve got plenty of wedding orders to keep us busy.’

His eyes drifted to Brodie once more. ‘Your windows always look so amazing. Maybe we’ll pop in and pick up a bouquet for home, to remind us it’s almost summer.’

Iris dipped her head. ‘I could deliver it, if you like, save you having to carry it in this rain. Do you have a favourite flower, Brodie?’

That got the little girl’s attention. She raised her blonde head to study Iris, then flicked her gaze towards the window.

Hope thought she understood. ‘Pink, like the flamingos?’

Brodie gave a shy nod.

‘Flamingo pink,’ Iris repeated approvingly. ‘Very nice. I’m thinking gerbera, roses and maybe some alstroemeria. Tall and graceful, just like the birds.’

Will gave her a helpless look. ‘They won’t look graceful if I have to arrange them. Do they come in a vase?’

Iris winked at Brodie. ‘I’ll take care of everything. All you’ll have to do is put the bouquet into water.’

‘I can probably manage that,’ Will said. ‘With Brodie’s help, obviously.’

‘Then how does a Saturday morning delivery sound?’ Iris asked. ‘You can drop me a message later with the address for delivery.’

‘Sounds like the perfect way to start the weekend,’ Will said. ‘Thanks, Iris. This is very kind of you.’

The florist waved away his thanks. ‘It’s no trouble. I deliver all over the city – have bike, will travel.’

Hope blinked as she tried to build a mental picture. ‘You deliver flowers by bike? How?’

‘Of course,’ Iris said, grinning. ‘We’re very eco-conscious. I attach a lightweight trailer to the back, load it up and off I go.’

‘In all weathers?’ Hope said, with a dubious glance at the rainy street outside.

‘Us Yorkshire women are made of stern stuff,’ Iris replied. ‘But we’re practical too – I also have a cosy little Volkswagen van for when the weather is really grim.’

Hope was about to say that she was a Yorkshire woman too, although her years in London had worn her accent away, but Brodie stood up abruptly and handed the puzzle box to Will. He checked his watch. ‘You’re right – we should probably think about lunch.’ He gave the box to Hope. ‘Thanks for letting her handle it.’

‘It’s a shame she didn’t crack the mystery,’ Hope said. ‘Mr Young would have been delighted.’

His eyes creased at the edges as he smiled. ‘I’m sure we’ll be back.’

‘Maybe next time, then,’ Hope said. ‘I’ll have a word with the flamingos too.’

It was only after Will and Brodie had made their way back out into the rain, with the umbrella safely in hand, that Hope realized what had been troubling her. In the whole time they’d been in the shop, she’d hadn’t heard the little girl make a single sound.

Iris puffed out her cheeks when Hope mentioned Brodie’s silence. ‘No, she doesn’t speak. Not since the accident.’

Cold dread settled in Hope’s chest. Maybe Will wasn’t newly separated. Maybe it was more awful than that. ‘The accident,’ she repeated slowly.

‘The car crash,’ Iris said. ‘Back in February, on the A64. You might remember – the road was closed for the best part of a day.’

Hope swallowed, her mouth suddenly dry. ‘I wasn’t living here then.’

The florist sighed. ‘It was terrible, one of those freak accidents that doesn’t seem to be anyone’s fault. You only needed to glimpse the car to know no one could have survived.’

One hand flew to Hope’s mouth as Iris confirmed her worst fears. ‘Oh no.’

‘Brodie was devastated, as you’d expect. Will’s doing his best but it takes time, doesn’t it? I know kids are resilient but that’s an impossible hole to fill.’

Especially when he’d be struggling with the loss of a partner himself, Hope thought as sympathy and pity welled up inside her. It was a miracle he was coping as well as he was; she certainly hadn’t after Rob’s death.

‘Poor Brodie,’ Iris went on, with a sorrowful shake of her head.

‘Poor Will too,’ Hope said. ‘He must be grieving as well.’

A frown creased Iris’s forehead. ‘Of course. Losing a brother is awful. But Brodie lost both her parents – I’m not surprised she’s retreated into herself.”

The words crashed over Hope like a wave. Had Iris said Brodie had lost both parents? ‘But I thought . . . isn’t he—’

Iris stared at her for a moment, then slapped her own forehead. ‘Oh, I’m an idiot! Of course you assumed Will was Brodie’s dad – why wouldn’t you?’

Bewildered, Hope pieced together the evidence. ‘So he’s her . . . uncle?’

‘And her closest living relative,’ Iris replied. ‘Or at least, the only one capable of looking after a five-year-old. His mother has dementia, I think, and lives in a care home. And Will is Brodie’s godfather – there was no question of her going anywhere else.’

Anywhere else being foster care, Hope guessed, or a distant relative or family friend who were virtual strangers. Another wave of pity swept over her. ‘That poor girl.’

‘Yeah,’ Iris agreed. ‘Obviously, it’s been tough for Will too. It’s not as though he’s got anyone to help him. Imagine going from being a single bloke to a surrogate parent overnight.’

While dealing with his own loss too, Hope thought. Although she could imagine having someone else to care for might help with the grief; plenty of people had suggested she get a puppy or a kitten in the months after she’d lost Rob but it hadn’t seemed fair when she’d be out at work every day. A child was another ballgame entirely. The sense of responsibility must be overwhelming.

‘He took a shine to you, though,’ Iris went on, a smile playing at the corners of her scarlet lips. ‘And you’re single too. New in town.’

Hope’s face bloomed with sudden heat. ‘What? That’s not true. I mean, yes I am single and new here but he definitely wasn’t . . . he didn’t—’

She broke off as Iris threw her a disbelieving look. ‘Hope. You could have cut the tension between you with that silver letter-opener over there.’

‘But –’ Hope flailed in mortified bewilderment, thinking back to the moment Iris had burst into the shop. ‘But there was no tension – we were chatting about the puzzle box.’

