9 Jun 2019

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Book Review / Under Currents by Nora Roberts

For both Zane and Darby, their small town roots hold a terrible secret. Now, decades later, they've come together to build a new life. But will the past set them free or pull them under?

Zane Bigelow grew up in a beautiful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Strangers―and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake―see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Only Zane and his sister know the truth, until one brutal night finally reveals cracks in the facade, and Zane escapes for college without a thought of looking back...

Years later, Zane returns to his hometown determined to reconnect with the place and people that mean so much to him, despite the painful memories. As he resumes life in the colorful town, he meets a gifted landscape artist named Darby, who is on the run from ghosts of her own.

Together they will have to teach each other what it means to face the past, and stand up for the ones they love.
 


Published:    9th July 2019
Publisher:  Piatkus
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Review Copy from Publisher



MY REVIEW 

I am a big fan of Nora Roberts, both in her own name and writing as JD Robb.  I was so excited to dig into this one which is more of a thriller than a romance.  The main part of this story is the story of  Zane and his sister's family, both from what happened in the past, what happened in the present day and how the past has affected them.  Along with that, you have Darby who is a gifted landscape artist who was working on the family home when she meets Zane.  You have a bit of romance in this story (because what would a Nora Roberts story be without at least a little bit of romance) but the main part of the story, I believe, is centred around Zane and his family's past.

The most interesting part of this book for me was the way the issue of domestic abuse was dealt with, particularly through the children and how the effects of that kind of upbringing never leaves a child.   For me, it was also quite shocking to realise who the abuse was coming.  Obviously, I won't go into this too much as that would spoil a twist in the story that is better figured out when you are reading it  but I believe it highlights that you should not always assume that it is a certain person who is abusing.

The first half of this book concentrated on this story and then in the second part we move to present day where the children have grown up and are trying to get on with their lives.

There are certainly quite a few twists and turns in this book.  For me, I had already anticipated a lot of the twists and turns but this was more about the journey of the story and following the characters dealing with all they had to deal with from their part to their present day.
 
Very well dealt with and an interest read.  Would highly recommend.






Continue reading Book Review / Under Currents by Nora Roberts

2 Jun 2019

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SERIES REVIEW / Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king's council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she'll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she's bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her ... but it's the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead ... quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.


Published:     2012 to 2018
Publisher:  Bloomsbury
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Books 1 to 8, Throne of Glass
Source:  Owned



MY REVIEW

With the final book in this series now out, rather than just picking that up and reading it and as this series is one of my favourite ones of all time, I thought it would be a good idea to pick this up again right from the beginning.   I know that if I was to just pick up the final book, I would just end up spending a great deal of time at the start trying to remember and figure out what had gone on before.  I am so that glad I did.

What I didn't like about this series...  Despite the fact that I loved this series and have given it a full five starts, that doesn't mean that there were no aspect of it that I would have changed given the chance.  One of those for me was with the main character Celaena herself.  Yes, she is a hard ass trained assassin but at times it felt that she did not think too much about the actions she takes or the repercussions of her actions, leaving remaining characters to pick up the rest.  


What I liked about this series...  

The Writing -  Easy to read, follow and because of the type of complexity of the story you don't want to spend too much time trying to decipher fancy wording etc.  No fancy wording but great descriptions that helped build the world and characters in my own imagination.

The Characters - What I liked the most was the character progression and the different struggles they face as the story goes along, both in terms of the story and in terms of their own internal dialogue.  My favourite character was Chaol.  You see him at the start a bit grumpy and
very regimented on his position but also very loyal.  As the story goes on, he is still all of those things but we slowly see a lot more.

The Story - With each book, we learn more and more.  Even with Tower of Dawn when we take a 'break' from the main story and follow Chaol on his journey (that, of course, was one of my favourite stories of the whole series).  There were a few story lines that I enjoyed more than most.  One of them was the story of Chaol (as mentioned above), where he meets Celeana and goes on from there.  There are a few more but don't want to spoil the story for those who have not read all the series yet!

