The Cairo Brief by Fiona Veitch – Smith / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, I’m very thrilled to be hosting Fiona Veitch – Smith’s blog tour stop here today. I adore Poppy Denby Investigates series and it’s only because of the lack of time here that I haven’t read “The Cairo Brief” yet – but keep your eyes peeled for my review as I’m going to read it sooner rather than later! In the meantime, though, I have a great long fat extract from the book (2 whole chapters!), so make yourself comfortable and enjoy!

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Chapter 1
10 April 1914, El-Amarna, Egypt

Two brown-cloaked figures picked their way through the half- filled trenches and incomplete excavations of the ancient city. Without its centuries-old shroud of desert sand, Akhetaten lay shivering and exposed in the shameful moonlight, filtering down from the carved cliffs to the east. From the cliff face, hacked and hewn, the likenesses of the heretic pharaohs Akhenaten and Nefertiti stood sentinel over the valley where, three and a half thousand years before, they had built a city to worship Aten, the golden sun.
But tonight it was Iah, the silver moon, that ruled the shadowlands below, where the city of the dead was being reclaimed by the living. To the west of what the foreigners called “The Dig”, the Nile snaked through fields and farms, an artery of life to the villages dotted along the plain.
The cloaked, trespassing figures were a twin boy and girl of around seventeen who lived in one of the nearby villages: Et-Till Beni Amra. At least they used to. Now they were at boarding school in Cairo, far, far to the north, and only came home during the holidays. Their parents were the only people in the village able to afford to send their children away to school, an enormous expense and – so the villagers whispered as they tilled their crops – a wasteful one, particularly on the girl. But the twins’ illicit family business – secretly passed down from generation to generation – had been doing well in recent times, thanks to the Europeans swarming over the carcass of Akhenaten like pale flies. The children with whom the twins now shared dormitories in Cairo talked behind their backs and called them graverobbers. But their father preferred the title “antiquities dealer” and now, since he had been so well paid by the German professor, his children were able to write his profession in German, English, and French.
The girl had been reluctant to come on the moonlit adventure. It had been fun to dig around in the ruins when they were children, but now she understood the consequences of being found with reclaimed artefacts. She’d heard stories of locals being beaten and imprisoned for theft. The Egyptian Antiquities Service issued licenses to excavators on a seasonal basis. For the last seven years the license had gone to Professor Ludwig Borchardt and his team. No one else was allowed to dig there – no rival European archaeologists and most definitely not a pair of young Mohammedans. Never mind that the girl’s family had been digging and selling the fruit of their labour for a hundred years before Borchardt came. Her father had been hired by the German as a consultant and had sworn to stop his own black-market business in return for a substantial salary. But her brother refused to adhere to the agreement. “It’s our people’s heritage,” he had argued, “like the crops of the field and the fish of the Nile.”
So, on this weekend which the Christians called Easter, when her father was in Cairo with his German employer, her brother had coaxed her to join him in a little subsistence looting. “For old time’s sake,” he had grinned. Reluctantly, she agreed. After she helped her mother wash up and read her younger
siblings a bedtime story, she donned her cloak, preparing to join her brother for an evening walk.
The mother assessed her twin children. The boy looked as cock-sure as always. But the girl… there was something bothering her. “You don’t have to go,” the woman said to her daughter. “Not if you don’t want to.”
“I – well – I –”
Her brother interrupted before she could finish, putting his arm around her and ushering her to the door. “Don’t worry, mother, I’ll look after her. She’s just a bit out of practice, aren’t you?”
The girl couldn’t deny this. She nodded half-heartedly.
“Hmmm,” said their mother, wiping her hands dry on her apron. “If I didn’t know the Europeans were away I might be more worried.”
“Worried about what?” asked her son, as he too pulled on his cloak. “We are just going for an evening stroll. And if we happen to walk past the old city… well…” he grinned and kissed his mother on her forehead.
“Watch out for Mohammed and his dog,” said the mother. “He’s usually asleep on the job, and he owes your father half a dozen favours, but you never know…”
“We will,” said her son as he and his sister picked up their sacks – containing ropes and tools – and headed out into the night.
Half an hour later the twins were at their pre-selected destination: the remains of an ancient workshop that had belonged to a man called Thutmose, the personal sculptor of Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti. Two years ago the German team, guided by the twins’ father, had unearthed the ruins of the sprawling facility and found a bust of the beautiful queen, with only one eye. The sculpture had now been sent to Berlin. But it wasn’t the only work of art retrieved. There were dozens of half-finished statues and bits of broken limbs in a series of storerooms and trash piles. And – so the twins knew – a secret underground chamber where the sculptor had kept his most precious work. Their father had declined, so far, to tell his new employers about the chamber. But rumour of its existence had been passed down in the family from generation to generation.
“I still don’t understand why Papa hasn’t told the Germans about it yet,” said the girl.
“Perhaps they haven’t paid him enough,” observed the boy. He struck a match and lit a small hurricane lantern he’d taken from his sack, then ranged the lamp in a wide arc over the trenches and roped-off squares of earth. “But it’s only a matter of time until someone finds it.”
“And you think you know where it is?” asked the girl.
The boy nodded. “And so do you. Do you remember that rhyme grandpa used to sing?”
The girl’s face lit up in the light of the lamp. She smiled, remembering fondly the old man with skin like dried parchment. “One palm, two palm, between the trees, there’s Old Tut’s treasure, so please don’t sneeze!” She giggled, just like she used to when she was a child.
The boy grinned. “The thing is, I don’t think it was just a rhyme.” He pointed to a small copse of palm trees about thirty paces west of the perimeter of the workshop dig. A pair of trees were set slightly apart from the rest. “What do you think?”
The girl’s almond-shaped eyes opened wide. “That’s a bit of a stretch.”
The boy shrugged and walked towards the trees. “Worth a dig, though, don’t you think? Won’t do any harm.”
The girl scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of the old
watchman and his dog. It was all clear. She sighed, shifted her sack from one shoulder to another, and followed her brother. “Can’t do any harm, I suppose…”
“Hey! Looks like someone’s already been here,” called the brother. The girl broke into a run and joined her sibling under the palms. He ranged his lantern over the area to reveal a hole in the ground, which had previously been hidden by rock and scree. The siblings both knew that this is how the entrance to Thutmose’s workshop had been found: under a pile of rubble. But around this entrance were footprints in the sand – human and animal. The girl got down on her knees and peered into the hole, gesturing for her brother to shed light on it. He did and the girl could make out a steep tunnel, wide enough for a medium- sized man to squeeze into, angled down into the darkness. “Do you think someone’s down there now?” she whispered.
“I doubt it,” said the boy. “If the Europeans had found it already, they would have blocked the area off and put guards on it until they came back from their Easter break.”
The girl nodded her assent and cocked her ear, trying to pick up any sounds that might be emanating from the underground chamber. “I agree about the Europeans. So that means it must be one of our people.”
“Yes, but I doubt they’re still there. Look, these footprints don’t look fresh. He poked at the faded tracks with his sandal, then grinned. “The Europeans wouldn’t be able to get a clear print from these,” he said, reminding his sister of the graverobber who had been caught and convicted on another dig by the famous archaeologist Howard Carter, who photographed footprints leading from the scene of the crime and matched them to a suspect.
“What do you want to do then?” asked the girl.
The boy put down his lantern on a nearby rock and shuffled his sack off his shoulder. “Go in, of course. Even if someone’s been here before us, there’ll still be lots to see. And good luck to them if they have! Better one of our people than a foreigner.”
The girl couldn’t disagree with that. So, with one more scan of the area above ground to prove they were most definitely alone, she helped her brother tie a rope securely to a palm tree and thread it down the hole. From experience, she knew that in all likelihood the entrance was not above a dead drop and was most likely a steep ramp. But also from experience – and family stories – she knew that the ramps could be treacherous. Great Uncle Kadiel had lost his footing at one of the tombs on the cliff face forty years ago and broke his back in the fall. So they tied a second rope and knotted it around her brother’s waist – as their father had taught them – and made him lean back to see if it held his weight. It did and before long he slithered through the hole and made his way down, using the first rope as a guide.
