As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
ARIADNE gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
When she was thirteen, Lizzie lost her best friend in what she always believed was a terrible accident.
Even though she was with Alice when she died, Lizzie has no memory of the accident itself. Now there is doubt around if it was in fact an accident at all.
Alice’s friends and relatives seem to suspect Lizzie had a part to play in Alice’s death, but Lizzie knows that can’t be true. She would never have hurt Alice.
Twelve years later, unpacking boxes in the new home she shares with her fiancé, Lizzie is finally beginning to feel like she can move on with her life.
But someone has other ideas.
Twelve years is a long time to wait, when you’re planning the perfect revenge.
Lizzie has no memory of what happened in the moments before her best friend Alice died, she only knows that it must have been a tragic accident. Skip ahead to 12 years later and Lizzie is moving on with her life, she has moved in with her fiancé and is going to go back to college. But strange things keep happening, is she being haunted by the past or is someone out for revenge.
This is the second thriller I have read by Lesley Kara as I was on the blog tour for who did you tell, and I think this is even better than the last. I read it in just a few sittings and was thinking about it when I was I put it down. The tension the author creates oozed off the page and at times I just wanted to shake Lizzie and say ‘can’t you see what’s happening here!!’
I did predict two of the main twists but in no way did this detract from my reading pleasure, in fact it enhanced it as it played out as I wanted it to in my head which gave me a whole separate sense of satisfaction.
Thank you to @randomttours and @lesleykara for my review copy of the book.
Lesley’s debut The Rumour was the bestselling crime thriller debut of 2019. It was a Sunday Times bestseller in both hardback and paperback, a Kindle No.1 bestseller, and has now sold over 350,000 copies globally. The Rumour has been optioned for TV by Cuba Pictures, and has sold in 15+ territories to date. Who Did You Tell? her critically acclaimed second novel was also a Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller.
Lesley is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She lives on the North Essex coast, inspiration for the locations in her novels.
When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.
In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.
But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…
Laura Vaughan grew up in rural Wales and studied Art History in Italy and Classics at Bristol and Oxford. She got her first book deal aged twenty-two and went on to write eleven books for children and young adults. is her first novel for adults. She lives in South London with her husband and two children.
Jeremiah O’Connell made his name solving problems in London and now does the same in LA. The problems other people can’t or won’t touch? They’re the ones that end up at Jerry’s door.
Suddenly Jeremiah has problems of his own when he sets out to right a wrong and finds himself on the hitlist of one of LA’s most feared drug gangs.
As the stakes rise, so does the body count, and Jerry has the fight of his life on his hands. Now, with high-class escort Noah in tow, Jeremiah must revisit his old London stomping grounds and assemble his team in order to wage all-out war on the streets on Tinseltown…
Jerry ambled towards the strip club entrance, pulled open a
door and moved into a vestibule area, where a doorman sat
on a bar stool looking at his phone. Jerry tried to hide his
contempt, resisting the urge to tell the guy to get his arse
outside, which was where he should be. Standing. Watching.
Being a fucking doorman. Not sitting inside texting like a
The guy looked up at Jerry, down at his phone and then,
in a double take, back at Jerry. In the next second, he was
scrambling to his feet, broadening his shoulders and narrowing
his eyes. ‘What up?’ he croaked.
From behind him came the muffled thump of the strip
club music. The phone went away, hands into the pockets of
his bomber jacket. Making it clear to Jerry where he kept his
weapon – whatever that might be.
‘All right, mate?’ said Jerry. ‘You open for business, are
you?’ He was taking the piss, but it went clean over the head
of the doorman.
‘Always, always,’ nodded the doorman, ‘just as long as
you’re not after trouble . . .’
Jerry held up his hands. ‘Just here for the booze and the
The doorman held the door open for him and he moved
through into the foyer. A woman in a booth took his money.
He passed into the main club and took in the scene: dancers
gyrating at poles on a central stage; sleepyeyed
a clientele who looked like part of the furniture. The overall
feel was one of lethargy, boredom. The afternoon after a
heavy night when the world has nothing more to show you.
He took a seat, ordered from a waitress who introduced
herself as Ashley, and then, when she returned with the
bottle, asked her, ‘You got a girl here called Commodore?’
Lord D’Arque is dead, enquiries have led to the Lord’s loved ones being ruled out, and the search for a clear picture has put the servants of the manor in the frame. But what possible motive could the staff have for wanting their mean and miserly master murdered?