In Summary...  I loved this series.  It was one of those stories that I picked up and just could not put down until I reached the very last page of the last book.  I am so sad that this series has come to an end but very excited to see what Sarah J Maas has in store next!



Continue reading SERIES REVIEW / Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas

19 May 2019

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Trilogy Review - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin



Mara Dyer believes life can't get any stranger than waking up in a hospital with no memory of how she got there.

It can.

She believes there must be more to the accident she can't remember that killed her friends and left her strangely unharmed.

There is.

She doesn't believe that after everything she's been through, she can fall in love.

She's wrong.






Published:     2011
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Books 1, 2 and 3, Mara Dyer
Source:  Owned



MY REVIEW

I had originally read this trilogy back in 2016 and remembered that it was a really fun read.  When I learned that there would be another trilogy following Noah Shaw, I thought it would be a good idea to pick up this trilogy and read it again before going on to read The Shaw Chronicles.

Honestly, although I did enjoy reading this it wasn't as much as I thought I would do.  I think this is more about my reading tastes changing over the years rather than a reflection on the book. I would still recommend reading it but may be if you are new to young adult fiction.  It is very predictable and the story is not something new but something that I have seen many times in other young adult fiction.

I decided after reading this trilogy that I would not continue with the Shaw Chronicles, simply because I was no longer interested in carrying on reading this world.  That said, I would definitely pick up more by this author as I enjoyed the writing style.

I would recommend this trilogy if you are new to young adult fiction and would like to start out somewhere.




Continue reading Trilogy Review - The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

13 May 2019

Blog Tour Book Review / The Girl in the Pink Raincoat by Alrene Hughes



In wartime it takes courage to follow your heart.
Manchester, 1939.
Everyone hated the heat and the deafening noise, but for Gracie the worst thing was the smell of chemicals that turned her stomach every morning when she arrived at the Rosenberg Raincoats factory.
Gracie is a girl on the factory floor. Jacob is the boss's charismatic nephew. When they fall in love, it seems as if the whole world is against them – especially Charlie Nuttall, who also works at the factory and has always wanted Gracie for himself.
But worse is to come when Jacob disappears and Gracie is devastated, vowing to find him. Can she solve the mystery of his whereabouts? Gracie will need all her strength and courage to find a happy ending.






Published:     1st March 2019
Publisher:  Head of Zeus
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Review Copy from Publisher



MY REVIEW

There's just something about an old fashioned love story that always draws me in.   In this story we follow Gracie.  She is a factory worker, lives with her mother at the time and living on the breadline.  She meets and falls in love with her boss' nephew but unfortunately that love was not meant to last.  On the day they are due to be married, Jacob disappears.  When everyone is telling her to forget him and move on, Gracie cannot let go and is determined to find him.    We follow Gracie on this journey.  Unfortunatly, along the way she meets some unfriendly characters who are determined to lead her down the wrong path.

For me, the best part of this story was the relationship between Jacob and Gracie.  Just the romance of it at a time when the world is falling apart was worth following.






Follow Alrene:
Facebook: @alrenehugheswriter
Twitter: @alrenehughes

Buy links:

Google Play: https://bit.ly/2YqUREC






Continue reading Blog Tour Book Review / The Girl in the Pink Raincoat by Alrene Hughes

27 Apr 2019

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Book Review / The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

Michael was in a hurry. He was scrambling up the ladder at Drake & Sweeney, a giant D.C. law firm with eight hundred lawyers. The money was good and getting better; a partnership was three years away. He was a rising star with no time to waste, no time to stop, no time to toss a few coins into the cups of panhandlers. No time for a conscience.


But a violent encounter with a homeless man stopped him cold. Michael survived; his assailant did not. Who was this man? Michael did some digging, and learned that he was a mentally ill veteran who'd been in and out of shelters for many years. Then Michael dug a little deeper, and found a dirty secret, and the secret involved Drake & Sweeney.


The fast track derailed; the ladder collapsed. Michael bolted the firm and took a top-secret file with him. He landed in the streets, an advocate for the homeless, a street lawyer.