‘It looked like more than that to me. You were both smiling for a start.’ Iris waggled her eyebrows. ‘Really smiling.’

She couldn’t deny that, Hope thought, resisting an urge to fan her overheated cheeks. ‘Maybe we were,’ she said. ‘But it was on a strictly professional basis.’

The other woman nodded. ‘I’m sure it was. But even so, I know chemistry when I see it.’ She paused to smirk at Hope. ‘Sexual chemistry.’

Hope wanted to crawl under the nearby Edwardian occasional table. Iris was sharp – of course she’d noticed her admiring Will. She might as well have been projecting an enormous cartoon love heart over her head. ‘I’m sure he has enough on his plate at the moment,’ she said, hating the stiffness in her voice. ‘And I’m not looking for a relationship either.’

Instantly, Iris looked contrite. ‘Ah, I’m getting carried away – making assumptions. It’s a weakness of mine – sorry.’

Hope took a deep breath and willed her flaming skin to cool down. ‘It’s okay. No harm done.’

‘Good,’ Iris said and paused, looking at Hope with a speculative gaze. ‘If you’re not looking for a relationship, are you at least in the market for making new friends?’

‘Yes,’ Hope said cautiously.

The florist beamed at her. ‘Great! How do you feel about dancing?’

The Last Act of Adam Campbell by Andy Jones / Blog Tour

The Last Act of Adam Campbell by Andy Jones

 

 

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publishing Date: 29th April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 352

Genre: General Fiction (Adult)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

A year can go quickly. Particularly when it’s your last.

Adam had a good life: a job he enjoyed, a nice house, a loving partner and a bright six-year-old daughter. Then he cheated on his partner. Then she kicked him out of their home. And then he was given approximately twelve months to live.

Despite the devastating news, Adam is determined to turn his life around before it finally runs out. Help comes in the form of an ex-junky, a cantankerous train driver, a nun experiencing a crisis of faith, and a teenager intent on losing her virginity – all living on borrowed time, all desperate to feel alive before their time is up.




Rating:

 

Adam Campbell used to have the perfect life: with a good job, in a nice home, with a lovely wife and perfect daughter, the six – year – old Mabel. Used to – because then he’s just gone and done something stupid – cheated on Heather. And then he also found out that he has cancer and only about twelve months left to live.
Adam joins a cancer therapy group that soon turns out into a theater group calling themselves The Rude Mechanicals. Under the guidance of a student Laura, they write their own play, „Shakespeare in Therapy“, about death. Adam and others in the group, that includes a nun, a train rider, a mum, a former drug addict, to name a few, become Romeo, Juliet, Desdemona, Hamlet and Macbeth – but they’re all on borrowed time, aren’t they?

It was not an easy read, to be honest, no matter if you had personal experience with cancer or not. It was a thought – provoking story, my favourite kind to be honest, making you start to think and wonder. I admired the way the author has decided to tackle such a heavy and sensible topic, it takes guts, and I think he has done it brilliantly. It’s not all wishy – washy and meh, yes, it’s poignant and sad, but there is also humour (sometimes black, but that’s absolutely OK) and hope.

The characters are very well drawn and – maybe because they have a terminal disease – they dare to do and say things we consider as controversional. They are flawed, of course, but there is also strength in them and will to live. I was living vicariously through them, and they taught me to put many oh so trivial in fact things into perspective – and I love it. It was easy to get into the characters’ heads and experience with them all kind of feelings and emotions, seeing what they have to deal with and how they are doing it. The things they experience are often heart – breaking, so it’s no wonder that sooner rather than later you’re really going to fall for the characters – not only the main one. Adam is of course a special one here, the main character and he is written in a way that allows you to put yourself in his shoes, to imagine what he’s going through, and only thinking about how much of his daughter’s life he’s going to miss was tears inducing – I can’t imagine myself knowing that I have only few months to live, knowing I have to leave my daughter behind.

What I really liked, although it may sound very insensitive, is the fact that Andy Jones doesn’t beat around the bush, bringing the reality of living with cancer to the pages. He is brutally honest with how it is to go through chemotherapy and its side – effects – I truly appreciated it, the book wouldn’t be the same without this honesty. And yet he doesn’t forget about sensitivity. But also, guys, there are cancer jokes, and I mean, it is brilliant, isn’t it? You know you’re dying but you’re not giving up, you are able to joke about it and it is simply THE life approach!
Also, the strength of the group, their support, is one of the most beautiful things in this story. The play they’ve chosen is so approproate for their situation and in the end I wanted to give them a standing ovation at what they have achieved.

Overal, keep your tissues at the ready, yes. But the book was also about all the good things in your life and living it to the full. It touches upon the heavy topic of dying but it is done in an approachable and light – hearted way and yes, I can say it is life affirming. The writing style is filled with insight and it evokes emotions in reader as it takes us on a journey of love, loss, hope and regret. It is very human and very real and I’ll be recommending it wholeheartedly!

 

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Worst Idea Ever by Jane Fallon / Blog Tour

Worst. Idea. Ever by Jane Fallon

 

 

Publisher: Penguin, Michael Joseph

Publishing Date: 29th April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Best friends tell each other everything.

Or do they?


Georgia and Lydia are so close, they’re practically sisters.

So when Lydia starts an online business that struggles, Georgia wants to help her – but she also understands Lydia’s not the kind to accept a handout.

Setting up a fake Twitter account, Georgia hopes to give her friend some anonymous moral support by posing as a potential customer.

But then Lydia starts confiding in her new internet buddy and Georgia discovers she doesn’t know her quite as well as she thought.

Georgia knows she should reveal the truth – especially when Lydia starts talking about her – but she just can’t help herself.

Until Lydia reveals a secret that could not only end their friendship, but also blow up Georgia’s marriage.

Georgia’s in too deep.

But what can she save?

Her marriage, her friendship – or just herself?