You’d be surprised what secrets are lurking behind the doors of the Manor!
The servants are our lead suspects and it’s up to you as detectives to prove which one committed the dastardly deed. Playing good cop or bad cop? Picking from these two game versions will determine the type of investigators you’ll be whilst you try to solve the crime, but which detective will crack the case first?
Foul Play is a murder mystery card game for 2-5 players in which you need to find three clues to work out who the murder is and then convince the other players that you know who it is and put your evidence forward to back it up.
I sat down to play this with my husband after putting the little one to bed. The set up was really easy and there is even a photo on the website that shows how it should look for anyone who is unsure. We started off playing good cop but quickly moved on to bad cop as we are both very competitive and wanted to be able to win quicker! The game was fast paced and fun and we will definitely introduce the family to it over Christmas. The one recommendation I would give is to read the instructions online over the small card instructions as they didn’t seem to be as clear about what do with cards you had played/picking up new cards so the first few games we ran out of cards!
Thank you to @damppebbles , @DamppebblesBTs and @afterdarkmurder for my chance to play along! Check out these other lovely bloggers who will be taking part over the next ten days:
Unfortunately, Tom Cooper, like the rest of the world, has found himself stuck in the middle of a pandemic. He’s going to be spending the next few months trapped inside a small flat with sole responsibility for his two single digit children.
Separated from his girlfriend (and any possibility of help with childcare), Tom is plunged into a world of home schooling, awkward Zoom calls, supermarket feuds, al fresco workout sessions, cash strapped tooth fairies, aging parents who won’t stay home and competitive clapping for the NHS. Not to mention the problem of trying to fulfil his girlfriend’s request for an erotic selfie of his rapidly deteriorating body…
Join Tom as he navigates the lockdown in the stand-alone sequel to last year’s hilarious The Rebuilding of Tom Cooper. Laugh-out-loud with real heart.
Lockdown has never been so entertaining!
To be honest I was a little worried about reading this at the start of a second lockdown but this was a thoroughly enjoyable look at lock down from the perspective of a single parent. I really liked seeing all the parts I didn’t see from living in the country side and I especially enjoyed the observations of how different lockdown was for the rich vs the poor as (not knowing any very rich people) was something I was curious about.
This book is more about the challenges and joys of raising children and all the hilarious situations they put us in and is one I would recommend to all if you want a fun, light hearted read. That being said it did have some very tender and real moments that had me welling up!
I didn’t realise this was the second book when I signed up for the tour but I am glad of that as I might not have said yes had I know and it read absolutely fine as a stand alone. I will definitely be on the look out for book one!
Thank you to @randomttours @marottebooks and @thespencerbrown for my copy of the book in exchange for review.
Spencer Brown began performing comedy with the Cambridge Footlights alongside John Oliver (HBO’s This Week Tonight) and Matthew Holness (Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace), before becoming an internationally acclaimed stand up. He has performed everywhere from London’s The Comedy Store to Mumbai and the USA, TV credits including Nathan Barley (Channel 4), Edinburgh Comedy (BBC 2), Last Comic Standing (NBC), his own special on Swedish television. As a TV presenter, he fronted ITV’s Lip Service alongside Holly Willoughby and Five’s The Sexy Ads Show. He is also the writer-director of the multi-award-winning film The Boy with a Camera for a Face. The Lockdown Diary of Tom Cooper is his second novel.
Introducing the first Alex Abbott thriller from former-Special Forces soldier turned No. 1 bestselling author Ollie Ollerton
Forget Bond and Bourne,
it’s time for a new kind of hero…
Ex-special forces soldier Alex Abbott escaped the Middle East under a cloud and now lives hand-to-mouth in Singapore. Scraping a living as a gun for hire and estranged from his family, Abbott is haunted by ghosts of the past, drinking to dull the pain. Life’s tough, but there is one upside – at least he’s not in Baghdad. That’s about to change….
When a job goes badly wrong, Abbott’s in hot water. Next, he learns that his military son, Nathan, is missing in Iraq. Knowing something is wrong, needing to find his son and desperate for redemption, Abbott has no choice but to go back. Returning to Baghdad, Abbott renews old acquaintances and begins his search for Nathan. The body count rises as old wounds open and he struggles to confront his demons, self-medicating the only way he knows how. But when one of his old crew turns up dead in mysterious circumstances and the link with Nathan is clear, Abbott begins to suspect a trap.