The girl waited in the company of the twin palms, standing sentinel beneath a canopy of stars.
“It’s too tight to stand,” a muffled voice called after a few moments. “But I can crawl. I’ll give three tugs when I reach the bottom. If there’s anything to see, I’ll give another three tugs; if there’s nothing here, I’ll only tug twice.”
“All right!” called the girl as loudly as she dared. They appeared to be alone, but old Mohammed and his dog were still unaccounted for…
It must only have been five or ten minutes, but it seemed like twice that before the rope between the tree and the hole jerked… three times. The girl let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. There’s something there… he wants me to come down…
She looked around once more – still no sign of the watchman and his dog. She wasn’t surprised; he was a known slacker. The
heavens only knew how he managed to keep his job. Some said he knew secrets the Europeans wouldn’t want divulged – secrets about questionable practices on the dig that didn’t quite align with the terms of license granted by the Egyptian Department of Antiquities in Cairo.
She tugged the rope three times to indicate to her brother that she’d got the message, tied a rope around the tree, and securely fastened it around her waist before approaching the entrance to the underground chamber. On her haunches she pulled up the hood of her cloak and tucked the stray hair from her plait behind her ears. She’d only just washed her hair that morning and didn’t want it full of muck from the tunnel. Then she sat on her bottom and worked her way, feet first, into the hole. There was no need to go head first; her brother had traversed the route before her and wouldn’t have called her down if there was any obstacle in the way. And besides, she was more confident keeping her head up, rather than down, just in case she needed to pull herself back up the rope with no one above ground to help her.
She held her breath and shimmied into the hole, then down the tunnel, which had sufficient clearance that the ceiling only intermittently brushed the top of her head. She stopped a metre or two below the surface, braced her ankles against the sides, and felt around with her hands. Someone, a long time ago – Thutmose himself perhaps? – had lined the tunnel with timber and overlaid it with compacted clay. The clay lining had cracked and crumbled in places but remained largely intact. The girl mumbled a prayer of thanks for the ingenuity and industriousness of her ancestors.
“Are you coming down?” A call from below.
“Yes,” she answered and continued her downwards shimmy, pushing herself up onto her hands and propelling her bottom forward to her knees in a caterpillar motion. “How far?” “About 20 metres! Can you see my light?”
Yes, she could; there was a dim glow below her. Her brother
had lit the lamp he had taken down with him. “Yes!” she affirmed, then: “What can you see?”
“Piles of stuff!” Her brother’s voice bubbled with excitement. “It’s not a tomb –”
“Didn’t expect it to be.”
“No. But it looks like this was where old Tut stored his funerary artefacts. The ones that would be used for burial.”
“Of Nefertiti and Akhenaten?”
“Possibly. We’ll see when you get down. I haven’t gone too far in… Ah, there you are. You’re getting slow in your old age.” The boy held out his hand and helped his sister upright at the bottom of the ramped tunnel. She took it then gave him a playful punch on the shoulder.
“You’re fifteen minutes older than me!”
“And always fifteen minutes ahead of you too!”
She punched him again.
“Ow!” yelped the boy but didn’t retaliate. Here, surrounded
by vases, chests, sarcophagi and amphora – with who knew what kind of treasure inside – they put their sibling high jinks aside.
The girl took the lantern from him and traced a wide arc around the chamber. She let out a long whistle. “It looks like there are other chambers leading off from this one.”
The boy agreed. “At least one; there’s an entrance over there. I haven’t been through yet. Thought we could start here.”
The girl nodded her agreement, put down the lantern on top of a carved stele leaning against the wall, and started to investigate. The stele – possibly a grave marker – was inscribed with hieroglyphics. The twins were learning to read the ancient script in their Classical civilization classes at the academy. The
girl traced her finger over the shapes, mouthing the words as she went: “The sun and the moon, the day and the night, wed forever in celestial splendour. Akhenaten and Nefertiti shine on your people, divine ones, shine.” The girl gasped and raised her face to her brother. “It is them! This will fetch a fine price on the black market!”
The boy grinned. “Of course we can’t take too much… we’ll never get away with it… but I don’t see why we can’t take a couple of small pieces and then let Borchardt know when he gets back with father… we’ll have to leave the stele, too heavy… besides it identifies the find… but something smaller…”
He lifted the lid on one of the painted wooden chests. Inside, in a bed of straw, was a set of gold-plated amphora, perhaps intended to hold sacred oil. “Hang on,” he said, his fingers raking through the straw, “this is fresh… it’s fresh straw!” He reached for the next chest and it contained statuettes – possibly by Thutmose himself. But these too were neatly packaged in fresh straw.
“Why’s it fresh?” he asked.
The girl’s stomach clenched. “Oh no…” She too opened a chest and came face to face with a burial mask of gold leaf, blue enamel, and black jet that looked very similar to the bust of Nefertiti, discovered elsewhere on the dig two years earlier. But what struck the twins more than the exquisite beauty of the pharaoh queen was the nest of fresh straw and modern linen wadding in which it lay. “Someone’s been here before us,” the girl whispered.
“Yes,” agreed the boy, “and it looks like they’re packed and ready to go.”
“We need to report it,” said the girl. “This doesn’t look like a casual looter. It’s organized. It’s… pssst! Where are you going?” The boy was picking his way through the treasure-filled chests heading to the back of the chamber. “I’m just going to stick my head in here.”
The girl stood up and put her hands on her hips. “I don’t think we’ve got time. What if they come back?”
“Just a few minutes more,” said the boy and continued on his quest. As there was only one light the girl had a choice of staying there in the dark or following her brother. She sighed and, with a humph, joined her sibling. They had been right – there was another chamber, this too filled with chests, vases, statues, stele, and amphora. And in the middle was a stone sarcophagus. It was incomplete, with only the first layer of chiseling evident in what would eventually be an intricately carved design. The twins weren’t surprised. Thutmose had abandoned his workshop when the city itself had been evacuated after the death of Akhenaten. Much of the finds on the dig to date had been of unfinished or discarded pieces, though still of immense value to historians, antiquarians, and collectors of ancient art.
The boy took hold of the lid and heaved. It shifted slightly but didn’t budge. “Give me a hand, will you?”
The girl snorted. “You won’t find a mummy if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I know!” said the brother. “But I’d like to see where one might lie. I’ve never seen inside one, have you?”
The girl admitted she hadn’t. There were a couple at the Cairo Museum, but she had never got around to visiting. When you lived a stone’s throw from an archaeological treasure trove, seeing the artefacts in the musty confines of a museum wasn’t quite so enticing. So she shrugged and leant her strength to her brother’s effort. With a few heaves and pulls the heavy stone lid began to pivot. When they’d moved it about 45 degrees they stopped and the boy picked up the lamp from the floor. He held it aloft and gasped. There, staring through the opening,
was the grimacing face of a dog, its teeth bared, its eyes wide and lifeless. The muzzle was matted with blood. The girl knew that if she reached out and touched it, it would still be sticky to the touch – it looked that recent. “It’s the watchman’s dog! Who would do this?”
The siblings stepped back from the sarcophagus and drew closer together. The girl slipped her arm around her brother’s waist. She was not a sentimental girl, but the thought of a poor animal being killed and hidden like this made her feel sick. Hidden… hidden… “And why would they hide it?”
“And where’s Mohammed?” The boy’s voice was hollow. He took a step towards the sarcophagus.
The girl knew immediately what he was going to do. “Don’t! Let’s call someone. The police at El-Hag Kandeel…”
But the boy was undeterred. He passed the lantern to his sister, then climbed up onto the edge of the stone coffin and positioned his backside on the rim. He pressed his heels against the edge of the lid and used the strength of his legs to push. The lid gave way and fell to the earth floor with a deathly thud. And there, as the siblings both feared, was the body of Mohammed the watchman under the corpse of his faithful dog.
The twins screamed, their voices merging as they had on the day they were born, and they ran from the chamber as fast as they could. The girl had the presence of mind to snatch up the lantern and was a step or two behind her brother as they fled towards the tunnel. But waiting for them, in the outer chamber, were two men, one an Egyptian police officer, the other a European.
“Mohammed! The watchman! His dog!” the boy cried in Arabic.
“Arrest them,” said the European in English.
“But we haven’t done anything!” cried the girl. Her protest was met with a blow to the head and the last thing she heard was her brother calling out her name.