Rating:

 

Georgia Shepherd is a successful author of children’s picture books that feature Wilbur, the shopping – obsessed wallaby. Her best friend Lydia Somers, who is also an illustrator, is working in publishing, yes, but as the one who commissions the authors, not being commissioned herself. So Georgia, with the best of intentions, decides to set up a fake social media account to boost Lydia’s confidence – Lydia’s illustrations are brilliant but no one seems to be interested in them. So the invented Patricia starts to like everything Lydia’s has posted on her Twitter. What Georgia didn’t expect is Lydia so quickly starting to confide in her new friend Patricia. What’s worse, she starts to imply things about Georgia and her family – things that are going to turn Georgia’s life upside down.

Having read many Fallon’s books before, I kind of knew what to expect from this novel and I’ve been all the time waiting for the story to change the perspective and tell us the tale from Lydia’s point of view. I also relatively quickly guessed what is happening but it didn’t spoil the reading for me, oh no, in typical Jane Fallon’s way she writes a story that will make your blood boil, with lots of intrigue and suspicion. Even though this time I was not wondering who is lying, I was wondering how far the characters will go to achieve what they want – and there were many secrets, lies and tons of untangling and unpeeling and well, yes, there were many moments that made me feel unsecure about how the story is going to end and I was thinking, „no way“. Brilliant!

The characters were so well developed and portrayed and actually, now, when I think about this, even if my sympathy was for specific characters, no one in this story was completely innocent, don’t you think? Though I also know where Georgia was coming from when she wanted to help Lydia, and personally I wouldn’t take it as personally as Lydia. I think. Because Georgia genuinely wanted to support her friend. I loved her, she was so laid – back, that is, until the moment when the claws come out, and I loved to see this lioness – side of her. She was not the person to simply sit back and watch, even though I think there were moments that she felt tired and wanted to give up, well, who wouldn’t, right. Lydia… Well, there was something in Lydia, from the very beginning, that didn’t sit well with me, as if she was holding something back, as if she was not completely honest – but those are only my feelings. There came a moment that I started to fear about her mental health, to be honest, because instagramming the hell out of her life is one thing, but the way she was behaving made me really wonder. Nevertheless, I liked how the author didn’t actually judge her characters, showing that things are not only black and white, that there is grey somewhere in between, making us think.
But not only the main characters were so great, also the background ones, like Anne Marie and Harry, Lydia and Nick’s children or even Nick’t best friend who actually – I think – has never entered a scene but was still there – they were all living and breathing characters. And let’s not forget Igor! I was as invested in their subplots as I was in the main ones.

Jane Fallon is a brilliant observer and writes in a sharp and sarcastic way – my favourite kind! The writing flies smoothly and is filled with funny and more serious moments. It was thought out well and it took us on a roller – coaster journey full of mixed feelings and emotions.
This book is another winner from Jane Fallon, filled with close friendship, betrayal, intrigue and suspicion but this all written in a light, chatty way – this all makes this book so readable and not so easy to put down, you simply want to read and read to see what’s going to happen.
I found the beginning to be a little slow, to be honest, but the more you read the more involved you become in the story and the intrigue and then, later on, with this typical Jane Fallon’s skilfulness, she starts to deliver twist after twist and different points of view. Those are things that can really happen in real life, which only made the story this little bit more thrilling and exciting and captivating. You simply can’t miss this great story about trust and honesty and who’s having your back! „Worst. Idea. Ever“ has lived up to my expectations and the author delivered a sharp, genuine and brilliantly funny story. Highly recommended!

 

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The Source by Sarah Sultoon / Blog Tour + Extract

 

Publisher: Orenda Books 57040200

Publishing Date: 15th February 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 263

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

 

Synopsis:

A young TV journalist is forced to revisit her harrowing past when she’s thrust into a sex-trafficking investigation in her hometown. A startling, searing debut thriller by award-winning CNN journalist Sarah Sultoon.

1996. Essex. Thirteen-year-old schoolgirl Carly lives in a disenfranchised town dominated by a military base, struggling to care for her baby sister while her mum sleeps off another binge. When her squaddie brother brings food and treats, and offers an exclusive invitation to army parties, things start to look a little less bleak…

2006. London. Junior TV newsroom journalist Marie has spent six months exposing a gang of sex traffickers, but everything is derailed when New Scotland Yard announces the re-opening of Operation Andromeda, the notorious investigation into allegations of sex abuse at an army base a decade earlier…

As the lives of these two characters intertwine around a single, defining event, a series of utterly chilling experiences is revealed, sparking a nail-biting race to find the truth … and justice.

A riveting, searing and devastatingly dark thriller, The Source is also a story about survival, about hopes and dreams, about power, abuse and resilience … an immense, tense and thought-provoking debut that you will never, ever forget.

Extract

Where are these beans, Ma?’ I spy an open packet of nappies by Kayleigh’s cot. Thank God it’s not a rinse-and-repeat day. She’d be like a lump of plasticine if she was fed right, round marble eyes staring as I change her. The telly’s bright colours take over the entertaining as I suddenly remember my own shirt is still full of wee.

‘You know you can’t leave her in her cot all day,’ I snap, unbuttoning my shirt as Ma starts to sob softly on the sofa. ‘Just sit outside on the step if you can’t actually go anywhere. You can even crawl with her if you have to…’

I turn my back on her hacking and coughing as I take the two steps into the kitchen in my bra. Three cans of beans are lined up all new and shiny on the otherwise filthy counter.

‘Where did these come from?’

I peer round the doorframe as Ma blows her nose into her Tshirt.

‘Your brother came by,’ she says, pleating the rim of her shirt between her fingers. ‘He might even be back tonight, he said.’ She looks up at me, blinking like she’s the child. ‘He … he left a few things…’ She gestures into the kitchen.