But who is the hunter? And who is the hunted?
Ex-special forces soldier Alex Abbot goes from one bad situation to another and ending up in Singapore haunted by his past and taking the occasional job as a gun for hire to fund his drink habit until his son, Nathan, goes missing, last seen in Baghdad, a place Abbott thought was firmly in his past…
This book is about a hero haunted by his past it has all the elements you would expect from this type of book, special forces, a missing child, fights, betrayals, old and new friendships and all while giving a glimpse of what life in Baghdad is like. It was page turningly good and I flew through it in a few days.
What a brilliant step into fiction by Ollie Ollerton. This was an action packed, fast and furious first novel and I will definitely be looking out for more. If you love Chris Ryan Strike Back books then you will enjoy this one.
Thank you to @Tr4cyF3nt0n and @bonnierbooks_uk for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Emily is sure she’s getting this baby stuff all wrong. Why does everyone look like they’re smashing motherhood when she’s barely made it out of the house? She’s usually covered in sick, eating yet another beige freezer dinner, and relying on wet wipes to clean the baby, herself and the house. And coffee. All the coffee. Surely she can’t be the only new mum totally winging it?
Emily’s about to discover that when you’re starting a family, what you really need are your friends…
Our baby is stuck. The previously calm birthing room is full of doctors shouting at the midwives. ‘We need to get her to the operating theatre, now!’ one yells. ‘Why the hell isn’t she there already?’ I strain to see behind me as the pain grips and twists. ‘Nick? NICK? Where are you?’ ‘Here,’ Nick says. His hand firmly grabs mine. ‘What’s happening?’ I shrill, my voice not sounding like my own. ‘It’s OK, Emily,’ my midwife reassures me, ‘you’ve been in second stage labour for some time now. We are going to help you get your baby out.’ She squeezes my shoulder and hurries out of the room. ‘Nick, what’s happening? What does she mean?’ I demand as my entire innards crunch and tighten in the world’s strongest vice. ‘It’s going to be alright,’ Nick says. ‘How do you know?’ I screech at him. The mother of all contractions takes hold as I’m wheeled down the corridor. ‘Holy fuck!’ I hear myself scream. The porters push the trolley through the swing doors and the waiting doctor greets me, ‘Hello, Emily, I’m Doctor Marston. We’re going to move you into a sitting position and ask you to keep very still as I insert a spinal drip into your back. Do you understand?’
‘Yes,’ I respond, as the contraction eases and I get my breath back. ‘OK, Emily, you need to keep still. That’s it, remain absolutely still.’ Can he stop asking me to stay still? It’s like asking a boxer to remain static as his opponent repeatedly punches him in the face. My body wants to push our baby out. ‘Right, it’s in!’ he says triumphantly, and my midwife appears, guiding me back into a horizontal position on the bed. ‘You’re so close, Emily, you can do this,’ my midwife encourages. ‘I can do this,’ I agree weakly. ‘You’re doing brilliantly.’ Nick wipes my sweaty forehead with the sleeve of his jumper. This isn’t how it’s meant to happen. I wanted ‘Here Comes the Sun’, the Nina Simone version, playing triumphantly as my child effortlessly slipped into the world. I’d imagined doing the whole thing drugfree; that I would get the baby out on willpower alone. It’s all typed up in the birth plan. Why isn’t it happening like the birth plan? ‘Get my baby OUT!’ The wave of another kneeshaking contraction is starting to rumble. I can hear a low, Maorilike wail, which I assume is coming from one of the other rooms but as I draw breath, I’m surprised to fi nd it’s me making the noise. ‘What are you doing?’ I ask as a doctor straps monitors to me linked up to big beeping machines. ‘Is there something wrong with the baby?’ I panic. Where’s Nick? He’s not next to me anymore. ‘Nothing’s wrong. You’ve been crowning for a while now and your baby has just become a bit distressed so we need to monitor the heart rate. Just try to relax,’ the doctor explains. ‘Nick? Nick?’ Where has he gone?