Chapter 2
London, Thursday 8 December 1921
“Miz Denby! What do you know about Queen Nefertiti?” Poppy looked up from her Remington typewriter – where she had been bashing out a theatre review – to see her editor stalking towards her with what looked like a press release in hand. Since returning from a trip to New York earlier in the year, the diminutive newspaperman had taken to walking around with a noxious Cuban cigar clenched between his teeth, adding to the already foul atmosphere of the fourth-floor newsroom. He clambered onto a spare chair near her desk, his short legs dangling a foot off the ground.
“Nefertiti,” he said again, pronouncing it “Nay-fur-toy-toy” in his New York accent.
“Hold on,” said Poppy, then swiped the carriage return twice, typed ENDS, and turned her attention to her editor.
“Who or what is ‘Nay-fur-toy-toy’?” she asked, reaching out her ink-stained hand to take the sheet of paper Rollo passed to her.
Rollo grinned at her attempt at a New York accent and then, in affected Queen’s English, articulated “Ne’er-for-tea- tea,” before slipping back into his usual drawl. “She was some Egyptian broad. A pharaoh queen. Married to a fella whose name I can’t pronounce.”
Poppy scanned the press release.
Dear Mr Rolandson, you are invited to report on the auction of the death mask of Queen Nefertiti at Winterton Hall, Henley-on-Thames, on Saturday 10th December. The auction will be part of a longer clay-pigeon shooting weekend – weather permitting – and will be attended by luminaries in the world of antiquities and archaeology, both local and international. Your readers might also be interested to know that on Friday evening, a séance will be held, led by Sir Arthur and Lady Conan Doyle, at which an attempt will be made to contact the spirit of Queen Nefertiti.
The release then went on to give a brief history of Nefertiti and to state that the mask had just recently come to light, the general consensus being that it had been stolen from a dig in Egypt in 1914, under what were described as “murderous circumstances”.
Poppy raised her eyebrows. “Murderous circumstances? What does that mean?”
“Damned if I know,” said Rollo, and stubbed out his cigar in the soil around Poppy’s precious potted begonia. She glared at him. “Sorry,” he offered, then picked out the stub and plopped it into an empty tea cup. “You really should get an ash tray, Miz Denby.”
Poppy bit back her you really should respect other people’s property and said instead, “So, are you going?”
“It’s short notice, but yes. And I think you should come too. Technically, it falls into the art and entertainment brief – particularly with Conan Doyle in attendance; you might be able to get an interview.”
“What’s this about a séance?”
Rollo rolled his eyes beneath his shaggy red brows. “Another one of his spiritualist stunts, I suppose.”
Poppy pursed her lips. “Quite. I wish he’d stick to his detective stories. They’re far more sensible.”
Rollo grinned. “But not half as newsworthy. Which is why this Maddox fella thinks we’ll be interested. And he’s right.”
“Well, I’m not interested in the least.”
“Hocus pocus not Christian enough for you?” asked Rollo with a grin.
Poppy swivelled in her chair and looked Rollo squarely in the eye. “There are two ways of looking at this. Either they’re a hoax and people are being duped, or they are actually talking to the dead – which, in my book, is a very dangerous thing to do. Dabbling with the spirits can lead down sinister paths.”
“Spirits that don’t exist.”
“You have no evidence of that.”
“Neither do you.”
They held each other’s gaze. Poppy and Rollo had been over
this ground before. She believed in God. He did not.
“Well, Miz Denby, hopefully you can admit that whether it’s a hoax or real, anything involving Conan Doyle is newsworthy.
And you would be professionally remiss to ignore it.”
Poppy lowered her eyes. He was right. She had a job to do. She cleared her throat and then scanned the press release again. It was signed by Sir James Maddox, Baron of Winterton. “Do we know anything about Maddox?” asked Poppy, indicating
that she was most firmly back “on the job”.
Rollo leaned back in his chair, his plump belly straining
between the parallel lines of his scarlet braces. “I’ve heard the name. Yazzie has mentioned him before. He was a friend of her father’s, I think. Some kind of maverick archaeologist collector type. A bit like that Carnarvon fella.”
“The one that’s looking for King Tut’s tomb?”
“That’s the one,” said Rollo and took the press release back
from Poppy. “I think I’ll ask Yazzie to come as well. She might be able to give us some insight into the Egyptian angle. And she might want to bid on the mask… She’s got quite the art collection, as you know.”
Poppy brushed a stray blonde curl behind her ear and avoided meeting Rollo’s eyes.
“What?”
“Nothing. I just thought you and Miss Reece-Lansdale were no longer – er – well – no longer stepping out together.” She straightened a pile of notes on her desk.
Rollo cocked his head to one side. “I don’t know if we were ever ‘stepping out together’. But no, whatever you’ve heard, Yazzie and I are still friends. She’s a fine lady.”
What Poppy had heard was that the famous female barrister, the Anglo-Egyptian Miss Yasmin Reece-Lansdale, had been forthright enough to ask the editor of The Daily Globe to marry her. And he had turned her down. But it was none of her business. What was her business was a possible story involving Arthur Conan Doyle and a valuable Egyptian artefact that was somehow associated with a murder… A shiver ran down her spine. “Apologies Rollo. Yes, I’d love to come on the weekend with you and Yazzie – in a professional capacity, of course.” Annoyingly, she felt a slight blush creep up her neck.
Her editor laughed. “Goodo. And I’ll ask Danny Boy too,” he winked. “In his professional capacity, of course.” Rollo heaved himself off his chair and stood at Poppy’s side, his head barely reaching her shoulder. His eyes expertly scanned the typescript in her machine. “Is this the Ivor Novello / PG Wodehouse collaboration?”
“It is,” said Poppy. “At the Adelphi.”
“Any good?”
Poppy whisked out the sheet and passed it to him. “Very
funny, as you’d expect. Jolly music too.”
“I might give it a go. If you’re finished with this why don’t
you go down to the morgue and pull some jazz files on the main players at the Egyptian weekend. And I’ll telegraph Maddox to expect a group of us from the Globe.” He paused, his eyebrows furrowed. “Bet we’re not the only press he’s asked.”
“Lionel Saunders from the Courier?” asked Poppy as she stood up and straightened her calf-length Chanel grey skirt – all the rage in office wear for the working lady – and shrugged into the matching jacket.
“You can bet your bottom dollar on it,” observed Rollo. He wagged a finger at Poppy. “We’d better make sure we get the scoop on him. Do as much research as you can, Miz Denby, and I’ll see if Yazzie knows anything about these ‘murderous circumstances’. Her brother Faizal is with the Egyptian Antiquities Service, did you know?”
Poppy didn’t. She didn’t even know Yasmin had a brother. The editor and reporter parted ways, promising to touch base later in the day.
Down in the morgue, Poppy hung her jacket and matching cloche hat next to a huge black great coat, which had previously seen action on the Western Front. The coat belonged to Ivan Molanov, the archivist of The Daily Globe. Ivan was a refugee from communist Russia who had met Rollo Rolandson in a military hospital in Belgium during the war. At Poppy’s request, Ivan had dug out the jazz files on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle, James Maddox, the archaeologist Howard Carter, and his backer, George Herbert, the fifth Earl of Carnarvon. Poppy didn’t know whether Carter and Carnarvon were going to be at the shooting weekend, but as they were currently the most famous Egyptologists in the country, she thought their files might contain some useful background material. She also asked Ivan to look beyond the jazz files – which contained mainly celebrity gossip – to the subject clipping files.
“Do you have anything on Egypt in general? Or this Queen Nefertiti?”
“Nay-fah who?” asked Ivan.
Poppy wrote down the name on a piece of paper and gave it to him. Ivan held it in his huge paw-like hand and grunted. “Thees ees not a library, Mees Denby. Go to the British Museum. Beeg library there. Lots of Egyptian artefacts too. You ever see a mummy?”
Poppy admitted that she hadn’t. She was a frequent visitor to the British Library, but in the eighteen months she had lived in London she had never ventured into the bowels of the museum which shared the same premises. History did not interest her that much, and most of her time – work or leisure – was taken up attending art exhibitions, book launches or theatre and cinema shows. She was, after all, the arts and entertainment editor of the Globe, not a historian. However, this new story, which she had labelled “The Cairo Brief” in bold letters at the top of her notebook (she had initially called it “The Pharaoh Brief ” but wasn’t confident she could spell it), was about ancient art. She felt a little out of her depth.
“Yes, that’s a good suggestion, Ivan. I’ll head over to the museum when I’m finished here.”
Ivan left her to her research. First off she opened the file on Arthur and Jean Conan Doyle. Actually, it was two files in one, as the file of Jean Leckie, long-term mistress of the famous detective fiction writer, was slipped into her lover’s when they
finally married, the year after the death of Conan Doyle’s first wife. Sir Arthur, Lady Jean, and anyone close to them denied that they’d had a physical affair, but no one denied that they had been in love for at least a decade while the first Mrs Conan Doyle became increasingly infirm with tuberculosis. It was partly due to Jean, apparently, that Arthur became embroiled in spiritualism, which avid readers of the Sherlock Holmes stories struggled to understand. Conan Doyle had previously been a doctor and gifted his scientific mindset to the forensic genius of Holmes. However, as Poppy read on in the file, she realized that this was just a veneer. The real Conan Doyle was just as interested in the metaphysical as he was in the scientific, having become a freemason thirty years earlier. He had also written articles on psychic phenomena, which he claimed to have observed in his children’s nanny. When he married Jean in 1906 and she professed to have the gift of contacting the dead and communicating their messages to the living through automatic writing, Conan Doyle became increasingly active in the spiritualist movement. Poppy noted that his first published work on spiritualism was in 1916, the year after one of his nephews was killed in the war. Poppy swallowed hard. That’s the same year Christopher died…
Poppy’s brother Christopher had been a voracious reader of the Sherlock Holmes stories and had used his pocket money to buy The Strand magazine and kept it hidden under his mattress. Knowing their parents would disapprove of wasting good money on what they would have thought “bad literature”, he swore Poppy to secrecy. A few years later, when Christopher died, she felt she needed to continue keeping his secret. But when she went to his room to retrieve the stash, their mother was already there. She had pulled the mattress off the bed for beating and found the collection of story magazines. They now lay around her as she knelt on the floor, her shoulders heaving as she sobbed. One of the magazines was clutched to her breast as she wept out her anguish for her lost child. Poppy did not speak; she just turned around and left her mother to her private grief. Later, she returned to the room, but the magazines had all gone.
Poppy closed her eyes to suppress the tears that were beginning to well. Pull yourself together, old girl; there’s work to be done. Poppy turned a page in the file to find a clipping from The Strand dated December 1920. The article, written by Conan Doyle, was in defence of the girls from Yorkshire who claimed to have photographed fairies at the bottom of their garden. Poppy smiled as she looked at the whimsical photograph, considered a hoax by experts and academics, but widely believed by the general public. This article by the author of Sherlock Holmes had much to do with the popular acceptance of the fairy hoax, as the public seemed to struggle to differentiate the unimpeachable fictional detective – who could never be fooled – from his more fanciful creator.
The next page in the file held an article written by Rollo Rolandson, lampooning Conan Doyle for his defence of the photographs and quoting Daniel Rokeby, The Daily Globe’s resident photographer, who explained how the photographs had been staged and faked. Poppy remembered Rollo and Daniel working on the piece last December. Golly, had it been a year already?
Poppy trailed her finger along Daniel’s name. Last December Poppy had believed she and the handsome photographer might soon be married. But here they were, twelve months later, and there was still no ring on her finger. Their relationship ebbed and flowed like the tide, and for three whole months, when Poppy was in New York with Rollo, she thought it might be over forever. But on her return Daniel had been waiting for her…
Poppy pulled herself up again: stop daydreaming!
She read through her notes on Conan Doyle and decided
that she had enough to go on for now. She was fascinated to meet the man in the flesh – as well as his wife; although the idea of speaking to someone who spoke to the dead was a little troubling. Claims to speak to the dead, Poppy reminded herself. Surely, the whole thing was a hoax. Not to mention un- Christian! Nonetheless, she was intrigued to see what actually happened at a séance. Despite her qualms, Rollo was right: it would make for a fantastic article.
The next file was on Sir James Maddox, whom Poppy had never heard of before. There wasn’t much in the file, as Maddox appeared to spend much of his time abroad or on his country estate, Winterton, and did not come up to London much. There was, however, a photograph of Maddox and his wife, Lady Ursula, at the opening of an exhibit at the British Museum. He was a beefy, balding man, sporting a moustache and wearing one of those curious Ottoman hats – a fez, Poppy thought it might be called. His wife was more conventionally dressed, her unsmiling face giving nothing away. The notes added little to what Rollo had already told her. Maddox was a gentleman archaeologist and world traveller, with an extensive collection of Egyptian, Roman, and Greek antiquities. There was, however, one newspaper clipping that gave a hint of something slightly controversial. It was from the Times, dated August 1914, reporting that Sir James Maddox had been asked to step down from the board of the Egyptian Exploration Fund. A representative of the board had told the Times it was due to concerns that had been raised about Sir James’s “methods of procurement of certain antiquities”. The representative declined to give more specific details and Sir James was “not available for comment”. It was a short article, covering a mere three column inches. Poppy was very surprised the journalist hadn’t dug deeper. There was clearly a story there… but, perhaps the outbreak of the war that very same month had caused the story to be spiked – or it had been longer and the sub-editor had cut it for space. She checked the by-line on the article – Walter Jensford. She’d never heard of him but made a note of it.
Poppy closed the file and checked her watch – nearly one o’clock. Time for a spot of lunch then I’ll head over to the British Museum. She hadn’t had a chance to read the Carnarvon and Carter files. “Ivan,” she called out to the archivist. “Can I take these with me please?”
Ivan said she could and made a note in his meticulously kept record book as Poppy slipped her jacket over her white silk blouse. “You should wrap up warm, Mees Denby. I see it is starting to snow.” Poppy glanced out of the third-floor window, overlooking Fleet Street. Down below, horse-drawn vehicles jostled for space with motorcars, and pedestrians pulled up their collars against the cold. Ivan was right; it was starting to snow.