I yank open the fridge door to find unopened packets of cheese and ham gleaming on the shelf. A bag of apples, a loaf of bread, even yoghurts, all stupid smiley-face labels. Yoghurts! I glare at Ma as I crouch down next to Kayleigh, spooning as fast as she can swallow. If the telly weren’t on I think she’d try and drink the stuff, she’s so hungry. And as usual I find her battered baby cup under a pile of filth in her cot and need to rinse it over a similarly filthy pile of dishes in the sink. I stare through the porthole window at the blank wall of the block opposite as water splashes over my hands. All these army houses look exactly the same from theoutside, lined up next to each other like they’re the soldiers. But if anyone came inside this one by mistake they’d think they’d shown up on an enemy base.

I bang the cup against the counter before taking it out to Kayleigh, furious with Ma still heaped on the sofa, wrinkled and slumped like the pile of dirty washing that doesn’t even hide the holes in the carpet. She looks so close to dead that I don’t know how she can still be alive. If I stop and think about it, I reckon it started even before Kayleigh was born. She just stopped being capable, I guess. Too many scroungers will do that to you. The army thinks that paying out a dead soldier’s pension is the least it can do. In the name of God and Country, all that shit. Actually that free money just loops a bullseye around some already pathetic widow’s neck.

Cold air suddenly blasts back into the room as a key rattles in the lock and the door swings open. Too late, I remember I’m still basically naked from the waist up. I snatch up Kayleigh and cuddle her across my chest as I shiver in the shadow of my brother in the doorframe.

‘A welcoming committee, I see,’ Jason says. ‘Is that your best underwear?’

The room darkens as he closes the door, uniform creaking as he steps towards me. All shiny boots and starchy collar, this dump makes him look like he’s wearing a costume, especially since he’s got a laundry bag folded under his arm, of all things. I step back and stumble as he reaches out to pet Kayleigh, paddling my arm with his fingers as he grabs my shoulder.

‘Have you gone sick in the head now, too?’ I shrug into his hand. ‘Like you should even be looking. Freak.’

He plucks Kayleigh out of my arms, smirking as I duck and ferret around on the floor for something to cover myself.

‘So you get your kicks these days from hawking cheese and ham to your own family? What happened? Did the army kick you out? Not good enough for active duty?’ I gabble defensively as I pull on a T-shirt.

‘There’s no need for all that, is there, sis? If I was in the field, who’d sort you lot out?’ He croons down at Kayleigh, tickling her chin. ‘We can’t help having a swot for a sister, can we?’

My cheeks burn.

‘And you think you’re not? Don’t give me that crap about living to serve … Folding clothes right, dressing right, even shaving right, like that’s different from learning in school? Just because it’s not in a classroom doesn’t make you any less of a nerd…’

Kayleigh coos as he laughs. ‘Fighting talk, Carls. It’s times tables that make you really intelligent, is it?’

Something explodes inside me as Ma titters on the sofa. I’m suddenly so angry I can barely see, let alone breathe through the fog in this tiny room. Once, it smelled of wet, clean washing — didn’t matter there wasn’t room to move when it was all hung up, because it turned the place into the inside of a flower, I could even play between its petals. Sometimes it smelled of cooking – I could breathe in a full tummy’s-worth before I got to eat it too. If I dig around enough I can even remember the smell of felt tips. Now it just stinks of regret and despair.

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thesourcebtposter7995058517435357058.

Look What You Made Me Do by Nikki Smith

 

Publisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 1st April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 336

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

 

Synopsis:

Two people can keep a secret . . . if one of them is dead.

Sisters Jo and Caroline are used to hiding things from each other. They’ve never been close – taking it in turns to feel on the outside of their family unit, playing an endless game of favourites.

Jo envies Caroline’s life – things have always come so easy to her. Then a family inheritance falls entirely to Jo, and suddenly now Caroline wants what Jo has. Needs it, even.

But just how far will she go to get it?

Rating:

Jo and Caroline are sisters who have never got on well. Even now, after their father’s death, the relationship is, let’s say, strained. It doesn’t help that their mother always favoured Caroline and also that Jo has just inherited the hugest part of the family buisness and has plans different to those of her mother and sister’s – it only makes the rift between them even bigger. Trying to hide their own secrets and problems, they think the other one leads the „better life“ but in fact they have no idea what’s happening behind the closed doors.

I haven’t read the author’s previous book before so I wasn’t sure what I’m getting into – but as I heard great things about her and her writing I couldn’t wait to start reading „Look What You Made Me Do“. The first thing that I observed was the fact that Nikki Smith is the champion of pulling you into the characters’s heads and feeling their emotions – they were intense, they were raw, they were real. On more than one occassion I couldn’t believe what I’m seeing, what’s actually happening, going „oh no, not this, not now“.

At the very beginning, right in the first chapter, I thought I’ve made my mind about Caroline. And then, guys, you won’t believe how fast I’ve changed my opinion! I think it has never happened to me before.
It’s a very character – driven book and the characters were strong enough to carry the story. But, as it usually happens, with two characters there are two different points of view, and it was fascinating to see how different their views and interpretations of the same situations were. I can’t say they were very likeable, but never judge a book by its cover as they say – there is much more to each of them than we could think at first. The fact that the chapters were told alternatingly only made the difference between them bigger and the author has truly well unpeeled all the layers of each family member, making it a very addictive read.
The story centres around Jo and Caroline and their respective families. It’s not a loving relationship, to be honest, with more than a bit of jealousy and rivalry. As much as the sisters want to keep up appearances, the more we read, the more cracks start to appear and in the end I truly didn’t know which sister deserved more sympathy. As they are both very open in their narrations, we truly get to know them and their deepest thoughts (or we can think so, I think the author has brilliantly pulled wool over my eyes as the end took me rather by surprise) and so we are very privy to the emotions and feelings – all kinds of them, as there is a great range of – mostly – negative emotions, such as jealousy, trust issues, mental and physical abuse.