‘I’m here. I’m right here,’ he soothes as I grab for his hand and pull him close to me. He’s changed. He’s wearing blue scrubs, George Clooney in ER style, and a net that tames his uncontrollable curly hair; he looks like he works in a chip shop. Where did he get the outfit from? ‘They know what they’re doing, Em.’ His voice is calm but his eyes look wild with fear. My breath is becoming shallow and panting. People sound like they are talking underwater and the skin on my face feels like it is about three sizes too small for my skull. I squeeze Nick’s fingers together so tightly that his hand starts to twitch. I close my eyes and try to take in a deep breath but only feel as if I can fi ll about ten per cent of my lungs. ‘Just breathe, breathe, Emily. Release it slowly like we practised. Make your lips really tight. Like a cat’s bum, remember?’ Nick’s voice sounds far away and echoey. I exhale and open my eyes. My vision has altered, the harsh strip lights have developed a seventies porno soft focus quality; the doctors busy around me through a frosted pane of glass. Nick grins at me and I know he is trying to mask his panic. He’s squatting down so he’s at eye level but his face is too close to mine. I can feel his warm breath on my cheek and it smells like Cornish pasties. ‘I love you. I love you so much. You’re doing so brilliantly. You’re amazing. Keep going, keep going. You’re nearly there.’ He squeezes my hand and emphasises every word. I try to reply but no sound comes out. He tucks a sweaty clump of hair behind my ear and I momentarily close my eyes. When I open them, my legs are in stirrups. I hadn’t even felt them move. These drugs are brilliant. Why hadn’t I asked for them sooner? Stupid, self-righteous birth plan. I start to melt into a drug fuelled bliss. My head feels like it is full of cotton wool; sentences drift off unfinished. I try to smile at Nick but only half my face moves, like a kind of Anne Robinson wink. ‘That’s my girl.’ He leans over and kisses my forehead. ‘We’re nearly there,’ he whispers, ‘we’re so nearly there. I’m so proud of you.’ I reach out to touch his face but my arm feels like it weighs a ton so I drop it back down onto the bed. My midwife has both her hands pressed deep into my stomach to feel when I am contracting; I can’t feel anything at all now – thank fuck for drugs. ‘OK, OK, this is it. I can feel another contraction coming, Emily. I need you to do one last big push for me, can you do that?’ ‘How? I can’t feel anything. How do I push?’ My body is completely numb from my lower chest downwards. ‘Imagine you’re doing a poo. Push like you think you’re doing a poo, Emily,’ she orders. ‘NOW! DO IT NOW!’ The world suddenly stands still. I’m looking at the silent, scarlet faced midwife barking orders at me. Her mouth is moving but I can’t hear her. I am utterly gripped by fear. I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I want all this to stop. I can’t do this. I’m not ready. I scrunch my eyes shut as the tears spill down my cheeks. Can all this just stop for a moment? I’m not ready. Then quick as a fl ash I’m back in the room like I’ve been given a shot of adrenaline. A glob of spit sprays out the midwife’s mouth as she screams, ‘I SAID NOW, EMILY!’ I shut my eyes again, but this time, a sheer determination takes over my whole body. I tense every muscle I can feel and focus on tensing all those that are numb. I imagine myself sat on the toilet and then push. And push. And push. And push. ‘And PUSH. Keep going. The head is almost out. Your baby is almost here. ONE MORE BIG PUSH, EMILY!’
The doctor standing between my legs is nodding frantically at the midwife. Fuck. This is it. Come on, Emily, you can do this. Let’s get this baby out. I gulp in another huge breath, grip Nick’s hand with all my might and scream a deep, powerful scream from somewhere right down in my solar plexus. ‘That’s it, Emily, that’s it, keep going. This is the one, we’re going to get your baby out on this one, KEEP GOING,’ she bellows. I gasp for another lungful of air and use the last bit of upper body strength to bend forward, imagining I’m doing the biggest poo of my life. Suddenly there’s a sharp tug between my legs followed by what sounds like someone spilling a pint of water on the floor. ‘Yes! Well done, Emily, your baby is here.’ Our baby is here. Everything pauses. There is a collective intake of breath followed by an ear bleedingly loud wail and the room becomes a hive of activity again. I flop back on the bed, sweat dripping in my eyes. ‘Daddy, do you want to come and see what sex it is?’ It takes me a moment to realise the doctor is talking to Nick. ‘Oh my God, Emily . . .’ His voice cracks. ‘It’s a girl, she’s a girl!’ ‘Can I see her?’ I croak. The doctor carefully places her on my chest. I’m stunned by the alien feeling of having the weight of a one breath old human being on top of me. She has tiny, tiny fingers with titchy fingernails and a mouth the size of an old five pence, opening and closing like a goldfish. We have a daughter. All slippery, a full head of black hair matted to her purple scalp with blood and discharge.