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A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes / Blog Tour + Extract

Hi guys, hope you are doing well on this rainy Sunday – well, at least it’s rainy here, but it’s great, I’ve been missing rain so much. And what a better way to spend such a day than to curl up with a book or read an extract from one? Here I have the Prologue to “A Little Bird Told Me” by Marianne Holmes, debut novel that is already getting many raving reviews. Enjoy!

 

book2bcover

PROLOGUE

They say I’ll never find her.

Kit says it doesn’t matter because we still have each other but not a day goes by when I don’t long for the truth.

I feel her absence aching and flowing through the gaps in our story where the pieces don’t mesh. I see her presence in the spatter of freckles on Kit’s nose and the straight curtain of hair I can’t keep out of my eyes.

They say no one knows where she is.

What they really mean is, they couldn’t find her. I know that’s true because I’ve read the news reports. But there is one person who knows where she is.

 ‘Family is blood and pain,’ he said, ‘and, one day, I will hunt you down and teach you the meaning of that.’

His breath was bitter with the smell of cigarettes, his eyes spilling sparks of fury and the scar on his cheek stretched and twisted as he spoke. Or it might have. I read about that too, long after Matthew took us far away from here.

I will hunt you down,’ he said, and I know he will.

If I’m ever going to find her, this is my last chance. But if I start looking, he’ll come looking for us. I can’t help that – there’s something I need to put right.

Besides, if you were one half evil, wouldn’t you want to know about the other half?