A huge part of the story is about the jealousy and rivalry between the sister. While it wasn’t nice to look at, I guess it happens, and I think the author has captured the rivalry, jealousy and misunderstandings between them really well. Although I was actually left with a feeling that yes, it’s true, the sisters’ mother was really favouring Caroline, even though she tried to deny this fact, telling Jo it wasn’t like this and that her father wasn’t the man Jo though he was. I haven’t, unfortunately, found something that would confirm it in the book, so am not sure what to think about it. In Jo’s eyes he was a great man, in her mother’s he was not, and he didn’t have a chance to tell us his own version. The whole family bonds and relationship in this book were emotionally strained and difficult but still I think it was really well written.

It was a multi – layered story that has some weaker points in my opinions, I could for example skip the subplot of Jo’s husband. Also, adding the mystery third voice didn’t work for me, it confused me too much as I was puzzling and guessing who could that be. It took the whole book to see who it was and as much as it was heart – breaking, it simply made me feel too confused throughout the whole story, as it didn’t fit any of the subplots and it took the whole book to finally tell who it was and why.

This book was truly annoying – annoying, because you’ve never known what’s going to happen and the feeling of tension was present all the time, from the very beginning to the very end, the book was actually filled with it and I kept reading with my heart in my mouth. So annoying, but in a very positive sense. I loved the fact that actually till the very end you are not able to guess what’s going to come and the end has took me so by surprise but also I wanted to actually cheer and give those characters and the author a standing ovation for pulling it like this. It was emotionally charged and at time dark read touching upon some really heavy issues that, when reading, made me feel truly uncomfortable – for the characters. The mental abuse described in this story is taken to a very high level, it’s repugnant and also brutally realistic. It was addictive story about secrets that pulled a whole family apart, a dark family drama, haunting and emotionally charged. It feels realistic and close to life, unfortunately, it’s clever and complex. Recommended!

A Postcard from Paris by Alex Brown / Blog Tour

A Postcard from Paris by Alex Brown

 

 

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publishing Date: 15th April 2021

Series: Postcard series #2

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 416

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),  Women’s Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Annie Lovell is keen to put the spark back into her life and when her elderly neighbour inherits an abandoned Parisian apartment she goes to Paris to discover more. Her curiosity takes an unexpected turn on discovering a bundle of secret diaries hidden within the walls, detailing the life of a young English woman, Beatrice Crawford, who volunteered in 1916 to nurse the soldiers in the fields of France.

Captivated by the romantic City of Light, Annie realises first appearances are not always as they seem. Following Beatrice’s journey from the Great War, through the Roaring Twenties and to a very different life in Nazi-occupied Paris, Annie must piece together the events from the past, if she is to fulfil the legacy that Beatrice left for her to find…






Rating:

 

„Postcard from Paris“ introduces us to Annie, forty – something single mother of two already grown – up children. She’s actually happy with her life, but then her best friend, following an exciting career opportunity, moves to the other half of the world and the children have their own lives and Annie starts to feel alone. But then her elderly neighbour finds herself inheriting unexpectedly and surprisingly an apartment in Paris and as she herself is not able to travel, she asks Annie to go there and have a look. Annie jumps at the chance – she’s been always dreaming about travelling and Paris is the best start, right? What she doesn’t know is that she’s going to find something in the flat, something that will connect the previous owner Beatrice to her neighbour Joanie.

I really like to go back and forth between past and present in books, but sadly, not all of the authors can write this way. Alex Brown can. This dual time aspect gives you a real sense of this story and she has brilliantly captured the modern times and the past and it has never felt like reading two separate storylines. The story of Beatrice was engaging and realistic, heart – breakingly poignant, and her diaries, describing her life through the Roaring Twenties and Second World War, were absolutely brilliant, giving a great insight into the woman’t life that was full of pain, tears and happiness. The diary entries were a part of a mystery, an element that I truly loved, with Annie trying to piece together the events from the past. Alex Brown has really masterfully plotted it and I sat comfortably, enjoying how she decided to unfold it, to peel the layers off. It was full of sad and poignant moments and the author truly knows how to write them so that they tug at our heart – strings.

The characters, as usual in Alex’s books, are so well fleshed out, full of emotions and feelings, it simply looks as if she gets into her characters’ heads, and they’re written in such a way that we can easily relate to them, understand them and their motives.

What didn’t sit so well with me, right from the beginning, was the subplot of Phoebe, Annie’s daughter. I’m sorry, but it was a no from me and I couldn’t agree with her being so controlling, trying to force Annie to do things that she didn’t want to do or was not ready for yet. The way she was and was trying to achieve her will was annoying and irritating. However, luckily, the more her story was developing, the more sense the things started to make and in the end you can really see the whole picture and appreciate this subplot as well.

Alex Brown’s writing style is beautiful. Yes, it is very descriptive but those descriptions are simply gorgeous and very vivid. Bringing the characters and their worlds to life. She writes sensitively and almost lyrical but there is also wit and humour in her dialogues. The descriptions of Paris were stunning, and yes, I admit, I was a little scared that it’s going to be another story that reads like a travel – guide but it was not the case, it was rather like being whisked away and seeing the city afresh and new through Annie’s eyes.

I loved the brief mentions of Tindledale. The story actually started there, in 1916, with 18 – year – old Beatrice Crawford, following the suffragettes who were then campaigning for women’s rights and longing to take more active role in the war. Of course, despite her family’s wishes, she finds herself working in a field hospital and I found it a brilliant beginning to this beautiful and surprising story.

The story flows smoothly, changing points of view and locations but thanks to the lovely writing and clear writing style it’s easy to keep track. It’s multi – layered and it was a real joy to be able to unpeel one layer after another, following the enthralling and colourful subplots. I personally think that Beatrice’s story was this much more exciting and interesting, although please don’t get me wrong, Annie’s story was also brilliant, I loved seeing her developing and becoming stronger and self – confident. Nevertheless, it was the past that stole the show for me and I’d love to hear more about it than the present, to be honest – but I still loved it, no worries!