I look up at Nick, who is taking a picture of us both on his phone, and say in a voice that comes out so deep it sounds more like a burp: ‘It’s our baby.’ Later, we look back at that photograph which he immediately texts to everyone we know, and both comment on how much I look like a transvestite. ‘Do you have a name?’ a nurse asks. Nick and I look at each other and without hesitation, proudly say, ‘Lucy’, in unison. Of the five million names we toyed with, we always came back to Lucy. We don’t agree on a lot of things, but thankfully we agreed on this. There is another tug between my legs. I’ve been so busy staring at our baby, I hadn’t noticed the doctor was still ferreting around down there. She looks up at me and says, ‘Would you like to see your placenta?’ I nod before I’ve really had a chance to think it through and she passes it to the midwife who presents me with what looks like a massive bloody steak. ‘Are you keeping it?’ she asks. ‘Am I what?’ ‘Some people like to keep them, have it dried and made into capsules, or necklaces.’ She’s still holding the meat tray of bloody flesh. ‘Err . . . No, no, I’m fi ne thanks.’ ‘Yes, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’ She shrugs, putting it down. ‘Can I hold her?’ Nick whispers. ‘You can do better than that, would you like to cut the cord, Daddy?’ I wish she’d stop calling him ‘Daddy’. It’s totally creeping me out. Nick looks terrified as the midwife gently takes Lucy from me and hands him a pair of scissors. He says afterwards how he wished the midwife had done it. ‘It was horrible.’ he explains.’ ‘Like sawing through really gristly cheap meat, knowing that you might slip and stab your new born baby.’ Nick picks her up tenderly and holds her in the crook of his arm. He reminds me of the Athena poster, if the guy was dressed like he worked in a chippy. A wave of emotion shudders through me. This is my family now. Nick passes Lucy back and I wrap a sheet around us both. A purple, wrinkly hand rests on my chest territorially and I think, I’m your mum. I’m your mum. I’m your mum. The room has emptied so it’s just me, Lucy, Nick, the midwife and one doctor, who looks at me reassuringly as she settles on the stool between my legs, which are still strung up in the stirrups. ‘Just relax,’ the doctor says perkily. ‘We had to cut through several layers of your vaginal wall to get your baby out, so I’m going to sew it up for you. You won’t feel a thing for now. I’ll tidy it up as best I can so it’ll be nearly as good as new.’ I don’t think I ever want to use my vagina again. She might as well just sew the whole thing up. ‘Would you like some tea and toast?’ the midwife asks in a kind voice that makes me want to cry. I am suddenly the hungriest I’ve been in my entire life, having done the whole labour on two peanut Tracker bars and a Milky Way. Under normal circumstances, that would be an in between snack snack. I give my brand new baby a big sniff on the top of her sticky head, and gratefully say, ‘Yes please.’ ‘I’ll go and put that toast on for you. Just relax, you’ve done the hard work now.’ She smiles. Those words stick with me, and later I will think how cruel it is to mislead someone so much, so early on.
The hard work has only just begun…
Thank you to @orionbooks and @alexxlayt for letting me share this extract with you as part of the blog tour.
Meet Paro. A girl with a strong will, a full heart and much to learn. Born into a family reeling from the ruptures of Partition, follow her as she crosses the precarious lines between childhood, teenage discovery and realising her adult self all while navigating different cultures, religions and identities.
Returning to her core themes of feminism, healing and mythology in her most powerful and personal work yet, Nikita’s masterful poetry, along with her beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, taps into the rich well of Hindu mythology, conjuring up jasmine scented voices and ancestral smiles as Paro confronts fear, desire and the very darkest parts of herself in the search for meaning and empowerment.
This is the story growing up, of how a girl named Paro sees the world and how the world sees her.
‘It’s your hardest days As much as your best days That help you grow’
There was so many pages I tabbed of quotes I wanted to share but in such trying times I felt that this one would really resonate. Paro is so perceptive from such an early age, seeing things that a lot of people don’t realise until much later in life.