Published:     26th April 2005
Publisher:  Doubleday
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Owned



MY REVIEW

Back when I was a lot younger and this book had first come out, this was the first book I read written by John Grisham and for a long time this has always been on my list of favourite books of all time.  I always get nervous when I go to re-read a favourite book.  I find that as I get older my reading tastes change, meaning that what was once my favourite might not be the same now.

Reading this now just took me back to when I was reading it the first time.  I loved it.  You have the perfect combination of corruption and moral righteousness.  We follow Michael who at the start of the book is a high powered lawyer working in a high powered law firm.  One day all that changes when a homeless man comes into the law firm and holds him and a few colleagues ransom.  What follows is a mixture of figuring out the truth behind a moral situation and watching Michael as he rethinks everything.

If you have not yet picked up a John Grisham novel, this would be the perfect book to start with.




Continue reading Book Review / The Street Lawyer by John Grisham

14 Apr 2019

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Book Review / Last Seen by Lucy Clark

In a small seaside community, there’s always somebody watching…
Twisty, pacy, and superbly plotted, Last Seen is the perfect psychological page-turner for fans of Clare Mackintosh and Sabine Durrant.
Seven years ago, two boys went missing at sea – and only one was brought to shore. The Sandbank, a remote stretch of coast dotted with beach huts, was scarred forever.
Sarah’s son survived, but on the anniversary of the accident, he disappears without trace. As new secrets begin to surface, The Sandbank hums with tension and unanswered questions. Sarah’s search grows more desperate and she starts to mistrust everyone she knows – and she’s right to.
Someone saw everything on that fateful day seven years ago. And they’ll do anything to keep the truth buried.

Published:     19th May 2017
Publisher:  Harper
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Bought




MY REVIEW

This book had me on  the edge of my seat for the majority of the way through!!  I just could not put it down!  What a great book to bring me back out of a little bit of a reading slump.

This book has many different layers to it.  Firstly, you have the story of the tragedy that happened seven years ago, were two boys went swimming but only one came back.  You don't find out too much of that story and only learn bits and pieces of this all the way through until the very end.  You then have the story of two friends (the mothers of the two sons from the tragedy seven years ago).  You see their story from back  before they had children, through the tragedy and to the present day.  You then have the story of Jacob (who is the son of Sarah who survived the tragedy), seeing him trying to cope with what happened in the past and also learn to deal with what he is going through in the present day.

It does not happen very often where a book surprises me.  Not only did this story surprise me once, but twice!  I completely did not see the plot twists coming in this book and I loved it!  I cannot recommend this book or this author enough!






Continue reading Book Review / Last Seen by Lucy Clark

7 Apr 2019

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Book Review / The Partner by John Grisham

They watched Danilo Silva for days before they finally grabbed him. He was living alone, a quiet life on a shady street in Brazil; a simple life in a modest home, certainly not one of luxury. Certainly no evidence of the fortune they thought he had stolen. He was much thinner and his face had been altered. He spoke a different language, and spoke it very well.

But Danilo had a past with many chapters. Four years earlier he had been Patrick Lanigan, a young partner in a prominent Biloxi law firm. He had a pretty wife, a new daughter, and a bright future. Then one cold winter night Patrick was trapped in a burning car and died a horrible death. When he was buried his casket held nothing more than his ashes.

From a short distance away, Patrick watched his own burial. Then he fled. Six weeks later, a fortune was stolen from his ex-law firm's offshore account. And Patrick fled some more.

But they found him.


Published:     26th April 2005
Publisher:  Doubleday
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Owned



MY REVIEW


This was my first time reading this story and I loved it!  I have been slowing reading my way through John Grisham's books, starting from the very first one he wrote and published and I was looking forward to getting to this one as it was the first one on the list that I had not read yet.

What I liked the most was the fact that you are introduced to the main character, Danilo, at the start of the book and follow his journey throughout.  We slowly get to figure out who he is and what he was supposedly done.  I found it interesting to follow this character and also to follow the different organisations as they also investigate what is going on.