It was a real page turner and it was not easy to put the book away, so be prepared that you may want to read in one sitting – it was so compelling and interesting. I loved the element of uncertainty, of not being sure what’s going to happen and what has happened in the past – the author has done it brilliantly. „Postcard from Paris“ is another winner from Alex Brown. Gentle, vivid and with a great plot, it will keep you company for a few brilliant hours. Highly recommended!

 

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The Wife Who Got a Life by Tracy Bloom

 

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publishing Date: 29th April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 384

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),  Women’s Fiction

 

Synopsis:

Cathy Collins is a mum on a mission – to change her life.
 
When her husband drops a midlife-crisis bombshell,
Cathy decides it’s time to take control.
 
No more laundry, teenage tantrums or housework.
After years of putting herself last, she’s going to be first for a change.
 
Cathy Collins is carving a new path, and nothing is going to get in her way…
 
From No.1 bestselling author Tracy Bloom, The Wife Who Got a Life
perfectly captures the joyous chaos of family life.

Rating:

Cathy receives a motivational diary for Christmas from her sister, who lives healthy and glamourus in California, while Cathy herself may have menopause, but maybe not, has a husband who may just be having his middle – age crisis, wanting to leave his super and well – paid job to start training to be a teacher, her seventeen – year – old son Freddie may, or may not, apply to university, and her 15 – year – old daughten Kirsty may (or may not) be about to have her heart broken for the first time. Motivational diary, I beg you pardon! But seeing as everybody is doing something for themselves, Cathy starts to think and eventually sets her own motivational goals – a little bit different to what her sister would have expected (run a marathon? No, thank you), but those are her goals that she’d like to achieve every month.

Having read all of Tracy Bloom’s books I knew that I’m in for a treat and – surprise, surprise! – it turned out that it’s probably Tracy’s best book yet! Really, guys. This book has it all, starting with a brilliant heroine. I love characters that are over 40 and have realistic approach to life, and so is Cathy. She’s a brilliant, fantastic mum, patient wife and sister, great friend, and she knows when to give a hug or two. There was so much warmth and humour in her and I truly laughed with her or hurt with her. I loved seeing her confidence grow even more and she was so real and close to life, what with her own life being so normal, filled with everyday scenarios that we know so well. Her husband Mike, oh my, there were moments that I wanted to bang his head on the wall, especially at his non – existing listening skills, but in the end he came through. The children were portrayed brilliantly, especially Freddie, who was so funny, but Kirsty as well, with her love life and make – up skills. Cathy’s friends from the book club were absolutely brilliant, we all need such a bunch of friends in our lives, supporting, making you laugh, but also knowing when it’s time to stay serious and simply cry with you. The gang at The Mustarc Factory was like a breath of fresh air with the Beer Mixer and being in awe with Cathy and her T – shirt.

The pace is just right and the writing style is brilliant, so approachable and chatty and light and full of warmth. The author writes about things that we so well know from our lives, making us look at them from another perspective, which is absolutely great. I could so sympathise with Lizzy, living so far away from her family and on the surface having a perfect life but also missing them so much, wanting to see her parents and help to clean their toilets more often but not being able – it’s the same with me, living far away from my parents, seeing them only from time to time, and realising that we all are getting older doesn’t make it any easier.

The story is told in a diary form, as Cathy eventually tries to complete her goals for one year, and it worked brilliantly with this story. Every now and again it is diversified through WhatsApp conversations between the three sisters, so real and realistic that you can’t help but roll your eyes at them, thinking about your own exchange of messages with your siblings or parents. The entries are short(ish) and sharp, which makes the reading easier but also longer, as you always think, this one page more, and then it’s already dark outside and your bed time has been and gone but you keep reading.

The book made me laugh, nod with understanding and also stop for a moment and think about what is really important in life. Nevertheless, altogether, it’s optimistic and life – affirming and light – hearted, sometimes making you choke down a tear or two. It is a honest read with a human touch to it, it feels authentic and the author writes how it really is, but making it this bit funnier. It is this kind of a story that will resonate with you on many levels, what with authors covering so many important topics, such as friendship, relationship, cancer, mental health but with humour, understanding and with subtlety. It is a book about friendship, families and accepting yourself, but also showing that you don’t need to lose your own identity for accepting yourself. I loved it from start to finish and I can’t recommend it highly enough! Go and treat yourself!

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman

Good Eggs by Rebecca Hardiman

 

 

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Publishing Date: 7th March 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!

Number of pages: 335

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),  Women’s Fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis:

Meet the Gogartys; cantankerous gran Millie (whose eccentricities include a penchant for petty-theft and reckless driving); bitter downtrodden stepson Kevin (erstwhile journalist whose stay-at-home parenting is pushing him to the brink); and habitually moody, disaffected teenage daughter Aideen.

When Gran’s arrested yet again for shoplifting, Aideen’s rebelliousness has reached new heights and Kevin’s still not found work, he realises he needs to take action. With the appointment of a home carer for his mother, his daughter sent away to boarding school to focus on her studies and more time for him to reboot his job-hunt, surely everything will work out just fine. But as the story unfolds – and in the way of all the best families – nothing goes according to plan and as the calm starts to descend into chaos we’re taken on a hilarious multiple-perspective roller-coaster ride that is as relatable as it is far-fetched.

Good Eggs is a heady cocktail of that warmth and wit of Marian Keyes, Caitlin Moran and TV’s Derry Girls.