After finishing this book I took some self care time and lay in bed with a brew and an eye mask and let the words wash over me. It’s brilliant is my simple conclusion. The way the author manages to put down so many complexities in two/ lines of free verse is astounding and Is one that I’m sure will keep coming back to me.
Thank you to @randonttours @nktgill and @eburypublishing for my #gifted copy in exchange for review.
Nikita Gill is a British-Indian writer and artist living in the south of England. With a huge online following, her words have captivated hearts and minds all over the world. Nikita is an ambassador for National Poetry Day and is a regular speaker at literary events. Her previous works include Fierce Fairytales and Great Goddesses. The Girl and The Goddess is her first novel. With over 558k followers on Instagram, 125k likes on Facebook and 36k followers on Twitter, Nikita’s fans include Cara Delevingne, Alanis Morisette, Jameela Jamil and Kristen Bell.
A feel-good, festive read to keep you cosy this winter. For fans of Heidi Swain, Sarah Morgan and The Archers.
Recently divorced, the family home sold and her son all grown-up, Clare is at a crossroads. She’s dedicated her whole adult life to her family, and now it’s time she did something for herself.
In the lead up to Christmas, Clare decides that a bit of time in the countryside might be just what she needs, so she moves back to Little Bramble, the village she grew up in. But living with her mum for the first time in years – and not to mention Goliath the Great Dane – can be challenging.
When Clare finds herself running the village Christmas show, it feels like she has purpose in her life again. Bringing together people from all sides of the community, and all walks of life, will Clare manage to pull off a festive feat like no other? And will she find the new start in life – and possibly love – that she’s been looking for?
‘Look at me, Mum!’
Clare Greene’s heart fluttered. She turned, expecting to see her son, but instead her gaze fell on the empty space in the back garden where the swing used to be. Th e house and gar-den were full of ghosts and, as she made her way round one final time, she was being assaulted by memories and voices from the past.
Closing her eyes, Clare could picture her son, Kyle, swinging high, remember her anxiety that he’d fall off and hurt himself. But his laughter as he’d soared through the air and the joy on his face as he’d called to her, keen to garner her approval, had made the fear worth it. Her ex-husband, Jason, had taken the swing down years ago, but it had stood there for a decade, from the time Kyle was seven, and he’d had so much fun on it. Kyle was twenty-one now and at university in Bath studying performing arts – a grown man and no longer her little boy.
A cold wind whipped around the garden, tugging at her coat, and she shivered. Time had passed so quickly: she was forty-five and often felt that her life had passed her by, that she had practically sleepwalked through the days. If only it were possible to have some of that time back to savour the good times . . .
Her heart lurched and she pressed a hand to her chest. Looking down, her eyes found her wedding ring. As difficult as it would be, she really needed to take it off . Jason had re-moved his when the divorce was finalised, sighing at the white mark that remained on his finger. Just like the emotional scars left by the end of their marriage, it would take some time for physical marks like that to go.
She trudged back up the garden to the semi-detached house, went in through the French doors and closed them behind her, lifting the handle slightly until it clicked, then turned the key. Th ere was a knack to locking these doors. They should have had them fixed years ago, but it was one of a list of jobs that had never been done and now it would be someone else’s problem. But the new owners would also have so much to enjoy here. Clare had loved her home and was sad to leave it, but she knew it was time, even though her throat tightened as she realised she would never walk on the lush green lawn again, never sit on the patio as she savoured her morning coffee, never listen to the jazz drifting from next door on sunny afternoons. Her fragrant roses would be tended to by someone else, the shed would house the tools and bikes of others, and the birds that flocked to the feeders would become accustomed to different humans.
Slipping out of her garden shoes and into her plimsolls, she made her way through the open-plan kitchen diner with its large fi replace and driftwood mantelpiece, her soft rubber soles seemed strangely noisy on the wooden boards, the sound, echoing around the empty house, making it feel as though she had company. The furniture had been moved into storage and the clothes and belongings she couldn’t bear to part with, such as Kyle’s baby photo albums, from a time when people had actually printed photographs, were packed in her treasured Mini Countryman, the remaining finance on it cleared with some of her half of the house sale. Th e car had seemed to groan under the extra weight but she felt compelled to take them with her.