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate (Blog Tour + Extract)

Hi guys! Today we’re celebrating the publication od “Before We Were Yours” by Lisa Wingate – out tomorrow, published by Quercus. This book sounds incredibly intriguing and I can’t wait to read it. In the meantime, I have an extract from chapter 1 for you, and really guys, just have a look how beautifully it’s written! The story itself is about two families, generations apart, that are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice,  inspired by true story. Enjoy!

 

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CHAPTER 1

Avery Stafford

 

Aiken, South Carolina, Present Day

I take a breath, scoot to the edge of the seat, and straighten

my jacket as the limo rolls to a stop on the boiling-

hot asphalt.

News vans wait along the curb, accentuating the importance

of this morning’s seemingly innocuous meeting.

But not one moment of this day will happen by accident.

These past two months in South Carolina have been all

about making sure the nuances are just right—

shaping the inferences so as to hint but do no more.

Definitive statements are not to be made.

Not yet, anyway.

Not for a long time, if I have my way about it.

I wish I could forget why I’ve come home, but even the

fact that my father isn’t reading his notes or checking the

briefing from Leslie, his über-efficient press secretary, is an

undeniable reminder. There’s no escaping the enemy that

rides silently in the car with us. It’s here in the backseat,

hiding beneath the gray tailored suit that hangs a hint too

loose over my father’s broad shoulders.

Daddy stares out the window, his head leaning to one

side. He has relegated his aides and Leslie to another car.

“You feeling all right?” I reach across to brush a long

blond hair—mine—off the seat so it won’t cling to his trousers

when he gets out. If my mother were here, she’d whip

out a mini lint brush, but she’s home, preparing for our second

event of the day—a family Christmas photo that must

be taken months early . . . just in case Daddy’s prognosis

worsens.

He sits a bit straighter, lifts his head. Static makes his

thick gray hair stick straight out. I want to smooth it down

for him, but I don’t. It would be a breach of protocol.

If my mother is intimately involved in the micro aspects

of our lives, such as fretting over lint and planning for the

family Christmas photo in July, my father is the opposite.

He is distant—an island of staunch maleness in a household

of women. I know he cares deeply about my mother, my

two sisters, and me, but he seldom voices the sentiment out

loud. I also know that I’m his favorite but the one who confuses

him most. He is a product of an era when women

went to college to secure the requisite MRS degree. He’s not

quite sure what to do with a thirty-

year-old daughter who graduated top of her class from Columbia Law and actually

enjoys the gritty world of a U.S. attorney’s office.

Whatever the reason— Perhaps just because the positions of perfectionist daughter and

sweet daughter were already taken in our family—I have always been brainiac daughter.

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A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry / #BlogTour + Extract

Hi guys, hope you’re all doing great. Today is my stop on Veronica Henry’s blog tour that’s celebrating her newest release, “A Family Recipe”, and this book is a charming little gem of a novel, full of relatable characters and situations, and really guys, you should all read it. Next to my review I have a teeny tiny foretaste for you – an extract from the story. Enjoy!

 

A Family Recipe by Veronica Henry

 

39337351Publisher: Orion

Publishing Date: 17th May 2018

Source:  Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!

Number of pages: 400

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

 Buy the Book: Kindle | Paperback

 

 

 

Synopsis:

The brand-new feel-good story from bestseller Veronica Henry –
a perfect mix of family, friends and delicious food.

What’s the secret ingredient to your happiness?

Laura Griffin is preparing for an empty nest. The thought of Number 11 Lark Hill falling silent – a home usually bustling with noise, people and the fragrant smells of something cooking on the Aga – seems impossible. Laura hopes it will mean more time for herself, and more time with her husband, Dom.

But when an exposed secret shakes their marriage, Laura suddenly feels as though her family is shrinking around her. Feeling lost, she turns to her greatest comfort: her grandmother’s recipe box, a treasured collection dating back to the Second World War. Everyone has always adored Laura’s jams and chutneys, piled their sandwiches high with her pickles . . . Inspired by a bit of the old Blitz spirit, Laura has an idea that gives her a fresh sense of purpose.

Full of fierce determination, Laura starts carving her own path. But even the bravest woman needs the people who love her. And now, they need her in return . . .

Rating: four-stars

Laura is just about to experience an empty nest syndrome – her youngest daughter Willow is leaving for university. The daughter that Laura focused on for so many years, and worried about for so many years when she was fighting against the life threatening asthma. Jasmine, the older daughter, the much more independent and – what’s more important – healthy one, has left home already to study. So Laura is now facing a question, what to do with her life – she didn’t have to work, she only needed to concentrate on her husband and daughters but what now?
Laura’s widowed grandmother has gave up the 11 Lark Hill to Laura and Dom and moved to a smaller house on the same property. Now Laura decides to do up and rent some of the rooms on Airbnb. It’s a great distraction, as there are things happening in Laura’s life that she’s never expected. Is her marriage going to survive? Will Willow stay healthy at the university?

I loved how effortlessly did Veronica Henry weave two – at first sight – different stories set in different times. One of the stories follows young Kanga – Jilly – living through the Blitz in WW2 in Bath, bringing back the memories of the severe destruction, of loss. It was a beautiful story bringing to life Jilly’s friendship with Ivy – the girls supported each other in their most dark moments and stayed friends for ever. Jilly has never forgotten Ivy’s support, the courage she has given her when Jilly discovered she’s pregnant and is going to be a single mum – she knows she wouldn’t be able to do it without Ivy.
The second story is about Laura and her world being shattered by discovering that her husband is having an affair. I admired Laura’s consequence and how firm she was in this situation but to be honest I also started to feel sorry for the poor Dom. Sure, as you make your bed so you must lie on it and I am not justifying him but there came a moment that I really wanted Laura to give him a chance to at least talk to her, and honestly I was surprised that he went for this whole charade, as Laura didn’t want to tell their daughters about them splitting up. I thought, hey, they’re grown up, they’re not children any more and using Willow’s asthma as a pretext can only work for a time. Nevertheless, this situation gave Laura the chance to find herself afresh, and what a better way than to dig out the old family recipes and start making jams and chutneys in her beloved but moody Aga?

The two leading female characters, Jilly and Laura, were brilliantly written by Veronica Henry. It was great to observe Laura standing again on her own two feet, coming to terms with her new life, being so strong and becoming independent. Getting to know Kanga and her history was great, her story was so poignant and heart – breaking, and I loved how determined she was. The relationship between them, between grandmother and granddaughter was unforced, natural and genuine and I loved that Kanga wasn’t one of those grandmothers that meddle in other lives. I also think that the author has managed to capture Laura at the best moment – this character could have gone two ways, as a spoiled, always leaning on somebody housewife, or a strong, determined woman who wants to do something useful with her life, and the author has she pulled it off in the best possible way. Laura was likeable and from the very beginning I warmed to her.

“A Family Recipe” was a lovely, down – to – earth family saga, with likeable and believable characters, warm and inviting. The writing style is so easy to follow, full of depth, emotions and feelings and I immediately felt a part of this story. Veronica Henry has – again – delivered a charming novel about family, friends, love, betrayal and forgiveness in challenging times. I truly enjoyed this book and I can only highly recommend it to you all, guys.

EXTRACT

2

September 2017

Willow had asked for nachos for her farewell supper.

Laura was pathologically incapable of doing

what most normal people would have done: plonked a

saucepan of chilli on the table with a packet of tortilla

chips and got everyone to help themselves.

Instead, by five o’clock the evening before Willow

was due to go to university for the first time, a huge

cauldron on the hot-pink Aga belted out a cloud of steam

scented with cumin and cinnamon and chilli. On the

worktop were bowls filled with grated cheese, soured

cream, guacamole, jalapeños, spicy beans, finely chopped

coriander and chargrilled sweetcorn salsa. Wedges of lime

were waiting to be stuffed into bottles of beer – ‘cerveza’,

Laura teased herself with a Spanish lisp.

She had stopped short of making margaritas because no

one would want to face the next day with a hangover: it

was a six-hour drive to York and it was going to be a difficult

enough day without a thumping tequila headache.