Rating:

 

Kevin Gogarty’s life used to be normal – you know, family, job, holidays, friends… Until he has lost his job, his 80 – year – old mother Millie has been caught shoplifting once too often and one of his four children, the teenage daughter Aideen, is struggling at school and at home. His wife is all the time at work, being very successful at this what she’s doing and trying to financially support the family. So yes, it’s too much for him and it’s time for some radical changes. Enter Silvia, who is there to keep a close eye on Millie. Aideen is being sent to a boarding school, despite her protest, where she promptly befriends another troublemaker. So, problems solved, right? Kevin has no idea that it’s only the tip of the iceberg and real problems are lurking around the corner…

We have a multigenerational Irish family, with all the ups and downs of multigenerational family, that is. There are understatmenets, secrets, lies and problems swept under the rug or shipping children off to boarding school when they become troubles. In this very character – driven story, they are all well drawn personalities, enough for me to keep reading, even though I found myself skipping some of the passages, especially at the end. Not all of them were likeable, Kevin for example, the way he was with his mother was not the nicest one, his wife was rather absent and those were Millie and Aideen that kept the show going on. Nevertheless, I think there wouldn’t be this book without Kevin, his was the most central role in the whole family, me thinks. He has lost his job not so long time ago and now must adjust to the new circumstances, to be the stay – at – home dad who, almost always alone, has to cope with all the problems, caught up between his children and his trouble – making mother. Millie, with her penchant for shoplifting, dangerous driving and altogether planning to grow old on her own terms, was probably the most colourful character, although the misunderstood Aideen was very close. It was brilliant to see how those two found each other again and teamed up. Other Kevin’s children are Gerard, who’s off in a college, Ciaran, the youngest one, still sweet and innocent, and Aideen’s twin – sister Nuala, Miss Perfect who has annoyed me incredibly. Nevertheless, all of them are actually „good eggs“, they have to face problems that we easily can relate to and this way it is easy to fall for the characters, to get them and their behaviour.

I started reading this book filled with expectation and hope – I love Irish fiction and the crazy but incredibly supporting and funny Irish families that I keep reading about – and I was really hoping for a new Walsh family here. However, the more I read, the more disappointed I was with this book, the story and the characters, I haven’t found enough warmth and wit in them. Sure, nobody promised me this, but even it someone had, I wouldn’t be able to fall in love with „Good Eggs“.

There is a lot happening in this book and some of the things are funny and some are incredibly too far – fetched, and the closer to the end the more crazy and somehow unbelievable it became. Please don’t get me wrong, there was much to enjoy in this dysfunctional Gocarty family, but it was much more a hit and miss with me and while there were moments that I enjoyed, mostly the humour didn’t work for me and it felt a bit too ridiculous. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable and engaging story with a heart, touching upon some important issues and tackling them with humour., so don’t feel put out by me complaining.

The World at My Feet by Catherine Isaac

 

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publishing Date: 18th April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!/ PB copy purchased

Number of pages: 432

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),  Women’s Fiction

 

Synopsis:

The dazzling new novel from Richard & Judy book club author Catherine Isaac, The World at my Feet is a story about the transforming power of love, as one woman journeys to uncover the past and reshape her future.

The secrets that bind us can also tear us apart…

1990. Harriet is a journalist. Her job takes her to dangerous places, where she asks questions and tries to make a difference. But when she is sent to Romania, to the state orphanages the world is only just learning about, she is forced to rethink her most important rule.

2018. Ellie is a gardener. Her garden is her sanctuary, her pride and joy. But, though she spends long days outdoors, she hasn’t set foot beyond her gate for far too long. Now someone enters her life who could finally be the reason she needs to overcome her fears.

From post-revolution Romania to the idyllic English countryside, The World at My Feet is the story of two women, two worlds, and a journey of self-discovery that spans a lifetime.

Rating:

Harriet is a journalist who has travelled to many dangerous places all over the world. She has covered many war – related stories but the one that has changed her life was in Romania. Following the fall of Ceausescu’s communist government, she travels there to report on the country’s orphanages, filled with thousands of children, victims of the dictator’s politics of having as many children as possible in a family. What she sees there is a shock but it’s also going to bring the biggest change in her life.
Ellie is an instagram influencer, posting about her garden and plants, sharing tips how to keep them growing and blossoming. Ellie hasn’t left the confines of her beloved garden in two years now. She suffers from agoraphobia, and just the thought of leaving the safety of her house and garden brings her close to panic attacs. Because those places are her sanctuary, her safe place. It wasn’t always like this, Ellie used to go to University in London, so what has changed? And is there something that could help? Something different than therapy which necessitates digging in the past, exposing Ellie to things that still terrify her so much, that she doesn’t want to think about?

This is Catherine Isaac’s best book yet. I was incredibly immersed in this story and read it over two days, what with life getting in the way – I’d read it in one sitting when possible! It was not easy to write this review and I’m sure I haven’t done the book justice, but let’s be honest, what can you tell about a book that is perfect instead of saying that it’s simply perfect and that you loved everything about it? I’ll be honest, I haven’t expected it to be so good, really, it truly exceeded my expectations. This book was simply so close to life and so human, it didn’t feel like reading a book, it felt like watching someone’s life, someone who quickly grew on you and became your friend, someone you fell for and kept everything crossed for them, no matter how annoying they sometimes were – and I loved this feeling! It doesn’t happen often that you feel like this about a book and I’ll be cherish this feeling – and this novel – for a long time.

I think this story was brilliantly researched. The descriptions of the orphanages and the condition of the children have broken my heart – you know such things really happened, not so long time ago, but there are things that you’d rather won’t know about. Catherine Isaac has written about it in a beautiful yet realistic and brutally honest way and hats off to her for doing it – because some things must be told as they really are/were. But also her covering the topic of mental health was brilliant and so very credible. Also the explanations why Ellie was getting panic attacks that resulted in agoraphobia was credible and realistic and you could actually feel Ellie’s fear and her emotions. It is amazing how well Catherine Isaac was able to also highlight the reasons why Ellie didn’t want to confront the past, so easily getting into her character’s head and making it crystal clear for the readers as well. But it isn’t only Ellie that was portrayed so well, because the characters surrounding her came across as living and breathing and real and I absolutely adored them all, with their own ways of supporting Ellie – with such a network you don’t have to be afraid of anything, really. Her parents and sister Lucy are absolutely brilliant and you really could see that this family feel good in each other’s company, there their bonds are strong and nothing will shake them. Ellie’s friendship with the little Oscar was heart – warming and brought some sunshine and funny moments and Gertie the dog is one and only. How they say, never work with children and animals, right? Ha! But the new friendship between Ellie and Jamie must have been the best ever, I loved seeing them together, especially after their cocktail – making session, and it was breaking my heart when they were arguing – Jamie was soooo great, so well drawn, just like the other ones.