I have to be honest and say that I did see the ending coming but that was fine, for me the joy of reading this story was the journey rather than the destination.






Continue reading Book Review / The Partner by John Grisham

25 Mar 2019

Blog Tour Book Review / In the Full LIght of the Sun by Clare Clark

Based on a true story, this gorgeous new novel follows the fortunes of three Berliners caught up in an art scandal—involving newly discovered van Goghs—that rocks Germany amidst the Nazis’ rise to power.Hedonistic and politically turbulent, Berlin in the 1920s is a city of seedy night clubs and sumptuous art galleries. It is home to millionaires and mobs storming bakeries for rationed bread. These disparate Berlins collide when Emmeline, a young art student; Julius, an art expert; and a mysterious dealer named Rachmann all find themselves caught up in the astonishing discovery of thirty-two previously unknown paintings by Vincent van Gogh.

In the Full Light of the Sun explores the trio’s complex relationships and motivations, their hopes, their vanities, and their self-delusions—for the paintings are fakes and they are in their own ways complicit. Theirs is a cautionary tale about of the aspirations of the new Germany and a generation determined to put the humiliations of the past behind them.

With her signature impeccable and evocative historical detail, Clare Clark has written a gripping novel about beauty and justice, and the truth that may be found when our most treasured beliefs are revealed as illusions. 

Published:     9th July 2019
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin
Goodreads :  Click here
Series or Stand-Alone:  Stand-Alone
Source:  Review Copy from Publisher



MY REVIEW

I have to be honest and say that this is not normally the type of story that I pick up but I am really glad that I did.  This was a very interesting read, more about the characters than the story.

I have to admit that there were parts where I was a little confused by the characters and timeline, so please do correct me if I have understood it incorrectly.   This story is split into three different timelines, with most of them following the life of Emmeline and following the art to a certain degree.  In the first part, we start with an art dealer and collector where one of them forms a connection with Emmeline.  This part was more about the art with the dealer and the collector.  The second part and the third part is where I get a bit confused, but I think that was more about me, the reader, than the writing or the story.   We lost a few of the characters from the first part, that I was already getting to know and was looking forward to learning more about the story and we gained a few new characters, who right now I cannot remember.  I think the second part was more about Emmaline and watching her grow up and learn more about herself.   Honestly, I cannot recall the final part.

I did enjoy reading this novel but have to say that the first part was the best part for me.  I lost focus on the story somewhere in the middle of the second part and could not get it back.  I would have loved also to have known more about what was going on around the characters a lot more.   I also really liked the writing style and would certainly pick up another book by this author.




Continue reading Blog Tour Book Review / In the Full LIght of the Sun by Clare Clark

21 Mar 2019

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Blog Tour Book Extract / Two Silver Crosses by Beryl Kingston


Nobody is to know where we are. You must forget England. That part of your lives is over.’
Twins Ginny and Emily Holborn have everything they could ever need in their Wolverhampton home: a loving family, a garden to play in, and staff waiting to attend to their every need. Until, one summer day in 1926, they disappear without a trace.
Ten years later, bright-eyed solicitor Charlie Commoner is given his first job: track down the still-missing Holborn twins. Despatched to France, he’s left to unravel a web of infidelity, mystery, and terrifying family secrets.
Let bestselling author Beryl Kingston sweep you away on a journey from London to Paris, through tragedy and triumph in the search for two sisters wearing two silver crosses.
Two Silver Crosses was originally published in 1992.