She passed the lounge where she had given birth to Kyle three weeks before his due date, taken by surprise as she’d thought the pains were practice contractions. He’d slid out onto the rug, red and furious at his early arrival. Kyle’s entry into the world had been dramatic and he hadn’t changed a bit; he still enjoyed being the centre of attention. Clare had been just twenty-four then, so young and innocent, convinced that life had plenty to offer and that she was destined for some-thing special, even though she hadn’t had a clue what that something would be.
How things changed.
In the hallway, where the October sun streamed through the window above the door, she took slow deep breaths, treasuring the sights, sounds and scents of home, storing them safely in her heart. Who knew when she would have a home of her own again? When her vision blurred, she knew it was time to get moving.
Her mobile buzzed in her pocket, making her jump, and she pulled it out to check the screen, expecting a message from the removal company. When she saw Kyle’s name, her heart lifted.
Hope you’re OK. I know today will be difﬁcult, but you can do it! When one house door closes another one opens and all that. Let me know when you’re safely at Nanna’s.
Love you millions! X
Clare hugged her mobile to her chest for a moment, thanking the universe for the gift of her precious boy. Whatever happened, she had a wonderful son and she would always be grateful for that. After fi ring off a quick reply, she slid her phone back in her pocket then opened the door and stepped outside, put the key in an envelope and posted it through the letter box, preparing to start the next chapter of her life.
Clare was ten minutes away from the village where she had grown up, but it would probably take her twenty to get there because she was stuck behind a tractor. Her Mini ambled along through the narrow country lanes and her feet ached from braking and pressing the clutch as she had to stop/start the car. Behind her, a row of cars was building and she knew it wouldn’t be long before some of the drivers started beeping at her, pressurising her to overtake. But Clare knew better; these lanes could be deadly and visibility was poor. Th ere was always the risk of crashing into some idiot taking the bends at sixty miles per hour.
The whole journey from Reading to Little Bramble in Surrey only took about forty minutes, but she had to admit that she hadn’t made it very often, particularly over recent years. Th ere had always been an excuse, whether it was a dinner with Jason’s colleagues from the prestigious law fi rm in Reading where he had been a partner, or an author event at the library where she had worked for twelve years as a library assistant (a job she had adored until they’d had to make some staff redundant six months ago due to cutbacks), or generally just feeling too tired to make the eff ort. A lump formed in her throat from the guilt. Her mum was seventy-five, fit and healthy, a busy member of her local community, but she wouldn’t be around forever and in some ways she’d taken her mum for granted. They hadn’t ever been that close but, even so, she was aware that she could have made more of an eff ort to visit.
She turned the radio on and listened to the DJ chatting to a celebrity author called Cora Quincy about her latest self-help book. Cora was all of twenty-five but spoke as if she’d lived a long and difficult life. Admittedly, Clare had read about Cora (a fashion model turned actress turned author who’d married someone from a boyband Clare could never remember the name of) online, and knew that she had endured a challenging childhood, but even so, her tone was slightly patronising. Clare had been married for almost as long as the woman had been alive – surely she had more life experience to draw on, more wisdom in the bank? And yet here she was: homeless, jobless, clueless about what came next.
The traffic came to a standstill as the tractor stopped to make way for an approaching car. Clare pulled up the hand-brake and turned, gazing at the hedgerow to her left, almost bare of leaves now in October’s colder days. Dark twigs poked out of the hedge, threatening to scratch any vehicles that got too close, and others stretched up to the sky like gnarled brown fingers. Beyond the hedges were fi elds where farmers grew corn and vegetables, where livestock roamed and nurtured their young.
As a child, Clare had thought she’d grow up to be a vet or own her own stables. She’d loved the wildlife around the village, had been a keen horse rider who had spent Saturday mornings at the stables then worked on Sundays at the local farm shop just outside Little Bramble, where she got to feed the chickens and ducks in her breaks, care for the motherless lambs in spring and play with the fluffy collie pups. Yes, she’d had a good childhood, even if she hadn’t been as close to her mum as she’d have liked. At university, she’d studied English Literature (after deciding at sixteen that taking A levels in the sciences was not for her), met Jason, and her ambitions had slipped away like smoke on the breeze. She’d been so infatuated with him, so taken by his apparent maturity and intelligence that she’d have followed him to the end of the earth if he’d asked her, so when he’d proposed, she’d accepted with-out hesitation.
The tractor started moving again and Clare released the handbrake and set off again at a snail’s pace.