She’d put a row of tiny cactuses in pots down the

middle of the slate-topped island and empty milk

bottles filled with bright pink, yellow and orange gerbera.

A donkey piñata hung from one of the hooks in

the ceiling. She’d managed to refrain from filling it with

sweets. This wasn’t an actual party, after all, just a goodbye

to Willow from her family and her friends, and a few

neighbours, and . . . well, Laura didn’t know exactly who

else, but by eight o’clock the joint would be jumping.

That was how things rolled at Number 11.

It was Laura’s schtick to go to immense trouble, but her

efforts on this occasion were doubled, masking the fact

that tomorrow was the day she had been dreading more

than any other in her life – and there had been a few. She

stood for a moment in the quiet of the kitchen.

This kitchen was her safe place, where she felt love and

gave love. There was always a sense of calm underlying the

chaos. No one else knew how she did it.

‘How do you make it look so effortless? I always have

a nervous breakdown when I’m entertaining. Nothing

looks right, nothing tastes right, and I worry myself to

death.’ Her best friend, Sadie, was eternally mystified by

her entertaining skills.

‘Because I love it? Because I don’t have a career? Because

I don’t look as if I’ve just walked off the pages of Vogue?’

Laura teased.

Sadie owned La, the most fashionable boutique in

Bath, and always looked incredible. ‘But you’re naturally

gorgeous. You don’t have to spend hours making yourself

look ravishing. You just are,’ she complained.

It was true, with her eyes the colour of maple syrup and

her tousled dark mane. Laura, however, thought she was

overweight and unkempt, as it was all she could do to pull

a comb through her hair. She wore skinny jeans, because

her legs were like matchsticks, and had a selection of linen

shirts and sloppy sweaters that covered her embonpoint

and her tummy, about which she was unnecessarily selfconscious.

She didn’t see her own beauty.

‘I’m top heavy,’ she complained. ‘Like a robin – far too

big for my silly little bird legs.’

She felt distinctly unglamorous at this moment, her

hair tied up on top of her head with the elastic band the

postman brought the letters in, a blue and white apron

wrapped round her and a wooden spoon in her hand,

dishevelled and covered in tomato sauce. She was also

finding it desperately hard to stop herself from seeing how

Willow was getting on with her packing.

The back of the car was already loaded up with everything

a new student could possibly want, mostly courtesy

of Ikea to keep the cost down. But Laura had spoiled

Willow with a few things. A luxury mattress topper, essential

for making a strange single bed comfortable. A fleecy

blanket to snuggle up in when it was cold and Willow

was missing home. And some Jo Malone bath oil, because

Laura believed in the power of smell to comfort you.

Willow, however, was a girl who liked to leave everything

to the last minute. Even now her favourite sweatshirt

was rolling around the tumble dryer because she’d only

fetched it from her friend’s house this morning. Laura,

who laid everything out on the spare bed a week before

they went on holiday, found it nerve-racking.

Dom told her not to worry. If Willow forgot anything

she could do without until she came back for the weekend.

‘I probably won’t come back till Christmas,’ Willow

had pointed out. ‘York’s miles and I won’t be able to

afford the train fare.’

Laura’s stomach lurched at the thought of three months

without seeing her daughter, but she squashed the feeling

down. Instead, she sat down at the island and picked up

her Berol pen. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d

written a proper letter, but she wouldn’t be able to say

what she wanted to say without blubbing. As she began to

write, in her best handwriting, she relished the satisfaction

of forming perfect letters, the ink running smoothly across

the paper, the loops and the circles and the curlicues.

Number 11 Lark Hill

Bath

My darling Willow,

Apologies in advance for doing one of those embarrassingly

sentimental mum things. You know how good I am at

those! But I wanted to send you off on your adventure with

something to remind you of home, and I couldn’t think of

anything better than these recipes. They all come from the

little recipe box I keep in the pantry. You and Jasmine have

used them often enough over the years because they still

have your sticky paw prints on them!

The oldest recipes go all the way back to your greatgreat-

grandma – the flapjack and the Yorkshire pudding

come from her (also good for toad-in-the-hole!). The

crumble and the tea loaf come from Kanga – she used to

cook them during the war for the people she had living with

her at Number 11. The avgolemono and the spanakopita

are from my mother, from her travels in Greece . . . I was

not the only thing she brought back!! You can taste the

sunshine in them – they are for when the wind is howling

outside and you want to feel warmed.

The rest are from me: things I have made for you over

the years. Brownies and pancakes and sausage rolls for

sharing. And your favourite suppers: spag bol and chilli

and Thai curry. I know you probably know how to cook

them, but I wanted you to have a keepsake, a little bit

of family history to keep with you. And I know you will

probably live on Cheerios and Cheesy Puffs and Chinese

takeaways, but maybe from time to time you might want

some proper home-made comfort food to share with your

new friends.

I’m so proud of you, darling girl. I know you will fly, and

make the most of this wonderful opportunity.

With lots of love and kisses

Mum xx

Laura looked down at the letter, the inevitable tears blurring

her eyes, then folded the sheet into three. She tucked

it inside the Moleskine notebook she had bought specially.

Each page held a different recipe, carefully copied. It had

taken her over a week to write it, as she’d had to hide it

from everyone. She wanted it to be a surprise, but she was

also a bit self-conscious. Was it too sentimental?

‘My goodness – it smells absolutely wonderful in here.’

‘Kanga! You made me jump.’ Laura put a hand to her

chest. ‘I was miles away.’

Kanga walked through the kitchen, lifting the lid on

the pot and smelling it appreciatively. She looked around

the room.

‘What is this? Fiesta time?’

‘You know me. I can’t help myself.’ Laura grinned, sliding

the notebook into a drawer. ‘I’m sure Willow would

much rather go to the pub with her mates.’

‘She did that last night. Tonight’s for family – she

knows that.’

‘Yes. I want it to be a good send-off, though.’

‘You’re a good mummy.’

‘I had a good role model.’ Laura smiled at her grandmother.

Kanga had brought her up from the age of four,

when Laura’s mum had died. The tiny, thoughtful Laura had

decided that she didn’t want to call her ‘Granny’ any more,

as she was so much more than that, and had christened her

Kanga, after her favourite Winnie the Pooh character.

At ninety-three, Kanga was still more than just a

grandmother – though she looked barely seventy-three.

She was in a pale-pink linen shirt and black trousers and

soft boots, her bright white hair cut close to her jaw, her

dark-grey eyes with their hooded lids missing nothing.

Of course Laura worried she was too thin, but Kanga

had laughed that her appetite had gone with her libido

many years ago, and she was much happier for it. ‘I have

so much more time now I don’t have to think about sex

or food,’ she claimed. Laura wasn’t sure what else there

was to live for.

‘No Dom?’ asked Kanga, taking a seat at the island.

‘He’s got a meeting with the quantity surveyor this

afternoon. So he’s bound to stop off at the Wellie on the

way home.’

The Wellington Arms was Dom’s favourite watering hole,

where he and his property mates cut deals and watched

rugby and sneaked in dirty pints on a Friday afternoon.

Kanga frowned. ‘Even on Willow’s last night?’

‘It’s fine. He’d only drive me mad if he was here. It’s

always much better if he turns up five minutes before

every one else and doesn’t interfere.’ Laura pulled the elastic

band out of her hair, wincing as it caught. ‘Can I leave

you to keep an eye on everything while I get changed?’

Of course.’

‘There’s wine in the fridge.’

In her bedroom, Laura tipped her head upside down

and sprayed dry shampoo onto her roots then ran her

fingers through her curls. There was no time now for a

shower. She pulled off the sweatshirt she’d been cooking

in and rifled through her wardrobe for something

to wear. Sadie was incredibly generous and always gave

Laura things from La for her birthday she would never

dare choose for herself. She pulled out a pearl grey shirt

with pintucks and pearl buttons, pulling it over her head.

It looked perfect – it fitted in all the right places, as expensive

clothes tend to.

‘Hey, Mum.’ Willow sauntered in. Laura’s heart

squeezed. Every time she saw her she wanted to hold

her tight. All her fears whooshed in – a runaway bus,

an insecure balcony, a virulent strain of meningitis . . .