PURCHASE LINKS






ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Beryl Kingston is the author of 30 novels with over a million copies sold. She has been a writer since she was 7 when she started producing poetry. She was evacuated to Felpham at the start of WWII, igniting an interest in one-time resident poet William Blake which later inspired her novel The Gates of Paradise. She was an English teacher from 1952 until 1985 when she became a full-time writer after her debut novel, Hearts and Farthings, became a bestseller. Kingston continued writing bestsellers for the next 14 years with titles ranging from family sagas to modern stories and historical novels. She currently lives in West Sussex and has three children, five grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.
EXTRACT

Chapter One

Just turn over on your side, Mrs Holborn, dear,’ the midwife coaxed. ‘Turn on your side, there’s a good girl.’
Hortense Holborn was too far gone to understand her. She was very young and very frightened and to add confusion to fear the baby had started much too early. So instead of having her darling Edouard home on leave the way he’d planned it, he was away at the front fighting the Germans, or lying wounded somewhere or dying or blown to bits. Oh no, no, no. She mustn’t think that. If only he were here, safe in her arms, and she safe in his. If only… Oh this awful pain and this awful war that tears people apart! ‘Je’n peux pas!’ she groaned, retreating into her native language because she hadn’t got the energy to speak English. She hadn’t got the energy for anything, not even to lift her head from the pillow. ‘Je’n peux pas!’
I don’t think she can understand what you’re saying, Mrs Bonney,’ the midwife’s young assistant said. ‘She don’t seem to hear you, not to my way a thinking.’
Quite right, Joan,’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘But I’m sure she can hear, poor girl. She don’t understand, that’s the way of it. And no wonder with all this stopping and starting. It’s enough to try the patience of a saint.’
It had been a complicated labour. When it started, three exhausting days ago, it had seemed straightforward enough, although premature. But then for some unaccountable reason it had completely stopped and, despite hot baths and two enemas and three doses of castor oil, it had refused to start up again until early that morning. And now it was proceeding much too slowly for Mrs Bonney’s peace of mind.
For this was no ordinary confinement. For a start the poor girl was expecting twins, and at nineteen she was barely old enough for one baby leave alone two, and as if that weren’t complication enough, the babies would be the first grandchildren of the great Mr Holborn who owned GS Holborn’s Munitions, which was one of the biggest factories in the district, if not the biggest. And they were being born in his splendid house with a fine nursery waiting for them, all newly furnished and decorated, with enough toys on the shelves to stock a shop and the proverbial silver spoon ready for their mouths. So it certainly wasn’t the sort of confinement that could be taken easily by anyone concerned.
Turn on your side, Mrs Holborn, dear,’ the midwife tried again. ‘You’d be easier on your side.’
There was a discreet knock at the bedroom door. Mrs Bonney clicked her tongue with annoyance at being interrupted but signalled with her eyes that her assistant was to go and attend to it.
It was Miss Agnes Holborn, their patient’s sister-in-law, and to Mrs Bonney’s surprise she had a soldier standing beside her. It couldn’t be Mr Edward, could it? Surely not. Mr Edward was at the front. Everybody knew that. But it was, looking very fine in his officer’s uniform, polished boots, khaki cap and all.
How is she?’ he whispered, stripping off his gloves. His long face was drawn with anxiety and there were dark shadows under his eyes. ‘Agnes sent me a telegram. I got here as soon as I could. Please let me see her.’
His request put Mrs Bonney into a quandary. Ordinarily husbands would never be allowed into the bedroom while a labour was going on. It wasn’t hygienic. Or proper. Their place was outside pacing the carpet. But this was 1916 and they were all in the middle of a war, and he’d come all the way from the battlefield to be with this poor little French wife of his. And besides, he might be able to get her to do what they said, even if it wasn’t hygienic.
And while she was dithering, Hortense made up her mind for her, calling out to her husband in her own language, her face suddenly bright with renewed vigour, her voice stronger and more alive. ‘Edouard! Edouard! It is you, is it not, my love. Oh come to me quickly, quickly. I’m so frightened.’