‘Oh, absolutely!’ Cora’s decisive tone burst from the car speakers and broke into Clare’s thoughts. ‘I’d spent far too long worrying about what everyone expected of me, trying to be that perfect creature that pleased the world, and then one day . . . BOOM! I had an epiphany! I was like, alleluia! Eureka! And all that jazz.’ She giggled, clearly very pleased with herself.
‘And so . . . do you have a message for our listeners?’ Darryl Donovan, the long-time Radio 2 DJ asked.
‘I do, Darryl, I really do. Whoever you are and whatever you’ve been through, put yourself first. Decide what YOU really want and go for it! I realised, and your listeners can too, that I had to live my life for me before I could be with anyone. If you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly love anyone else?’
Clare rolled her eyes. It was all very well saying that at twenty-fi ve. It was a message Clare had heard many times in the past, but not one she’d ever managed to take on board. She’d been a daughter, a wife, a mum, a library assistant (although that had been something for her because she’d enjoyed it so much) so her roles had been centred around others and she’d been content with that. Th e idea of shaking off those responsibilities and doing things solely for herself seemed unimaginable.
Now, for the first time in her life, Clare realised that she felt very much alone.
Clare had always been a daddy’s girl and tried to make her father proud whenever she could. When he’d died ten years ago, he’d left a gaping hole which she’d struggled to fi ll. She didn’t have a close relationship with her mum. Elaine Hughes had always been busy with her own life – for many years with her job as a drama teacher, then later on with her work as a chief examiner and as chairwoman of the village amateur dramatics society. With Jason bringing his and Clare’s marriage to an end, she was no longer committed to making him happy, but this in itself was another difficult loss to deal with. And then there was Kyle: her darling son, her reason for everything, her joy. But Kyle was grown up and had gone off to university leaving Clare feeling redundant in that aspect of her life as well, especially after losing her job. Her whole life had changed when she’d least expected it. She’d been prepared for Kyle leaving home, but losing her job and her marriage at the same time was too much.
Would it be possible for Clare to start again and live her life for herself? Could she turn things around and discover what it was that she really wanted?
Th e left indicator on the tractor started flickering and it pulled into a layby, so Clare put her foot down on the accelerator and drove past it, singing along to the uplifting track from the eighties that the celebrity had chosen as her theme tune.
Perhaps the young woman wasn’t so naïve after all.
Sam Wilson unclipped the soft leather lead from his yellow Labrador’s collar then watched as she ran ahead, her long tail wagging, nose pressed to the ground. He looked forward to his twice daily walks with Scout it was his time out, his time to breathe deeply and enjoy the peace and quiet. He’d have walked anyway, but having Scout for company made the walks around the countryside surrounding Little Bramble even better. Th e two-year-old Labrador was good company: she enjoyed being outside as much as Sam did and she didn’t feel the need to fill their time together with random chatter or demands. As long as she was fed and walked, could snuggle on the sofa and was praised for good behaviour, Scout was happy, and that made Sam happy too.
Moving to the village over three years ago had been a fresh start for him and for his younger sister, Alyssa. After years of living in London, renting flats and saving hard, Sam had wanted to put down roots and settle somewhere qui-et, friendly and beautiful. Little Bramble was perfect, and when a colleague in London told him that a former university friend of hers was looking for a partner to invest in her village veterinary practice, Sam had felt a flicker of hope that he hadn’t experienced in a long time. He’d travelled to the village to meet Miranda Fitzalan and had liked her blunt no-nonsense approach, her devotion to the animals in her care – and the very reasonable asking price for a share of the practice. Miranda’s former business partner had decided to retire to Spain and she was looking for someone keen to enjoy being a part of village life. Sam’s years of saving and investing his money wisely had fi nally reaped a reward.
Scout came running back to him, a chunky stick in her mouth. She dropped it at his feet and looked up at him, wagging her tail, her mouth open in what looked like a wide smile.
‘You want to play, do you?’ He reached out and rubbed her soft head and she barked in reply. ‘OK then, girl. Ready?’
He picked up the stick then swung his arm back and threw it as far ahead as he could, laughing as Scout scampered after it, knowing that this process would be repeated many times before they reached home again. Repetition and routine were the things that kept his life moving forwards and he didn’t think to want for more.
Thank you to @zaffrebooks for letting me share the first chapter with you and if you want to know more why not check out some of the other great reviews from bloggers on the tour!