The story is mostly set in the present, in 2018, though there are also flashbacks to 1989, telling us the background of Ellie’s tale through Harriet’s perspective. I must admit, at the beginning I thought this story is going to take in totally different direction, what with Harriet being a war – reporter, and I was puzlling over the fact what is the link to those two subplots, this of Ellie and this of Harriet. I mean, I knew they are a family, but what has happened, so significant, that both the stories are being told? I must admit, later on I started to guess what has happened, nevertheless the way leading us to this moment was thrillingly captivating, full of unexpected information and so compelling.

The book ended perfectly, and I don’t only mean the actual end but the fact that all the subplots and threads were beautifully wrapped up. It was a heart – wrenching, poignant story that made me cry at the end – and it doesn’t happen often those times. The writing style is gorgeous and it suits the story in every way. Catherine Isaac writes beautifully but in a modern way.

„The World at My Feet“ covers, in a very compelling way, with thoughtfulness and sensitivity, some emotional and controversial topics, the above mentioned orphanages in Romania, but also mental health issues. Those themes may sound disturbing and heavy, but the author overcame them with some truly wonderful moments, gentle humour and lightheartedness. Overall, it’s a powerful story about unconditional love, friendship, family and new beginnings. Poignant, realistic, brutally honest, witty and clever. Moving in places, humorous in others, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Nailing It by Anna Jefferson / Blog Tour

Publisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 1st April 2021

Source:  Received from the publisher, thank you!

Number of pages: 468

Genre: General Fiction (Adult),  Women’s Fiction

 

Synopsis:

Faking it.
Breaking it.
Hating it.
Loving it…

This is motherhood.

Emily is raising two tiny feminists, building her freelance career and navigating life as a newly single mum – and feels like she’s failing horribly.

Tania just wants her other half to do his fair share – as long as it’s done her way. But being right isn’t nearly as much as fun as being in it together…

Helen has almost got family life sorted: a routine that suits them all, most days. Until her own mum turns up and turns calm into chaos.

Sometimes being a mum is the hardest job in the world. So can these three friends fake it till they make it?

Rating:

„Nailing It“ tells us a story of three friends: Emily, Tania and Helen, all three of them mums, and all three of them facing different problems. Emily is trying to come to terms with being a single parent, which, as it turns out, is not as easy, especially as you and your ex forget which day you’re supposed to pick the kids up from school. Tania feels like being a single parent, what with organizing everything by herself and Helen has just experienced shock of her life when her mother suddenly and unexpectedly arrived back from Spain, turning Helen’s orderly and neat world on its head. Will they all manage to stay sane and make it through? To nail it?

There are two previous books about Emily and her adventures in motherhood, nevertheless I think you don’t have to read them before. Sure, you will miss on some fun but here I’ve been thrown direct into the heart of this story, without problems, and immediately befriended myself with the characters again. They were written in such a way that, from the very first page, I had a feeling that I know them for a long time already.

The story is told from Emily’s point of view in the first person narration, and third person narration from Tania and Helen, and at the beginning it was a bit confusing, when suddenly the third person changed into the first, but I quickly got used to this. Not sure why it was done this way, as it didn’t help me feel closer to Emily. Nevertheless, she was the main person here and I fell for her immediately. She was relatable and likeable and funny and I could imagine her to be my friend, really.
I loved the friendship between Emily, Tania and Helen and I felt a part of their circle, of their struggles and troubles. The way those three support each other and can lean on each other in every situation is absolutely brilliant. Each of them had their own story to tell, interesting and not always easy, but they also wonderfully work as a team, and it was really great in this book. They met some time ago (I guess in the first book 😀 ) and their friendship is blossoming, I love to see such relationships, especially as they seem to be so true and genuine. Anna Jefferson has written it truly well, as well as the characters that jump off the pages.

I adored the sharp and realistic look at motherhood, or rather parenthood altogether, at being a single parent or sometimes feeling like a single parent. The events in this book, as well as dialogues and the characters’ reactions, are written in a way that you can so easily imagine and that feel absolutely possible to happen to all of us. It’s mostly fun, but also there are moments that you can feel the frustration and desperation of the three main heroines. The author, however, also touches upon some more heavier and serious issues, especially when it comes to Helen’s subplot – there were moments I wanted to shake her, tell her to open her eyes and to see what I’ve been seeing, but it’s probably easy to say when you’re not in the same situation – and I hope I’ll never find myself in this situation. It wasn’t written with gentleness – I think the author has showed the things like they really are, brutally honest, bringing us on our limits, and I appreciated it wholeheartedly.

It is a bitter – sweet and realistic picture of a family, with all the ups and downs. Yes, there are many books with this topic, but „Nailing It“ is one of the best in this genre , funniest and down – to – earth. Often I have a feeling that I’ve been there, I’ve seen this, the books feel like a copy of each other, but this one was like a real breath of fresh air. It’s close to life, relatable and with a human touch, not overdone, not too far – fetched and shows how it really is.
But as much as this book is funny, it’s also realistic and thoughtful, showing a real picture of different kinds of families. It’s this kind of book that you read nodding your head and rolling your eyes, understanding all of the turmoils and emotions of the characters.

If you are in need of a funny, witty, clever and also poignant story, try „Nailing It“. It’s not only for parents, I am sure you’ll find many things in this book that will resonate with you. Now I’m going to treat myself to „Winging It“, can’t wait to see the beginnings of Emily, Tania and Helen’s friendship. Highly recommended!

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