He was into the room in three strides, regardless of permission, tossing his cap on to a chair, reaching the bed, sweeping her into his arms, holding her close, kissing her damp dark hair. ‘Don’t be afraid, my dearest. I’m here. You’re safe with me.’
Mr Edward,’ Mrs Bonney protested. ‘You can’t…’
But he could. He was. Smiling up at her with weary blue eyes, the light brown hair above his temples still pinched by the pressure of his cap, his long face tanned and more lined than she remembered it from the last time she’d seen him in the village, his expression clearly pleading with her. There was a scurry of frantic activity at the other end of the bed as Joan flung a sheet across their patient’s swollen abdomen for decency’s sake.
Oh dear,’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘I’m not sure this is…’
But he went on smiling at her, hopefully.
Very well,’ she decided. ‘You can stay. But just for a little while mind, because it really isn’t proper. We’ll rig a sheet up.’
You’re a pearl!’ Edward Holborn said.
So the sheet was rigged, with two ends tied to the tops of two high-backed chairs one on each side of the bed so as to stretch a screen of white cloth between the birth and its begetter. And as if his arrival were all the medicine Hortense needed, the labour began to speed up. Soon it had settled into an encouraging rhythm.
Now we’re getting somewhere,’ Mrs Bonney reported with great satisfaction from behind her screen. ‘Does she need a drink, Mr Edward, could you ask her?’
Hortense lay back in her husband’s arms and gave herself up to the power of the birth. When a contraction took hold there was nothing in the world except remorseless pain, squeezing and squeezing, but as it ebbed away Edouard was still there, sponging her forehead and kissing her fingers and telling her she was a dear, brave girl. And as long as he was there, she knew instinctively that she could and would get through, bad though it was. Her darling, darling Edouard, who loved her to distraction and whom she loved with all her heart. ‘Oh, Jesus mercy. Mary help,’ she prayed clutching his hand. ‘Here comes another one.’
The first baby was born as the evening began to draw in and the mirror over the mantelpiece turned rose with reflected light. A five-pound girl with a mop of thick dark hair, the skinniest legs, her father’s long nose and eyes so tightly shut they looked red and swollen.
Emilie,’ her mother said in English. ‘We’ll call her Emilie.’
Fifteen minutes later the second baby slid into the world. At four-and-three-quarter pounds she was even skinnier than her sister and had the same dark hair and the same matchstick limbs; but her eyes were open wide. They were large and round and very dark blue, and they gazed at the world in the wise, solemn way of the newly born. It was the sight of those eyes that lifted her parents to tears of wonder and happiness.
Virginie,’ her father said to her as she was placed in her mother’s arms beside her sister. ‘You have two names because you have two nationalities like your sister. Emily/Emilie. Virginia/Virginie. Isn’t your mother the cleverest girl to have two such beautiful babies?’
I only hope Mr Holborn thinks so,’ Mrs Bonney muttered to Joan behind the screen. Old Mr Holborn was a difficult man at the best of times and everyone knew he wanted grandsons to carry on the business.
But when he came in much later that evening to view the new arrivals the old man was quite taken with them. ‘They’re as like as two peas in a pod,’ he said to Hortense, putting down a rough forefinger for Virginia to grasp. ‘Two little funny faces, aren’t you? They’ve got your thick hair, my dear. But the Holborn nose, poor little things. Still I suppose we had to expect that, eh, Edward? We run to noses in this family.’
I think they’re beautiful,’ Edward said, giving his father a warning grimace.
They’ll do,’ Mr Holborn said. And for him that was praise. ‘How long are you staying?’
Ten days,’ Edward told him. ‘I’ve put my leave forward.’
You boys can wangle anything,’ his father said admiringly. ‘How’s it going out there?’
Oh much the same,’ Edward said laconically. ‘You know how it is.’
And his father agreed that he did. Although, in point of fact, like most other people back at home, he didn’t have the remotest idea about life in the trenches.
But what did any of that matter now, with these two delightful babies safely delivered and a midwife on call night and day and the young assistant, Joan, to live in and take care of them all?