Oh God, had Willow actually had all the jabs she should

have? Laura knew she’d checked a trillion times, but what

if she thought she’d arranged it but had forgotten? The

familiar dry mouth of anxiety hit her and she worked her

tongue to get some saliva.

‘Have you finished packing?’

‘I think so. I’m going to do make-up and stuff in the

morning.’ Willow flopped on the bed.

‘Are you excited?’

‘I don’t know about excited . . .’

Of course. Excited wasn’t cool. ‘Looking forward to it?’

‘It’ll be what it is, won’t it?’

‘Well, I think it’s exciting. York’s lovely. We can explore

tomorrow. Maybe an open-topped bus tour if it’s sunny.’

Willow laughed.

‘What?’ asked Laura, hurt.

‘You’re so funny, Mum.’

‘I’m not trying to be funny.’

‘I know. That’s why you are.’

Willow jumped up and put her arms round her. Laura

breathed her in. Sugary, powdery perfume and Wrigley’s

and the awful incense she insisted on burning in her

bedroom. Not like Jasmine, who was driving back to her

third year at uni in Loughborough by herself the next

morning, who smelled of chlorine and talc and muscle

rub.

Laura had always been grateful for Jasmine’s love of

sport. It had given their life structure at a time when

everything else was chaos. Asthma was nothing if not

disruptive. They had never really known when Willow

might have an attack. There’d been a team of mums ready

to help whenever she did: the netball mafia were fiercely

loyal and supportive, taking Jasmine home for tea or for a

sleepover or dropping her home. Laura could never repay

them as long as she lived, but they didn’t want repaying.

Of course not.

Jasmine could have told her she was going to Timbuktu

on a skateboard and she wouldn’t have worried. They were

close, but in a very different way. When Jaz had gone off

to Loughborough, Laura had treated them both to a day

at the spa in Bath, swimming on the rooftop and sitting

in the Roman steam room and the ice chamber and the

celestial relaxation room; a physical treat for the physical

Jaz, who rarely sat still for a moment and didn’t really

need nurturing.

But Willow . . .

She felt tears fill her eyes. She didn’t want to go down

to the kitchen and share Willow with everyone else. She

wanted to curl up on the bed with her, watch a few

episodes of Gilmore Girls on Netflix, eat a bowlful of

M&M’s, let her daughter fall asleep in her arms, like they

always used to when she was recuperating.

‘Do you think I should take Magic?’ Willow asked.

Magic. The white toy rabbit whose fur had worn away

to nothing, he had been hugged so much. So called because

he was the Magic Rabbit who helped her fall asleep

in a plethora of strange hospitals. Laura felt fearful for

him. What if he got lost or stolen or thrown out of the

window as a student jape?

‘If you want to leave him here, I’ll look after him.’

‘I kind of want him, but I don’t know if you’re supposed

to take your cuddly animals to uni.’ Willow made

a face. ‘Of course Jasmine didn’t, but we all know Jaz

doesn’t need looking after.’

Jasmine’s teddy was as pristine as the day it had been

bought.

‘I’d leave him here,’ said Laura, not wanting to admit

that Magic had been as much a talisman for her as Willow.

‘You will look after yourself, won’t you?’

‘Mum.’ Willow sat up and fixed her mother with a

stern stare. ‘Will you stop worrying? I’m not an idiot.

And it’s been nearly eighteen months.’

‘That doesn’t mean you won’t have an attack. Anything

could trigger one.’

York, thought Laura. If something went wrong, she

couldn’t be there quickly. Even London would have been

nearer. But maybe Willow felt the need to escape. She

knew she’d been guilty of smothering, but what mother

wouldn’t?

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The Cafe at Seashell Cove by Karen Clarke / #BlogTour + #Extract

Hi guys! Hope you’re all doing well. Today we have a wonderful spring – finally! – the sun is shining and the sky is blue, and really, this extract that I’m going to post right now is from a book that fits this weather absolutely – it’s my part on Karen Clarke’s blog tour for her new release “The Cafe at Seashell Cove” and it’s a story with a lot of sunshine. Enjoy the extract, guys!

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Extract from Chapter 1 of The Café at Seashell Cove

I’d known my early return would come as a surprise to my parents.

What I hadn’t anticipated, on stepping into the brightly lit living room,

was the sight of my mother’s breasts in all their naked glory.

‘Cassie!’ She goggled at me over the back of the sofa, as guilty as a

teenager, while I tried to snap my jaw shut.

‘What… are you… please tell me you’re having a hot flush and

that’s why you’ve taken your top off.’ I clamped a hand over my eyes

to block out the sight of her rumpled hair and fiery cheeks. Not to

mention her naked breasts.

‘I’m not menopausal,’ she huffed, as if I’d just returned from a

longish walk and interrupted her favourite TV programme.

‘Of course you are. You’re fifty-eight,’ I argued. ‘It’s simple biology.’

She gave an exasperated tut, which wasn’t the sound I’d imagined

her making on seeing her beloved daughter return to the fold. On the

journey down, I’d shaped a scene where tears of joy and perhaps a bit

of crying featured, considering she hadn’t seen me for nearly a year.

(Skyping didn’t count.)

‘We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow, love.’ Dad’s voice was

accompanied by the sound of a zipper, and I let out a quiet moan.

Glancing through my fingers, I was treated to an eyeful of his greying

chest hair, as well as his receding head hair.

 ‘For god’s sake, you two.’ I turned my back, reaching for the dimmer

switch to reduce the overhead glare, listening to them scrabble about

for discarded clothing. It was bad enough that they’d copulated twice

before, to conceive my brother and me, but faced with the evidence that

they were still ‘at it’, nearly thirty years later, was a bit much on an

empty stomach. ‘It’s barely seven thirty,’ I grumbled.

‘You should have phoned.’ Mum sounded reasonable, and I turned,

relieved to see she’d put her top back on. ‘We would have postponed

our lovemaking—’

‘LA-LA-LA-LA-LA LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA,’ I sang, childishly

jamming my fingers in my ears, while my parents exchanged coy smiles,

and Dad pulled on his ancient Garfield T-shirt, flattening his hair to

his scalp. He’d started going grey in his thirties, and at fifty-nine was

a shade that Mum called Silver Fox.

‘You should be pleased your parents still find each other physically

attractive and like a cuddle before dinner,’ he said, when I’d unblocked

my ears, with the merry twinkle that made people instantly warm to

him. ‘Shouldn’t she, Lydia?’

‘I’ve no objection to you cuddling,’ I said. ‘It’s’—I flapped my

hand—‘the groping I can’t cope with.’

In response, Dad lunged for Mum while making kissy noises,

causing her to let out a girlish squeal. ‘Stop it, Ed!’ She pretended to

bat him away, and I wondered whether I’d fallen asleep on the train

from London to Devon and was, in fact, dreaming.

It would explain the slightly surreal feel the day had taken on, which

had begun with me standing on a packed Tube train that morning,

sleep-deprived after another uncomfortable night on Nina’s sofa bed,

reminded of a different morning, two months earlier: the morning I’d

met Adam Conway. Finding myself sardined against a tall, dark-haired

man, who’d smelt like the interior of a leather-seated car, I’d taken the

unusual step of acting on Nina’s advice to ‘be more proactive in the

man department’, by slipping a business card into his jacket pocket

with a pithy ‘Call me, some time’, accompanied by a flirty eye-twinkle

(which might have come across like a nervous tic, because of being tired

and rubbish at flirting). Unfortunately, my watch strap had snagged on

his pocket flap, causing his head to jerk down and his dark-chocolate

eyes to rest on me with a glimmer of amusement.

‘Are you trying to distract me while you steal my wallet?’ he’d

queried, his gaze sweeping over my unremarkable work suit, carefully

made-up face (copied from a popular beauty guru on YouTube), and

strands of hair escaping my never-perfected topknot. ‘Because I don’t

carry a wallet in my pocket.’