I think they’re the prettiest little things I’ve ever seen,’ Agnes said. ‘You are lucky, Edward.’ And it wasn’t just his good fortune in having two new daughters that she was talking about.
Every time Agnes saw him with Hortense, caught up in the glow of their passion for one another, she yearned for and was envious of their obvious happiness. She couldn’t imagine anything better than to love like that and be loved in return. Not that it was likely to happen to her now, for she was twenty-eight, going on twenty-nine, with a plain rather pasty face, timid blue eyes, that awful Holborn nose and lank brown hair like her brother’s. And although she did her best to disguise the fact with flowing blouses, tunics and dresses that were cut very full, she was already developing the dumpy figure of a middle-aged woman. But there was no unkindness in her and her envy was more vicarious tenderness than jealousy. Love was wonderful; she knew it and was happy to bask in the reflected warmth of it, even if she couldn’t experience it herself. ‘You’re very, very lucky.’
Yes,’ her brother said. ‘I know. Your turn next, eh, Sis?’
Agnes decided it was best to ignore that. ‘They’re so alike,’ she said. ‘How will you tell them apart?’
That is easy for the moment,’ Hortense said, speaking English with her pretty French accent. ‘Emilie does not open her eyes.’
Shouldn’t she?’ Agnes said, stroking the baby’s silky head.
Oh, she’ll do it in time,’ Edward said. ‘Won’t you, poppet?’
But two days passed, and the baby’s eyes were still swollen and tightly shut. And when Mrs Bonney came in on the second evening to check her charges and settle them for the night both lids were decidedly sticky.
How long’s this been going on?’ she said to Joan, frowning down at the child.
There was no sign of it at her last feed. Was there, Mrs Holborn?’
Well, it won’t do!’ the midwife disapproved. She held out her hand to her assistant for cotton wool and cleaned both eyes thoroughly, throwing the pads into the nursery fire afterwards. ‘If they’re no better by the morning we shall have to have the doctor in. You’ll keep an eye on that, Joan, won’t you? Are they feeding well?’
Oh yes,’ Hortense said happily. ‘They are – how do you say? – gourmandes.’
Greedy,’ Mrs Bonney guessed. ‘That’s good.’ But she could see how well they were being fed from the colour of their skin and the way their limbs were already beginning to round out. A good mother, this little French girl, for all her youth and her apparent fragility. And very pretty in her foreign way with that olive skin and all that thick curly hair. It was the heart-shaped face that did it, and those big brown eyes. Always a fetching combination. It was a pity the babies didn’t take after her. But they’d probably grow better looking with time. Babies often did. ‘Now let’s have a look at you, my dear,’ she said. ‘Is my Joan looking after you?’
Oh yes,’ Hortense said again, smiling at Mrs Bonney’s assistant. ‘She is to keep me company tonight while the party is ’appening.’
Oh!’ Mrs Bonney said. ‘We’ve got a party, have we? Well we’ve certainly got something to celebrate.’
Ah no!’ Hortense said. ‘It is not for ze babies, you understand. It is for ze company. For GS Holborn’s.’
It’s their staff do,’ Joan explained. ‘They have it once a year.’
Mrs Bonney changed her mind about the party. ‘Well, I hope they don’t make a disturbance, that’s all I can say,’ she warned. ‘You need peace and quiet when you’re lying-in, my dear, and they should see that you get it.’
But, in fact, Mr Holborn’s staff parties were usually rather sober affairs because they were held in the great hall. A daunting place, built in the medieval style with oak beams and a minstrel gallery, it was two storeys high with huge windows stretching from floor to ceiling on one wall and a fireplace on another big enough to contain two wooden settles on either side of the fire.
Mr Holborn moved among his guests, talking to each in turn and checking they all had enough to eat and drink, but except for a handful who’d been with the company for a long time and were used to it, most of the guests were ill at ease. They shuffled their feet and cleared their throats when their employer approached and were obviously relieved when the annual ordeal was over.
Agnes Holborn was even more ill at ease than they were. She’d played the hostess at these events ever since her mother died when she was barely seventeen, but she’d never found it easy because she was shy in company and always conscious of how unattractive she was. But she felt she owed it to her father to do her best, so her best she dutifully did. At least at this party she had the babies’ arrival to talk about and the wives would be interested in that.
Which they were, of course, saying how lovely it must be and how nice to have twins and asking what they were to be called. And Agnes shared her good news so happily she didn’t notice that she was being watched.
She turned to move on to another table and found one of her father’s ‘young men’ standing in her way and smiling as though he knew her.
Miss Holborn?’ he said, giving her a little bow.
Yes,’ she said, returning the smile politely. ‘I don’t believe we’ve met, have we? Mr…?’
Everdale,’ he said. ‘Claud Everdale. I’m one of the sales team with the British Expeditionary Force.’
You’re in the army?’ she asked. All the young men she met seemed to be in the army these days.
This one wasn’t. ‘Not yet,’ he confided. ‘I’m part of the Derby scheme, so you won’t have to search for a white feather. I’ve taken the shilling and got my number and all that sort of thing, but they think I’m more use to them providing your father’s guns.’
I’m sure you are,’ she said, thinking what a handsome young man he was, so tall and dapper with his dark hair neatly oiled and a narrow moustache on his upper lip. And he was wearing a nice white shirt under his dark suit.
I know you’ll think this the most frightful cheek,’ he said, smiling at her, ‘but I suppose you wouldn’t honour me with a dance, would you? To tell you the truth I’ve only just joined the firm, so I don’t know anybody, and I’ve been looking at you for ages and you’ve got such a beautiful face that I wondered…’
Oh come now, Mr Everdale,’ Agnes protested. ‘I do have a mirror you know.’
I’m sure you have,’ he said. ‘But what does that show you? Features. That’s all you see in a mirror. I’m talking about your expression. Believe me, Miss Holborn, you have the most beautiful expression I’ve ever seen. Kind and loving, if you don’t mind me saying so. Really beautiful. But lots of men must have told you that…unless of course they were blind.’
Agnes didn’t know what to say because, of course, nobody had ever told her she was beautiful. She was confused and charmed and flattered, despite her honest knowledge of her own worth, or the lack of it. And besides, he was looking at her with such open admiration, how could she doubt what he said, ridiculous though it was? After all Hortense thought Edward was handsome and they did say beauty was in the eye of the beholder. ‘Well…’ she said finally.
He assumed a rueful expression but continued to gaze into her eyes. ‘I’ve offended you,’ he said. Then he shook his head as if he was changing his mind. ‘I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have spoken. It is cheek.’
No. No,’ Agnes said, plucking at her pearls.
But he continued. ‘I withdraw my request, Miss Holborn. I’ve no right to ask you anything. You wouldn’t want to dance with the likes of me.’
Oh no. Not at all,’ Agnes said, feeling she had to reassure him. Usually she retreated as soon as the music began because she was much too awkward to want to dance with anybody except Edward, but she could hardly say that when he’d asked her so politely, had said so many charming things and was looking at her like that. ‘I mean, I should be very happy to dance with you.’
His eyes flashed such excitement that it gave her a sudden frisson of pleasure. ‘You would?’ he said. ‘Oh, you don’t know what this means to me. Which one? Do I have to mark a card or anything?’
She was warmed by his ignorance. ‘We don’t use cards on these occasions, I’m glad to say,’ she explained. ‘My father likes things to be informal.’
Then may I claim the first dance you’ve got free?’
You may,’ Agnes said. And she was suddenly warm with hope. It was impossible, ridiculous. But she couldn’t help feeling it. The hope that at long, long last she’d found a man who would love her as Edward loved Hortense. Oh wouldn’t that be wonderful!
You’ve made me the happiest man in the room,’ he said, giving her another half bow and striding across the room to join the other salesmen who were standing against the wall.
Well?’ they asked him.
It’s in the bag,’ he said. ‘First dance. That’s ten bob you owe me, Jack.’
You toe-rag!’ his friend Jack said with admiration. ‘So now what? I suppose you’ll be marrying her next.’
Just watch me!’
She’s old enough to be your mother.’
Give it a rest. I’m twenty-two.’
And she’s pushing thirty.’
But she’ll inherit half the firm, Claud Everdale thought. Everybody in the company knows that. When old man Holborn goes it’s to be divided between her and her brother. And that was what was important. She’ll inherit half the firm and I’ve interested her already.









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