‘Only old men carry wallets,’ I’d managed, my cheeks hotter than

molten lava, before freeing myself and leaving the train two stops too

early, wondering why I couldn’t have apologised like a normal person

instead of blurting out something that probably wasn’t true. What did

I know about wallets?

I’d almost fainted when he called to ask me out to dinner, certain I

was punching way above my weight. But although his job in investment

banking was as far as you could get from the frivolous world of event

planning, I felt like I’d managed to impress him. It had been a shame

that our hectic work schedules meant we’d only been on a handful of

dates before I was fired, and that I’d probably never see him again…

If you have enjoyed this extract from Chapter One of Karen Clarke’s A Café at Seashell Cove,
Grab your copy here: myBook.to/TCASCSocial

 

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Last of the Summer Moët by Wendy Holden / #BlogTour + Extract

Hi guys, here I am again, with another blog tour this week (yes. I love blog tours!) This time it’s my stop on Wendy Holden’s tour for her new release “Last of the Summer Moët”, a second book in the Laura Lake’s series, and today I have an extract from the book for you – review to come very soon!

EXTRACT

‘What did you think? she asked Harry. He had seemed rather annoyingly

unmoved by the fact she had once gone out with James Bond.

‘I liked that bit when he got clubbed and shoved in the vat of

baked beans,’ Harry replied.

‘Shame he came round before he got to the canning machine.’ Laura smiled. Perhaps Harry was jealous after all. The baked beans episode had reminded her of the horrible flat where Caspar had lived at his lowest ebb. The loo had lacked a seat and the only utensil had been an unwashed spatula that the four or five residents  – all male  – shared to eat beans straight out of the tin.

‘Do you think that sort of thing really happens?’ she asked.

‘What  – a protocol that could destroy the world with poison gas from contaminated baked beans?’Harry gave an incredulous snort.

‘Well, all of it. The spy thing.’ Harry grinned.

‘If you’re asking me whether James Bond is an accurate reflection of the security services…’

‘Which I could be,’ Laura returned. Harry was always infuriatingly elusive about what he knew of MIs 5 and 6. But he had to know something. All Harry’s exposés involved international miscreants, and it seemed unlikely he investigated them without official help. Their first date had been at the Not Dead Yet Club, a place awash with foreign correspondents and diplomats. That Harry was a spy himself did not seem out of the question. Perhaps he, not Caspar, was the real James Bond.

‘…the answer is…’Harry went on.

‘Yes?’

‘That I really wouldn’t know. Shall we get a chicken katsu curry?

’They were passing an Itsu. Laura, who had been brought up on a diet of French classics by her Parisian grandmother, shuddered. She found Harry’s lack of interest in food both baffling and appalling. His idea of Sunday lunch was a bag of steak ridge-cut chips followed by a packet of Skittles. Inside the takeaway, Laura tried not to wince as she watched the server ladle the curry gloop over what had been a perfectly respectable chicken escalope.

‘I don’t know how you can eat that stuff,’she said as they walked out, Harry’s dinner in a plastic bag.

‘Boarding school,’he replied easily.

‘The food was horrendous. Dead Man’s Leg and Nun’s Toenails.’

‘Oh God, yes. We had this thing called Skeleton Stew…’

Only after offering up her own memories of school food did Laura realise he had steered her off the subject of spies completely, and they were now turning into her street. Laura lived in Cod’s Head Row, Shoreditch. It was an area of London once synonymous with grinding poverty but now synonymous with grinding affluence. Quite literally, given the preponderance of artisan coffee roasters.

 

About the book:

Last of the Summer Moët by Wendy Holden
Published: February 1st 2018 by Head of Zeus
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Blurb: 

Top reporter Laura Lake has struck journalistic gold.

She’s discovered a super-exclusive English village where the rich and famous own weekend retreats. Where film stars, Turner-prize winners and Cabinet ministers park their helicopters outside the gastropub and buy £100 sourdough loaves from the deli.

Outsiders are strictly forbidden. But luckily Laura’s best friend Lulu, a logo-obsessed socialite with a heart as huge as her sunglasses, suddenly fancies a quiet life in the country. The door to this enchanted rural idyll opens for Laura. Revealing a great professional opportunity.

Can Laura write an exposé before the snobbish villagers suss her true identity? And before the world’s poshest pub quiz triggers a political scandal not seen since Profumo?

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The Country Set by Fiona Walker – #BlogTour + Extract

Hi guys, hope you all have wonderful Friday. I am thrilled to be hosting Fiona Walker’s fiona-walkerblog tour on my blog today and I have an extract from her newest novel, “The Country Set”, for you. The book sounds brilliant and I am incredibly looking towards reading it – would be done already and apologies for not being able but I am really poorly and reading is the last thing on my mind. Though I promise to get into the story asap. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the extract!

 

‘…and there’s a John le Carr. film on BBC One we can all watchone night next week – or is it Jim Carrey? The one you both like,’Pip was saying loudly to an out-of-sight Lester as she filled nets planning a few evenings of company for him and the Captain.Both men claimed to prefer to be alone, the stallion man drinkingcaramel-dark tea in his stable cottage while his boss downed claretin the main house, but she didn’t believe it, and they loved theirtelevision. It must be terribly lonely here nowadays. The Captainwas deeply antisocial, rarely stepping across his threshold, tooproud to use the walking frame Pip had acquired for him on loanfrom the NHS, along with a shower seat and grab-rails. He hadonce been a regular at the Jugged Hare, she’d been told, always talking horse, part of a ribald farming and hunting set who hadbeen yesteryear’s wild men of the Comptons. It was hard toimagine that now: her curmudgeonly charge had his beady eyesfixed on the television screen all the time.

 

The Captain’s fierce raptor of a wife, Ann, had employedPip, reluctantly taking on her only applicant for the role of part-timehousekeeper, a thirty-something former job-centre manager. Pip had recently started up her Home Comforts carer serviceafter taking voluntary redundancy to look after her ageingparents: ‘You obviously didn’t do a very good job as they’re bothnow dead, but at least English is your first language and you livein the village, so you’ll have to do.’ There had been impatience inAnn Percy’s manner, which Pip took to be typical of her breed,but it turned out her need to find someone to look after her gout-riddenhusband was urgent: she’d underplayed her on-off battlewith cancer to family and friends for almost a decade and the disease was spreading into her lungs and liver. Just three monthslater Ann Percy’s funeral had brought so many mourners to thevillage they’d opened the church meadows for extra parking.

 

Pip was honoured that the immensely practical, no-nonsenseAnn Percy had entrusted her house and husband to her care, theformer’s beauty more than capable of making up for the latter’sbeastliness. She gazed lovingly out from the hay store now at thegolden-stone tiles, tiny top dormers and tall chimneys visible overthe stable-yard roofs, the fast-climbing sun creeping across them.

 

In the village, the stud was a star attraction architecturally, itsclock-tower and pretty house a landmark that visitors saw first asthey approached Compton Magna along the die-straight narrowlane up from the Fosse Way, causing many a hire car to veeronto the verge towards its paddocks. The oh-so-handsome face,with its symmetrical sash windows, flirty dormers and limestonequoins was like a perfect doll’s house.

 

The main house at Compton Magna Stud had never been givena name. Unlike its Stables Cottage and Groom’s Flat, it wasn’tseparately listed in the records of the Eyngate Estate to which ithad once belonged. For years, it was commonly known as PercyPlace, and so many letters were addressed thus that it was assumedto be historically correct, but family accommodation was officiallyindistinguishable from horse. Pip rather liked its anonymity, likethe mares in its oldest stud books with only stable names writtenin. Lester had explained that their bloodline was more importantthan their individual merits. That was how she felt as its part-timechâtelaine. Just Pip. A tiny part of its history, and a seed that mightfind a place to root there.

 

Whenever she introduced herself to somebody new, Pip wouldtell them, ‘My dad nicknamed me Pipsqueak. Everyone calls mePip.’ It wasn’t strictly true. Both parents had always addressed heras Pauline. Even after their deaths, she could still hear their voicesin her head when someone called her by her given name. She hadchosen to bury Pauline Edwards with them and Pip, the village’shappiest helper and bounciest baker, had been born.

 

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